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Retail ecommerce is one of the fastest-growing markets in the world—expected to top $4.9 trillion by 2021. But it’s a crowded and competitive space. Many business owners struggle to find the time and resources to develop a plan that will differentiate their customer experience from the rest.

Even though entrepreneurs are ambitious and may know what they want to do from a marketing perspective, most tools are either too basic or require more time and resources than their teams can afford.

The way to succeed in ecommerce if you’re just starting out is to either experience a lot of trial and error—which means money and time—or learn from others about strategies that work and the tools that help them.

If you didn’t know, Campaign Monitor recently announced a new addition to the family, CM Commerce, formerly Conversio. In order to help ecommerce businesses develop their strategy without burning time and resources, we’re featuring a Q&A that’s been adapted and edited from the 2017 “One Stop Shop” podcast between Conversio and ecommerce marketing expert Adrian Morrison.

When his father’s retirement stock plummeted, Adrian Morrison’s family lost everything. Adrian and his big brother, Anthony, left college at that time to pursue online marketing.

Who is Adrian Morrison?

He turned a few dollars from Facebook ads into a multimillion-dollar marketing company. He’s also a public speaker and the author of the books Social Media Profits From Your Home and $20K Per Day Ecom Secrets.

We talk to Morrison about his start, his strategies for success on Facebook and in the future.

For those who are not familiar with you, can you tell them a little bit about yourself and what you do?

First off, it’s great to hear that the students I’ve sent to you are crushing it.
As for me, I’m 31 years old, about to be 32 in November, and I have been doing this since I was in college. So I think now it’s been about 10 years. I was trying to get into law school and I was having a very, very tough time, and I turned to internet marketing and I started doing very, very well.

Originally I was not doing ecommerce. I was doing affiliate marketing, so I was promoting other people’s products, digital products for commissions. And about two years ago, I started doing ecommerce after doing very well in other avenues online. And it just exploded for me. So my business with Shopify is all drop shipping. I don’t keep any stock. I never see any of my products and never touch them. I never ship them. And it’s just been really amazing because a lot of people that do ecommerce, they often keep a warehouse full of stock. That’s what I guess intrigued everybody about what I was doing and the numbers I was able to put up.

I’ve been able to really simplify it for myself because I do have various different businesses other than ecommerce. I travel the world, and I teach at live events. I teach Facebook marketing and ecommerce and affiliate marketing. I’ve written two books that sold around 200,000 copies. I am someone who does a lot of different things, but ecommerce has been really amazing.

How did you start with affiliate marketing?

My entire backstory is actually quite intriguing. My father was pretty wealthy in terms of real estate. And I went to a school called Ole Miss, the University of Mississippi. And his dream was for me to be an attorney and for my older brother, Anthony, to be a doctor. And he ended up investing a lot [in the stock market]. Well, actually, 95% of his money was in WorldCom stock, and anybody that knows anything about WorldCom knows that it completely busted. So he went broke overnight. And that kind of sent our family into a tailspin.

So we’re in college, both my brother and I, and my dad has lost all of his money. We didn’t have school loans. My dad was paying cash for college. So we had to do something quick. And that got my brother and I looking into other ways to make money and supplement our income.

My dad was around 65. Nobody would hire him. The only job offer he got was selling Cracker Jacks at the Triple-A baseball stadium in Jackson for $7 an hour. So that really made me shift focus from being patient to impatient. I did not want to wait eight years to make money by going to law school and getting into a bunch of debt. I wanted to make money right now—and make a significant amount of it. And that’s when I found online marketing and I started doing affiliate work and from there, my eyes opened to this massive world of cash flow and instant gratification. And I’ve continued to grow from affiliate marketing all the way now to ecommerce.

How much did your dad losing his money affect your jump-start?

I used to sit around and kick myself in the butt every day. I played video games all the time, and I thought I was just going to go through law school. My goal was to make $100,000 a year if I’m lucky. I had this whole system planned out that most people do. I thought that was going to be my life.

This event with my father made me get up off of my butt and realize I’ve got to step up and I’ve got to do something right now.

So we always kind of joke around that it was a good thing that my dad lost all of his money because that event made us pivot to online marketing. It’s far more significant the amount of income we bring in now versus what he lost in the stock market. And he’s very much a part of our business now, too. He runs all of the financial aspects of our businesses. So it’s really fun. We’ve turned it into a family business.

What paradigm shifts did you go through during that time?

It made me realize that anybody can achieve their goals without having to follow everybody’s brainwashed ideas of work. Go to school, get into debt, go to a 9-to-5 job. I mean, that was my mindset, right? And now, I believe that anybody can wake up, regardless of their age, where they live, or the amount of education they have, and get online and actually earn money.

But one of the biggest shifts is you’re your own boss, at least in terms of mindset. And everybody speaks about how it’s so great to be your own boss and you can wake up whenever you want to. But it takes a real entrepreneur, and it takes somebody that really has a deep desire to succeed, to be their own boss. Because then you actually have to tell yourself, “Yo, wake up. It’s time to get online and make some money,” right?

And for me, that was a massive shift, because—no lie—I was really lazy. I had straight Ds and Fs in college. And then I went to building this massive business and becoming my own boss and actually making myself get up and work. I say work like it’s hard. It’s quite simple, but it’s still about the discipline of being on this computer and building these big businesses.

How did you get into ecommerce marketing?

I love that question. I’ve been preaching this now for over a year. The reason I chose ecommerce is because I wanted total control. When I did affiliate marketing, I generated insane amounts of money. I was spending up to $30,000 a day on Facebook ads promoting diabetic affiliate offers, and the one thing that I didn’t like about affiliate marketing was that I did not have total control of my business.

At one point, I was running a diabetic ad and was paid every time somebody would sign up to get a free diabetic meter from a company called OneTouch. I was doing about $200,000 a month in commissions. Mind you, there are zero product costs—and so for me, that is straight-up commission. And one day they called me and they said, “Adrian, we love you. You’ve made us a lot of money. We really appreciate your business, but things have changed and we’re turning this offer off.”

And so overnight, I went from making $200,000 a month to zero. And it made me realize very quickly, “I’m making a bunch of money, but somebody can still pull the plug.” That’s no different than having a million-dollar-a-year salary at a regular job. Somebody can fire you. You’re not safe. And with ecommerce, I have total control.

I can build a massive email list. I now have an email list of over 400,000 customers. And when I send out email promotions, I make thousands of dollars, and nobody can ever take that away from me. And I know that [CM Commerce] knows a lot about that, because you all have a lot of really amazing email integrations in your app now, which are really, really cool. One of the big things that made me shift over to ecommerce is being able to own my own data, control the offers that I’m promoting, and really be running a real business.

How did you begin learning about ecommerce?

My older brother, Anthony Morrison, actually mentored me. The story goes really deep with us. He started doing ecommerce and had success with it before me. We were just kind of shooting at the hip, buying programs, trying to promote things and make money. And my brother hit it all really big. I asked him if he would mentor me on exactly what he was doing. And he did.

There are so many options online. You’ve got Google AdWords, Facebook ads, you’ve got email marketing, and solo ad promotions. My brother became one of the biggest email marketers on the planet. And I became one of the top Facebook marketers out there as well. So we both do different things now, but I have to say for me it was a lot of trial and error.

I risked a lot to get information and figure out what does not work. So I remember back in the day, I had a job that paid $5.15 an hour. That was minimum wage when I was in college. I would save up my money, and then I would have an advertising budget for the month. And if I spent that budget, that was it. So I had to use it wisely.

So one of the methods I came up with that I teach all of my students is that I start all of my advertising campaigns with a $5-a-day budget. Now when I was new, that’s all I could afford to do. Other people would start out with $100, but I couldn’t afford to lose more than $5. And I’ve discovered that with a $5-a-day budget, if you run your ads properly, set them up properly, within three days I can tell if an ad is going to be a winner or a loser. So I’m able to teach everybody how to use maximum risk of $15 on ad spend.

How do you determine if an ad is going to be a winner or loser in three days? What measurement do you use? Is it about traffic or branding—or just sales?

With affiliate marketing, everything was direct response. You immediately generate a sale when you get a click. So for me, I’ve built up a massive brand online for my ecommerce store. But when I’m looking at sales, I look for them within the first three days. If it doesn’t pop in that timing, then it’s a dud. Because if you’ve got a hot product, you’ve targeted your ad properly, and you’re hitting the right audience, you should see a sale immediately the first day. You shouldn’t have to wait days for sales to come in.

There are so many options for all of us to market things online, especially with drop shipping. There are hundreds of thousands of products to sell. Instead of trying to force something to work, I just look for the things that immediately take off and give me instant gratification, and then I scale those as large as possible.

It sounds like you’re saying if a product is not having an immediate response, it means that either you’re selling the wrong product or you’re targeting the wrong people or using the wrong message.

I don’t think that they need to reconsider the business, but I do think they need to find a different product. I’ve seen too many times over and over and over again where people try to force something to work that just simply isn’t going to work in terms of product or audience.

Here’s what I tell my students, and this is a rule that I live by: Most people are programmed to want to market their passion. As a matter of fact, you’ve got all these gurus out there that say, “Turn your passion into a profit.” Well, that’s phenomenal if you can do it, but not everybody can do that. And let me tell you what’s easier than turning your passion into a profit: It’s turning other people’s passion into a profit.

It doesn’t matter what I like. It doesn’t matter what product I think is cool. Nobody cares what I think. What matters is what everybody else out there in the world wants and what they think and what they’re willing to buy. One of the reasons so many of my students have become six- and seven-figure earners is because I teach them to listen. Listen to what the people want online—and not what you think. Don’t try to force a square peg into a round hole. Just find a product that has something I call “the sizzle effect.” People are passionate about it and immediately it takes off, and then you’ve got a winner and you can grow a massive business out of one single tiny product overnight.

There’s one burning question about the three-day time limit: If I had a store, how would I know if the problem is the product, a lack of buyers, or a bad advertisement? Am I not targeting the right people or maybe not using the right copy?

The great thing about Facebook is that you can see what everybody else out there is doing. I am no genius when it comes to product selection. I’ve learned everything from experience. I look at what other people are doing. I look at other products that are having success. And then I go out there and find a similar product or maybe even the same thing. Because a lot of these drop shipping companies, they have their products open to anybody and everybody that wants to do business with them.

So I’ll see what’s already working. You can just look at the market and tell what’s working. And then I try to find something very similar.

Now, if I know that I have a product that other people are selling and they’re doing well with it, but I’m not able to sell, that tells me that my audience targeting is wrong.

I created a formula. I call it the four phases of targeting, and I teach it in a course I released earlier this year, called eCom Success Academy, and it walks students through how to properly target their ads because proper targeting is an issue. Typically, it’s why a lot of people have issues. They have a really good product but can’t get sales to it. It’s because they’re not targeting the right way.

Can you summarize the phases?

eCom Success Academy, the course that I put out, had over 150 training videos in it that I personally developed. The phases are a small little piece of it. Phase one targeting should be very precise, using very passionate keywords. So when you go into Facebook and you see where you can type in the interest or the keywords, let’s say dogs, you’re going to see the keyword “dogs” come up. Facebook will show you all the interested people that match to dogs. You’ll likely see 28 million people in the U.S. that will match to that keyword. That is a massive audience, right?

But if you were to type in a keyword phrase like “I love dogs” or “dogs rule my life” or something like that, that is a more precise, more passionate keyword. So phase one is finding those smaller, more long-tail, super personal, super passionate interests. And that’s where you’re going to find your most passionate buyers.

Phase two happens after you’ve had success with phase one—and that’s when you want to scale a little bit. So you want to be able to hit a bigger audience, because the precise keywords may end up serving you, like, 2 million people in the U.S. Phase two is all about going broad. So then you would go in and you would target the bigger keywords like “dogs” or “pit bulls” that give you bigger audiences.

And by then, something called Facebook intelligence has kicked in. Everybody’s Facebook account has a pixel. And that pixel that Facebook gives you tracks everything that’s happening on your store—who’s clicking, who’s buying, who’s not buying—it’s all learning. So by the time you’ve had a little bit of success, your Facebook pixel should really have a good understanding of what type of people are buying your products. So then when you go to phase two and you hit a bigger audience, your odds of hitting the more qualified customers within that massive audience are going to be a lot higher.

Phase three is about similar audiences. Facebook calls them “look-alike audiences.” Facebook allows you to go in and build, with one click of a button, an audience based off of everybody that’s ever purchased from you or visited your website. So they’ll go match people to your previous visitors. And they’ll say, “We believe this audience that we just created for you to be a really hot audience of prospects.” If the look-alike audience from Facebook is converting for you, then you’re really winning.

Now, the fourth phase is zero targeting. That means I literally set up an ad for a product. I do no targeting. I had 18-plus-year-olds worldwide, and I generate a massive amount of sales at extremely high return on investment. And the reason I’m able to do that is because I walked through these other three phases, and Facebook began to learn who my buyers were. So eventually, if you follow these four phases, you might not have to do targeting for your ads at all. Now, that’s not guaranteed. But that’s what I’m seeing and so many others are seeing if they follow through and do it the right way.

What is your specialty? If you had to pick one thing, what is it?

I’ve always said Facebook is my bread and butter. I’ve been marketing on Facebook since the very first right-column ad came out so many years ago. The first day their self-serve ad platform was there, I was on it, marketing products. I’ve gone to Facebook headquarters. They’ve asked me to sign their wall at HQ, which was really cool. I’m very passionate about Facebook marketing.

I also am passionate about teaching other people how to do what I do, which is why I travel and speak at conferences, why I wrote my books, and why I released my courses. But at the end of the day, I’m a Facebook marketer. And I actually do what I teach people how to do, which is quite refreshing in today’s online world.

On that note, what are some common bad pieces of advice that are going around right now with Facebook ads?

There are many ways that you can do something right, and there are many ways you could do something wrong. I believe that one of the worst pieces of advice on Facebook is to try to find an expensive product and adding advertising. If you’re just starting out, you don’t need to start out your first ad promoting a product that cost $100 or $50. The cheaper the product is for the customer to purchase, the easier it’s going to be for you to actually get a conversion.

So I tell my students: Don’t go for the big ticket items right out of the gate. Find something cheap in any niche and start with that. You’re going to see that it’s easier to get sales, and it’s going to boost your motivation. You’re going to see that it actually works, and it’s going to get you more excited.

A lot of people are still saying you should do manual bidding. Facebook gives you the option to let them judge how much your ad impressions should cost. Or you tell them how much you’re willing to pay. Automatic targeting works the best. It has been my personal experience over the years, and in the past year where we did $3 million in revenue. Facebook is smarter than I am. They’re smarter than everybody else out there when it comes to their own ad platform. I always tell people you should not be going and manually bidding because you don’t even know what’s going on behind the scenes in the Facebook auction.

Start out with automatic bidding. Facebook’s system is built to do the best it possibly can to get you conversions and sales. So let them take the wheel. Those would be the two pieces of advice I would give that go against the grain.

Do you think it’s possible to create a brand or presence online for a new business entirely on Facebook and skip everything else such as SEO and other tactics? Can you just focus on Facebook in the beginning?

Yeah, I’ve taken so many people that have tried SEO and I have turned them into straight-up Facebook marketers. There’s many different ways to build your business. You know, you’ve got SEO, Google, you can do many things, but you get what you pay for. And there’s one thing that is guaranteed: If I build an ad on Facebook, I am going to get a massive amount of traffic immediately. I’m not going to have to hope that Google, Bing, or Yahoo indexes it on the first page. I know for a fact I’m getting immediate, massive amounts of traffic to my product. So I definitely am a full-time believer that Facebook has the highest-quality traffic in the world.

They have the most amazing targeting that I’ve ever seen in my life. And it’s literally at all of our fingertips, and it’s so easy to use. You read, point, and click what you want. So yeah, I definitely believe anybody, even if they’re brand-new, can start their business or take their current business, even if it’s a brick-and-mortar business, and scale it to the moon and back with only Facebook ads.

What’s next for you? What are you hoping to see with your business in the future?

My ecommerce businesses exploded a lot faster than I had expected. And I have offers from people that want to buy my ecommerce stores. I am thinking about actually selling one of my ecommerce stores because I want to document the experience and I want to show my students what to do and what not to do, what mistakes I might make, and what things I could have done better. Because with ecommerce, you’re actually building a real asset that has value.

I had a company evaluate my ecommerce business. After 10 months of being in business, we’re at $3.5 million. And that really got me excited. So the next thing on my list is to strike a good deal with somebody through my private broker and maybe sell one of them and start up some more.

But I’m always moving forward and becoming more and more passionate about teaching other people how to do this the right way. And let me tell you why. When I was in high school and college, I had terrible grades and very low self-esteem. My teachers and schools said that I was slow, that I was the kid that was always looking out the window. In all honesty, I thought that I was destined to be a loser and be broke—until I was forced to make internet marketing work.

And now all of a sudden, I’m this successful internet entrepreneur that still can barely do any math. Thank goodness for calculators. But I get really excited when I take other people that were in the same position as me, or they’re in a rut, and help them. Maybe they don’t have anybody to lift them up, or they don’t have anybody that’s got their back. They don’t have anybody telling them that they can do something. Everybody’s always saying you can’t do this and you can’t do that. I really enjoy being the guy saying you can do it. I was there, and I did it. And I want to show you how to do it too. And for me, that is probably one of the most exciting directions that I’m moving in right now.

Where can people contact you or learn more about your services and what you do?

I have a website at adrianmorrison.com. There’s some information about me there. There’s a free download for a book that I wrote called $20K Per Day Ecom Secrets. And in there, I outline the four phases that we spoke about earlier a little bit. That’s a completely free book. Anybody can download it. There’s no catch to it or anything.

I’m on Facebook. I’ve got a Facebook page that I started just maybe six months ago that’s grown to over 30,000 likes so far. So I’m very active on that. I do a lot of Facebook Live sessions and Q&As and hang out with other people that aspire to do big and great things on the internet.

Wrap up

From welcome emails to re-engagement campaigns and beyond, we seamlessly integrate with your ecommerce platforms—Shopify, WooCommerce, and BigCommerce—so you’ll have all the features you need to exceed your goals.

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  • Pre-made conversion campaigns to recover revenue from abandoned carts
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  • Ready-to-go templates or custom versions, coupons, and rewards with your branding

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This blog provides general information and discussion about email marketing and related subjects. The content provided in this blog ("Content”), should not be construed as and is not intended to constitute financial, legal or tax advice. You should seek the advice of professionals prior to acting upon any information contained in the Content. All Content is provided strictly “as is” and we make no warranty or representation of any kind regarding the Content.
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