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How Shopify brands can profitably scale paid marketing

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Yogaste is an award-winning yoga apparel brand spinning products in beautiful prints from their beloved soft-style performance fabric. The company was sold to OpenStore in February. 

We sat down with Brendan Brosnan and Chris Heckman, Co-Founders of Yogaste, to learn how they’ve built and branded four thriving DTC eComm enterprises. We cover:

  1. Three essential action items for marketing your Shopify store

  2. Why you should never invest before you test your brand concepts

  3. Three tips for building solid retention with email and SMS marketing

“Aggressively testing and validating all of our ideas upfront—before we ever seriously invest in them—has honestly been the key to our success in eComm.” 

How to test, launch, and scale Shopify brands

According to Chris, one of the worst mistakes a founder can make is dedicating themself to an idea before they've attempted to validate its likelihood of success. 

Down the road, when the business struggles, they might troubleshoot with better ads, landing pages, etc.—without ever re-examining the value prop of their product within the market. As such, relentless testing of various niches and brand concepts, before making any kind of sizable investment, is non-negotiable for the Yogaste co-founders. 

1. Set up your test store

Whether your potential niche at hand is yoga apparel or children’s toys, begin testing its market potential by launching a simple Shopify store. 

No need to customize beyond the default theme, run any integrations, or find a supplier. Just come up with a fundamental product collection and call it a pre-order campaign. 

2. Run paid ads

Put a couple hundred dollars toward ad spend to drive traffic to the site. Let any potential customers know pre-orders will be fulfilled in 4–8 weeks or whenever is manageable.

3. Track results

Even if you generate zero sales, the success of your campaign (click-through rates, cost per click, adds to cart, checkouts) will signal whether or not this has market potential. 

You can refund any orders you did collect and apply your newfound knowledge on user interest and market viability to the next project. 

Or, if you’ve struck gold in this niche and the pre-orders have poured in, prepare to double down on this concept, find a supplier, and begin shipping product. Brendan says it comes down to spending a few hundred bucks to validate or falsify an idea versus the time and inventory that would be wasted on an otherwise suffering business. 

Without 15 attempts, the Yogaste team never would’ve found the four that landed. 

“Losing our attachment to our ideas working out majorly improved the whole process. You need to fail quickly to figure things out.” 

The Yogaste playbook: dual testing frameworks

As for what those successful stories had in common, Brendan and Chris point to two qualities: the bumper sticker test and low-ticket inventory items.

Phase one: deploy the bumper sticker test

Each of their brand concepts passes what Chris calls the bumper sticker test. Although it doesn’t map perfectly for every eComm category, it applies well to apparel.

As he explains it: If your niche is a topic your buyer feels passionate about—to the point of advertising it to the public by slapping a bumper sticker on their car—it'll likely perform well in an apparel space. With Yogaste, the yoga niche passed with flying colors.

For example, imagine the type of yogi who: 

  • Happily pastes stickers saying “Namaste” on their car, laptop, etc. 

  • Gets tattoos of peace symbols or tranquil, meditative affirmations

  • Hangs yogi mantras and related decorations around their home

In Chris’ words, they’re not just passionate about it.

They make it known that they’re passionate. 

Phase two: leverage low-ticket inventory 

The co-founders have also found the most success with maneuverable, low-ticket products. A maneuverable item is low-stakes and, again, easily testable.

In terms of Yogaste’s inventory: 

  • The team has used Printify and Printful to easily print and test new designs. 

  • They'll typically test thousands of designs, then select a couple hundred winners. 

  • Those SKUs will be moved to bulk production to save on COGS. 

Meanwhile, many eComm apparel players will mass-produce a smaller range of 100 designs, only to have 10–20 of those options perform well with buyers. 

Maneuverable products then also tend to go hand in hand with being low-ticket items, or those that are friendly to impulse buyers scrolling Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok.

“There’s no set rulebook for eComm growth, but we’ve easily found the greatest success by compounding learnings across all of our brands.” 

How Shopify merchants can effectively optimize paid spend

On the digital marketing front, Brendan and Chris operate their brands with one thesis: they must be as profitable as possible from day one. 

By extension, they'll never spend a dollar on weak marketing for marketing's sake. Instead, they've learned over the years to read and follow the data above all.

They can easily tell: 

  • How to optimize what shows signs of potential for healthy scaling

  • How to quickly cut what’s not working

On the whole, the pair regularly applies 3 action items to market their Shopify brands. 

1. Rigorously track metrics

Never spend a single dollar on ads until you’ve set up accurate tracking, particularly with Facebook, Instagram, and Google. Chris calls it a painfully common mistake. 

After all, if you don't install your Meta Pixel, zero data gets sent back to the platform and your analytics dashboard has no way of telling what you've spent your ad dollars on. 

2. Play the numbers game

Like their ethos on relentless concept and product testing, successful ad practices also come down to playing the numbers or volume game. 

Rather than testing just 5–10 supposedly promising images, they'll run hundreds of pictures, videos, graphics, etc—even those they believe look unappealing. 

As Chris puts it, "We'll run all of it because all we know is that we know nothing. You have to separate the data-driven process from your ego." 

3. Zoom out and troubleshoot

If you’re running at a negative ROAS, consider stepping back to troubleshoot at a higher level before preemptively diagnosing your ad productivity as the problem. 

It's a justifiable instinct in today's paid media-reliant industry, but every element of your operation is interconnected: product, site, conversions, AOV, and (of course) ad results. 

Chris gives one example of a past consulting client who’s Shopify store showed strong click-through rates and low CPMs. Despite strong metrics, the business simply was not profitable. Logically, something on the site itself was likely hindering conversions.

At the end of the day, the co-founders run the same reliable marketing and web tactics across the board. Yet, only a handful of their brand concepts end up viable. 

Once again, this can be traced back to their emphasis on testing niches and markets. If you haven’t carried out the product validation, you can only pin so much blame on ads.

“A lot of our brand experiments use the same marketing, visuals, etc., but still see wildly different success rates. The biggest lever to pull is truly the product itself.” 

Yogaste’s core email and SMS retention tactics

Brendan estimates 90% of DTC brands underutilize email and SMS bases. Conversely, email and SMS are mainstays of Yogaste’s post-purchase and retention playbook. 

To drive signups, they leverage Attentive’s exit abandonment popup, prompting shoppers to enter their emails and phone numbers for a discount before abandoning their session. 

It's a no-frills approach, but one proven to work via extensive testing. They've also nailed down three best practices for consistently retentive email and SMS plays. 

1. Offer valuable content

Brands frequently default to flooding customers’ inboxes or text messages to push sales—and wind up appearing intrusive and causing subscribers to churn. 

As an alternative, keep in touch with your customers by sending tailored, relevant, and valuable content like tutorials on maintaining the product they purchased over time. 

Rather than treating texts and emails as an avenue to repeatedly press for conversions, they can be another funnel for generating genuine rapport with your customer base. 

2. Offer fresh products

Rather than reaching out multiple times about the same SKUs, try to consistently have a new product cycle planned or in motion, thus piquing readers’ curiosity and boosting open rates. 

3. Offer varied discounts

Alongside new product cycles, Brendan recommends varying your sales (Yogaste averages one per month) to simply keep things interesting, whether that’s a mystery discount, BOGO, etc. 

“Ninety percent of brands will massively underutilize their email and SMS channels, but ours are perhaps the most valuable assets we’ve cultivated.” 

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