Communicating with Clients on Strategic Risks with Duane Brown

duane brown strategic risks
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Don’t call Duane Brown if you’re not willing to try some new marketing or advertising strategies. He won’t be able to help you (well, he can still help you).

Duane is the Founder and Head of Strategy at Take Some Risk, a marketing strategy and advertising agency. The basic mission of the agency is named right there on the tin. Then again, those risks do pay off: they work for some 8 figure eCommerce, DTC, and SaaS brands to create and scale profitable growth.

take some risk agency clients

Today on the Agency Ahead Podcast, Duane shares the kinds of strategic thinking that people normally pay big bucks to receive from him. If you touch any of these business types, you won’t want to miss this.

The highlights:

  • [1:08] About Take Some Risk
  • [4:32] 2020’s impact on DTC.
  • [8:12] Best practices for maintaining client relationships.
  • [12:35] Approaching strategy with a new client.
  • [14:31] Having hard conversations with clients.
  • [17:40] The unique challenges faced by DTC businesses.
  • [21:06] Experimenting with new channels. 
  • [26:39] Duane’s cause.

The insights:

About Take Some Risk

Duane says brands generally come to Take Some Risk for one of two reasons:

“Either, a) they struggle to crack a channel, whether it’s Google, Snapchat, Facebook, or whatever it is. Or b), they’ve cracked the channel but they struggle to scale as they spend more money on advertising and trying to maintain their KPI, which might be CPA or maybe return on ad spend.”

They work with all sorts of brands: clothes, toys, high-tech water bottles, mountain bikes – you name it.

Duane says he chose the name because it reflected his own life journey.

“I moved to Australia, not knowing anyone, and got a job. I moved to the UK, didn’t know anyone, got a job, lived there for two years. I’ve smorgasboarded all through Asia. 

To get to each stage of my career and life I’ve taken some gambles. There are different degrees of risk. There are big risks and small risks, and I try to take calculated risks where the payoff is big but I can afford to lose whatever the loss would be. 

I wanted to attract clients willing to take multiple risks to grow.”

Duane gives an example.

“I was talking to a prospect yesterday. They made about 500K last year. I told them, well, to get to a million, or two, or three, you’re going to fundamentally have to be a different business. 

Your cost of goods is going to have to be different, you’re going to have to pull the levers to grow from half a million to a million to two million, you’re just going to need to do more of everything. More product, more ads, more marketing. 

We try to get clients who will get out of their own way, to be honest. You’ve hired a person to do something? Let them do what you’ve hired them to do so you can focus on other areas of your business.” 

2020's Impact on DTC

Duane says he spent 2020 working harder than he’d ever worked.

“I didn’t want our clients to go out of business. If that meant I had to work 7 days a week and be available 24/7, then that’s what I’m going to do.”

All of Duane’s clients survived.

He says this wasn’t all altruism.

“I can’t necessarily afford to lose a client. If you don’t survive, I lose a client.”

Best Practices for Maintaining Client Relationships

Duane stresses that it’s very important to try to get to know clients on a personal level.

“Talking to clients like the human beings we are, and that they are, figuring out what they want, and trying to balance that with what we can give them.”

For example, Take Some Risk doesn’t do weekly meetings anymore.

“Often we got knee-jerk reactions of, oh, things were bad last week, let’s change everything. Well, you’re going to have a bad week at some point in the year!”

Instead, they try to do monthly or biweekly meetings. 

“Some clients will say they want more, some want less. We’ll ebb-and-flow it as much as we can. 

We always tell the team, even myself: if you think about emailing a client or talking to a client you should probably just do it. It’s better to overcommunicate than under-communicate.”

Clients, Duane says, will tell you if you’re emailing them too much, or telling them too many things.

“Few ever tell you not to email them about stuff, because they want to know what’s going on. Most agencies don’t email enough or call enough or talk to their clients enough.” 

Duane even, prior to COVID, flown out to visit with clients in person. 

“I flew to Toronto just to spend a day with a client at a crafts show. Just to talk to people and find out why they bought the product. It was mostly women and I’m a gay guy, so I didn’t know. I talked to everyone from people who were 60 or 70 to women in their 20s and 30s. 

I learned what they liked about the products and why they used them. They’ll tell you things you don’t know. That informs your ad copy and your landing page copy and the keywords we’re going to bid for on Google and stuff like that.” 

Approaching Strategy with a New Client

Duane says the main thing that they’re trying to figure out is who their clients are as a business, and what they want to achieve.

“Often with clients they want to achieve some kind of revenue goal. We figure out how to get there.”

As an example?

“We had a client who used to do what you’d call lots of Limited Edition products. They grew a lot last year. They got to a low 7 figures a year from six figures the year before, but we’re talking to them and we’re saying if you want to maintain your 2, 3, 4 million dollars a year, and grow next year, you’re going to fundamentally have to change how you think about your business. In this case, you can’t only do Limited Edition products. 

You have to have some bread and butter products that are there 365, 7 days a week that someone can come buy because you need that consistent revenue to come in. 

You can’t wait for a product to get made, ship to you, and launch and then wait for the next one. That’s not how a business grows.”

In other words, what Duane does isn’t only about marketing. Sometimes it’s zeroing in on serious issues within the business itself.

Having Hard Conversations with Clients

The way that Duane works means sometimes he has to tell clients things they don’t want to hear. 

It’s why he works so hard to grow these long-term personal relationships.

He speaks of one client who he’d worked with since 2018 who started panicking during 2020. They started considering sales, promos, and discounts.

But Duane knew they historically hated those, so he said, “Can we not?” 

He points out they have enough respect for each other to make recommendations.

For most clients though? 

“I try to understand their business really well. What sells. What doesn’t sell. Why they make a certain product. 

I bring it down to numbers. We did these things. They had that outcome. We should try this thing and see what happens.” 

He does admit some clients are more apprehensive about trying things than others.

“One told me he was afraid of change. Well, you hired me for change. If you want to make money this year, you’re going to have to make this change. 

I’m not going to ask you to make all 12 of the changes. Make one of these changes for this call next month. What you’re literally doing is the opposite of what I recommended. It just means you’re paying me more money for the next six months because you’re not going to get where you want to go.” 

The Unique Challenges Faced by DTC Businesses

Duane said just about every DTC client had the same problem last year. 

“Inventory. Getting enough inventory. Having enough inventory in stock.” 

It was harder because COVID kept shutting down manufactories and warehouses. 

He also says both big brands and small brands don’t always have their ducks in a row. 

“Maybe they’ve never done much email marketing in the past, or they haven’t updated it in four years, or they’ve never done SMS messaging or other things like that. 

It’s like all the stress is on you and trying to figure out how to keep your business alive because you see people all dropping all around you and losing jobs. 

But then also trying to figure out which of these five things do I implement? Do I spend money on it? Is it going to pay off? I only have so much cash and I can’t afford to make the wrong call.”

He says last year was mostly about making those recommendations to figure all of that out. Sometimes this required businesses to do some serious pivots.

Duane cited General Assembly Pizza in Toronto as an example: a sit-down pizza restaurant that now sells and ships frozen pizzas.

general assembly frozen pizza

“They’re trying to disrupt the frozen food business!”

Experimenting with New Channels

Take Some Risk is one of the only agencies out there that will help clients advertise on Snapchat, TikTok, or other newer social media sites.

Is it worth it?

Here’s how Duane explains it.

“Think about when Facebook bought Instagram in April 2012. They only had half a million users. People are always asking: why would I be on Snapchat or TikTok? They’re only 800 million or 300 million or whatever the numbers are.”

snapchat ads

Duane points out that Facebook didn’t always have 4 billion people.

“It was 100,000. 200,000. They’ve grown literally over the last 16 years or so to where they are today. So if you won’t advertise on Snapchat or TikTok today you wouldn’t have advertised on Facebook 10 years ago.”

He also points out that a lot of people have maxed out their effective ad budget on larger channels. 

“If you’ve maxed out Google, Snapchat, TikTok, Pinterest, and Quora Ads are all valuable platforms to at least try and see if you can deliver sales for your business or your clients. 

You don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket. Facebook has only gotten worse in the past 8 months, not better. If you only put money in Facebook you’re shooting yourself in the foot in the long run.”

He says some of his clients have really seen a lot of success on these alternative channels. 

“We found it good for remarketing, retargeting, and prospecting.” 

He says Snapchat works best for clients with a higher average order value.

What's your right now cause?

Duane feels like the nation is starting to forget what happened with George Flloyd last summer. 

“If your organization said it was going to change? You’re on notice. Put pen to paper and make that happen.”

Duane has other suggestions as well.

“Reach out to your POC friends and see how they’re doing emotionally. Do it whether they run a business or not.”

He also asks our listeners to ask themselves if they did the things they said they’d do to support racial justice last year. If that’s not the case, he urges each listener to change that as soon as possible. At the very least?

“Open your wallet and support a Black business.”

For that matter?

“Small businesses are probably not going to survive if we continue to just shop at Costco and Amazon. Yes, I get they have better ship times, but a world that’s just Amazon and Costco is not a world I want to live in.” 

Connect with Duane Brown

Duane says he spends a whole lot of time on the PPC subreddit, so chat with him there or reach out to him via email or Twitter. 

Enjoy this podcast?

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⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Garrett Sussman

Garrett Sussman

Garrett is the head of content at Traject , a suite of digital marketing tools, and host of the Agency Ahead podcast. When he's not crafting content, he's scouting the perfect ice coffee, devouring the newest graphic novels, and concocting a new recipe in the kitchen.

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