What impact did the global lockdown due to the pandemic have on retail marketing and ecommerce? And how have agencies adapted since?

In the latest episode of Social Pulse Podcast: Agency Edition, Kristina Kleymenova and Myriam Kader discuss those answers and more about agency life. You can listen to the entire podcast below or read the transcript below.

Kristina is a creative producer who got her start on the set of the Netflix original “War Machine,” starring Brad Pitt, and led her to film a reality TV show for beauty mogul Huda Khattab. She then joined Huda Beauty to lead content production.

Myriam is a strategic marketing specialist with a decade of experience in the beauty and fashion industry. Working together at Huda Beauty, Kristina and Myriam helped the brand navigate the challenges of the pandemic, turning that challenging situation into an opportunity for growth. And [they] then did what all successful entrepreneurs do: They saw a need in the market for their skills and experience and launched their own agency together.

Creative Baboon’s Journey Into Retail Agency

Mike Allton: I’d love to start by just letting you introduce your agency and the kind of work that you’re doing today.

Kristina Kleymenova: Our agency name [is] Creative Baboon, a boutique content marketing agency. We focus on creating content with a strategy behind it. Essentially, we believe in content that looks good but also has a purpose behind it.

Our focus is specifically driving conversion and sales for our clients through content. We focus on online, mainly, and e-commerce platforms and, of course, social media. Oh, and I could add that we have a specialty in designing product pages, a content form product, and product detail pages for e-commerce.

Mike Allton: Now, before the pandemic started—as I suggested at the outset—you weren’t part of a marketing agency at all,but rather doing in-house marketing for a beauty startup, Huda Beauty.

What led you to start your agency?

Kristina Kleymenova: That’s correct. I think we were both on the same page in our life. We wanted a new challenge, or we were looking for a new challenge and being within the brand for so long. With a brand from a startup stage, I feel that’s where we thrive.

We thrive in the startup environment. And I think that the moment the brand was already growing and becoming almost a corporation. We wanted to take those learnings and go and help startups to build their businesses or to scale their businesses, and also—being on the client side for so long—I think we wanted to take that knowledge of being on the client side and understanding what client needs are.

We decided to challenge ourselves and try something new.

Myriam Kader: We also really wanted to focus on our creativity. We’re both very creative. And then when the startup grows and it becomes very corporate. Unfortunately, sometimes it has to be a lot of processes, a lot of people now, and it becomes very corporate. So it also reduces your creativity where you can take it.

So we also wanted to bring that back in the way we work and think outside of the box, bringing new trends. And that’s why we wanted to focus on content but with a strategy behind it that will target consumers.

Kristina Kleymenova: And I think we both enjoy being now on trend and following trends.

This is something of our strengths, and I think that resonates with startups mainly because you can do something disruptive when you don’t have a big corporate structure, or you don’t have a lot of approvals and things like that.

Myriam Kader: And things can go fast, like super-fast. This is the thing about trends … They can go super-quickly. So you have to adapt yourself, go think about an idea, shoot it, post it, and then let it grow and see how that type of content does online.

Kristina Kleymenova: I think we wanted to go back to that startup thinking and functioning way.

You just go with the trend way of you. Try different things. You still have room to fail and experiment and try different things.

Mike Allton: I was just listening to HubSpot’s podcast, Marketing Against the Grain, and they were interviewing Gary Vaynerchuk, and they were talking about that same concept where startups and creators can move faster, and they feel more free to test and fail, on social media in particular, then those larger corporations where your marketing now has to go through a PR department and a legal department and multiple chains of approvals.

And to the point where all the creative activity gets stripped out of those kinds of marketing initiatives, the ads, the social posts—there’s no creativity anymore because it’s got to follow a process and a procedure.

Myriam Kader: And even that, Mike, let’s say you have a brilliant idea. It’s very trendy, but we are in a really fast digital world where trends come every day. Bam, bam, bam. So you can have a good idea that day, but then it goes through a million processes, and it takes two weeks.

Then when you’re going to launch that campaign or post that video or that picture, it’s already like someone else did it, and someone went viral with it.

So, you have to cooperate like a startup, you have room to try and fail where corporate will think a lot of things through and you lower the risks. Where I feel when there are risks, there’s success all the time.

Mike Allton: I am genuinely impressed when I see a major corporation get in on a trend. So I’m like, “Wow, how did they manage to get that approved?” Because the trend is probably 24-48 hours old. That’s it. It might’ve started on a weekend and all of a sudden they’re doing an ice bucket challenge or something like that.

When you transitioned from Huda Beauty into your agency, was that a quick decision?

Mike Allton: You just decided, “Hey, we’re going to give her notice that we’re going to start the agency,” or was it more of a gradual thing?

Because I’ve seen [with] both a lot of agencies, they’re in a corporate job. They’ll start their agency on the side, and they’ll transition to full-time in the agency when they’ve got enough clientele.

Kristina Kleymenova: I think it was more of a gradual for us.

I think we were ready to leave and try something else. We weren’t sure what it would be. Originally we thought we would freelance for now. And then we were like, “Oh, wait,” but we complete each other in the package that we offer because I come from the content side, and Myriam comes from the more strategic marketing side.

And this is what we feel clients look for now. They don’t just want one service. It’s, in many ways, packaged. And right now, I think it’s hard to sell just production parts or just content parts without having a strategy behind it or without having a goal of purpose and marketing purpose of what you’re going to do with this content.

We saw this very often in our previous company. We would shoot a lot of content, a lot of great content, but there was no return on investment in many ways. And also a lot of the content never saw the light of the day.

So, we took those learnings to combine our different specialties and try to package with this Creative Baboon.

Myriam Kader: And we liked, as well, having something and seeing it grow and thrive. So we missed that as well.

So that’s why we focus on smaller clients right now. We want to see and help someone who doesn’t know. We had the chance to launch multiple companies within the PwT umbrella. So we love when we do something with a client, and the client is like, “Oh, wow, I didn’t know we can do this, this, [or] this,” because they’ve never done it before.

They’re also [a] first-time founder, first-time CEO. You learn as well from other people and help each other. And this is what we wanted to help out.

Kristina Kleymenova: To summarize, the decision came organically when we both realized that we’re both planning to leave, and we’re both planning to move to the kind of new challenge or new adventure in our life.

And that’s when …

Myriam Kader: We both gave our notice, and we just launched Creative Baboon. A couple months later, we took time to prep the branding and everything, open the license, and all the paperwork.

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Dealing with Disappointment: When Your Content Doesn’t Get Out There 

Mike Allton: One of the things that you mentioned—you just touched on this—but it’s such an important point. I want to underline it.

You talked about how frustrating and disappointing it is when you’ve worked on content and it doesn’t see the light of day. And I want agencies who are listening to (or reading) this to be mindful of that truth. It can be incredibly disheartening and demotivating for yourself and your team if you’re working on projects and they’re not coming to fruition.

This is honestly why I got into marketing. I started my career in this industry, so to speak, building websites for clients.

It took me a couple of years to realize just how frustrating it was for me to build a super-powerful website for a client only to see them not use it and not take advantage of everything that I did for them. And looking back, I should have moved and pivoted much, much sooner. I would have saved myself years of frustration.

I want you to be thinking about that and be wondering, “Are we working for the right clients? Are we positioning our agency the right way? Are we doing the work that makes us passionate and happy, and sees results for our clients?”

Because that’s the other problem, too. If your clients aren’t taking advantage of the creative work that you’re doing, that means that they’re not seeing success, and you can’t talk about their successes and use that to lead to other projects and other clients.

Planning That Creativity

Myriam Kader: I think that’s why it’s really important to have a strategy behind everything you do.

Let’s say—per day or type of content or anything—think, “Why am I doing this? What’s my key message? What’s my target audience? Why am I launching this product? For who? What problem am I solving?”

And then based on that, you can create content. And then when you look at the content, you’re like, “Yeah, this sticks.” Then you have a purpose to post it.

When companies think backward, they think, “Well, social media is mandatory now.” So we have to just flood our page with content, and sometimes the content doesn’t make sense. It’s just there. And then they’re like, “Let’s just use influencers and send them products and they just use it.” And then we repost and there’s no creativity behind it.

There are no goals. There’s no purpose. There’s no strategy. You’re not helping anybody or resolving anyone’s problem.

Marketing is all about helping someone’s problem with the product you have.

That’s how we market our product. You can create the best thing ever, but if you don’t market it right, it can still be the best thing ever no one is going to buy it. So you have to make it, you have to create a problem’s solution.

Mike Allton: Like Simon Sinek always says, start with why

Now we’ve talked about a couple of the lessons that you took from that retail experience.

What are some of the other lessons that you took?

Whether that’s just from simply being in that retail environment or doing the whole shift into online marketing that they had to do post-pandemic?

Myriam Kader: I think what we’ve learned the most—and I can speak about that because I was within the whole marketing strategy team—is when we shifted to focus on online, we gained a lot of information that we couldn’t have when we were only focusing on in-store and retail.

Online, you get so much more data. We didn’t think how important data was before we focused on online analytics, understanding consumer behavior, and measuring the effectiveness of your campaigns. It’s so much easier to understand something you post on your website or your social media than having a billboard on a random street in a random country where you just can’t target it versus what you can do online.

So you can target advertising and ads and anything you can target anything online.

With Google ads or Facebook ads, there are so many tools you can use when you’re spending money on a video or an image. And you target it. So the ROI will be so much better than having prints or billboards or TV where it’s more mass targets. You won’t understand who your consumer is, or you also help profiling customers. You can have a post where you can understand the people that commenting, liking, and sharing are maybe mainly women between 20 and 30, they like these colors, or this type of clothes, or this type of product.

You get free data from everything you do and that you learn so you can target better your next campaign. You can create better content.

We also learned that content works and content is key. It’s not only about sales, and it’s not only about, like, “Oh, it’s 15 percent off, or you can get this free with it.”

People like content. People like seeing people using the products, and understanding what people like. It’s all about recognizing yourself and seeing yourself in that type of content.

Kristina Kleymenova: I think, on the content side, that’s a big lesson for us, that as you tell, content for retail and in stores is.

It’s so much more different than content for a product page online. You really cannot convince online consumers with just pretty images or a good TVC anymore.

I think consumers also evolved and became much more smart and selective in what they buy. So you have to be way more convincing.

This is where our content moves towards more educational, before and after benefits, the key claims, and the comparison to competitors.

And also I think social as well … It has to be much more organic, and this was a challenge going someone coming from background in film and TV switching to having that social feel and almost as if it wasn’t done on purpose. I think, for me, that was quite a big challenge to wrap my head around: How I do creative ideas for that and how I shoot this type of things?

Mike Allton: You’re just burning that money. And I appreciate the point you made about shifting the focus of the kind of content that you’re creating. I was at an e-commerce event earlier this year in Miami, the EEE event, and they talked a lot about that. They had a beauty brand on stage talking about how almost 100 percent of their content is educational.

Working With Clients and Applying What You Learn Along the Way

A lot of it is UGC, but they’re teaching women how to apply the makeup or whatever it was that they were doing and, of course, using that to power sales.

How have you applied some of these lessons and principles to your own agency and to your clients today?

Myriam Kader: Again, I would say when we meet the clients, we really want to try to explain why these things are so important. Because I feel people don’t really still understand the importance of—to the point you mentioned, Mike—educational content, for example, and they’re still focusing on PR. But the PR doesn’t really bring you sales.

You need to focus on your customer. And then if you get PR out of it, it’s great. People launch content, create content, launch campaigns to get some PR like buzz, or go viral, but for not the right reason.

Educational content is key. So strategy and education, we have to incorporate it everywhere, no matter what you’re selling.

If you’re selling a bottle of water, you need to explain where this water is coming from. Is it for what benefit? Is it good for your skin? You really understand that people are more needy in terms of information.

Myriam Kader: 80% of our purchases are made on phones. And we spend all day long on our phones no matter what we’re doing.

If we’re on a commute, or if we are on a call with someone, we’re still messaging someone else. I feel technology and the fast digital word nowadays, people have access to so much information. So if it’s not your brand, there will be someone else who does it better. So might as well invest in maybe more, I would say, boring content.

That would say, but it is just informative and very educational. So you can have a call-to-action to like people to add to cart on by. It’s also creating loyalty and people are trusting your product because you gave them the full list. Like especially in makeup, Mike, people want to know what they’re putting on their face or on their lips and ingredients. Just having an ingredient list also puts people at ease.

They’re like, OK, I know what I’m putting on my face, you know? So strategy, definitely educational content. And I will say creativity because content now is everywhere. It’s overloaded from like people from all around the world. You have TikTok, you have Instagram, you have LinkedIn content. And so you have to be creative and think outside of the box.

A lot of beautiful, beautiful, brilliant minds created some of the most beautiful trends. It’s not corporattions, it’s people. So get yourself some amazing creative people on your team, and work with like people from all around the world. So you get trends from all around the world and yeah, creative, think outside of the box.

High-quality content doesn’t mean more money. It means just a well-thought type of content with a goal, again, helping someone’s problem, fixing it. And yeah, I think those are the key things we like to incorporate in no matter what we do for a client, we want to do it for a reason.

Mike Allton: That establishment of trust is huge. And to your point, yeah, building a great archive and library of educational content, bringing in influencers and people that your audience can relate to. It’s going to go a long way towards establishing trust.

Kristina Kleymenova: It will become a requirement very soon to understand how to use AI and how to write prompts. And I think it will push us even more from retail into e-commerce, especially with virtual reality. So you can enhance even more the experience of the product, hence I think more people will trust buying online.

In terms of AI, of course, I think it’s super-useful, at least for us, in terms of automation and manipulation, for many tasks that it takes a lot of time, analyzing the big volume of data or targeting correct consumer when you do paid advertising, insights of your consumer.

I think those things will be super-helpful. I don’t think it will necessarily replace people, but it just will help agencies to focus more on strategy and creative work, and let the AI kind of more run those more boring tasks, I would say.

Myriam Kader: Even in the content creation, I feel, will open doors to creativity and, yeah, I feel like it will bring amazing, new talents and a new type of industry, new jobs for people to be more creative.

And I feel technology when it’s done well and thought well, it always brings something positive. I mean, I remember when I was a student and we used PowerPoint for the first time, and it’s just an app but it just saved so much time, on creating like the basic stuff for

Kristina Kleymenova: Chat GPT obviously is already a part of everything you do. We use Midjourney for creating some creative stuff, but it’s going to help with those routine tasks. I think it will open more space for creativity and strategy of focusing on those.

Mike Allton: I think that’s exactly right. Paul Roetzer of the Marketing AI Institute has said repeatedly—and I think correctly—AI is not going to replace marketers.

Marketers who know AI are going to replace marketers who don’t know how to use AI. It’s a very important distinction there that I’m stressing more and more to folks that are listening to me and following me online, start learning AI today.

Start exploring how you can incorporate AI into your work, how you can use it to benefit your clients, how you can do it in a way that’s ethically strong, which is a bit of a gray area today.

So that’s something we just need to be constantly thinking about.

Measuring Social Media ROI

How are you currently measuring success on social media for your clients?

It’s a common problem that we find with both social media marketers and agencies overall that it almost goes back to the days of the billboard where we’re just pushing posts out on social media. We don’t really know if it’s having the impact on the business.

How are you measuring that?

Myriam Kader: You can do so much by posting on social media so much. Honestly, let’s say I post a video. I can focus on key performance indicators. We call them KPIs, right?

So let’s say we want to focus on engagement. You check the likes, the comments, the shares. How many people reposted? How many people are commenting? Is it good commenting or is it a bad comment?

You post something, and without people liking and commenting, you still know how many people viewed this, how many people viewed this, how many times, these types of information, what type of content you get, etc. You get so much from it and then you can use this to just understand your consumer profile better and then just perfect your next campaign.

Also, we can track follower growth, and let’s say I post a video and I see because of this video, thanks to this video, I got so much more followers. Then you can just focus on this type of content of this growing your followers is your goal.

It really all depends about your goal, right? And that’s basically social media, right? But you also can understand what social media brings to your website, to your ecommerce.

So if you do things well, you can understand your website traffic by checking how much traffic is driven from your social media channels.

Let’s say I post a story, restock of a product with a link to it. You can literally know how many people clicked on this link and then when they go through the website, the conversion rate, how many people from this link that clicked on this link did buy the product or added it to cart, or I don’t know, save their credit cards for later or anything like that.

You get so much data, and then it’s your job to take all that data, analyze it, and make sure what you’re doing is targeting the right behavior, like consumer behaviors, targeting the right profile that you’re looking for.

And then, based on that, you can collect all that data and then check your sales and revenues and link it all to social media activities directly.

Kristina Kleymenova: And I think, to add to Myriam’s point, before we saw clients being more interested in conversion to direct sales, and that was for them the biggest indicator of success of content. Obviously, it’s brought sales, but I feel like now there are also a lot of brands that care about community and engagement.

We see a lot of founders for whom it’s as much important as the sales … And I think now, because again, of the consumers being more picky, they want to know more and they want to know what’s the values of the brands or what’s the values of the founders. They actually want to grow community and brand and engagement.

Myriam Kader: They love understanding feedback.

So, for example, I’m a founder. I created this beautiful product. I sold it six months later using social media. I can create a poll or a survey link on my personal stories as a founder like, “Hey guys, I saw you really like this product. I would love to get feedback to make this product better for you to reformulate it.” And people actually are so involved in this that they will and take the survey and share feedback.

And this is what we did back at Huda Beauty. We had a product that did well, but we changed the formula and made it more comfortable and more hydrating for the lips—thanks to the people who bought it, and thanks to the community.

It’s all only positive if you take the time to listen to your clients and the community.

Mike Allton: You’re 100 percent right. We’re seeing this entire shift in the industry into brand marketing, brand awareness, because we have Google eliminating potentially search with their AI overview, answers that are driving less organic search traffic. We have iOS removing tracking. So we can’t target iOS users who are using our apps.

We have cookies going away. So increasingly harder to do any kind of actual tracking and attribution. But one follow-up question. Mariam, you talked about putting tracking link links in posts. I’m just curious, are you using UTM parameters? Are you using in particular tools? How are you tracking individual posts traffic from social media to someone’s website?

Myriam Kader: So for example, if I have a website, I’ll work with a specific developer team or the dev part, and they will have the data. A social media story with the link got you a hundred clicks, a hundred traffic, people coming to the website or the Google ad you put it, this got you this much.

So, you need a good team, [with a] dev team that understands a good website, [put a ] good lot of work to it. Don’t just do a website that looks pretty and has all this data that you cannot use. No matter what, try to have a tech team, an IT team in the back, working back end to collect data.

Data is super-easy. You just have to have someone to understand it and collect it, then you can analyze it.

Mike Allton: You have to have that platform in place, a strong website, a strong e-commerce function in this example and Google Analytics or some other strong analytics platform in place integrated so that you can see what’s happening.

Now, you’ve shared some fantastic tips, I think, on how to manage clients, how to build a great agency, how to have that strategy, and how to have the why in mind.

Let’s flip the perspective a little bit and talk about the client’s point of view.

What should clients not do? What would get one of your clients fired as a client?

Kristina Kleymenova: I have two things:

  1. Lack of trust. I think that’s important:  having the trust with the client. We listen, they listen to us, we listen to them. Trusting us in the process of what’s our recommendation and what we feel is best for them.
  2. When they don’t believe in their product. I think for us, it’s very hard to work with founders or with clients who don’t care or don’t believe in what they’re selling. And I think that’s really important. It’s very difficult for us then also to come on board and sell it because if the client is not excited or not believing in it or doesn’t care.

Myriam Kader: That’s why we like most is working with founders because they are passionate, they’re visionary. They have specific goals on why they created this. We get motivated by creators that created something that believe in ,what they created ,and not creating a product because they have to do it because the other brands did it or the other competitors did it.

For me, as a marketer, if you don’t believe in your brand, my work ethic is that I will finish the project but maybe not work with them further. But, for sure, I think believing in what you’re doing is the most important thing.

Being authentic to what you’re creating and why you’re creating it is amazing.

Mike Allton: That’s terrific advice.

What these ladies have demonstrated is that they know who they want to work with. They’ve actually taken time to think this through and articulate it in some way so that it’s much easier for them to identify whether this client or that client is someone that they want to continue to work with.

A lot of the times, I know it’s easy to say yes when times are rough, and you want that paycheck, and you don’t necessarily want to work with them, and that’s fine. You can take those jobs, but always be looking to level up the clients you’re working with so you’re happy. Because if you’re happy, the clients are going to be happy.

Watching Gen Z

What’s happening today, whether it’s podcasts, bloggers, influencers, channels, books—where do you go?

Kristina Kleymenova: I think Gen Z are driving all the trends for right now. Obviously, TikTok (because that’s their platform, that’s where they are), so we try quite a bit of TikTok. I think Gen Z—everyone around us, sisters, brothers, cousins, students, how many people, interns—it’s just natural to them.

They just know what’s the next thing.

Myriam Kader: I think we’re looking at LinkedIn right now, and it’s really doing great, and the people are pushing content, and it’s really great advice. And not only business-related, it can be anything.

I do love to go on Google and just read random blogs about problems from people and then the way they solved it and it brings new perspectives as well. I think that’s a lot of research, as well, and understanding why it’s trending. It’s important as well.

Mike Allton: Well, first huge shout out to Gen Z. That’s awesome. Thanks for sharing that. And you’re 100 percent right.

I had TikTok on our other show, the MarTech show just recently. And we were talking about how the demographic today for TikTok spans all generations, all geographies. Obviously, it wasn’t the case initially. It was very much driven by Gen Z, but they were able to influence older audiences and more diverse audiences. And now you can reach anybody you want on that platform.

So very appropriate. For folks who want to learn more about you, or who want to follow you and find out how they can work with you, where should they go?

Kristina Kleymenova: I think we post the most about our journey on LinkedIn. Unfortunately, they’re not Gen Z anymore, but we try to keep up with them.

Myriam Kader: We do work a lot with Gen Z. They bring a lot to the table in terms of creativity and new things. And they are the future, as well.

Don’t underestimate Gen Z, guys.

Hope you’ve enjoyed today’s episode of the Social Pulse Podcast: Agency Edition. Don’t forget to find us on Apple and leave us a review. We’d love to know what you think. Until next time.

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