Many successful ecommerce retailers built their brands on Facebook. Specifically, direct-to-consumer startups from recent years like Brandless, Casper, Allbirds, Framebridge, and BarkBox built revolutionary retail brands almost exclusively on social media.
At National Retail Federation’s BIG Show in January, CNBC’s Lauren Thomas held a discussion panel with executives from BarkBox and Framebridge, among others, to tackle the topic of bridging digital and physical retail. BarkBox is a subscription service that delivers dog toys, food, treats, and more. Their products are also available for purchase individually. Framebridge is a custom framing service.
Susan Tynan founder of Framebridge said, “As a new brand nothing can beat Facebook in terms of finding customers and introducing yourself.” Facebook’s sophisticated targeting and engagement techniques are available at an outstanding value, giving startups and small businesses the opportunity to reach audiences at the same scale as large companies.
Mikkel Holm Jensen, VP of Creative at BarkBox said during the discussion that BarkBox “grew up from Facebook ads.” But, he continued, “It’s not working as well now… It gets more difficult to acquire customers. A few years ago, Facebook advertising was in its heyday. While still an effective strategy, it’s harder to create an effective ad. Plus, both Mikkel and Susan agree that you need to be in multiple places.
Susan brings up the interesting point that it will be very interesting to see “what happens with Facebook from a consumer perspective.” Facebook has had several scandals in the past year around consumer privacy and mishandling of data. Many social media users are feeling weary of acting on Facebook ads as they were a few years ago.
As a result, “our dollars have shifted from Facebook to Instagram,” says Susan, “but it’s interesting to see how consumer interactions with Facebook changes.” Very interesting, considering that Instagram is owned by Facebook. Yet, any consumer weariness towards Facebook ads has not crept over to sister media platform Instagram.
After the discussion panel, I asked Mikkel directly if he would still use Facebook ads if just starting BarkBox today, he says “Yes.” Mikkel argues that despite consumers losing a little faith in Facebook, the marketplace becoming more crowded, and other platforms gaining steam, Facebook is still the best way to gain traction quickly as a startup ecommerce brand.
Doing it Right
“I would still use Facebook if starting today,” says Mikkel. “There’s still a lot of people on it and it can still do a lot. But, it’s gotten harder. The complexity of the landscape has shifted from even two years ago.” Brand authenticity is crucial, and that’s what a lot of people are getting wrong. Mikkel explains that “more than anything, it’s the tactics that used to work that don’t anymore.”
“Big brands posting on social media can seem like the guy at the party who only talks about himself,” says Mikkel. They key for brands on social media is knowing who you’re talking to. Mikkel says for BarkBox that means “being funny and silly and show the real sides of having a dog. We accept that we’re not for everyone and that’s ok. But the people that like us like us a lot. If we can have a fun time then people will follow, instead of just talking about yourself.”
During the panel, Lauren asked if retailers can reach a saturation point with social media ads where it becomes more expensive to acquire new customers, and if so what happens then. For Mikkel, despite any concerns around data privacy or crowded marketplaces, social media ad campaigns will be one of their biggest expenses in 2019.