How One Paper Designer Made the Leap from Wholesale to Omni-Channel Retail

When Fiona Richards became tired of working as a graphic designer for corporate clients, she decided to start her own business. That was over eight years ago. Today, her wholesale greeting card and stationery business, Cartolina, sells worldwide to some of the most iconic retailers, like Harrods, Anthropologie, The Smithsonian, and The British Museum.

Cartolina now also sells directly to the consumer, via an online store, and has most recently opened a retail storefront in BC, Canada. Omni-channel retail is here, and many merchants like Fiona are wise to adopt it. Recent consumer studies by Forrester and MIT highlight many of the advantages of taking your business in this direction. Consumers are approaching purchasing from multiple angles – 80% of shoppers check prices online, and a third are checking product info via mobile while shopping in-store.

Companies with omni-channel engagement strategies see higher customer retention rates and increase in annual revenue versus those with single-channel strategies. Omni-channel shoppers, on the other hand, spend 50% more than single channel shoppers.

For Cartolina, the transition to omni-channel retail didn’t happen overnight. We chatted with Fiona about her decision to dive into new distribution channels. She shared with us her wins and losses as well as some valuable advice for other businesses taking the same path.

Retail Design Photo Contest: Your shop could win a $500 prize package including custom business cards and retail supplies. Read to the end of this post for details.

The Launch

Cartolina started as a handmade line using vintage ephemera, carefully trimmed and glued together.

“I wasn’t interested in selling one card at a time, so I researched the wholesale industry and learned that I needed to target the retail buyers to get the volume of sales that I wanted.”

A year after Cartolina’s launch, it became clear that the business was not scalable. Due to the time-consuming nature of handmade products, the demand became unmanageable. Back at the drawing board, Fiona designed a new collection – one that could be printed in bulk and warehoused. The new approach would require an upfront investment of a few thousand dollars. Before she made the leap of faith, she sent out press releases to her favourite magazines, announcing a fresh new stationery line from Cartolina.

“The response was overwhelmingly positive, which was the indicator that I needed to make the investment. There was a funny moment, back then, when our products were featured on the pages of Canadian House & Home before they were actually off the drawing board!”

The Wholesale Business

“I think it’s common for new entrepreneurs to think that they can get their product in front of retail buyers all by themselves. You are very limited in what you can do by yourself. Gathering a sales force is very important.”

Wholesale businesses can enlist the services of sales reps and distributors, leveraging expertise and connections.

Sales reps shop product samples to retail buyers in different regions. They write orders which are then sent directly to your business, where you will fulfill and ship directly to each store, paying a commission to the rep.

“Be very picky to match your products and your personality with that of the sales reps. A good rep is worth their weight in gold.”

Distributors, on the other hand, will buy your product in bulk and sell and ship the product directly to retail buyers. Distributors work well for for overseas markets, when it becomes too costly for retailers to buy small quantities directly from you.

After five years of using international distributors and reps, Fiona realized that retailers wanted a more personal connection with their suppliers. Cartolina then began shipping from their Nelson BC headquarters. The switch was eye-opening.

“Our experience with dealing directly with buyers and shipping daily to stores gave us the confidence to open an ecommerce site. It was the next step forward for us”

How to Wholesale

Recently in this blog, we’ve touched on sourcing wholesale products for your retail store, and selling wholesale to other retailers in our list of 50 Ways to Make Your First Sale.

WIth a seasoned wholesaler at our fingertips, we pressed her for some more first-hand advice for merchants taking the leap in this direction. Here are some tips we learned from Cartolina:

  • Consider Fit. Be sure your product is appropriate for the retailer you’re approaching.
  • Stay on Top of Trends. What’s in-store now is yesterday’s trend. “If you see lots of neon polka dots in the store, it’s best not to pitch a product with neon polka dots,” Fiona warns. “That train has already left the station.”
  • Connect. Larger retailers may have several buyers in your category, so be sure you’re connecting with the right one. Buyer info can be obtained, generally, by calling the retailer’s corporate headquarters.
  • Keep it Short and Sweet. When contacting buyers, keep the intro brief and include small images, essential info and links to your wholesale catalog.
  • Get Online. Create an easy-to-access online wholesale catalog for buyers that includes pricing and terms. Keep it separate from your retail site (if you have one) in order to avoid confusion. A wholesale line sheet is another great tool.
  • Know Your Customer. Your customer, in this case, is your target retail buyer. Find out who they are and what blogs they read. Pitch your brand to these blogs for a potential endorsement or post that can get your products in front of your targeted buyers.
  • Attend Trade Shows. Trade shows are great avenues for introducing your products to buyers. Fiona suggests NYNOW as one of best trade shows for wholesale consumer products. There are many other shows to consider, depending on your product.
  • Be On Time. Consider that retail buyers have a buying schedule. Try to have new product launches four times per year. Some retail buyers will want to see holiday products as early as April and Valentines products are usually on buyers’ schedules in November.

There are several ways to offer both wholesale and retail through your Shopify store, whether it’s via discount codes, apps, or opening a 2nd storefront. Before getting started, however, do your homework. Launch Grow Joy collected even more tips from its readers on the subject and there are several other excellent resources to help you make a foray into the wholesale realm.

The Leap to Retail Ecommerce

“We really have gone from originally wanting to only design products and not deal with buyers and consumers, to wanting as much interaction as we can get. I think it is partially a response to having spent a number of years working online and communicating only with email and social media.”

Feeling isolated after years of online-only communication, Fiona’s team began to crave human interaction. Cartolina made the move to retail after 7 years of building a successful wholesale business.

“We wanted to know more about the Cartolina customer, get feedback on our products, and also have an authentic, public presence on the web – not a hidden wholesale site, which confused the average visitor.”

Cartolina launched as an ecommerce site early last year as a reaction to the disconnect that they felt with their end customers. Adding retail to the mix proved to offer many advantages including larger margins and the ability to market direct to the consumer.

Fiona reported that the addition of a retail channel increased wholesale orders by 20%.

Nurturing Relationships

Continuing to nurture the relationships with buyers while simultaneously dealing directly with end consumers became a tricky endeavour.

“It’s important to take care of all of your customers.”

Wholesale buyers don’t want to compete with their own suppliers, she found. Keeping the peace meant being careful not to undercut pricing or offer too-frequent discounts or free shipping offers on her ecommerce site.

It’s good politics, she says, to extend discounts for retail customers to wholesale customers as well. Fiona also recommends leveraging social media to keep wholesale customers happy.

“If you’ve just shipped out a large wholesale order to a new retailer, take the time to introduce them to your followers on Twitter and Facebook. They will really appreciate the support and forgive you next time you offer free shipping to your online buyers!”

Breaking Ground

Cartolina’s experience with ecommerce was such a positive one that the company decided to take a stab at physical retail. This Spring, she bought a 130-year-old commercial building in her hometown of Nelson, BC. The building now houses the expanding wholesale business with a street-facing portion dedicated to retail.

This month, Cartolina opened its doors for business. The rear wholesale warehouse includes a sophisticated new shipping and fulfillment department to accommodate growing online sales. At the front of the building, Cartolina products are sold alongside a curated selection of products from other manufacturers.

“One of the benefits of opening a physical retail store for us is that we can incubate new Cartolina product in the store – if it does well in the store, then we will add it to our ecommerce site. And, subsequently, if the online response is good we can increase our production of that product, thereby lowering our costs and eventually adding it to our wholesale offerings.”

The effects of an omni-channel approach are already apparent – adding physical retail to the mix resulted in a noticeable uptick in retail ecommerce sales. Customers are able to interact with the products before making the decision to buy them later via ecommerce. Cartolina is also leveraging the power of social media and a history of shipping experience.

“We are featuring images from the new store on Facebook and Instagram and the response is that many of our followers are purchasing items from us as we post them! We are now shipping products, other than our own, to consumers all over the world.”

 

“Anticipate success,” says Fiona. “Make sure your business is scalable and can handle growth when it comes your way.”

Win a prize package worth $500 complete with goods from Shopify stores MBK Media Group, Better Life, Charm & Fig and Papermash, plus a feature post for your store on our Facebook Page –

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10 Tactics for Sticking to Your Small Business Resolutions

Hello treadmill, it’s been a while.

The resolution-crazy masses are swarming the CrossFit gyms, and kale sales are through the roof. It’s January: the official month of good intentions.

Resolutions aren’t just for your thighs, though. For entrepreneurs, a new year can be just the incentive you need to give your business a refresh. What missteps did you take in 2016? What can you learn from them? Use the calendar reboot as an opportunity to start over and get things right in 2017.

Statistically speaking, however, you’re going to fail. Whether your resolution is to become data literate, increase sales, or achieve a healthy work-life balance, you’re likely to abandon your goals if you don’t have a strategy.

We’ve compiled a list of 10 tactics to help your business resolutions stay fit and active.

Let’s do this.

1. Define Success

Make your resolutions measurable and meaningful. “Run a pop-up shop” might be on your list for 2016, but how can you gauge success? A lemonade stand on your front yard technically qualifies, but I’m guessing that’s not what you meant. Consider revising your wording by adding measurable specifics: “Run a X-week pop-up shop by X and sell X”.

2. Break it Up

Digest resolutions more easily by slicing big goals into bite-sized pieces. If your resolution is to quit your day job and start a business in 2016, convert it into smaller steps. Maybe January’s goal is to establish a budget, source a product, or set up the basics of your online store. Each month is broken up into manageable (but scary, ambitious) tasks that culminate in your December resignation letter.

3. Write it Down

I’m a pen and paper gal myself when it comes to lists; my iPhone has yet to replicate the satisfaction of striking out a completed task. For you, perhaps the whiteboard is your medium, or maybe Google calendar reminders would do the trick. There are several excellent task apps, too, which leads me to #4.

4. Use Apps to Stay on Track

Mint for money, MyFitnessPal or CARROT Fit for your butt, Any.DO for lists, Zapier for cloning yourself, Trello for tracking and planning, Rescue Time for focus and productivity, Pomodoro Timer for procrastination. The list is endless.

Check out the Shopify App Store for even more tools to help with your business. What are your favorites?

5. Make it a Habit

Bad habits are hard to break, and good ones can be just as difficult to form. For every person and habit, the length of time and steps needed can vary greatly. If your resolution is to stay on top of your expenses, success may rely on some habit-forming. Perhaps consider adding it to your morning routine, setting reminders, or employing the help of an app like Habitlist or a tool like Pavlok.

“Motivation is interwoven with the goals you make and the habits you plan to form in order to achieve them.” – Gregory Ciotti 

6. Crowdsource your Motivation

There’s no ‘i’ in team! The gym-buddy concept can be applied to any resolution. Getting others involved in your process adds a level of accountability and provides extra inspiration when your own has run dry. Try getting a mentor, joining an online community of entrepreneurs, or using an app like Stickk.

7. Stay Energized

Your personal resolutions can support those related to your business. If you’ve added “go to the gym” to your list for 2016, you’re not just helping your physique—your brain will thank you, too. Regular exercise gives you more energy to “get shit done” and more brainpower to make faster, smarter decisions.

8. Treat Yo’self

Dinner begets dessert—it’s the oldest motivation trick in the book. I’m employing this tactic right now: if I finish the first draft of this blog today, I will allow myself 20 minutes of Pinterest indulgence.

Bonus: try a “mindful” respite through yoga, adult coloring, or even video games designed for this purpose. Not only can mindful activities reward progress, they can also help with stress and sleep.

9. Walk Hard

Step away from daunting projects and to gain clarity and perspective.

“Spending time away from work is important to helping you maintain perspective on the challenges you face, and thus to the future of your company.” – Richard Branson

10. Hold Yourself Accountable

This is a tough one, but we’re here to help—share your business resolutions in the comments below! By writing them down in a public place you’ll be much more likely to follow through.

Your (my) sparkling New Balance trainers are wasting away in your (my) closet after last year’s failed attempt at self-improvement. There, there. It’s another year, and yet another opportunity to be better. Resolve with abandon!

What are your tricks that help you stick to your guns? Share them—and your business resolutions—in the comments below.

Building a Beautiful Online Store: 15 Design Experts Share Their Tips and Advice

Think back to the last time you bought something online.

Did you consciously think about the design of the site? Maybe not. If the design was doing its job, it wasn’t demanding attention. It was quietly allowing the products to shine, and helping you to make your purchase in the most seamless way possible.

Now, think about the last time you left an ecommerce store frustrated, abandoning your shopping mission before even reaching the cart. I’ll bet design was top of mind that time. Bad design is obvious, leaving customers confused and irritated, and costing merchants a sale.

It’s that important.

I’m not a designer. A little art school, and a lot of years of consuming culture have given me an appreciation for great design. But I can’t always put a finger on why it’s great. Or how the designer arrived at each aesthetic decision.

Ecommerce design involves more than just how the website looks—it considers how it works and the flow from one place to the next, how it tells a story and the mood it evokes. Ecommerce website design cares about the marriage between form (true-to-brand visual decisions) and function (a simple-to-navigate experience).

Ecommerce Website Design Best Practices

I spoke to 15 industry experts including designers, photographers, Shopify Experts, merchants, and the talented design teams here at Shopify. They lent me their years of experience to help curate the best tips, examples, and advice to help ecommerce merchants and newbie designers build brands on smart, thoughtful design.

Here are their words:

Mark Perini

Designer, Founder, Icee Social

“The first thing I do when I meet with a new client is to ask, “What do you want customers to feel when they come to your site?” It’s a question that inevitably sets clients a little off axis at first, but it’s vitally important. If you’re a fashion brand maybe you want people to feel inspired, if you’re a toy company maybe you want people to feel happy or excited. On the other hand, if you’re an accounting software company maybe you want people to feel secure or understood. Make sure that emotion or feeling is present throughout your entire site.”

What are some of the most common design mistakes you’ve noticed on ecommerce stores?

“By far and away the biggest mistake I see in ecommerce design is information overload. You’ll be tempted to showcase everything you have in your arsenal whether that be a plethora of information or a backlog of every product you’ve ever made.

While it’s true that there are going to be customers who want to see the entire history of your brand, those people are few and far between. Figure out what your top products are and give them a place of honor on your site.”

Talk about one of your favorite ecomm websites, from a design perspective. What makes it great? What can we learn from it?

“One of my favorite, recently launched ecommerce websites that I worked on is Pinpaper Press. The reason I love this design is that it takes something that’s extremely complex and digital and still manages to come off simple and even human. Right from the homepage you know what the brand is about, and everything important is conveyed within the first five seconds of landing on the page.”


Helen Tran

Design Lead, Shopify

Consumers may not be able to articulate why something isn’t well designed but they can feel it when something isn’t done with intention. We are seeing the industry shift towards serving niche markets and niche markets demand that sellers understand their nuanced needs and desires.

Great design feels personable and reflects values. People resonate with that.

What should merchants consider when hiring a designer? What questions should they ask?

Be sure about what you need first. More seasoned designers will be able to design anything regardless of medium while novice designers tend to focus on one.

If you’re looking to do a brand redesign or pivot a company’s image, you’re looking for someone a bit more seasoned. If you’re looking for someone to do a website or an app, you’re looking for a designer with that specific skill-set.

Tell me about an ecommerce site that you love, from a design perspective. What makes it great?

Milk Makeup stands out to me. I think they did a fantastic job understanding their core demographic and how varied end consumers are.

Most makeup companies do a pretty poor job across the board. Usually what the end consumer sees is a product photo and a colour swatch. The consumer is then expected to understand how the makeup will look on their skin—it’s asking for industry-level knowledge from a consumer who has no reason to have industry-level knowledge.

Milk offered its products hand-in-hand with education (offering looks instead of simply shopping by product) and then supplemented it with videos on the product page showing how their products work on different skin tones.

Great design feels personable and reflects values. People resonate with that.


Josh Williams

Partner, W&P Design, powered by Shopify

“Designing a new ecommerce brand is a unique challenge, distinct from other types of branding mediums like packaging or print. People’s digital attention spans are growing shorter, so you need to be clear, concise and engaging in your brand’s message. From the moment someone arrives at your ecommerce store, they need to know where they have arrived and want to stay. This comes down to three key branding and UX elements:

  • Have a hook: answer the question ‘Who are you?’ and hit them with the quick answer right when they arrive to your store. Be as punchy and concise as possible.
  • Make it easy: read up on best UX practices and implement them ASAP. Customers’ expectations for ecommerce experience have gone up and you need to find a way to meet them without dumbing down or compromising your brand’s image.
  • Be consistent: make sure your shopper’s experience through the purchase process is consistent with your brand messaging.”

Talk about one of your favorite ecommerce websites, from a design perspective. What makes it great?

“I love Huckberry for their keen ability to tell compelling stories around the brands they work with. Pairing great content with products isn’t easy—you need to be careful about bogging down customers with too much of the story behind the products. There is always an extensive story behind any brand or product, but it’s up to the ecommerce retailer to parse through the details to get to the key message, and then translate that into a story with a clear call to action for the customer. Huckberry does a great job of that.”


Michael Wong

Designer, Founder of Mizko Media

“Design will either make or break your ecommerce brand. It’s that important. Your online store is the first touchpoint between you and your customers, and first impressions matter most.

You could probably get away with a poorly designed store back in the early 2000s. However, today’s consumer expectations have dramatically increased, while our attention span has dropped significantly. This means you have to do whatever it takes to really ‘WOW’ a potential customer within a few seconds.”

Talk about one of your favorite ecommerce websites, from a design perspective. What makes it great? What can we learn from it?

ASOS is probably one of my favourite ecommerce sites. Not only do they have well priced products, but the experience is great:

  • Their email marketing campaigns are always engaging and attention seeking; with short and relevant headlines.
  • Product images are high-res and clear. The use of models helps me visualize what their products look like in context.
  • Loading speeds are great and the web to mobile transition is seamless.
  • Lack of clutter: the website and app is very intuitive, clear, and concise.
  • Machine learning: they have utilized their data insights very well, always showing me relevant products that I actually would buy.”

Greg Moore

Interaction Designer, Google

“One of the keys to good design for a solid brand, especially in ecommerce, is understanding people (read: target market)—who this product or service is for, what they really want deep down, and why they will care about your product over others. It’s a designer’s role to take those user needs and use them as a toolkit to build a brand the user can trust.”

Talk about one of your favorite ecomm websites, from a design perspective. What makes it great? What can we learn from it?

“I really dig the Nixon ecommerce site. They’ve got a great mix of lifestyle and product imagery and do a nice job of suggesting related products so the browsing experience feels exploratory with no dead ends. They also have an amazing support team on staff ready to answer questions about their products or checkout. Their communication style is casual, friendly and most importantly they know their stuff! The checkout flow is clean and simple, and Nixon will often will boost your cart with incentives like a free backpack to keep you feeling good while shopping.”

One of the keys to good design for a solid brand, especially in ecommerce, is understanding people.


Veronica Wong

Designer, Shopify

What should merchants consider when hiring a designer? What questions should they ask?

“Before you contact a designer, have a realistic budget in mind. Designers can often work within the constraints of the budget you have. If this is the first time you are hiring a designer and you are unfamiliar with how much your project might cost, ask the designer for their fees and politely ask them to explain it to you. It’s important to build trust in both directions.”

Shopify Themes are designed to be beautiful out of the box and easy to customize. Why then should merchants still consider working with a professional designer?

Shopify Themes are fantastic starting points, but they’re designed in order to satisfy large generalized types of merchants.

Merchants often pick the theme they like best but find it only reaches about 80% of what they want. Our merchants are so wonderfully unique and offer so many different types of products. It would be impossible to make themes that suit every single one of them! These are great opportunities to bring in a designer to think bigger than the themes we offer.”

What advice do you have for merchants on a budget, if they are unable to afford the services of a pro?

“Being a DIY-er myself, I’ve always tried to keep my own budgets low by doing things myself. Here are some resources that could help you do that:

Before you contact a designer, have a realistic budget in mind.


Loran Polder

Owner, Old World Kitchen

“It wasn’t until we made the switch from an Etsy shop to our first website that we realized the direct connection between ecommerce design and conversion rates. We made the switch to Shopify, and literally overnight conversions went up. We knew that it was hugely related to the professionalism of our new site. It definitely helped us build trust with our customers, and made their user experience better.”

Talk about some of the design choices you made when building your ecommerce store. Why did you make them? How do they impact customer experience?

“One design element we’ve always included on the homepage of our site is a slideshow near the top of the page. I love this feature because it allows us to show in just a few seconds all of the products we are really trying to promote, without the customer ever having to scroll or click around. We keep a fairly simple site, focusing mainly on the quality of our product and lifestyle photography.”

Did you hire a designer? Did you learn anything from that process?

“I have hired a designer to do one tiny tweak to the template we used, and everything else I’ve been able to do myself without any coding. That is a huge deal to me as the owner of a small business with a small budget. To me it makes sense that if I can do it myself then I can change it any time, and I have a lot more freedom.”


Jordy Heis

Fashion Ecommerce Consultant

“Great design versus good design can be your competitive advantage to help your business grow.”

Talk about one of your favorite ecommerce websites, from a design perspective. What makes it great? What can we learn from it?

Cienne has a great site, driven by well-styled photography, coupled with an on-trend colour palette. Large product images on product pages appear in a familiar “scroll down” sequence, mirroring the way their audience is used to behaving on social platforms like Instagram and Pinterest. This offers a lesson for other brands to consider adopting ways of design or functionality that compliment their audience’s existing behaviour.

I also really like the unique, prominent placement of their referral program. These programs are usually squirrelled away in a footer menu somewhere, but Cienne has a dedicated header menu item intriguingly titled ‘Get $25’.”

What are some UX best practices for ecommerce?

“Online stores need to have a blend of both content and commerce to cater to new and returning visitors. New customers will often want to engage with your brand’s story to see if it aligns with their own values and beliefs, making your About page, lookbook, and blog powerful storytelling assets to build online trust and credibility.

Returning customers who already know and trust your brand have different needs and require search, product filtering, and deeper navigation functions so they can get to the checkout with the least possible friction.”

New customers will often want to engage with your brand’s story to see if it aligns with their own values and beliefs.


Amy Stringer-Mowat

Designer, Co-Owner, AHeirloom

“Good design can really mean instant credibility from both the front end and the back end of an online shop. Shoppers are drawn to professional looking pages—it gives them confidence in the product.”

Did you hire a designer? If so, what was that experience like? Would you recommend it to others? Did you learn anything from that process?

“We did hire a designer to update our website in 2014 and now we are in the midst of a re-launch. I would definitely recommend hiring one as they saw the way to total re-brand that we didn’t even realize we needed. When you are working daily on building an audience and getting traffic it takes a trained set of eyes to see your work in a fresh light. A professional designer is trained to see your brand as something bigger than your day to day work!”


Michael Brewer

Designer, Shopify

“Design is a language of quality. It’s important to portray the right vibe to your audience.”

What should merchants consider when hiring a designer?

Working with a designer who understands and believes in your business is key. Making a beautiful store is one thing, but creating a quality brand is another. That is what a professional does.”

What advice do you have for merchants on a budget, if they are unable to afford the services of a pro?

“Quality design doesn’t always need to be expensive. Simple pre-made graphics and relatable copy can go a long way.”

Design is a language of quality.


Anthony Spallone

Administrative Director, Arctic Grey, Inc.

“You can have the most beautiful design in the world, but if it’s difficult to use, potential customers will get frustrated and leave your online store almost instantly. To ensure the best conversion rates through design, it’s important to create clear and concise calls to action. I recommend having one main call to action per screen view, meaning one button per full screen scroll whether you’re on a desktop or mobile device.”

Talk about one of your favorite ecomm websites, from a design perspective. What makes it great?

“With much reluctance in terms of having such a cliché choice, I’d have to say Apple has the best designed website. There are several things that make this site great:

  • Apple knows what to feature and when. The home page has a smooth slideshow featuring products based on popularity of sales. The home page is no more than a half scroll which almost forces you to click on something to go deeper into the site. This helps to avoid bounce rates which will help with your google ranking.
  • They make it very simple to get anywhere on the site within a few clicks. The menu bar is uncluttered and direct. When people are shopping online they tend to know what they’re going to be purchasing, so having an easy menu to navigate anywhere quickly is key.
  • The quality of their product photos is just amazing. Most of their images are 3D renderings which allow for the best quality shots every-time.
  • The way Apple lays out the options to customize your order is fantastic. They show you exactly what you’re purchasing using the actual product images, instead of swatches.
  • Apple’s use of parallax scrolling is like no other site. You see the glare off the product moves as you scroll down drawing you to focus even more on the product.”

Amy Fronczkiewicz

Photographer and Shopify Expert

Why is photography important in ecommerce design?

“Ecommerce businesses should never underestimate the importance of high quality photography of their products. Simply put, great photography sells merchandise and will boost success rates. Having powerful visual imagery on a website will not only attract customers and encourage them to purchase products, it also strengthens a brand image in the marketplace.”

What are some ecommerce sites that use design and photography in interesting ways? What can we learn from them?

Glossier, Hiut Denim, and Shwood are all very successful at combining both photography and design that engage customers and create a unique style for their look. Consistent quality photography establishes a brand’s identity and features product at its best. Through their visual content and design, these companies effectively create connection to their customers.”


Vinny Galiano

President and Project Lead, Minion Made

“Your customer will know within the first few seconds if they feel comfortable buying from you. Why buy from you when they know industry leading sites are secure? You must create a sense of security for your customers, giving them an overwhelming confidence in purchasing with you first and foremost.

Create a simple, user-friendly experience. Overwhelming content, menus, and imagery will lead to overwhelmed customers. A clean and efficient online experience will maximize on your chances of conversion. Focus on formula, then create a design to transcend your store, and parallel your branding.”

Talk about one of your favorite ecomm websites, from a design perspective. What makes it great?

Mother Mantis is an online shop that we appreciate for its design. Even with over 16,000 products, the site’s design remains relatively simple through hidden menus or hamburger menus, clean and organized filtering, and mega menus while also having conversion optimization elements such as ajax cart dropdown for a simple purchasing process—all bundled up in a site that has a well-branded design that is cohesive on all devices and pages.”

Overwhelming content, menus, and imagery will lead to overwhelmed customers.


Jeremy Watt

Co-Founder, Province of Canada and Up Later Than You

Talk about some of the design choices you made when building your ecommerce store. Why did you make them? How do they impact customer experience, etc.?

“Our overall approach for design has always been minimal without sacrificing detail. We know our customers like a clean aesthetic but we always want to provide them with all the product education they need so they understand what they’re purchasing. This blend provides a somewhat boring experience but it’s also a gimmick-free experience.

Customers see a beautiful product shot, read the product details, and hit the add to cart button. The side benefit of this approach is a small percentage of customer questions and a small percentage of returns.”

Did you hire a designer? Would you recommend it to others?

“We’re lucky—our design team, who are actually our co-founders, are all in-house. If you can swing an in-house design team or at least one in-house designer, don’t hesitate to make that hire.”


Paul Pritchard

Designer, Shopify

“Design is how you establish trust with potential customers. If they see care in your design, they’ll know your products will follow suit. Trust is key in an online environment where customers can’t test out your products in person and the purchase needs to be made more on faith.”

What should merchants consider when hiring a designer? What questions should they ask?

“Define both what you want designed and why you want it. A good designer may think of better ways to address the why. Look at their portfolio, make sure you like it, and ask questions about why they made certain decisions on previous projects. You can get a good picture of what working with them will be like by reading into their answers.”

What advice do you have for merchants on a budget, if they are unable to afford the services of a pro?

“Put your time and effort into learning how to improve your product photography, everything else is secondary. Show your products from multiple angles, up close, and in the context they’ll be used. This will make a customer’s decision to purchase far easier.”

Put your time and effort into learning how to improve your product photography. Everything else is secondary.

7 Book Recommendations from Tim Ferriss’s Tools of Titans

7 Book Recommendations from Tim Ferriss's Tools of Titans [Giveaway]

It’s often said that we are the average of the people we spend the most time with. If your friends eat out a lot, chances are you don’t buy groceries very often. If your family spends more time reading than watching TV, chances are you do to.

So it follows, that, if you want to be more successful, you should spend more time with successful people. And reading Tim Ferriss’s new book, Tools of Titans, is a great way to start doing just that.

Over the years, Tim has interviewed tons successful people from a huge variety of fields on his podcast, the Tim Ferriss Show. Whether he’s speaking with a retired US Army general, a stand-up comedian, a tech company founder, or an Olympic coach, Tim delves into the secrets of their success that anyone can apply to their own lives and work.

Now, Tim has distilled all the key points from those interviews into a book you can easily reference any time.

It’s the kind of book you’ll want to keep on your desk for the next time you feel stuck and need a bit of inspiration. Want to know how Seth Godin thinks about money? Flip to page 238. Want Tracy DiNunzio’s advice on how to complain less? Flip to page 314.

Included among the countless stories, insights, and ideas are Tim’s guests’ personal book recommendations. Almost every expert interviewee was asked to share their favourite books, guaranteeing you won’t run out of things to read anytime soon. While you’ll need to check out Tools of Titans to get the full list, I’ve pulled out a few of my favourite recommendations, specifically tailored for entrepreneurs.

1. Invisible Selling Machine

Recommended by: Daymond John

Daymond John is CEO and founder of FUBU, a $6 billion lifestyle brand he started in 1992 with $40. Daymond has also won may industry awards and appears on ABC’s Shark Tank.

My parents always taught me that my day job would never make me rich. It’d be my homework.

Daymond’s book recommendations include Invisible Selling Machine by Ryan Deiss, a step-by-step guide to automating your entire sales process. A well structured sales funnel is the key to scaling your business and this book explains everything you need to know to do just that.

2. Stumbling on Happiness

Recommended by: Maria Popova

Maria Popova is the founder of Brain Pickings, a content-rich website about living a more fulfilling life. It originally started as a weekly email to seven of Maria’s friends in 2006. Maria has also been published in the New York Times, The Atlantic, and Wired UK.

Ours is a culture where we wear our ability to get by on very little sleep as a kind of badge of honor that symbolizes work ethic, toughness, or some other virtue—but really, it’s a total profound failure of priorities and of self-respect.

Much of Maria’s work is about living a more fulfilling life so it’s not surprising that one of her recommendations included Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert. Written by a prominent Harvard psychologist, it includes ground-breaking research to demonstrate why we’re so bad at predicting what will make us happy—and what to do about it.

3. What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School: Notes From a Street-Smart Executive

Recommended by: Ramit Sethi

Ramit Sethi’s blog, I Will Teach You to Be Rich, dishes out regular advice on things like starting a business, improving your personal finances, and just generally winning at life. He’s also written a book by the same name.

My emails look like I am writing to you because I want to be your friend…at scale.

One of Ramit’s book recommendations is What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School by Mark H. McCormack. The author is credited with founding the modern-day sports marketing industry—his first client was golf giant, Arnold Palmer. In this book, he shares his advice on things like closing deals, being a more effective leader, and getting the most out of meetings.

4. The Willpower Instinct

Recommend by: Jane McGonigal

Jane McGonigal is an author and research affiliate at the Institute for the Future, but may be best known for her TED talks on games. She has been called one of the “Top Ten Innovators to Watch” by Business Week and her work has been featured in publications such as Wired and the New York Times.

I’ve learned an important trick: to develop foresight, you need to practice hindsight.

There’s no question that willpower presents a great challenge for all of us. It’s not an unlimited resource and when we’re tired, we make bad decisions, or feel unable to make decisions at all. Jane’s book recommendation, The Willpower Instinct, uses the latest research to help readers optimize their willpower for maximum output.

5. Ogilvy on Advertising

Recommended by: Noah Kagan

Noah Kagan was employee #30 at Facebook and #4 at Mint. Since then, he’s built his own company, SumoMe. Noah also teaches entrepreneurship through content and courses and has created several successful side businesses as case studies.

You have to ask for things and you have to put yourself out there.

Copywriting nerds will likely already be familiar with Noah’s book recommendation, Ogilvy on Advertising, written by one of the world’s most sought after advertisers David Ogilvy. This candid primer on all aspects of advertising is a must-read for anyone who wants to write more persuasive ads.

6. How to Be A Movie Star

Recommended by: Margaret Cho

Margaret Cho is an actress, comedian, fashion designer, and singer-songwriter. She has created a tremendous body of creative work and is well-known for her ability to quickly neutralize hecklers when she’s on stage.

I’m not the kind of artist that can go on autopilot.

Margaret’s book recommendation, How to Be a Movie Star by William J. Mann is a biography of the accomplished actress, Elizabeth Taylor. This biography follows the ups and downs of Elizabeth’s journey to stardom, with much to learn along the way.

7. It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be

Recommended by: Casey Neistat

Casey Neistat is an New York-based filmmaker, YouTuber, and founder of Beme. His contributions to the film world have been significant, but what’s most impressive is how Casey built up his own success over time, having supported himself since the age of 15.

You can always work harder than the next guy.

As a self-made man, Casey is living proof that you don’t need to be born into wealth to become successful. His book recommendation, It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be, teaches a similar message. If you have big ambitions, hard work can get you there, and this book by Paul Arden has advice that will help—in an easily digestible format.

These seven book recommendations are just the tip of the iceberg. Tools of Titans features hundreds more book recommendations, insights, ideas, and success secrets for aspiring entrepreneurs.

9 Social Media Marketing Pros Share Their Best Advice for Today’s Entrepreneurs

Ten years ago, social media marketing was a lot different.

Competing online simply meant establishing a compelling presence that would spread organically. Choosing your channels involved only a handful of popular options. Creating “media” mostly meant writing posts and designing images.

But today, there are roughly 2.34 billion social network users around the world—a third of the global population.

New players are crowding the scene as it gets harder to tell the difference between Snapchat and Instagram. Brands are now paying just to compete for a few seconds of their audience’s attention. And the content they’re pushing now includes live video and augmented reality (e.g. Snapchat’s video lenses).

Social media is a constantly changing game where yesterday’s rules don’t necessarily apply today.

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So, I asked nine social media savvy folks who understand the landscape for their thoughts on the current state of social media marketing, where it’s headed, and how entrepreneurs should approach their social media strategy today.

Rand Fishkin, Founder of Moz

rand fishkin social media marketing

What is the biggest change/challenge you foresee in the near future of social media marketing?

Standing out from the crowd, amidst an increasingly noisy, competitive field. People only have so much time in their day to consume media and content, and social channels are fast becoming overwhelmed.

The deficit of attention means content creators and social marketers will need to be massively more unique, more valuable, and earn more loyalty from their audiences in order to maintain or grow their presences.

What channel should entrepreneurs be keeping their eyes on and why?

Facebook’s organic (and even paid) reach is getting much tougher. Video is working a little better, but everything else is working less well. Instagram is finally seeing some decline in participation/reach as well, after years of being the outlier. I’m also suspicious of whether Snapchat can maintain its reach and engagement numbers long term, especially for brands rather than individuals.

On the upswing side, podcasts look like they’re continuing to grow and be a remarkable channel for attention. I think that’s got a lot of growth, perhaps up until self-driving cars take over.

What’s your #1 piece of advice for entrepreneurs who are starting from scratch with their social media marketing plan?

Find the intersection of three things:

  1. Channels where your customers and their influencers are actually active and paying attention
  2. Channels where you can provide unique value beyond what anyone else is doing
  3. Channels where you have personal passion and interest.

If you meet those criteria, you can have a real shot at great social marketing. If not, it might pay to pursue other investments and leave social until you can find those intersects or hire folks who can.

What social network do you spend the most time on and what social media marketing tool could you not live without?

Twitter! I love the variety of content, the freedom of interaction, the character limit, and the quality of people you can find there. As for tools, I’m nuts for Buzzsumo. It’s an amazing source of discovery and inspiration for me.

Kara Burney, Director of Content at Track Maven

kara burney social media marketing

What is the biggest change/challenge you foresee in the near future of social media marketing?

The near future of social media marketing is all about creating immersive user experiences.

Businesses have gotten really good at distributing content on social media. But most are still not very good at creating content worth distributing in the first place. As the bar is raised for immersive content, broadcasting the same static content across each and every social channel won’t cut it anymore. Businesses have to figure out how to plan and invest in a channel-specific social media strategy.

What channels should entrepreneurs keep their eyes on and why?

Right now, Instagram is the channel to jump on.

At TrackMaven, we analyzed 51 million pieces of social media content from 40,000 brands on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram. We found that the engagement ratio for businesses is 10 times higher on Instagram than on Facebook (and dramatically higher than LinkedIn or Twitter).

But Instagram won’t stay that way for long; the engagement rate for brands on Instagram is already starting to come down to earth as the network monetizes. Now’s the time to build your Instagram brand quickly and cheaply.

What’s your #1 piece of advice for entrepreneurs who are starting their social media strategy from scratch?

To paraphrase Picasso: Good marketers copy; great marketers steal. The easiest way to scale a social strategy from scratch is to learn from the big players in your industry.

Conduct a competitive audit of the brands you compete with directly, the big players you aspire to disrupt, and major industry influencers. That will give you an understanding of the right channels to prioritize and relevant content topics. Then exploit the white space for brand differentiation and thought leadership.

What social network do you spend the most time on and what social media marketing tool could you not live without?

Twitter plays a major “second screen” role in my life — both professionally and personally. This year’s live stream of the 2016 Wimbledon tournament on Twitter forever changed my tennis and Twitter fandom.

Our marketing team couldn’t live without our own product, TrackMaven, which we use to track the impact of our marketing and keep tabs on competitors, or Sprout Social, which we use to distribute all of our social media content.

Peg Fitzpatrick, Author & Social Media Strategist

peg fitzpatrick social media marketing

What is the biggest change/challenge you foresee in the near future of social media marketing?

Keeping up with all the crazy changes. Facebook is getting more complicated as time goes on and I think this will make it harder for entrepreneurs and small businesses to keep up with managing their social media platforms wisely and effectively.

What channel should entrepreneurs keep their eyes on and why?

Snapchat is evolving into something really cool. It’s been snowballing with growth. I love that they keep it fresh by rotating filters in the app.

What’s your #1 piece of advice for entrepreneurs who are starting their social media strategy from scratch?

Don’t hop on every single social media platform. Figure out where your target audience spends their time and if that platform works with your product or service. It’s better to be amazing at one or two social platforms than suck on five or six.

What social network do you spend the most time on and what social media marketing tool could you not live without?

Instagram is my fave social media app at the moment followed by Pinterest which is technically not a social network but gets lumped in with them a lot. My new favorite social media tool is Planoly for Instagram and my constant daily driver is Sprout Social.

Casie Stewart, Lifestyle Blogger

casie stewart social media marketing

What is the biggest change/challenge you foresee in the near future of social media marketing?

Audiences and platforms are constantly changing so knowing what content to put where can be a challenge. You want to go where the people are, but their habits are changing too.

Should your video content live on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, IG Stories, Snapchat, Vine, Periscope? Platforms are moving organisms, adding new features all the time. If you wait too long to put a piece of marketing content together, you can miss the window of opportunity for something to be ‘cool’.

I was part of 12seconds.tv, a short video platform in 2011–12 before it was bought by AOL. After that, Viddy came along and was the “Instagram for Video”, but when Instagram added video, they were done.

Last month everyone was crazy about Snapchat and then Instagram Stories happened, and now Twitter Moments are rolling out. In one app update your whole strategy can be thrown off, you need to be agile, and ready for curveballs.

I also think we’re coming up to a shift in influencer marketing. It grew so fast, and now it’s like the wild wild west out there!

What channels should entrepreneurs keep their eyes on and why?

Never take your eyes off Facebook! They have the biggest audience and will buy up new technology (Instagram, Oculus, WhatsApp, MSQRD) so they can keep users engaged and checking the app.

They’ve made video a big priority and are constantly adding new features you’ll find on other apps (e.g. Instagram Stories, Facebook Filters). I like to think you don’t want to get too caught up in the specific app. Think about the content; the apps will change. A photo, video, gif—they can all be shared anywhere with a good narrative.

What’s your #1 piece of advice for entrepreneurs who are starting their social media strategy from scratch?

It’s important to hire smart people that really know the social space, platforms, advertising, and have their finger on changes as they happen. Also, know what you want for your brand and why. Remind yourself about that when you’re making content and think about who you’re making it for.

What social network do you spend the most time on and what social media marketing tool could you not live without?

I use Snapchat a lot, it’s fun, raw, the filters and features are great. I feel it’s the least edited version of my life. My heart belongs to Twitter though, I’d hate to live without it. I’ve been on it since 2008. I remember the race to 1M followers between Ashton Kutcher and Larry King. The first real breaking news story when a plane crashed in the Hudson River.

I’ve shared and experienced so many things with the platform. In the early days 2008–2010, the Toronto Twitter community was really small and we used to hang out together at Tweetups a lot. I made some really awesome friends, we’ll always have those Twitter memories.

Jay Acunzo, Host of Unthinkable

jay acunzo social media marketing

What is the biggest change/challenge you foresee in the near future of social media marketing?

Great content is always the biggest challenge to a great social media presence.

Corporations—especially large ones—are historically used to interchangeable parts. This is how you “scale” a team – you iron out processes and train people to be as interchangeable as possible. However, when the name of the game is creating content that stands out and deeply resonates (and that game is quickly becoming multimedia rather than text-centric), finding and retaining enough Creative Talent with a capital T is going to be THE differentiating factor.

This isn’t about programmatic. This isn’t about technology. This isn’t about quick-hit conversion-centric marketing. First and foremost, this is about building things that are meaningful and that others actually love in the world. You need really great creators for that.

What channel should entrepreneurs keep their eyes on and why?

If I’m the only one who says “Snapchat” in this list, I’ll run naked around my office … on Snapchat though, so it disappears 🙂

As of today, right now, while you’re reading this, more human beings will log into Snapchat in the next 24 hours and use it than our beloved Twitter. To ignore where all that attention is going would be foolish. We need to stop writing it off as “for kids” and stop avoiding it because “the analytics aren’t there yet”, and instead just dive in and start playing around and having fun with it. That’s the best way to learn.

What’s your #1 piece of advice for entrepreneurs who are starting from scratch with social media marketing?

Ditch all strategy decks and headlines you read and find a whiteboard. Write down your most important goal as a startup at the top – your business goal, not a marketing goal. Now write as many hypotheses as you can about what you think might hit that goal as it applies to social or marketing more broadly.

Then pick the 3 that just feel the most likely to succeed and test them quickly. If one works, drop the rest, double-down on the successful test, and add a few more tests while you’re at it.

In other words, startup marketing is much more about knowing how to find the answer than me sitting here saying, “THIS is the answer that applies everywhere.”

Also? Read Traction by Gabriel Weinberg or listen to his wisdom here.

What social network do you spend the most time on and what social media marketing tool could you not live without?

Snapchat all around! (I’m @jayacunzo over there.) I goof off, I show behind-the-scenes of my show, and I generally have more fun on that app than anything I do. It also doubles as tremendous marketing for my show, Unthinkable, since I show so much of my process and thinking (good and bad). The app allows for tremendous creativity and storytelling, and the people are just that—people—unlike so much of the behavior you find on other channels.

Neil Patel, Co-Founder of Crazy Egg & KISSmetrics

neil patel shopify

What is the biggest change/challenge you foresee in the near future of social media marketing?

Social networks have been adjusting their algorithms and making it harder for companies to do well “organically”. Essentially it is turning into a “pay to play” game which is going to take a lot of companies out.

What channel should entrepreneurs be keeping their eyes on and why?

Snapchat. It’s hard to say how you can make money from it or use it to drive more ecommerce sales, but the one thing we know is that Snapchat users are really engaged.

What’s your #1 piece of advice for new entrepreneurs who are starting from scratch with their social media marketing?

Don’t go for large follower counts. Focus on engagement. If you have extremely high engagement for the number of followers you have, your content is much more likely to spread virally.

What social network do you spend the most time on and what social media marketing tool could you not live without?

I spend most of my time on Twitter because it is an easy place for me to find out what is happening in the world.

As for tool, I love Buzzsumo as it shows me what type of content I should be creating.

Brian Peters, Social Media at Buffer

brian peters social media marketing

What is the biggest change/challenge you foresee in the near future of social media marketing?

One of the biggest challenges right now in social media marketing is figuring out ways to stay relevant in a social media landscape that is moving from organic to paid fairly quickly.

Brands and entrepreneurs with small or no social media advertising budgets can benefit from being scrappy with their marketing. The ability to pivot and jump on new tools, trends, opportunities before big players move into that space can offer a huge competitive advantage.

What channel should entrepreneurs be keeping their eyes on and why?

As many of your readers probably know, Snapchat is one of the fastest growing social media channels out there. It’s an authentic and engaging platform that offers brands an opportunity to connect and interact with their audience for free.

At Buffer (@buffersnaps) we receive anywhere from 400–600 views on any one of the Snaps that we put out and it doesn’t cost us a dime in advertising. Right now, Snapchat’s API is closed for 3rd party integration, but I can see that changing in the near future, offering brands even more ways to get creative in a space where younger generations hang out.

What’s your #1 piece of advice for entrepreneurs who are starting from scratch with their social media marketing plan?

If I had to pick one piece of advice for entrepreneurs just starting out on social media, it would be to choose 1 or 2 channels and get really good at them. Try not to stretch yourself thin on too many platforms at once. It’s unsustainable and may lower the quality of content you put out.

The bonus piece of advice to that is to choose the 1 or 2 channels your audience is on most. Don’t create a Facebook account just because “everyone else is doing it.” If your product or service is targeted at younger folks, start an awesome Snapchat account. If your product or service is for older folks, Facebook or Twitter may be a great play.

What social network do you spend the most time on and what social media marketing tool could you not live without?

It’s a dead tie between Snapchat and Instagram! Snapchat because that’s where all of my friends are, and Instagram because it’s my favorite channel to actually market on. Both are big players in the social media world and are two that I don’t see going anywhere any time soon!

Marcus Sheridan, The Sales Lion

marcus sheridan social media marketing

What is the biggest change/challenge you foresee in the near future of social media marketing?

I think the biggest challenge today, and in the future, comes down to where organizations can afford to put their time, attention and resources.

There are more and more platforms coming out all the time, and knowing “when” to focus on a new platform and invest time/resources into it is a major struggle for organizations.

The fact is, if a company tries to be a jack of all social media trades, they’ll very likely become a master of none. This is why you’re much better off being a “master of one”– dominating a single social media platform and putting all your effort into that instead of spreading yourself too thin.

What channel should entrepreneurs be keeping their eyes on and why?

This may sound lame, but we should all be paying attention to Facebook. They evolve better than all the other platforms when it comes to the marketplace. Plus, they are changing on a daily basis. Keeping up with that, and all the opportunities therein, is a challenge. Frankly, I feel like paying attention to other platforms at this point is oftentimes a distraction, and not a productive endeavor.

That being said, what we really need to be paying attention to on platforms like Facebook is the incredible evolution of video, virtual reality, augmented reality, etc. That’s where we should be spending our time and attention learning. That is where the future lies for all of us.

What’s your #1 piece of advice for entrepreneurs who are starting from scratch with their social media marketing plan?

Become a “master of one”.

Be leery of the “shiny object” syndrome most marketers suffer from.

Focus on results, not what’s “cool” or “sexy” or what everyone is talking about. Do what works. Focus on that which brings the greatest returns. Move past the rest.

What social network do you spend the most time on and what social media marketing tool could you not live without?

I spend the most time on Facebook, which has frankly become a religion to millions at this point. At this point, being on Facebook is almost like saying “I’m on the internet”

But personally, the reason I like Facebook is for its private groups. If you get in the right groups, it’s amazing.

The only major tool I use is HubSpot. Why? Because I can track the results. I want to measure ROI, and that’s my tool for doing it.

Guy Kawasaki, Chief Evangelist at Canva

guy kawasaki social media marketing

What is the biggest change/challenge you foresee in the near future of social media marketing?

The biggest change that I foresee is the inclusion of live video in social media marketing. For my efforts, Facebook Live is already the most powerful platform. Nothing increases my reach like Facebook Live video.

What channel should entrepreneurs be keeping their eyes on and why?

The social media channel is important, but still less important than the product or service. Entrepreneurs should primarily focus on creating something great. It’s easy to market something great. It’s hard to market crap—and no social media effort can fix crap.

What’s your #1 piece of advice for entrepreneurs who are starting from scratch with their social media marketing plan?

My #1 piece of advice is to build up your company’s social-media following on Facebook. This would be my primary focus because nothing comes close to Facebook’s power and utility, because there’s nothing that enables such precise targeting.

What social network do you spend the most time on and what social media marketing tool could you not live without?

I spend the most time on Facebook—as you would suspect. There are two tools that are indispensable for me: Social Champ and Canva. I use Social Champ to schedule most of my posts and Canva to create graphics. Note: I am the Chief Evangelist of Canva.

Change is Constant in Social Media Marketing

The common theme here seems to be that the social media landscape is an ever-evolving one. One player makes a move and the rest react—it’s a wildly unpredictable scene.

Facebook seems to be one of the strongest players due to its focus on encompassing new media formats. But when it comes to what consumers want from a social platform, there’s nothing quite like the authenticity that Snapchat encourages.

The only advice that stands the test of time is to focus on the quality of content you put out, and to make objective decisions about where you spend your limited resources.

As newsfeed algorithms change, as channels rise and fall, the companies that will continue to win will be the ones that can adapt quickly, produce intelligently and focus relentlessly on the people they’re trying to reach.