What is the one marketing and sales tactic that really works? Summersalt co-founder and C.D.B.O. Reshma Chattaram Chamberlin gets this question a lot. “It’s a very hard question to answer because everything works when it works in tandem, not in isolation.”
Chamberlin is an advocate of crafting a multi-pronged strategy. Over the last decade she has helped startups merge brand and strategy to hone their unique approach. In her Project Entrepreneur class, “Marketing and Sales Strategy: Reach and Retain Your Target Customers,” she presented her playbook for creating an individual sales and marketing strategy, beginning with establishing a brand through articulating a channel mix, customer acquisition plan, and unit economics.
Part I: Defining Your Brand Pillars
*View in Chamberlin’s class video from 1:10–8:46
The fundamental step of establishing your sales and marketing strategy is distinguishing your brand. “It is very hard to convince someone to buy what you’re selling, whether it’s a cup of tea or enterprise software, if you don’t know exactly who you are and why you are different,” Chamberlin says. “Brand is the foundation of your strategy.” Here, she walks through the pillars and how to distill each.
Simply put: Your brand’s values are your company’s compass. “They are the foundational elements that ground you and make it easy to make decisions.” She suggests these questions to distinguish yours:
- What does your company stand for?
- What drives your business?
- What guides your actions?
- What makes you tick?
Tone of Voice
Your brand values are a personification of your tone of voice, and should reflect how your customer feels and behaves. “Tone of voice is incredibly important because it’s what hooks the consumer and separates you from the pack,” Chamberlin says. “Customer acquisition and sales become so much stronger when you know how to speak to your customer. Let’s say you’re going into a medical environment. You want your tone of voice to be trustful, thoughtful, and fact-based. Whereas, if you’re Dove, being too technical would alienate your consumer. Their tone of voice is uplifting and empowering.”
Brand Look and Feel
How does your brand make people feel? Your answer should be woven through every aspect of your customer experience. The objective is that the ethos of your brand can be felt simply by looking at it, with the fonts, colors, and imagery evoking those feelings. Chamberlin describes two examples, the first a mortgage company aiming for an official, secure feel. That mindset manifests in a clean and straightforward design with combinations of blues and greens, along with serif and sans serif fonts that create to a friendly, trustworthy feeling.
The second example, a breast pump company, wants to be happy, friendly, informative, and actionable and therefore they utilize combinations of pinks, oranges, and reds to cater to mothers while also hinting at the baby space. “Successful brands have an emotional connection with their customer.”
Digital and Customer Experience
Brand as the throughline of your strategy is core to Chamberlin’s philosophy, and digital and customer experience are where you can trace the progression.
“How does this come together in a wonderful package that people understand?” she asks. “You really want every aspect of your brand to feel the same. We talk a lot about the Summersalt magic. When someone gets their order confirmation, is there magic infused? Is there magic infused when they open their box? What is the return experience like?”
Strive for every touchpoint of your customer experience to feel completely cohesive, she adds. From customer acquisition to increasing Lifetime Value, consistency influences every aspect of your strategy.
Personify Your Brand
Chamberlin has developed a brand quiz to help bring these pillars to life. The purpose of the exercise is to contextualize your brand in a real way while also getting to the heart of how your customers feel interacting with you.
- If your brand was a flavor of cereal, which would it be? Chamberlin recommends identifying a well-known brand. “Are you serious with a focused objective, like Fiber One? Or, are you more childlike and playful, like Frosted Flakes?”
- What words would you use to describe your brand? “These descriptions are anchors that guide your efforts.”
- If your brand was an actor/actress, who would it be? Summersalt views its brand as a best friend and personifies it as Jennifer Garner. “She’s funny, clever, and smart, but still thoughtful and relatable.”
“Your brand is your competitive advantage. The more you do to stand out from the pack, the better it is for your business.”
Part II: Establishing Your Unique Channel Mix
*View in Chamberlin’s class video from 8:48–22:01
Chamberlin’s multi-pronged approach is illustrated in the development of a channel strategy. She walks through the six key marketing channels and details best practices to craft goals for each, beginning with classifications:
- Owned channels are platforms you own and can control, like your website and social media
- Paid channels are ones you use to acquire customers, such as social media marketing, influencers, and paid press placements (control varies with partnerships)
- Earned media is free brand recognition, like press and endorsements
What is the first thing you do when you buy something? Google it, of course. “Your website is your storefront,” Chamberlin says. “It is a vetting tool and opportunity to communicate your brand values.”
She advises considering whether your website is informational or conversion-focused, and then zeroing in on your customer journey: What do you want customers to do on your site? “Say you want them to fill out a form,” she explains. “How does that become seamless? Remove all obstacles to conversion.”
Companies should establish K.P.I.s to guide their efforts and monitor their performance on each channel, such asconversation rate, add-to-cart percentage, load speeds and times, and perhaps most importantly, an excellent mobile experience. Critical to Chamberlin’s holistic approach is gaining a clear understanding of how every channel fits into your overall strategy. “At Summersalt, our number-one goal is conversion but that happens only when we have clear value propositions, clean customer flows, good inventory, and thoughtful imagery. It’s really about making sure everything is working in tandem with each other.”
A brand’s marketing channels intersect and oftentimes all lead to its website. Chamberlin advises monitoring traffic to understand the top, middle, and bottom of the funnel, and how it’s influencing your goals.
Email marketing can be an impactful branch of a brand’s content strategy and is a valuable tool to acquire customers at no cost. This is a dynamic channel through which you can be a thought leader, share your values, and generate sales—and, Chamberlin says, is most effective when brands find the right balance of all three.
She recommends being consistent with cadence and content, and always focusing on compelling subject lines with clear directives. “Always have a why. Why are you communicating with your customer? What action do you want them to take?”
“Best practices are so important because consumers like consistency but also surprise and delight. Those two might be in complete conflict with each other, but you want to think through how you can achieve them, whilst knowing your customer.”
Tactically, make sure to safeguard mobile formatting and track quantitative metrics, like product views and abandoned carts, as well as qualitative ones like your marketing messaging and informational emails.
Paid media is the new rent. “It’s the quickest way to get in front of your customer, Chamberlin says. “People used to walk in the mall and say: ‘Oh, that looks interesting, I’m going to go in.’ We think about paid advertising the same way.”
“Instagram and Facebook are the new mall. You want to entice people enough to say, ‘I’m going to go in,’ and click through to your website.”
Paid media strategies are unique to each company and Chamberlin urges founders to zero in on where their customers are. “How do you think about the mix between Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and more? Should you even do Pinterest and Tik Tok? It’s not one size fits all; it’s what’s important to your business. Meet your consumer where she is.”
When you do, Chamberlin advises capturing her attention with eye-catching imagery, clear value propositions, and products you have inventory for. Strategic K.P.I.s and diligent management are essential for paid media channels. She recommends setting sensible budgets and paying close attention to your Customer Acquisition Cost (C.A.C.) for each channel, Blended C.A.C., and Return on Ad spend. “Focus on your customer acquisition costs and what you’re willing to spend on each customer,” she says. “This is incredibly important because if I anticipated spending $10 to acquire a customer, and it actually costs me $40, that throws off my entire financial model and I’m not a viable business.”
Social media is a space to connect with your customers one on one, and Chamberlin says success depends on how well you know your audience. Evaluate the channels your consumers spend time, discern their unique roles, and set goals for each.
She highlights the company Lola. “They use their content on Instagram to ask thoughtful questions, interact with their consumer, and share facts and information, whereas on Facebook, they share long-form media, which isn’t conducive to Instagram. They aren’t on TikTok or Pinterest because it isn’t conducive to their business model. As you explore the vast sea of social media, consider what makes sense and where you want to spend your time and energy.”
Cadence and consistency will strengthen your relationship with your consumer, and Chamberlin encourages creating a framework to maintain your schedule. Tailor your efforts to the content your consumer engages with and that feels true to your brand. “Always think about engagement as a K.P.I. to measure not just conversion,” she says. “At the same time, it’s important to understand what your focus is. Sometimes we run broad, brand-focused campaigns because our focus is people hearing about Summersalt. Other times, our focus is getting people to buy one thing in particular. Know your goals; they’re not always uniform, and they shouldn’t be.”
Keep this recommendation in mind as you manage your social platforms: “Your paid and owned channels should work together in harmony. Don’t share different messaging on each channel.”
Influencers can be valuable partners. They provide avenues for both brand awareness and conversion, though they can easily be misconceived. “When we think about influencers, everyone thinks it’s the person with the perfect outfit in an exotic location,” Chamberlin says. “That’s not the only influencer you want to think about. If you’re a health and wellness business, can nutritionists be your influencers? How do you use them as a channel? Look at influencers and social verification in the broad and interesting sense as opposed to [through] a narrow lens.”
Influencers are generally a form of paid marketing but can also be earned. During Summersalt’s early days, they didn’t have an influencer budget and personally reached out to women they admired who helped garner early brand awareness. Micro influencers are also a path to gain early recognition.
Be sure to write accurate contracts and track the impact of your partnerships by focusing on K.P.I.s like traffic, clicks, conversions, likes, follows, and story views.
“We all want it. We all love it.” Chamberlin views press as a fundamental part of establishing your brand: It may not have a dramatic impact on sales, but the social validation broadens your reach and recognition.
There is, of course, value in having a P.R. agency, but Chamberlin attests that you can secure meaningful press even if you don’t have the early budget. Prior to Summersalt, she launched the photo app, Museo, and coordinated features on platforms like ABC News and Fast Company with her co-founder. She suggests researching writers to ensure they cover similar topics (their email addresses are often public) and then, sending personal emails sharing your business, detailing your ask, and referencing content they’ve written in the past or a commonality to seed your relationship. Additionally, she highlights individual P.R. consultants as helpful early partners.
Founders planning a company or product launch should take a strategic approach and preview their product to editors beforehand. Chamberlin secured an embargoed launch article for Summersalt in 2017, as well as guaranteed posts that helped them make an immediate splash in the industry.
Part III: Crafting Your Customer Acquisition Strategy
*View in Chamberlin’s class video from 22:05–30:49
Your customer acquisition strategy is a foundational driver of your financial model and, ultimately, the health of your business. Every company has a unique approach and Chamberlin emphasizes the importance of making it a focal point of your marketing and sales efforts. The primary step is gaining a clear understanding of your audience. Start by asking these questions:
- Where does your customer live? “This is really about where they spend most of their time online. What is she doing? Why is she doing that for your particular business? How can you meet her where she is?” Be hyper-focused on leveraging these platforms and set distinct K.P.I.s to optimize performance on each.
- Where does someone looking for your products go? “This may seem obvious but it’s a fundamental question to think about. When someone really wants something, to who and where are they going? Are they using Google? Are they going to influencers to look for recommendations? Or, third-party sites for reviews?”
Chamberlin shares a few customer acquisition tips for enterprise and direct-to-consumer businesses.
- Fill your pipeline. “Enterprise sales are often less predictable. You might be 10 meetings in and someone higher up doesn’t make the final approval. You need a lot of irons in the fire.”
- Create succinct marketing materials. “Make your value propositions crystal clear. It’s really tough if you can’t explain what you’re doing and someone can’t understand your value propositions, and have a reminder of them, after a meeting.”
- Design a clear roadmap. “We’ve all been on calls when we’re asking. ‘What exactly is the payment plan? What am I getting in each tier?’ Create clear pricing and deliverables. Make contracting easy and onboarding a breeze.”
Direct to Consumer
- Streamline your sales cycle. “Someone can hear about your business at 9 a.m. and make a purchase by 9:15. Other times, they can hear about your brand today and not make a purchase until two years later. Your goal as a founder is to make sure people know who your brand is, and then create an effective customer acquisition strategy where that timeline is as short and predictable as possible.”
- Accelerate the process with retargeting. “If you’re not retargeting, you’re essentially saying someone came to my shop and no one talked to them. When you’re spending so much time, energy, and resources to bring people to your site you want to remind them: ‘Hey, You were interested. I’m still here!”
- Craft each touchpoint with great intention. “Consumers are incredibly smart. Be authentic. Leaning into who you are is so important from a customer-acquisition perspective.”
Master Your Unit Economics
Customer acquisition flows into your financial model through your unit economics, which also account for the costs and revenues associated with your product and demonstrate whether you have a viable business.
Chamberlin walks through a basic example of how to calculate them: For example, Cost of Goods reflects the complete cost of producing your product, from the fabrics to the sewing costs. Selling Expenses is the total cost of selling it, including expenses like packaging and shipping.
“Let’s say you sell your product for $100. It costs $40 to create, $15 to sell, and you have a 15% return rate. Essentially, you have $30 of room to play [with] to make money on your first purchase.”
Consider these questions as you reflect on your unit economics:
- What is your Customer Acquisition Cost? Your C.A.C. is influenced by a number of variables, such as your business model and the price of your product. “It’s really important to think about how this ties into your financial model. You can’t think about it in isolation. What is your overhead? What are your selling expenses? You need all the pieces to work together.”
- What is your Return-on-Ad Spend? That is, he revenue generated as a result of your advertising spend. Founders should zero-in their R.O.A.s to gauge the viability of their strategy. “If your entire model is built on making a certain amount of money and you’re spending twice that to acquire a customer it won’t make sense. Consider the R.O.A.sS you’re comfortable with and focus on those as you build your business.”
- How do these numbers fit into your financial model? This is where you have room to play, Chamberlin says. “You can see that your unit economics are good if your R.O.A.’s is five times. Then, when it moves up to seven times, you start making a significant amount of money. Now, you ask: How do we optimize all of those channels?”
Unit economics will be a foundational part of your conversations with investors as they ultimately predict how scalable and sustainable your business is. As BBG Partner Nisha Dua shared earlier in the program, investors will assess your margins whether they improve with scale orif you are profitable on first purchase or have a payback period. (For pre-launch companies, Chamberlin advises researching average market CACs, ensuring they’re realistic, and then creating your own assumptions.)
Chamberlin adds a final note to founders: Vigilance around your unit economics is vital and informs your ability to steer your company. “When you’re driving on a cliff and you come to a blind turn, what do you do? Do you slow down and evaluate? You don’t want to go off the cliff, right? Look at the data. Don’t blindly speed ahead and continue spending to get a customer who isn’t coming back. Instead, think: Let’s slow down, look at what’s around the corner and adjust how we measure. It’s really important to stay agile.”
“The biggest lesson is to continuously evaluate what you’re doing. Just because something worked [on] Day One doesn’t mean it’s going to work [on] Day 10. Just because something worked yesterday doesn’t mean it’s going to work tomorrow.”
Chamberlin’s playbook may be tactical but it all ties back to where we started. “Your brand plays a role in pushing it all forward. The more people who know about your business, the less you have to spend to acquire a customer and the more you can think about retention and Lifetime Value,” she says. “That’s where the magic happens.”