Curating a tribe by reflecting your interests, with Reagan Cook, Vaer Watches
They got a watch out to Tony Hawk recently. Learn their mindset around curating their tribe of ambassadors.
Last week, we published the first article in this series — how a high quality product contributed to Vaer’s strong community, and what their strategy is to get to $10m-20m in revenue per year.
In this article, we’re going to take a look at their thoughts on influencer marketing, building ambassador relationships, and taking their business towards a higher scale of growth and revenue, beyond what is achievable within their current strategy.
Let’s get straight into it ✨
What is your next step? What could you be doing better?
When you’re truly a craft oriented business, and you really focus on your storytelling and marketing on the kinds of passionate people that will leave you 500-word reviews, that’s great and that will get you to a certain point as a business.
This is our core audience, the real advocates, the true believers.
But those kinds of people are a rarity in the world of e-commerce and DTC.
The vast majority of customers, across all verticals, are in the “middle of the curve” — they don’t care about American assembly or Swiss made. They want the lowest price, fastest delivery, and they want to see the product physically in-store.
What we’re trying to do is that we’re going to continue to provide value to our code advocates, and then also widen the outreach and bring more people into the brand, and increase awareness overall.
There’s so many people that don’t know, or care, about the inner workings and details of the watches. They just want a great product and they want a watch that works well. And we want to reach those people now.
The challenge is how we can do that in a profitable way.
The risk with being venture backed…
So suppose our business goal right now is to get the next 100,000 visitors on to the site, and then the next 100,000 after them, and so on. And I can say “Whoa, I’ll get them the next month. Easy.” But to achieve that I’ll need to borrow a million dollars.
And I’m then gonna pump that million into Facebook and Google ads, I’m gonna spend at all costs, and at the end I’m only gonna make a revenue of $500,000 — “Sorry about the other $500,000 that I lost. But hey — we would have acquired customers.“
A lot of particularly venture-backed e-commerce brands have used this methodology and growth model to try and get the customers in the door, acquire them, and then their lifetime value is supposed to pay them back in the next, say, 14 months or so.
The problem is, that’s a very dangerous model. Because again, you’re getting further and further away from your core advocates. These new customers are less and less loyal, and less and less likely to stick with you when the winds of marketing or trends change.
And all of a sudden, those people that you were expecting to come back have moved on to another brand.
So yeah I could easily get those 100,000 people, but I don’t have a million dollars to spend on acquisition. What we’re trying to do is to come up with ways to, by spending a fraction of that, do so in a profitable manner.
The things we’re doing
We’re experimenting with new paid channels, putting money in different places that we haven’t before. And then, we’re obviously improving the fundamentals such as organic.
You know, ambassador marketing is something we’ve just unlocked as well, with Ubu.
We also love YouTube, and I’m starting to think like what if we could condense our 30 minute long videos into 3 minute TikToks with the same value of information? I’m sure there’s an opportunity there as well.
It definitely puts pressure on myself and on Ryan, and we know that Facebook and Google aren’t gonna take us to the moon. It’s just a matter of finding your channels.
How are you choosing the influencers and ambassadors to work with?
Like I said, it’s been a lot of experimentation, since it’s something that’s new to us.
We always were a brand that was kinda opposed to influencer marketing, mostly because we saw other brands in our vertical do it, and do it like.. paying the Kardashians of the world, dropping $10K on someone who will then drop your name in a sponsored post, which was all the rage in 2015-2016. And I think it worked really well back then.
But we saw that as very superficial and very endemic of a kind of celebrity culture that is lacking in much substance, particularly us being an LA based brand.
We didn’t want to disassociate ourselves from our core community. I think when you’re selling to customers in South Korea, the middle of the United States, customers, in Norway — you have to find the things that are more resonant and a lot more universal.
“But then on the other hand, we’ve always been doing ambassador marketing.”
Because whenever we’ve seen someone that can open up an opportunity for the brand — someone that’s going travelling, someone that’s going on an expedition to the Himalayas, on a surf trip with a world-class photographer, we’ll definitely give out free watches.
We’ve always seen that as an opportunity of expanding the story of the brand.
There are people who, while they’re not really ready to buy, or they don’t even know that they need the watch just yet, that lifestyle is something they’ll appreciate, and that will turn them into advocates.
Through Ubu, and through a realignment of thinking, and also just through the pressure of finding a wider audience at a lower cost, we have this idea of reaching a little bit beyond our personal network to gift watches to.
Now we’re aiming for people that we admire, we’ve been following on social media, or that we know through professional sports, or whose lifestyle or personal decisions I’ve always celebrated and resonated with.
And it’s a very interesting mindset.
It’s been surprising to see the kind of people that have been willing to take a free watch or that have been willing to share the watch, and have quickly fallen in love with it. And that’s really cool.
And you know, our brand’s pretty small. So we thought let’s first just focus on the micro-influencers, the 5-10K follower people, since that’s where we thought we were as a business.
But then it was enlightening to quickly see people with 100K and even millions of followers that were equally as excited and willing to represent our brand for not even paid compensation, just because they like the product.
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Curating your tribe
As much as you want to sell your product to everyone, it’s important to curate the community you envision around your product and brand, and then let that community say “This is what our brand represents. This is why we’re building the product.” And hopefully you can embody some aspect of your personal experience, to make it more authentic.
Once you do this exercise, it’s very important because those that do find the brand will resonate with it, and they will understand what the brand is not.
Reflecting your interests and building community around it
When we started, we were in our mid-20s, living in Los Angeles, and so we thought that this is a business for coastal urban millennials. But now, our average customer age is in the late 40s, and spread out across the United States.
And this happened because we were running ads with fishing imagery, just because we personally like fishing. As it turns out, fishing is also something that older people, nearing the end of their career, are doing. And so when we ran those ads on Facebook, we attracted those people, and that’s how it happened.
So we’re not drawing lines and saying “we’re a young man’s brand”. That’s not the strategy at all. But then we have this huge community, 50% of our customers are over 45. And so it doesn’t make sense to make an 18 year old TikTok star the key advocate of our business.
I think what a great brand can do, is to just find true universal values, and then build a brand around those values and make sure you stick to them. That’s what brands like Nike and Patagonia have done — and how they appeal to all income levels, backgrounds, ethnicities and orientations.
Maybe we can indeed find an 18 year old TikTok start that embodies our values.
This is the second part of the 3-part series with Vaer Watches. In the third part, next week, we’re going to look into their content strategy, how they balance between content that serves the algorithm vs. content that serves the brand, how and why they made 4 documentaries, and what they think of good vs. bad content.
Let me know what you thought of this one! Always ready to receive you in my inbox :)