Episode 08
Judy—Nik Sharma

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Every episode we talk to founders and leaders at some of the most exciting DTC brands in the world. We discuss their vision, how they launched, and how they are growing their brand.

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In this episode, we talk to Nik Sharma. If you don't know him, here's a quick intro: He started handling social strategy for major celebrities like Priyanka Chopra and Pitbull—at 15. He's one of AdWeek’s Young and Influential, and helped build the Cha Cha Matcha and Hint brands. This episode is especially exciting because we're catching him on the heels of the Judy launch.

Wondering how it went? It “absolutely crushed,” and has had great traction. The platform is going live with unboxing videos rolling out. Everything is really coming together.

The interesting thing about launches is that, internally, it bunkers you into the office where the team becomes a mini-family for a few days. That’s the best part.

Externally, Sharma and his team had great press with celebrities like Chrissy Teagan and Kim Kardashian posting about the product. He’s never been part of a launch with such high calibre celebrity star power, so it's interesting to see the effects. Considering founder, Simon Huck’s relationship with them, Nik was confident celebrity endorsement would come. But, he did not know when or what the influence would be in terms of revenue and influence

The OG way is to pay somebody with X amount of followers to post and tag you with a link involved, which doesn’t really work anymore. When Nik was at Hint, they found Influencers to partner and grow with, not just hire. Nik and the Hint team sent a influencer named Sara Dietschy around 100 bottles of water in the mail randomly. Dietschy opened it and the video ended up on her Youtube channel.

Sharma understands the fit between creator and product, and started a conversation about creating content that can last. That works organically as well as for a paid—Nobody at the time was running content through influencer handles using a brand’s media dollars, so it launched a new level of influencer marketing.

Nik thinks the worst influencer marketing examples are those that are so obvious that it's a completely sponsored post. More and more, consumers dig deep to find out if creators are only doing it for the money. It always comes down to authenticity.

Simon and his cofounder are very much experienced operators, so Nik was extremely excited to work with them to learn something from them.

Nik is a huge advocate for text. if you follow him on Twitter you can find his own personal text line. He is also a fan of really good copy dedicated to this channel. With Cha Cha, it was more about:

  • How do we incentivize reorders?
  • How do we make it easy to order?
  • Text with SMS allows brands to do that because anyone with a flip phone to an iPhone 11 has the ability to do it seamlessly .

With Judy, they’re using text like a broadcast system, it would have anything from your standard alerts of post-purchase and shipping. What they’re seeing, though, is that consumers are responding, whether it's for a customer service inquiry, or a question they have that they need answered.

He takes some time to unpack what he calls, “Performance branding.” It’s building brand equity on the back of your working media dollars. How do you take your paid media, and create ads that sticks with people? Not necessarily just like an ad that says: “Come buy this; get X percent off.”

If you follow @mrsharma, you know he tweeted something recently that caused some stir.

Back in the day, you’d create this insanely large funnel where you try and convince people to buy things. There was so system of tracking or attribution, which was why AIDA was really invented. The tweet came in from frustration and working with a client with terrible media plan. They wanted to bring people to the site and then retarget them via email, but Nik wanted to run a full funnel campaign with the goal to take cold traffic and convert them on first try/. This required really good creative, experiences on the page, and audience selection. Nik calls this the Ace Model. It is performance branding. It is how well you can tell the story so you don’t have to keep convincing somebody to buy something.

917-905-2340. This is Nik’s public texting number and has been a really cool experiment for him. This is where he chats with founders, operators, and VCs. He also sends out DTC tips and tricks regularly.

Text the number.

Thank you for listening. This is the DTC Growth show.

Rather read? Read the full transcript below.

...

I'm excited because today we're talking to Nik Sharma. And if you don't know Nik, he started handling social strategy for major celebrities at 15. He's been called The Best in DTC by David Perell, and he's one of AdWeek’s Young and Influential. I'm especially excited because we're catching him on the heels of the Judy launch. Nik, thanks for being here.

Nik: Thank you for having me.

So, you're coming off a brand new launch with Judy, and that's readyjudy.com, if you're listening. How do you think it went?

Nik: The launch absolutely crushed. We launched on Tuesday and launched with some good press thanks to our founder, Simon Huck. And it's been great since launch. We've had great traction. People have already started to get their kits. They're exploring their kids.

Today is kind of the first day of the text platform going live with some of the unboxing videos that we have planned. And so, everything is really coming together. It’s extremely exciting to see.

Very nice. What do you think is the most unanticipated good thing that happened during this launch?

Nik: The funny thing about launches is it's more of an internal thing, but internally, you kind of become this like mini-family for a few days where you're kind of bunkered in the office; that I think is the most fun part.

But from an external side, we had a really fortunate launch where we launched and had press that hit right away. We had celebrities from Chrissy Teagan and Kim Kardashian who were posting about the product.

And it's been interesting because I hadn’t been a part of a launch with celebrity star power at this level before. So, it's been really interesting for me as an operator and an investor to see what that does, from a distribution and revenue standpoint, to brands that are launching for the first time.

How important was that Kim Kardashian, Chrissy Teagan endorsement for this launch?

Nik: Well, to be honest, we had a hunch it would come, just with Simon's relationship to these celebrities. However, we didn't know when it would come or what it would do in terms of influence in revenue. So, we actually didn't really account for it. We thought of it as an extra {indistinct 2:51} on top of the launch, but we didn't really factor it in and assign revenue to it per sé.

That said, we're very fortunate it happened. And again, big thanks to Simon for being able to make that happen. Yeah.

I've heard you talk about influencer marketing before. A lot of people seem to think it's dead; you don't think that at all. How should brands be thinking about this channel as they launch?

Nik: Yeah, I mean, I think influence and marketing, there's a lot of ways to interpret it. The OG way of doing influencer marketing is more so like pay somebody with a following of X amount of followers to post and then they post and tag you. And maybe there's a link involved, which just doesn't seem to work anymore.

And when I was at Hint, one thing that we did pretty frequently was we would find influencers to grow with. So, not only were they influencers that had a following and they were followed for some kind of purpose, but they were someone that when we partnered up with them, it's not that we're partnering up for a post, we’re growing with them.

So, the most notable one at Hint was with Sarah Dichie. And it started by sending her a ridiculous amount of water, I think like 100 bottles of water, just randomly in the mail. She opened it. It ended up on her YouTube. And we realized, “Okay, there's a great fit between this person, who really loves the product and us as a brand.”

And then from there, we took it to, “Okay, let's have a conversation about creating content that can then last; it can work organically as well as for paid creative.” And then from there, we ended up running it with paid.

And that was something that was really interesting because nobody at the time had been running, like influencer content through influencer handles with the brand’s media dollars. And so, that was something that was really interesting and almost unlocked this like new level of influencer marketing.

With Judy, it's been different because these are not influencers; these are A-list celebrities who have a massive following. And so, it's been kind of interesting to see. I mean, we do plan to do something similar with JUDY, but it's been interesting to see what the A-list star power can do compared to your more traditional influencers.

But there are a lot of e-commerce brands that will still launch and use influencers from 50 to 250 thousand followers. And when you do the math of average order value compared to the cost of the post, your cogs and margin, etc., there are places where it makes sense. Nod Pod is a brand that does that extremely well.

But you know, the product also has to fit the distribution method, which if you're doing paid influencers with pay per post, it has to be a product that's widely accessible to the average consumer versus if you're doing something that is more targeted, like a Hint Water for example, that's why you want something like a content creator with media dollars behind it.

Yeah, I'm surprised more people don't do that; running media dollars through creator handles.

I recall you talking about your time at Hint and how you were trying to differentiate yourselves from DeCroy. You used influencer marketing to personify the brand. What does that mean to personify the brand? How did you do that?

Nik: I mean, the way I think of it is basically how do we tell the value props of the brand in a way that's extremely accessible? So, like when I think of whether it's copy or whether it's creative or videos or content that we make with influencers, my goal is to make it the most accessible creative ever. Meaning that someone like an 8-year old should be able to understand the creative from start to finish, be able to process it and spit it back out to somebody if they were asked. And so, for that to work, it has to be extremely accessible.

I think that personifying the brand really just means, how do you take, let's say, the top five things about the product that people find most interesting or the top five points that really get them to convert? And how do you put that in a way that that many people can understand it? And it's also like native and intuitive to the platform it's on, not overly spammy, it doesn't look fake; it just looks more natural.

So, with Sarah, for example, it was really easy because she herself used to be a soda drinker and then switched over to Hint and almost cut out soda. So, for her to tell that story, she really personified the attributes of the brand without having to overly extend it because it was true to her.

And I think that's another thing that's really important with influencers, is it has to be something that's really intuitive to the influencer themselves. It can't be something that they're saying for the purpose of a check, because consumers these days and smell that from a mile away.

What are some other big misses for brands when it comes to influencer marketing?

Nik: I think the worst are honestly the ones where it's just so obvious that it's a completely sponsored post. There's no content around a relationship between said influencer and the brand.

I've seen meal cake companies that will promote with an influencer and then that's the only piece of creative they have to kind of display that partnership. I think with the rise of transparency and knowledge and consumers seeking just more information around what they're getting, you’re going to have people who do dig deep to find out, “Is this a real relationship or are they doing something for a check?”

But at the end of the day, I mean, it always comes down to the authenticity of working with that content creator. And if it's just not there, then it'll never work.

Makes sense. I want to jump back in to JUDY. I imagine there's no shortage of brands looking for your support and for your advice. So, what made Simon Huck and JUDY especially attractive to you?

Nik: Well, a few things. One, Simon and his co-founder are very much experienced operators. And so, for me, I always -- you know, I'm super young. So, I use these opportunities to work with brands as also a, in a selfish way for me, to learn something that, more so from an operation side.

And so for me, I was extremely excited to work with Simon, just because of his expertise in operations and efficiency. And with what he's built with Command Entertainment over the last few years, that was fascinating to me.

The other couple of things that were interesting. One was the fact that my team was able to do the website, which was really exciting. The other site that we debuted with, {indistinct 10:43} Sharma Brands was the Cha Cha Matcha website and that turned out absolutely beautiful.

And so, I was extremely excited to get my hands on the JUDY site, just knowing what Simon was about and what the brand was about and what he wanted to do.

And then the third and fourth thing; the third was probably the actual space itself of the emergency preparedness kits. No one had really touched that. And when you think of DTC, like almost everything has been disrupted. This one just hadn’t. And so, I was excited to be a first mover in that space.

And then the last thing was the subscription and the texting portion of JUDY. This subscription is more -- It works like a push and pull, which will be launching soon. And then and more details on that will come out soon, I'm sure.

And then the texting program is interesting because not only is it a home emergency preparedness kit, but it's a digitally connected and digitally enabled home emergency preparedness kit.

So, you're not only getting notifications of when your box is in the mail or when it arrives, but then you're getting tips as to what to do in disasters that pertain to your zip code. If they're if you're in San Diego and it's wildfire season and there's a wildfire near you, JUDY is going to send you a text not only notifying you of the fire at the earliest time, but also letting you know what to do and how to plan for that emergency.

So, that itself is really interesting. I've always been a fan of brands and products and especially working with brands and products that actually help people at scale. That's one of my favorite parts, especially about Hint is every day we would go into the office and we're helping people get healthier.

And so, JUDY kind of does a similar thing in the safety side where we help people get prepared when 60 percent of people haven't even thought about the emergency plan. And so for me, that was also super attractive.

There was one similarity specifically between the JUDY in Cha Cha Matcha sites that I found interesting, and it was your use of the text bubble; the dot, dot, dot bubble. It's interesting because it hints at one of your preferred channels, which is text message.

Tell us more about how you're going to be using that with JUDY moving forward.

Nik: Yeah, I mean, I'm a huge proponent of text. If you follow me on Twitter, you'll know that I have my own personal text line. I'm a huge advocate for it. I think it's something that needs to be treated very carefully to. And I'm also just a big fan of really good copy, which is what texts almost forces brands to do if they want to play in that world is they have to be really good at copy. And also just understanding consumer psychology. So, I'm a big fan of it.

You know, with Cha Cha, it was all around, “How do we incentivize reorders?” “How do we create this kind of ease of ordering?” “Not necessarily something to send out notifications or messages at scale, but more so like how do we take the process of going to the site and completing an order and make that more frictionless for the consumer?”

Text with SMS allows us to do that; it allows anybody from a flip phone to an iPhone 11 to be able to do that seamlessly. And then in addition with JUDY, it's more so of a broadcast system, which is really interesting.

So, like I mentioned, it would have anything from your standard alerts of post-purchase and shipping, etc. But also again, JUDY's entire value prop is, “How do we become an effortless communicator to you down to your zip code?”

And so with JUDY, it's anything from promotional blasts to, “Hey, if you have this, but you don't have this, then we can help you by plugging the gap with X or Y or Z.”

And JUDY is also very much a two-way conversation. We've seen a ton of consumers, just in the last five or six days, will respond to JUDY; whether it's for a customer service inquiry or whether it's a question they have that they need answered for and as it relates preparedness and preparing for emergencies.

But at the end of the day, what text does is it creates a frictionless experience with comms between the consumer and the brand. And for something like JUDY, where we're really trying to humanize this experience, it just helps it that much more being on text versus being on a platform like email.

Yeah. You tweeted the other day that phone numbers are like bank account numbers; the point is that they're more permanent. And you're drawing a comparison, of course, to emails which are like credit cards and change more often.

What are some ways that founders are messing up with phone numbers and text message?

Nik: I think the way that people “mess up” is more so around like sending too many things. There's a line between sending out a blast to hit X amount of revenue dollars, so you'll hit a monthly goal. And then on the consumer side, “How many texts do I want to receive from said brand?”

There's a few brands out there that one day they'll send a blast saying, “Two days left to get like a product in this color.” And then the next day it'll be, “Last day to get this.” And the day after it's, “Check out our new colors.”

And it just gets too much to wear; you’re not only destroying the relationship with your consumer, but you're also lessening the trust consumers in general will have for brands who leverage the platform.

You kind of see it happen with every channel. You know, in the early 2000s, you had insanely high Facebook click rates, which has obviously gone down and CP’s go up. The same thing happened in email where your open rates 20 years ago or 30 years ago might have been 70 percent. Now, you're struggling to hit 20 percent.

Gary says that all the time; like it's always important to get to a channel before the marketers themselves destroy it, I guess.

Yeah, I remember you having a conversation with David Perell about this. You guys used Warren Buffet's parade analogy. Can you explain what it is?

Nik: Yes. So, basically, it's the sort of if you're standing in a crowd and everybody's trying to see what's on the stage, up at the front and everybody's kind of at the same altitude level or just level.

And one person in the front stands up to get a better view. Now, the person in the second row has to stand up. And if the second row stood up, then the third row. And it just kind of creates this domino effect of now everybody's on their tippy toes and now no one's comfortable.

And we were talking about it in the sense of customer acquisition and how most people, most brands, especially in the direct to consumer space; I would say lesser in retail, but more in the direct to consumer space. They're kind of going after like two or three very key customer personas.

And the article we had written was mostly around if everybody is standing up on their tippy toes to acquire that one customer, you kind of see what happens, which is like (one) brands are almost forced to start partnering up, which makes things fun, in my opinion; I'm a huge proponent of partnerships. But (two) you also see the rising CPA; you see the internal scrambles to launch new channels. It's something that's not necessarily sustainable in my mind, but it's not unhealthy either. It's definitely required for the revenues to come in.

What do you think are some channels (and you've mentioned text and partnerships). What are some other channels that brands should be taking advantage of right now to get ahead?

Nik: Yeah, I mean, I think there's tons, right? Mostly everybody plays on Facebook and Instagram. I don't think a lot of people have really mastered email for the purpose of customer acquisition. I think a lot of people think of email as a secondary or a remarketing or retention tool, not necessarily a customer acquisition tool. I think email is super under used for that purpose, but that comes down to how good is the ability of store storytelling by that brand?

I think SMS is another huge one. Again, that one has to be done completely right. There's other channels like YouTube, Tumblr, running partnerships with companies like VOX Media where you have sponsored content that's displayed and broadcasted.

Companies like The Skim and Morning Brew have fantastic newsletters where if your Cogs and your order values makes sense, those platforms can be amazing.

And then I think, of course, partnerships. The thing that's interesting about SMS partnerships and email is it requires a completely different mindset than something like Facebook, YouTube and Instagram, where you have more of a brand-first mindset on the first half and then a more performance ended mindset and growth mindset on the second.

So, I think the ones who find a balance of or not necessarily even a balance, but have the skillset and ability to execute on both, those are the ones that are going to win in the long run.

And that's what, when I when I look at the brands that I work with, that's what we try and build, is how do we take this idea of performance so that we can ramp up sales as quick or as slow as possible. But then how do we also incorporate brand identity and creativity and brand longevity into all the things that we do across these channels so that we're not coming off as extremely transactional to a consumer, but we're also building a relationship with them.

And this is what you call performance branding.

Nik: Exactly. So, that's the idea of -- This was something that I think I would say I did at Hint for all the years I was there. The idea of performance branding is really building brand equity on the back of your working media dollars. So, all the ads then you have going through media channels, whether it's Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, Snapchat, Tumblr, et cetera. How do you take aspects of all these and incorporate ways that people really like something sticks with them at the end of the day? Not necessarily it’s just like an ad of, “Come buy this; get X percent off.”

You've mentioned before that advertising and entertainment are the same thing. When you're sitting down with brands. What are some practical ways you're coaching them on marrying the two?

Nik: Well, that's a good question. You know, I think the first step is like it's always, “Alright, let's make let's make video assets for paid media ads.” That's always the first thing every brand wants. And the best way to do that is really incorporating like brand identity and showing the use cases, value props, et cetera.

I mean, the other day I was on the plane and sent out a text blast saying really the same thing of like, “Good ads are more entertainment. They're not necessarily creative that that just display an offer.”

And so, I had everybody who couldn't figure out a good performance brand and creative send me what their company was and I would reply with ideas. And it's anything from a really well-written article to a listicle to a really well planned influencer video that shows not only the value props, but how it applies. I mean, there's so many ways to do it.

Nik, you tweeted something recently that caused some commotion and maybe you can explain it to us. Here's a tweet;

“Goal: Sell your product to someone who's never heard of you in one shot. Instantly prospect to the customer. If your agency is telling you awareness, interest, desire and then convert, they're stuck in 1908.”

Can you unpack that for us? What do you mean?

Nik: Yeah, that one. That one always gets heat when I bring it up. You know, like the old school days of marketing where you only had outdoor or billboards, et cetera., you had to have this insanely large funnel where you basically have to convince people to buy something. And there's no real system of tracking, there’s no attribution, et cetera, et cetera. And so, that's when ADA was really invented.

Today, with the ability to target like you can online and use tools like attribution and even just how deep the platforms can be, there's no reason to have to launch these insane campaigns.

That tweet was mostly off of a client I work with. They had an agency where they were launching a new product out with a celebrity; pretty huge celebrity. And their media plan was just total garbage because they were only doing things like running awareness campaigns to a cold audience and then just re-targeting people who came to the site, versus something like more of a full funnel campaign, as I call it, where your goal is to take cold traffic and convert them on the first try.

And what that requires is a really good creative, but (b) really good experiences on the page. You need a good audience selection, you need good creative and you need good experience on the site, whether that's through landing pages, whether that's through an optimized user journey, whether that's through a cart upsell, like whatever you need to get it done. But you need those three things; the audience, creative and experience. I call it the Ace Model.

And this is very tied to what you call performance branding.

Nik: One hundred percent. It really is performance branding, right? It's like how well can you tell the story that you don't have to keep convincing somebody to buy something? The product obviously has to be a good product, but how can you communicate the value prop of the product without having to like get really scummy to get somebody to buy your product?

Absolutely. 917-905-2340. Why should people text that number, Nik?

Nik: That is my public texting number. It's been a really cool experiment for me; having a public texting number. Anything from chatting with founders to operators within companies to VCs to even companies that I've invested in because of they've texted in to my number and told me about what they're doing.

It's my community number. I send out DTC tips and tricks on the daily and then it's also a one-on-one conversation engine for me where I can basically text with people at scale, which makes things a lot of fun for me just because I really enjoy interacting with the community of operators and investors, et cetera, in the world that I play on a daily basis.

That's great. So, if you haven't already. Text message 917-905-2340; we’ll link to it as well in the show notes.

Nik, thanks for the time to talk to us today.

Thank you for having me on.

Thank you for joining us. Thank you for listening. This is the DTC growth show by #paid.

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