I had an interesting chat with Elina Furman recently. Elina runs Elfin Marketing, a creative agency focused on helping innovative baby and kids brands.
Elina has had a fascinating, illustrious career – she's been a a writer for both print and online publications, an on-air personality, the author of over 20 books, an entrepreneur, and a consultant. It was a very fun conversation, and Elina was full of insight, wisdom and good cheer. She talked about the need to adapt or die when faced with new marketing channels, and about the importance of paying attention to your personal feelings about your work.
Here's a cleaned-up transcript of the conversation we had:
"You've done so many things at such great scale – how did you begin?"
“I had always done marketing through my startup that I had left and online media work at magazines. I always loved marketing though I was a writer, editor and author by trade. I started Elfin Marketing in 2016 and Dockatot was one of my first clients. It is a hybrid agency crossing over between digital marketing, traditional PR / influencer marketing, email marketing, website optimization, design, and product development.
When I started with Dockatot, Lisa Furuland (the founder and designer) was planning to launch in the US for the first time, after being very successful in Europe. Instead of coming on in-house, I took on the role of head of marketing while maintaining my own agency.
With Dockatot, my primary strategy was launching the influencer marketing program, building the website, teaching myself the backend of Shopify, and how to increase conversions.
Everything was done from the ground up – and today it is the number 3 most registered baby product in the US.”
"How did you get in touch with Dockatot?"
"I had a publishing company called A-list mom. It was an email company when email marketing was much bigger, before bloggers and Instagram influencers were around. We had an email list of 80,000 that was all built on organic growth. Lisa had sent me her product from Sweden. And I thought this was the most amazing product out of thousands I had reviewed. I reviewed it, and Lisa got back in touch with me when she was preparing to launch in the US. She needed help building her website – I had just left my other startup and told her we could work on launching together.”
“I’m very careful about the clients I take on. I have said no to so many clients who have great products but there wasn't an innovation, style or utility component that I look for. I need to know that influencers will love it and will want to write about it, and that customers and parents are going to want to promote it because it is an exceptional product.
I only work with clients that have a superior product and a marketing differentiation point so that when I bring the traffic there with social, influencer and digital marketing, the product ends up converting and selling at a high rate. I also look for companies who have room to grow and are in the starting or middle phase of their business growth.
"People started hearing about Dockatot and hearing about what I was doing, and everybody wanted to be the next Dockatot story."
Through my time working at DockATot, I learned a lot about what works, ecommerce best practices, and what converts. I have tested all the channels, all the apps and developed a formula with influencer marketing that was really effective. I now have a huge database of influencers, very elite influencers, that I have personal relationships with and companies keep coming to me looking for that access.
Because I take on only superior products and clients, we never have to pay influencers to promote the product. People can sense when influencers are getting paid vs. that they just love the product and want to share with their friends. All that is reflected in the sales and success of the program."
"Can you tell me about how you work with new marketing channels?"
“I originally started on Instagram as our main marketing channel. I was an Instagram newbie, but now I consider myself an expert having grown DockATot to 250,000 followers in 18 months. I was able to replicate this success to some extent with all of my, clients who have reached 100,000+ followers.
We never buy or game the system in any way. It is all organic growth through influencers, giveaways and word-of-mouth. Instagram is such a powerful channel. It really converts well even though you cannot always track sales direct to conversion. I’ve met so many business owners who are just doing direct-to-consumer with all of their traffic coming from Instagram, so I’ve learned to adapt and focus on Instagram.
We use many different channels now – Youtube, Facebook Advertising, retargeting, content distribution, Pinterest. But Instagram has been the most reliable source that leads to all other channels since influencers create amazing assets and videos which then go viral on other channels like Pinterest and Facebook.
I don’t really focus on Pinterest, but we’ve had so many influencers posting on there that we ended up going viral on Pinterest – and that’s one of our strongest channels without requiring much management.”
"Tell me more about the rest of your clients!"
“I like to focus on the most innovative products and category leaders or those that have the potential to become that. I’ve had companies come to me with nice products, but I don’t really see anything innovative or functional or new about it, so I turn them down. If it doesn't make a mom's life so much better or easier, it's not the right client for me.
"Binxy Baby is an amazing product. It is a shopping cart hammock that is literally one of the best-rated products I have seen. Every review is 5 stars. It just makes a mom's life easier and that utility and functionality component is so important. It was started by Lisa Pinnel, a mom of 4 kids, and is now doing amazingly well. It was the perfect product that was just waiting to blow up. So I did the same strategy with them, increasing their brand awareness through Instagram and influencers.
Now they have big box stores coming to them and their wholesale channel is blowing up. Buyers are looking at Instagram and social media and seeing what moms are talking about and they want in."
"The same with Ollie World, it’s a product that so many moms love and it helps their babies sleep and settle."
I always check reviews. if a client doesn’t have amazing reviews, and the moms aren’t screaming about it, I won’t take it on.
"You cannot market a faulty product or one that doesn’t deliver what it says it will. The product, the 5-star reviews, all that has to be there. I have worked in companies where people tried to market a product that was just poor and faulty and then they wonder why they are not being successful. The customer service has to be there.
You have to always put your customer first. Product-to-market fit is so essential and if you try to market a product without having a passionate customer base, you will never be successful."
"Finn + Emma, are an organic apparel and lifestyle brand which was showing a strong market share but needed more marketing and influencer reach out to really get them going. I love working with them because the quality of the products is really amazing and they focus on sustainability with style which is unique in this space. They are also loved by influencers and just got written up by Vogue magazine as a top organic apparel and toy line."
"They are also always innovating. I love working with all these brands because even though I'm doing marketing and ecommerce, it’s really about working on the brand as a whole including product development and participating in design decisions. That is what I really enjoy… otherwise I get a little bored."
Can you tell me how ReferralCandy has helped you and your clients?
“Dockatot was my first client where I saw first-hand what ReferralCandy can do. You could go affiliate model, share-a-sale which we will – but the ease and simplicity of running ReferralCandy made it the obvious choice.
“Being the sole proprietor of my agency, I like all-in-one programs and apps – with ReferralCandy, with Dockatot, any of the clients, you’re getting the virality element, people posting on Facebook, people sharing on their own websites. Dockatot is profitable for the referrers and advocate and it allows us to create a very effective sales force at a very reasonable price.
“Some other companies have strong ambassador platforms, and you can push out content, but the pricing on those is very high. ReferralCandy is that perfect combination of affiliate/referral with all the technology, very scalable, very customisable. Dockatot is a big brand now, but when I started working with them it was just launching, so this was an amazing tool to get a sales force of obsessed moms who knew how effective it was and wanted to spread the word.
“ReferralCandy is fantastic for companies that have extreme buy-in and loyalty, like Dockatot and Ollie World. I don’t think it’s going work for every single brand – I’ve tried it on some other clients, they don’t have the traffic yet to really make an impact, and there isn’t that loyalty cult following for the brand.
“The advocate has to legitimately want to share the information with their friends and followers. It can’t just be about making money."
"Nobody really wants to promote with “I just bought this and maybe you’ll buy it”. Rather, what I see is – “My baby just slept 8 hours, this is best product or swaddle in the world,” that’s where the real success comes in. There has to be this confluence between the materialistic and altruistic… it’s all about the personal attachment to your product.”
Do you have any advice for new stores?
1. Start by figuring out the market fit.
“That is the most fundamental thing. Some people talk about the MVP ‘minimally viable product’ and say let’s just get it out there. That’s fine, and I understand what they are trying to do… but I am a big believer in getting the product and branding right from the start and putting it on the market and getting great reviews from moms.
I have worked with companies who didn’t do this and they lost so much market share along the way and time where they could have just done it right from the start. Those reviews are what is going to sell your product, whether on your website, on your Amazon.”
2. If you’re developing a product, figure out IP, innovation – do you have something that’s protectable?
“You can make a lot of money just going straight to the Instagram route and doing a copycat product and just marketing like crazy, but if someone can replicate it, and unless you’re first to market, it’s going to be really a tough hurdle. You need to be first to market, and have some sort of protection for the IP so that copycats can’t come around.
3. Prepare to market 48 hours a day.
“It just doesn’t stop. There’s always a new app to research, a new platform, new marketing program, Facebook live, and you have to be smart and figure out what your resources are and the most profitable channels for your brand.
But also remember to pace yourself, don’t burn out. You really have to market your own business or give it to somebody to handle – outsource that portion. You cannot focus on distribution, product development, manufacturing AND marketing. You can’t do all of those things well at the same time.
Partner up with someone who’s strong at what you’re weak at, hire others, that pays off much more than trying to do everything else yourself.”
4. There’s so many people who say they know what they’re doing, but there’s nothing’s established.
“So many people think that they’re a social marketer or digital marketer, but it is hard to find someone who understands all the components and how a brand should be built. You have to know design, influencers, email marketing, ecommerce, and what makes your brand appealing to the market and then run programs and do a lot of trial and error. I have hired people who said they know how to do all of the above and you quickly realize they have no idea. So you hire people with specific focus and build out your team that way.
Social and digital marketing seems easy or that anyone can jump in, but they don’t understand the pace, the frequency, the commitment it takes. They think you just post a photo and you will get followers. But it doesn’t work like that.
You want to partner with strong brands, get yourself up to a point where other brands want to work with you so you can support each other. We’ve been very lucky to partner with some of the top companies in the baby space."
Do all your clients use Shopify?
All my clients use the Shopify platform, except one. It's my favorite platform. It has great themes, amazing apps, and their support is amazing.
What apps do you like?
Conversio (previously Receiptful)– Receipt app that lets you upsell in the app. It offers a nice pickup and revenue since you can promote discount codes to customers.
Abandonment Protector– allows you to do other follow-ups. They used to only do 3 emails when someone abandons, but now you can do other emails. With Dockatot, if we want them to upgrade to the bigger size once the baby is older, we can set up that parameter, and we can set a follow-up email.
Loox – I went through a lot of review apps but didn’t find anything I liked and some were so expensive. Loox is affordable, it incentivizes reviewers to post a photo with their review. Social proof, peer-to-peer reviews are so important, so it was a no-brainer to use Loox. Incentivize them with a special discount if you use a photo with the review. People love to read reviews.
Vantage – I used Vantage for a long time primarily for their Facebook ad platform. What I can do with each client is, in 5-10 minutes, create retargeting ads, prospecting ads, based on the Shopify customer profile. Dockatot is running extensively with them, amazing returns. It’s so easy to create the ads, you just upload the photos, pick the campaigns – Facebook likes, abandoned carts, it pulls it all directly from Shopify. They also optimise the ads. That allows me to really function as a bigger agency without the $10k-$20k minimum fees that most agencies have.
How do you deal with tons of clients?
“I’m trying to cautious about that. I have had to say no to so many people who come along. I value the time I have. I am a mother with two kids and I can only help so many people at any given time. I can easily scale and build up, but I am not interested in managing people.
I enjoy working with each founder and shaping the content, digital and marketing strategy for each brand. If I can’t make an impact by increasing revenue for the client, it is time to move on. The goal of marketing should always be to increase revenue especially for up-and-coming brands."
How did you end up choosing ReferralCandy?
“I started looking for a refer-a-friend programs – refer your friend you’ll get a % off. Initially I just went with ReferralCandy because it was one of the options. Then what sealed the deal for me was the customer support. Bryan called me said you can optimise your program if you give a cash reward instead of an advocate discount.
That changed everything, just the fact that he called me, he followed up and gave me a strong tip for improving the program. Normally, when you sign up for an app, nobody follows up. But Bryan looked at our program, he wanted to improve it, he went the extra mile, and we saw so much success because of his suggestion. I haven’t seen another referral app that I think would do a better job. There are not so many bells and whistles, but it does what it says it’ll do and the service is great.”
Visa is ReferralCandy's former Blog Editor [2013–2018]. He also co-founded Statement.sg, a fashion ecommerce label selling witty t-shirts. He's mildly Internet-famous for his elaborate Twitter threads. He hopes to enjoy a glass of scotch onboard a commercial space flight someday.