Like some of his peers, Seiya Vogt first earned his marketing stripes by working for various startups, putting in his time in dynamic roles all across the marketing funnel. These days, though he’s higher up the ladder, Boxed’s VP of Growth still holds his early days near and dear as he helps his team use data and technology to pave the way in their emerging industry. Read about his thoughts about what makes Boxed a standout player, how he practices customer centricity, and how he structures his team in our latest Powwow.
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Share your background with us. What’s driven you in the past?
“I started my career out in Tokyo. I’m originally from New York, but I worked for a company called Gengo. I joined as the seventh employee, the first marketing hire. And that really sparked my interest in the startup scene, really trying to think about how different companies or industries are changing and how these smaller companies are starting up, conquering a space that needs a little bit of innovation. From there, I moved to General Assembly, which provides substantial tech education, marketing and developing classes, things like that.
Eventually, I moved over to Bitly where I ran the demand generation funnel for their famous link management tool, before going to Exeter AI, and finally, landing at my current position at Boxed, where I run all of the growth marketing. So that’s acquisition, retention, lifecycle, CRM as well as our onsite monetization, and vendor partnerships.”
And what specifically interested you about Boxed?
“Let’s start with what Boxed is: Boxed is the easiest way to buy your household essentials online. There’s no membership fee. We offer free shipping, no Prime membership fees, none of that type of stuff.
The interesting thing about Boxed is that the really early days of the company were out of our founder’s garage and that the other founders are mobile-first type of guys. Boxed started with the app. And I think at that time, this was about five, six years ago, Costco or Sam’s Club were these wholesale club companies that didn’t really have a website, let alone an app where you could go in and order your daily essentials in one go.
So I think the ability to enter into a market where there weren’t direct competitors was a unique challenge. Of course, Amazon and Costco were around, but there wasn’t that mentality of allowing for a very easy online experience. And that very simple idea expanded to where we are today.”
And now that Amazon and Costco have evolved their strategy, where does Boxed fall?
“Our main core business is delivering wholesale size bulk goods straight to your door. When you order from Amazon and search for toilet paper, you’ll see 50 choices. We curated our selection to give you five or six best options including our own private label brand. So it’s more of that ease of use, I think, that drives people to come back and keep using us.”
In these short five years, you’ve created a company that not only redefines wholesale and includes two-day shipping, but you’ve also developed your own brand. What’s in store for 2019?
“Without divulging our entire strategy, if you think about the number of people who purchase fresh online groceries, that’s a lot of people, and we’re only in five different states. If we expand to other markets, we could cause a pretty huge explosion. Expanding into these areas will be massive for us. Only about 10%, 15% of people in the U.S. order their groceries online and we know that we can help expand the resources. And of course, that strengthens our position with other players in the space. But the idea at Boxed is that you can stock up for your house and save because you’re buying these wholesale items in one location, from wherever you are. In that sense, we’re one of the only players online where you can get your entire basket in one place. “
What’s your strategy for reaching all your potential customers? What advertising attribution models are you using?
“No company has totally figured out the multi-touch attribution. We all talk about it, but no one has quite nailed it. What we try to do is set up all of our data internally. So, if you visit our site, we track session data just like any other company would. And we can incorporate that based on our channel mix. So we’re advertising on Facebook or Google, tracking basic YouTube parameters but we’re also tracking whether or not an ad that you saw or the ad that you clicked on resulted in an order at the end of the day, regardless of what session it happened in.
So if I visit through a Google ad on day one and then view a Facebook ad on day two and then convert to a customer on day five by coming directly to boxed.com, we would track all of those different sessions and decide whether or not we should give a certain channel a little bit more attention than another.
A view on Facebook, for instance, warrants less credit than a click on a Google ad. We report both first touch and last touch, but we’re also trying to understand what the overlap is of our other channels, because the last thing you wanna do is overspend on Facebook, when those customers were going to return to you anyway. It’s a delicate balance of all those different things that combine into our mix.”
Describe the team behind the execution of all of this
I’ve split up my team according to the different revenue lines we need to think about at the end of the day: acquisition, retention, and loyalty.
Acquisition is essentially first visit to first order. It’s really important for us to drive new customers because those would be the ones who come back to us the next month. Our retention team is based on that split. The biggest hurdle is to get customers to place a second order. Then after that, we can figure out what drives them, what’s interesting to that customer, and try to surface those things to get them into the ‘loyal customer’ category.
We all understand that the needs of a customer who’s ordered from us 10, 20 times is gonna be different from a customer who buys once. You want a different experience for someone who’s coming in that first time versus their 50th time. You wanna allow someone who’s coming in the 50th time to reorder very quickly or to get what they need as soon as possible and also incentivize them to keep ordering from us. We have sales and different sort of partnerships that we put in front of, say, a more loyal customer versus someone new who doesn’t need that initial push.”
What you just described, customer centricity, was one 2018’s biggest buzzwords. How do you practice it around these different department functions?
It’s really important to understand who is actually coming into our funnel, who our actual customers are. And we’ve done a good job of partnering with the data science team. On a macro level, we know our customers. Then we get into the micro by reaching out to our loyal customers, people who’ve churned out, even people who just tried us the one time to try and figure out why certain types of people arrive at our site.
The data science team helps us become aware of the different cohorts and segments within our database and what they buy. To give an example, we have a cohort of users who are a little bit older, who live in the suburbs. Maybe their kids have gone off to college or they’re not at home anymore. We found that certain products just resonated really closely with them and wanted to make sure we’re directly looking out for their needs. For that group, it was a product called Miracle Whip. For whatever reason, overwhelmingly, that cohort of users was buying that product. So how do we get those types of products in front of this group because we know it’s resonating with them? Our data science models allow us to offer products that we think are well suited for you based on both your buying habits and a little bit based on who you are, to create that personalized experience without being super creepy and tracking you on day-to-day.
It also enables users to often bypass the search bar and type in the product that you want. You (as the users) can also rely on our models to service up some products that we think that you’re gonna want. And more often than not, that allows customers to get a product that maybe they didn’t know we had straight away, and also for us to expand this person’s basket.”
So aside from personalization, which we discussed, what are the next trends in the industry?
“As the progression of this space gets larger, more people are gonna go online, more people are gonna buy fresh groceries and things that maybe five years ago, they weren’t even remotely thinking about it. Now, with a lot of these new players in the space, more and more customers are buying into the idea. I think how companies will curate and create the best possible experience will be really important. And having that data behind you of understanding, really, truly understanding what your users are doing on your platform will be essential for any new feature your product team creates.
I think if you talk to any marketer, they’ll tell you that they’re reaching saturation points on different channels. So Facebook, Google, those types of channels. We’re all bidding for those churns. We’re all sort of bidding for those placements and you have to expand beyond those in order to get the number of people that you want. We may see a lot of different companies go back to the drawing board and go back to older strategies, like direct mail. We’re already seeing direct to consumer companies go to TV.
There will be companies that you can partner with and technology that you can partner with that allow you to target certain types of people much smarter on these old channels, which I think will breathe new life into the space. It’s going to be a mix of really expanding channel, working with your data science and product teams to make sure that you’re getting that best experience for customers. Because if they use you once and they have a bad experience, they’re never coming again. There’s that sense of instant gratification that I think we all feel as consumers.”
Describe your marketing stack. How do you build it? How often do you change it?
“Luckily we have a great engineering and product team and we’ve built a lot of the things that I’ve described in-house. For the actual ESP, we use a product called Iterable. They’ve been a really good partner for us to not only send out emails, but also tie that directly with like SMS and mobile marketing, as well as retarget direct mail.
We use a company called Inkitt that directly integrates with Iterable. You may have seen Power Post Pixel on our site too. We’ve experimented with a lot of different players there. We use Google Analytics and other sort of web analytics tools to make sure that we have the direct data that we need to make those decisions.
It’s a good mix of tools. Right now, we’re launching campaigns with a company called Bound 2X, and they help us target people across devices. So, if you come in once through your desktop and then visit us again on mobile, we know you’re the same person. That mixture of technology and built-in In-house products allows us to have strong acquisition marketing prowess.”
Boxed has a famously unique company culture. How does it affect your business? How does it affect your team in your day-to-day?
“The important things about our company culture is that we’re all very driven people and we’re also very conscious of industry happenings. Someone on my team realized that many companies charge a special luxury tax on women’s feminine care products. And that was something that wasn’t an initiative at our company. But she went up to the CEO and said, ‘We have to talk about this. We have to tackle this problem because these are products that we sell on the site and this isn’t fair.’
And now we pay that tax on behalf of the customer because it’s not a luxury item. She’s actually represented herself in the company and attended many hearings about this. And we’ve seen some laws change in the U.S. due to her work.
I think that that type of culture resonates throughout the entire company. There’s a lot of freedom for people to say, ‘You know what? This is something that I’ve seen that needs to change,’ or, ‘This is something that I see an opportunity for. How can we create the direction in order to do that?’ The ability to speak up or go up to anyone, even the CEO of the company and have that conversation is important for us as we continue to thrive in this industry because if we’re not evolving and iterating on what we’re doing, then we’ll get overtaken by the other players.”
List one person you’d love to have lunch with.
I’m from New York and I would love to sit down with new congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and have a conversation about what she’s accomplishing and what she’s targeting as the new sort of priorities that have changed within Congress.
And it’s not like I necessarily agree with everything that she says, but I think having those personalities in Congress will create a lot of change and have that ripple effect. And I think having a deep conversation about those changes and about how there’s still a lot of inequalities, how we can tackle those issues and as a company how we can help with that, would be a really fascinating conversation.”
Last question: What advice would you give to aspiring marketers?
There are a few things I would say. I started my career in a small startup, and in some ways, being able to branch out and learn all the different aspects of marketing was very helpful. If you’re a junior marketer, if there’s any way that you can extend your conversations or different strategies across the entire funnel, it’ll really lend towards your career development.
If you’re a retention marketer, connect more with your acquisition team because at the end of the day if they’re not acquiring customers that are going to return to you, that’s a problem.
Try to set up those reports where you can see how many of those customers are actually becoming returning visitors and what cohorts are resonating more often than not. Get that true understanding of the entire funnel from start to finish.”