Actionable tips, community conversations, and marketing inspiration.

Rolling Through “Unrolling E-Commerce": 9 Insights From Season 1

Laura Finnerty

Multimedia Content Manager @ AdRoll

Topics Covered:

We launched our inaugural e-commerce podcast, “Unrolling E-Commerce,” in June as a resource for direct-to-consumer (D2C) brands navigating not only an increasingly crowded market but also contending with the uncertainty of a global pandemic.

Over the summer, we — wait for it! — rolled out nine episodes, covering topics like founder stories, pandemic-era KPIs, and the future of work and e-commerce. Guests included AdRoll experts and clients in a range of industries, including apparel, finance, food, home, hospitality, and pet care.

Season 1 concluded September 22, but there’s good news: If you’re new to the podcast — or missed any episodes — you can catch up here. In the meantime, here are our all-time favorite highlights, broken down by episode:

Episode 1: How Ambitious Brands Turn Economic Uncertainty Into Opportunity
Episode 2: How Ambitious Brands Engage Their Audience and Build a Community
Episode 3: How Ambitious Brands Get Their Start
Episode 4: How Ambitious Brands Are Approaching the Future of Work
Episode 5: How Ambitious Brands Rethink KPIs During a Pandemic
Episode 6: How Ambitious Brands Are Thinking About the Future of E-Commerce
Episode 7: How Ambitious Brands Create Strategic Partnerships to Accelerate Growth
Episode 8: Advice and Reflections From Ambitious E-Commerce Leaders
Episode 9: How Ambitious Brands Do Content Marketing

Episode 1: How Ambitious Brands Turn Economic Uncertainty Into Opportunity

There’s no playbook for marketing in a pandemic, but many brands have found success by pivoting to reflect consumer needs. D2C women’s clothing company Betabrand updated its website with imagery of work-from-home environments — and now customers are visiting more pages and spending more time on the site than ever before.

Meanwhile, custom apparel site TeePublic zeroed in on ad campaigns and marketing channels that drive gross profit, beefing up existing efforts to reach customers. After a rough March, the startup saw revenue and gross profit increase significantly since April.

Then there’s benefits platform, which launched a feature for emergency savings for consumers worried about their financial futures. At the same time, paused its re-engagement campaigns encouraging customers to save for retirement, turning its focus to pandemic concerns before anything else.

Key Takeaway: Brands that pivot to address consumer needs can find new opportunities — and success — in their sectors.

Episode 2: How Ambitious Brands Engage Their Audience and Build a Community

Brand communities give customers a safe space to congregate, not only with the brands they love but also with like-minded consumers.

Veteran-owned clothing brand Grunt Style built a social community of more than five million followers thanks in part to daily engagement, including SMS campaigns for early access to new products. VP of Digital Marketing Rory Collins describes the atmosphere as “fraternity-esque.” The appeal?

 “Everybody has something to say, and a lot of brands don't listen,” Collins said. “We try our best to listen to our customers in terms of not just what they want, but who they are as individuals.”

Communication is key. Personalized dog supplement brand Goodboy actively encourages customer feedback, fostering trust, and even resulting in reformulating products for meat sensitivity. D2C plant shop, Léon & George, provides an educational resource for customers via post-purchase emails, focusing on value-added content like plant care.

 Key Takeaway: Open communication with customers improves a brand’s products and marketing and fosters a priceless community. 

Episode 3: How Ambitious Brands Get Their Start

Entrepreneurship is a tough gig — but for some company founders, there’s simply no other way.

Take Kelsey Moreira, who tapped into her childhood love for baking when she founded Doughp in 2017 to manufacture cookie dough that can be eaten raw or baked. Her advice: Make sure people love your idea before going all in. 

Then there’s Kari Sapp. When her dog was diagnosed with cancer, she started to think about whether she was doing enough for her pet beyond exercise and quality food. That’s when she discovered a gap in the market for supplements that support overall well-being, launching Goodboy as a result.

Finally, online plant shop Léon & George is the brainchild of two founders living in San Francisco who realized buying houseplants was difficult for city dwellers. The experience of going to a big-box retailer was not ideal. So after digging a little deeper, they discovered an opportunity to streamline the process with local growers who were unhappy working with large retailers.

Key Takeaway: Successful startups identify an unmet market need — but make sure consumers love the concept, too, before diving in. 

Episode 4: How Ambitious Brands Are Approaching the Future of Work

As many U.S. employees continue to work from home, it’s clear 2020 will have a huge impact on the future of offices — and work itself.

Salt Lending, which offers cryptocurrency-backed loans, said it’s continuing to think about at-home work, realizing remote work may actually help expand its employee base if workers don’t have to live near its Denver headquarters. 

Environmental organization Carbon Lighthouse believes the impact will ultimately be positive as buildings make upgrades with COVID safety in mind and new construction incorporates more space in common areas — but it may be years before U.S. workers are back in offices at the level they were in February 2020.

Meanwhile, CBD oil and dog treat company Honest Paws has implemented mandatory mental health days and believes corporate America should continue to ponder how it can support the work-life balance.

Key Takeaway: We’re likely to see at least some flexibility from U.S. companies when it comes to remote work and work-life balance. 

Episode 5: How Ambitious Brands Rethink KPIs During a Pandemic

Key performance indicators (KPIs) are vital to brand success, but many — if not all — brands have had to change longtime KPIs as they adjusted to the pandemic.

For example, the clothing company Betabrand discovered that zeroing in on loyal high-value customers has the best ROI at the moment, in turn, rolling out new limited-edition styles and colors that spurs shoppers to convert.

Hospitality tech company Pegasus is telling hard-hit hotel clients to focus on the lowest-hanging fruit, which includes guests who know their brands and are searching for them rather than identifying and prospecting new potential guests.

Then there’s benefits platform, which shifted its KPIs to customer financial health, and, as a result, discovered its users are healthier than the average American consumer. It’s also prioritizing insurance options and income replacement for the unemployed. 

Key Takeaway: Brands should actively seek new ways to connect with consumers during the pandemic — which, of course, means embracing new KPIs. 

Episode 6: How Ambitious Brands Are Thinking About the Future of E-Commerce

We’ve seen a huge uptick in consumer demand for online shopping this year, which has caused brands — Amazon included — to reshape fulfillment. 

Good and Bed saw a significant uptick in direct sales and customer queries, forcing them to overhaul its internal guidelines. Meanwhile, Teepublic is still figuring out what the future holds for the apparel industry — whether customers will go back to physical retail or if they’ll stick with online clothes shopping, and if it’s the latter, what that means for traditional fashion retail.

Gourmet coffee company Volcanica Coffee is one brand that actually benefited from pandemic-era adjustments as chains like Starbucks closed, and consumers sought out coffee online: It saw order volume triple. Now it’s angling to become a national consumer brand with a new e-commerce site and increases in web and Amazon advertising.

Key Takeaway: Successful brands have adapted to current trends in e-commerce, positioning themselves for success by reimagining the future.

Episode 7: How Ambitious Brands Create Strategic Partnerships to Accelerate Growth

D2C companies need partnerships with like-minded brands to boost discoverability. That’s according to Julie Zhou, the senior director of growth for AdRoll, who noted brand partners can create an entirely new product or service to stand out further. When starting the process of vetting potential partners, she said brands should seek out partners who would benefit from the relationship — and who will benefit their customers.

For more information on boosting brand awareness: has done just that by looking for companies like disability insurance provider Breeze, which seeks to deliver financial stability to consumers who have been otherwise overlooked or underserved. In addition, PurePressure, which manufactures extraction equipment for the cannabis industry, has found success in partnering with fellow manufacturing companies, as well as cannabis influencers.

Volcanica Coffee, a company looking to elevate its profile to that of a national brand, wants to partner with hotel chains and airlines to expand recognition and product trials. It’s also working on maximizing output, so it’s ready to deliver to those hotels and airlines.

Key Takeaway: The most successful D2C partnerships stem from like-mindedness and mutual benefit for both brands and customers. 

Episode 8: Advice and Reflections From Ambitious E-Commerce Leaders

The main challenge for any D2C brand is staying true to its customers and crafting messaging that puts them at the forefront.

“I think all the way from the Apples to the Liquid Deaths, they're really considering their customers and the messages that they want to send to them and how they're marketing to them,” said Jesse Vaughan, head of creative at AdRoll. 

For Doughp, the first step is creating a product that you, the founder or creator, love. “I've always found that marketing for Doughp was really easy because not only do I love the product and still eat it today… but I made a brand that markets to me, I am part of our target audience,” Moreira said.

Smart insulin pen company Companion Medical noted while 2020 may be a slight exception, brands will always face challenges. But it’s the brands that face those challenges and give themselves permission to be a little bit wrong — but who actually do something — are the ones that are most successful.

Key Takeaway: Success in e-commerce hinges on a great product or service, customer obsession, and a willingness to make mistakes. 

Episode 9: How Ambitious Brands Do Content Marketing

Content marketing is more than just producing content — it includes strategy, distribution, and community development, too. For brands like Salt and, the emphasis is on educational content to drive brand recognition and make themselves more accessible.

Léon & George, on the other hand, created its own lecture series and dispenses plant care tips every Sunday, which it says is “by far one of our most popular content pieces.”

According to content marketing agency S&G, this is a good time to survey how customers are responding to brand communications and potentially tweak strategies.

“The one way that brands can help consumers feel a little happier and a little more confident is by slowing down the cadence of communications … [and] creating these kinds of events and campaigns that are bigger and then build up over time, so that consumers have something exciting to look forward to,” said S&G partner and CEO Lauren Fairbanks.

Key Takeaway: Content marketing includes many moving parts, especially now — and there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. 

For more information on creating an effective content marketing strategy:

How ambitious D2C brands listen to podcasts

It’s arguably never been a more challenging time to be a D2C brand — or a brand in general. Consumer attention spans are strained, and even worse, they are inundated with brand messages at every possible interaction point. Even if your company does have the best product or service in a given category, you still have to convince skeptical consumers to take a chance on you the first time around. 

Thankfully, many successful D2C brands have come before you, proving that navigating this terrain is possible. We enlisted them and their advice for this podcast to help accelerate D2C success. Subscribe today to fast track your brand — and stay tuned for more D2C wisdom when we return next season with a new batch of episodes.

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