The Empowered Marketer: Beware of Becoming an Ecommerce Commodity



Ecommerce marketers everywhere have the same fear: that their product will become a commodity.

A commodity product is low in value, easily replaced, and can only compete with a low price. Because of this, the goal of nearly every ecommerce marketer is to build a brand that is so valuable, their product can never be a commodity.

This is exactly what Kenny Smithnanic aims to do at Mobovida, an ecommerce company that offers fashion, mobile and travel accessories direct to consumer. Launched in 2002, the founders got their start selling cell phone accessories out of their apartment, growing quickly alongside the emergence of smartphones.

One of the biggest drivers of the business has been paid search, which is exactly how he got his start. Now the Director of Marketing and Business Intelligence at Mobovida, Smithnanic is constantly focused on how to get the most ROI out of every marketing activity.

In the latest episode of The Empowered Marketer, Smithnanic shares:

  • How to build value for your ecommerce brand
  • The importance of personalization in driving conversions
  • How to build customer loyalty over time
  • …and much more.

Listen to Episode 1: The Empowered Marketer

Read the Interview 

1. How long have you been in your role as Director of Marketing and BI? What’s your professional background?

I started in digital marketing for political campaigns about six years ago. It was fun, but ultimately the attribution between advertising and voting was so difficult and murky that I fled in favor of ecomm, where it’s much easier to tell which click led to which action in which order on the site.

When I joined Mobovida a few years ago, I ran paid search campaigns. I started and grew our Facebook campaign so that it’s now one of our top channels. Then I moved on to email. Basically, I’ve run all of the marketing channels at Mobovida and at each one I kept hitting roadblocks, feeling like I couldn’t take this channel to the next level until I have more access to information.

That’s where I transitioned, in 2016, into a Business Intelligence role where I could gather all the different data sources, put them into one place, and make them accessible to the rest of the marketing team. Now, we have a clear picture of customer lifetime value, which channels drive the highest lifetime value, which products indicate high LTV customers, etc. So that’s how the marketing and BI combined.

2. How do you measure success on your team? Besides the typical ROI, what metrics do you look at?

We look at LTV, the lifetime value of the customer, usually over 30 to 90 days. The reason we do that is because a five-year LTV at this point in our business isn’t as meaningful as something that can be counted on to come back within a single quarter. We also look at what category people are buying products from. For my team, if they’re able to drive efficient traffic with a low cost per order to products that are outside of our core cellphone accessories business, that’s always a win. It shows true growth potential for the business.

For individual team members, I always focus seeing that they’re trying new things we haven’t tried before, having original thoughts, and executing on them. That’s what’s driven the business in the past and will continue to drive it into the future.

3. How does Mobovida approach paid marketing on social media and SERP? What tactics have you found work best for your team?

Our search accounts are very well built out and we always have one person dedicated to each channel. On paid search, we have to be ruthless in our attention to detail. There are so many keywords, it’s really easy to experience this death by a thousand cuts, where you’re losing a little bit of money across 100,000 keywords that only get one click a month. If you’re not paying attention to all the tiny little opportunities, it winds up drowning your whole account. The most important thing for paid search is you have to be OCD about maintaining the appropriate bids and destination URLs and ads and structure.

Then on Facebook, it’s more like the Wild West where, we’re trying very systematic strategies, but we’re also trying things that are totally unheard of that we’ve never read about, that we’ve never tried before. Those things can sometimes take off and they’ll do double what the revenue had done in the previous two weeks in a single day if you hit on the right thing on Facebook.

When we first started Facebook, there were a lot of growing pains because we tried to execute the same scientific and precise methodology that we used on paid search on Facebook, but we weren’t seeing any results. We were getting like one to one ROI on all of our paid Facebook, so we started to break that out of desperation. What can we possibly try to get it to work? We’ve developed this really loose system that we have now.

4. How do you think about A/B testing? Could you share some tests that you’ve run that led to interesting findings and had a big impact on your marketing results?

On the website, we’re always A/B testing and we have a list of ideas we go through based on how hard they are to execute, how confident we are that they’re going to lead to a lift, and then we rank them all by those metrics. We just start going down the list of tests that we’re going to run. An interesting test we’re running right now is changing the way that we present pricing on our product pages. One of our team members found that people have a hard time comparing price differences in their head, so if you see regular price is $40 and we’re showing it for $10, it’s hard to actually feel the difference in price there.

So we made the original selling price of $30 twice as big as our price. It’s physically larger, and then our selling price is proportionally smaller, so you can just tell by the font sizes how good of a deal it is. It’s still early to know what the results are. It’s only been running for about a week, but both variations of that test that we’ve launched are winning over our control, which was pretty interesting. We didn’t think it would work, but it is.

5. How do you think about new customer acquisition vs. customer loyalty? What tactics do you use on your site to encourage engagement?

First, we always deliver the lowest total price on cellphone accessories. At the same time, we have the widest selection for all phone models, but also specifically for the “longer tail” phone models, like ZTE’s and Huawei’s and things that are outside the Top 10. The fact that we carry a wide range of compatible products for those phones helps bring people back, because there’s nowhere else for them to buy them with the same good website experience and low overall price.

As far as how we get new customers to place the order, we offer a lot of different discounts on the site, we’ve focused a lot on conversion and optimizations. Just in the past five years, we’ve gradually grown our site-wide conversion rate by 50 to 60%. We’ve done that by adding value propositions on every page level, showing people that we have the best price, and creating stuff like timers on the product pages to instill a sense of urgency to make them want to buy right now. Then, it’s through our emails that we get those first-time customers to come back and buy again.

6. The phone accessory market is very competitive, especially with Amazon. How are you competing with Amazon, or do you sell through them as well?

We’re just starting up our Amazon seller business, so that’s still very, very new. The way that we’ve beat Amazon in the past is we focus 100% on cellphone accessories. Amazon has their team focused on a number of different business units, but we have to have perfect execution of paid search to beat out Amazon. They’ll often be number one, and there’s nothing we can do about that in some cases, but for product listing ads and for the keyword ads that we do have, we just have to make sure that we’re perfect.

We’re paying close attention, we’re always A/B testing our ad copy to get the highest click-through rates, and on Facebook, it’s all about presenting the right product to the right person at the right time. I think our team has really kind of perfected this half science, half magic formula of figuring out which audiences and which product combination work best to really scale up. So long story short, we perfect the marketing processes of our vertical, and that’s really helped us compete against Amazon

7. I heard you just launched a new brand, Miss Minx. Tell me a little bit about what it’s like for an established ecommerce player to launch something totally new. What was most challenging?

We’ve always considered our business’ core competency to be direct digital marketing and our CEO saw an opportunity to enter into fashion because we had the right contacts on the buying side. We knew that we were all great digital marketers, so the pieces kind of fell into place. We decided to grow the business outside of cellphone accessories, taking our core expertise and applying it to a new business.

It’s been challenging because it’s a new brand, and one of the things that I even take for granted sometimes is that any pre-existing store has some juice to it that’s going to increase conversion rates, help people find you, and encourage people to buy. So Miss Mix is going along, but it’s still in this very, very early stage where we’re trying to ramp up. And I think it’s going to be a little while longer before we start to see the scale that we’re aiming for there.

8. What is going to be your biggest challenge at Mobovida in the coming year? What’s your focus for the future?

Obviously, there are many, but the concise answer is we need to find a way to increase revenue per visitor to our site alongside the rising costs of media. Facebook is getting more expensive every day and so is Google. We need to find a way to get more revenue out of each visitor to our site in order to keep pace and stay as profitable as we’ve been. The key challenge is, how are we going to keep increasing the value of the single visitor or single email address to our site?

Obviously better and more personalization are going to come into play. Also, more product categories, because surprisingly there’s a significant number of people out there who buy a lot of phone cases all the time. Our core, most valuable customer is the one that has ten phone cases at home and they’re just always looking to buy more. If we can increase those customers, we’ll be in a good place.

If you’d like to learn more about Kenny Smithnanic and Mobovida, visit,, and This post originally appeared in the publication, The Empowered Marketer.

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