Cherene Aubert is the VP of Growth at Bobbie, the first European-style organic infant formula that has raised over $50M to take the soon-to-be 100B+ formula market by storm.
Cherene honed her craft and expertise in growth & ecommerce while working for agencies like Human Marketing and Common Thread Collective. In 2021 Cherene joined Bobbie as their key growth director and built Bobbie's growth playbook from the ground up.
In this episode, we dive into how Cherene has cracked the growth code for this up-and-coming D2C challenger brand!
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Hello everyone, and thank you so much for joining us today for our fifth D2C Multiverse livestream session. My name is Sara and I'll be your host.
Today we have Cherene Aubert with us today. Cherene is the VP of Growth at Bobbie, the first European-style organic infant formula that has raised over $50 million to take the soon-to-be 100 billion formula market by storm.
Cherene honed her craft and expertise in growth and ecommerce while working for agencies like Human Marketing and Common Thread Collective. In 2021, Cherene joined Bobby as their key growth director and built Bobby's growth playbooks from the ground up.
So, why don't we get started, Cherene, with a little bit about yourself and how you ended up at Bobbie.
Hey everybody. So glad to be here. Thank you for the great introduction, Sara.
I spent the last over a decade in D2C ecommerce, growing ecommerce businesses from zero to past nine figures in revenue. I have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly.
I got my start at a software design and development agency back when Magento was the hot ecommerce platform and came up in one of the top Magento partner agencies. I saw the growth of so many different industries and categories. I spent a lot of my career agency side just due to the excitement of seeing so many businesses and being a part of their growth.
And then I joined Bobbie almost two years ago. Joined as their growth team member #1. We were hitting our stride with amazing hockey stick growth. And then at the top of 2022, we came into the infant formula shortage. The industry is a duopoly, one of the biggest competitors wiped out 40% of the supply when they had a recall.
And so from that point forward, my job became reversing all demand, slowing all growth, pulling back every marketing lever for about six to nine months. Introducing a wait list, stopping customer acquisition. Got really great insight into what was truly driving growth at Bobbie. And then, fast forward to today, we're in 1,700 Target stores.
We just launched another product this week. And we're building that momentum and riding that momentum again today.
That's fantastic. And for those who may not have peeped Cherene's LinkedIn profile, she does say that she was the Director of Slowth for a little while at Bobbie—just going with that baby formula shortage and pulling back all those levers. And we'll dive into that a little bit later.
But I know you've covered it a lot in other places that you've spoken so we'll try to shy away from it. Can you give us a glimpse into Bobbie’s overarching D2C growth strategy post formula shortage?
Yes, I'll preface it with what the strategy was pre shortage and what made so much of the growth successful. Then compare that to the post shortage time period.
So, the biggest foundation and building block for Bobbie's successful growth was its strong product market fit. I mean, the product is incredible. And European-style formula was not available in the US. You can order Euro style formulas and ship them overseas. There's a lot less safety around it. The shipping is more unpredictable. So, there was a big gap in the market.
And Bobbie closed this gap, and that was the first layer of foundation for Bobbie's growth. And then Bobbie as a disruptor brand has built a very strong and differentiated brand compared to the players in the market.
So product and brand are the foundation for growth pre-shortage, and that's what enabled us to have such successful scale over the first two years of the business. And then everything else, all of the growth tactics and growth strategies are cherries on top of that really strong foundation that makes it like an amazing growth sundae.
So that's pre-shortage. I mean, you also need to look at the industry, there's very few competitors in the US market. The market is finite. There's people entering and exiting every day. You have to have a baby that is under one year old, and they have to need formula.
We don't like to convince people to switch from breastfeeding to formula feeding. You have to have a need for formula and if you have a need, then we do our job to explain why we are the best product in the market, which is relatively difficult because there's so many regulations around this product.
You can't say we are the best. You can explain to people in terms of what they're looking for in a product. So, that's pre shortage. And there's a really high barrier to entry to enter the market. It's very costly and it takes a lot of testing, research, meeting FDA standards to get a product to market.
And then fast forward to the shortage because we were in a crisis. The White House flew over competitors overnight. They kind of skipped the line in terms of going through all the regulatory guidelines that we had to go through to get a product to market. And we were on a wait list. So we stopped all customer acquisition
And we also launched in Target. So during this period, the industry and our business model completely changed. And when we reopened, we're now in Target, we now have more competition. And we have no more growth momentum built up. We had this lull in our growth. So coming into this new post shortage environment, there's also a hangover of people who kind of hoarded and stocked up during that shortage.
And now we're on the other side, and it's how do we continue to innovate, make our D2C offering the most compelling compared to what's out there in the market, and retain people on our site when we have more options now and we're an omnichannel brand. So, the growth strategy is constantly evolving and looking at what's happening in the market and delivering to your audience exactly what sets your product apart from what's out there.
For sure. And I love that. It goes nicely into our next topic which is what channels usually fuel growth, one of your top Twitter threads that you have pinned kind of goes, “growth marketers are quick to throw out ads as my main channel growth or email, but really it's about that offer.”
So maybe we can talk about what creates a compelling offer and how Bobbie came to their compelling offer.
It's such a great revelation for me to have realized. It's not the growth channel, the channel is just the vehicle that gets someone to the offer. And I think so many of us in the growth space are a little bit pigeonholed on like, this platform says this and this one says that, and I'm looking at this number and that number and this tactic, and I read this thread and we kind of need to zoom out and think about the market that you're serving.
The consumers in that market and what they're looking for and how they're shopping and how they're comparing products for something like baby formula that is so high stakes. You don't just impulse purchase baby formula. You do a lot of research first. This is your baby. It's the most precious being on the planet.
What's most important to parents is they want their baby to feel comfortable. They don't want their baby to have issues with digestion when switching to a formula. So for us, the most important introductory offer is a trial—giving people the ability to try before they commit. And many subscription businesses have a variation of this.
With Third Love, you get to try on the bra before they actually charge you. For Warby Parker, it's the same thing. You get the glasses before you have to pay for them and you send them back. For every business, this trial moment or this acquisition offer moment looks a little bit different for some businesses, it might just be a really good first order discount if you know that you can retain people beyond that.
But I think it goes back to what are the unit economics for a trial offer that makes sense for the business?
And then what's your retention beyond that first purchase and how attractive and compelling is it? and does it fit into the consumer's life and purchasing decision framework?
For sure. And then after getting that customer through the offer, it's all about keeping them. And I saw that Bobbie has a subscription service and I think one of my favorite messages on the website is: You subscribe to us and we subscribe to you.
We hold the amount of formula that you need until your child is one. How did that specific offer come to be and has Bobbie always been a subscription-first business?
I need to fact check this, but I believe we're the first subscription formula, D2C business.
There might have been others, but they're not doing as much volume as we are. We are the infant formula subscription brand. We always try to build the experience for the customers. So we never force you to have a subscription. Unless we are in a supply constrained situation.
So we give our customers optionality. You can subscribe, you can make a one-time purchase, you can trial. But the thing that was very interesting with the formula shortage and what we learned very quickly was if we leave all of these options open, we're gonna have a really hard time guaranteeing that a baby can complete their feeding journey on Bobbie.
And one of the most important things to parents is if they find a good formula—sometimes this takes parents three or four tries to find the right formula that fits for their baby—having to make them switch is a nightmare. So when we came into the shortage, it was like, okay, we could just keep it open, sell all of our product, acquire a bunch of customers, and we don't know how long this is gonna go.
It might go for a week, it might go for a month, it might go for a year. And we made a very quick decision and a difficult decision to stop acquisition and only allow our existing subscribers to continue their feeding journeys. And that was a very important decision to us. And that's where that guarantee came from, we wanted to be the only infant formula brand that stayed in stock and continued to provide deliveries without interruption at all for our customers.
And that created a lot of loyalty and brand love, as you can imagine. People are like, you saved us during this crisis. I had no stress at all when all of this panic was happening. Parents were having a really hard time. But our subscribers were at ease knowing that their deliveries would come.
And so now we've actually shifted our business model knowing that. Because we exist in a duopoly, because there's so few competitors, this could happen again. And we rest on that promise that we are going to guarantee our customers their subscriptions. And it comes down to very good demand and supply planning and having a good understanding of our retention data.
And we can assume if we acquire a consumer, they're gonna need this much of a subscription and we essentially bake that into our planning.
That's really neat, that you can then leverage that data for other things, right? So it's good for the business and it's good for the customer.
I really love how that insight drove this business model and it's so impactful. I'm gonna switch gears a little bit and kind of get your thoughts on social commerce. So communities are really big for Bobbie. I love the Milk Drunk blog. I love the name of it. It's so much fun. Or the Bobbie Breasty community.
So, how do you think social commerce plays a role in not just D2C brands and Bobbie, but also marketing in general?
Yeah. I think brands that don't invest in doing good and giving back are really missing out. Number one, because as a business, you have a responsibility to not only make profit, but make the world better.
Putting people over profits and doing good actually accelerates your business. And we believe in that wholeheartedly.
So, investing in the community while it doesn't drive direct sales, it reinforces in people's minds that this business is here to make change. And I think it only works if it's authentic. And that's what, I'm so in awe of the work we're doing at Bobbie. So much of it brings you to tears.
It's actually amazing. But I think that's also the good part of it. That's like the touchy feely part of it. But then the business impact of doing that is you are differentiated in the market, in the space, and consumers remember businesses that make an impact. And I think that is becoming a bigger trend in something that consumers will keep in mind and will remember.
And it's a good way of just getting engagement with your community beyond sales or social media. It's like, we're gonna do this event, we're gonna give back, please contribute to it and let's change the world together. And money can't buy that. And the impact is you're building a business, you're building a legacy business when you do that kind of work for.
One of the things about building a legacy business is having that zero party data so that you can continue to create products and campaigns and offers that work well with your customers. So on that, you also talked about the importance of this zero party data to understanding your customers better.
Do you think this strategy will be different across industries from food to fashion, to homestyle lifestyle, etcetera?
I think that how you do it and the questions that you pose will be different. But I think it is marginally different. I think there's enough of the same tools out there that allow businesses to get data from their customers and I think the “why” you should do it is the same and 100% we can all sit in a room and talk about like, “I think this will be a good idea. I think that will be a good idea. Let's look at the data. The data says this or that or this”.
And sometimes you can get blinded by the data so much by just looking at raw data and numbers and metrics. You know, sometimes we're in these meetings and we're making big decisions and we'll just go: “Did we ask the customers what they think about this” and we're like, “Oh yeah. Like, why don't we just ask them?” I mean, they will tell us exactly what we're trying to figure out here, and we're trying to design this elaborate test to see if it has this statistical significance.
And it's like before going down that road, let's just survey some customers or let's create a path for customers to share their data willingly with us so that we can make their experience better. And I think there's so many benefits of personalization in your experience. I think building your experience for your customers is another thing, just like social commerce, that on the surface you might not immediately think like, “oh, why don't we just like run the playbook that every other brand runs?” versus like, “let's make a new playbook based on what our customers want.”
I think that's another thing that distinguishes businesses from each other.
That's fantastic. And further to that, so this is gonna be a two-parter question. So one is how do you build that feedback loop into your product, into the marketing that you do, so that you're constantly getting customer feedback and improving?
And the second one is, do you use any third-party research or customer intelligence tools to get more information about customers that you may not have from your zero party data?
Yeah, definitely. It's a great question and one of the ways that we bake data capture into our product today is through what we call our formulator, which is our formula calculator.
And, you know, so many businesses do the out-of-the-box quiz flow. Like, let's have a quiz that goes into a recommendation. And it's to the point that it's so expected. As we were historically, up until this week, a one product business with, all we had was different sizes.
And so it's like how do you build a quiz that only suggests the same product? And we did user research on site and we looked at some of the friction points and we noticed that people did not know how much to order. So we created a quiz flow experience that baked in the medical recommendations like directionally of what how much someone would need if they consumed Bobbie.
So again, it's like taking the playbook and customizing it and personalizing it for our customers and their experience based on the data that we are getting around what they need help with, how to make their experience better. And that's been really successful. And now it's like, what other things can we use as tools to help customers?
And I think that's the key: Is this tool, is this data capture actually helping someone? What is the outcome and what is it giving them? Then that's gonna be a successful zero-party data play. As far as third-party data you know, we do our own—we run our own studies. We access data sets to understand market size and sales volume in the market.
I can't give all the secrets away. I need some of that in my back pocket. But the data is very important to how we make our decisions and I like the value of doing a brand study and just surveying people who are in the market. And then also layering on other data sets. It's interesting because it allows you to arrive at the same conclusions through multiple different ways and give you more confidence in what you believe to be true.
Definitely. And it's super helpful with the scientific method, right? Make a hypothesis, do the research, see if it either confirms your hypothesis or denies it, but as many different data sets as you can have definitely helps expand what you can do and what your plan is.
I love that answer. That's so fantastic. And for those who may not know what Bobbie just launched in the last week, did you wanna get into what your new secondary product is?
Yes. We've been on market for two years with one product. It's our organic infant formula.
It's our flagship product. In the industry, it's called a routine infant formula meaning most healthy babies (that are not premature, don't have any other issues) can digest it and tolerate it well. And then on Monday we just launched our organic gentle Infant formula which the product is a tolerance formula and it's made with partially hydrolyzed proteins.
So this is where I'm pretending to be scientific, but I love, like the proteins are fully intact, and then babies that have issues digesting those proteins, there's a category of formulas that are a little bit more broken down in the proteins. So that's what we just launched.
It's super exciting. There's a lot of great impact that it's already having on our business and I'm excited too, it's like a little baby that's just been born. I'm very proud of it.
That's so much fun. That's really, really cool. And one of the things I really like about the Bobbie website is that you can see the product and then you also have pictures that show what it is that is in the product.
For folks who may not have any idea what the type of protein you just spoke of could look like, what it is, et cetera. What are some other onsite touchpoints like product descriptions, sustainability, et cetera, that folks can leverage in their D2C marketing to try and increase conversions?
Yeah, it's a combination of what are people searching for, what are people researching before making the purchasing decision and what are they looking for on your site that's going to help them make that decision without going somewhere else?
And what is actually driving conversion? So, one example of this is we have a feeding guide on our site, and while it doesn't immediately drive conversion for people who are doing research. It's almost like a traffic acquisition tool. So we use (the guide) hand-in-hand with user research to make the journey easier and try to keep people on our site instead of going elsewhere.
It's really important to do that if you have a research intensive product.
Especially European formulation versus what's available in North America. I personally didn't even know there was a difference. So it's really interesting to have that broken down on the website and not have to go somewhere else to say, Hey, what's the difference here?
Are there any other overlooked growth marketing strategies that new-age D2C brands can tap into either on their website, it could be a channel strategy? What are your favorite go-tos?
I think press is overlooked by traditional growth marketers. Some of the impacts I've seen press and mass media, like getting on the news or getting on a live TV segment, takes a lot of work and it could be very expensive. And it takes a lot of time and it's unpredictable, but the returns that it has, almost outweigh some of the impact of driving big sale moments.
So I think that's a big one. Then there's like big press, and then there's performance PR like getting into all of the blog posts and listicles and best ofs, even if they're like affiliate links and you're paying a commission on them. I think that really solidifies in consumer's minds that, “oh, this is a legitimate brand.” The legitimacy thing is something that I think is another thing that will distinguish brands from each other.
For sure. And do you wanna deep dive into how folks can maybe get more social proof on their website to prove their legitimacy?
So you've spoken about press, having those press bits. Bobbie has the awards that you've won, “Baby Formula so good, we've won awards for it.” How else can you add that legitimacy or that trust on your website or even just build it through the customer journey?
Yeah, the core trust badges are social proof, reviews, press award seals, and then any kind of things that will ease hesitation around purchase protection return policy, shipping, you know, questions as someone is scanning at.
They might not be consciously looking for those things, but having those things available on your homepage and you know, down the funnel on site too, it really reinforces confidence when people are on site.
For sure. And are there other areas offsite that you incorporate social proof? Do you include it in your offers? Anywhere else, any other touchpoints?
Yeah, I think it's interesting to test all of that stuff in ads—testing reviews and ads. I think testing reviews through or running reviews through third-party publications is really effective. So when someone is searching brand name reviews, you're not the only site that shows up.
I think video search is really important, too. So not only dominating the first three to five positions from an organic search perspective, but also having video content, having reels, and even how to’s are being surfaced in the video search on Google. So having TikTok videos that have your brand name reviews out there for people to really do their research.
And I don't have the data to back this up, but I think more consumers are getting a little bit wary of what they see on Google search. I think savvy consumers know that a lot of these are paid for and sponsored, and so they're starting to turn to Reddit and YouTube for real reviews or even TikTok.
It absolutely starts with having a great product because you can't convince anyone on Reddit. I feel like that's where people are the most honest. So you have a great product. The people on Reddit will talk about how great it is or they will talk about how great it is not. And then, being strategic about seeding those channels with review content.
That's fantastic and I love that. Almost omnichannel or integrated approach to sharing reviews. So incorporating a little piece in everything that you're doing to build that legitimacy on top of your great product so that you're, by the time someone visits your website, you've kind of built that trust already.
So they just need to do the research to see, “hey, is this good for me?” Are there any growth marketing mistakes that brands should definitely avoid? I'm sure you've seen some in your agency time and I'm sure you have some comments there or suggestions.
Oh yeah. I think the biggest mistake that young brands make is investing and relying way too heavily on paid to grow customer acquisition.
It's really easy in the beginning to rely on paid. It's like, “great, we're running ads and we're growing our customer base and we're kind of profitable on first order.” And as you scale that way, you reach a breaking point, and a point of diminishing returns where your acquisition costs go up and your acquisition becomes less profitable.
And if something like iOS 14 ever happens again, and that's your one reliance for how you grow your business and how you drive customers to your site. You're gonna be in trouble, which a lot of brands were. So I think it is really building your organic acquisition strategically from the beginning and not only relying on paid for growth.
And then the other thing that I see as a big mistake is when brands have early success with one product and they continue to rely on paid and one product, then you're really in trouble. Because products are new, products are another way to grow your business and reach new audiences. So it's having a thoughtful product development pipeline, it's diversifying your marketing channels away from just paid. And then I think it's being in touch with your consumers and your market and knowing their needs and what they want, what price they want it at, and what channels they want to see it on, and where they're doing their shopping.
Definitely the future of commerce. Well, historically, it's been this way too, but the emphasis on the consumer and the data, it's the brands who do well are the ones who really understand their customers. And growth marketers have always been pretty good at including data within what they're doing in terms of scaling and growing and making sure that you're pulling the right levers to engage that growth.
But there are some areas of marketing that may be more focused on the creative side, but at the end of the day, it all comes down to those really great consumer insights, and that's how you get those really great campaigns or those really great offers or those really great websites. I'm gonna leave you with a question that I leave basically everyone who's been on the livestream lately, and it's: If you had any piece of advice, whether it's been given to you, whether you've given it out in your many years in ecommerce, what is the one piece of advice that you would give a growing D2C brand?
It could be related to marketing, it could be not related to marketing. Up to you.
Yeah, I think as a traditional growth marketer I came up looking so closely at the numbers and so purely at the numbers. I think my biggest learning coming into Bobbie was having a perspective shift and looking at the customers first and really thinking about it in the lens of: What is the person going to experience and is that experience in line with the strategy that we're putting forth?
I don't think it's revolutionary. I don't think it's revolutionary at all, but I think so many people who are so performance-minded forget this. And so many businesses don't take the time to do that.
So I think it's just talk to customers more. It's not even new age, it's just talk to customers. I think that's the most valuable learning that I've had. The other one I would suggest is keep talking to other professionals and experts in your space. Keep connected to others, learn from others and then play around with new platforms.
Don't let the time, don't let technology progress faster than you're progressing. So, if there's a new platform, and even if it sounds crazy and it's for five year olds, download it and use it because you're going to be left behind. And then the last one, I think, is figure out how to incorporate AI into your business.
If you're any level of employee in a business, figure out how to use it so that you can stay relevant and hold your position and be the AI overlord, and don't let the AI be your overlord.
Love that. Personalization. Don't let AI take over. Make sure that you're seeing people for people and not just numbers.
Those are really, really great insights and I think a really great way to wrap up the session. So thank you so much for joining us today, Cherene. We really appreciate it. Thank you to everyone who's watching on the livestream. Give Cherene a follow, give Bobbie a follow, check out their website. And don't forget to check out mason on LinkedIn.
I hope everyone enjoys their Wednesday. And again, thank you so much, Cherene, for joining us.
Thank you, Sara. Thank you mason team. And thank you everyone who is watching. Thanks.