Austin Brawner | The Most Powerful Marketing Channel Today

Adam LeanPodcast

Despite what the pundits might say, email marketing is still very much a force to be reckoned. For most companies, says Austin Brawner, it’s still the #1 or #2 marketing channel.

But that doesn’t mean you can simply build a list and start sending messages. As the CEO of Brand Growth Experts, Austin has seen first-hand that email campaigns today must be super-targeted and strategically thought out to have an impact. 

We talk about what today’s effective email campaign look like, from the content to the offer to the audience that you try to reach. And that’s just a small taste of your conversation. You’ll also discover…

  • Why it doesn’t matter how much money you make… if you don’t do this
  • The myth of the swashbuckling entrepreneur
  • Where eCommerce is headed in the next 5 years
  • How paid social media marketing has changed
  • And more

Listen now…

Mentioned in this episode:


Adam Lean: Welcome to P is for Profit, a podcast that breaks down business concepts into simple and clear language. This season is dedicated to interviewing eCommerce experts that can help you improve your eCommerce business. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing the founder of a business that helped eCommerce businesses define their marketing strategy, and scale their advertising and hire the team needed to get to the next level.

So why does all of this matter? Well, you must have a strategy to be successful in business. What exactly is a strategy though? Well, a strategy is simply a plan of action, designed to achieve something. So there are two parts to this, a plan of action, designed to achieve something. So let’s start with the second part, the strategy is designed to achieve something before you can even create a strategy, you have to know what you want to achieve, you have to know where you are going.

So when’s the last time you thought about that? Where does your business want to be in three to five years? What is your business on a mission to do? Why shouldn’t you want to care? Why should your employees care? Why should your customers care? Why should you care? Once you come up with what you want to achieve, you then got to create the plan of action to get there. Now this, of course, is the hardest part, knowing how to get from point A to point B to point z is difficult. That’s why it’s a good idea to seek the help of people who can help not only define a strategy, but give you specific direction on how to accomplish it.

So let’s jump into the interview with Austin and see how he and his team help businesses with creating a strategy. Austin, welcome to the show. Hey, Adam, thanks so much for having me. I’m, I’m excited to be here. Excellent. So you are a true expert in helping eCommerce. business owners grow their brand, grow their business. And so you’re the perfect expert to have on the show. tons of questions that I have, and I know our audience has, so let’s dive in. So you’re you own. You’re the CEO of So how did you get to this point? What’s your background?

Austin Brawner: Sure. So it’s been kind of a long, long road of trying different things. But the whole time, you know, generally being interested in entrepreneurship, and being fascinated by online marketing. Back when I graduated from college, I spent some time abroad on a Fulbright Fellowship, where I was teaching English. And when I was over in Macau, China, I got a little they’re thinking I was going to go into investment banking, had kind of a change of heart. Interesting, like, interesting was an interesting conference, where I learned about this concept of entrepreneurship kind of what that is. And I got really excited about it came back to Los Angeles after spending a year abroad. And I started working with this startup, really interesting, cool startup who was putting Healthy Vending machines in schools with kind of a franchise model.

And I got started, I got there, I started there as one of the first employees. And when I say first employee or third employee hired at that time, and my job initially was to work with the CMO who was also the co-founder. And start, we basically built out a lot of triggered emails, so marketing automation, using email marketing. And it went really, really well, we were using a tool called Infusionsoft. And if you and soft at the time was kind of the coolest, most powerful tool for econ for automation and email marketing. And I got really into it, we started building this really interesting funnel, about two and a half years later, I left the company after we grew substantially. And I went out on my own and I was like I am, I think I could take the stuff that I learned here and transfer it over to these eCommerce businesses and help them grow and build a more profitable business by using email marketing. Because it’s a really, I realized it was a great way to drive repeat purchases and to increase conversions by using email. So I started picking up my first clients company called Blenders Eyewear down in San Diego, and a second company called Puravida Bracelets.

And I basically just use Infusionsoft to implement these triggered email marketing automation campaigns, like abandoned cart campaigns, browse abandonment, welcome sequences, all this stuff, and it will really, really well. And at that point, it was five years ago or so. And I ended up going and building an email marketing agency for eCommerce businesses. And that went, that went really well had some really cool clients, companies up to I think, the largest client we had was doing, and we’re almost $80 million in sales, and we were building out their email marketing for them. But I knew I didn’t really want to build an agency, because it wasn’t my plan.

So I at one point, my business partner and I split up. And I went back to the drawing board a little bit. And it’s in consulting and said, What I really was interested in was helping business owners, eCommerce business owners grow, and not just focusing on email. And that’s when I started brand growth experts. And we started focusing on really the three things that we feel like we see a lot of business owners struggling with, which is scaling advertising, hiring, and really focusing on like driving repeat sales. And so that’s been our, in our focus at Brand Growth Experts. And I built a big kind of membership group of people, businesses who are trying to scale up and grow. And we’re going to all work together to achieve that goal.

Adam: Wow. Okay. So I have several questions here, stories are very fascinating. What is the biggest, I mean, five years in the internet technology world is, you know, there’s a lifetime, what are the biggest changes you’re seeing in email marketing from five years ago to today.

Austin: So biggest changes are definitely the technology has improved to the point where we’re not dealing with the same technical limitations that we used to be dealing with a lot of the limitations that you’re dealing with now, with business owners, it’s more strategic. And the company’s like Klaviyo, a company that rolled out about four or five years ago, have really made it easy for people, if they have a Shopify business, to be able to look at their data and target people, target their customers, based on previous interactions and previous purchases. And so we’re definitely dealing with like when I, when I started five years ago, this is the same with platforms as well, like, you know, carts, there are a lot more technical limitations. Now, it’s going back to a lot more strategic and creative limitations. And that’s just because the technology is improved so much, it’s a lot more, you have to be a lot more competitive, because now you don’t just have to send the emails, you actually have to create a compelling reason to send them and be a little bit more just compelling with your creative.

Is Email Marketing Dead?

Adam: Yeah. So is email marketing dead? As a lot of people online like to say?

Austin: Yeah, that, that that’s one of the things that really frustrates me because it’s definitely a clickbait-y type post. And, you know, we live, we live in a time where a lot of blogs, news agencies are really focused on just getting clicks and have really very little backlash when they put out information. That is, that is not true. And one of the things that I’ve seen consistently over the last five years is these messaging, like email marketing, is not working as well as it used to, or it’s dead.

And, but consistently, time and time again, when I go and I dive into working with clients, these kind of companies that are growing really fast, the fact that, like, the best performing clients that I have, email is there, number one, or number two channel across the board, it’s, it’s still number one or number two, and depending on the time of year, you know, around the holidays, it’s almost always number one. There are differences with email, it’s not as easy as just kind of spraying and praying and blasting out as many emails as you can. You do have to be a lot more strategic and your creative needs do better. Your copywriting needs to be better. But is it’s extremely effective? And it’s a complete mistake if people are overlooking the power of email.

Adam: Yeah, no, I totally agree. And I think you hit the nail on the head. I mean, you know what worked 5, 10, 15 years ago with the marketing doesn’t work. Now you’ve got to be more strategic. And so it’s certainly not dead. If you’re doing it right, if you’re doing it right, and have some strategy and intent behind it. So Exactly. The three things that you focus on scaling, advertising, hiring, and driving repeat sales. So let’s talk about scaling. advertising. So what is what do you see is working now in the year 2019, that people need to be paying attention to in terms of advertising?

What’s Working and What To Pay Attention To in Marketing

Austin: Sure. So I mean, a lot of the same stuff that has been working for the last couple years, is continuing to work. Despite what a lot of people, a lot of experts have said, there are going to be changes, a lot of the same things are working. So we can start with paid social, you know, for many companies direct to consumer companies, or people selling products that are, you know, their end-user is not a business user, Facebook and Instagram are still very, very effective. And the only difference really, between now and a couple of years ago, was that prices have increased. But as prices increased, targeting has also changed. There’s been a lot of improvements on that end.

So a lot of the things that have been working for the last couple years are continuing to working that’s starting on the traffic side paid social, it’s continuing to work, it’s just a little bit different. And you still have to be when you’re talking about scaling it up. You have to be cognizant that it is not as cheap as it used to be things are the prices are going up. So you need to factor that in. When you’re building a business and you’re thinking about a business that can scale up, you’re going to need to be paying more for advertising. But it’s still something that’s definitely working.

Adam: Yeah, so one thing I preach is that it doesn’t matter how much you make, it matters how much you keep. And so the inverse can sort of be true with if I’m hearing you correctly, and then the inverse can sort of be true with advertising, it doesn’t really matter how much you spend. It matters how what matters more is how much return on the spin that you get. Right? What

Austin: Yeah, 100%. And when I’m thinking about advertising and kind of scaling up advertising, there are ultimately two sides, there are two types of businesses, there’s a demanding capture and a demand generation business. And if we’re talking about scaling, we’re typically talking about more demand generation businesses and demand generation advertising. And that’s like the paid social type stuff or podcast advertising. Or, you know, television advertising, it’s all more demand can be more demand generation. But what you’re saying is very true, doesn’t really matter how much you’re spending. And if prices are going up, as long as your business is fundamental can spend the amount that you need to spend to advertise, and still, at the end of the day, turn a profit. And the businesses that are continuing to be able to grow using these paid social channels are the ones that have factored that into their business model, have a product that can sustain that. And that’s typical, you know, they have the right average order value a high enough average order value in a high enough lifetime value that they can pay you to need to pay to Facebook, and still be profitable at the end of the day.

Adam: Yeah, I mean, one thing I’ve noticed over the past several years, I started my first eCommerce business in 2005. And back then it was obviously totally different. One thing I noticed, though, is that the barrier to entry and you sort of alluded this earlier, the barrier to entry to starting a business, or I think you were talking about email marketing is so much easier now because there’s this technology out there that exist, that didn’t exist, you know, a long time ago. But the downside of all this, the low barrier to entry is that it there’s just a lot more competition. So I wouldn’t I mean, I have, I’ve always thought that having a, you know, higher pricing on you know, paying higher pricing for Facebook, or Google ads or things like that is a just a sign that you just have to get better. And it just improves and just improves your business, if you just have to get better all the time. I mean, that’s kind of what you know, the benefit of having competition, it forces you to get better.

Austin: Yeah, I would agree with that. And specifically with creative. So a lot of the biggest a lot of the changes that have happened in the last year, year and a half, both on the like Google advertising side, Facebook advertising side, have gone to had really taken the levers that used to have and the levers you used to have been around targeting. And they’ve kind of been moving in the direction, we know the direction that Facebook is going and Google is going that you’re going to set your budget, and you’re going to set your creative. And they’re going to put those ads in front of the people who they believe are the most likely to convert.

So with a lot of the pressure is now and going forward. And people who are doing really well. They’re the ones that are able to create compelling, creative, that stops people’s thumbs as they’re scrolling through a feat. Those are the ones that are winning. And that’s where a lot of the competition is, it’s on it, we have to step your game up and do a better job. It’s around the brand and creative side of the business and attention-grabbing the side of the business. Because that’s where you said competition has gone up a barrier to entry to starting a business has gone down. Shopify is now prolific, they’re growing so fast, and they’re doing incredible things. Anybody can turn around anybody with decent tech skills can start on a Friday afternoon and have a Shopify site up and running by Sunday afternoon. And that means that you need to just do things a little bit better if you’re going to be noticed and be able to compete in the paid social space in 2019.

Adam: Yeah, totally great. So the second thing that you focus on the first thing, scaling advertising, the second is higher, and what positions are just absolutely needed, or that you focus on?

Scaling, Advertising, and Hiring

Austin: Yeah, so this is… I think hiring is so fascinating and interesting, because every single business if you decide you’re going to grow, is going to deal with hiring at some point. And where I see a lot of people struggle, especially in this eCommerce space in my, the way that I look at   and the way I look at building a brand is all these platforms that we’ve talked about, like Shopify Klay, be all these platforms are making it easier for you to deliver your message to your customer prospective customer. And they’re making it easier to start stores. And so when it comes down to it, we have, you know, third party fulfilment, for example, which can ship out products, when it comes down to it, you are just where your strategic advantage is in your marketing, because all the other stuff is starting to get taken care of by third parties.

So you can build a really good marketing company, where I feel like a lot of companies struggle, hire good marketers, and, and attract the right people that fit into their business. And so as you’re growing, and you’re starting to kind of scale up your business, and let’s say you’ve got, you’ve got traction, and you’re realizing that a lot of the stuff that you’re doing is starting to work, what happens is it becomes almost a full-time job, it becomes a full-time job to do the marketing that you need to do to be able to continue your growth.

And that means that consistent things updating Facebook ads, sending out emails, updating, Google AdWords, posting, and Amazon, all those different things that are generally marketing roles. So where I feel like other people struggle is hiring, kind of marketing, really solid marketing, generalist people who can come in and, and take over the roles that as a founder, you’re probably doing yourself. So that’s when one role I focus on the kind of helping people get started to hire that first person who’s going to be like your, your mini you has a founder who’s going to come over and come in and take over a lot of the roles that you take over yourself. Okay.

Adam: Yeah, I mean is very, very important to try to replace yourself. So that you can focus on what you do best. And what you know, the vision, the be the visionary type person for the organization. The third thing that you focus on is driving repeat sales is so important. But why it is so important.

Austin: Well, it’s important, because that’s where a lot of your profit is, you know, we talked, going back to the first one of the first things we talked about was the rising costs on Facebook, Instagram, Google, all these different channels, so traffic’s becoming more expensive. So that what that does is it makes it even more important to drive repeat sales and to have repeat sales that come back at a low cost of reacquisition. So that was one of the reasons that I’m really interested and I’m focused on a channel like an email is it’s not pay-per-click, right, you can send out an email.

And it’s a flat fee that you pay per month to send out the number of emails that you’re going to send out. And if you say if you send one email, or you send 30 emails, you’re probably going to pay about the same amount depending on what platform you’re on. And to give you an example, I always think of like leverage and, and how much you need to spend to drive traffic. I was working with a client this last week, and they were doing about, I don’t know how much they’re doing was in the last 90 days, they did around $600,000 in email revenue, and it was 90 days, they spent 1800 dollars in email fees. Right. So the return on their money invested in the channel of the email was insanely high 1800 dollars to generate $600,000. Now think about that. And compare that to paid social, you’re not getting a return like that you’re lucky if you get a two x return. And so my one of the reasons I focus on email and repeat customers is because all those sales that come from email, you’re not spending very much to reacquire these customers. And so your profit per order is going to be much, much higher on a channel like an email than on a been driving through these, you know, the big, big Facebook, Instagram, or Facebook, Google Amazon.

Adam: Totally. I mean, it is so much cheaper to keep a customer than it is to acquire a new customer.

Austin: Very, so much cheaper. Yes.

Adam: What do you believe makes somebody that successful at eCommerce? Let’s separate somebody that’s successful in eCommerce from somebody that’s just always struggling? Is there one thing?

Successful eCommerce Owners vs. Struggling eCommerce Owners

Austin: Well… yes, there is one thing and that that’s definitely mindset, right. And when I say mindset, I think that spending time right off the bat, that’s a really tough question to say, what what is what makes some people successful, and others not successful? I think that the one number one thing that makes you successful is defining your vision and your version of success. I truly, truly believe that’s it starts there. And sorts number one, defining what is a success to you. And I think we’re people fall into the trap of where they might be struggling, is by not defining what success looks like to them, and measured by other people’s standards. Because there are people that I’ve worked with business owners that I’ve worked with, that have, you know, businesses doing a couple of million dollars a year that are highly profitable, they support their lifestyle. They, you know, they travel, and they’ve got a team that is able to continue to run operations while they’re out of the country.

I have a client right now who just emailed me, he’s in Scotland, and he’s there with his wife, and they’ve got the team and they’re running the business and you know, it’s a, it’s a business that is probably not going to have me I know it’s not going to have a massive exit. But it is an extremely successful business, by his own standards, by my own standards. But really, what matters is his own standards, the owner standards, and I feel like that starts it starts there, you get to define what you want to create. And if that’s a business that is 100 million dollars, and is growing as fast as possible. That’s one thing you can think of. But you know that that’s one version of success, or that could be the lifestyle, the business that supports your lifestyle that generates cash month in and month out, allows you to live a life of freedom, whatever you decide success is that is up to you. And I think that that is the defining factor, but the mindset is the defining factor between the entrepreneur’s struggle and the ones that don’t and just getting clarity around what your version of success is.

Adam: Yeah, I mean, I totally agree with you. I mean, as you said earlier, so many business owners compare themselves to other business owners and is just what you see on the surface is usually not reality.

Austin: No, it doesn’t reflect reality. No.

Ultimately, like, we are all complicated creatures, and we don’t, we’re terrible predictors of our own happiness. And so you combine that in a society where you can look at the people are posting vanity metrics around sales all the time, and that, that really doesn’t reflect. It doesn’t reflect kinda like overall healthiness in that business or internal healthiness and happiness.

Adam: Totally. I mean, this, I’ve seen so many times where people will brag that they have a seven-figure business, I mean, that meaning they’re making more than a million dollars in sales, but they’re not keeping it. They’re not keeping 99.9% of it. What’s the point? I mean, other than to brag to people that don’t know, you don’t know, you have a seven-figure business? Is it the whole point of a business to create, you’re just like you said, to create a lifestyle or vision that you want. And, you know, most people’s vision needs to be supported by you know, having your business, create some sort of cash, cash in cash. And what’s called cash flow does that so doesn’t matter how much you make, it matters how much you keep in the bank. So in the cash is the keeping part, you’ve got to keep as much as possible, so that you can use it to reinvest back in your business to hire more, you know, like you said, marketing people to save for retirement to give it to charity, it doesn’t matter your businesses need needs to create cash flow. And that’s the mistake that people make is they don’t, they’re focused, just like you said, on vanity things, vanity metrics.

Austin: 100%. And, you know, it’s very easy to fall into it. I think every entrepreneur, every business owner, entrepreneur, at some point falls into it or has an experience where they realize that what they’re shooting for, isn’t exactly be healthy, or isn’t going to be supportive. The business might, you know, the first I was talking about earlier, I built an agency, and are a lot of the goals that we had with the agency were they were revenue goals, their revenue goals, it was growing as fast as we can, without any real thought around profit margin, or, you know, making clear marketing budgets and how much we could spend, you know, monthly to comfortably to keep the business growing and have enough cash to pay everybody. So ultimately, like, we ran into two consistent months where we would run out of money or get very, very close.

And it’s, it’s super stressful when you have that experience. And back to your original question, which is, what’s the difference between business owners that struggle and the ones that are successful, I think cash flow management is a huge, huge part of whether or not you’re going to enjoy your business, or constantly be in a state of stress. Because running out of money is one of the most stressful things you can deal with. And until you have a clear picture of how you want to manage your finances and what’s comfortable for you What percentage of pre-tax net income you want to keep, it can get really, it could get really stressful really quickly. And so, I don’t know, I think that if we go back to try to distil it down to one or one or two things, it’s like having that clear picture of how much money you want to keep and making your decisions. With that in mind versus just going for all outgrowth at all times will probably keep you in a position where you sleep better at night which you as you define your level of success. What is a success if you can’t sleep at night.

Adam: Oh, man, you hit the nail on the head. I mean, having a peace of mind is so underrated. Totally. I mean, we can all be business owners and entrepreneurs and whatnot and still have peace of mind. Better totally agree with you. We don’t have to be stressed all the time. Like the world things, we are we don’t have to be giant risk-takers. We can be methodical risk-takers. Yeah, totally.

Austin: Yeah. And that’s not really what the world is telling you. Right? That’s not what the popular narrative is. It’s the swashbuckling entrepreneur. But that, you know, I listened to the interview with Joe Rogan. And Ilan Musk, and there’s a big, one of his big quotes was, Oh, you know, they asked him, like, Joe asked him about his life. And years ago, I don’t think many people who want to be like, live like me. And it sounds like his life is incredibly stressful. And when you’re defining that version of success for yourself, I can tell you right now that when people are envisioning what it’s like to own their own business, a lot of times it comes back to freedom, freedom being that the lever that they want to pull by starting their own business. And that freedom, most people’s version of freedom doesn’t include waking up at 3 am in a sweat, because you’re freaked out about losing… running out of money.

Adam: Absolutely. I mean, it’s a freedom of, of being able to make what you want is also a freedom of time and, and having that peace of mind. And you’re absolutely right, you cannot have the freedom, the mental freedom, much less the physical freedom, you know, to work when you want to whatnot, if you if you can’t sleep at night, if you can’t, if you don’t have that peace of mind, knowing that your business is not only surviving but thriving. Absolutely. Right. The So last question, Where do you see eCommerce going in the future?

Austin: But that’s a question I think about, think about a lot. And you know, I think, think about it in a couple of different ways. So I think the maybe the best filter to look at it is where is eCommerce going for the business owner because I think that’s going to be the most relevant for listeners. And it’s probably the way I think about it, a filter that I think about the most. So I think about where’s it going for the business owner, I think a lot of the things that have been working over the past five years, a lot of the opportunities that are more of the arbitrage type opportunities are going to be going away, we’re already seeing that happen, we’re seeing drop shipping, as a model really being extinguished.

Across the board, we seeing what you know, Facebook is Facebook’s doing their own quality control on ads and products, they’re running on each other on their platforms. So they’re now serving customers who have bought from your brand and asking them their experience with your brand. And then altering the amount you have to pay to advertise their platform based on the experience that a customer had with your product, not with their product. So it’s really quite interesting. And with those types of changes, right, we’re going to be seeing the traditional kind of drop shipping model going away, especially if your shipping time is is it mash-up with what people are universally accepting around, you know, two days is the amount of time that you would need to between placing an order and a product arriving, I think we’re going to be moving into the companies that are going to continue to win are the ones that allow for the allow for you to create unique, personalized experiences. The companies that I’m most excited about over the next five years are the ones that are allowing you to do the things that to purchase the things that we’ve been purchasing previously but do it in a uniquely cool way. And that that could be taking something that you know, you kind of take for granted, and then taking it to the next level.

Let me give you a specific example of that. So we’ve now everybody buys, clothing, t-shirts, dress shirts, you know, company like but elbows came out. I don’t know how many years ago, eight years ago, and they kind of like revolutionized the way that we were thinking about buying pants company going forward, we’re only going to demand more personal personalization and customization. So companies that allow you to buy things like clothing that is personalized, that’s something that is going to continue to grow is going to be continued demand for that sort of thing. It’s also something that you were not really competing with Amazon, because a lot of the companies that have commodity-type products that don’t, it doesn’t really matter what the brand is that you’re purchasing is, will continue to be dominated by Amazon.

And there’s going to be a kind of worldwide influx of competitors in products like iPhone cords, or batteries or utility products that don’t have style, just the basics that people typically need. So continue to see massive growth and people being more comfortable buying stuff online. But just as a business owner, you know, I’m always thinking, how do we get more custom? How do we do things in a way that provides a customer with a significantly better experience than what they’re getting right now? Because that’s what was increasing demand for better experiences.

Adam: 100% agree, I mean, the moral of the story is, do not be a commodity, either your brand or your product. Don’t be a commodity.

Austin: Exactly. And you know, don’t like to feel free to I think a good strategy for a lot of people is to get big by staying small. What I mean by that is like continue to share personal things and leverage the power of email, leverage the power of advertising, to be able to tell human stories and grow using that you know, you don’t have to become a big soulless brand. In fact, I think is the power of that’s a competitive advantage for a lot of brands. It’s selling a lot and growing quickly. By having a personal human message that you know, you can compete with the companies like Hugo Boss that are just pumping out clothes, you could have a personal touch that shared directly to the consumer through some of these channels that we have been able to unlock communication channels.

Adam: Yeah, totally. Well, Austin, this has been really good info. I really appreciate you coming on the show. Where can people find you?

Austin: Yeah, no problem. So I actually also host a podcast called the eCommerce Influence Podcast and we basically share advanced traffic and conversion strategies for established eCommerce businesses. So you can check that out of the country commerce influence eCommerce influence calm or just iTunes eCommerce influence. And then my business is called brand growth experts. And I have a community of established eCommerce businesses called it’s called the coalition. And I work with do coaching for businesses that are kind of six figures and above and help them with some of the stuff we talked about today hiring and that sort of thing. So if you want to check that out, go to

Adam: Perfect so we’ll put those things in the show notes, the eCommerce Influence Podcast. In the Brand Growth Experts where you can learn more about the coalition and Austin, this has been great. Thank you so much for coming on the show.

Austin: Thanks for having me. I really appreciate it. And good luck with the show. Yeah, really appreciate you hosting me.