Growing a DTC brand as a single founder is not for the faint of heart. Firas Balaffou quickly grew Necklow with his girlfriend through a series of paid channels and scored a $380,000 cash exit with OpenStore in early 2022.
We sat down with Firas to learn how he efficiently tested and scaled their paid media function from zero as a one-man team. We dive deep on:
“Discovering the right testing frameworks for creative was a game-changer for our growth. We quickly realized that everything can be tied back to creative.”
To kick off marketing, the early team (Firas and his girlfriend) identified Necklow’s primary angle for attracting consumers: their pillow’s easy solution for neck pain. This nearly universal pain point gave them hope for the brand’s TAM and chances at virality.
They were correct—to an extent. In Necklow’s first 4 months of operation, they ran ads based on this creative angle, with little-to-no strategy or data, and still broke even.
However, this bare-minimum process soon hit its ceiling of success. Firas knew he needed an upgrade from, in his words, this random, less-than-professional approach.
Above all, he cautions other young brands to prevent disorganized, piecemeal marketing.
“We didn’t realize how crucial creative was for months, even after iOS 14. We believed it was all about landing pages, pricing, etc. We were very wrong.”
After resolving to establish a more structured creative strategy, Firas realized Necklow didn’t have to reinvent the wheel. They could simply learn from successful DTC brands.
Below, he outlines his process for effectively drawing inspiration for creative from other brands. He recommends it to any venture building their ad machine from scratch.
To best capture Necklow’s target persona, the team began researching ad campaigns and styles by brands (not necessarily in Necklow’s category) with similar audiences.
They devised a list, making sure to exclude competitors in their vertical, and essentially dissected the most popular ad creative by names like Blissy, the silk bedding company.
More specifically, Firas analyzed best practices in these campaigns, including:
By reverse engineering successful content by brands with similar customers, Necklow sussed out a basic framework for building ads with a higher likelihood of converting.
Firas brought this framework plus a clear creative direction to a team of copywriters, video content creators, etc., who could bring Necklow's first research-backed ad to life.
From there, that project changed the game. Necklow still runs its first viral ad at a profit almost a year later, having accumulated at least 3 million views in the process. It also taught them, in Firas’ words: “Creative, especially ad creative, is everything.”
Today, the Necklow team continues to implement this framework:
Firas estimates three of every five experiments result in a great ad. Necklow now has data to begin iterating and testing each new ad with different tooling and creators.
“I advise learning from existing brands with similar audiences. It’s a shortcut that can save a lot of trial and error in figuring out what ad styles work for you.”
As for how Necklow runs and tests ads at scale, Firas emphasizes keeping things simple. He’ll push paid ads with three guiding principles:
If you’ve built reliable creative, there’s no need to overwork Facebook. Diving deeper, Necklow's creative deployment process is divided into three steps for testing and scaling paid ad efforts.
For any new creative, Firas runs a series of low-key testing campaigns. After three days, he evaluates their success with clicks—typically resulting in two conditions:
Otherwise, campaigns with strong CPAs are left to keep running for a full seven-day trial period. For context, Firas points to less than $30 as a strong CPA for Necklow.
If a test campaign still shows sub $30 CPAs after one week, they’ll bump it up to a greater daily budget to validate its success at a certain degree of marketing spend.
For instance, if they’ve already spent $1,500–2,000 on a profitable ad, they’ll put it through Facebook’s CBO with $2,000 per day and continue monitoring performance.
For reference, Campaign Budget Optimization is a feature in Facebook Ads Manager that automatically optimizes spend across ad sets.
If an ad holds up through its validation campaign, it’s time to double down and scale it.
This scaling process involves assigning it a far larger daily budget. The Necklow team expects to run winning creative at a strong CPA for at least a few months.
“We say everything is dependent on creative. You shouldn’t have to heavily tweak your media buying. If it’s a good ad, we trust Facebook’s CBO to optimize it well.”
To identify a high-performing ad, Firas recommends tracking three core metrics:
CPA is defined as the cost to your brand of acquiring a single customer. The anchor metric, a solid CPA means your creative is bringing in profitable acquisitions.
CPC is measured by the amount of money paid for each click in a paid campaign.
After identifying a sub $30 CPA, Firas looks for an excellent price per click to ensure all of Necklow’s creative is bringing in cheap traffic. He prioritizes this for 2 reasons:
HR measures how quickly your paid ad gets a customer to click.
Firas believes all winning creative has a hook rate of at least 30%, meaning of every 100 people who view a Necklow ad, 30 will keep watching after three seconds.
“We’ll always be testing new creative, because every great ad should uniquely speak to and convert for new, different audiences.”
Even though Necklow has already produced several viral, repurposable ads, Firas points out that any brand should always be testing new concepts and content.
The Necklow team tests a new ad at least once every two weeks. After all, even a solid campaign will see CPAs gradually increase after a few months.
Firas highlights two variables that Necklow aims to cover in every piece of ad creative:
To create an equally accurate and attractive ad, the team must define and deliver on their "brand objective." For potential customers, that means answering key questions like:
From the onset, the Necklow team angled their flagship product as a neck pain solution, so they always make sure to mention this near-universal pain point in their videos.
This also ties into highlighting Necklow’s unique value prop: its composition of millions of micro airballs that allows it to be uniquely supportive in multiple sleep positions.
After running ads that have had millions of sets of eyes on them, Firas emphasizes the need for a great hook in your content, thus returning to the value of a strong hook rate.
The hook of your creative should uniquely target and grab the attention of either a broad or niche audience, depending on the goal of the ad. For instance, you can target an older consumer market by simply depicting older actors in your deme. Or, you can target the couples’ market by featuring a couple’s unique product feedback.
This goes hand in hand with the value of diversity in your content creators when establishing social proof. As an example, Necklow's first viral ad mainly showed young white women. When it went viral, they received a notable number of comments akin to:
Social proof is valuable across the board because buyers hesitate to believe the slogans around a brand. But diverse social proof goes the extra mile.
By showing many groups enjoying your product (i.e., if your user base includes folks of all races, you should depict them), you help people feel comfortable making a purchase.
As calls for diversity in gender, race, ability and disability, and more skyrocket in every major industry, this should also be a consideration in adverts for your small business.
In summary, Firas returns to his original message: to prevent inefficient and disorganized marketing campaigns, focus on rapidly testing iterable frameworks of ad creatives.
First, study and reverse engineer high-performing creative content from established Shopify brands. Once you’ve broken down the ingredients of a successful ad, integrate those components into your own campaigns and deploy tests to gauge effectiveness.
To do this, Firas recommends tracking three metrics: CPAs, CPCs, and Hook rates. Once your team has landed on a set of winning creatives, continue to refine and test each ad with a focus on value prop messaging and diverse social proof within each branded ad.
In his words, once you’ve deployed the correct testing frameworks, growth will follow.
“The diversity of your content creators does matter. And if you foster it, you’ll gain more meaningful access to varied viewers and audiences.”