Taylor Holiday on Paid Arbitrage & Content Marketing in 2020

Taylor Holiday is the Managing Partner at Common Thread Collective, one of the leading growth partners to e-commerce brands in the country.

What trends are you tracking in digital right now?

When everything went remote in early March, the initial reaction was panic; specifically around global supply chain issues.

Once brands realized that supply chain disruptions wouldn’t be an extended problem, there was a massive level of increased engagement around e-commerce.

CPMs dropped like crazy in late March and April, and at one point brands saw declines of 35%. All of a sudden brands had access to cheap ad inventory at scale, but by the end of April that arbitrage period had closed.

However, brands were still seeing increased volume. That never changed.

Most of our clients outperformed expectations for this period. The scenarios where this is not the case are extreme outliers, like travel brands.

Any company that’s not prohibitively restricted by the pandemic is seeing gains, which are only limited by the company’s capacity to generate a product to meet the demand. Over the last few weeks, brands have run into issues relating to the volatility of Facebook as a whole, but in the broader DTC ecosystem, it’s been a really great time for most companies.

Finally, another interesting trend right now is volume. Suddenly there’s language that represents an entirely new paid search arbitrage.

There’s a whole new lexicon of words that matter around hygiene, face masks, and home gyms. Terms like “plaid face masks” that used to be a 30-search-a-month keyword are all of a sudden in demand.

What advice do you give founders when qualifying an agency?

The primary mechanism that people use to qualify agencies is past performance, which tends to be a really bad filter. Past experience is actually not indicative in any way of a future outcome because the variables are different every time, especially with regard to paid advertising.

As a founder, you should be wary of someone saying to you, “We did this for Brand X and we will do that for you, and you will succeed.”

To borrow from Eugene Schwartz, “Every new market, every new product, and every new advertisement is a fresh new problem that never existed before on the face of this earth.” That’s just the reality in advertising.

When someone says to you, look at what I did for Brand X, those variables are just never going to be replicable. Inputs will never be the same again, whether that’s referring to people, time, place, product, or the distribution mechanisms involved.

I’d advise that you want to evaluate an agency based on the way they think because what you’re looking for are people who have a capacity to problem-solve really well, and have frameworks for approaching that process.

At Common Thread, we work hard to help teams think through the ideology and methodology behind an outcome, more so than exact definitions of success.

There’s so little causality or correlation between previous metrics and future outcomes. It’s the same thing I would ask when I’m hiring an employee. We actually devalue experience. I don’t care what you did. We call it experience debt, which is this idea that when you come into our system, what you did before is actually a hurdle we have to overcome.

How do you think about content marketing in 2020?

First, hire who you think is the best in the world at it. Second, focus on developing sound writing habits, which allow you to think about distribution with a publishing system in place.

4 years ago we said, “We’re going to make a video every day and publish stuff all the time.” To be honest, most of it was garbage. But, we nailed down a habit. Then, we brought in a new hire who had a real strategy to think through what we were trying to do.

One of the mistakes people make is taking their domain authority and spreading it across a ton of different topics, yielding keyword pursuits that are actually in competition with themselves.

You have to get really clear on what search terms matter to you from an organic standpoint.

In terms of external distribution, we decided Twitter was the place that’s the most impactful in our community right now. I’ve abandoned a lot of the energy that I was pouring into other channels and focused almost exclusively on Twitter. We think of that as the primary organic distribution paired with paid Facebook ads.

In summary, I’d advise that brands create the source content based on keyword ideation and value, then build pillar pages and funnels and free up bandwidth to think about distribution channels that are the most impactful to your business.

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