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E-com Digital Marketing Done Right

In conversation with Edwin Choi

This episode features Edwin Choi, CEO of Jet Fuel Agency. Edwin has seen the digital marketing landscape evolve since 2009. With his rich experience of paid search, paid social, email, and SMS marketing, Edwin is now on a quest to help ecom businesses thrive with the help of his strategic partnership. Watch as he shares insights on developing winning strategies for developing successful ecommerce ventures.

As an agency, we are stewards of the client’s dollars. We have a fiduciary responsibility to do the best and to make the best decisions possible for that organization.

Edwin Choi
CEO of Jet Fuel Agency
Hello everyone, today we have with us Edwin Choi, CEO at Jet Fuel Agency. I've been trying to get hold of Edwin for a long time and finally, I have him on the show. Edwin, welcome to the show. I'm so excited to have you.

Thanks for having me. I am excited as well.

Well Edwin before we dive deep into your story and what you do at Jet Fuel it would be great if you could introduce yourself to our viewers.

Yeah, for sure. Hi, everyone. My name is Edwin Choi. I’m the CEO and founder of Jet Fuel Agency.  We are an E-commerce marketing agency specializing in paid search, paid social, email, and SMS marketing. I’ve been in digital marketing since 2009. I started in a digital agency out of college and was there for two and a half years. I migrated and became VP of Marketing and E-com at an E-Commerce. We scaled that company from 5 million to 30 million in four years. Now as CEO of Jet Fuel Agency, I lead an amazing team and we profitably help grow e-commerce companies and have a blast doing it.

Well, from a QA intern at Mercury Insurance to founding your agency. What I want to understand is what brought you to this career path?

I got my job at  Mercury Insurance because my friend’s uncle was able to get us jobs. I was in college and it was a pretty good job at the time. In hindsight, I realized a lot of what I learned from that career path turned out to be very useful. You have to be very detail-oriented. You have to think outside the box. I was finding bugs all day for the insurance software. That was my job. The QA path just wasn’t for me. I was quite good at my job. I was finding tons of bugs. I was the number one or number two Bug Catcher in terms of volume on the entire team. But this was just not something that got my passion going. I was going to college and as a QA intern, it was helping pay for my college bills. I was taking marketing courses in college, and I was loving it. I love learning about customer personas, and how to psychologically attract them to do something. So I started reading, and in the period between 2004 and 2008, a lot of exciting things were happening in digital advertising. SEO and paid search were coming into their own. And it was starting to become a viable career path. So while I was at Mercury Insurance, I was starting to do my research. And then I decided to jump ship. I just changed paths. So instead of going to QA and IT, typer out and I left.  Then I became an intern at a digital marketing agency. This was during the great recession of 2009 and no one was hiring. I had submitted 110 resumes for marketing internships and only got two responses. A digital marketing agency was one of the two responses that I got and they said they couldn’t pay me. They had no money to pay me and I said, that’s okay, I will work for free. And they said, how many hours do you want to work for free for a week? Do you want to work five hours, 10 hours? I said, sign me up for 40,  I’ll work 40 hours a week for free. So they were just flabbergasted. At this point, I know I had only two options, I could either work for free, do so for as long as I possibly could while I up so many skills and so many pieces of experienced that I can leave and find another better digital marketing job. The second option was I could be so useful that they would have no choice but to hire me. So luckily, the second option happened within a month and a half. They hired me and I was able to begin my career. So once I began my career, I stuck around for two and a half years. I was managing 13 or 14 clients at once, learning everything about SEO, PPC, living and breathing it and then I transitioned to an in-house role. And that’s where I touched on every piece of digital marketing. So as a VP of Marketing, what rolled up for me was paid organic email affiliate marketplaces, the whole shebang, and eventually,  purchasing operations, design, business intelligence, all of those also rolled up to me at the end. So I got a great holistic 360-degree view of how to run a business. And then, at that point, I left that position and I started Jet Fuel Agency and that was my chance to answer the question, well, if I can do this for one company, could I do it for more than one company? And that’s how Jet Fuel Agency was founded?

One thing that I want to understand is do you focus on a particular niche? It's E-com that you like, any particular niche? And then service-wise; is it only paid and email marketing, was this niche your focus from day one when you started Jet Fuel, or did it eventually happen?

 It started from day one, the niche piece of it, e-commerce is in my blood. I have always loved the idea of selling things. So even when I was a teenager, I was always trying to sell things. I love the feeling of exchanging goods for dollars. So even to this day, I do a lot of eBay.  I do a lot of different things that I’m so passionate about. So I knew I wanted to do something I was passionate about because if you were to start a company, and you’re going to put in those long hours, you better love every single second of it. That’s something you can control and that’s how we walked into this. And then for paid media and email, those were two that if I had to pick a couple of channels to focus on that I love the most those were the two  I love the most. I love the whole shebang but I love those two more than the others.

I understand and I think people that focus on a particular niche and a particular channel. I think it's a very good thing for a lot of new marketers are people that are looking to start agencies. That is more growth. The trajectory of growth when you're trying to niche down and trying to focus on one or two channels is more, as compared to trying to offer everything under the roof. Your profitability suffers. The biggest thing is manpower. I mean, how do you manage those different skill sets? Now if you're focusing on a service or a particular channel where you are passionate about, or you have the knowledge, it gives you so much more control over everything. And ultimately your growth trajectory is much faster.

 You are 100%, right.  What’s that famous quote? It takes 10,000 hours to achieve mastery.  Well, it’s easier to achieve mastery in two disciplines than in 15 disciplines. And the same holds true for your team. It’s better to train surgical ninjas in a couple of things than to try to make everyone good at everything, which is just too tough.

Tell us your favorite client story.

When we started the agency, we were very fortunate to have an amazing food brand, Arrive. It was a brand that was iconic, it was doing well and retail was growing rapidly. But they did zero online marketing, just zero. And they did zero because it was a hard brand to sell online. The cost to fulfill an order was quite high because it was a product that had to be refrigerated.  So that’s quite challenging when we think about margins in E-commerce. But after many years we still work with them to this day, we’re able to have these incredible creative strategies to overcome challenges like that and we worked very closely with them on margins We worked very closely with them on increasing conversion rates and boosting their ARV, so every order was as profitable as humanly possible, we would drive second, third, fourth, fifth purchases to drive up customer LTV. And everything just started clicking, and they were doubling every single year, without fail, and it was just amazing to work so closely with a passionate team and everything’s firing on all cylinders. And that is my favorite client story because we’ve been able to do some amazing things. We were able to launch brand new ideas such as limited flavors that drew a lot of buzz online. We had days where we were breaking Sales records even a million in revenue in one day, running some of these big campaigns. So it’s, it’s just a client story I hold close to my heart.

I think client stories that are out of the box strategies and are successful are always your favorite. But I think also our initial clients, they're always so close to your heart and, if those clients continue remaining with you for a long time, I don't think anything else beats that.

Oh, yeah, because they took a chance on you when you were tiny. You didn’t have much of a reputation to speak of and that’s something that we’ll always kind of appreciate.

And I think also in our agency business, it's very important to maintain those relationships as well. That is the defining factor between success and failure. You can't control Google. Let's say you're doing SEO, you can't control Google. You can do a good on-page strategy, you can do a good link-building strategy o, you can do a good paid campaign. But then at the end of the day, there can be months or times where things don't go your way. If you have those relationships intact, if you are transparent with your clients, you're setting the right expectations. Only can you can maintain those relationships and client retention. Otherwise in our business, if you as an agency are just transactional, and don't maintain that relationship, I don't think it helps it anyway.

I tell all of our clients this; you’re going to have good months, but, I want to stress and this is guaranteed that you’re going to have some bad months. I think the most important part is that you work with a partner that helps you understand why this month is bad? How can you lessen the impact? And a partner who’s proactive, and just relentless and trying to turn that trend around.

And in those monthly reports you talk about the things that went wrong first, show that concern, show that you proactively saw that. You have seen it before with clients and what to do to get over it. I mean that is what the client expects from you as an agency. Now you can't sugar coat it and you can't just pretend that you're fine and the client will not realize it. You're right.

Yep. We are stewards of their dollars, right, we have a fiduciary responsibility to do the best and to make the best decisions possible for that organization moving forward. So yeah, exactly!  We think the same way.

Now, as an Ad-Words specialist what are the common mistakes you find E-com businesses do while setting up the campaigns or running the strategy?

I can think of several off the top of my head because we audit a ton of accounts. I mean, the first one is do you have your conversion tracking correctly installed? And I say that because a lot of clients do have an install. But do you have the right attribution window?  Is the is attribution model working for your business? If you’re running on the last touch basis, you’re running a business on that, but your Google Ads account is linear, you’re going to have a mismatch in your decision making. The second part that I always see is your Google shopping feed off the month. So a lot of people will throw the shopping feed up because it is automated, they just set it and forget it. But every title, every description for every SKU can be optimized. And if you have a very strong SEO organic background you know the importance of that? And then the third is; are you taking into consideration the entire funnel? So a lot of people will throw up their branded and their prospecting but are you retargeting appropriately? Are you treating someone who just came to the site and abandon $40 worth of product in their cart differently than someone that abandon it 90 days ago without product? And are you asking customers to come back and make that second, third,  or fourth order? I think most accounts I’ve audited, don’t have that piece. The low-hanging fruit is easy to convince a happy person to come back and order a second time. And that has a tremendous return on ad spend. So those are the common things I see.

What are your go-to tools for reporting? Because in paid campaigns you're spending money and that reporting becomes very important.

We have Google Data Studio as our main reporting tool because it has so many API hooks, it’s just really easy to use and very flexible. And we pair that with another tool called Super metrics. So Super metrics has something like 30, or 40 connectors, the last time I checked, so it takes an awful lot of that work in creating these connections between something like Google Data Studio, and some other data source. And then last, but not least, we also have some in-house software that we use.  So for example, if a CPA for our client goes beyond what we’re comfortable with, we can have a Slack bot, tell everyone that hey, CPAs looking too hot today, or you’re over pacing today, and alert everyone in the slack chat so someone could take a look at it.

Super metrics is cool. I have a friend, an agency owner, and a partner, who is very, very, high on paid. So we just collaborated with them and did a research article on Super metrics. I believe that super metrics is a helpful tool when it comes to reporting and managing your paid expense. Talking about e-commerce, what is your benchmark e-commerce like?

Hmm, that’s a great question. So it depends on your vertical. But my favorite one is probably Ancient Nutrition? So Ancient Nutrition is super rapidly growing. But not only are they super rapidly growing, I know for a fact that their team is incredibly data-driven. They do tons of AV testing and they have a ton of respect for the team there. So when I go to their site experience, I know that every single little detail has been tested and you can tell who’s testing and who’s not, because you can look at their code and what they’re doing. So yeah, that is kind of my benchmark site that I often look to for inspiration or to get some ideas from.

With Google continuing to limit data and making us rely more on its machine learning. How do you see Google paid change?

Yeah, Google paid has changed a lot. Like back when I started Google paid in 2008- 2009, everything was a manual lever. You had to be technically very savvy to squeeze out as much ROI as possible out of your account. So fast forward to today, Google has taken a lot of those levers away and everything is becoming automated. So as a marketer, what is it that you can do in response to this? I think the first part is you have to understand the algorithm. What decisions is Google trying to make on your behalf? If you understand the levers for those, you might not be able to pull that lever directly, but you can guide the algorithm to your desired result. It’s almost like you’re a shepherd, and you’re herding sheep to the right place. You don’t control where the sheep goes, but you can sort of guide it to that right place. I think that’s the first part. The second part is what is it that you can control? Like, what can you always focus on? You can always focus on conversion rate, your site experience, or offer product variety. What do you show to the customer first?  Do you show those customers less?  These are things you can always focus on. So even though you can’t pull some of those old levers on the Google site, you can always improve your conversion rates and customer experience. And that’s going to pay dividends, not just for paid, but for all of your channels as well. And the third part of it is okay, well, maybe Google has directly taken a lever away from you, you can indirectly still control that. There’s automation, there are scripts, there are processes, so maybe, let’s say one day, Google takes day partying away. Well, I know that if they take day partying away the immediate thing our teams will think of is how can I build a Zapier script? Or how can I build an automated Google rule to try to get that same behavior? So even though they took one thing away, I think you could probably get it back in some other fashion.

You just talked about being data-driven and data is so very important for optimizing campaigns for conversion optimization. Now, when you are optimizing a landing page, what are the crucial metrics you look at, or what is the data that you look at when optimizing a landing page?

The first part of it was when you look at the landing page, how is it contributing to your profitability and your goals as a whole? Are people having a high percentage of pass-through from that landing page to the next desired page?  We look at engagement metrics, how much are they scrolling down? Are they scrolling down 25%? Are they scrolling down 75%? What is their time on site? Look at the heat map, what are they clicking on? You look at user video recordings how are they behaving on it? You look at exit rates and bounce rates. And then last but not least, you also look at the contribution. So if one landing page has $1 of revenue contribution per visit, and the second landing page has $10 of revenue contribution per visit, what is it that that second page is doing so much better than the first page? So those are some of the metrics we were looking at.

What about click fraud protection? Any tools you use or you suggest?

I really like click cease. So if you look up, click cease, they have a great tool, and it’s very effective at that.

We use click sees as well. When you talk about doing paid, people who have, let us say start anew and are just testing their campaigns and there are cases where, let's say they don't see results in the first few weeks, or let's say the first couple of months, they think that okay fine paid is not for them, or, they can't be profitable, in your opinion, how long does a campaign take to give positive ROI? Or how do you handle such situations?

The answer for how long depends on your spending. So if you’re spending $100,000, in your first month, then within the first month, you should get some positive traction, because you have so much data. But in comparison if you’re spending $1,000 a month, it might take you three or four months, it’s just gonna take you much longer to get enough data to make the right decisions.  So I think the overall opinion I would give is you’re not going to start something new and be successful within the first couple of weeks like very few people can do that. So I’m not gonna be able to start playing baseball tomorrow, and within three or four weeks I am hitting home runs all the time.  That’s not what we look for as marketers. What we look for is, are we walking in the right direction? Are we learning about what we’re doing? Are we correcting ourselves? Are we putting ourselves in a position to succeed and help the numbers?. And if you do that consistently, it may take four weeks or it may take 14 weeks. But if you do that consistently, you will eventually get that goal metric and your positive ROI. So it’s not a question of when we can or if we can make it profitable but more,  how long will it take and how much budget will we have to potentially accelerate that process?

What are your thoughts on local search ads?

 Local Search ads can be really powerful, especially if you’re a small business. Local search ads, like how we would run local search ads, we don’t do a ton of it. But I, obviously do audit a ton of accounts. Again things like geo parting making sure that the right places for your business are on and the wrong places are off are key. Optimizing your local SEO is important. Are you showing high in the maps, things of that nature? Now things like day party become even more important. Because a lot of businesses, if you’re local, you have certain business hours, and I think it is critical to also have call-track.  A lot of local businesses run on phone calls, are you doing call tracking appropriately and making the right decisions there? So if you’re a local business, and you’re doing all those things, you’re going to be top 1% against the competition, because you’re using a lot of sophistication against the competition who is probably not using all that sophistication.

What are your thoughts on chatbots?

I’m bullish on chatbots. So the reason why I’m bullish on it is that they’re starting to get to a point where they’re highly sophisticated, they have great branching of your responses. Great tracking great engagement, if you think about chatbots they’re kind of like email but more interactive and with a much higher open rate. The customers are getting used to it.  A lot of customer service is run on chatbots now. A lot of fulfillment is now run chatbots, Hey, your package may be late, pressing me to cancel. So a lot of stuff that is the customer base is getting more trained to interact with chatbots and I think that’s going to be a good thing. I think one of the big misses is that I think Facebook should have paid more attention to WhatsApp and integrated WhatsApp as a chatbot into its overall ad ecosystem. But it hasn’t been paying much attention to that.

Any special tip that you would give our audience that they could use and benefit from?

Man, I think one of my favorite tips is there’s a software called Hot jar and it has a free plan. With that free plan, you get 1000 Visitor recordings a month. So just by installing that tool, and seeing how customers roam around on your site and where they’re leaving, and what they like, that will probably bring you a mountain of insights to help you improve your business. The second one is I would encourage everyone to learn Google Analytics. You don’t have to be a master but just look at some of the most basic reports like the acquisition report, behavior report and if you can understand those and you understand who’s coming to your site, and where they’re coming from, and where they’re going, then that is powerful. I think that will drive a lot of insights into your overall business. And the third tip that I would highly recommend is for everyone to go and look at your personas, who are your best customers? Are they 44-year-old females? Are they 25-year-old males? And then I would ask for all the creative you’re showing them. Is that speaking to that customer directly? I imagine you would want to speak to those two different people very differently. So if you nail that down, I think that’s a quick win that most businesses can benefit from.

Edwin thank you for your time. But before you go, in the end, we like playing a quick rapid-fire round of five questions. So are you ready?. Okay. Describe yourself in three words.

Relentless, hard-working, Innovative.

If a movie was made on you, what genre would it be?

Thriller

Who is your favorite superhero?

Batman

Are you a morning person or a night person?

Morning

Batman and morning person well that's interesting. The last book you read?

The Everything Store.

All right. Well, thank you so much. It was fun chatting with you.

 It was a total blast. Thanks for having me.

Thank you.

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