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John Roman, CMO at Battlbox

Understanding content marketing: Netflix, cheat codes, and over-saturation

This episode features John Roman, CMO of BattlBox and Carnivore Club, and founder of OnlineQueso.com. We dive into how BattlBox got its own Netflix show, Southern Survival. We also talk about how to cut through a saturated market to get your content in front of the right people at the right time, and whether or not there are content marketing cheat codes.

Connect with John on LinkedIn or Twitter. Check out BattlBox, Carnivore Club, and Online Queso. Watch Southern Survival on Netflix.

Episode transcript

John: Hey, thanks for having me, Chase.

Chase: So I think there's a bit of an elephant in the room, may not even be in the room anymore, but you guys got a Netflix show. So we need to start with that as we talk about content marketing and we dig into all the fun things that surround that. So give us a little bit of history, maybe on BattlBox and how you got this Netflix show Southern Survival.

John: Sure. So yeah, so that is something that I wish we knew the way to replicate that, but I don't think it's that easy. So a little bit about BattlBox. Monthly subscription, outdoor survival gear. So we started February, 2015, about two and a half years ago, a production studio, which I think we can say who they are now since the show's out, High Noon Production. So Cake Boss, Fixer Upper. They have a few feathers in their cap. They had reached out to Brandon Currin. So Currin or Currin1776, he's kind of the face of our brand. Had reached out to him and they had seen his content. He had done some YouTubing and had been in some shows, nothing major prior, kind of as himself. Like, I think like a hunting show and things along those lines and the guy's super great personality, great in front of the camera and they reached out to him and they're like, "Hey, we've seen you on film. We'd like to kind of shoot a.." Think the Hollywood term is sizzle reel. It's a thing that comes before a pilot.

Chase: That like two and a half, three minute thing that kind of hypes it up.

John: Yeah, it was longer than that. I want to say it was almost like... To the uneducated, to the industry like myself, it just seemed like a pilot to me. But they had filmed that and they filmed it over about the course of a week and then it was shocked. And there was a major network that was looking at it. They sat on it for six months, eventually he said, "Nope." And then there was another one that was interested. They sat on it for six months and then it was eventually pitched to Netflix.

Netflix doesn't say, "Oh, we're going to do a pilot." Netflix is Netflix. So they said, "Yeah, we'll do a season. Sure." And you know, within a few months of ironing out the details, they came down to our portal location or BattlBox ranch as we refer to it as, and filmed there for six months and then we waited for six, seven months and then we had a show. That doesn't really help explain much to it, but it's not anything we had done before. So it was definitely new terrain for everyone on our side.

Chase: Was it meant to be kind of a lead generation tool or was it meant to be just this kind of like, "Hey, we think this is cool and fun. Let's toss it out here and see what happens."?

John: So it's a good question. So, we're a business first, right? We're not... Even though Netflix might refer to my business partner, Daniel and Currin and the other guys on the show as talent, we're not actors. We're not talent. We're 100% a business first. So the whole concept, the idea of it, was purely lead generation, right. It puts the BattlBox brand...

Chase: On Netflix.

John: Yeah. Exactly. But how do you buy that? Please let me know how much that costs to do that. So it was 100% the entire time lead gen brand awareness, how do we get it out there.

I think the whole reason we were so bold on the idea was that the pitch to us of what the show was, which is what the show is, to us that was like, "Wow, this is great. This showcases what we do, our process for deciding what goes in the box.” And the whole show is about that. So how could this not pan out well for us?

Chase: It takes you behind the scenes and shows you everything that you guys want to talk about in a marketing campaign, it does for you in like a perfectly well-written and well-composed Netflix show.

John: By professionals, not us. So, yeah. So it was a hundred percent lead gen eyeballs. I mean, that's what it's... We're only a little over a month in since it dropped and that's exactly what it did.

Chase: So can you dig into that a bit more or are you allowed to share some of these measurable outcomes? What kind of numbers have you seen?

John: Sure. So, typically, leading up to the show, average month we were seeing about 150,000 sessions on our website, our main site Battlbox.com. And last month we had, I think, 1.2 million sessions.

Chase: That's a little increase. [laughs]

John: Yeah, it's a pretty exponential increase, traffic-wise. Quick math is that seven eight X. Think that's right. But it's not our highly targeted normal traffic that comes in, right? This traffic does not behave the same way. This traffic doesn't flow through our conversion path like a normal visitor. They don't convert even close to the same rate that normal visitors do. But we expected that, right?

Chase: Right.

John: They're not going to. It's not possible that our pond that we're fishing isn't that large.

Chase: Right. So you're leading in all the questions. Sorry, go ahead.

John: And Netflix is dumping an ocean into our little pond.

Chase: Right. So you're leading in all the questions that I want to ask and you're getting ahead of me, but how do you mitigate for that?

So the goal of content marketing is we take kind of a step backwards is to drive people to your site, obviously, in multiple different ways, but get people to your site who are potentially interested, put them down the funnel, convert them into actually paying customers.

So if you are dumping this giant ocean into a little tiny pond, what does that do to your numbers? What does that do to your stats? How is that something that you track?

John: So, it's a great question. And it's something we had to come up with the game plan and the process for, with literally no idea of what that traffic was going to be and the size of it and how it was going to convert and how much product do we build?

Back to the content piece and the marketing side, how are we going to treat this traffic? Do we put it through the normal gambit, the normal flow? And we didn't know the answer to any of that. So we had to kind of come up with keeping existing process and procedures in and then add a few more because the crappy part is there's no case study. There's no favor you can pull to be connected with someone that's done this before.

John: The closest things we could find, okay, some people are on shark tank, right? And they see during that one airing that huge increase, right? And then you have the other side of it, where it's the Duck Dynasties of the world, where they had a TV show, but it was on traditional TV.

Chase: Right.

John: So you'd see that episode, then you have to wait a week and you see the episode. So the climb is like not even comparable at all. And that was the interesting part. It was that there was no point of reference to how to build this. So, that's the interesting thing. There's no point of reference. You can't plan for this because you have... The only comparables are oranges to your apple. And we're pushing on the production company to say, "Hey, you've had kind of similar things that weren't on streaming, like Cake Boss, like Fixer Upper. What do you expect?"

And, nothing against them, nothing against anybody that was giving us information, but they were all wrong. They were all vastly wrong. The only people that got it even close to right was us. And we were throwing darts. And we've played darts before, right, but you're never going to see us on ESPN.

Chase: Right.

John: So we were fortunate. We were pretty close with our estimates and all this stuff we built up performed kind of how we wanted it to, from email capture, from all the campaigns taking a little bit of a different approach.

We've never been super transactional in our flow, but we had to make sure that we didn't... We stayed to kind of what brought us to this point and making... I mean, there's always the argument like, "Is this content for lead gen or is this just fun and exciting content?" What do you do? We've always been both. So I had to make sure we kind of stayed both. And there's stuff that we have to put, because we are a business, in between all of that, but we just had to kind of stay true to what we were doing.

Chase: So that's kind of leading into my next question again. What is the content marketing strategy at BattlBox? And you said it's kind of fun, it's kind of educational putting those things together and hopefully getting people interested in the product. Is it as simple as that? Or is there any more you can offer there?

John: No, at a high level, it is as simple as that. So BattlBox is very unique. And I wish I could say all of our brands were like this, but it's the only one that is. I'll come back to Carnivore Club in a second because it's a much different animal and it's probably a more traditional challenges when it comes to content.

But on the BattlBox side, you got to think the origin of BattlBox. So Currin1776, or Brandon, as we call him, Brandon started off the first year of BattlBox. He was a paying pro plusser, highest tier customer. He'd get the box, he'd do a review on YouTube and he had this awesome personality and excitement and having fun and saying, "Yeehaw," a lot, while also explaining the practical use of an item and why it was beneficial. So it was this interesting approach.

And we used to have a pre-checkout questionnaire. You know, "How'd you hear about us?" And we had the traditional Facebook, Google, Twitter, magazine ad, et cetera. We had an other and we saw people were clicking other and writing in Currin. And that quickly led to the realization that he needed to join our team. The way he was delivering that needed to be... We needed to wrap the brand around that.

And so he came on full time. He joined us and we kept that feel of being both fun and exciting, and you're actually indirectly selling. So it was an interesting approach. And don't get me wrong. We still write content pieces and we have regular posts on our social that are more social proof reviews and actual testimonials and stuff like that.

And that stuff's not as exciting and it performs exponentially less than Currin blowing something up, testing a DemerBox to see if it can survive shooting it while it's filled with Tannerite. So that's the thing, there's just not a way for most brands to do that. And so you work at Carnivore Club, which is another one of our brands. It's monthly artisanal meats so basically charcuterie. It's a challenge for that brand. How do we do the fun and comic relief and laughing, jolly approach that we take and also market the product? It's really, really difficult.

And we're constantly trying something else and killing something and trying something else. “Okay, we're going to go with meat memes and memes of meat. Is that going to work?” We've done a lot of just writing about charcuterie as a whole, finding that place of the balance of both because that's the reason. If you can pull both off, I think that's a secret sauce. But the ingredients of that secret sauce aren't identical. There's not an ingredient list there that works for everyone. So you just have to keep trying and finding that right balance. And I think some brands... Like, there's a strong possibility Carnivore Club just doesn't have that. Not all brands do.

Chase: Right.

John: We were beyond fortunate and nothing short of lucky that we found BattlBox's place in both so early in its inception.

Chase: Because every product is obviously different. So there's no common secret sauce, like you said, between, like an action adventure box versus food versus a SaaS product or versus clothing or anything like that. It's all tone and voice. It's all just playing with different things that may work.

John: Yeah. Exactly.

Chase:You guys A/B test really well, which is one of the coolest things that I've seen from your site from just our past conversations. But is there something to be said also for that, where maybe bringing Brandon on short term and experimenting with him on staff, as opening these boxes, and maybe it's less authentic with him actually on staff compared to when he was doing them on his own? And maybe quickly pivoting and doing written content and doing fun stuff on social. Is there a kind of commonality there or it's just try everything and see what works?

John: So you're right. So we A/B multivariate test everything. We are always trying to find how can we get these little improvements? And the same is true with the video content that Currin does. You can almost like jump on our Facebook and go through the timeline and see all these things we test.

Currently, one of the things, we do a Currin pick of the week and every Wednesday, he goes on Facebook live and he's highlighting a specific product. But also that's a part of, but it's also, hey, let's connect with the viewers. Let's talk to them. Let's get to know them. Let's answer their questions. They might have questions about the show and just really connect with our community. So that's something we're currently testing.

We've done testing where we've... Currin's done videos where he's testing specific products. Prior to that, we used to do videos where we were teasing items that were in a feature box. Yeah. It's not... You're testing everything and you're a hundred percent. We're testing video content, just like we test written content, just like we test variations on the site to see what converts better. It's literally the same exact approach. We're just trying to find stuff that works and resonates with the community.

Chase: So everybody should try to find a Netflix show and A/B test that for a little bit. Got it. Okay. Great advice. [laughs]

John: [laughs] That’s one thing we did not test. We shot or shot and we hope that it resonated.

Chase: So, let's say it doesn't and with A/B testing, you're bound to fail quite frequently about a lot of things. Not everything is going to convert. Not everything's going to work really well. What do you do if things are failing? Is it as simple as just saying, "Okay, that didn't work. Let's move on." Or is there an optimization process? What do you guys do?

John: So obviously with the Netflix thing, there's no testing. If it fails it's not like we're going to get another show or another shot.

Chase: You just don't get season two.

John: We don't get season two. It was still a victory. The traffic and how that traffic behaves over the next few months will be... Even if it performs poorly, it will still be a victory. But yeah, so sometimes the process is if someone on our side is feeling passionate about something and they think that there's a fix or there's a solution, or we should keep tweaking to try to get something to the finish line and make it successful, we'll keep going.

We'll keep making tweaks, we'll keep testing, we'll keep going with it. As soon as everyone involved, there's the obvious, like loss of interest in this one, then it's time to take it out back and move on. It's not a good use of time at that point.

Chase: Right. That makes sense.

John: As long as there's still passion and you can sense the passion in something, in a project that we are testing and moving through and making changes and testing again. As long as there's some passion there, we keep going. The moment there's like... We got a jump on the call and talk about X again. As soon as someone has something better to do and can't make the call, that's your indicator like, "Okay, this isn't good."

Chase: So the really interesting thing that I just picked up that you didn't say was money. So you're obviously putting money behind every campaign that you're doing, and it costs money to make all this content, whether it's Netflix or just writing a simple blog post.

But it's interesting that you said that we keep going as long as there's passion. Is that just a BattlBox culture thing that everybody just wants to keep doing more and you'll just test everything and try everything?

John: So I didn't say money, but, I mean, we don't burn money, right? When it comes to the spending of the company funds, we're probably a little bit overly conservative, which sounds like the exact opposite of what I described.

So the vast majority of the things we're doing, there's not at least relatively speaking, there's not huge costs associated with them. When it comes to video content, we already have all the equipment. Now, there's the time aspect. But we have a team that their job is editing and shooting.

And so all of the vast majority of the costs to do the dance is already realized. Now, when it comes to advertising and stuff along those lines, yeah, there's costs and we're pretty nimble and very, very conservative when it comes to that. So costs are always taken into consideration. And when we're not seeing a return on investment, that's when something gets cut. And even if there's passion, if it's not profitable, we are not doing it for long.

Chase: Makes perfect sense. So let's kind of transition to this. How to beat a saturated market? It's not really a secret that content is everywhere and probably too much content everywhere. How do you cut through it all? Maybe outside of a Netflix show because that seems like a little bit of a cheat code, but how do you cut through all of this content that's out there?

How do you get your content in front of people? And hopefully your answer isn't just throw more and more money behind Google ads and Facebook ads. Like how do you write valuable content that people actually want to consume?

John: I think that the content is just like everything else. Spending money on ads is foolish. It's got to be unique. And that is so, so, so challenging in the day and age of 2020 because there's so much content.

It's ridiculous how much there is. There's so much content. You find a topic or something you want to hear about, like there's too much to even grasp. You have to hope that this is going to actually be some value ad.

So you've just got to be extremely unique, which honestly, is a cheat code to say, because that's far from a recipe. It's not a recipe. You have to be able to, A, come up with the idea, but more importantly, execute it to the point of it actually being what the idea was and sometimes it's not. So there's not like a golden ticket. It's got to be just unique content.

Chase: So last question here, rounding it out. Something I'm going to ask every guest. What do you subscribe to in the physical subscription world?

John: So what do I subscribe to? Personally, not much, which is crazy, like I'm not eating my own dog food at all. I guess this last month for my wife's birthday, I got her a FabFitFun subscription. Other than that, some of the traditional ones like Spotify and Netflix and Hulu, but yeah, not a lot.

Chase: Those are always interesting to bring up. Subscriptions are something that's not new to everybody, but everybody's got a Netflix account or Spotify account or those kinds of things. So just changing that mindset to go from that digital to a physical subscription model and it gets what a lot of those e-commerce merchants are missing.

John: I'll tell you what I need to resubscribe to, my gym membership.

Chase: There you go.

John: Those are so tough to get out of by the way.

Chase: Yep. Tough to get out of it and then once you're out of them, all you want to do is get back into them.

John: Yeah. Maddening.

Chase: Well, John, thank you so much for taking time out of your day. Appreciate you joining.

John: Yeah. Thanks for having me, Chase.

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