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Jun 11, 2018
Profile: Ryan Heller, VP of Customer Acquisition
“It’s About Listening to the People” – Ryan Heller
Ryan Heller is TechStyle’s Vice President of Customer Acquisition, overseeing a team responsible for customer aquisition on social media and the web with people interested in the clothes, accessories, shoes and athletic wear from TechStyle’s subscription-fashion brands Fabletics, ShoeDazzle, JustFab and SavageXFenty.
Ryan grew up in Portland and Bend, Ore. He later lived in southern Florida, where he went to Palm Beach State College. After moving to Los Angeles, Ryan began working in marketing with TechStyle founders Adam Goldenstein and Don Ressler in a predecessor of TechStyle called Intelligent Beauty. He has worked in brand marketing and customer acquisition for TechStyle and its predecessors for eight years.
Q: Tell me about your job. It sounds like a big one. What does it entail?
RH: My primary focus is acquiring new customers for TechStyle Fashion Group, primarily through paid media channels such as Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, as well as some other channels. But yeah, I’m really focused on making great creative (content) that entices users to want to click on our ads and then drive them through experiences that make sense and deliver on what they’re looking for at that moment.
Q: So how do you create an enticing social media ad that will interest people who might become TechStyle subscribers?
RH: We’re mostly a monthly business, so we’re refreshing styles all the time. The beauty of us having this internal advertising agency is that we’re able to be pretty nimble. Last year we did about 38,000 different ads, They could be iterations, variations, copy tests, things like that. But our nimbleness and ability to see what users are looking for through comments and other feedback mechanisms allows us to really dial in and personalize. We can say, “Okay, they’re loving this type of shoe,” or, “They’re loving this type of legging or this attribute of that,” and we can then create a connection based on that premise. We can see what we have at the ready with imagery and video, or determine what we need to shoot or put together to increase conversion on the campaign. All this is combined that with we’ve learned over eight years at this company and that really drive results throughout the company, just using customer feedback. Essentially understanding their interests and giving them what they want
Q: Your real name should be “Ryan A-B Testing Heller” or maybe “A-B-C-D-E-F-G Testing,” it sounds like. Give me a real-world example of how you adjusted a campaign based on that customer feedback.
RH: So I can use an example from our brand Fabletics, where we release many styles of new leggings. With our offers based around leggings for women, we don’t always know what color, print or other attributes of that legging are going to be a hit in our advertising. So we put up a video piece that really showed a variety of legging Products. We found there was one piece in in the video that customers were really excited about, a pair with a phone pocket. We highlighted that attribute by just showing a phone going into this side pocket of this legging. Sounds simple but we saw tons and tons of comments coming in on that. We found more footage and images of that legging and other leggings that have a phone pocket. We highlighted them, and people got very excited with tons of positive comments. And that led to significant lift in conversion and new members.
Then in turn, I passed that information to our physical design team and said, “Hey, guys, they’re really loving pockets. This is a feature that they really love about our leggings.” That really helped us scale our media. And it has become a best practice for us is to really highlight those types of features on leggings.
Q: So you closed a loop there. You can walk over to the design guys and say, “Hey, people are going crazy for this phone pocket.”
RH: Exactly. In the world that we live in, everybody is on their phones. That’s with them no matter what. Even when women are working out or whatever, they have their phone and their keys. So having a place to put those that’s safe and right on their hip, they love that.
And to touch on your point of being in house, that’s a huge advantage. We know the business. We know what drives the business. We can react quickly. If we’re working with an (outside) agency, that tends to be harder for people to see that information or be as intimate with the brand and understand the voice and react. Speed is definitely one of our advantages. If we don’t adjust campaigns with hours, it can be extremely costly. But the truth is, if you’re not operating this way, you don’t even realize how much you’ve lost by not reacting.
Q: You mentioned the word nimble. Some companies use outside social-media consultants and social-media agencies, especially after they get to a certain size, because they don’t think it’s core to what they do. Your team is really on the front lines, tracking everything and funneling that intelligence back into the organization.
RH: 100 percent. We pride ourselves in our ability to acquire customers and do that efficiently. Plenty of people can acquire customers but to do it within strict budgets and be as nimble as possible with it is truly an advantage. We pride ourselves on that. It’s helped us grow at the rate that TechStyle has been able to grow, because of that flexibility and being able to move fast.
Q: TechStyle crossed 5 million total subscribers earlier this year, a big achievement. You must have felt some ownership of that.
RH: I do feel some ownership. But more importantly, it’s a testament to our team working so closely together. While we are the customer acquisition team or the media team here, without great product, without great images, without wonderful design, without getting it to customers in a timely manner, it doesn’t matter. It’s really a group effort here. That’s the beauty of our business. Everybody understands that customer acquisition is everything. There are multiple steps to getting a customer to convert, and all of them matter. And the fact that we have full company support helps us be successful as well. It is a company mindset, it does not work unless everyone has the same approach.
Q: You have a range of people modeling your clothing, from celebrities to just plain folks, it looks like.
RH: People want to see the clothes on everybody. They want to see it on people like Kate Hudson, who’s more yoga, fun, relax, California girl. They want to see it on celebrities like Demi Lovato, but they also want to be able to relate with it and see it on a person that they’re like, that could be my best friend or that’s me. So we try to showcase our product on women of all shapes and sizes. And we do testing where we do faces, no faces, close up on the product, all sorts of stuff. What it comes down to is whatever makes the product look great and what creates and emotional connection with our customers.
Q: I think there’s a greater appreciation now than perhaps ever for a broad diversity of faces, races, sizes, etc. It doesn’t look like a Sears catalog from the 1950s.
RH: I see that in the feedback. People do home in on the imperfections of these women and they like that. It feels real, it feels authentic and that’s what we want our brands to be. Take a look at the Instagram page of our new brands SavageXFenty by Rihanna, it could not be more clear that this is a brand made for real people.
Q: Paid placement is a relatively mature business. I know you pride yourselves on innovation. How are you pushing the envelope here?
RH: Innovation can be a big idea or a small idea that adds efficiency. Our team structure, with experts in all these facets, helps us be hyper efficient. It helps us weed out the bad ideas so we’re not wasting dollars, and it gives us a handful of experts, which is what you really need.
First, if you think about a social channel versus a shopping channel like Google Shopping, those are very different. The same with display, when you think about traditional banner ads out there. The attribution on a site such as Yahoo will feel different because more people are going to view a display ad there, but they might need to see it a handful of times before they embrace it. It might need to be loud or a little bit more obnoxious or with a stronger color tone. You’re fighting with so much more out there on the web.
When you think about a social-media piece, their intent is for users to scroll through images. They are engaging with it. Your ads show up within one frame and you have their attention and they’re much more likely to click on something because that’s what that platform is made for. It’s to like things, it’s to comment on things, it’s to share things.
So being an expert in those areas and having people that can buy that media and optimize that media appropriately is truly important. If you want to be great, you need experts.
Q: How big is your team?
RH: We have somebody doing social media for each of the brands. We have about seven other people doing influencer marketing, display, the search side. So it’s not a massive team, but a mighty team.
Q: How are you handling rising concerns about privacy in the United States and especially Europe, where the General Data Protection Regulation is about to take effect?
RH: It impacts our operations a little bit from ad targeting and things of that nature. You’re not going to be able to use third-party data to build these different groups. But it really doesn’t affect us that much. We’ve been doing this a long time without that type of stuff that may feel like it’s taking advantage of people’s privacy.
We focus on just delivering to the people what they want to see. if you’re into performance or you’re into fashion, we want to show you great fashion or great performance active wear. At the end of the day, if it’s good, people engage.
Q: How are you using influencer marketing?
RH: I think there’s still opportunity in that space, especially with micro-influencers. Those people feel a little bit more genuine. They have a following that is loyal to them and trusts them. It’s about doing the right partnerships and making those influencers feel like they’re a part of your brand, so it comes off as genuine and authentic. People understand that influencers are getting paid but as long as it still feels genuine to that person speaking to your product, it’s just like a friend talking with you.
Q: How would you compare the reach of your influencer and marketing program to your paid program?
RH: It’s a big numbers game. You need a lot of influencers. If they have 200,000 followers, maybe they’re going to get 5,000 people who really look at your message or engage with it. And once you’ve shown it to those people two or three times, maybe they’re kind of done. You’re not going to grow anymore from their base. Our paid presence is definitely much stronger than our influencer presence at this point but it’s something that we’re growing rapidly.
Q: You have a huge presence on Facebook. JustFab alone has more than 9 million likes, while some other platforms are much smaller for you. How are you deciding which ones to work with?
RH: Overall, our strategy has evolved. It’s just about the size of their customer base and overlap. As we’ve matured as a company, how much of that user base (for a platform) have we already acquired or how many of those people are spending twice as much time on another social channel? Twitter hasn’t been a big channel for us. People want to visually see your brand and they want to have that emotional connection or feel some sort of vibe from it. An Instagram or Facebook lends itself to that a lot more. In Instagram, you can use a photo, you can use video, there are different ad formats. We can show it in multiple ways. If you think about a performance brand, you probably want to show it moving, instead of just sitting there. You want to show breadth of collection. There’s so much you can do there.
Q: How does the conversion process work?
RH: What converts them on the back end isn’t always what brings them in. It might be something like, “Oh, this is something different. I want to check it out,” and they might still fall into something a little bit more safe and basic, but we want to show them that we have it all. Most companies have the basics, but we have a little bit extra and we try to be unique with our product.
Q: How would you assess the current state of online acquisition?
RH: You see videos on an uptick, and mobile is more important than ever. So many people get stuck in the rut of looking at their desktops, because they’re sitting at their desk, but we have the mentality of mobile first. It’s a whole different way to take in media. TV is slowing down as you see viewership go down and people go elsewhere. Interesting things are happening with Snapchat, as they’ve started to do more advertising and open open up a little bit.
Just being aware of all these new ad formats that are coming out and being first to adopt has been a really strong thing for us. Being at our size and scale we tend to have the opportunity to be out there and test these things first, and really have them dialed in before they open up to broader uses.
Q: So it’s about listening to what all those people out there are trying to tell you?
I’ve presented to our teams multiple times and and that’s what I go to: This creative, it’s working or it’s not working, what do you want to do with it? They could have tons of ideas. And then I’ll pull up comments, and I’ll say, “Look, people are telling you what you need to do next. They’re telling you what they like. They’re telling you what they don’t like. They’re telling you what’s missing. They’re asking you questions about certain things.”
Apply that feedback and I guarantee your odds of that thing performing better or you finding more wins is going to go up exponentially. It’s about listening to the people. Especially when it comes to creative, it can be very subjective. So I tend to let the people tell me what they like and let them drive the opportunities that I have to present in the product.