How Ecommerce Startup Engages Community to Succeed

At 8-year-old ecommerce startup Zivix, customers are more than just right—they’re valuable resources for product development and marketing.

Zivix is a technology music company that built the Jamstik, a “Portable SmartGuitar”, both hardware and software that teaches people how to play guitar for the first time, and makes it easy for music writers and producers to write songs on the go.

brand building zivix team

Zivix team

Like most ecommerce startups, Zivix has had its shares of ups and downs—from initially disappointing sales to a relaunch on Kickstarter that garnered $800,000 from almost 3000 passionate backers. Much of their success story so far has been built on their community. Here’s how Cannon and his team built their brand, with a little help from their friends.

Find the Right Platform for Your Story

Matt Cannon, Senior Producer at Zivix, knows the struggle of marketing on a limited budget.

There are so many new products that are coming out, you have to find a platform that’s going to do the most for you and amplify your story. Whether you’re a startup with a product idea or a product that’s been moving along…make sure to use the right platforms for yourselves at the right times.

Sometimes it means having the patience to prepare yourself for a crowdfunding campaign, and sometimes it’s about taking the jump into Amazon Launchpad or a program like that. You gotta get yourself out there. We don’t live in a world where you can just throw up a website, pay for ads, and start selling millions of dollars in products.

After initially seeing less-than-impressive sales on Jamstiks during their first holiday season, Cannon and his team decided to take time to update the product and revamp their marketing strategy. Cannon says,”We kind of sat back and said, ‘What if we went back to crowdfunding’?
kickstarter jamstik product launch
The team waited until March, relaunched the updated product on Kickstarter, under the updated name and specs for Jamstik+. They ended up raking in $800,000.

Discover the Right Target Audience

For Zivix, the right audience came organically from being on the right platform for their product, which helped them expand their reach to the right people.
A lot of the offshoot of [Kickstarter] is high-tech geeks and gadget lovers just browsing for things that might have an epiphany like, ‘Oh! I’ve always wanted to learn guitar. Here’s one that’s kind of made for me.’ So we got a lot of that cross-traffic. And I think that’s what kind of helped us on Kickstarter, and is why we found a great home on Amazon Launchpad, too.
man playing the jamstick

The difficult part for Zivix wasn’t finding enough people who would like the product, but narrowing the audience down.

If you pick too many customer targets, you don’t really serve one very well. We kind of struggle with that a little bit, because most of us are musicians and producers ourselves, and we want to make the coolest products that we would use. But then we kind of realized that the secret sauce is…[the Jamstik] is the most intuitive way to get instant feedback and learn how to play. We really did make [beginner guitarists] our primary audience and geared most of our marketing towards them.

But at the same time, we built a product that a lot of us would use—it is one of the first and one of the most convenient ways for someone who actually plays guitar to lay down digital music. To strum a guitar and play a piano sound—that’s a pretty novel experience for a lifetime guitarist, and that’s definitely kind of our secondary audience.

Create the Right Content

As soon as Cannon and his team pinned down their target audiences, they invested time in content—but like most young ecommerce startups, it wasn’t easy to dedicate time or resources to filming videos or writing blogs.
I’m pretty sure a lot of new companies like ours with new products…always kind of struggle [with content],” explains Cannon. “You have a meeting and you say, ‘OK let’s plan out the next three months of content. We’ll get it done, and we’ll have a backlog, and everything’s going to be great.’ Then you end up a couple weeks later saying, ‘Oh shoot—we never finished that’.
It took concerted organization and planning to stay on the content train.

 

brand building zivix website

 

However, as a small company, the team started to realize they just didn’t have the bandwidth to create a continuous flow of content on top of everything else. That’s where brand ambassadors came in.

Use Brand Ambassadors to Tap into New Audiences

When we saw Cannon’s numerous content videos on the Jamstik site—ranging from “how to’s” to featured user content—we were impressed. Not just by the quality, but by how appealing they could be for a new guitar player in particular. The bonus of using brand ambassadors for this content is two-fold, according to Cannon.
That’s the kind of stuff we love to put up on our website too. If it’s somebody from our office [on a video], sure. that’s great. But if we’re talking about our own products, we’re going to be a little bit more biased, and it’s going to come off a little sales-y. But when it’s coming from somebody outside, that’s really where we can establish trust.

Surprisingly, Cannon and his team don’t pay their brand ambassadors to read a script about their product.

brand ambassador for zivix

 

We’ll always start off by sending [an influencer] a Jamstik and saying, ‘Hey, no pressure. Just try it out and let us know what you think. If you have any issues, we’ll help you out with it.’ That’s kind of the amazing part; it’s what they come up with. We can’t possibly envision every piece of software they might want to use with [the Jamstik] or every activity they might want to do.
The brand ambassadorship program—if it can be called that—sounds deceptively simple. However, it is a team effort by Cannon, Meredith Cannon, the Associate Brand Manager, and tech support to provide support and a personal relationship with each one.

 

Put People First (Before a Marketing Agenda)

One of the most attractive things about the Zivix brand overall is their refreshing lack of “agenda.”

In other words, not every conversation has to turn into a conversion. The team genuinely loves their product, and they want others to enjoy it too. Even the musicians they could be tempted to push to market the Jamstik onstage.

 

band playing with jamstik

 

But they don’t. Cannon explains:

We’ve got a couple bands using the Jamstik and one of them was in town recently, and had a show, and invited a couple of us out. [We didn’t say] ‘Hey, they should go play the Jamstik onstage—we gotta make sure this turns into a marketing opportunity.’

It was literally just to go and hang out, and be backstage and see the show and catch up with the guys. That’s what’s been pretty fun about this—the people we end up working a lot with are really invested in our products. They really like us and what we do.

Make Personalized Customer Support a Priority

Customer support is a huge part of Zivix’s brand values, and most of it at this point is still done in-house with just under 20 employees. And it’s personal, via phone or email.

How do they balance customer support when there are thousands of units out in the world? How do they plan to scale customer support as they grow and maintain quality?

 

product support for jamstik

Cannon agrees this is a growing pain and mentions the possibility of outsourcing customer support. Right now, Zivix has hired a PR firm that’s expanded their capabilities to handle some outreach.

“But in my opinion, says Cannon, “We’re always going to have a little bit of contact or at least be there available when it comes up.”

Nurture Community & Perfect Your Products

The Kickstarter mentality has stayed with the Zivix team over the years. Their gratitude toward supporters is similar to the way a niche band might view their original superfans.

In the long run, we want to nurture our community and have people get behind us. And I think I’d attribute the crowdfunding to that mentality because running the Kickstarter campaign was all about gaining that confidence and trust with your backers and giving them some of the credit for the reason you exist. We wouldn’t necessarily be here had we not [received] the initial pledges from people who wanted to see this become a reality. We do our best to remain true to that.
It hasn’t always been sunshine and backstage passes for the Zivix team. In those tougher times, pre-supporters, Cannon relied heavily on his team to make improvements to create a product people would really love.

In fact, Cannon’s actually concerned with “over-marketing” the product, due to his personal belief that the product should be good enough to “market itself.”

A good product should really sell itself, and in the hands of an influencer, that should remain the same truth. Or maybe it’s us being somewhat perfectionists. I don’t want to necessarily have to over-market the product because I’m so aware of where it could be and what it can do—that we’re just we’re constantly striving forward to make it better rather than make the quick sale.
This combination of a great brand ambassador program and an attention to detail is what really sets Zivix apart in the eyes of customers.

Use Feedback to Improve Products

Part of the reason Zivix was able to bounce back from early negative reviews and lower sales was because they quickly made adjustments to the product. Much of these improvements are driven directly by customer feedback on every platform—from Amazon to emails.

 

customer reviews for jamstik on amazon

 

Amazon reviews have been particularly useful, and Cannon encourages reviewers to get more personal and be more involved in the solution for their complaint by emailing his team directly.
When the team receives an email or calls in with a suggestion, the entire team gets involved, and every valid suggestion is taken seriously.

Cannon sometimes does a sweep of popular search terms or queries on the site to reveal what the majority of customers feel, and sends surveys to customers to make sure they’re on the right path.

Be a Perfectionist

As we stated before, the quality issue is huge for Zivix, and that belief is woven into their marketing and development process. When the Jamstik WiFi first launched, it interfered with WiFi connections. At the time, that was the only option.

However, when they started to push their WiFi version to the public during the holidays, Apple opened up Bluetooth Midi channel.

We could have waited [to make the Jamstik better] and said you know, let’s just market this one out and sell it as much as we can. But we said, you know what? From what we’re hearing, we need to change this. We had the engineers in-house to do it. So we said we gotta put the effort in; we gotta do this better. And we turned it around as well as adding more features and things like that, and launched the next version with much greater success.

zivix jamstik guitar and phone
Another improvement that could have gone by the wayside was a request for licensed music, but Cannon took it seriously. However, the licensed music wasn’t easy to get.

Would it be better if [the licensed music] was in our ecosystem? Yeah, but that could take another 12 months. So we actually got in contact with a third party company and inked a deal for them to do a special version for us that worked with the Jamstik, and we got that done within a matter of months to release to customers.

If You Want to Make it on Launchpad, Be Passionate

We have covered other startups on Amazon Launchpad, but we know that every experience is different. Spoiler alert—Zivix loves Launchpad, and the feeling is mutual.

 

amazon launchpad page for zivix

 

“Since we were one of the first people on Launchpad with the Jamstiks and had a lot of success with them, [the Amazon Launchpad team] put a lot of faith and trust in our company. They’re not just about selling a product, per se. They’re excited about our company as a brand, and they’ve been really awesome in supporting the launch of our next product. They’ve seen us do it well before, fulfill everything on time, things like that—they’re actually going to help us launch AirJamz on Sept. 9 in a big way.”

Part of the reason Launchpad works so well for a small company like Zivix is because they don’t have the budget to accomplish a massive product launch.
But how can other startups get in on Amazon Launchpad’s good side? Well, aside from doing the right things—timely fulfillment, great customer service, strong sales—Cannon strongly believes that passion plays a part.

 

amazon launchpad signup page
Part of the form on your Launchpad application is ‘Who are you?’ You literally have to upload pictures of your main members and your founders, and your marketing people. And you gotta answer, ‘What are the three words that define your product?’ and ‘What was your favorite part of making this product?

Amazon cares about brands that are invested and passionate about what they’re making, and it’s showcased on the Launchpad page. It’s not just a product page with some fancy pictures and a little marketing speak. It’s partly that, but it’s also about—who are the people behind this? And that’s what cool about Launchpad. They’re willing to highlight that and let you tell your story.

What’s in the Future for Zivix?

Aside from revamping the Jamstik app with additional lessons and an in-app purchase model for an expanded sound library, Zivix is busy getting ready to launch a new product: AirJamz.
air jamz zivix kickstarter project

AirJamz is a Bluetooth-connected “smart toy” made in the shape of a guitar pick. The user can simply hook it up via Bluetooth to an iPad or iPhone, choose a song and instrument, and start strumming. It’s true-life air guitar, and it’s already been crowdfunded up to $37,584 from 546 investors on Kickstarter.

“It’s at a much lower price point ($50)—this is kind of our effort at more of a mass market product…it’s a little bit easier gift idea impulse buy. So we’re excited about the potential for it.”

We asked Cannon what he would say to a startup that’s attempting to make a quality product while simultaneously trying to brand and market it Here’s his advice:

You don’t have to have all the answers yourself. [Use] customers…to guide the direction of your next offerings….bounce ideas off them, and get their feedback. And they will be your most important customers. The first ones you get will help you make some of the big decisions as you grow and find your niche. So don’t ever devalue them.

If you get a little stressed or worried about where you’re going next…do research. There’s people that will tell their stories, and that’s kind of the only way you can learn. Yeah, you gotta get out there and do it yourself, but go out there and find inspiration where you can, and always move forward. And if you need a break, just go play air guitar.

 


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Have questions about this post? Email Leanna@cpcstrategy.com

 

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About the AuthorLeanna graduated from Fairleigh Dickinson University (NJ) in 2012 with a BA in Creative Writing and lived in NYC for two years. In 2014, she returned to her home state of California where she enjoys eating too many fish tacos, skipping winter, and writing quality web content for CPC Strategy. Follow her on Twitter @slylikeasmeagol. See all posts by this author here.