Building A Growth Engine That Gets You Acquired with One Click Ventures

Yaw Aning Headshot

Yaw Aning

Founder & CEO

Jon Corwin

Jon Corwin

One Click Ventures Director of Growth
Twitter: @JonCorwin
One Click Ventures

Is it possible to drive short term results, while also creating long term relationships with customers?

For most direct to consumer retailers, brand and growth are seen as two entirely different strategies. Eyewear e-commerce retailer One Click is not like most DTC retailers.

They have formulated an organizational strategy to drive both short term (transactions) and long term (relationships) results. Acquired by eyewear behemoth EssilorLuxottica in 2018, their strategy has been proven successful.

This is what we explore in this episode with Jon Corwin, One Click’s Head of Growth. Jon is focused on growth, but he also places a large emphasis on the power of brand - a counterintuitive mindset from typical growth marketers.

In this episode, we hear how Jon and his team:

  • Work with brand and performance marketing teams in growth tests to ensure brand consistency through their “brand filter”
  • Measure the performance of brand initiatives and their ability to form relationships with customers
  • Battle the inevitable phenomenon of channel decay and banner blindness
  • And so much more!

Enjoy!

Episode length: 28:52'

In their words

We do realize from the end customer standpoint, brand is not any different than any other marketing output. Everything is going to have an overall influence on the brand and their, say, potential brand affinity they may build.

Jon Corwin, One Click Ventures' Director of Growth

Podcast Transcription

Y: Yaw

J: Jon

J: We do realize from the end customer standpoint, brand is not any different than any other marketing output. Everything is going to have an overall influence on the brand and their, say, potential brand affinity they may build.

Y: Welcome to Touchpoints.

A show where we celebrate Direct to Consumer leaders, marketers, and operators that are creating breakout brands in the digital era.

In this series, we take an inside look at how the next generation of consumer brands are being built, the unique experiences brands create to drive customer love and loyalty - and the obstacles they face scaling their businesses.

I’m Yaw Aning. I’m the cofounder & CEO of Malomo, a shipment tracking platform helping ecommerce brands create experiences that make their customers fall in love.

Today we go inside One Click Ventures. A parent company that operates three eyewear brands: Sunglass Warehouse, Felix & Iris, and Readers.com.

In the middle of 2018, the company was acquired by EssilorLuxottica.

If you haven’t heard of EssilorLuxottica, fair enough, but odds are you’ve probably heard of these brands: Ray Bans, Oakley, LensCrafters, Sunglass Hut, FramesDirect, Target Optical, and Oliver Peoples.

These are just a few of the brands that are either owned or licensed and manufactured by EssilorLuxottica. Now that’s pretty good company to be in.

Launched in 2005, One Click was originally founded as an ecommerce holding company with a strategy to launch products in several different verticals. At one point, the company operated 14 different brands in categories such as purses and scarves.

But the only constant in ecommerce is change itself.

In this episode, we’ll touch on two major changes that caused one click to divest 11 of those 14 brands to focus on one category - eyewear. With this focus, they also set their sights on becoming The World’s Most People-Focused Eyewear Company and made that their new brand mission

As you’ll soon find out, One Click repositioned the entire company around the needs of the customer and put brand at the heart of everything they do, even growth.

(MUSIC / PAUSE)

In today’s episode, we explore the strategy and impact of building out a growth team with Jon Corwin.

Despite his focus on growth, Jon views his role differently than most growth and performance oriented marketers. He believes that in today’s environment, brand should be at the heart of all growth efforts. Results are important, but so is making sure each channel and test his team executes is in alignment with One Click’s brand mission.

We start the story with the rebirth of One Click, after the painful Google update that nearly wiped out the company….Here’s Jon.

J: Randy & Angie our founders had realized that we could be really good at a bunch of things or we could be great at one thing, and that decision to divest all of our brands that were non-eyewear focused and really just double down on eyewear was really driven by a few things: I think 1, for historical context, we were attacking many different categories through this search based approach, which was working well for initial scale, but were finding missed opportunities to go deeper on any one category and explore what the respective brand can really become.

Y: One Click’s initial strategy was to find a marketing playbook that worked, and then launch more brands using that playbook.

There was one big problem though - when the playbook stopped working - in this case, SEO - it threatened the entire business. They were reliant on a single channel for growth.

They decided to switch this strategy on its head and do a complete 180. Instead of having many products and one channel, they decided that it made more sense to have one product and many channels.

At the same time they were shifting their strategy, a second, potentially more deadly threat was emerging.

  • Brands like Warby Parker entered their space - with a new playbook. These brands completely redefined what it meant to create a direct-to-consumer experience, challenging many of the norms One Click was operating under.
  • In this new model, the focus switched from simply selling things online to building a brand with a strong point of view. As a consumer, if you believed in that point of view, you felt a strong attraction to that company. It was almost as if people were buying the brands, and the product was simply a souvenir of the brand. Now, don’t get me wrong, the products needed to be world-class in order for this to work, but these companies were selling the brand and mission first and foremost, and the products second.
  • Jon and the One Click team knew that they needed to embrace this emerging trend head on - or risk losing everything.
  • They spent a lot of time understanding exactly how and why these brands were succeeding.

J: In terms of those marketing or branding end points, these brands have developed a fierce discipline around who these brands are that they’ve built, what the brand values are that they stand behind, and how that translates to their end marketing deliverables. So, a lot of this is not ‘we have certain channels that maybe are more brand focused versus others that are meant to drive some sort of direct response. They’re viewing it as a full ecosystem and every single one of those touchpoints is going to have an impact on the brand at large, so placing a really high bar for what those materials look like and what the overall experience is.

Y: They looked at these two shifts - focusing on a single vertical, and leading with brand and experience instead of product - as the new model the next generation of ecommerce businesses would be built on.

Their new strategy was creating a singular message with a strong point of view, and the growth team was responsible for sharing that message in as many ways as possible.

For them, channel diversification was simply a way to get closer to the customer. It wasn’t just about driving transactions, it was also about driving relationships.

J: These brands have full ownership of the data and the experience when customers come to them, so understanding how that whole ecosystem works together to build a really healthy customer journey, really becomes a competitive advantage and one that they can scale against. What you find is they may be leaning very heavily on certain paid channels to help enable scale, but after a certain point, and part of what we’ve seen with certain channels is if they’re executing well, or executing right, you start to see some of these word of mouth channels or non-paid channels start to clip some of what they’re doing on the paid side, and really become the backbone growth driver for where the brand is headed overall.

Our growth team exists as a dedicated marketing function in the spirit of channel diversification so we had learned in years past after surviving search algorithm updates for example back in 2012 changes that Google may make on their end, how volatile that could be to established channels.

Forming a dedicated growth team as sort of this validation engine, if you will, too, really position us well for constantly vetting, researching and testing new opportunities to help grow the business. So our thinking there is if the growth team successfully tests and validates a new channel then once that is scaled and operationalized we’ll look to effectively level that up in those new channels to our performance marketing team and then have that then woven into our core marketing mix.

Y: Jon knew that brand and growth needed to work together. In order for this strategy to work, Jon needed to align his team’s mandate of growing the business with that of the company’s mission to build deeper relationships with their customers.

It’s not an easy position to be in. Growth has a pretty obvious north star - find new ways to increase revenue today. And brand has a north star - drive long-term retention and loyalty. On the surface, it would seem as though these things would be at odds against each other.

Jon reframed his thinking.

One Click started viewing growth as an opportunity to find new ways to connect with customers, rather than just get them to the buy button. The growth team set their ethos as “how can we serve our customers better?” by making the experience more relevant, seamless, and enjoyable.

J: We want to execute to build the world's most people focused eyewear company. All of this should be one of the easiest customer purchase process. We have to execute better than the experience that they're going to have or options that are going to be made available to them on the brick-and-mortar side. Waking up every day asking ourselves how we can improve in that area is definitely what drives us.

Y: They knew that in order to build a unique and memorable brand, they had to figure out a way to win the hearts and minds of consumers by completely rethinking how people buy eyewear, but how?

J: These DTC breakouts are building defensible brands that are connecting with consumers on an emotional level to where they’re not viewing marketing through this lens of necessarily just direct response or very much a transactional dynamic. They’re developing a relationship with customers that clearly supports healthy LTV, but not only that it’s something that historically in certain categories say mattresses or eyewear for example, there were inherent inefficiencies in the models or the way in which that purchase process was previously structured & these brands that are helping distill some of the chaos & noise in that purchase process, a lot of this is really just eliminating the paradox of choice, and making what could otherwise be a pretty inefficient or high friction purchase become something that is a much more pleasurable, immersive & exploratory process online that could be pleasant for the end consumer.

Going back to being great at one thing, I think we realized that with all of the data infrastructure and world class team members that we have, there will always be an inherent opportunity cost & constraint on our resources. So, this focus around eyewear gave us the opportunity to develop much deeper domain expertise in eyewear. Becoming eyewear experts with the folks on our customer happiness team, who eat sleep and breath eyewear, I think that all of those become competitive advantages that we can really weave into the brand values of why folks may choose to shop with us and visit say Readers.com rather than buying the reading glasses at their corner drug store.

Y: As they started executing this strategy - they began seeing some very promising results. The lifetime value of customers steadily increased as they honed their message and found more and more channels to share that message.

But yes, you guessed it, another obstacle emerged. Their ability to connect with customers began to erode over time. They were experiencing what all marketers know well - channel decay.

To simplify things, this phenomenon is caused by three things:

The first, was that every channel experiences volatility as it evolves, like the Google algorithm change.

The second was through what we’ll call customer experience baggage. As customers interact frequently with a highly enjoyable experience, that experience slowly becomes the new norm - and the customer carries that expectation with them everywhere they go.

For example, when Amazon introduced two-day shipping, it was something brand new and exciting to people. Now, not getting 2-day shipping feels like a huge disappointment rather than a magical experience.

The third was through saturation. More brands flooded the market and they all began to use the same tactics, channels, and strategies to get their message out.

So what’s a marketer to do?

J: It’s this notion of banner blindness that you hear a lot of marketers reference of channels are constantly waning in their effectiveness, so what can we do as a business to help, help combat some of that and ensuring that as the ecosystem of what’s working well in ecommerce for each of our respective brands, we’re kind of in a more proactive state rather than reactive as some of those dynamics shift.

Not if but when and how soon some of these channels, we begin to see some of the increase in CPM’s or decrease in click through. Within any type of 6 month window you’re going to see a new emerging trend or tactic that’s working well in the domain of direct to consumer, that we might consider testing. And often what we’ve even found with the rate of change & channel strategy even that something that’s already being written as a best practice may already start to be waning in its efficiency. So by the time there’s case studies and publications around some of these things, that window of opportunity that you can get really really attractive ROI or return on ad spend may already have passed so for us growth is constantly prospecting and trying to find, what are those early signals that we should consider testing into as a signal to hopefully captivate on kinda first-mover advantage if you will.

Y: Jon is in a constant state of playing chess. He’s trying to think 2 to 3 steps ahead of the industry - as well as his customer’s constantly evolving tastes. If he can predict or discover the unique places where his customers hang out before anyone else does, it’s easier to find novel ways to connect with them.

Jon is looking for that novelty all the time. He might be managing 2-3 new channels or tests a week. With an ever increasing number of channels, it’s easy to become complacent and just get something out there quickly without thinking about how one campaign might affect the brand over the long-term. The brand must be well-represented every time he puts something new out.

Ben Richards of Ogilvy, a world class creative, marketing, and PR agency, describes this idea brilliantly: you are either building or destroying the brand with every single interaction.

The brands that One Click saw succeeding then, & the brands that are still succeeding today, are the ones who are systematically building value, regardless of how small the interaction might seem.

It’s important to look at every single touchpoint your brand has with your customers and make sure you are using it as an opportunity to build brand, because if not, you are destroying it.

In One Click’s case, they are achieving this by fusing their brand and performance marketing expertise with every single consumer-facing campaign.

J: So we have 3 core teams within the marketing umbrella. We have the brand team, which is focused on the brands,. themselves, the creative development, content development, PR. We also have our Performance Marketing team who owns our core acquisition and retention marketing channels. So they’re really the one's kind of driving the vast majority of the revenue for the business and then our growth team, which is my team, which really exists as an experimental and R&D function to continuously identify, research & test new acquisition and retention channels.

While we do have dedicated performance and brand teams, we view all activities as having both an influence on brand, and certainly performance.. but from our customers perspective they aren't viewing certain channels or marketing assets through the lens of them being meant for brand awareness versus direct response, right? So everything influences and impacts the brand, so it’s critical we run all marketing activities through our internal brand filter to ensure it fits with the values of the brand and ensure it stands for what the brand believes in.

We have an incredible brand team who champions all of our creative output. They help in ensuring that all of our marketing and anything that our agency partners are developing fall in line with our brand guidelines. I think that's where the recipe for success lies is developing in-house expertise and having a real discipline around “what does this brand stand for and how does this translate to this specific channel or this test or activity?”

Some channels do inherently lend themselves more towards brand building opportunities, say through visuals, but we don't view any channels as being brand exempt.

There was a time when we may have had a greater amount of variance in terms of what those overall visuals or what the brand may have looked like through different channels and over times we’ve made some really incredible strides ensuring that we have all of those synchronized to one core brand vision.

Y: While growth operated as a separate team, Jon knew that experimentation, testing, and continuous learning needed to be integrated into the mindset of the entire company, not just the growth team.

Let's say you were running a restaurant and you were evaluating the options on your menu, and wanted to better understand what customers thought of the current menu. If you wanted to understand what foods they liked, and what foods they didn’t, who would you ask? The restaurant manager might be good…or the waiter or waitress would know best, right?

Martha Hoover, one of the largest restaurant moguls in the city of Indianapolis, looks at this differently than most. One of her strategies on how she makes better decisions to improve the menu is that she asks not upper level management, but actually...the bus boys.

Who would know better about what foods customers didn’t like than the person responsible for throwing away the very food customers didn’t eat?

Martha’s approach of creating an environment where ideas are shared openly across the company - is the same approach Jon and the One Click team take - in their discovery of finding ways to enhance the customer experience.

In looking to improve the experience of the customer at each touchpoint - who would know how to improve those touchpoints better than the people responsible for them?

The toughest part is creating a process to actually do this effectively and openly.

J: We prioritize and maintain a testing roadmap, much like you think of a product team maintaining a product roadmap. The key here is to really in that testing roadmap is eliciting and gathering ideas across the organization. The best for us, we found the best ideas those typically come from cross-departmental recommendations or opportunities that other teams see as gaps. We’re constantly bringing those ideas in and factoring those into our backlog. We’ve gone as far as to establish an experiment idea form because we want to be opportunistic of course.

How this is changed every time it is interesting in that we've even evolved into creating a dedicated all department experimentation program, as well. to facilitate and promote testing by other teams. So we can give them access to budget if needed it's not always a requirement but if needed as well as a framework to structure their experiments around. So say in their area of the business they are able to see an opportunity to acquire new customers or drive retention or perhaps even just operationalize & drive cost savings with some sort of existing process, we’re helping enable those teams to execute their own tests. So what was effectively born as something just being executed specifically to the growth team is now has now infected other areas in which we grow the business which is been a really beautiful evolution.

The growth team really exist as a gravitational force, if you will, that most of those testing activities may orbit around but that said, we certainly are not always the only ones executing tests.

Y: Staying authentic to the brand is not just thinking “what more could we do”..it’s also having the discipline to say “here’s what we should not do” ...

J: We must always first ask ourselves whether that test or tactic, if successful, is something that we are comfortable fully deploying to our brands in a sustained capacity, and if not we reject that concept and you know that goes back to developing a firm discipline around what these brand values stand for what sorts of tests or opportunities we feel comfortable deploying and can have conviction around.

We're not in the business of quick hacks or tricks to manipulate any of our certain KPIs because we do realize that those are, those will erode the foundation of these incredible brands we built. We're looking for sustainable marketing strategies that can scale and grow our brands, that won't sacrifice our values in the process. So that's a very ongoing and collaborative exercise, be it through the growth team running some of these through our brand teams filter or running it by our customer happiness team & ensuring the final output meest a QA standard that they may establish in terms of how they are how they may speak to customers. Even on the engineering side and running that through our product teams filter and asking, “Hey is the way in which this feature or tactic we are looking to deploy, is this acceptable from a UX perspective?” So all of these activities are going to have an overall influence on the customer journey. So ensuring that we have full visibility into the testing road map across the organization and we are gathering everyone's input, this really, we realized that everyone should be and really is a champion for the customer, in their respective domains especially. So having that full visibility and asking ourselves, “Is this something that we’d be happily deploying long-term?” because if not then that typically those tests don't even see the light of day because we went to hold ourselves to a long-term sustainable growth standard.

Y: To ensure they maintain a long-term view on growth, there are a number of things they measure to hold themselves accountable.

J: There’s a number of different metrics we look at. We take this topic very seriously because we do realize from the end customer standpoint, brand is not any different than any other marketing output. Everything is gonna have an overall influence on the brand and there say potential brand affinity they may build in interacting with us. So a number of different metrics that we are constantly tracking and measuring, One that I think is probably one of the best indicators or benchmarks would be NPS.

Our NPS scores are among the top in the industry and that's something that we feel like is a great indicator of our brands ability to meet and exceed our customer's needs. We will track brand awareness or brand lift around certain channels or activities, that's a metric that we’ll measure on a regular cadence.

Return rates, of course, we'll speak to our levels of fitness around whether what they’ve purchase is in line with what their expectations. Certainly, customer lifetime value is a big one and while this ideally is trending upwards and is not hugely volatile, in any given window we’re tracking, we do keep very close tabs on customer lifetime value.

We have a myriad of different customer happiness KPIs that will look at around average call, time for a response from when they may initially chat us. It’s even beyond some of the quantitative measures there's a number of qualitative measurements areas where we will prompt or elicit customer feedback through post-purchase surveys, product review surveys, we have an on-site ux survey. So we're constantly pulling feedback from our customers in keeping a really tight pulse on whether we are really succeeding and doing our jobs in meeting their expectations, because we're only as good as the last purchase we make, we want to make sure we're setting the tone for that being a very rich relationship that we can continue for years to come.

Y: By measuring every customer interaction they can, with both qualitative and quantitative data, One Click is making sure they’re living up to their mission.

Now, as One Click has scaled, they have found ways to use the growth framework to discover unique perspectives on ‘why’ their customers come back and buy. They use this data to find ways to increase lifetime value.

For example, they noticed a fairly unusual customer behavior that increased lifetime value. When they noticed this behavior, they found ways to encourage it despite how counterintuitive it seemed.

J: We've seen, for example, this really interesting statistic around customers that call in and interact with our customer happiness team, we’ve seen that they will exhibit a higher LTV or more frequent repeat purchase frequency, which you know goes back to you know building a world-class team of eyewear experts that they can call in to help guide them in their journey so that's one that we are very proud of.

How do we build brand affinity and loyalty? I think one of those ways is to really humanize who is Readers.com. Beyond just the products we sell and it's the team and the passion that we have driving so much of what we do and having folks call in and speak with our customer happiness team is certainly one of the best ways that they can get that they can get that sense.

Y: This is Yaw Aning. Thanks for listening.

END

I really hope you enjoyed listening to this episode as much as we enjoyed creating it!

Huge thanks to Jon Corwin and the One Click team for sharing their story. You can find out more about One Click by visiting www.OneClickVentures.com. Or following Jon @JonCorwin on Twitter.

The Touchpoints series is brought to you by Malomo - a shipment tracking platform that lets retailers create magical moments that drive engagement with customers after they buy. To learn more about Malomo visit GoMalomo.com. That’s G O M A L O M O .com.

To listen to other episodes in the series, search for the Touchpoints podcast on your favorite podcasting app or visit gomalomo.com.

Huge shoutout to James Kennedy for creating the Touchpoints intro!! If you want to find out more about James, please reach out to jlkennedyiv@gmail.com.