Understand where and how your audience consumes all of their media- not just social
Never stop listening to your consumers. They will tell you what they want and how they want it- you just have to pay attention
Be open to change! There is no way the same strategy will keep working. Over time perceptions will change, the competition will increase and the digital landscape will evolve- make sure your strategies evolve with it
As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create A Highly Successful E-Commerce Business”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jhara Valentini.
Experienced digital media, marketing, and omnichannel professional, Jhara specializes in building high growth eCommerce businesses. A true digital lover, with more than twelve years of experience, Jhara uses an analytic and behavioral-based approach to ensure the best return on investment with every campaign. Jhara founded Valentini Media Group, a consulting firm that specializes in digital marketing and content strategy in 2015. The firm excels in driving awareness, acquisition, and sales for fashion, art, beauty, and lifestyle brands.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Sure-Thank you as well for having me-excited to be here!
Well first, I am a Wife and Mom of two incredible little boys and got my start in media about 12 years ago when I was working for Kenneth Cole. At first, I really had nothing to do with the marketing team or social media. I started as an intern and then a coordinator in the sales division but I got more and more interested in the dynamic of social media when Facebook started getting popular and saw an avenue that I could use to connect with consumers and make revenue. That’s what started this whole journey.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
I don’t know if it was exactly an aha moment because becoming a consultant was something I had always envisioned doing but I would say the moment that made me pull the trigger was in December of 2015. I was pregnant with my second son (almost 6.5 months) and I was thinking about the next year ahead and I realized the job that I was in was never going to allow me to live the life I wanted to live and grow in my career the way I wanted to. I couldn’t start the next year without making a change. So that Friday I quit my job, following Monday set up an LLC and VMG was born.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
I would say the first six months to a year were full of doubt. Going independent has so many benefits but the biggest caveat is security as in- there is none. Things can change so fast. You can lose a contract faster than you got it and there’s nothing you can really do about it. It was really hard for me to be OK with the unknown and not to take things personally when they didn’t work out.
I think what drove me then is what still drives me now and that is the life I get to live as an independent consultant and the career I am capable of having because of it versus what I would be going through being in-house somewhere.
Being independent is hard but right now I get to dictate who I work with, how I work with them, and most importantly how much time they take from my day which allows me the flexibility I need from a family perspective but also leaves so much room for potential and growth. I don’t do well with caps or boundaries when it comes to my career- I think that type of hindrance is so unproductive. Having VMG has allowed me to think bigger, be better, and grow more than I ever thought I could- I am never going to let that go.
So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Things today are going exceptionally well. I am so thankful to have incredible clients and to have found a niche where I can really bring value to other businesses. Grit and resilience have definitely helped me get to my success- once I set my mind to something it’s very rare it doesn’t come to fruition but I think it’s also because I love what I do and clients see that.
Digital media is such a fascinating piece of the world and I am honored to be a part of it. To be learning from it every single day it’s something that I genuinely enjoy and I think that shows in my work and in my partnerships and it’s a big reason for why I’ve gotten to where I am.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
I would definitely say most of the mistakes I made were on the business side. I had never started an LLC. I knew nothing about taxes when it came to being a business. When I moved to an S-corp too- what it meant to set up payroll and unemployment insurance and all the other things that come with having a business.
Takeaways would be to do your research for sure when it comes to the business aspect because that’s something that I could’ve definitely spent a little bit more time on in the beginning. I was so anxious to get started and be a strategist, I forgot that I had responsibilities as a founder and CEO as well.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I think what makes my company stand out is me as funny as that sounds. I am not your typical strategist by any means. My campaigns look vastly different than a traditional media agency and I definitely don’t work like a traditional agency at all but I think that’s the variance that people are looking for.
I concept everything from a psychological perspective, not an advertising mindset. All of my education and graduate work was in cognitive behavior and psychology so I use that to guide the structure of my campaigns and really everything I do in media.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Thrive but not burn out- that’s so hard because a big metric of success is revenue and doing what I do, the more you work- the more revenue right- so why not just keep doing more?
It’s been a struggle for me honestly, especially in the beginning because I would say yes to every project and every account. I was so scared that I wasn’t going to get another deal so I would take all that I could get. That was NOT fun- definitely burned myself out.
What I’ve realized since is that e-commerce isn’t going anywhere. People are going to need minds like mine all the time, I just have to make sure I stay focused on my craft and keep learning so I can always be of value.
I now look at things much more holistically and set up a yearly plan. I always start the year off with a revenue goal. I am all about growth margins so it obviously has to be more than the year before and then I start scheduling projects out. When I started out I would negotiate my contract and start a project right away. Now I typically start negotiating my contracts and looking at new projects 4 to 6 months before I start working with them.
This way I:
A. can give my clients the time they need
B. can schedule my year to have consistent work
C. don’t burn myself out by doing too much at once
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Absolutely no doubt that I wouldn’t be here without my support system. Life would just be so different without them.
I am most grateful for my husband and my parents. They have been on this ride with me every step of the way. From my husband supporting every crazy idea I get, listening to me ramble about client proposals at 1 AM, my mom picked up my boys from school when I am stuck in a meeting, or my dad giving me a pep talk before I walk into a presentation- it’s all been essential to getting me here.
I look at VMG as a team effort for sure. I may be the face of it but there’s so much that happens behind the scenes. The rest of my family, my brothers, and my sister who is actually also a media manager herself- They have all been a part of this ride.
There is alsomy board. My “board” is a small group of women that I lean on for moral support, business counseling, client drama- all of the above. Along with my family, they are my sounding board on life. Some of them have been in my life since high school and are like my sisters, others I have met throughout my career but all are people I have learned from and dearly respect.
I don’t know if there is one story in particular that would do this group justice. Their support is constant- It’s like magic, I feel it every day and I am so thankful for it.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The Pandemic has changed many aspects of all of our lives. One of them is the fact that so many of us have gotten used to shopping almost exclusively online. Can you share a few examples of different ideas that eCommerce businesses are implementing to adapt to the new realities created by the Pandemic?
I think the biggest shift that I’ve seen across the board from CPG to luxury goods is that more brands are listening to their audiences and understanding what their needs are from a content and media perspective down to the user shopping experience on-site. Brands that weren’t taking time and money into developing e-commerce strategies and UX experiences are now honing in on what their digital footprint looks like and putting together really interesting concepts. From virtual reality to automation there have been a lot of “new” ways to shop.
Bottega Venetta was definitely an early adopter. At the beginning of the pandemic, they launched a virtual residency on their website that went outside of just shopping and fashion. It’s really a place of inspiration from many types of creative people- writers, musicians, etc- it’s a really cool concept and keeps users entertained on site.
Levis used a platform called Obsess to make their traditional retail store into a virtual shopping experience which I thought was genius. I believe Tommy Hilfiger used Obsess too during their Zendaya collab fashion show.
Amazon, and even Walmart are going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise retail companies and eCommerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?
Well, first it depends if you see Amazon and Walmart as competition. Sometimes they can be great partners where you can have great margins and profitability.
In regards to the much cheaper D to C brands, a big reason why they’re doing so well is that they’ve made themselves part of the conversation in a way that major fashion houses and bigger companies are still trying to do. That’s really the difference when you look at it from a user perspective it’s not so much who you’re purchasing the T-shirt from but why. Yes, there may be a slight price difference but for larger e-commerce companies to be successful that’s what they have to look at and think about.
How you can interject your brand into conversations that you wouldn’t typically be a part of? Or how are you planning on staying relevant? What’s your retention strategy after you acquire the user? What does that mean three months from now? six months from now? How are you going to stay top of mind and be able to keep your consumers happy so that they don’t go looking for other places to purchase?
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start an eCommerce business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
I don’t know if I would call them mistakes but there are a few misconceptions that come to mind when it comes to e-commerce and leadership staff.
I would say the first is that they only think about targeting their “target demographic” which is unrealistic; especially when you’re trying to scale a business. I understand that companies have a customer that they are striving for but with ecommerce you need as much variance as possible when it comes to attribution. This way you can get maximum behaviors and multiple qualifiers to scale your audiences.
Another one would be that social media is going to fix all of their sales problems which is definitely not the case. Don’t get me wrong Facebook, Instagram and the rest of the social platforms are incredible mediums to bring new attribution and retain your consumers but they’re never going to solely make your business work. You need to have serious retention strategies going across the digital landscape, an incredible UX, customer service, and obviously amazing products to make it happen. It’s not just about a strong Instagram presence.
In your experience, which aspect of running an eCommerce brand tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
I think the most underestimated part of e-commerce is the retention and email strategy. People focus so much on how to get users to their website or what the conversion funnel is going to look like but they forget they also have to keep the consumers entertained after the purchase is done. You need the conversation to keep going to stay relevant.
Can you share a few examples of tools or software that you think can dramatically empower emerging eCommerce brands to be more effective and more successful?
Not sure if I would call these empowering but I know of some that make the process easier. Platforms Asana for project management, Swydo for reporting or Salesforce and Shopify for analytics tend to be my go to’s these days but there’s nothing wrong with the old staple- Google Analytics, especially if you set up your events and your tracking correctly, it can be an incredible tool.
As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies an eCommerce business should use to increase conversion rates?
The idea of the conversion rate is sometimes confusing because you can’t scale your business and get more people to your site and always have a high conversion rate there’s going to be points where you’re bringing people to the site solely for retention or maybe you are scaling your prospecting campaign that’s introducing new audiences to your website so you can’t always look at your conversion rate as a major KPI- it’s more about a month over month and year-over-year revenue growth for me.
To grow revenue and conversions, audience building is key. Finding qualified interests and behavioral groups that meet the conversion objective and then going back out to find more people like them to scale. Add that to a strong retargeting campaign and you’re good!
Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that an eCommerce business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?
With e-commerce multiple touchpoints are key. Repetition is essentially your reputation online. The more consumers know about you, your brand, what you stand for- the stronger that brand relationship is going to be which eventually turns into customer loyalty.
One of the main benefits of shopping online is the ability to read reviews. Consumers love it! While good reviews are of course positive for a brand, poor reviews can be very damaging. In your experience what are a few things a brand should do to properly and effectively respond to poor reviews? How about other unfair things said online about a brand?
I always recommend addressing the issue and continuing the conversation off-platform. I think the biggest hiccup brands find themselves in is when they try to respond and have a full conversation with somebody that left them a bad review- it’s not worth it- Never will be. Take the conversation offline so you can have a private conversation and resolve the issue then.
When the negativity is coming from more than one person, the same thing, address the issue but then flood the feeds with positivity to get the conversation back to something positive.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful e-commerce business? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Understand where and how your audience consumes all of their media- not just social
- Know the importance of owned data and a strong CRM and always have a strategy is to scale it
- Social platforms aren’t going to meet every objective- have backup platforms running campaigns at all times
- Never stop listening to your consumers. They will tell you what they want and how they want it- you just have to pay attention
- Be open to change! There is no way the same strategy will keep working. Over time perceptions will change, the competition will increase and the digital landscape will evolve- make sure your strategies evolve with it
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I think everybody right now just needs to take a minute, press the reset button and allow time for that balance to actually happen. People need to process everything that’s occurred in the last year and with so much change, I don’t think any of us have and we should. We need to heal from the effects of this pandemic, all of the social and systemic issues that are happening in our country, climate change, the wildfires- all of it. There’s been so much hardship, it would be great to bring some good.
If I could somehow create a resource of strength for people it would be such a beautiful movement. I think it’s something that people really need right now. I don’t know exactly what that would look like; it could be a website or some type of social presence but essentially a resource hub of sorts where no matter what you’re going through, there is content and information available to guide you through it.
How can our readers further follow you online?
They can visit my website valentinimediagroup.com or my Instagram @jharav
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!