Joe Anhalt is a New York-based copywriter turned designer turned all-around marketer. He consults with direct-to-consumer ecommerce companies on growth strategies, including branding.
He emphasizes storytelling and conveying a brand’s point of view. “You can bring shoppers into your world,” he told me. “Brand-building is like world-building.”
Anhalt addressed multiple growth tactics in our recent conversation, including marketing channels, design essentials, multichannel selling, and, yes, the importance of the brand.
The entire audio of our discussion is embedded below. The transcript is edited for clarity and length.
Eric Bandholz: Tell us your story.
Joe Anhalt: I ran growth and marketing for six years at Koio, a direct-to-consumer luxury footwear business. I’ve recently left the company and have been doing freelance growth-marketing consulting for smaller DTC companies, from $3 million in annual revenue to $50 million.
It’s been fun being on the other side. I’ve only worked in-house at brands throughout my career.
I started as a copywriter, studied advertising, and minored in film in school. I’ve always gravitated towards the arts, specifically the visual arts, whether it was still photography or video. I loved it, and I still do. But as a copywriter at an early-stage tech startup, I evolved into search engine optimization, email marketing, social ads, and content marketing. That morphed into a generalist growth marketing hacker.
Bandholz: How do entrepreneurs manage the design aspects of their business?
Anhalt: First, founders have to set expectations. They must lose their ego and admit they’re not creative or design experts. Suppose you have a finance or consulting background and are trying to build a brand. In that case, you should educate yourself and experiment. There is a level of talent with creatives and art, but a lot of that you can learn. You can learn taste, style, aesthetics, and simple things like composition, the rule of thirds, coloring, storytelling, and depth of field, all of which you can learn in a cinematography or photography class.
You can start going to museums and learn about the history of art. I’m blessed to live in New York City. I can go to the Met or the Whitney. Every city has beautiful art. You must keep learning to succeed and acknowledge that you’re behind the design eight ball, but you can learn and tackle it like any other school topic or business challenge.
I encourage people who are less skilled in creative or art direction to start educating themselves. The beautiful thing about art and design is that it surrounds us and hits us in the face. A beautiful landscape can inspire you.
Bandholz: Many businesses are trying to save money. How can they produce quality photos or videos affordably?
Anhalt: The iPhone is a good investment if you’re shooting content and want it to be high quality. Lighting is super important. Never shoot midday. The shadows and the light are way too harsh. Location matters. Location, much like real estate, helps improve production value. For example, someone in Austin, Texas, can drive two or three hours west to a remote landscape. It’s similar to Palm Springs or Joshua Tree, where many luxury brands shoot campaigns.
Going to obscure locations and using the natural surroundings and practical effects is a great way to elevate the production value. We were fortunate at Koio because we live in New York City. If you shoot in Tribeca, you slap a logo on the image, and suddenly it becomes luxury. With the iPhone, if you have great lighting, a good wardrobe, and an excellent location, you’ll get 90% of the way there without spending $20,000.
Bandholz: A lot of ecommerce brands struggled in 2023. What marketing channels offer the most opportunity in 2024?
Anhalt: The market is sifting out the winners and losers. There are still many winners. 2024 is about profitability, not growth at all costs.
Facebook and Google ads remain the top channels for growth. There’s a lot of optimism for TikTok, but success there depends on the product category. TikTok could be a home run if you’re a beauty product and your average order value is less than $50. However, higher AOVs have to get creative with channel allocation.
I’m pushing my team to think about visual channels, such as YouTube and television. Those are some of the best places to tell a story. Facebook can drive a ton of data, traffic, and conversions, but I question long-term brand building with Facebook alone.
If you aspire to be a household brand such as Nike or Apple, at some point you’ve got to develop a multichannel approach with retail, wholesale, and collaborations. DTC is a good strategy as a launch, you’ve got to make some bets to be a big player. Give retail a shot. It’s one of the best, if not the best, places to tell your story and your point of view as a brand. You can bring shoppers into your world.
Think about Apple. They’ve built these beautiful retail stores in amazing locations with amazing architecture. Walk in there, and you enter their world.
Brand-building is like world-building.
Bandholz: Where can people hire you, support you, follow you?