Joe Yakuel: Q&A Session

Q&A Session: Joe Yakuel

The Joe Yakuel Q&A Session is happening on Wednesday 12th of July 2017 at 10:00AM PST (1:00PM EST)

Joseph is the co-founder and CEO of Agency Within and currently consulting with Birchbox, Tommy John, Zola and many more. Previously, he was the Senior Director of Digital Marketing and CRM at the Vitamin Shoppe, responsible for customer acquisition & retention for the $100MM+ e-commerce business and 700+ retail stores. Prior to joining the Vitamin Shoppe, Joseph managed digital marketing for Quidsi (an Amazon company), including,, and their other family brands. Joseph received his MBA from NYU’s Stern School of Business, specializing in digital marketing, entrepreneurship, innovation, and business analytics.
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Joe Yakuel – Former Digital marketing director, Vitamin Shop,, – Transcript


For those that aren’t familiar, Joe Yakuel was the director of marketing for *The Vitamin Shoppe*, **, and **.

How did you get Agency Within started, and what is your onboarding strategy to get that “in-house” feel for your clients?

I used to run digital marketing at Quidsi (bought by Amazon), and then ran consumer marketing at Vitamin Shoppe. So my partner and I started this agency with the goal of bringing an in-house / client side approach to the agency business. We always start onboarding by understanding our clients’ LTV and business model, as we wrap our marketing strategy around their view of success.

Did you ever do conversion rate optimization in your ecommerce work and why/why not?

We do run CvR Optimization for clients. It only really makes sense for sites that have enough traffic. As without enough user volume, you will not get any statistical significance on test results.

When you first became Director of Marketing for The Vitamin Shoppe, did you feel overwhelmed? Was it a step up from your previous position, or more of a side-step into the role?

It was a step up, as I started managing retention which was not a big part of my role at Quidsi. The learning curve is always steep stepping into a new role, but that is also the most fun / exciting part! Both were great experiences for me, along with my startups beforehand. I love working with new brands and unique challenges, which is one of things I love about the agency business.

You managed to build some category killers off of generic domains. Do you still believe in a future for something like that to occur again or has the AMZN influence shut that down?

Every new business / brand needs to think about how it differentiates. If you don’t have a REAL competitive advantage against AMZN, it’s not even worth pursuing. A lot of our clients have gotten past this with really niche products, focusing on vertical integration, specialization, and value. You can differentiate in many ways, but if you want to beat AMZN it can’t only be about price.

Joe, how do you feel about AMZN bringing the Quidsi brands into the marketplace and shutting down external brand presence? Do you think it lowers the value of their niche brand experience? Cheapens the value of their product line?

It’s hard to understand the rationale here without seeing their side of it internally at AMZN. It could be a purely economic decision, or maybe more of a long term strategic one. But Jeff knows what he is doing, and I’m sure he has a good reason behind it. 😉

Hey Joe, I’m not very familiar with your product, but how much is your marketing focused on demand capture vs. demand gen, and then what’s your biggest successful campaign for each?

We focus on performance digital marketing, meaning ROI driven campaigns. So everything we do is focused on direct response, and driving value to our clients (typically in the form of Revenue, Profit, or LTV). We can’t get into client specific campaigns, but Search and Social are two of our biggest channels, and we work across many others as well.

What have your marketing platform stacks looked like at each of the companies? Did you create any custom tracking software or use enterprise analytics tools such as Adobe/GA/etc.?

AMZN has a proprietary system, while Vitamin Shoppe used a well-known 3rd party analytics tool. For most smaller companies, you can get away with GA, or a more customer focused tool like RJ Metrics, Mixpanel, etc… But it’s really important to look at publisher data as well. For example, no analytics / attribution platforms have really been able to measure FB accurately because so much of the conversion volume happens cross device / view through. So, you need to lend an eye to that as well.

What was your favorite shop to run/work with?

Do you mean at Quidsi? I love dogs, so was fun to work with. 😉

What were your biggest challenges leading marketing at these major ecommerce brands?

One of the hardest things when working inside a big organization is getting things done. It could be the buy in, tech integration, or execution, but that is usually the biggest hurdle. To overcome it, you need to find ways of presenting data in an easily digestible manner. And then find places where you can be very actionable, and make things happen.

Question about big name brands and how they treat excess inventory. I know that diversion happens at the highest levels of the e-com food chain and am curious to know what you recommend as the best way of dealing with it if a brand like Vitamin Shoppe is found to be selling through another seller or liquidating a brands product which generally lead to MAP violations.

You can tag your products on the item level which is known as “encoding” to track that back. So, if you see your product in an un-authorized channel, buy it yourself and then look at the encoding to see where you originally sold it. This can be done in a secretive way within the box, label, packaging, etc…

Did you ever run out of home advertising campaigns? If you did, what was your preferred method for tracking (impression, promo code, etc.)?

Absolutely, coupon code is a really good way to measure. You can also use “how heard” on your confirmation page / transactional emails, along with vanity URLs.

Do you engage in link building? What’s the best strategy for link building regarding large marketplaces/stores?

We do, and these days it’s really about manual outreach. Focusing on bloggers and other influencers with an online presence, and working with them to create unique content. It is very time consuming, but this ensures that you stay above board and don’t get banned by Google.

What resources have you used to keep a marketing edge? Do you read books, take courses, join groups? If so, can you list some that would help someone that is following the same career path that you have?

There are plenty of online resources that are helpful, but it really depends on your focus. Jon Loomer has some good stuff on FB, and is a bit more generally focused on growth / mobile. Mediapost aggregates a bunch of different ones as well.

What are your thoughts on AMZN’s acquisition of WholeFoods? Think anyone should be worried about their deeper investment into brick and mortar?

I think it makes a lot of sense for both parties. AMZN needs to build a brick and mortar presence only for the categories where consumers demand it. Every brand should be worried about their brick and mortar business if they are not already differentiated vs AMZN. That is true for e-com, but even more so for brick and mortar since e-com typically has a cost advantage out of the gate vs retail.

What have been some effective ways you have targeted parents for your PPC?

Age / gender targeting can help, but FB is probably a better place for this kind of targeting. You can get at parents through GDN, or use similar audiences to build lookalikes off your customer list / RLSA audiences and apply those to search (may still be in beta).

Question about rapid scaling for a product that requires re-educating the consumers. Well really, how do you approach scaling a business that will force shoppers to rethink how they shop online (with regards to the newfound abilities of the product and the limitless potential for the client it enables)?

We do this all the time for clients who invent products / product categories that consumers don’t even know exist. This is where you want to focus on “push” marketing channels like FB / Pinterest, where you can show off your brand to a likely consumer. Search can work too if there are analogous products you are replacing, or complementary products, and you can target those to bring in your audience.

As a follow-up to the question about unique, link-building content for large marketplaces,

what kind of content would you work with them to create?

It’s hard enough to get them to agree to writing content in the first place, so we really want to give them freedom here. We will make recommendations which bridge the gap based on their audience / content, and the brand we are promoting. But often they want to use a topic of their own, and we give them that freedom (it is their blog / site at the end of the day)!

Once a brand is comfortable with the “encoding” process and finds the diverters, how do you recommend they deal with it in a way that isn’t abrasive and can correct the issue?

It’s really your call how aggressive you want to be. Likely also dependent on how big of a customer they are / how important their business is to you. You can deal with it in many ways: increase their price, decrease the amount they can buy, stop selling altogether or for a period of time, etc…

Hey Joe, how crucial is the role of a domain name?

It depends on the type of brand. If you plan to do a lot of offline advertising, brand name recall is very important. It’s always an important factor, but much more so if you are going to make a big push offline. Overall, shorter is typically better as its easier to remember / spell etc…

Also, how do you track clients across B&M and online?

There are many ways to do this within platforms themselves. For example, FB / Google have this capability built in. You can also use tools like Liveramp to help bridge the gap between digital interactions and offline transactions. But the more people you can IDENTIFY offline, meaning tie the order to a loyalty card or their PII in general, the better you can tie the rest.

How was the transition from Quidsi to Amazon culture-wise?

I came in right after the AMZN acquisition, but knowing people who were there before, it definitely went through a lot of change. The company also went through a massive hiring spurt during my tenure, and that definitely changes the culture of any company. With that said, Quidsi was definitely unique, in that the culture held on much better than I would have anticipated.

What’s the next big growth platform you’re interested in?

In the long run, I think TV will be a huge programmatic channel. It will be totally personalized, data driven, and real time. That is the next big one!

What advice do you have for helping clients make the jump from ecommerce only to retail, in terms of both brand and conversions?

Leverage your online data to determine where you should open the first retail location. Maybe it’s where you have the most orders, or maybe it’s where you have the most traffic, but poor conversion rate because of shipping or something else would indicate you need a B&M presence there. But I would highly recommend mining your online data to inform that decision. Then you can support that location through geo targeted online marketing, and maybe some offline as well through direct mail, etc…

What’s the hardest part about running an agency?

I would say the need to constantly evolve. Adapting to changes in marketing channels, client challenges, expectations, etc… But this is what also makes it so much fun and interesting!

What do you look for when looking to hire someone to work for you? Does Degrees & Certificates play a huge role?

For our digital marketing roles, we look for very data driven / analytical people. But they also need to have intellectual curiosity, be quick learners, and see the big picture for strategy. We do hire experienced people with relevant degrees / certifications, but we also hire entry level candidates who we teach from the ground up.

What’s been your greatest accomplishment / What’s been your biggest failure?

My biggest failure was my first startup, which took me one year to get live, and I realized it wasn’t going to succeed incredibly quickly. Knowing what I know now, I could have figured that out in the first couple weeks, so I wasted a full year. Conversely, I learned a lot from that experience, and my next startup failed within three weeks of ideation, and my next one succeeded in the first week. The big learning here is test before you build (similar to fake it before you make it). Essentially, see if you can sell whatever it is you want to do, even if you haven’t done it yet. If you can’t sell the concept at all, then why are you building it?

I’m curious what publications ecommerce marketers tend to consume. What are your favorites?

Sending previous answer – There are plenty of online resources that are helpful, but it really depends on your focus. Jon Loomer has some good stuff on FB, and is a bit more generally focused on growth / mobile. Mediapost aggregates a bunch of different ones as well.

How do you stay creative and motivated everyday?

Client expectations are very motivating! Being in the service business, we are ALWAYS ON, so we don’t have the ability to NOT be motivated. Also, being in performance digital where everything is trackable, we always have a number on our heads. And hitting our clients’ goals is another big source of motivation.

In terms of marketing strategies/tactics, what are you most excited about right now? Either new stuff, stuff on the horizon, or even tried and true methods – just what has you the most excited?

I mentioned TV before as being the next big frontier in digital, but as far as current platforms, FB / Instagram are still on fire (with Pinterest growing very quickly as well). Leveraging creative (specifically video) and landing pages / content are ways to win big. Obviously, audience targeting and bidding play a large role, but we spend a lot of time on creative / LP strategy, as it’s such a big level for Social.

Were there any growth ideas you were super skeptical about using, that then turned out to be super effective?

We were pretty skeptical about making influencer marketing back out into a positive ROI. But that has been totally busted, and this is a fast-growing channel for us.

Really appreciate everyone joining the #ama today. It was a lot of fun.If you have any questions about our agency or the work we do, feel free to reach out at Or if you want to reach me personally, you can email

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