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The Campaign That Broke TheHustle's Website & Made 7-Figures in Revenue

October 17, 2021

Today, I want to talk about the most successful campaign that I ever ran at Hint Water — "The Sweetie article". Anyone who was in the Hint ecosystem (sales reps, vendors, investors, bankers, etc) all became aware of "The Sweetie article" when I launched it. I'll give you the full behind-the-scenes of how it happened.

So at the end of February of 2017, I joined Hint as the Director of Performance Marketing. As a part of meeting with everyone, the now-CFO was one of them. He said, "Most people don't last in this role, so good luck." I was given one directive from the management team at the time: acquire 5,000 new customers in the month of March.

I started digging into the easiest channel, Facebook. Upon opening Ads Manager, I realized that the cost-per-clicks were too high. They were paying 4-5 dollars just to get someone to the website, not to mention, the website at the time was built on Symphony Commerce, which had a horrible user experience (front and back end). Out of those site visitors, maybe 2-3% converted, which netted to about an $80-100 cost of customer acquisition.

Before coming to Hint, I was at an ad-tech company where I helped the largest Taboola and Outbrain spenders get onto Facebook. Now, these were the sketchy articles you see at the bottom in Taboola/Outbrain feeds that said "You won't believe what this celebrity looks like 27 years later" or "First she put on the red dress, then this happened". It was essentially clickbait, where you click, and then go through a slideshow (usually 10-30 slides) with each slide having its own set of ad units filling up the pages. The game for the publishers was to get a 2 cent click with Taboola or Outbrain, and if they could get someone 4-6 slides in, they'd make maybe 5 cents and profit 3 cents. But they'd spend hundreds of thousands per day, so the money added up. At the ad tech company, I got really good at helping them run these sketchy slideshows on Facebook and I was consistently getting 2-3 cent clicks to their content.

So anyway, having that background, I thought to myself, "Damn, they're paying 4-5 dollars per click, and I know if I had a piece of engaging content, I could get that cost down to at least 10-15 cents per click."

Right around the same time I joined Hint, The Hustle was starting to take off. I became familiar with some of the early team members at their events they'd put on locally in San Francisco, and so I reached out to them. They used to host a really fun series called Pizza & 40's, where founders would drink 40 oz of beer, get tipsy and share all the real secrets, tips, tricks, hacks, and stories that went into building their startup. I was able to secure the Hint CEO a spot there, and she told a fascinating founding story. Then I realized this could be a great story to drive traffic to.

Initially, I asked them if they'd be interested in some kind of affiliate-style article that they could earn 10% of all revenue I made off that article. They quickly refused and thought this wouldn't do much for them. So, instead, I paid a few thousand dollars for this article to be posted online instead.

The article initially went live with the title of "Getting Called “Sweetie” Helped this Entrepreneur Create a 90-Million-Dollar Business" but eventually we had to tame it a little bit and changed it to: "Getting Called “Sweetie” Helped this Entrepreneur Create a Multi-Million-Dollar Business"

The story itself was engaging, had the perfect reading time (2-3 minutes), was at a 5th-grade reading level, and at the time, TheHustle didn't have any distractions on the sidebar or an email capture in the middle of the article.

When the article was ready, I used AdEspresso at the time, created about 96 different combinations of ads into a Facebook ad set, and began running it. Overnight, our acquisition cost went from $90 to $25, and instead of doing double-digit new customers per day, we began doing thousands of new customers per day. The content was a hit, and now it was all about finding new audiences at scale that we could put this article in front of. Because the story was so good, it ended up getting so many of its own organic shares, at least a few hundred thousand people shared it on their own profiles.

As a bi-product, the wholesale business began doing great as well. People would walk into the article saying they read the founder story on Facebook and they wanted to try the product!

So, why is this case study worth sharing? Well, for one, it demonstrated an incredibly easy way for us to build a full-funnel marketing campaign. People who had no idea about the brand were able to easily hear the founder’s story, understand why she created the product, and try the product with an offer we put on the article.

If you're unclear on how to tell your "story", this is a great avenue to try.

After the success of this article, which included selling out our distribution centers multiple times and breaking TheHustle's website a couple of times, I ended up trying this same strategy on the publisher sites that everyone knows of: BuzzFeed, Refinery29, etc. The results? Not even close.

Then we tried one with, and that took off. At this point, we realized that the secret sauce wasn't in the logo that was up on the site, it was in the story, the formatting, the length, what popped up, what else was on the page, the font size, font type, and the ad units driving the traffic. In 2018, I drove 1/3 of all Digg's traffic doing the same thing.

So again, why am I telling you this? Because it's easy for you to set this up on your own and test it out this holiday season. In an environment where CPMs are only going up, sharing engaging stories keeps your CPMs low. You can easily go to ThemeForest, buy a WordPress theme, load it up on a WordPress site through GoDaddy, and get your own content site up and running. It'll take you no longer than 4-5 hours. If it works, you might strike gold as I did.

Try a founder story, a listicle, 7 reasons why, an editor's approach to your product, or find something that went viral on Insider Picks and try copying that format. Once the content is hosted, then drive traffic using organic social channels (if you have the following), or use paid traffic to drive traffic there. If you don't want to use it as a prospecting tool, then your retargeting efforts can include this. We recently did this for a product that goes for $500 and realized we could drop their retargeting CPA to about $8 with good article content.

Try it and let me know how the results go. If you're currently spending over $500k/month in media and you want an agency to handle this for you, let me know.