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Ep. 124 - Busting the Myth of Sending More Emails with Kyle Brucculeri

Kyle Brucculeri has over a decade of experience in marketing and brand building for both national and regional brands and companies. 

With a BA in Philosophy and history from University of California-Davis, Brucculeri started his career as the GM of Cupacity before landing as the Director of Operations at Gazoozle, where he developed and streamlined all marketing operations. 

In 2014, he then took his experience a step further at The Social Life as the Vice President of Sales and Marketing, while simultaneously founding one of two companies of his own; the second he founded in 2016. 

For the past two years, Brucculeri has served as gorjana’s Vice President of Marketing, leading both the E-commerce and Marketing departments. 

He currently resides in Newport Beach, CA. 

In This Conversation We Discuss: 

  • [00:00] Intro
  • [00:00] Kyle’s Ecom journey  
  • [05:01] Agency and client relationship
  • [05:58 Kyle’s natural progression to gorjana
  • [07:37] Sponsor: Klaviyo klaviyo.com/honest
  • [08:46] Transition from Mailchimp to Klaviyo
  • [10:34] The case for sending more emails
  • [11:36] From Magento to Shopify
  • [14:16] Working with Magento
  • [15:01] Pushing for more content
  • [17:28] Sponsor: Gorgias gorgias.grsm.io/honest
  • [19:16] Working with an amazing product
  • [20:12] Focusing on customer-related KPIs
  • [22:52] Sponsor: Avalara avalara.com/honest 
  • [23:46] Why customers should be at the top
  • [24:55] Point of diminishing returns on paid channels
  • [27:23] Sponsor: Rewind rewind.io/honest
  • [29:25] The resurgence of traditional media
  • [31:26] Underappreciated marketing strategies

Resources:

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Transcript:

Kyle Brucculeri  

If you focus on quality content and delivering value through your content, --and not always just sell, sell, sell-- the result [will] take care of themselves.

Chase Clymer

Welcome to Honest Ecommerce, a podcast dedicated to cutting through the BS and finding actionable advice for online store owners. I'm your host, Chase Clymer. And I believe running a direct-to-consumer brand does not have to be complicated or a guessing game. 

On this podcast, we interview founders and experts who are putting in the work and creating real results. 

I also share my own insights from running our top Shopify consultancy, Electric Eye. We cut the fluff in favor of facts to help you grow your Ecommerce business.

Let's get on with the show. 

Hey everybody, welcome back to another episode of Honest Ecommerce. I'm your host, Chase Clymer. And third time's the charm. We're welcoming to the show, Kyle. He's joining us from gorjana. They're a fantastic jewelry line. They're out on the west coast.

I'm super jealous about where he is and all the awesome photos all over this website that I'm browsing around. Kyle joins us today. He's the VP of Marketing. He joined just over 2 years ago. But the most interesting part about this is Kyle actually was…

We'll get more into details about this. But essentially, they were a client of his at his previous gig. He was running an agency and he was working with him and then he decided to jump ship. The grass is always greener, we sometimes hear. 

And so Kyle's gonna share with us, share with us about that journey and what he's been up to helping the team grow from the agency's perspective and now coming in-house and how that all plays out. So Kyle, welcome to the show. 

Kyle Brucculeri  

Chase, how are you doing? Glad to be here.

Chase Clymer  

Awesome. Awesome. Thanks so much. So, I guess, where do you want to start this? You want to start about how you got the job offer? Do you want to take it way back when you were kind of starting an agency?

Kyle Brucculeri  

Oh either. I think that starting an agency is something that was a natural progression for me. I think the first business that I started... When I began my career, I was coming home. I played basketball overseas for a couple years. 

And Mike Hall, Drew, and I started an experiential marketing agency that focused on mostly event marketing, brand ambassador programs, influencers --before influencers was really a thing. 

And we saw the writing on the wall. We had some early success, but this was back in 2011-2012, when digital ads were really coming into their own and starting to take up more budget from the clients that we were focused on and experiential was losing market share in a lot of these small to medium businesses we are focused on because exponential lacks transparency in terms of performance. 

It's top of the funnel, it's very brand[-centric]. It's hard to connect to the quarter million dollars you're spending on an event to customers. It's not easy to do, even today. 

And we saw [that] we kept on losing bids and losing proposals to brands spending money more on Facebook and digital and search. And so I was just like, "Well, this is where everyone is going so I'm going to go there, too." 

So I started my own shop in LA focusing on search engine marketing, paid social, on email and just sticking with those 3; Working with Klaviyo, Facebook ads, Google search. That was the bread and butter. 

And I got connected to Jason Reidel who's my CEO and co-founder of gorjana here alongside his wife, Gorjana. And [I] worked with them off and on for 4 years, I think, helped revamp their internal email marketing, helped clean up their ecommerce analytics, helped establish the foundation for search and clean up their affiliate program

So [I] spearheaded several different projects for them in the early-going. [I] helped them onboard internal team members as well to help manage those channels and just really stayed close over the course of the succeeding 4 or 5 years and understood how the brand was growing, getting their big break, being founded as a predominantly wholesale brand back in 2005. 

They really broke through into the mainstream 10 years later through Nordstrom. And then from there branching out and deciding in 2016 the next frontier was retail and opening the first flagship store here in Southern California in Laguna Beach. 

And fast forward now 5 years later, we're opening our 19th store in Montecito last week and I think... I love Jason. I think we have always had a good relationship, which I think... 

And if you're a founder or you work at the top of any digital agency, you really value the clients that you do have good relationships with, because clients are very difficult. 

They want a million things. They always think that they're right, it's hard to tell them they're wrong. And it's hard to have... I always felt like --in my position, in my agency-- I could always give clients more than what they were paying my team to offer. I could give them more creative branding, their messaging, telling them what they need to be doing. 

And that's why I always felt. I was more inclined to an in-house spot but I had a fairly successful little shot. We're definitely a little small team. 

But I loved when Jason approached me, never having had a marketing leader in-house. He was basically... For the entire history of the company, he and Gorjana, even were functioning as CEO, CTO and CMO. [Those were] the roles they're sharing between them. 

And so they never really had a dedicated marketing leader to lead branding [and] to lead Ecommerce. And knowing what I knew about the brand and this trajectory, I was thrilled about it. It was something that I felt just made sense for me. 

And I love the brand. I've been a customer of the brand for 5 years before, even before they opened up their first store. So I've been following them. 

They dabbled in men's stuff way back in the day. And I remember an ex-girlfriend of mine sent me a bracelet. And that's... And so they were always on my radar. 

And I just felt like it was very organic to make that transition and step away from the agency grind, and dealing with clients, and proposals, and sales calls and to really get under the hood to lead a growing team, an incredible team that I have here. 

And set these principles for our story and our messaging and our marketing that has put us in the situation we are today, which is still growing significantly. 

Chase Clymer  

Awesome. That is so cool to hear. And I have so many questions for you. But I'm gonna try to keep it very, very simple unless... We could just go on all day about the client-agency relationship, but that's not where I want to go with this. 

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Chase Clymer  

So let's go back to before you got the job there, when you were still working with them in an agency capacity. What was the single project or maybe the projects that you took on that they absolutely needed and it was like something that they didn't know? 

Like, they didn't know what they didn't know about the type of situation and did you turn around any  awesome results for them? I see that a lot on my side of things. And now I'm gonna just stop talking because I don't wanna put words in your mouth.

Kyle Brucculeri  

Well, I think identifying opportunities was really how the role developed and discussing with him... First and foremost, we discussed the performance of email marketing and back then they were on Mailchimp

And I was like "You guys have gotten to a point where you've outgrown MailChimp." Now, Ecommerce is starting to see some success. I think Ecommerce had a couple of flat years previously and back in 2017-2018, the line started to go up. 

And it's just, they outgrew what MailChimp could do. And I was like, "All my clients use Klaviyo. My agency is a Klaviyo Partner. We put everyone on Klaviyo." 

I was like, "You guys got to look at this. This tool is better for Ecommerce. It's going to help you in retention, keeping more customers. It's going to help you segment more customers rather than sending the same email to everyone. It's going to help you send more emails, I think." 

Even at the time, when I came in the door, we were only sending 2 emails a week. And me, obviously being extremely data-driven, I got into the hood right away. And I was like, "Every time we send an email revenue spikes. Oh, obviously." 

And then from working with other clients who I know say that if you send more emails, you make more money. 

And I think that's counterintuitive for a lot of people, because they think, if you send more emails your engagement rates go down and your unsubscribe rates go up, which isn't true. 

If you send bad emails, your engagement rate goes down and unsubscribes go up. No question. But if you focus on quality content, if you focus on delivering value through your content, and not always just "Sell. Sell. Sell. Sell. Sell" The results take care of themselves. 

And I think again, we went from 2 emails a week... Now we send emails every single day to different audiences, sometimes more than once, not to the same audience. But, I have a really high-performing team that churns out incredible content. 

I happen to think my graphic designer deserves an award for how incredible our content looks and our emails look. And we've never looked back since then. So that was just one area, I think, I obviously identified the move to Shopify from Magento

When I started working with the brand, I think in 2016, they were on Magento. And I was... It was my first experience working with Magento. All my clients were on Shopify. And Jason and I were close. 

And I was like, "Jason, this Magento is terrible." And hopefully, I don't offend anyone listening who works with Magento or uses Magento. But I can't speak to what it is like today. But back in 2016, it was the worst thing I've ever seen, certainly compared to Shopify at the time. 

And I was... I planted that seed like, "If you guys want a more scalable operation here to run lean internally..." Because, well, I didn't then and don't now... We don't have an internal dev team. We don't have... We outsource that. 

And so we don't have those resources at our fingertips. Whereas I... I'm not sure if this is true now, but Magento at the time, you really needed an in-house technical team to leverage that product. 

You couldn't just put in an entry-level Ecommerce coordinator or specialist or even a manager and have them navigate that simply. 

And I ran into that problem, because we were launching shopping campaigns through Google search for the first time. And Magento was... It took what normally takes in Shopify maybe a week. 

And Magento took over a month to get the product feeds to play nicely and communicate back and forth. And that was a big move for us. I think, luckily for me, when I took over 2 years ago, the brand had just migrated from Magento to Shopify, I believe just 3 months earlier at the beginning of the year. 

And one month into starting here, we migrated our entire POS to Shopify as well. So now we have everything home in one place, and it makes understanding our customer and all the related metrics, so much easier to have things all in one place. 

Because that's ultimately, I think, the first thing I came in the door was who are our customers? And how do we make sure that they stay engaged with the brand? This brand has been around for 15 years, we have a lot of legacy customers. 

These are the most valuable people. How do we make them happy? And then let acquisition come secondary after we figure out we make sure we have a strong lifecycle for our customers.

Chase Clymer  

Man, you share so much cool stuff there. And anyone that listens knows that Magento has its place in the market and it's not in my client's stack. But there's reasons for it. And there's reasons for all the tools. But yeah, Magento, that's something I'm a fan of. 

The first and last time we used Magento was when we migrated a client off of Magento back when we started the agency. And then we made the decision, literally, weeks later that we were never working with Magento again, because it was just so frustrating.

Kyle Brucculeri  

It's a nightmare. Yeah. I wouldn't be here if they were gonna stay on Magento and tell you that. But luckily, I had a little bit of influence and that got done before I took over.

Chase Clymer 

Awesome. All right, so let's go. There's something that you mentioned here when you were getting involved with them... And you were helping them with emails, and ramping up their emails. 

And you said something that sending more emails won't cause the unsubscribe rate to go up or engagement go down. If you're sending the right emails, and then you mentioned that you have a team that produces amazing content. 

Did they have that before you joined the team? Or is that a big initiative that you help them get started when you were working with them in the agency capacity? How did that get built out?

Kyle Brucculeri  

I inherited a really phenomenal team here. And I think what they needed initially was the right direction in terms of creating more. I think there were, again, limits in terms of how much content was created here at the beginning. 

And when I came in and I met with my content team, I was just like, "Alright, how do we get you guys producing more of everything?" And starting with email. Knowing that email is still to this day, the best medium to retain customers, honestly, other than retail. I think that's what... 

Retail is incredible. And again, I know sometimes... Doing retail right is incredible. And retail isn't something that's easy to do. I'm lucky to have a team here that's cracked that code. 

Our sales team and our ops team have created a phenomenal experience that my team and I on the marketing side are able to support. We do a great job. And we have that formula knocked down internally to make retail an incredible channel for us. 

But on email as a sub channel, there's nothing that keeps customers engaged like email and then maintains and grows lifetime value. 

And all you need to do is do it right. And we also were lucky enough to work with another couple of great email partners that enhance our efforts here. But certainly churning out more content was the first domino to knock down. 

We needed more ads, we needed more social content, we needed more emails, we needed more of everything. And I think getting that going, aligning more content and honing in our voice, what our message was, what we stood for as a brand was really the beginning of what we've been able to do in the last 2 years.

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Chase Clymer  

Yeah. And people are gonna start emailing me like "Chase every guest that comes on the show like do you just feed on the answers?" No. 

I know the answers to the questions he asked because I'm telling you successful brands have a lot in common and it's not as hard as a lot of people think. It just takes doing the same thing over and over and over until it works. 

And unless your product's terrible and then you start to think about that. But (laughs) after you get a product that people want...

Kyle Brucculeri  

I'm very lucky obviously that Gorjana is the founder of our brand. Her and our VP of Product designed an incredible product. I'm lucky. I know a lot of marketing teams have to be concerned with products. 

Luckily I can rely on the product team and killing it every single time makes our job very easy. My team and I, we really just focus on the numbers, the strategies, and messaging. And it's working well.

Chase Clymer  

Awesome. So what are the numbers that matter to you? What are the KPIs and the true north that you guys are always going towards? Which ones are... Where do you rank them?

Kyle Brucculeri  

I get asked this question a lot. And I think the answer is... A lot of times for a lot of people is a little too simple. But "customers'' is the first one. Our customer count. How many customers do we have? And above that would just be how do we get more customers?

It's creating more awareness. How do we expand our awareness in the marketplace? We're not yet a household name. I think we're getting close, given our growth and given the mediums that we're currently infiltrating. 

But we pay very close attention to our customer accounts and our new customer accounts, primarily making sure that we have the right ratio. 

I think what we've done here is try to focus on what are our benchmarks for a healthy ecosystem? What's the right amount of paid traffic? What's the right amount of email and SMS traffic? What's the right amount of social traffic? What's the right percentage of new versus returning traffic and new versus returning customers? And then all the correlated metrics. 

We keep track of a macro-CPA, macro-CAC, we keep track of micro CACs and CPAs, through our attribution platform. Obviously have a sophisticated way of calculating and reviewing LTV and  identifying our most valuable cohorts of customers: who purchases the most frequently, who spends the most money and who has purchased... Who has the longest lifespan? 

So there's a lot of different metrics. But I think, ultimately, at our stage, volume is one of the most important things as we maintain our current growth trajectory, at least in Ecommerce, and even retail as well, which continues despite a rocky year to do really well. [Our] Ecommerce is growing 2.5x to almost 3x year over year. 

And it's because we're focused on architecting and manufacturing that growth, and not relying on luck or virality --which I think a lot of brands [try to] achieve. And if you get that, then you see things go up really quickly. 

But in order to maintain growth, it has to be intentional. And you have to understand all the different levers and pulleys that create growth. And there's nothing unimportant in that mix. Everything matters and everything contributes to the top line. 

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Chase Clymer  

So would you say that seeing new customer acquisition go up alongside of just total customers would be the result of positive impacts to all the secondary or interconnected KPIs that are involved? 

So is that why you guys are putting that one up top on the Christmas tree, I guess?

Kyle Brucculeri  

No. I think we know that in order to continue to grow, you need new customers coming in the door. That's why when I started two years ago, the focus was certainly on evaluating, using our current customer base to influence strategy to acquire new customers. 

That was as simple as I could put it. I wanted to understand. We have this many customers; these are their common characteristics, these are the data points for them, your best customers. 

Building customer profiles from them, how do we get more of these people? And using that to influence our acquisition strategy, using that influence the content that was being created, where we were using that content, what we were saying and letting our customers drive our growth by telling us who they are and then where other customers like them can be found.

Chase Clymer  

That's awesome. Now, you mentioned something a little bit earlier that I kind of wanted to just dive a little bit deeper on. It was this whole concept of like, scaling appropriately and growing alongside other channels. 

And so I guess the loaded question is, is there  a certain threshold that you can hit with paid in terms of growth versus like your organic traffic that is just diminishing returns at a certain point?

Kyle Brucculeri  

I think so. We've internally identified that metric as roughly 50% of traffic. When we see us exceed 50% of traffic paid, we see our mix break and we see costs go up. we see higher CPAs, higher CACs. 

And so we really pay attention too, as we scale, making sure that... If increasing your paid spend isn't increasing organic growth and organic traffic and email traffic, that means you have a break, somewhere in your mix. 

That means something isn't working. And so when we know that, it allows us to really understand anytime we go above that threshold or if something isn't working, there's something that needs to be fixed or optimized or adjusted to rebalance our X system back towards our target KPIs from a macro perspective. 

And those are really on a day to day basis. Those really focused on paid... When we look at CPA from a macro basis --simply, the amount we spend divided by the number of transactions that we get on a daily basis we look at-- and the cost of the traffic coming in the door in our CPV or cost per session we use internally... 

But now that we're buying a lot of TV media, cost per visitor is how the TV folks like to talk about it. But knowing what our target cost per visitor is and how much traffic that's going to get us and what percentage of organic feeds that are a result of that paid traffic. 

Focusing on those metrics allows us to be very scientific about knowing exactly what an additional $5k spent a day or in any medium is going to do for the overall mix.

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Chase Clymer  

Yeah. I'm... (laughs) I'm asking you loaded questions. And I'm just like, "Man. Chase, one of these times, this isn't gonna work out what do you think it is. (laughs) But you're hitting the nail on the head. And it's something that I see all the time. 

People are like, you could... Back in the wild west of Facebook, you could almost grow anything with Facebook ads 5-6 years ago. But you can't do that now. That is a recipe for disaster. 

Kyle Brucculeri  

Facebook is insanely expensive. In our meeting with my team here, it's just watching CPMs go up day in, day out. Watching cost per click go up day in, day out. We still run a very great.... Facebook is still probably half of our monthly spend. 

It still has its place. But I'm looking under every stone to reallocate the budget away from Facebook towards a medium that is more scalable. I think Facebook has reached that point where it's only going to get more expensive and it is really hard to scale. 

And we're lucky to do well here internally but certainly it's not something that I want my team or our growth to rely on, especially given iOS 14 updates and all these things that are happening right now in the marketplace that could potentially have a bad influence. And that's one of the reasons why you know we're testing TV right now and off to a good start.

Chase Clymer  

Yeah. I'm loving... I'm seeing this return of more traditional media buy-in and just cool [formats] like billboards [and] TV. 

I see a lot of people doing postcards [and] physical mailers lately. I just got one the other day from Flaherty, actually. 

And I was like "Oh, I like this." So it's just fun to see things go full circle now where it's like, "Wow, the old school stuff that used to be too expensive is now cheaper than all these new mediums."

Kyle Brucculeri  

Well, I think attribution has helped a lot with that too. The old school stuff was a lot harder to track and technology has caught up now. 

We have a pretty sophisticated attribution platform and helps us track TV, our entire mix, so that we know what our CPAs are at the top of the funnel versus what we can expect to pay at the bottom of the funnel, and then understanding how that influences our macro costs. 

I think that's a big part of it, too. I think there's no question that digital becoming more expensive is a key part of the puzzle. 

But I think the fact that you can measure print now ,you can put together a reasonable attribution model for print advertising, you can put together a reasonable advert attribution model for TV, and billboards. 

These things are more measurable now than they've ever been. And so it makes sense to me that there's a "coming home" [resurgence] because these things work. They wouldn't exist. If they didn't work, there would be no more money still spent on TV than anywhere else. 

And because it works. Billboards work. It seems... I guess it depends on where you are. But I can tell. I used to live in Los Angeles. Billboards are everywhere and they are... They're mostly telling you about what TV shows are on but you'll go home and see that on Netflix and you'll watch it because... 

Chase Clymer  

That's amazing. That's amazing. So I guess we've talked about a lot of cool stuff here. And  I'm sure that I'll have you back on in a couple months. 

And we'll drill into something a little bit more specific. But is there anything that I forgot to ask you today that you think would be worthwhile sharing with the audience,

Kyle Brucculeri  

I think one of the most under-optimized and underutilized channels for Ecommerce specifically is affiliate marketing. I think at least... I can witness what I've seen here. And affiliate was something my agency ran. Affiliate is a very heavy lift. 

I think most agencies really suck at it. But there are a handful... We're lucky to have one that really, really does it well. And we're able to create so much value by having monetized product placements in the right marketplaces, against the right audience. We would not be... 

Again we've maintained consistent growth over the last couple of years. Actually, the last 3 years even.

As I've said, our growth started before I got here. I've just really been juicing it, I guess, with the team. But I feel like we wouldn't even be able to maintain our trajectory with rising costs if affiliates didn't continue to perform. 

So having that and having a great team to run it, and create those relationships, and monetize those placements has been... The ROI is just absolutely incredible. And so I think that's something where... 

If an affiliate isn't working for you, you have to think about how you're doing it, who's doing it for you, because if you have almost any products, there's an affiliate marketplace for it, there are customers that shop those marketplaces. 

And just because you are, I might not use it... Do I use Rakuten No, to be honest? Never have. It's foreign to me as a consumer, but as a marketer, it is an incredibly valuable marketplace. Ebates, etc, all of these... RewardStyle. I'm sure anyone in the fashion industry knows that rewardStyle is big. 

But having the team to really leverage rewardStyle so that you'll have the right placements or that you're creating the right relationships and getting the right traction, It's so important. And I guess another [thing] I would say, [is] email. 

If you're neglecting email, if you're not putting the right resources and effort into your campaigns, into your behavioral emails, to triggered emails, abandoned carts, about all that stuff... If you're not creating an ecosystem with email, then you're missing probably the most valuable driver of growth for your business. 

Because ultimately, you can have the best acquisition funnel in the universe but if customers don't make that second purchase, you will go out of business,  especially with costs. 

Cash goes up. CPAs are going up because everyone relies so much on mediums like Facebook. Sure, Facebook works, no question. But if you're not investing as much resources into email... 

And SMS being huge. If you're not on SMS, if you're not using text messages to market your customers, you're missing out on a lot of revenue there as well. Then you're not going to go anywhere very quickly.

Chase Clymer  

I couldn't agree more. Kyle, thank you so much for coming on and sharing this. This will be an episode that I'm sharing with a lot of people when it comes out. Thank you so much.

Kyle Brucculeri  

My pleasure, Chase. Glad to be here. I look forward to doing it again.

Chase Clymer

Alright. I can't thank our guests enough for coming on the show and sharing their knowledge and journey with us. 

We've got a lot to think about and potentially add into our own business. You can find all the links in the show notes. 

Make sure you head over to honestecommerce.co to check out all the other amazing content that we have. Make sure you subscribe, leave a review

And obviously if you're thinking about growing your business, check out our agency at electriceye.io. Until next time.