14 Oct Tim Keen – Digital Marketing Expert And Co-Founder Of Loop Club
Are you having a hard time cracking the code for eCommerce? Enter Matthew Sullivan’s guest, Tim Keen, a digital marketing expert and co-founder of Loop Club. With Tim’s guidance and expertise, a skincare brand skyrocketed its business from $40,000 to $1.2 million a month in five months! If you join in the conversation and listen to Tim’s advice, you too can elevate your online sales. Tim also discusses fatal mistakes companies make when they try to do marketing by themselves. Tune in and save thousands of dollars by relying on experts who’ve been there!
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TIM KEEN – DIGITAL MARKETING EXPERT AND CO-FOUNDER OF LOOP CLUB
We’re living dangerously, Tim Keen and I are on an episode for all to see. Tim is a bit of a marketing champ. I think it that way.
You can put it like that.
It’s a bit of email, eCommerce, computers, the internet and stuff.
I do think that’s a good way of putting it. People have to go to the internet.
There’s this fantastic summary. Tim learned the ropes by dropshipping sex toys and bootleg Harry Potter merchandise. You wrote this and sent this out, which is brilliant. You started out life in Melbourne in Australia and then spent some time in Montreal, which must have been fantastic. It’s the rock band stuff and then you landed in Los Angeles, where else?
It’s where all Australian misfits end up.
I don’t want to know anything about the eCommerce thing. It’s Harry Potter merchandise. That’s what I want to know. I suppose dropshipping sex toys is because you wanted to get into a horizontal industry as opposed to a vertical industry.
I think it depends on who you ask. It depends on the timing, whether it’s horizontal or vertical.
It must have been fantastic in terms of the number of jokes and ribald humor that you can generate when people say, “What do you do?” “I dropship sex toys.”
I refuse to tell anyone for a long time because it’s much more embarrassing when you’re not successful yet. Now that I’ve been able to finagle it into a real career, it’s a great story. When you’re desperately trying to make it work, it’s not that funny to tell people about it.
It was the selection process in terms of what I’m going to put out. I’m going to focus on this for a bit because, as I said, it’s your fault. You wrote it down there. This bears testament to what this business generally. You think this is a niche. I’m going to go into this area here. You start choosing your products based on a little bit of market research. I suppose you can’t just go on and sample one thing. You’ve got to research to find out what works in that space.
You don’t need to be a data scientist to understand a graph and act on what it means.
I did fall into it. I was looking for products to sell. I had no experience. I never transacted online before. First of all, I proved the concept with Harry Potter merchandise, which someone else was selling. I was like, “I’m going to get this to work.” It’s like when you’re looking for a new car. You’re in the market for a new car and you see cars everywhere, and you’re like, “That’s a great car.” When you’re in the market for a product, clicking around the internet like AliExpress.
You fall on product and you’re like, “That’s a good product.” I fell onto some website that had figured out how to rank incredibly well for all the terms that they were selling fall. I did some quick math, and they must’ve been doing 100,000 searches a month, and this website looks terrible. It looked like it was made by a teenager in twenty minutes. I was like, “Here we go.” The thing that’s keeping people out of this market is that it’s embarrassing, silly and funny. If I’m willing to do that, then I have less competition on the other end. It turned out to be true.
That is the interesting thing because in those types of markets, there is so much preconception or there is so much me too in eCommerce, which is your area of expertise, where we received wisdom. For example, “This company is doing it this way, so I’m going to do it that way.” What’s interesting about what you did with the first venture is that you apply scientific research and said, “Which areas are underserved? Where can I probably create momentum if I can do a much better job at marketing?” Is that the beginnings or the genesis of where you thought, “If I can be successful with this, these are transferrable. We can start building a business out of that.”
I was very adamantly optimizing for learning as opposed to profit, mostly because it’s difficult to make a real profit in dropshipping. The margins are not there and you’re just a middleman. It’s borderline impossible. What you realize quickly is that this skill is transferable. There are a lot of different ways. If you can figure out how to make money or generate revenue, that skill is eminently transferrable. Everyone is looking for that.
The specifics of the object are not that relevant. After I learned how to do that, a lot of my success has come from finding things that are underserved. I learned Google Ads as opposed to Facebook Ads because I knew that fewer people were experts in Google Ads, so there was more opportunity to get good at it, and that played in my interest as well. I’ll test ad formats that I know a lot of people aren’t using or different ways of presenting the information.
There’s a little more pain upfront to get into that particular area. It’s typically easier on the other side. We’re seeing it now even in eComm. Alcohol is booming right now. D2C or Direct To Consumer alcohol has a massive growth. It’s a vertical online. One of the reasons why it’s flourishing is because it’s difficult to get that license. You have to figure out how to legally ship alcohol around. That alone puts enough people off but there’s an open field still.
Tell me about how Loop Club came about.
I was looking at MuteSix, which is a large, fast-growing digital agency. They sold to Dentsu as you do. We didn’t want to go and work for Dentsu. I wanted to try something else. I love MuteSix. I learned a lot from there but I went to a different agency. I went in-house, but then the pandemic started and clients were hitting us up. All of a sudden, eCommerce grew as much in three months as it did in the previous ten years. Anyone who had touched eCommerce before was suddenly like, “Can you do this?”
My experience has been I literally sat down at my computer in March 2020 and I haven’t stood up yet. I’ve been working and the volumes keep coming and coming. We have already seen success with some clients and they came with me, and then it started coming through word of my mouth, people who knew people. It started growing from there.
In terms of the specialist skills, as a company that’s looking to grow their customer base, we talk about eComm and your specialist skills, which is working with Shopify and those types of apps. Does your company provide solutions to businesses that are generally looking to grow their customer base? They may not have an eComm platform and may not be transacting direct to consumer. They may be looking to grow their customer base generally. Are those types of skills or learnings transferable to those businesses?
I would say yes and no. There is something magical about eComm because you get a very direct feedback loop between what you do and then the results. You can very quickly see how much revenue your activity is driving. That’s not necessarily true with offline businesses or lead generation businesses. The fundamental skills of how to set up an ad account, how to understand a value proposition, and how to make creative that works, all of that stuff is very much transferable. We work with people who are advertising online and looking to transact online.
In terms of particular success stories, what are the areas where you’ve worked with businesses where it surprised you how much growth you can generate and surprised the owners of the business?
There are a couple of crazy ones. The first one that was relatively life-changing for me where I was like, “You can choose this,” was a company called Trophy Skin. They are a skincare brand. It’s a microdermabrasion company. It’s a big expensive object that you use to wash the skin off your face that makes you look younger. I built a YouTube ad for them. I’ve done it once before to middle lane success. I built a nice landing page and running all the principles that I knew worked.
We took the business from a $40,000 a month business to a $1.2 million a month business in about five months, and then they sold the business straight away. That was the genesis of if you get everything working, it is so scalable. That success doesn’t happen all the time. You need a lot of things to line up for that, but once you understand how to play with those levers, it gets easier.
What are the biggest mistakes that you come across when you work with companies that have tried to do this themselves?
There are two kinds of mistakes that I see. There are companies that try to do it themselves and there are companies that try to work with agencies and fail. They have both failed a lot of the time. When you look at companies that are trying to do it themselves, there are a lot of barriers to entry. I always describe these ad accounts as like casinos. Google and Facebook Ads are like casinos. If you don’t know what you’re doing or if you’re not an expert ad counter, that design could take your money off you.
If you were to go into Google Ads right now, build an account, set everything up so it looks technically correct, and you did everything that Google said, you would waste thousands of dollars inevitably, because it’s designed for you to do that. People make very fundamental mistakes that the only way not to make them is through having had the experience of spending that amount of money before seeing a lot of accounts.
There’s basic stuff like buttons that you need to press on and things that you need to switch off. That’s what I see from in-house accounts. People who have been trying to do it themselves, but another one that we see all the time in every single day are agencies who have failed an account, misrepresented what they’ll do, not knowing how to do the job or not delivered. Everyone has an agency horror story.
Is it the technical setup? How important is content? How important is targeting in eComm business? I don’t want you to give away the secret sauce, but what are the areas where people fail most often? Is it creating content that does not engage people?
We give it away all the time. The reason why is because it’s still hard to execute. Executing is where the devil is and there’s a lot of details. Everyone in eComm thinks that the secret lies somewhere in the ad part. If you go in there, you tweak the right knobs, and you press the right buttons, all of a sudden, you’ll make millions of dollars. The product, website, and how you put it across takes second priority in a lot of people’s minds.
That is completely backwards. You hit the nail on the head before, which is that the content, the author, and the value proposition are 80% of the work. Have you made something that is compelling to people or is genuinely useful to people, and how simply have you explained the value that the person is going to get from that product? Usually, people haven’t explained it.
The fact that you are not a dyed-in-the-wool marketer out of university, I wouldn’t say you’ve fallen into this because that doesn’t describe what you’ve done properly, but you probably never saw yourself a couple of years ago doing what you’re doing now. How much of that outsider’s experience has given you the ability to look at the way that eComm marketing has been structured and see gaps that people within the industry have been blinded to?
Give serious attention to TikTok because it’s growing extremely fast.
That’s helpful. We would see it all the time at my previous agency and we still see it. That is the people who go to the business school route and then try to apply business school learnings to eCommerce frequently don’t succeed. Whereas the people who are doing well, driving growth, come from weird backgrounds, come from outside the industry, or have had some entrepreneurial experience, we see that consistently. What has helped me a lot is I’m a pretty clear writer. I have a good amount of experience with writing and I can write compelling, clear and easy-to-understand copies.
That’s a very large amount of it. It’s 40% to 50% of it. The next 50% is split between two other categories of things that I happened to have a good experience with. One is being relatively good at understanding data but not necessarily at a high level. You don’t need to be a data scientist and able to do complex stuff. You need to have a comfort and understanding of reading a graph and what it means, and being able to act on that information.
Using those skills and you mentioned when the pandemic took hold, you saw something again that most people weren’t expecting, which was that huge upswing in a number of areas in eCommerce and online transactions. Do you think that’s sustainable? Most importantly, do you think that customer behaviors have changed since 2020 in a permanent way? Let’s get your views on that first and then I’ve got a follow-on question.
There are a few different things that I think will happen. One is that we are seeing a certain segment of customers that purchased during COVID, who we have not been able to bring back to people’s online stores. That’s definitively happened. There are a lot of people who were panic buying or purchasing behavior change to the side of the pandemic, and they don’t have repeat purchase behavior. They’ve gone back to their previous way of shopping. That is true.
On the other hand, the whole industry has grown so much that there’s still more volume. There are still a lot of people shopping online. The additional complication or the extra wrinkle here is the increase in advertising costs, which is all that anyone is talking about right now. Advertising is becoming harder, less targeted and more expensive. While there are more people shopping online, the cost of acquiring a new customer is rising.
What we are starting to see is a little bit of a shakeout and consolidation. The private equity companies and holding companies are starting to buy and consolidate successful brands. If you are an eCommerce seller and you have low margins, a low average order value, or a low conversion rate, you are in trouble. You have a harder time than you might have previously been. There is a bit of a shakeout happening in the industry.
The cost of advertising has increased. Is that because of the amount of competition that’s pushing the bids up? You talk about the fact that you’ve bought $100 million worth of advertising or something like that.
Yeah, between our team, it’s easily out.
It is quite a lot. You’re seeing big spends. Presumably, there are tens of thousands of dollars a day with some of these clients. Are they getting a commensurate increase in return or is it getting to the point where the publishers, Google and Facebook, are trying to take advantage of the situation?
Google and Facebook are built to take advantage of all situations. They are machines that take advantage of the situation. Apple has reached into the fray and made it a little more difficult to target on Facebook, which is raising advertising costs. Increased competition is raising costs. Google and Facebook would claim that they’re running an auction. They claim that they’re neutral arbiters and people are bidding for attention, but that’s obviously not true. They manipulate the auction in a variety of ways in that interest.
If you think about an advertiser who’s spending $10,000 a day, they know what they’re doing. They’re running a very serious and sophisticated program. They have multiple channels working. They’re looking at the overall blended results of the advertising on the business, not just one channel. They’re thinking about, “How did our overall expenditure work over the course of the last month when we look at our total net customers compared to our total media expenditure.” If you’re a small business and you only have $10,000 a month to spend, it’s much hotter out there. What’s become harder is not growing on an established brand. I think it’s so possible. The first $20,000 spent launching the new brand is getting harder for sure.
There are new platforms, TikTok, for example, but also there are other more established platforms that are changing the way that they interact with their customer bases. Do you see any significant changes in the way these platforms are going to engage their customers as a result of this change in dynamics?
Definitely. TikTok is growing extremely quickly. We’re starting to pay serious attention to it. We feel like we’re late to the game. There is some real attention to be had on TikTok. One thing that you have to look out for on TikTok is the engagement rate. The percentage of people who follow a given person who actively engage with that person is very high. I think it’s 11% or something compared to less than 1% on Instagram. It’s astronomically high.
TikTok is introducing shopping features within the app. Quite soon, they’re doing a native integration with Shopify. TikTok people will be able to have storefronts essentially within the app. One of the easiest ways to launch a brand is to have a platform already. If you have a media arm or if you have a lot of followers, you have a massive advantage in launching a brand. I think that trend will continue.
From my little side of the world, we’re starting to see a lot more brands launch that are venture-backed brands that are formed around an influencer or a specific person with reach. I think that will continue and we’ll see a lot more of that start to play out when big accounts on most social media platforms start to monetize. That’s one thing to watch out for.
The other thing to watch out for is Facebook, Google and TikTok’s direct integrations with Shopify. They’re starting to pass data as a workaround to Apple. It’s passing data all between themselves. It’s going to be very clean native integrations between Facebook, Google, TikTok and Shopify, which creates a little bit of a data ecosystem, which is interesting. It’s something to watch.
How important do you think influencer marketing will be in the near term? I know you mentioned that it’s important that people have some following to give them that springboard. Do you think influencer marketing is something that is a fad? Is it something that’s here to stay? Is that a separate growth industry in its own right?
It’s a complicated question. People buy from people, and they always have. If you’re able to put a face on a product and have someone saying like, “This is the thing. It worked for me. I’ll stake my reputation on it,” that works and that will continue to work. Influencer marketing is a broken industry. It’s a very time-consuming thing to do. It’s a lot of reaching out to people and talking to them. Being those mid-level content creators is not quite a value proposition that works to every side. There will be a shakeout in the streamlined business in terms of how the industry works. I don’t think spokespeople and celebrities building products is going anywhere. I think that’s going to grow and grow.
I was talking to someone that specializes in providing personalized video content. His view, which is interesting and valid, is that there is a move towards rehumanizing the internet, which is his expression. Everything has relied on metrics and automation to date. Is there a market that’s untouched where there’s that personal touch? In other words, the shop owner is in contact with the potential customer through some medium. You’ve probably already answered when we talked about influencer marketing, but is there a move you’re seeing towards more direct contact between the shop, the people behind the shop, or the store and their customers?
Absolutely. If you think about the growth of live shopping, which is something that we’re not in that as an agency, but we’ve seen it grow a lot, which is when people host Instagram events on third-party platforms, and they sell stuff on Instagram, they go through a bunch of stuff. People decide to buy it. These live shopping events are really big in China and they’re growing in the US. I do think that you’ve hit the nail on the head.
Now we live in this post-COVID world where we used to Zoom with people all the time, but we’re also used to connecting directly with people over Zoom and over video. We’re used to getting that personalization. That’s something that people are starting to expect more and more, especially as we continue in COVID. It doesn’t seem to be ending anytime soon. It’s still metric-driven and KPI-driven, but it is leveraging the specific personality of the store owner or the merchant a little bit more, I agree.
From an agency perspective, you’re always looking for that angle. You’re looking for that unexplored seam of gold that’s going to connect. What you said is that people now are much more used to interacting with other people online. Whereas a couple of years ago, Zoom was something that few people had heard of. Now, it’s something that’s part of the everyday vernacular. It will be interesting to see your point, is that a major area of growth? Are you seeing real growth in that area or are we hoping that area will grow? This idea of individual contacts or perhaps people hosting. I know you talk about sales partners in China, but are you seeing that coming over here?
Building an agency is all about building relationships.
I think it’s possible. There are still advantages to having the automation and scale behind it, but the fundamental principle is that people respond to a sales pitch. They really do. There’s no one who can sell like the founder of a company. If you started a company, you are typically the company’s best salesperson. If you are in the blessed and fortunate position of being an articulate and camera-ready founder of an eCommerce startup, there’s nothing better you could do for your business than let’s get on camera and talk right into it. It works so well.
Is that something that you’ve discovered or has that been true all the way through but hasn’t been mined?
It’s a little bit of both. It’s been true forever. If you look at the history of American capitalism, it’s the sales letter. It’s door-to-door salespeople and someone showing up and being like, “Let me show you what this can do. Here are the benefits. I’m going to cut through your objections,” and then there’s a receptive audience listing to that sales pitch. It’s deeply ingrained in this culture, but it isn’t universally adopted in the industry.
We see these breakout successes when a product manages to do it. Dr. Squatch is a good example. Dr. Squatch is a soap brand that has scaled on YouTube. They scaled from about $5 million in annual revenue to about $100 million in annual revenue in under three years. It’s significant growth. They mostly did it from one YouTube video. They found someone who’s funny and hired a funny guy on Craigslist. They wrote a funny script and he talks about it. It works because he’s looking right at the camera. He’s doing a classical sales pitch, but it’s dressed up as entertainment and comedy.
It still does all of the things that American expects from a sales pitch. It talked about the objections and the value propositions it speaks to. Why you should do this now, then add social proof and testimonials, and all that stuff. It’s entertaining, funny and importantly, it is one person looking directly at the camera and saying like, “This is what you should do.” It works.
I was talking to my design guy talking about Steak-umm, which is this engagement they’re getting from their Twitter account. This has been going on for a couple of years. What they’re doing is they’re actively and intelligently engaging people in a humorous way. The question everybody ask was that, as a native Australian, obviously I’m from the UK, I moved over here, the one thing that I noticed compared to the UK was that the US was very much and is very much a relationship-driven economy as far as I could see.
My contacts were limited but I wouldn’t say it’s old-fashioned, but it was mano-a-mano to a certain extent. Despite all the technology and all of the distancing that it brings, it always boiled down to, do I like this person? Do I trust this person? Do I want to do business with them? Is that something that you detected when you moved over here from Montreal?
I don’t think I realized the significance of it until even in 2021. I’m building an agency when I started to notice how much of it is relationships and almost all of it is relationships. An agency is particularly interesting in that context because it’s literally just people. It’s your relationships with your clients and staff, matching those and ensuring that they continue to be aligned. You spend all your time building relationships every single second.
I agree that Australians are a little bit more reserved and less exuberant than people. There is less relationship building. In America, the business culture is very over the top. In Australia, even the way that we make advertising with that character speaking directly in the camera being like, “Guys, you should totally buy this.” I don’t think that would fly in Australia. Australians don’t like to be sold to as much but here, people are willing to explicitly be sold to.
Are there any other cultural differences that you detected that you can use to your advantage? In other words, having that secret knowledge whether it be with the businesses that you’ve run before, is there something that stood out or astounded you in terms of the culture or that part of?
I do. It’s the blatantness and the explicitness of your ability to sell. In Australia, it feels like you have to be comically straightforward to make a sale in America. I was talking to an Australian brand. It’s a quite successful Australian brand that has not been able to make Facebook Ads work in America. They spend hundreds of thousands of dollars. They have offices all around the world and haven’t cracked it yet. I looked into their ads library and what they’re running. It’s like, “It’s never going to work here. It will not fly.” It’s because Australians and British people, to some extent as well, are hard to wrap your head around how direct you can be.
It’s much easier in some respects because you can be explicit, direct and deliver a clear message. Both the UK and Australia, to a certain extent, you’ve got to be a little bit more reserved. You’re seen as a little brash or unpolished if you’re getting straight to the point. We like to dance around our handbags a little bit more.
The streaming advertising is much quicker here. If you imagine a subway ad for Crisps or something in the UK. In my head, I immediately see some funny slogans or a witty thing like a joke. You look at it and you’re like, “Ha, ha.” Here, it will be like, “Eat it up.” It’s very simple. I like that. It’s relaxing and clear.
You can build on that. That continues to be refreshing and it feeds the cultural muscles. I’m going to shift gears slightly here and ask you my ten questions, which I stole from someone. I was trying to think of the Australian comedian, Dame Edna Everage. I heard myself going into this deep dive. I even imagined I had these glasses on. This is going to be nothing to probably 93% of the people reading this, but Dame Edna Everage and Barry Humphreys, God rest her soul. What a perfect individual you were. You brought joy and humor to millions. That wasn’t the question. This is my first question. Tim Keen, fasten your safety belt literally and figuratively. Question number one, what is your favorite word?
I don’t know if I have a favorite. I’ve been using high level. If you want to see them pay attention, and they’re falling asleep in a meeting, you say whatever you’re going to say but you say the phrase high level at the front of it. They’ll be like, “Yeah. That’s for me. I’m the high level.” It’s a very embarrassing word but it’s useful.
It’s a great word and great advice at the same time. Question number two, what is your least favorite word?
There are a few business terms. I can’t stand when people say, “Let’s get the download.” For me, that feels like I have become a computer or being made the machine. There’s a lot of that business talk that makes me into a computer. I don’t want to know about it.
Question number three, what are you most excited about right now?
We’ve got some cool new accounts that I think will work very well and the business is starting to congeal. Our agency is a real roller coaster, but every time that thing comes down, it starts coming up again. I’m like, “Yeah, it’s coming up again. Here we go again.”
Question number four, what turns you off right now?
Dealing with Facebook and dealing with data stuff, the day-to-day changes in how the mechanics of doing my job are. It’s a big buzzkill.
You have to be comically straightforward to make a sale in America.
There’s this great book, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. The world is about to be bulldozered by these spaceships. Over the loud hailer, it says, “We posted this notice 700 years ago in the basement of planet thug” or something. It’s a bit like that when you’re dealing with these big companies like Facebook. It’s like, “We told you about this change in paragraph 3, section 9 of the following link.” I know what you mean with everything changes and you only find out about it after. Question number five, what sound or noise do you love?
I love popcorn popping. I enjoy that. It’s a great sound. It’s nice to know that there’s popcorn on its way. Let’s go with that.
Question number six is a follow-on, what sound or noise do you hate?
I hate nails chalkboard sound. I despise it. I know it’s a cliche, but even thinking about it despised me.
Question number seven. What is your favorite curse word?
Can I swear now?
Yes, you can.
I say fuck all the time. I did a poll on LinkedIn a while back, whether people swear in front of their clients. For me, that’s when you know that your client relationship is going to go well when they swear in front of you. I’m used to it being punctuation. I have to check myself a little bit.
It’s an equivalent of err or um. Four Weddings and A Funeral with Hugh Grant has a fantastic use of the word fuck in the most inventive way, but I’m glad you said that. Question number eight, what profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
There are all kinds of stuff. I always wanted to be a film composer or write music for film and television, which I could probably still do. That would be fun.
You have a strong musical background as well, which we haven’t even gone anywhere near.
It’s definitely not off the table. It’s something that I have thought about doing.
You’re in the right place, Los Angeles. Question number nine, what profession would you not like to attempt?
I couldn’t do anything accounting. I couldn’t be an accountant. I can grow the top line and then the rest of it is like a murky mystery to me. I don’t have that level of detail.
It is magic. It is a black art.
I’m grateful for accountants but it’s not me.
My final question, Tim, if heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?
Come on in. You made it.
Final question, how do people find out about you and what you’re doing with Loop Club and all of this huge expertise that you have and how do they take advantage of it?
Our website is Loop.club and you can check us out there. I’m also on LinkedIn, Linkedin.com/in/Tim-Keen, find me there.
Thank you once again. It’s been an absolute pleasure having you on. There are tons of useful information. It’s been a delight. Thank you once again.
Likewise, thank you so much.