If your app provides skincare products and advice, developing and delivering customized communications isn’t just a nice-to-have; it’s a business imperative. Your audience segmentation has to be on target and your messaging across all channels—email, push and text—has to be sensitive to users’ deeply personal demands and desires, and be aligned with where they are in their daily skincare regime. Our host and Chief Content Officer Peggy Anne Salz catches up with Fabian Seelbach, SVP of Marketing at Curology, an ecommerce startup offering customized prescription skincare via the web and through an app. Fabian shares how he creates and applies micro-segments to target and retarget users with advertising throughout the journey, and discusses the tools and techniques he uses to craft “Lifecycle Communications” that are appropriate and engaging. He also discusses his approach to influencer marketing and his success with channels, such as Instagram, to acquire and retain users.[ultimate_exp_section title=”Transcript” title_alignment=”left”]
Peggy: Welcome to Mobile Growth, the podcast series where front line growth marketing experts share their insights and experiences so you can become a better mobile marketer. That’s what it’s all about here. I’m your host, Peggy Anne Salz from Mobile Groove. And on my watch, this series will introduce you to the people who know how to drive growth. It’s either because if you’ve been listening in and I hope you are, it’s either because they have tools and tips and technology that we need to know more about or in this case, they have first-hand expert knowledge that we can learn from. It’s the latter here today and I am excited to welcome Fabian Seelbach. He is senior VP marketing at Curology. Fabian, great to have you first of all on Mobile Growth.
Fabian: Thank you so much for having me on your show.
Peggy: It’s great to have you because you’re going to bring a different perspective that I’ve been actually waiting for. So, in a way, this is just a great way to kick off the year because we’ve been talking so much about app growth and growth hacks. But what about the multi-channel approach? And that is exactly what you do at Curology. First of all, just tell me a little bit about your company.
Fabian: Yes. So, Curology what we do is we offer customized prescription skincare. And so, to unpack that a little bit, the way we do that is when you come to us, you fill out a little skin assessment and you upload some photos of your face and those then get sent to our medical team down in San Diego. And they actually then diagnose your skin and come up with a personalized skin care formula for you that includes the most effective prescription ingredients. And then our lab in San Diego will actually mix that for you and ship that to you on a monthly basis. And the nice thing is because we customize it to you, we can actually change your formula over time as your skin changes. And so with that, we can address a lot of symptoms. We can address acne symptoms, blackheads, whiteheads, but we can also address symptoms of aging, for example, fine lines, wrinkles or skin texture.
Peggy: So it’s a very personal product. It’s a very personal approach, that makes sense that you have to market according to, you know, what the user…what the customer wants. They might want email, they might say text works for me. You know, someone might even want a letter on paper, wouldn’t that be something. So give me an idea of the channels that make up your, sort of, your marketing stack and how you’re engaging with the user.
Fabian: Absolutely. So when we think about the acquisition piece, we really are across all the channels that you can imagine. All the social channels and so on. And then once a user has come on board, then equally we use quite a variety of channels. You know, you’ve already mentioned that email, of course, is a big one, but we also use all the mobile channels, SMS. But we’ve also actually found that direct letters to the home in certain use cases can be quite effective or using kind of micro-segments that we re-target with ads throughout the customer life cycle.
Peggy: So what is app in that? I’m just curious because most people say app is always sort of like the instrument of engagement. I find you…so my discovery is going to be most likely on the web. Maybe in your case word of mouth and social because it’s so deeply personal. What about the app? Where’s that fit in?
Fabian: Yeah. So I think for us that’s a very unique spot, in the sense that we have a physical product that is really kind of dominates the service. So that’s the cream plus the cleanser and moisturizer. And so that’s what you have in your bathroom. That’s what you apply and use every day, morning and evening. And so, that’s your primary touch point with our product versus the app is for us, it’s really about the ongoing communication you have with your dermatology provider. And so that is much more on an as-needed basis when you have a question or you’re looking for help with your skincare routine. And so because of that, we in our life cycle messaging, rely a lot more on triggered messages from our side based on where we know a user is in their life cycle or certain actions we have seen them take in our app in order to drive kind of that engagement that a consumer has away, you know, not away from. But in addition to that, the digital engagement in our app versus our physical product.
Peggy: It’s exciting to hear life cycle communication. You know, we’re talking so much now more this year than ever before about LTV. We’re talking about, you know, relationship management. We’re bringing CRM into UA. I mean, it’s a great time, also however a very confusing time. Let’s just start off with just a better idea of how you see life cycle management. There’s probably, you know, rules depend probably on app category and where are your users are and all that good stuff. But still, there’s probably some best practices or at least guidance that you could offer.
Fabian: Sure. I think when I think about life cycle communications, I think in my mind that really starts from the moment that you introduce somebody to your brand for the first time. And that really in my mind is that first touch point that they have with your site. And so, while that of course traditionally sits in these acquisition teams until a user has signed up, that’s really when life cycle team should be starting to think about that life cycle and kind of ease that, even though the day to day execution might lie within another team in the company. Where I’ve typically seen in most Silicon Valley startups, seen the life cycle start organizationally as well. Once we get an email address from legacy days of CRM and email is kind of often defines the start point and then we move into an ongoing relationship. For us at Curology, it’s very similar.
That’s when we have that option to really engage with a customer. We start the communications around, did the user have questions in their onboarding flow? Did they maybe not complete that? For any mobile app, that’s really a critical element. You’ve gotten the download, you’ve gotten them to open it, but are they really taking the steps to engage with the app? But then, of course, there are really critical moments that happen throughout a user’s life cycle. And that’s where the user life cycles really differ by company. For us at Curology, the life cycles often vary driven by your experiences. So we offer a free trial, so you get our first month of product for free. So, our user life cycle is really focused on that first month and ensuring that our customers can see the value of our product in that first month. But if you might be an app that has a shorter free trial or freemium product, typically the life cycle triggers and the elements that you really care about, of course, change over time.
Peggy: What about your stack to enable this? I wouldn’t call it your growth stack. Maybe it’s your engagement stack. What does that look like? And feel free, you know, we’re all here…we’re here because we want to hear what you do and learn from it. You know, feel free also to call out some names of some platforms or tools or texts that are helping you and expand that engagement stack, as we’ll call it
Fabian: Absolutely. So, we’re very lucky at Curology. We’re about four and a half years old, so we’re on a pretty modern stack. So Segment really is what drives all of our data layers internally. And so that makes our stack relatively straight forward and easy. And so the way we enable that, the data all sit in Segment and then we leverage Iterable as our marketing automation platform because it is so omnichannel, that was a critical requirement for us and enables us to do even the more obscure channels like physical letters or piping the data back into our ad platforms. We combine that actually with Segment Personas to kind of be able to add more unique audiences into that. And then we do a lot of our analytics to kind of get the learnings that allow us to design those life cycle programs through a combination of Segment into a Redshift. And then we have Amplitude and Chartio in that combination. So that’s what our stack today looks like.
Peggy: It’s all about being personal, which is partially relevancy, but also how personal you can go is depends on your segmentation itself. Do you find that your segmentation…are your buckets, you know, broad? Are you getting into micro-segmentation because, you know, it used to be…it’s all about being very concrete in your segmentation, but you don’t want to get down to the point necessarily that you’re literally marketing to an audience of one. So how do you keep that balance at Curology?
Fabian: Yes. I think that’s always a difficult balance for life cycle marketers because you want to get as granular as possible. But what I’ve always found is that the creative costs just increase exponentially, and the returns don’t necessarily increase with that. So the balance that we strike at Curology is really that for different use cases, we pick different levels of personalization. So to take a specific example, when we think about our cart abandonment drip, we realized through looking at the data that a couple of broad segments would really cover that well. And so for example, one unique use case for us is the case of parents and teens versus somebody who is over 18. And so there we have specific communication drip that specifically addresses the question a parent might have about our product and the questions a teen might have. So, the communication there between those two groups, it ends up looking very different.
Where we go a lot more customized is something, for example, we have a 21-day SMS challenge, which is all about reminding you to apply your Curology every night, because that is a critical element of it being effective. And so, there we go a lot more personalized because we get daily feedback from you about did you apply your cream? Why did you not apply your cream? And so we can very much branch off there. How many days have you applied this in a row? Have you missed a couple of days? And based on that, you know, very minute way, give you incentives in the form of fun gifts to take certain actions as a result. So there, we’ve gone much more into micro-segments versus the broad kind of parents, teens and so on segments.
Peggy: We’ll be talking more about your audience and I think also a lot more about how you engage with them. But first we do have to go to a break Fabian, so don’t go away. Listeners, we’ll be right back
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Peggy: And we’re back, my guest today is Fabian Seelbach, Senior Vice President of Marketing at Curology. And right before the break Fabian, we were talking about how you manage communication with your users and how that’s your multi-channel. But if you think about it with such a broad audience, it’s also a question of, you know, fish where the fish are. Yeah. Which platform for which audience. So I’d like to understand a little bit more about how you map that and then maybe we can move to the question of word of mouth because that’s a big part of your marketing. And I imagine that’s big for influencer marketing for you as well. But let’s start buzz through the demographics here for me. What matches to what channel or what channel are you using to hit which demographic?
Fabian: Absolutely. So, when I think about the acquisition piece, the stereotypes are true in some way. So, when we think about a very young teen demographic, a channel like Snapchat there is fantastic. For us, that’s where the teens are spending their time today. That’s where they have trust in the social media channel. Of course, they are on Instagram as well. They’re spending a lot of time watching YouTube. When we then think about our audience that’s more interested in treating aging symptoms like fine lines and wrinkles, then that audience is much more likely to be on Facebook or Pinterest. Actually, that platform differentiation very much carries through in terms of what happens then in the life cycle world. So we ran a very clear test with that 21-day SMS challenge. And it was very clear that people over a certain age were less interested in engaging with that kind of form of mobile communication.
And we very much see that on email, for example, that the readership and the time that people spend in the email very much goes up by age. So, when we think in the life cycle what messages are we sending and what an age segment are those going to, we very much think about the channel and what will likely be that most efficient communications medium to reach them. That’s also when we think of extremely busy parents and their teens. Why things like letters come back into play because we know that might actually be an efficient way to reach them versus an ad on, let’s say Instagram.
Peggy: So what’s like your favorite channel or what do you think has yet a lot of mileage, you know, a little bit untapped, undiscovered? I mean, I’m hearing a lot about Pinterest. That was of course later last year. Where do you see the most opportunity?
Fabian: I think of all the channels that we’ve seen, I think that I do believe there continues to be a lot of opportunity on Snapchat. I think there’s a lot of innovation in the platform. If I think about how much fast or kind of Snapchat is evolving as a platform versus some of the other acquisition channels, I think there’s some continued opportunity there, especially as our product changes for us marketers. If I think about more the ongoing communication channels on the life cycle side, I think I still always continue to be a fan of email. I know kind of readership is going down if you look at the age groups, but it’s held relatively steady now for a very long period of time. And so, I think it’s still always a good channel for some of those longer messages where we just need a little bit more room to explain and educate and kind of squeeze it into 140 to 200 characters for that really bite-sized message.
Peggy: I would imagine also video is huge for you. And of course, how has that maybe changed for you? Because at the beginning it was just like anyone can do it. You just have to be cool and have a camera. I’m sure it’s a little bit tougher now.
Fabian: Yes. So, in the beauty and skincare space, there are a lot of influencers out there, and a lot of them are on Instagram and on YouTube. And so, we end up working with a lot of influencers. I think the biggest difference that we’ve seen is that from the beginning days when it was kind of very much the wild wild west and just anybody was shooting on, some people were growing a lot and some brands were collaborating with influencers, but it really wasn’t very accepted. Now we’re in this world where I feel it’s almost swung the other way where if you’re an influencer and you have more than 50,000 followers, you often have an agent actually or a manager who helps you do these brand collaborations. And so the process has just actually become somewhat cumbersome to set these things up. Whereas before they were really organic, it was kind of between the influencer who knew their audience and what their audience wanted to see and they were really the creative creators.
And now there’s a lot more kind of business process that’s been added to that. That said, I think the creators that still put out fantastic content. They still continue to see fantastic growth because they’re focusing on that creative entertainment opportunity and they’re the ones amassing the large numbers of followers, kind of anything, a million to 10 million where those are really large, significant audiences. Where I think in the past, that’s only something we would have expected from kind of celebrities or TV personalities. And to have people have that opportunity to share their story about something that they have become an expert in things like skincare, beauty, I think gives a lot of opportunities to democratize that opinion sharing.
Peggy: So what makes you excited? Do you say, “Oh, look at the numbers.” Or do you say, “Oh, local significance,” because I’m reading a lot now that influencer marketing might be more important because in small areas are more local than global actually, but you’re the expert. What works for you? What are you looking for when you’re looking for an influencer marketer or what should marketers be looking for?
Fabian: I think what we found when we’ve worked with influencers that the number one thing that really makes for a successful collaboration is authenticity. And so, that’s authenticity versus your product. For us, that’s very much about having used our product for an extended period of time and then having a story of how that product impacted their life. Some of our most successful collaborations happened with influencers that were actually paying for our product. We then found out they were paying for our product and they happen to have a million or so followers. And we said, “Well, you know, why don’t we actually collaborate and to help you tell your story.” What’s happened? Those are the stories because they’re so authentic. It’s not the, “Oh, I’m a brand. I’m just going to ship you some free product and you somehow show it off.”
But there is…it’s not…if it was a fashion brand, it’s not your usual style that you stand for. It’s not you or it’s not that personal connection that you have really formed with our products. I think those are the collaborations that end up not being as successful. So it’s really that. And then the other thing is really in the end, influencers…and when people are watching those, they’re watching those videos or looking at the Instagram posts, it’s a form of entertainment. So I think what we always look for is that a creator provides for their audience the entertainment that they’re looking for. And of course, that can take a really broad range. You have everything from, this is a fashion feed and I show off different ways to style yourself in this kind of range. But then you have kind of the other end where it’s a prank channel and all you have is prank videos. And that’s the entertainment that people coming to that channel are looking for. So when we do a collab, we would very much think about what does that audience that’s coming to that creator looking for to shape something that’s very unique. It makes it hard for us because it’s not kind of a cookie cutter. “Okay, let me send you some product and then let’s go do it.” We have to think about every creator, what is the right collaboration that we want to do that will also be fun for their audience.
Peggy: Agencies and agents. Do you tend to want to do this on your own or can you, I mean, I’ve heard some painful stories about working with agencies, so I just wonder what you recommend?
Fabian: I think it’s hard to give a clear-cut recommendation. I’ll just share that what we’ve decided to do is bring it in house. And I think for us that was driven by a couple of different factors. One, there are a lot of skincare and beauty influencers and a lot of others that can tell interesting stories about their skincare. And so for us, it made sense. We’ve got two full time dedicated people who…that work on creator relationships. They travel to L.A. where a lot of the creators live, spend time with them, catch up with them. And so that made sense for us. I think if you’re a smaller startup that doesn’t have necessarily that focus on creator marketing, influencer marketing, I think an agency can be a perfectly fine option. But then as marketers, we always know when working with agencies, you also have to manage the agency and not kind of blindly rely on what the agency is suggesting because, with most relationships, it’s still just a certain percentage on top that they charge. And so, there isn’t necessarily as strong of an incentive to, for example, get optimal pricing because the agency will make more money when the price, you know, the pay for the influencer collaboration goes up.
Peggy: You know, Fabian, I’m almost upset we’re running out of time. Maybe it’s just, you know, have you back again, because what I like is that you’re hands-on and that you’re multi-channel and we’re all going to have to be figuring out multi-channels. It’s everything. And we can learn a lot from how you approach life cycle communication at all levels. In the meantime, how can our listeners stay up to date with you? And maybe you’re writing about this out there, Medium, some blogs, sharing your learning. So if you’re not, you should be, and we’ll talk about that after the show. But what’s the best way to stay in touch with you?
Fabian: I think the best way to stay in touch with me, I often go to conferences in the U.S., so I try to share my knowledge there. And then follow me on Twitter. I try to pick out articles occasionally where I share things here or there that I find interesting and then give my own commentary.
Peggy: Okay. Well, we’ll have those in the show notes and I will be watching… Are you going to be speaking at a Mobile Growth event? Mobile Growth Summit event by any chance?
Fabian: I haven’t confirmed one for this year yet, but I’m still actually working out kind of where I’m going to be this year.
Peggy: Okay. Well, that’s cool because we have a lot of events on. So it would be great to see you there. And listeners, it’s great to have you here on Mobile Growth Podcast. A quick reminder to visit mobilegrowthsummit.com for a complete list of our upcoming events. And as I said, there are a lot of them, some interesting geos that may be surprising for you. And don’t forget to use the very special promo code MGSPODCAST30 for 30% off of your offer. We hope to see you there at our events. And in the meantime, you can also, of course, check out this and every episode of our series on mobilegrowthsummit.com and on SoundCloud and coming soon to many, many more channels, providing you many more ways to listen and watch for that, the watch for you, and we’ll see you soon.