The Role of Branding in the Digital Age

Lucas DiPietrantonio

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*PS. Below you will find an auto-generated transcript of this episode.

Arek Dvornechuck: Hey, what’s up branding experts? Arek here at Ebaqdesign, welcome to On Branding Podcast, and today we have Lucas DiPietrantonio, who's representing the Darkroom Agency, which is a strategic marketing firm that works with many of the fastest-growing venture-backed companies in the United States. And to date, they were able to generate over half a billion in market value for their clients. And this is thanks to their unique proprietary full-service model. So, today we're going to talk about the role of branding in the digital age. Hello Lucas. Thanks for joining us.

Lucas Dipietrantonio:Yeah. Thank you so much, Arek. Honestly, probably the best pronunciation of my last name that I've ever heard, certainly on a podcast.

Arek Dvornechuck: I tried.

Lucas Dipietrantonio: It's good to be here.

Arek Dvornechuck:Thank you so much. Maybe we should start with a few words, can you talk to us about how you started the agency and what's your vision for the agency?

Lucas Dipietrantonio: Yeah, so we're a strategic growth marketing firm. We focus on strategy, research, and execution for a lot of our clients, and ultimately we're charged with growing their revenue and increasing EBITDA. scaling their business. And we do that through a variety of different frameworks and services that we provide. We started as a two-shop company. Me and Jackson, my co-founder started the company almost six years ago now it's five and a half years. And we had experience in software and e-commerce and decided to carve out that niche on the branding, creative, and growth marketing side.One of our first notable clients was Dwayne Johnson, and we started working with him when he was thinking through starting a consumer brand division at, his companies and his portfolio we just took that as a positive signal and went deep on consumer and B2C businesses. And we've been growing ever since.

Arek Dvornechuck:Right. I love your website and you have great clients in your portfolio. Maybe we can start off with Can you just walk us through some of the most notable clients and what you've done for them and can you just talk about branding? How do you define branding and why do you believe branding is important for every client? As we know, you do many different things marketing, websites, messaging and so on, but can you speak to the importance of branding?

Lucas Dipietrantonio: Yes, so I think for me, branding is a promise performed consistently over time. It's kind of like your Identity and how it shifts in different situations. It's a cornerstone and definitely a first principle within our growth philosophy. So I think a lot of growth these days branding takes a backseat. And that's a fundamental flaw because we always need to think about the brand market fit, whether we're advertising on Meta and Facebook or you know we're delivering simple email communications. So I think branding is omnipresent. It's important through any of our downstream tactics. And ultimately, what we do at the agency and within our consulting practice is we take brands if they're at seven figures, we try and figure out how they get to eight figures. If they're at eight figures, it's how can we get them to nine figures? That's our ultimate responsibility as stewards of their growth and shareholder value.

And branding is an essential part of the equation because a lot of what we're doing is communications. It's communications to customers and it's forming these relationships between a brand that is not human and with human customers. So that relationship is very nuanced and what we train our strategists and our, practitioners at the agency to do is figure out how to grapple with certain brand challenges that the businesses that we work with have, and how can we leverage the brand to actually grow their businesses. So we've worked with a variety of different companies. They're growth-stage companies but we've worked with really large enterprise clients like Crate and Barrel. And then we've worked with challenger startups like, Alipop and Necessaire, consumer-focused brands in the United States that are actually winning the brand game, online and on the shelf.

Most of our portfolio is challenger brands. They're VC-backed startups. They're high-growth consumer brands, they're private equity-backed startups. And they have challenges in front of them that we need to, figure out with them. So I'll give you an example. One of my favorite creative campaigns that we've done is for Alipop. They raised their series B financing. I think they raised something like 30 million dollars. And for the most part, that business was a whole food mom's brand. They were sold whole food. They had a really specific demographic and they came to us with new financing and their goal was, okay, how do we take this business to, nine figures in revenue? And how do we leverage our brand? And how does that adapt to actually hit a larger demographic.The way that I like to think about growth is it's like a bell curve almost. When you first start off and you make your first couple hundred thousand, your first couple million dollars, you're graduating between customer bases.

So you have your these like first customers that are in your beta program, they like the product, they're your beachhead. And then you have your early adopters when you're probably going from a couple hundred thousand dollars to a couple million. And those early adopters of Alipop were certainly within that whole foods mom brand category. And then it's like, okay, after we try to scale this business, we need to actually graduate beyond that demographic and hit That formidable market, a larger chunk of the bell curve. And to do that, it requires the brand to actually resonate with those new audiences. And so with Allipop, we developed a creative campaign for them that was meant for advertising. And what we were trying to do was retain the existing demo of those whole foods mom customers not alienate them but then creative communications to reach more of a Middle American male demo and leverage some of their brand components that resonated with the Gen X moms and make that appealing to other demos. So that's just one example of how I think about, why branding is so important to the growth equation.

Arek Dvornechuck: No, it's a great example. And it brings us closer to talking about the process. So you mentioned some of the you know, considerations when it comes to customer journey, right? What are the phases of growth, your first buyers or customers and early adopters, then more of a broader audience? So you consider all of these aspects when it comes to branding and marketing. And on your website, you talk about your proprietary approach. Can you just walk us through, some of the steps that you take with your clients?

So let's say there is a brand or there's a startup who is really focused on growing, let's say this or next year. And what's your typical approach?

Lucas Dipietrantonio: Yeah, so we have a framework at the agency that kind of guides every client relationship, and you need frameworks, especially today when growth has become so much harder. You need frameworks to help give you the guardrails to think through complex problems. And what we've done for the past five years is figure out what is a ubiquitous framework that works for B2C companies that can help us contextualize problems and then figure out how to prioritize the right solutions. This process is based on the scientific method, we're still developing a name for it right now, or I call it the revenue growth framework. And what it starts with is, it's a five-step process of connecting, investigating, formulating, experimenting, and then scaling. And our strategists and people at the agency are trained in this framework. Actually, deliver real results for our clients. Because taking a brand from seven to eight figures, it's easy to say, it's very hard to do in practice. And it requires you to schedule habits, recognize flaws, and then do the hard work to actually get over those. But to break it down simply for you what that five steps we basically will connect with a client. We explore their different situations, we establish North Star goals with them. We implement certain quick wins. And if you think about certain agencies and working with an agency, all they do is implement, quick wins, or they sell you on the quick wins. Like a lot of that marketing, I'm in this space, it's let's optimize your media platform, focus on the landing page. It's like very granular, very microscopic.

Arek Dvornechuck: I see.

Lucas Dipietrantonio: And those things are just tactics as a part of a much larger strategy. But I think people, especially, in the agency level, when we're dealing with people and situations, they just try and focus on the big wins instead of the long-term goals of the brand and the client that they're working with. So that's why we connect. We explore this situation. We give ourselves some breathing room. We figure out what is the main goal of this business, what is its purpose and where's it trying to grow. If we have a 5 million business and the main goal of the founder is to take it to 20 million dollars and then sell it as a multiple of EBITDA like, we want to hit that goal for them. We implement some of those quick wins. We take over management, we align on the P and L (Profit and Loss), then we get to the investigative start part of the equation.

This is where we're forming hypotheses that we can test. And then we formulate based on those hypotheses, we formulate a strategy, we develop projections and then we're experimenting, ideating, prioritizing different tests, launching campaigns, analyzing data, and then continuously ideating. And then ultimately, you've either confirmed a hypothesis, you've seen an avenue to scale, and you want to commercialize and grow that business. And that happens in different varying degrees of time intervals because sometimes you might get early positive signals on a test or on a hypothesis and it might not actually plan out. So we need to go back to the drawing board, but that's kind of our framework.

Arek Dvornechuck: Yeah, It totally makes sense. So it's more of a 360-integrated approach. So you do many different things, right? This brand strategy, marketing, and your focus on a bigger vision, long-term vision rather than just implementing small, like focusing on tactics, right? Improving your website only, right? Or only focusing on Facebook ads and stuff like that, you kind of, consider a bigger vision and develop strategy, to achieve that vision.

Can you talk about some of the biggest challenges that your clients come to you with? Can you define some of their biggest problems? What type of problems, do startups or businesses usually face? At this stage when they hit some of the market, but they want to grow as you said, from six to seven figures and so on.

Lucas Dipietrantonio: Yeah, I think let's start with seven to eight because I think at six figures you might not even have like product market fit. You might just have like channel market fit in a way. I'll give you an example. I think certain businesses at the seven-figure level like it's different for every business, but like, they might have solid first purchase unit economics. Let's just take a commerce brand and let's just assume that it's direct to consumer. And they have a first purchase profitable. They have a profitable customer acquisition cost. As the business grows and you're expanding into colder audiences because that's ultimately what you need to do if you're just a direct consumer brand, you need to expand into new audiences that maybe don't have the highest propensity to buy your product as the early adopters who purchased your product. So you're facing increasing pressure to convert new customers.

And I think this is where you really figure out if you have a viable business that can scale. I've seen this countless times where the products, some of these clients graduate to colder audiences to more of a majority, a larger part of the bell curve, and their product just doesn't hold up in those markets.

Arek Dvornechuck: I see.

Lucas Dipietrantonio: This is for startups, this is really for startups. And what I mean by that is the product just might have the same efficacy. People don't like it, it's uncomfortable. I'm dealing with this client right now they have a proprietary product that is highly differentiated in the apparel space and it has medical properties. But, and they can demonstrate that really well on paid social, on meta to be specific. And people buy the product and they're profitable on a first-purchase basis. But as soon as they try and scale ad spending and reach new audiences and ad efficiency goes down. All of a sudden that business grows, and it relies a lot more on their existing customers to stimulate repeat purchase rate, to bring up their marketing efficiency ratio and aggregate.

And what we're seeing with this brand is that after the first purchase, a lot of the products are uncomfortable in certain instances and they just don't have that high retention that they need. And so, when we see this we're actually leveraging marketing to inform how these guys need to change product. And we're like we need to make these adjustments to the product to help open up the retention part of the equation. And then simultaneously, let's figure out why our ad efficiency is decreasing as we start to scale ad spend. And there are some things that we can do, tactics that we can do to combat that.

Arek Dvornechuck: Yeah, that's a great example. So it's not only about tactics but it's also about you may suggest some of the changes to the product itself, right? Because of your experience or your research and analysis, you may suggest some changes to the product.

Lucas Dipietrantonio: Yeah, and I think that's so important. I think marketers. Especially in the agency space, they just relegate themselves because we've been so accustomed, so trained through attribution and through a lot of these direct response platforms just to report or to marginalize ourselves to certain platform metrics, and that actually just diminishes the role of the marketer and taking signals from the marketplace and then using those to inform how the product should be innovated on or improved upon or iterated on, which I mean think about me on the B2B space. I listen to my customers, I'm talking to them all the time, and then I change my product based on the feedback they're giving me.

Arek Dvornechuck: Right.

Lucas Dipietrantonio: We need to think about B2C customers in the exact same way. Because you're getting so much more data from our customer file. It's just hard to discern and track that. But I think marketers are relegating themselves to saying, that's not my job. I'm just gonna execute in the platform. And that's a mistake. And that's why we try and avoid to actually consulting with our clients to help them overcome some of these growth challenges. And it's hard to do, but you just need to be comfortable, telling the client and understanding it.

Arek Dvornechuck:Yeah. No, that's a great example. And it illustrates your approach and the difference you make with your approach when it comes to scaling up different businesses or different brands, right?

As we are approaching the end of our episode, I just wanted to ask you what's the best way to connect with you and with your agency. You guys, of course, your website is darkroom I'm gonna link to your website. Are you guys active on LinkedIn, or other social media?

Lucas Dipietrantonio: Yeah, we're active on LinkedIn. I think it's just And yeah, I'm on Twitter, @darkroomlucas on Twitter. TikTok I'm also @darkroomlucas. I mean you can connect with the agency by going to our website and reaching out. We have a lot of new things in store for next quarter. We're launching some educational programs to productize and package this framework that I'm talking about to everyone. So you can learn from the hundreds of commerce brands that we've worked with. And then, if you're a seven or eight-figure business, trying to figure out how we can make a quantum leap forward and get to that next hurdle, that's where we can be a really effective marketing partner for you.

Arek Dvornechuck:That's interesting. So are you going to launch an online course or...

Lucas Dipietrantonio: Yeah, it's more of a repository of all of the research that we've...

Arek Dvornechuck: Like a platform with your resources for entrepreneurs.

Lucas Dipietrantonio: Yeah, for entrepreneurs who wanna scale their business. We have a lot of different gateways to growth and competencies we have obviously our creative competencies and we do a lot of branch strategy work too. Acquisition, retention, digital platform, data, and then this strategic growth framework that I'm talking about. So we're packaging all of that and trying to make it available for the solopreneur, the entrepreneur, the media buyer, whatever wants to do that, wants to learn more about cross-functional marketing. That's gonna be called Darkroom University. I'll reach out if you're interested.

Arek Dvornechuck:Yeah, definitely. I look forward to it. Just let us know when it's live.

But anyways, thank you for joining us on today's show. I appreciate that.

Lucas Dipietrantonio:Yeah. Arek, thanks so much for having me. I appreciate it. Have a great day and talk to you soon.

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