Have a strong mix of photo and video to keep customers engaged. Another thing outside of product photos is a dynamic content mix of photo and video that gives customers a reason to continue browsing your page. A combination of photos, videos, and gifs, including a 360 view of your product, lifestyle images, and unboxing videos can help answer your customer FAQs in a flash, which builds trust and loyalty. Brands like Bloomscape and Made In Cookware do this well.
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 Liz Giorgi, a media entrepreneur and Emmy-award winner on a mission to make quality content available to brands everywhere. She is the founder of two successful content companies. She is currently the CEO and Co-Founder of soona, and in 2013, she founded Mighteor, one of the world’s first internet video production companies. Liz is an and a passionate advocate for women in business. She is the creator of the Candor Clause, an open-source legal agreement to promote gender equity in venture financing. She is current Board Member for the Women Who Startup Foundation and a graduate of the Hubbard School of Broadcasting and Journalism at the University of Minnesota and Babson College’s Executive Education program.
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?
The true reason I became an entrepreneur is because my grandfather was one, and I admired him more than anyone in my life. But it took me a while to figure out that business as my calling. Barbara Walters was my first true mentor. I grew up watching her on television and pursued a broadcast journalism degree because of her. After working in different media jobs for a few years, I decided to take the leap into business in 2013.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
My cofounder Hayley Anderson and I built soona because our clients kept asking us to. Not literally! But we kept hearing: We need more content, faster and for less money. But how?
Over the years we’ve seen industries develop their own type of fast casual model, from restaurants to car rentals. A fast casual solution is a way for the customer to get their product quickly, and at a low price. When we thought about how to make photo and video production more accessible to all brands, we knew we had to create “fast casual content” to level the playing field.
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?
Far too many female founders, including myself, have personal experiences with sexual harassment, assault and discrimination. Rather than let it stop us, my cofounder Hayley and I developed the Candor Clause, an open-resource legal disclosure for inclusion in fundraising documents to foster conversations between founders and investors about gender equality.
This clause can be included in any fundraising agreement to help foster a different conversation between investors and founders, and to establish a clear standard and a clear set of consequences if there are any issues with sexual harassment, sexual discrimination, or sexual assault in their relationship.
There have been over 60 investor-founder deals made using the candor clause, including soona’s investors, Matchstick and 2048, who now use the Candor Clause in their standard deal documents.
So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
We are continuing to grow our business through everything. We have pivoted our business during the pandemic to support 90% of our customers online. This has allowed us to grow quickly and we have doubled the size of our business since the beginning of the year.
Grit is something every entrepreneur needs to cultivate. But you don’t want to burn yourself out. That’s why I try to always think about how to solve problems with other people vs. grinding by myself. When other people join your team, you can double your solutions and your progress.
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 am embarrassed to admit that we failed our fire test 7 times when we opened our first store. It was a nightmare! But it taught me to hire better and get more references. I think taking your time when hiring anyone: whether a teammate or a contractor, is one of the fastest ways to ensure you will succeed.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
soona has helped over 500 brands — from individual makers, to emerging DTC brands and Fortune 500 companies, create content with virtual photoshoots. Through soona, these companies have created more than 235,000 photos and 7,000 video clips, all delivered in 24 hours. By streamlining the creation process, we help companies of all sizes make custom content quickly, helping to level the playing field and ensuring a strong visual brand identity needed for success in the evolving digital space. We have heard from many businesses that creating new photos with soona helped them go from 2 followers to thousands. It’s the power of images!
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
The best thing you can do to prevent burn out is build a team around you that wants to succeed in the same ways you do. Very few people win alone and it’s so important that you have a network you can trust so you can take a break when you need it.
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?
My cofounder Hayley Anderson is my ride or die. We have been working together for more than 4 years now and she has always been my creative soul mate. We met on Halloween and immediately fell in love with one another’s costumes. Before we knew it, we were scheming on her working at my first business. I think loyalty goes a long way with both of us and we have always been very loyal to each other.
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?
Even before the pandemic, eCommerce businesses had to keep up with their customers’ need to see more content, highlighting every stage of the buying journey. When stay-at-home measures were put in place, there was a captive audience that brands could reach, and there were limited options for creating new content. Soona was the first ever company to help eCommerce businesses create new professional content from the comfort of their homes. We saw an influx of brands take advantage of soona’s virtual, contactless photo and video shoot options. They ship their products to us and sit-in on their virtual shoot through the soona platform. Brands receive their edited content in 24 hours and upload the new photos and videos to their store or social media with a click.
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?
It’s important for brands to invest in professional content, but we believe that shouldn’t cost a fortune. Emerging brands have to DIY a lot in the beginning to get their business off the ground, and I’ve seen first hand the difference that professional visual content makes. Soona works with brands that use Amazon as a selling platform and they need to stand out among the competition while also adhering to Amazon’s strict guidelines. We partnered with a bedding brand and in only three hours, were able to create both product images and lifestyle photos that show off the bedding, are representative of the brand, and help customers imagine the products in their own homes. Once the brand swapped these images in their Amazon store, they saw a 3000% increase in sales.
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?
With social media and a website serving as the first impression and an introduction to your brand, it’s important for new eCommerce businesses to have a strong visual identity when they are getting started. This was previously seen as a costly funding, but with soona, brands are able to build a library of professional photos and videos to authentically reflect the brand and its products, for a flat fee of 39 dollars per photo and 93 dollars per video. It’s a solution for brands to build out a robust content library, without needing the shell out thousands for a full production.
In your experience, which aspect of running an eCommerce brand tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
Everyone has access to a professional camera through their smartphone, but brands should not rely on that for the content that represents their brand. There is certainly a place for #ShotOniPhone, but it is the brands that present their customers with dynamic professional content that leave a lasting impression. Customers want to see clear visuals for every stage of their buying process. An unboxing, a how-to video, or a gif can answer a customer’s most common questions in seconds, but that is hard to create all of that without a full crew. These types of videos are not just a solution to answer FAQs, but also serve as compelling advertising assets. In a recent unboxing video we created for a customer, they shared that it was their best performing ad to-date with over 2x return on Facebook and a 40% lower cost per transaction compared to other videos.
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?
Soona’s proprietary software makes it easier than ever for brands to maintain the constant stream of photos and videos required to keep customers engaged. We’re on a mission to democratize content production, and we are leading the way with fast-casual content. Brands can conceptualize an idea for a shoot, ship their product to us, give live feedback during their shoot, and receive their edited content within 24 hours. The need for visual content is not going away anytime soon, and only soona helps emerging eCommerce brands compete with the big-budget, established brands.
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?
Facebook recently shared a study that ads with minor or subtle movement saw a 17% increase in conversions, which is a huge lift. Movement captures the attention of potential customers in a way that static images cannot. A couple of the simple ways that soona helps brands do this is by showing the product move between two positions or with a slow 360 spin to show the full view of an item.
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?
It’s vital for brands to humanize themselves in order to build trust with current and potential customers. Humans want information from other humans. They want to see themselves in a product, whether that means adding a hand or pet model to product images or showing behind the scenes videos. Customers also love to see a brand’s founders and staff on its feed. While it may seem scary, it’s an impactful way to establish a human connection and grow brand 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?
Content is one of the most powerful tools in responding to negative reviews. Customers want a clear and easy process from the moment they are first introduced to the brand, to if they need to return the product. We’ve seen eCommerce brands that have a video for everything, which helps eliminate any confusion that could lead to bad reviews. Additionally, when an eCommerce brand is working to strengthen that human connection through its visual content, their sincerity will come through when they are responding to customer complaints.
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.
Visual content continues to grow as one of the biggest aspects for any eCommerce business, from product flat lays to lifestyle photos, how-to videos and team headshots. There are many aspects within the visual identity that brands should consider when looking at their online storefront, social media, and other marketing materials.
1. It’s not just about product photos — use professional headshots for your team to stand out.
A photographic first impression matters. And your personal social media profile photo is no exception. It immediately shows who you are as an individual, and also reflects your brand. Because your employees are your number one ambassadors, get your team together for headshots to create a cohesive look across individual profiles. Earlier this year, soona launched Headshots for All to ensure that everyone can have a professional headshot, at no cost. What began as a way to help small businesses, freelancers, and those who were unemployed due to COVID-19, has now evolved to ensure everyone has a professional photo that shows off their personality. Since its inception a few months ago, soona has taken over 1,000 headshots.
2. Have a strong mix of photo and video to keep customers engaged
Another thing outside of product photos is a dynamic content mix of photo and video that gives customers a reason to continue browsing your page. A combination of photos, videos, and gifs, including a 360 view of your product, lifestyle images, and unboxing videos can help answer your customer FAQs in a flash, which builds trust and loyalty. Brands like Bloomscape and Made In Cookware do this well.
3. Consistency across all visual content
As your audience of potential customers scrolls through social media, you want them to be able to easily identify your brand. Create a brand mood board to develop the style guides for your images. Whether you’re bringing in soft light or sharp shadows, or playing with the variants of your brand color, there are ways to maintain a consistent brand look and feel without reproducing the same image over and over. We love the way Raw Generation has embraced this look with us at soona.
4. Step away from bland backgrounds
Many DTC brands rose to success with product photos shot on a plain, white background. It doesn’t help a brand stand out if their content looks the same as everyone else’s. If you want your audience to stop scrolling, work in pops of color. We’ve helped brands step away from the bland with a clean monochromatic color scheme, contrasting backdrops and props, or complementary shades of warm neutrals.
5. Show your brand IRL
Your current and potential customers want to see your products in action and will support your brand because of the people behind it. Bring in the human element through real models, a set of hands, or even a pet. Today’s customers want to connect with your brand in a personal way, so put yourself in front of the camera and show how you do things behind-the-scenes. It creates authenticity and builds customer loyalty.
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. 🙂
The number of women going into entrepreneurship is at historic highs. Women are starting businesses at a record pace in the United States, and brown and black women are the largest segment of entrepreneurs in our country. Despite this, women are under-banked by a ratio to 2 to 1 as compared to male run businesses. Venture investing in women took a dip in the first half of 2020 to below 3% of all funding deals. Women simply don’t have the same resources as men and instead of inventing new systems — the systems we have today must be forced to be made equal so we can play on the same field as male founders.
How can our readers further follow you online?
Visit soona.co to find out more about what we do and to book a shoot. You can follow along at @soonastudios on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!