Michael Brown is the owner and founder of Death Wish Coffee. Death Wish Coffee creates the ‘World’s Strongest Coffee’. Their coffee is both strong and delicious. Thousands of people trust Death Wish Coffee to wake them up and keep them going every day.
Marketing Strategies Revealed in this Episode:
- Email marketing tips
- Email list building tips
- Growing a passionate and loyal fan base
Robert: Welcome to the e-commerce marketing podcast today’s guest is Michael Brown from deathwishcoffee.com. Welcome to the podcast Michael.
Michael: Thank you very much thank you for having me.
Robert: We usually talk about e-commerce marketing strategies to help other e-commerce businesses and online businesses try to get more traffic and sales and customers. But before we delve into the strategies you guys are using, can you just give us a quick bio about death wish coffee and the whole story about deathwishcoffee.com.
Michael: Yeah no problem. So death wish coffee was born out of my coffee shop. I actually got a small brick and water coffee shop in Saratoga Springs New York, called Saratoga coffee traders and my customers would come in and ask me for stronger cup of coffee. And I went online to see what, you know what was out there and at the time there was no strong coffees on the market. So what I did is I took what I knew about coffee and I started bringing in beans from all over the world. And you know as I brought these beans in from all over the world I compared them and found which had, like the greatest flavor, greatest caffeine content and I blended them together until I had a product that was, I mean I thought it was dynamite. So I started testing it out of my customers, they liked it. From there I decided that I could possibly try to sell this online. So I made a website and started running Facebook ads and that’s how I had my first sale. This was back in, I think late 2011 where I sold my first bag of coffee and I actually didn’t even have the packaging at the time I sold my first product. I just had the website and the beans. So I went to staples pulled together some labeling software and some labels and bags and I put together this bag. I sent it out to my customer and he gave me a good review. And that’s pretty much where it started. From there I really just focused on e-commerce. For the last six years and we’ve had a bunch of success. We’ve been a featured on Good Morning America, other talk shows. We had a super bowl commercial last year and we also sponsored a mascara last year. So we’ve grown a lot over the past six years. It’s been a crazy adventure and I don’t know it’s quite the experience.
Robert: Okay and is this something special that makes your coffee stronger or keeps, I don’t know, is it that it’s stronger coffee or is it that you have the caffeine in your system for a longer time without crashing.
Michael: Yeah so it is, our focus was initially just to create a strong flavor with some added caffeine. you know it turns out that caffeineinformer.com, they came out and reported that we had higher, I think double the caffeine than most coffee that were on the market at the time. So not only is it strong in flavor, but it’s strong in caffeine content as well. And you know that’s just a result of the beans were used in the roasting process. There’s thousands of different types of coffee and the coffee changes, coffees a crop so it changes here after years. They’re always getting [04:10 inaudible] and testing them out. Sending them to the lab and seeing what the most, you know we’re looking for a flavor profile and we’re looking for the added caffeine. But it’s a 100% natural, we don’t add any caffeine. It’s a hundred percent organic and fair trade. My team and I here you know we’re very responsible. We have very strong social responsibility values and our customers appreciate that as well.
Robert: Okay you have mentioned Facebook earlier. You created a Facebook ad to get your first customer. What are the other marketing strategies that you guys are currently using to get your customers?
Michael: So one of the, I guess staples I think of any ecommerce store is a strong mailing list. You know we’ve had a mailing list and email list growing since 2011. and we go through that and you know we have a double opt-in. so we keep that strong and you know, I think that because that list will keep growing with people who you know it’s very targeted, people who love to buy coffee online and you know with that list you know we’re able to remark the dip to them throughout the year. Now so that’s kind of our bread and butter. We try to provide as much value as possible through that newsletter. And with that newsletter you know we try to have some type of deal or something special going on every week. Because we don’t want the store to get stale, we don’t want the company to get stale. So we always have exciting announcements, new product announcements, deals, new influences we’re working with. every week at least one or two times there’s something special we’re putting out there and actually we just started a podcast and we just started, we have a pretty active blog right now. So no it’s almost every day we have great content coming out and we’re just constantly delivering value to our customers and because of that you know we’re able to have a very passionate group of customers and with that passionate group of customers they attract other passionate people. And once you get that like a strong core group of passionate customers that will tell the world about your product, you become almost unstoppable. Because like I said they bring in other passionate customers and that word-of-mouth referrals is, it’s like you can’t buy that. It’s just earned trust. From years and years of great stuff that we’re delivering to.
Robert: And with coffee customers, when it comes to coffee people they’re very serious about their coffee. So they’re very loyal. If they find the right product they’ll let their friends know and they will stick with it.
Michael: Yeah absolutely 100%.
Robert: Okay so with email, since you guys are focusing on email there’s a lot of things you can do with email marketing. So if you can just break it down for us maybe let’s start with how you, how do you collect emails on your website? What are the different strategies you’re using to get the subscribers? Are you doing content upgrades? Do you have like a newsletter subscriber thing? What are the different ways that you’re bringing in people into your email funnel?
Michael: so some of our products are very limited number. Just because they’re custom made. Like our coffee bugs for example. We’re only able to make a certain number at a time and we release those who are mailing lists customers ahead of time. So that’s kind of one incentive for being under list, you get notified of new product releases before everyone else. And I mean, as people go through the checkout process to try our coffee they ask they like to subscribe to the mailing list. A lot get, a lot of subscribers get added through that channel. like I said it is a double opt-in. so we’ll get an email asking them if they want to continue to be on the list and you know we also have our, we just constantly deliver content to our subscribers and we promote, we think we have a pop-up on our website that says you know would you like to, oh and possibly we have giveaways to mailing list. Weekly giveaways, we give away a month worth of coffee every week. So you know we’re just constantly giving stuff away just to get people into the mailing list. But at the same time we don’t want people on our list that, we don’t want to be a pain in the neck. We don’t want people there just to be there. Because we’re not so much focused on the number, we’re more focused on the quality of the people on the list. We want people on the list who want to get that information every day and who are passionate about the coffee.
Robert: Okay and if you were to assign or give a dollar value to your mailing list what would it be and the reason I’m asking this question is, I want to figure out like since you guys focus so much on your email list I am just trying to figure out like how important is it to your business and that’s why curious. You don’t have to give like a real number but as far as important, what’s the dollar value you’d give to your list?
Michael: The dollar value. Boy I know I tell everyone my email list is my most important asset. It’s the most important asset of my company out of everything. So I’m very protective over it. It gets, you know me and a couple other people in the company are able to even access it to access those customers. So I mean it in dollar just, its millions of dollars.
Robert: Okay so let’s move on, you guys use the mailing list and content to get the customers and do you have like benchmarks as far as how you’re planning to prove your results with what you’re doing with your email marketing and content marketing?
Michael: Yeah I mean more than anything its consistency. That’s what we’ve noticed over the past few years is, as long as we stay consistent with what we’re doing it keeps that wheel spinning. You know because I think of it as like a big pinwheel. You know if it starts slowing down it’ll be harder to get going again. So stay consistent with our content, with our social media, with delivering value through our email list, week after week after week. Then that seems to kind of, such [10:15 inaudible] itself I think after a while. You know then we stay up to date on what the new tools and techniques are. You know I have google alerts set up on every ecommerce marketing term you can think of. Yeah so you know everything that comes across my desk or across my email we look into, we try. Most of stuff doesn’t work, some of the stuff does work and you know we keep doing what works, always we try to. Maybe you know cut out the other.
Robert: Okay since you doing the consistency thing. Are you measuring? Because like when you look at your conversion optimization and you’re looking at your data what are you measuring for? Is it like the number of emails that you get in or is it the number of sales and number of subscribers, Sean what are the matrix you are looking for, for your conversion?
Michael: Yeah I mean we measured just about everything [11:10 inaudible] beauty of internet marketing is we could follow all the numbers at the same time. I think sometimes I get lost in all the numbers because there are so many out there. So I do watch the traffic to the website and the traffic specifically from the emails. I do watch our conversion rate and our cart size. And I don’t know it’s always like almost like an imbalance of numbers sometimes. Like we can put up great content and we could drive tons of traffic but then our conversion rate will drop and then our, our average cart size might get smaller if we would put a lower price product out there, the conversion right might increase, but the cart size goes down. So there’s always you know so many variables in there. but I guess, I think the question you are asking is you know how do I measure success with my email marketing and I do measure success with click through from my emails and subscriber growth. So if its subscriber’s growth is growing well but we’re not getting as many click through or a disproportionate amount of click-through then I see that as a problem. so as long as I know if the people are clicking through and spending a lot of time on the web pages after the click through then we are providing them something of value and the conversions usually, I’d say they typically, they come from people who are on the site for now a little longer period of time. But at the same time, sometimes you’re able to drive a ton of traffic and the sales don’t correlate a hundred percent.
Robert: Okay and who’s managing this whole marketing campaign do you have a team or you just, I know like with the email list you said a couple of people have access to that. But the rest of the whole marketing campaign how many people do have on managing this are you doing this by yourself and a lot of our listeners this is a question they’ve always wanted me to ask. Just because you know a lot of them are small teams or it could be one person doing everything and with the tools we have today you can manage a lot of things by yourself if you create a good dashboard. So at death wish how many people are managing this campaign? How big is it your team?
Michael: Yeah I actually we are always playing with different dashboards and trying to find the one that works the best for us. I don’t think we’ve hit our, hit the head on exactly an all-encompassing dashboard that works for us. Right now my entire team that includes my whole production team as well, there’s 20 of us. But just on the marketing side there’s myself, [13:41 inaudible] and Thomas. Thomas is our graphic designer. Alex does a lot of our content creation and content sourcing and [13:48 inaudible] just manages the whole marketing process plus does all of our emails. So a relatively small team there’s four of us, four of us and Kane works with some of our Facebook Ads Amazonas ads some of our ad platforms. So five of us total. We each kind of pick a certain thing that we like her that we’re good at and kind of tackle it from there.
Robert: and is there people remote working from home or are you guys at one location?
Michael: Yeah we’re at one location. I really, you know even though we’re an e-commerce business primarily and people could work for home I don’t love that. I love the, I don’t know there’s something to be said about having everyone in the same room at the same time or we can spit ideas back and forth and find something that works. so everyone’s pretty much required to be here 8 to 5 and yes the best part about it is, they’ll stay later and I don’t know we have an atmosphere here that’s pretty fun and we enjoy each other’s company and we’re always doing amazing things and surprising each other. So yeah you know we keep it fun but we are always here together, you know five days a week.
Robert: Yeah I think from my experience I’ve had the same type of feeling whenever you with the team in one place you tend to walk faster and the communication is faster compared to, I recently traveled visited my siblings back in Washington DC. And I felt that I was kind of slow. You know getting back to people just doing my tasks. But whenever you’re with the team you tend to do things and get things done faster but that’s just my experience. I mean there’s other people who prefer you know working remotely but I tend to agree it’s always best to be in the same room.
Michael: Yeah we have a morning meeting. Every morning we have a meeting and we talk about our goals for the day what we got accomplished yesterday. [15:39 inaudible] plans are for the day and you know just spitting those things out to people that you’re working with and telling them, “hey I’m holding myself accountable for this” oh and then following up the next day with “hey did you do what you said you’re going to do.” you wouldn’t believe you know how much more work gets done and how we can continually consistently produce you know some pretty cool stuff like day after day.
Robert: So what have been some of your struggles in the last 12 months when you’re growing death wish coffee? I’m sure you said that you’ve gone fast and you find a lot of growth about what I’ve been some of the struggles that or obstacles that you’ve overcome?
Michael: Yeah and so I mean we have had a lot of success recently which you know [16:20 inaudible] very blessed. We’re having a lot of fun. In terms of the struggles I know we do work closely together all the time. So there is some, you know I don’t know how you call it, arguments, and differences of opinion. But you know that I wouldn’t call the huge problems to just kind of know we’re just a passionate group of people. So if things get heated here so that’s you know that’s a struggle sometimes but most of the time I think it’s positive. Also I feel and probably a lot of people do, there’s so much, so many new marketing techniques and marketing programs, marketing interface, we do tend to get distracted sometimes. We’ll start focusing on something where you know we’re still a small team so we can’t focus on everything. I think sometimes we try to and we’ll stop working on technique that really works and we’ll start focusing on something that seems like it has a lot promise. But in reality it’s just a big distraction. So you know staying continue to do what works and not getting distracted is our biggest struggles. [17:19 inaudible] saying I say to my team all the time like, like hey why we aren’t doing you know XYZ anymore. You know it was working so well then we stopped doing it you know. That’s one of those things are I have to revisit every year, like hey what worked last year. Actually [17:33 inaudible] wall over here it’s like marketing that actually works. It’s like a list of like marketing things that actually work you know.
Robert: Yeah I think everybody’s a victim to that. Just because we are all in the industry we are all doing online marketing, you end up reading this article that work for this business that was a problem unique to them. You’re so excited because everybody is so excited talking about XYZ. You start doing that, you forget you drop the ball. you know you forget about growing your email list and you forget about fixing your funnels just because, you know everybody else is talking about this one thing. so when you talked about the interpersonal, I guess growing pains or just dealing with people, what are some of the resolutions you guys have come up with when you’re dealing with other people or how to, I guess argue passionately or you know how do you guys [18:32 inaudible].
Michael: I don’t know if we ever.
Robert: [18:35 inaudible] just special books you guys read. What do you do for your communication? How do you solve that?
Michael: Yeah I mean one thing we have in place is that everyone in the company has an opportunity to speak. You know there’s no one person that has hierarchy and I shouldn’t say like overall hierarchy of anyone else’s decisions, everyone has a voice in the company. Okay so you know that’s very important and I actually as the owner of the company I get overruled the lot. And I accept that. Because you know I think there’s something to be said about majority roles. don’t get me wrong if I feel very passionate that something’s going to fail it’s going to cost us a lot of money you know I’ll step in to put an end to it. But some of the times you know we’ll just let majority rule and even if I think it may not be the best decision there’s always a lesson to be learned. You know whether we succeed or we fail and as long as we don’t make the same mistake again, we’re pretty content with that. There’s not a fear of failing here. I encourage it a lot. So I think people know that although there’s we might get heated and passionate about things like, no one’s going to get in trouble for making the wrong decision, it’s just a learning experience.
Robert: Ok and you mentioned that you have the brick and mortar and you also have the online store. Are they are the places that you still sell death wish coffee or just your other products?
Michael: Yeah I do have a coffee shop still I don’t spend hardly any time up there about coffee shop manager who manages that. But we do sell death wish products up there. And we also just moved into six hundred grocery stores this year, [20:14 inaudible] on the west coast price chopper Hannaford and think healthy living over here on the east coast in upstate New York. But you know primarily like 95% of our sales are through our website. We operate on the Shopify network and Amazon that we do quite a bit on amazon and a little bit on eBay as well. We just started selling on jet.com, walmart.com as well.
Robert: It was a process, how was the process getting into those marketplaces like jet and did you have anything people should, if somebody’s interested in getting into those marketplaces any pointers or tips?
Michael: Yeah so with jet.com did manage it personally. I’ve one of the members of my team managed it. They worked a lot with a company called, I don’t know if you ever heard of a company called Scoobana, they have a pretty good blog that we follow, that we follow to get in contact with a lot of the people at jet.com and walmart.com. I think they are the same company now. But we follow that. It wasn’t super easy, it wasn’t as easy as Amazon was. Selling on Amazon it took a little bit of, took a lot more phone calls. It wasn’t just online forms. We had to jump through a couple hoops. And I think it’s a good thing. When you have to jump through some hoops then I don’t know I think it keeps other sellers out to some extent.
Robert: Yeah and thanks for being out the parkas do you have any final thoughts as far as marketing your online store or just anything we’ve discussed today?
Michael: Yeah thanks for asking I don’t know I mean just for everyone’s business out there make sure you work on your business every day. I think that’s the most important thing especially when you’re just getting started and by working on your business every day that’s not the same as working in your business. I got caught working in my business a lot when I first started and my business wasn’t growing. I wasn’t until I hired someone to work in my business so I could work on my business and do those marketing techniques and build my email list and find those influencers. Now that’s what the grill starts coming. So keep that in mind, focus on the important activities.
Robert: and how can people reach you?
Michael: So you can reach me on a twitter, twitter is by the easiest I’m on my Twitter every day and my twitter tag is mikebrowndwc. And you can also reach me just through deathwishcoffee.com if you go there there’s a contact us button and always get a hold of me through there and my customer service department will vet at first but you know after that [22:46 inaudible]. But the best way is mikebrowndwc.
Robert: And the final last question. What is the one thing an e-commerce business can do right now to help their business grow, get traffic, get sales?
Michael: I don’t think its one thing. But I’m sorry, but it is pretty easy and you know you just you create something of value. You find people who value this thing you created and then you ask them, you ask them for a follow, you ask them for a share, ask them for a sale. I think a lot of marketers out there right now they try to fool or trick their potential customers into a conversion. but sometimes it’s just a simple ask and you know if it’s some value to those people they’ll buy it and they’ll like it, share and they’ll tell their friends about it.
Robert: Okay thank you for being on the podcast Michael.
Michael: Thank you.
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