The Startup Guide for Emerging Commerce Brands Part 2: Growth with Marketing

This post delves into the pivotal strategies needed to navigate a new digital marketing environment, exploring the considerations between in-house and agency marketing, essential tools for an effective tech stack, and the evolving impact of Apple's iOS updates on data collection.

Person pointing to a report with a bar chart on it

It has never been a more exciting or challenging time in online marketing. The world is largely digital, making it critical to reach consumers across multiple online touchpoints via multiple devices. 

Recent iOS updates limit the efficacy of third-party cookies. ROI is threatened by the subsequent challenges around targeting and attribution. As a result, first-party data and identity-based solutions should be central to marketing strategy.

In-house vs. Agency Pros and Cons

The main ways to set up your marketing efforts are by recruiting in-house talent or hiring a marketing agency. 

There are plenty of companies that use a hybrid approach to their marketing, which often includes a mix of in-house resources and an agency. A brand might have dedicated content, creative, and communications talent in-house, but then outsource all digital or public relations strategies. Below are some of the pros and cons of both approaches:

In-house teams typically include a head of marketing who oversees content marketing, social media, digital marketing, email, account-based marketing, demand generation, paid media, and event marketing. Design and product marketing resources can also fold into the wider marketing team. 

A marketing agency usually has a dedicated team in place that services clients across a range of needs for a certain number of hours each month. They have talent that spans the above marketing skills, though many agencies specialize in certain areas such as digital media buying. 

In-House Team:

  • Dedicates 100% of their time to your brand since they only work for you
  • Shares proprietary and confidential information to boost chances of success
  • You can work hard to retain your employees to reduce chance of turnover
  • Builds closer relationships with internal teams across the business and leadership
  • Costly to have multiple team members with employee benefits
  • It takes time to ramp up, put processes in place, and establish benchmarks for success
  • Spend more time in meetings, trainings, and handling other logistical components
  • Marketing knowledge might be more siloed or specific to your company or industry

Marketing Agency:

  • Cannot dedicate 100% of their time to your brand since they have multiple clients
  • There might be certain information you need to hold back due to competitive concerns
  • Have high turnover rates, which might lead to a lack of continuity in service
  • A barrier between your agency team and other teams/leadership at your business
  • Costs less than an in-house team, with talent matching your needs
  • They have repeated, proven, and scalable processes to achieve success
  • Works billable hours, so you are getting direct output for what you are paying
  • Has more industry knowledge, through the wide array of clientele

The Top Questions to Ask Your Digital Marketing Agency 

  1. Who's responsible for ensuring the consolidated technology stack is up and running, and who functions to maintain it? There’s a need for constant use case and KPI definition in addition to integration testing and validation to fulfill your strategic marketing and campaign goals.
  2. How do you steep yourself in your clients' culture so that you become a true extension of their team? A cultural fit is just as important as the expertise and strategic acumen your agency brings to the table — they should be a partner, not a provider.
  3. Are you clear in your approach and fee structure to drive continued long-term success? Do they explain processes, structures, and approaches — even if their brand clients don’t agree?
  4. How do you ensure transparency in all of your client relationships? This is not just about transparency in the realm of how an agency is executing strategy but also how upfront they are about performance metrics and changes in goal-setting.
  5. Do you think you have a good understanding of how the digital world is evolving in the industry? Conditions change rapidly in the digital marketing space, but having a command of trends and emerging technologies and approaches will help make your agency a more strategic advisor. 
  6. How do you ensure your full team, not just the account managers, is in full alignment with the strategy from the start of the engagement? Everyone in your agency’s digital team should be on the same page when it comes to the strategy they’re executing for clients. 
  7. Have you worked to educate and shift your clients to better metrics such as ROI and revenue that drive improved outcomes in their marketing campaigns? Goal-based optimization helps you drive full-funnel ROI that gets more out of marketing efforts and budget. 
  8. How does your agency plan to differentiate itself with a proprietary skillset or offering? More and more, agencies are offering full-service, one-stop-shop capabilities.
  9. Do you have the right skill sets and roles in place to drive digital strategy across teams for your brand clients? Agencies need both optimization practitioners and more senior team leaders with technical expertise. 
  10. What is your client retention rate? Creating stickiness with clients requires helping them achieve both short-term and long-term business goals. 

Discover new marketing agency partners in the Ampla Directory 

Your Ideal Marketing Tech Stack

Whether you go in-house or agency, these are the tools to have in place to properly generate ROI from your marketing efforts.

Website & Blog

You might have a website covered if your business is already established. If you’re still looking for options, here are common platforms:

  • WordPress is a simple way to get a site up and running. WordPress has built-in SEO, flexible tools for payments and eCommerce, and 24/7 support.
  • Squarespace offers free trials of its flexible website builder with templates, a variety of tools for selling your products, and email and social integrations.
  • Shopify lets you find customers, drive sales, and grow your business with a variety of eCommerce and point-of-sale features.
  • Webflow is used by more than 3.5 million users, including Ampla. They offer a free starter account, with a variety of features that can be upgraded as you need.

Marketing Automation

Marketing automation software helps you execute email marketing, account-based marketing, and SMS, among other types of marketing activations to target segments at scale. 

  • Klaviyo helps you collect and store your customer data and use it to create easy and automated email campaigns.  
  • Drip is targeted at eCommerce brands that want to deploy personalized email and SMS marketing strategies.
  • Omnisend is an omnichannel platform designed for growth-focused eCommerce brands, with Shopify, Bigcommerce, and WooCommerce integrations.
  • Bluecore offers 3 products, with Bluecore Communicate being the tool which allows for a modern, personalized email service provider (ESP) experience.

Search engine optimization (SEO)

SEO is important to optimize websites for search engine organic results, like Google. Brands that work on their SEO practices improve their organic search rankings and website traffic over time.

  • SEMrush is a popular SEO tool with many capabilities for users of any level. They offer a variety of resources to get you started and a limited-time 30-day free trial.
  • Moz Pro is another all-in-one tool that takes the complexity out of SEO. They offer a 30-day free trial and resources to help you through all of their features. 
  • Google Search Console is a free SEO tool that helps monitor your presence on Google. They offer training videos to start optimizing your Google search appearance.
  • Ahrefs is the second largest website crawler after Google. They have resources like Ahrefs Acadamy and a 7-day free trial.

Social media marketing and management

Social media management platforms allow for brands to post, schedule, and track the performance of all social channels in one place.

  • Hootsuite lets you manage all the major social and SMS channels like Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Live chat, among others.
  • SproutSocial spans five core product areas: social media engagement, social publishing and scheduling, analytics, social listening, and employee advocacy. 
  • Sprinklr is a unified customer experience management platform underpinned by artificial intelligence, with social listening, automation, and advertising. 
  • Buffer is a simple, all-in-one tool for small businesses with a limited amount of time or money to spend on social media platforms. 

Digital Advertising

There are a slew of different advertising platforms out there to help you run ads across display, mobile, and other channels to broaden the reach of your brand. 

  • Meta’s advertising platform is used by many high-growth, DTC brands to advertise on Facebook and Instagram. They offer self-serve tools and robust reporting to gain visibility into their performance.
  • Google’s Marketing Platform combines DoubleClick's advertising services and Google's own advertising and analytics services. 
  • Amazon Ads has moved onto the scene to capture a larger share of advertisers with the ability to cater to all types of businesses while executing campaigns quickly. 
  • TikTok For Business launched its advertising platform in 2020. Since then, brands are now able to creatively utilize short-form video in their ad campaigns.


There are many different types of analytics based on which platforms you are looking at. Each platform typically has its own suite of reporting, but it’s good to match them up with internal analytic solutions.

  • Google Analytics is the dominant marketing analytics solution that tracks and reports website traffic, in addition to Flash, video, and social networking sites and applications. 
  • Heap Analytics provides great insights into customer interactions. It can tell you what customers love and hate about your website, including potential areas of friction. 
  • Optimizely provides content, commerce, intelligence, and experimentation capabilities across multiple platforms that allow for data-driven, hyper-personalized experiences.
  • Daasity is an analytics tool dedicated to eCommerce brands focused on centralizing all types of data across the entire tech stack.

How to Drive Marketing Results with Apple iOS 14 and 15

Apple’s recent iOS 14 and 15 updates include UI and privacy feature changes to improve the overall experience for consumers. These features also necessitate a change in what type of data marketers are able to collect from iPhone users and the corresponding metrics they use to measure success. Let’s break down each update and how it impacts marketing your business. 

Apple iOS 14

Earlier in 2021, the iOS 14 update began impacting the ability to track certain user activity and the sharing of Apple’s Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA). The updates included:

  • Tracking: Users now need to provide consent to allow an app to track their activity outside of the Apple platform. This has implications for ad targeting based on online behavior, which makes it harder to personalize marketing. 
  • Conversion events: Marketers can now only use up to eight conversion events from a single website domain, limiting conversion types (i.e. landing page views) used. 
  • IDFA: Developers and ad tech companies are now unable to use IDFA to track a user’s journey on their iPhone, prompting a need to look at IP addresses for targeting instead. 

Apple iOS 15

Apple unveiled its new iOS 15 in June 2021 ahead of a commercial rollout. The update now allows users to view and opt out of every single app tracking or collecting their data. Users can see how often these apps are collecting their data as well as how much data is being shared with third parties for tracking purposes. The updates included:

  • Reporting: An App Privacy Report tells users what data apps are collecting about them, including when an app has accessed “sensitive parts” of their devices, such as a contacts list. 
  • Email: The email app hides users' IP addresses and locations to prevent companies from connecting email to other online activities. The ability to view open rates will diminish, and metrics like click-through rates and conversions will become more critical. 
  • Siri: Siri now processes audio right on an Apple device instead of sending commands to a server to prevent unwanted audio listening by third parties.
  • Hide My Email: As part of a new subscription bundle called iCloud Plus, “Hide My Email” impacts email marketing by reducing the number of companies having access to users' email addresses. Instead, there’s now an option to randomly generate an email when users register an account on a new website. Messages will then be forwarded to users’ inboxes. In addition, Safari’s "Private Relay" will encrypt the traffic coming from a user's device so no third parties can see search history.

Zero- and First-Party Data Reign Supreme

Zero- and first-party data are emerging as a way for brands to circumvent the implications the Apple iOS 14 and 15 updates pose.

First-party data is information collected directly from consumers, such as your CRM database, website and app analytics, and social media. First-party data has long been known and used by marketers to engage with customers and prospects. 

Zero-party data is information a consumer intentionally and proactively shares with a brand such as purchase intentions, communication preferences, and how they want the brand to recognize them. 

Both are valuable because they establish a direct relationship with a user, fostering more trust and the opportunity to improve personalization of marketing experiences. 

Marketing Strategies and Tactics for Apple iOS 14 and 15

Here are some tips to collect and better use more zero- and first-party data:

  • Use polls, quizzes, and preference centers to make data collection fun and engaging
  • Use loyalty program data to boost your marketing, even joining forces with retailer partners to leverage their loyalty program data if you lack it. 
  • Extend offers like discounts, exclusive access to new products, videos, and more to reward customers for supplying more data.
  • Partner with social media influencers to access potential customers with relevant interests or characteristics.
  • Pull first-party data from marketing channels such as email to target lookalike audiences and retarget users.
  • Look at outcome data to measure marketing efforts, such as purchases, engagement, or app downloads, in addition to cost-benefit metrics such as dollars spent relevant to impressions.

Best Practices for Collecting Opt-in Data from Consumers 

There is a larger opportunity for brands to use the Apple iOS 14 and 15 updates to convey a true value exchange to consumers so they understand the benefit of sharing their data. Creative and well-designed consent banners drive higher opt-in rates. Check out a few examples of concise and clear opt-in messages below.

Mike Grillo

Michael (Mike) Grillo is an advertising and marketing industry veteran who currently serves as VP of Marketing at Ampla. Prior to Ampla, Mike was the Head of Consumer Products and Retail at Calm, the #1 App for Meditation and Sleep and co-founder and CEO of Gravity Products, home to the world-famous Gravity Blanket. Under Mike's leadership, Gravity was named one of Time Magazine's Best Inventions (2018) and Entrepreneur Magazine's 100 Brilliant Companies. The brand was ultimately acquired by WIN Brands Group in 2021. Mike is an angel investor and advisor to several NYC-based start-ups, including Ampla Technologies.

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