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The 2020 Ecommerce Holiday Countdown: Branded Content Marketing


Black Friday in neon; Text: Black Friday / Cyber Monday Content


Black Friday / Cyber Monday Content – Get ready for the most online Black Friday & Cyber Monday in history with The 2020 Ecommerce Holiday Countdown! We’re kicking off this videocast series with Morning Brew’s Head of Brand Partnerships, Jason Schulweis, who will be chatting all things branded content marketing.

Jason will be sharing some of his favorite campaigns from holidays past, as well as reflecting on those festive marketing endeavors that completely missed the mark. And, thanks to his work at Retail Brew, he has the inside track on ecommerce trends and predictions for this most unusual holiday season.

In addition to all of this, he’ll be talking:

  • Branded content’s branding problem
  • Data-driven advertising without the ick factor
  • Positioning: is it a store closure, or a campaign opportunity?
  • Messaging that will make you want to tip your copywriter
  • Reverse-engineering content and community into a brand

If it’s not already on your holiday wishlist, you’re about to find out why branded content marketing should play a part in your Black Friday & Cyber Monday campaigns.

The 2020 Ecommerce Holiday Countdown

The 2020 Ecommerce Holiday Countdown is a series of videos focused on inspiring your holiday campaigns and help you prepare for the most online Black Friday & Cyber Monday to date. Our expert guest speakers shared their insights on how retailers can tap into:

  • Branded content marketing
  • Nano-influencer opportunities
  • Behavioural and triggered email
  • User-generated content and social commerce
  • Paid advertising



Welcome to the 2020 ecom holiday countdown a webinar series where e-commerce experts bring you some holiday cheer and hopefully a little inspiration black friday and the holiday shopping season are going to be a little different this year so we’re here to share ideas advice and expertise to help online retailers feel prepared my name is joanne martin i’m the vp of marketing here at Searchspring and in this episode i’m joined by jason schulweis who’s the head of brand partnerships at morningbrew jason thank you so much for joining us today a little bit about your background your role at morning brew and and why you’re here with us today absolutely so i am i have been in the media industry for a little over 12 years now in a variety of different roles i i started my career at a digital agency in new york called deep focus it was one of the first kind of like social engagement first agencies um and so that was right after uh i graduated in 2008 um took an unpaid internship had no idea what i wanted to do uh but fell in love very quickly and then from there i spent three and a half years at yahoo in a variety of different functions and account management in sales and strategy but really kind of settled on integrated marketing there did the same thing at thrillist media group uh then went over to live nation and ran a marketing solutions team integrated marketing spent a little over two years at media link uh doing a lot of sales strategy sales and marketing strategy consulting work and then for the last year plus have been at morning brew growing the revenue org from three to twenty wow um which has been a wild ride and our our org has sales which we call brand partnerships account management integrated marketing strategy and operations and creative oh it’s amazing i mean i can imagine that’s a wild ride just watching morning brew from a distance and seemingly being an overnight success but then i know i’m sure the work over the last year has not felt like an overnight success [Laughter] great work from the outside you’re making it look easy thank you joanne so i want to talk to you a little bit about black friday cyber monday this upcoming holiday season i keep saying it’s going to be the most online holiday season of all time oh yeah um and of course a lot of us especially in e-commerce are now thinking how is this different how can we be proactive and but it’s also navigating somewhat new territory because it’s not normal online or air quotes normal online so yeah one one of your newsletters at morning brewers retail brew so you focus specifically in the retail industry with that particular outlet and you’re obviously covering through this period of time a lot of covid related news um and then some of the parallel developments in the industry based on how trends are changing from what you’re seeing and you obviously have a really close uh perspective to trends in the industry how do you anticipate this year’s season being different to previous years and to put a little action behind it how would you suggest that retailers who are listening might adapt to those changes yeah um and so as you mentioned with with retail peru i’m very fortunate uh that the the brains behind that haley the savage um and i we were able to sink a little bit uh and and talk through some of the trends that that we were both seeing and so you know i think largely it comes down to [Music] first and second order covet effects um and what i mean by that is first there’s a lot of changes that need to happen because of covid and that has to come down to like proximity with regard to physical retail um but then the the second order is because of all of these things there’s been like this you know this great acceleration of a lot of trends that were already shifting to e-commerce i mean we’ve fast-forwarded by many many many years like in the last four months and so that’s like obviously you look at a lot of the the big retailers and the bankruptcies and it’s it’s it’s a lot of change and it’s not good for a lot of retailers um and i feel for you know i feel for a lot of those retailers but from just from an industry perspective it’s kind of fascinating to see all of these changes and the like the evolution and the kind of adaptive nature of a lot of brands that are popping up now yeah especially to match a lot of the consumer behavior where you’ve seen such an incredible uptick you know in online shopping a couple of the more specific i would say trends that you know the first is we just had a lot of you know retailers announced that they’re not doing in-store sales on thanksgiving day that is of course because of overcrowding on the consumer side but also you know taking care of their workers because they would be deemed essential workers if they were open um so definitely very important from both like the consumer and the employer side um i think the general like calendarification calendar is vacation um of uh holiday shopping um kind of being diluted a little bit with prime day um being moved to an undisclosed date um and then you know what we were talking about earlier with regard to this this shift and like and i’m not going to say i i don’t want to say pivot to ecom but it is like yeah it’s a it’s because it’s not that it’s it’s an evolution to um just more ecom but that you’re going to see from pretty much every single brand and retailer but that is because one the stores will not be open but two you have to meet the consumers where they are um and consumer behavior has changed so drastically that if you do not have in you know a clear and easy you know ecom setup you’re not going to succeed yeah i when i think about this year i think a lot about rei and their previous opt outside campaigns where they would close down in-person stores and one i can’t wait to see what they do with that this year i hope they really capitalize on being the first ones to do that prior to being forced to from an external force um but but i do think it’s an interesting take that really retailers can take away from that which is and maybe i’ll ask you a little bit about that actually which is how how would you recommend that retailers go about communicating that because i think there could be a really negative way to communicate we’re closed um or you could take a page from someone like rei and really build a message and a campaign around that being in media how would you approach messaging that yeah i mean there you know there are brands like rei there are brands like patagonia brands that have such strong brands and consistent messaging over the years that like if they were to do something like that now it’s it’s not an abrupt change it’s not opportunistic it’s not anything other than this this makes sense to you know to our consumers um for you know for brands that have not i think it’s going to be a very crowded space to try to you know change your voice and messaging up a little bit but i think you know and now more than ever you know brands who may not have done that yet with their brands and messaging are going to start to use the channels that they they do have like a lot of brands have direct relationships with their consumers but they haven’t leveraged it in a way that like makes a ton of sense for marketing um and so i think what you’re seeing now is like more brands developing their personalities on more owned channels on social on a lot of you know kind of just other other platforms um and even email as well like that is that is rising in popularity because of the importance of you know a direct relationship with your consumers like d to c doesn’t just mean shipping directly to an audience it doesn’t just mean that you were you know dis intermediating the you know the supply chain process or the delivery process it means a holistic relationship with your consumer and that comes down to communication that comes down to the media component as well so um you know brands that are able to communicate directly um and sell directly are the ones that will win um and so content email social like those are the channels that you know brands now really need to invest in to keep that you know keep those lines of communication open and flowing really both ways yeah i i recently ordered a panda planner which is like a productivity planner that has a lot of air quotes psychological science behind it i’ve been using it for a long time i absolutely love it i needed a new one went to order and their uh order confirmation and shipping confirmation emails were so above and beyond that i i actually wanted to tip the copywriter like i was at the point where i’m like this person needs a raise and i’m going to make it happen who is the person that wrote this but i think that’s a very often overlooked channel like it’s easy to say oh rei or patagonia have incredible brand equity and they have just they obviously have insane budgets they’re really big established brands but i think small retailers can actually start taking some pages from that book to build relationships through channels they already have to your point and in that example i’ll find a way to share it with people listening somehow if you reach out of panda planner just having a really personable and entertaining and funny confirmation email made me feel even more connected to that brand and it’s a but it’s a small brand i i don’t know how many of the employees they have but i would guess under a hundred and it was just such a great way to build affinity i think a hundred percent i mean they’re uh we’re i mean we’re talking about it now um yeah i think i i think you you posted on linkedin yeah about it as well because i i think i was like ready to comment on it and i thought that was like such a cool thing um but there was a there was like another example like even with you know the pittsburgh pirates um you know no one’s allowed in in the stands right now and like they’re sending um you know gang-used balls that fall into people’s seats to them directly with like a very nice personalized note oh that’s awesome and so there’s like those types of things that that humanize and connect on an emotional level brands and people like we want to share that like we want to talk about that like those are really cool things that that speak volumes of the brands like i i’m gonna go check out you know panda planner yeah now because like i i love that idea and the fact that like i would assume that in you know in their note in their email you could probably reply to it yeah definitely and the fact that there are a lot of um retailers and brands that send emails with no reply email that is one thing that i do not i don’t understand


and it’s not just because like i work at a company that like was founded on being amazing at email and being in the newsletter space but it is that is beyond me i i don’t get that that is like the best way to communicate directly with someone like everyone emails like that is that is the primary form of communication there’s such an opportunity there there really is and i think for marketers or merchandisers or whoever’s owning that and a brand it can be really easy to uh overcomplicate it in your head so i think about marketing emails and as a marketer you’re thinking all right what’s my message where’s my hook what’s the call to action and i will never forget a couple years ago working with a digital marketer who said why can’t the call to action be just reply to this email i’m like oh my gosh like that should be step one in all email marketing school and to this date i’ve seen that work above and beyond how most button ctas or really complicated user paths work because it’s so conversational like this email’s coming from a real person if you’re interested just reply we’ll help you out it’s not a big deal


it’s incredible i um i i completely agree and it’s like that’s that was one of the really cool things that i found out actually very early on with um like with morning brew is if you reply like any of our subscribers can reply and all many of them do like thousands do on a weekend i’m going to start replying now


like if you reply to the retail brew it will go into haley’s inbox oh that’s awesome and we respond back like we we monitor the inbox if it’s like we get a lot of feedback about our like our ad partners and that gets forwarded to my team um and we communicate with like we help problem solve like it’s i feel like that’s that that’s kind of like the way that it should be if someone sends you something that that opens up it’s not one way email is not one way yeah one brand that i think does that very well if retailers want to go snoop and find some ideas is backcountry um and is an outdoor retailer they’re very big on their customers success i’d call it it’s not support it’s not a support team they effectively have like personal shoppers i’ll give an exact story from one of my experiences so i was ordering new trail running shoes and i ordered them and they came in and somehow the sizing had changed and they didn’t fit right so i shipped them back and when i shipped them back i got an email saying hey we saw that you shipped these back would you like me to just place the order in the right size i’m guessing you probably want like an eight or a nine since eight and a half didn’t work and i replied eight would be great in the same color and i immediately got a shipping confirmation and it was like instead of me having to go back to the website and like find it again and then probably get distracted because oh i needed like something else too and all the alerts are popping up on my computer or my phone and then the kids need something and so i never really check out and then it’s three weeks before i ever get around to shop buying shoes and i end up just doing it at a store somewhere but they were just really on top of that personal relationship and it had immediate revenue impact for them i thought it was brilliant it is and again like that’s that is a that is a like a shareable experience that you had that will be with you for a long time and now like if anyone is listening to this but anyone that you speak to that it wants running shoes or outdoor shoes you say like i had the best experience with this brand yep yeah now all of our listeners are gonna go buy their shoes at backcountry because it was so great there you go um they’re not sponsoring this i do really just think it was a great it was a great experience um so one one thing um from your media background i’m curious about especially in your in your historical experience you’ve seen a lot of really amazing branded content um how can retailers leverage tactics like content marketing or sponsored content to boost their holiday campaigns i mean we you know we touched on it a little bit before or two but content is one of those things that can definitely help a brand stand out because if you think about you know a piece of content or most likely a couple of pieces of content if you know if a brand does it themselves or if they partner with you know a publisher or you know media company you can tell a very compelling story arc um that introduces the brand in a human way to an entirely new audience and then as you start to move down the funnel you’ve done the introduction now that you can you can start talking about what the value that this brand might bring or the different products or services um and you can kind of like in a few pieces actually move you know move down a funnel and then very easily or more easily sell sell products to to an entirely new audience and so i think if you you know i think that if you break down you know branded content into you know narrative arcs or you know something that’s a little bit more strategic you can you can absolutely use that to sell more stuff um and i think sometimes too often uh you know brands try to do all of that in one piece um and i think you know branded content the branding of branded content i think still has a ways to go but you know i think there are a lot of brands that are really really you know kind of understanding the power of it i think there are a lot of you know publishers and media companies that are starting to do it really well i think one of the most interesting trends right now is the the reverse engineering actually of that and so what i what i mean is um and this is like a conversation that i was having on on twitter with a few friends of mine a couple of weeks ago um and a former colleague of mine michael miraflore actually pointed out that like if you look at like you know kids on on tick tock or or just like gen z in general they are growing up in a world where you know the the content and media role models are like the kardashians or something navy or a lot of these brands that became brands through content and then started to sell things incredibly successfully because they had already built up their voice and their content and a brand through media first yep and i think you’ll start to see a lot more brands do that um and i think like it was when i was a you know i was at thrillist in 2013 2014 and we had thrills media group which also had jack threads and so this idea of content and commerce has been bubbling for quite some time um and i think a lot of brands are have learned and are starting to do it really well and by brands i you know i i kind of that you know more use this term like modern brand which is not necessarily something that is a retail or ecommerce brand and not something that is necessarily a you know immediate brand that’s this kind of like hybrid thing where you’ve got community you’ve got content you’ve got brand you’ve got voice and you’ve got products or services that you can sell to that um you know to that uh to that that cohort and to that audience and actually like uh web web smith who is the the founder and ceo of 2pm like he writes a lot about that as well and this is kind of like what he calls linear commerce which i think is just like a very fascinating subject which i think kind of ties together a lot of what we were just talking about yeah i i love that and i love the concept of community and i can see it i see it myself i see it in my kids definitely as they really look up to someone on youtube who plays uh minecraft and then that person has an entire shop of course so a lot of their holiday list this year will be like preston fire t-shirt because they watch preston play minecraft on youtube um but i think one of the industries that i think did that really well early on was the cosmetics industry and you saw that a lot through youtube influencers and then they moved on to instagram and snapchat where they really built communities around their expertise first and to your point you saw them launch brands and what one brand i somewhat recently maybe within the last year or so jeffree star cosmetics does an amazing job at really showing the story behind the brand uh to the point where i don’t know if i could tell you the difference between two different pink eyeshadows but people were like no i don’t most people probably couldn’t i’m gonna be honest um people who are really into have an amazing eye for color but at some point they’re all very similar but but he will launch something and sell out within a couple hours and it’s an eye shadow palette but it’s because he told such a compelling story behind it and has that brand built up where it’s not a brand it’s a community of people who are jeffree star fans i think there’s so much to learn not only for retailers for b2b companies for anyone who really wants to be competitive beyond the facts of what they offer so what are what are some of your all-time favorite campaigns from holidays past that you’ve seen brands put out that really cut through the noise and compel you to want to buy yeah so i am i feel as as someone in the industry i’m a unique shopper profile yeah and my my answer to this i think kind of explains i think it explains that in a nutshell so a couple of years ago spotify had it was the end of 2017 and they had a campaign that was well it was it was plastered everywhere in new york um and it was all of these amazing data stories and yes so like the you know one of them was you know take a page from the 3445 people who streamed the boozy brunch playlist on a wednesday this year um you know there there was one you know about the person who who played a certain taylor swift song hundreds of times it was like using data in a way that i think data hadn’t really been used before um in a way that was like fun and from a consumer perspective didn’t make me feel icky yeah you know that like my data was being used in you know in in some in some way that was about like retargeting or you know kind of like you know any any kind of anything like that it was it was just like it was fun and i was like oh that’s that’s actually really cool i can relate to that as a consumer but i think the like the b2b side of that and this is like me as you know in the industry i was like oh spotify is like actually now flexing a little bit like they have a lot more you know they have a lot of data that like it can be used for fun things on their platform and so you know i thought like oh that’s that’s actually really really smart and it was one of very few i think campaigns that in one ad could communicate to consumers but also you know flex a little bit um for the marketing community yeah i i love that campaign and that campaign is actually in our swipe folder here at Searchspring we’ve stolen it actually already it’s getting ready to go out so i love that you bring it up um but we there’s one that one of my co-workers shared with me and it’s to the person who played i’m sorry except 100 times on valentine’s day what did you do and it’s so but i think it’s compelling because it it’s kind of that internet language of like oh like the person who does this of course we can all relate to that person anyone on some level could relate to the person who plays i’m sorry 700 times on valentine’s day exactly and it’s funny because of that and super compelling yeah but totally agree they were really smart with how they handled the data and added humor it’s not spotify has everyone’s data and we have 700 000 people listening to this playlist every day and you get the chest beating you know again the the ability to kind of toe that line i think is is is very rare um that you you kind of see that out in the wild and i think they they just absolutely nailed it and i mean the amount of to nerd out a little bit now i mean like the what they’re doing and like being widely considered like you know the the the netflix approach you know within audio the more listenership that they’re able to get the more you know the more data that they’re you know they’re also able to get they’ve got registration data because this is also a subscription service on and um you know they’ve got subscription and ad supported i mean they’re they’re just like an absolute behemoth and it’s just very interesting to think about the potential applications down the road with audio advertising and what that means outside of just podcasts yeah and even now as they’re going into video casts it seems like an another step you brought up netflix and i don’t think they have any short-term aspirations to be netflix but in terms of competing for mindshare they’re starting to kind of creep into that space of okay it’s not just a song or a playlist now we have podcasts now we’re doing video casts so we’re getting into short format video content i think that brings up a tremendous advertising opportunity for a lot of brands out there no totally and it’s like it’s something that we’re you know we’re actively thinking about even like at morning brew like we have a successful podcast but the way that you can have that podcast live on other platforms very easily is quite simply by if you film it yeah and you know and overlay the you know the dialogue or you know tran the transcript to it you’ve now taken a piece of content and made that live everywhere yeah which we’re doing now so that feels very meta talking about a podcaster then a podcast within a video cast i i mean if we can go two layers of meta that’s i mean that’s um okay so i have to ask you about the flip side um what are some holiday campaigns that you’ve seen that just did not work where they just fell flat total missed opportunity public shaming the whole gamut yeah it’s i mean it’s not a unique one to bring up but like the the peloton one um you know from a few years ago um uh that was widely uh you know considered sexist it was you know ridiculed online and but they’re like their sales went up like it didn’t actually negatively affect them and now i mean look at them they’re doing incredibly well they are i mean they’re they’re just like the pinnacle of a of a content and commerce company they’ve got a platform they’re able to sell a physical good but also keep people um you know looped in because of the subscription model like it’s yeah they’re incredible so i you know i call out that that campaign but i mean jokes on us like i you know


i that’s a funny one to bring up i saw a tweet early in pandemic era that was a response to something around that campaign that was effectively like i wish or don’t you wish now that your husband had bought you a peloton because everyone was stuck inside and everyone needed to exercise and now everyone’s buying peloton because it’s community it is exercise it’s tech it’s everything and it kind of made fun of that uh backlash of that campaign yeah um yeah it’s it was very you know it was it there there was it was like very mixed reaction between people either like seeing that and not feeling not feeling that way but afterwards the i guess this actually goes back to my my favorite campaigns but what ryan reynolds did with aviation gin and getting that actress so good it was i mean that was that was gold yeah so for anyone listening who hadn’t seen the aviation gen commercial i think it was within a week within a week yeah yeah backlash aviation gen which is ryan reynolds jen brand launches a commercial that’s that actress sitting at a bar with her friend her friends drinking aviation gen lamenting the backlash of the peloton commercial and like there’s implied like tension between her and her husband maybe like that her friends are trying to talk her through and it was just such a great like improv comedic advertising play on aviation’s part and then all of the like the commentary around what he was able to do with that was huge like seeing him on late night shows and daytime talk shows and he’s being written up in ad week and like that move just amplified the brand so much because he capitalized on someone’s trip up a little bit yeah and that i mean the meta i mean you talk about like you know people capitalizing on on memes and mean vertizing i mean i feel like ryan reynolds is kind of like the the king of meta metaphorizing oh that has to be a thing are you gonna brand that maybe [Laughter] no one steal this it’s copyrighted um that’s hilarious um so if people want to find you after they listen to this uh not in a creepy way just reach out say hi where can they find you absolutely so we talked about email so my email is jason at um but i’m very active on on twitter uh twice and linkedin um and love to would love to connect and talk more about this stuff um i i live and breathe it and love it on a personal and professional level so i will happily nerd out about this all day every day awesome take him up on that go reach out to him uh ask him all the questions obviously has a ton of inspiration for you guys as you get ready for the holiday season jason thank you so much for joining us today i really had fun uh so did i join thank you so much i will talk to you soon thanks again