How These Recent College Grads Built A Creative Studio During Covid-19, And What E-commerce Brands Can Learn From It

How These Recent College Grads Built A Creative Studio During Covid-19, And What E-commerce Brands Can Learn From It

According to a J.P Morgan report, e-commerce sales have surged during the pandemic. In the U.S. alone, during Q4 of 2020, customers spent 30% more online than previous quarters. Shopping habits are changing, and brands are changing too — with differences in how brands spend their time, money, and overall strategy.

I recently jumped on a Zoom call with Josh Carn-Saferstein, Co-founder of Birdhill Studio. Birdhill partners with e-commerce brands to create photo and video content for websites, digital ads, and social media accounts.

Josh shows me around his Denver-based studio. He wears an oversized cardigan, has a few desks and a bunch of client products stacked to the ceiling.

Josh started Birdhill because he “saw the importance of photos and videos for emerging e-commerce brands.” Many brands can’t afford, or don’t want, to hire an internal team dedicated to photo and video. That’s where Birdhill comes in.

Josh launched Birdhill in August 2020 with his Co-founder, Troy Cini. The two met while working at the University of Michigan’s social media department. As graduation was around the corner, Josh and Troy knew that starting a studio was their next step.

Since launching in August 2020, Birdhill has grown from no clients to working with over 35 different brands. They specialize in consumer packaged goods (CPG) in the wellness space – supplements, vitamins, snacks, drinks (think Whole Foods aisle products). If you’ve seen a colorful, shiny food advertisement on Instagram, you’ve probably seen their work.

In my chat with Josh, I collected four ideas that brands should consider when outsourcing content.

1. Pretty photos aren’t enough.

A simple eye-test will vet out whether a studio could be a fit. This part is straightforward: go on their website and look through their work. It may be the case that they have quality work, but the style doesn’t fit your brand. Birdhill, for example, has a modern look with flare; their images are bright, bold, and they make basic products look exciting.

Pretty photos look nice, but what about the return on investment (ROI)?

Josh says that “before touching our cameras, we ask questions to really understand the brand. Where is this content going to live? What have you done so far and what has worked? Where are you hoping to be in a year?”

While Josh’s team doesn’t run ads or create websites, they’re in touch on both fronts. They work closely with ads teams and web developers to ensure content is highly effective across platforms.

Digital ad conversions are a necessary metric, especially for early growth. While conversions cannot be overlooked, Josh says “we value the short and long term. Early on, conversion rates can be a make-or-break. Long-term, it becomes a recognition game.”

2. Hire creators who make your life easier.

Effective content creators are not artists; they’re problem solvers. You want to work with someone who is dedicated to helping your business.

Josh says that working with a studio should feel like a weight off of your back, not another thing to manage.

“I tell clients that it’s our job to plan, manage and execute. They’re not hiring us to have another employee — they’re hiring us because we’re specialized and should know more than them about photos and videos.”

Leadership does not mean stubbornness. Josh and his team make sure to include the client on as much of the planning process as they want.

“Some brands want to be heavily involved in every shot list, and we love that, too. Whether the brand is hands on or off, we want to be on the same page.”

3. Be frugal, not cheap.

With the expansion of online tools for e-commerce brands, it’s easier than ever to start an online business. You can build your own Shopify website. Product suppliers are requiring lower minimum orders, and you can run Facebook ads starting tomorrow. While it’s estimated that you can start an entire business for less than $5k in 2021, this is the bare minimum.

In order to build a successful e-commerce brand, you have to be willing to invest early dollars. Rather than thinking of how little you can spend, think how much you want to grow.

Josh makes it a point to gauge how quickly a brand wants to grow when he starts working with them.

“Some of our clients are not rapidly growing but still value consistent content. Others are doubling every couple months and need a package that suits their needs.”

Instead of spending the minimum amount possible, think about what content is needed to reach your monthly and yearly goals.

4. Could you see yourself working together for the long-term?

To build a business with sustainable growth, you need sustainable relationships. Internally, you want leaders who you’re excited to grow with, and vice versa. It’s ineffective to hire and fire key people in your company. The same logic applies to external hires.

When it comes to content creation, there are two main reasons why long-term partners make sense.

First, you want there to be cohesion in how your brand looks. Every studio has their own aesthetic. If there’s a consistent look across your imagery, it’s a challenge to find another studio who can follow suit.

Secondly, there’s a rhythm that’s built with an external partner. They eventually know your brand intimately and can make iterations based on previous knowledge. When working with a new content creator, there is a similar onboarding process like that of an internal hire.

Rather than the exhausting process of hiring and firing, be intentional with external partners. Content is king (and queen) in 2021, and will continue to rule far beyond the pandemic.

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