Lecture Lessons: Launching a Product 101 with Nik Sharma

Lecture Lessons provides actionable takeaways from our Trends Lectures series. This entry is based on Nik Sharma’s Product Launch 101 webinar. You can find him at Sharma Brands, follow him on Twitter or contact him via text (917-905-2340).

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As an operator, investor and advisor, Nik Sharma has worked with leading names in the direct-to-consumer (DTC) space including Hint, VaynerMedia, Judy, and Haus.

In this article, we’ve gathered the most actionable insights and resources (there are a lot) from his Trends Lectures Product Launch 101 webinar including: 

  • An overview of earned, owned and paid media
  • How to be ‘native’ to each social platform 
  • How to do cold outreach for press and influencers (sample messages here)
  • How to make effective FB/Instagram ads 
  • How to make effective Google ads 
  • How to track your audience (Measure by Quantcast) 
  • How to optimize your landing page to convert
  • How to put together the ideal DTC tech stack 
  • How to prepare your pre and post launch emails (email cheat sheet here)
  • How to ensure influencers properly rep you brand (influencer cheat sheet here)
  • How to work with influencers (influencer tracking sheet here

Read on to find out more.

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I. OVERVIEW OF MEDIA STRATEGY

  • Earned Media (Influencers, Press, TV, UGC) 
    • Cold outreach for PR and influencers 
  • Owned Media (Branded Blogs, Social, Email)
  • Paid Media (Influencers, Outdoor, Native, Display)

II. LAUNCH DAY STRATEGIES FOR PAID MEDIA 

  • Facebook (Including Instagram)
    • Focus On Creative
    • Retargeting Creative
    • Best Practices For Good Copy 
    • FB Video Samples 
  • Quantcast 
    • Why use Measure by Quantcast for audience intel 
  • Google
    • 3 Types of Search Ads (Branded, Non-Branded, Conquesting)
    • Tip #1: Cram Value Props Into Ad
    • Tip #2: Put Discount Code In Ad 
    • Sample Ads (Hint, Judy)

III. LANDING PAGE OPTIMIZATION 

IV. PREFERRED DTC TECH STACK

V. ALL THINGS INFLUENCERS (Q&A)

  • How many influencers do you need to launch a campaign?
  • How do you compensate influencers? 
  • What do you think about giving influencers advisory shares? 
  • Should you use influencer software?
  • How do you coordinate with influencers across different domains? 

VI. VIDEO

🚨RESOURCES🚨

I. OVERVIEW OF MEDIA STRATEGY

For the purposes of DTC product launches, the three key media types to consider are Earned Media, Owned Media, and Paid Media.

Below are notes on each media type from Sharma:

Earned Media

Earned media is publicity gained through promotional efforts other than paid media advertising, including:

  • Influencers: “Sending an influencer free product and they post it on their social.”

  • Press/Interviews: “Pitching an editor or reporter a story and they write about you. This also includes trade press and, in the brand space, those are things like Brandweek, Adweek, Ad Age, Modern Retail. Then you have your consumer press, which is more kind of like what everybody strives for, and this is getting on Vox and the New York Times, etc.”

  • TV:You also have TV. In TV, under earned media, you want to focus on things like Good Morning America, not QVC (which would come under paid media).”

  • User-Generated Content: “And then you have user-generated content, whether it’s seeded, meaning you send out product to brand ambassadors or people in your DMs or people go to your store or go to your site, they buy the product, and they ended up posting and tagging you on their own. That would be considered organic UGC.”

Two common questions that are often asked regarding earned media: 

  • How do you reach out to reporters and get press (without paying a PR agency)?
  • How do you get in touch with influencers?

Per Sharma: “Both are actually fairly easy, mostly because everybody in the world, especially media companies –– and I would consider influencers media companies to some extent –– they’re always looking for new things to put out or new content, new videos, new stories, new articles, and everybody welcomes the pitch, especially in the media world.”

So here are the cold outreach playbooks for PR and influencers (sample cold email / DM text here): 

Press Outreach:
This method is borrowed from Helena Price Hambrecht, founder of Haus:

    1. Use Google and find every single person writing about things in the space you’re in.

      * If they’re writing about stuff you’re into, they’ll probably be into what you’re doing. 
      * Write everyone’s name down in a spreadsheet.

    2. Google stalk all of them to find out contact info (email, phone #, etc.) and what friends you have in common. 

      *Use tools like LinkedIn, Instagram, etc., to find mutual connections. Try to get an intro, otherwise send a cold email.

    3. You can usually guess their email address based on where they’re working.

    4. Make a pitch. Be direct and don’t waste time with many words. Write something Sam Parr-style.

Influencer Outreach:
This is the template that Nik Sharma uses to do cold outreach to influencers.

    1. Make a list of influencers that align with your brand, not because they have followers or you like their content, but because their values/goals/ethics align with what your brand stands for.
    2. Start making a spreadsheet. Make columns for name, @handle, address, tracking #, post (yes/no), verified (yes/no), coupon code, URL, & notes.
    3. Put together a small DM and email (they can be the same) to send to them.
    4. If you want them to make a video, give them an influencer cheat sheet (this is the same cheat sheet that Nik gave to YouTuber Sara Dietschy).
    5. Use the tracker to track the influencer’s progress with your brand, and also make notes on which ones over-index with engagement — those are the ones you want to do more with (example tracker: judy.co/NIK10)

Owned Media

Owned media is anything that you own as a brand. It can be your brand blog, email marketing or social media channels.

  • Branded Blog: “Back to the brand publishing platform or the blog, we had one at Hint that I built called The Quench, and I think there’s so many reasons to have this. One, it gives you more touch points, so off the media company, you can have a newsletter, events, and just a lot more shareable content. It becomes great content to keep your brand top of mind, especially if you sell a consumable product and you always want to be top of mind for that next purchase. And lastly, you own the whole funnel, so even if you get somebody to that content, which shows some intent or some interest, you can pixel them for later and you can always retarget them.”
  • Social Media:  “Be ‘native’ to the social platform with your content. So being native to the platform is, it means that you’re very aware of everything within that platform. So if you’re on Instagram and you’re going through Instagram stories and you get an ad that takes up half the screen and there’s a chunk of text below it, that’s a Facebook ad being repurposed to Instagram stories, that’s not native, right? That’s just repurposing content because it’s easy. You see it a lot on TikTok because it’s a new platform and people don’t necessarily understand how to create for it. So they either curate or they repost. But being native means understanding everything from the gestures that people are used to while using that app all the way to understanding the context and the mindset that somebody is in while they’re on that app. So if they’re on –– and we get into this in a little bit under owned media –– but if you’re on TikTok, and you’re essentially posting the equivalent of a product selfie review or an Instagram story type of content on TikTok, it’s not going to work because it’s not native to the platform. And vice versa, on Instagram, a TikTok video isn’t the best form of content because that’s not what people go to Instagram to look at or to engage with.”

Be Native To Each Social Platform

  • Email (see the email checklist here): All right, and then the last thing is you want to have emails ready for launch. So on emails you want to have a specific set that’s ready to go for launch day. So you have your nurture and welcome series, you have your post-purchase, you have your abandoned cart series, you have promotional emails, you have previews and alerts, and then you have a small set of retention emails. I mean, emails are free, it’s cheaper than SMS. And I think for the most part that covers it on email. There’s some examples of good product launch emails here, which I love because they catch the eye and they don’t want you to just keep scrolling. They want you to really check it out.”

    (See some of Sharma’s favourite email ads below)

  • BONUS (Giphy): “The only thing I added here, which I think is really interesting that nobody really does, is GIPHY… Like I mentioned earlier, I love taking up real estate or inventory wherever I can. GIPHY’s great because you can rank for keywords in Instagram stories. So like right now if somebody searches Rumble Boxing or SoulCycle, you’ll see hydrant packets start popping up and spinning.”

Paid Media
Paid media refers to external marketing efforts that involve a paid placement. We’ll go in-depth on Facebook, Google and Quantcast strategies in the following section.

  • Influencers: “So for paid media influencers, you can use an agency like Here Digital.”
  • Outdoor: “For outdoor you could use iHeart or Intercom.”
  • Social: More in section #2.
  • Search: More in section #2.
  • Native Ads: “Native is if you ever go to read an article and at the bottom you see a section that says articles you may like. Usually it’s Taboola or Outbrain powering those ad units, but that’s called native advertising.”
  • Display: “The last one is display, which is probably one of the older forms, which is just those banner ads that you see, which you probably can’t even remember what the last banner you saw was.”

II. LAUNCH DAY STRATEGIES FOR PAID MEDIA (FB, QUANTCAST, GOOGLE)

For launch day paid media, you want to usually run on three channels.

The three key channels highlighted by Sharma are Facebook (including Instagram), Google and Quantcast.

Facebook (Including Instagram)

Focus On Creative
For Facebook, the main focus on launch day is creative (videos, photos, copy).

  1. Ads Viewed With No Sound: Most ads will be viewed on mobile, so make sure your creative prioritizes visual and copy to tell the story.
  2. Copy That Your Customers Can Tell Their Friends: Give a consumer all the talking points they need to tell their friends about your product. Sell them the benefit of your product, not what they get.
  3. Get People To Share Your FB Ad: A sign of a good ad is when people share it in within their own social real estate (eg. timeline).

Specifically on the number of creative items to create:

  • 5-8 direct-response focused product videos (unboxings, comparisons, highlighting with copy, etc.)
  • 2-3 lifestyle videos (more human focus)
  • 2-3 influencer / UGC style videos (ideally run this through the influencer’s account)
  • Long-form content
  • Sponsored content

The lifestyle videos are easiest to do and tend to convert the best. And these could literally look like someone just making an Instagram Story with subtitles thrown in (it’s as good as an ad).

Below are some samples from the Judy launch campaign.

From left to right, you have unboxing, product-focused, and lifestyle.

Sharma on which Judy ads did best on Facebook: “The copy at the top basically tells you what you can tell your friends, ‘Oh, why’d you buy JUDY?’ ‘Oh, they have everything you can think of to put in an emergency kit plus everything you’ve didn’t think of.’ We played around with headlines kind of going between just your standard headline, whether it’s like, ‘Orange is the new… I’m ready for any emergency.’ Or, ‘Meet the new emergency kit.’ But the ones that tended to perform the best were more editorial sounding and also surprisingly ones that looked cut off because I don’t know why but they just tend to do better.”

Retargeting Creative

Per Sharma: “For retargeting…which is basically showing ads to existing purchasers, not just people who visited your site, one to two still images which highlight the offer. You want to think of retargeting as you’re going back to a girl that you broke up with and so you want to really be very forward with the offer. And then two to four videos and you still call out the offer a little earlier maybe in the copy itself.”

In sum:

  • 1-2 still images highlighting the offer in the image itself
  • 2-4 videos (variations of the prospecting videos, but calls out the pricing / offer earlier)

Key To Good Copy: Focus On The “Why”, Not The “What”

Per Sharma: “And then the copy itself is my favorite part. This is where you give your consumer essentially all the ammo to brag to their friends about why they bought your products. For Hint, a big one was we stopped advertising [saying] that Hint was flavored water –– and more so that Hint gets people to stop drinking diet soda. And you kind of give them the outcomes or the benefits. People who focus solely on the product and don’t necessarily highlight the benefits or the outcomes or what it brings to your life that makes it beneficial to you end up having to heavily discount constantly, run promos and just a shorter lifetime. You want people to buy into the why, not the what.”

Video Ad #1: Organic Looking Videos That Can Be Shot On Phone For Cheap

“You want to be super native to the platform. So these are all examples, this is actually Jonathan here. And Jonathan just did an ad for one of the brands I’m working with. But you can see it’s very much a video that he made on his phone. We paid an editor 20 bucks to put the subtitles on, and this is one the best performing ads.”

Video Ad #2: Celebrity Endorsement With Direct Response Code

“Then there’s this one here. This is a great example of something that was shot extremely professionally. We got together with an editor and basically repurposed it to be something that’s more direct response friendly. So in this case you can see that there’s a variety code. This was running as a display video ad, so you could be browsing a site and you would see John Legend on the side pitching Hint.”

Video Ad #3: Product-Focused With Good Copy

“This one is by Blueland, so this kind of shows you more studio shots, stop motion, really leveraging copy to explain what’s going on.”

Quantcast

Quantcast is an advertising analytics and audience insights platform. If you are do not want to analyze your advertising than, at a minimum, use the free Measure tool (for audience insights).

Why use the measure tool? According to Sharma:

“Because it gives you an insane amount of data on your audience. So all you do is you sign up to Quantcast, you create an account for free and they’ll give you a pixel which you can put on your site and the reason they let you… They used to charge a ton of money for this because of the insights you get, then if you were Refinery 29, and you know that Clinique is your fifth most over-indexing brand, then you can easily go to Clinique and pitch sponsorships.

So they use to charge a ton of money for this tool. They’ve opened it up too, I think pretty much anybody to use. And so this tool is great because it gives you everything from gender, age, and income all the way down to the brands that you have the highest affinity with, all the way down to… I’ve even seen based on the traffic you get, it’ll understand what they’re also watching on Hulu. And it’ll tell you Bob’s Burgers is the top show. You can use that. [In another example], if you know that 60% of your audience drives a, I don’t know, a Lexus or a Toyota, then you can make sure that when you’re making creative for your product or your brand, that you’re incorporating brands and items that they recognize themselves.”

Google

3 Types of Search Ads

There are 3 types of search ads that you can run:

  • Branded: Going after you own brand ( example: if you are Judy, you are bidding for “Judy”, “Judy Kit” etc.)
  • Non-Branded: Going after terms related to your brand / product (example: If you are Judy, you bid for “emergency kits”, “preparedness kits” etc.)
  • Contesting: Going after competitors (example: If you are Coke, you are bidding on “Pepsi” and vice versa)

Per Sharma: “For launch day, focus on setting up branded search ads for your product. Focus on the product and keywords around it, as it relates to your brand. Drive your search prospects to a landing page that’s heavily conversion focused. Search is a high-intent channel, versus Facebook, which may require some more customer nurturing. Whether it’s influencer or PR or some kind of marketing campaign, then you want to make sure branded ads are set up one, because you’ll capture a lot of intent and two, because you don’t want a competitor cheaply bidding on your brand terms on your launch day.”

Tip #1: Cram the Value Props in the copy

Put as many value props as you can into the Google search ad. There are two tests that Sharma uses to make sure the copy is effective and flows well:

  1. Does the Copy Communicate the Product?: “One thing that I always make sure for, is that if you read it as somebody who’s not drinking the Kool-Aid of the brand, you should be able to identify it. So for example, last night a friend texted me some copy that referenced that these nutrition bars are made with whole-plant food. And the second I read that, I was like, ‘This won’t work because when the average person reads this, they’re going to read, ‘These bars are made from whole foods.’ And so that’s one way.”
  2. Drunk Test: The second test… is, if you’re drunk and you can understand and read your copy, you’re usually chilling.”

Tip #2: Put a Discount Code in the Copy

With Google Ads you tend to pay per click. And so if you include your coupon code within your ad copy or your headline, a lot of times you can save on the click costs and you still get the conversion.

This Hint Ad is Optimized with Tons of Value Props & a Discount Code

“In the case of Hint, they probably do it the best here. Nice headline, value prop (delivered to your door). In the first line you have the offer, if you saw a Hint that on TV, search Hint in Google and you see this, then you’ll immediately click TV offer. If not the TV offer, then you have discounted bundles, you have a discovery pack, and if you’re a parent going for Hint Kids then you can click on Hint Kids.”

Check the Discount Code in This Judy Ad

“In the case of JUDY, when we first launched, we use this one right here. So prepare with a JUDY kit, customized to your zip code and receive real-time local SMS alerts. Kits include food, water, first aid and safety supplies. We basically give all the value props up front to try and earn that click. And then we kept the code here up until we pretty much ran out of almost all our inventory and then we had to take it down.”

III. LANDING PAGE OPTIMIZATION

If you’ve run an effective Google search campaign and someone clicks through, your landing page must be optimized to convert the prospect:

“You want to drive your search prospects to a landing page that’s more lower funnel focus. So throw them a coupon code and try to get them to convert right away rather than sending them to the homepage or sending them to a collections page or really sending them anywhere where you might have a leaky bucket or a leaky funnel. Here, the landing page is key.”

As a marketer, you want to really be proactive in the UI and UX of this page to make sure :

  • You’ve answered every question they have
  • Rebut every concery they will bring up

Per Sharma: “So generally a landing page flow, and by the way, landing pages don’t necessarily have to be focused on being a micro-site, which is what I call a hero landing page. It could be quizzes, it could be forms, they could be listicles, I mean they could pretty much be anything.”

Here is the general landing page flow:

  1. “Hero” landing page
  2. Press bar / brag bar
  3. Value prop – 1st section
  4. Quote / Value add / Payment plan section
  5. Shop section
  6. Value prop – 2nd section
  7. Press logos
  8. Value prop – 3rd section
  9. Content from influencers / media companies
  10. Shop
  11. Quote
  12. Footer

Here is how the Judy Kit landing page flow currently looks.

1. Hero Landing Page

2. Press Bar

3. Value Prop #1 (Quiz)

4. Shop Section

5. Value Prop #2

6. Value Prop #3

7. Content From Influencers

IV. PREFERRED DTC TECH STACK

This is the tech stack that Nik Sharma currently recommends for DTC companies:

V. ALL THINGS INFLUENCERS (Q&A)

One of the most popular topics in the webinar’s Q&A concerned the topic of influencers.

Here is a round up of all related content from the presentation (and make sure to check the influencer sheet tracker and influencer cheat sheet that Youtuber Sara Dietschy used).

How many influencers do you need to launch a campaign? 

“Well, there’s a couple of ways you can do it. You can do it where you do a blitz and I’ve done that before. But in most cases, I mean if you line up a few, I mean you could easily launch with 10 influencers. You don’t need to have a thousand or a hundred influencers to make it successful. It also depends on the way that you leverage these influencers. So if you’re using an influencer [generically], then probably need more.

And if you’re using influencers as content creators, where you then use their content, run it through their Facebook or Instagram page as an ad and drive it to a landing page and you’re kind of pulling the levers based on ad spend behind the scenes, then you might just need one influencer. I mean, that was what had happened with Sara was we found that she was just so efficient with paid media. And so that one video that’s linked in the cheat sheet lasted, I don’t know, lasted probably like three or four months straight and then we started developing more. But you can launch with one extremely successfully, you can launch with a hundred, you can launch with a thousand.

I would say in most cases if I’m launching a product or a brand, I try and get anywhere from 10 to 20, usually one or two big ones and then maybe three to four mediums and then the rest maybe smaller, just ones that can kind of take whatever they’re promoting or whatever you’re promoting and really bend it into their own narrative. The most important thing is making sure that regardless of how many influencers you launch with that it seems and looks extremely authentic and organic and it doesn’t look like they’re just being compensated for a post.”

How do you compensate influencers? 

“Oh, compensation. Yeah, that’s actually a great question. So, a lot of people assume they can pay influencers based on a percentage of sales. It is extremely rare that that happens. Usually the way it works is… Oh, there’s Matthew. Usually the way it works is they want a flat payment and sometimes they want it upfront, but you can always negotiate to get it on the back half.

If you want to really build a relationship with that influencer, pay upfront or pay on really good payment terms because you have to remember these people, you’re paying [their rent] when you’re sending them a check. But yeah, it’s usually a flat fee upfront. You have to be really smart with the influencers you pick. So, I use tools like Dovetail or Trufan to really validate the influencer and make sure that their audience isn’t fake.Another trick I do is just take… If you go to their profile and look at a few of their videos, don’t look at anything that’s over-indexed or viral. But look at 10 videos and try to figure out what the average number of views are. Then take that average number of views and multiply it by four.

And it should, between four and six of a multiple, it should equal roughly the number of followers. That’s how you know that that influencer is legit. If it doesn’t, then there’s a good chance that a lot of those followers are either fake or maybe the account was started back when Instagram started and it was just a recommended account to follow that doesn’t really have that kind of influence anymore.

But definitely validate and then use tools like Trufan to make sure that their followers aren’t fake and then figure out a flat fee compensation that you can pay them on time with.”

What do you think about giving influencers advisory shares? 

Advisory shares for influencers? I think it’s genius. I would do it if I was launching a brand. I know with some of the brands that I have launched recently, there are situations where influencers have advisor shares.

I know there’s a very popping direct-to-consumer cereal company, which you can figure out, they have a ton of influencers on their cap table and it’s been a great propeller to drive distribution and revenue. It’s also great because when you have an influencer who has long-term upside, they’re not posting about your launch. They’re posting about your product all the time.At Hint, we had a situation where John Legend was an investor, so anytime Chrissy Teigen would go on Instagram Live or Snapchat or anything at her house, there was always Hint in the background.

With Sara Dietschy, it was the same thing where… Although she didn’t have equity, she was just a great partner. But every video, every organic photo, every photo of her friends going to her place, they all had Hint in the background. You just get a much more natural integration, so I would definitely recommend it.

Should you use influencer software?

Oh, what a great question. Absolutely not. If you use, well the reason I don’t is because I find that I don’t like, one, you don’t really set up a relationship with the influencer. You set up a transactional process. So you’re basically, in most cases, you put out a pitch or object that has a set price, it exchanges a price for a post with a caption, with product, et cetera. In most cases, one, those posts never really drive sales and, two, they’re just super inauthentic, inorganic relationships and they’re also from the same influencers who every third post is a different sponsored post. So there’s nothing, you don’t get anything out of it except for a cheesy photo that wouldn’t really perform well as an ad either. So I prefer to go direct or their DMs at this point it’s just intros, but that said, every influencer checks their email every hour of the day. So there’s no reason you can’t just find their email, whether it’s on their Instagram or whether you go to their YouTube and you click about, it always has their email right there. There’s no reason not to email them directly.”

How do you coordinate with influencers across different domains?

I was just going to say in most cases, if you do that take over game like Bloomberg did it with the memes or Fyre Festival did, you have to hit insane scale. So for that to work you have to spend a shitload of money and if you’re spending a shitload of money then you don’t have to worry about them working together. But my advice would be if you’re not, then focus on making each individual influencer successful in their own way.”

VI. VIDEO & SLIDE DECK

About the editor

Trung Phan

Trung shares the same calendar birth date as Robert Duvall, who famously played the consigliere (Tom Hagan) in the two greatest movies ever made: The Godfather I and The Godfather II. Aside from this happy coincidence, Trung joined Trends in April 2020 after a 10-year stint working in finance and tech across North America and Asia. Most recently, Trung was an early employee at fintech firm Kensho, which was acquired by S&P Global for $700m in 2018. A long time fan of film, Trung has also sold a comedy movie script to Fox. He currently lives in Vancouver, BC, Canada with his wife and toddler son.