DTC 41: 📦 Soda Brands: Product Experience
May 21, 2023
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Get ready for our fourth instalment of the Healthy Sodas DTC Diagnostic – this time it’s all about the drinks, baby! 

Our taste tester, Thomas, sampled sips from all of our DTC soda brands and has reported results below. 

Live footage from DTC headquarters: 

While we certainly crushed a few sodas, that's not all this issue has to offer. Read on for: 

📦 What NOT to do with Google Ads.

📦 A breakdown of all things whitelisting, from our pals at AspireIQ.

📦 Our conversation with Simply Earth on subscription services and education-based marketing.

📦 Everything you need to know about eCommerce funding, courtesy of Clearbanc.

📦 Ad Creative of the day! 

Drink it all in! 

➡️ If a pal forwarded this to you, subscribe so you never miss another

➡️ And be sure to follow us on Twitter and Instagram. 

Healthy Sodas Part 4: Product Experience

Welcome to part four of our four-part deep dive into the marketing strategies of DTC soda brands Olipop, Ugly, and Poppi.

If you haven’t read the first three parts (Facebook Ads, Email, and Website Analysis) you can catch up here! For the fourth and final part, we’re breaking down each brand's product experience. 

I ordered three variety packs so we could answer two questions: what was the unboxing experience like? And are the taste buds satisfied? 

My taste buds have been certified by the NTBA (national taste buds association) so this is an extremely official process. 😎

Let’s take a trip to flavor town: 

🥤 Olipop 

What I ordered: 

Variety pack (12 pack) = $41.99 (the most expensive)

Main Ingredients: 

  • Purified water
  • Olismart 
  • Apple juice
  • Stevia 
  • Pink rock salt 

Shipping & packaging: 

My package arrived in three days which is lightning fast especially during a pandemic. 

For such an elegant and beautiful brand, it surprised me that Olipop hasn’t invested more into the look of their packaging. 

A cardboard box doesn’t match the rest of the brand. Olipop features the packaging below on their website, so hopefully they’ll transition to something similar in the future. 

The taste test: 

Fizz factor: Olipop has low fizz compared to normal soda. For those who go crazy for fizz, it could be difficult to get used to. For me, it’s the perfect amount. 


🍊 Orange Squeeze – Nailed this flavor. Tastes like regular orange crush on every level. 

🍓 Strawberry Vanilla – Not a huge fan. The smell threw me off and I was never able to recover. 

🍋 Ginger Lemon – Ginger is an acquired taste so I can see some users being 50/50 on this flavor. Personally, I’m a big fan. It compliments the traditional flavors like Cola and Root Beer with its modern and fresh taste. 

🥤 Vintage Cola – For all you Coca-Cola lovers, this is your signal to try this flavor. It matches the traditional cola taste, through and through. 

🍺  Root Beer – Easily my number one flavor. Everything about this drink is spot on. Plus, it’s great with dairy-free ice cream, making for the perfect millennial root-beer float. Give it a try as well, boomers. 

Final Notes:  

Olipop included every flavor in their variety pack, something the other two brands didn’t do. When you include only a couple flavors in your variety pack, there’s a higher risk someone won’t find their favorite flavor. 

🥤 Ugly 

What I ordered:  

Variety pack (24) =  $24.99 (cheapest out of all three brands) 

Main Ingredients: 

  • Sparkling water
  • Natural flavors

Shipping & packaging:   

Due to COVID-19, Ugly had shipping issues with my order. Instead of the standard 3-5 days it took 10, which wasn’t a big deal. Their customer service team was A+ and kept me up to date. Nothing better than a kick-ass CX team. 

Like all things Ugly, the packaging was bold and in your face. The bright blue box was surrounded with funny sayings like “H2OMG this is heavy” and “Please recycle, but Instagram me first.”

If you can make a customer laugh or smirk, your brand will live rent-free in their head. Ugly easily had the best unboxing experience out of all three brands. 


The taste test: 

Fizz factor:  Ugly had the highest fizz rating on my fizzy scale. It packs a punch more than regular soda, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. 


🍒. Cherry – It didn’t make me jump up and down, but it didn’t disappoint. A solid flavor that I enjoyed, but I wouldn’t make a point out of drinking it again. 

🍑 Peach – I wasn’t a huge fan of this flavor. I found it a bit bland, but I know this is one of their best-selling flavors in the U.S. so you should go in with an open mind. 

🍋 Lemon Lime – My favorite flavor. Light, refreshing, and the perfect amount of lemon:lime. I highly recommend it, especially if you like Sprite. 

Bonus: I tried Ugly’s energy water and it’s killer. I like it even more than their flagship products. Thanks to Hugh for the care package. 🙌

Final Notes: 

Ugly was the only brand to encourage posting a picture of the product on Instagram. While it wasn’t formal by any means, it surprised me that the other two brands didn’t mention anything about sharing on socials. This can be a huge source for consistent UGC, especially if you include a small discount. 

Finally, if you’re a LaCroix stan, give Ugly a try. I had multiple LaCroix enthusiasts drink an Ugly and say they’d consider switching. Blasphemy, I know.

🥤 Poppi

What I ordered: 

Variety pack (12) = $29.88 (second-most expensive) 

Main Ingredients: 

  • Sparkling filtered water
  • Apple cider vinegar 
  • Organic cane sugar
  • Natural flavors
  • Stevia 

Shipping & packaging:   

Since Poppi is sold through Amazon, my package came in two days (Thanks, Jeff). While the speed of shipping was a huge plus, the Amazon packaging and branding did take away from Poppi’s own brand experience.   

As you open Poppi’s package you’re hit with “Pop of the morning to you” plus each of their value propositions. Love this. 

The taste test: 

Fizz factor: Poppi’s fizz level is very similar to a traditional soda. Not too low and not too high. 


🍋 Ginger Lime – Typically I’m a big ginger fan, but the lime overpowered the drink. Not the biggest fan of this flavor. 

🍊Orange – Similar to Olipop, this tastes just like an orange Crush. Really enjoyed sipping on this. 

🥭Pineapple mango – Here’s a flavor you don’t see everyday. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this unique drink. My only wish is that the pineapple showed up a bit more. 

🍓 Strawberry Lemonade – Hands down one of my favorite flavors out of the three brands. It’s summer in a can, and I’m sure it mixes well with the adult liquor of your choice. 😎

Final Notes:  

While the Amazon packaging did bum me out, Poppi makes a big effort to make you feel like a part of the brand. I’m looking forward to seeing the Poppi brand evolve. 

We set up this diagnostic to be a four-part series, but we realized there’s at least one more MAJOR category we’ve still got to cover for these amazing brands.

Come back next Saturday for a deep-dive with the Pilothouse Amazon team, where we’ll uncover the strategies and tactics these healthy sodas use on the world’s biggest marketplace. 

After that, it’s on to our next product category. Any guesses as to what it is? 👟

Everything You Need to Know About Influencer Whitelisting

As the influencer-marketing industry has evolved, so have the social media platforms that support the creator economy. 

From building branded content tags to incorporating more monetization opportunities for creators, Facebook has expanded its slew of features to support partnerships between creators and brands on both the main platform and its sister app Instagram. Businesses and creators have leveraged these tools to build more meaningful relationships and create authentic ads.

In the last couple of years, one of the most popular ways to do this has been through influencer whitelisting on Facebook and Instagram. 

What is whitelisting?

Whitelisting is the process of an influencer granting a brand partner advertising permissions to their social media accounts. 

This allows brands to use the influencer’s handle for their ads and provides brands with many advantages, such as:

  • Controlling who sees the influencer’s whitelisted posts and even targeting the post to people who don’t follow the influencer
  • Having the ability to make small edits to the copy and creative of the post
  • Lengthening the shelf life of an influencer’s post, which is especially beneficial for formats like Instagram Stories that disappear in 24 hours

Beyond brand advantages, the whitelisting process is also beneficial for creators.

As brands use the influencer’s content to reach wider, like-minded audiences, the creator gets exposure to new audiences who may have not interacted with their account before. This widened visibility can drive more people to discover the influencer’s account, allowing the creator to grow their following.  

If done right, whitelisting is a win-win for both brands and creators. Both parties have access to performance metrics of the whitelisted post. Brands get key insights into running successful campaigns, and creators better understand what type of content resonates. Not to mention, whitelisting builds trust between brands and creators, elevating the relationship and paving the way for more authentic ads.

Read the full AspireIQ Guide to Whitelisting for:

  • How is a whitelisted ad different from a brand-owned ad?
  • How do you whitelist influencers on Facebook?
  • What type of creators should you whitelist?
  • What type of content should you promote as whitelisted ads? 

Thinking about elevating your influencer marketing campaign? Schedule a time to strategize with one of AspireIQ’s experts. 

What NOT to do with Google Ads

We asked the Pilothouse Google team about the most common mistakes media buyers make in Google Ads.

Have a look 👀👇

🙅‍♀️ Full reliance on manual bidding or full reliance on automatic bidding.

Manual bids are good to start off, but generally performance is better when you let the AI bidding kick in once enough conversions have come through. Then, use other levers to optimize your CPAs. 

🙅‍♀️ Focusing too much on target cost per acquisition (CPA) or target return on ad spend (ROAS) for every campaign. 

This leads to campaigns that only exist at the bottom of the funnel. Business growth requires top of funnel, middle of funnel and bottom of funnel campaigns.

🙅‍♀️  Not testing cold prospecting campaigns on the GDN.

The Google Display Network is arguably one of the most difficult channels to run profitable ads to a cold audience. With such a massive variety of ad types and bid strategies, and ads that reach 98% of the accessible web, it’s crazy not to at least test it. 

🙅‍♀️  Not spending enough time on Google Landing Pages.

Make sure your landing page matches the search term that brought them there. 

Also, explain why they should do business with your company. Very few people are going to say ‘yes’ if you ask them to marry you on a first date!

🙅‍♀️ Not tapping into YouTube’s potential.

Like Facebook, people spend considerable amounts of time watching videos on YouTube, and the ability to retarget and reach the right audiences on this platform is considerable. 

Get ready to relax and unwind, cause this week's poddy features Lee Veldkamp, Co-Founder and CEO of Simply Earth, an essential oils subscription company that aims to teach people about the benefits of essential oils so that they can live a toxin-free life.

Lee has the mind of an engineer, so his approach to everything is very methodical. If you’re building a subscription business, and want to focus on retention and LTV, this podcast is a must listen. 

Here are the key takeaways from our chat:

📦 Why aren’t customers buying more?

Early on, Lee quickly realized that selling one-off essential oils on Amazon was never going to be sustainable. Too much competition, and no brand loyalty. The company turned to the subscription model and focused heavily on education and community. 

One of the main reasons people don’t buy more essential oils is that they don’t understand the various ways to use them. To increase customer education, Simply Earth started including educational content like recipe cards with each purchase. 

As customers learned various ways to integrate oils into their life, they better understood the value Simply Earth was providing. 

📦 Educate your customers to keep them loyal.

The next step Lee took was to build a full eight-week online course about how to make and use essential oils. It sells for $250, or is free when you subscribe to Simply Earth. 

Lee broke it down: “when someone subscribes, we’re not just delivering a product, we’re delivering a course on how to become an expert at using essential oils in your life – it’s called the Essential Oils Hero Course. It sells for $250 on its own but if you subscribe to our products, you get it for free.”

How do people value this zero-cost digital product? Often Simply Earth subscribers print the recipes out and put them in binders, becoming a perpetual catalog for their products. 

Simply Earth drips the course content out over eight weeks, and if you cancel your subscription you lose access to it, so right there you’ve got a two-month retention booster built right in. 

Simply Earth benefits from Lee’s engineer mindset, but the educational platform is run by his wife – a middle school teacher by profession. Lee’s advice is “if you want to do this at your company, get yourself a teacher, because teaching builds up so many skills that are valuable to a DTC company.”

Adding value beyond your products can build huge amounts of brand loyalty. If you’re not sure where to start, call your most loyal customers and understand how you can provide more value. 

📦 Don’t reinvent the wheel.

To serve their courses, Simply Earth uses Teachable, an LMS (Learning Management System), and for their group they use Facebook Groups where employees and consumers troubleshoot and generate hype around the products. 

While Lee is always looking to innovate his online presence, his advice to founders is clear: Have a great product and build a community around that product. Facebook or Slack groups are a great way to start.  

Simply Earth’s Facebook community is a “wacky bunch” who’ve bonded, and become real friends, over making essential oils and by showing off or talking about their work. When you unsubscribe, you also lose access to this group, so it acts as another incredible retention booster.

📦 Lee’s approach to ads.

Lee doesn’t think much about ROAS specifically. Instead, he looks at the cost of subscription vs. their LTV, and then weighs that against their overhead costs. Simple.

Lee’s audience skews older and his biggest ad platform by far has been Facebook – without much success elsewhere. Lee is confident that Pinterest and YouTube are on the horizon, and that they’ll also work. 

📦 Trust the LTV.

Through these awesome educational and community tactics, Lee has built Simply Earth’s LTV to eight months. So with a subscription cost of $40, he can count on a customer LTV of $320. 

His goals are to get retention to 11 months ($440 LTV) and to get there he’s methodically testing a few key things:

  • a/b testing onboarding emails to see which approach is stickiest. 
  • a/b testing SMS onboarding, which he’s launching shortly.
  • a/b cancellation email flows.

If you’re thinking of getting in the essential oils business and you’re selling $15 standalone bottles, you’re going to have a tough time competing with Lee.

Consider education and community as amazing methods of boosting customer retention and loyalty. 

To hear more about the journey of Simply Earth’s products, how they build good causes into their marketing, and how they would use a 50k grant, check out the full poddy here. Take care!

💰 VC’s aren’t the only way to get capital for your online business. Check out Clearbanc’s Ultimate Guide to eCommerce Funding. It outlines the pros and cons of every type of funding available for eCommerce entrepreneurs

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🚐 Delivery startup goPuff raises $1.15B.

💵 Real estate startup Pacaso raises $75M.

📱KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza hut will start taking orders after acquiring new text-based software company. 

💰 Martin Sorrell’s S4 Capital sees a 60% jump in revenue. 

🤑 WPP to invest over $200M in new data operation.

💻 Microsoft in talks with Discord over $10 billion-plus acquisition.

📦 Bentiago group raises $55M to buy and grow Amazon brands.

💸 WeWork reportedly discloses $3.2 billion loss in 2020 as it looks for a SPAC deal. 

🏈 The NFL is making Amazon and its Prime Video service the new home of Thursday Night Football – with Amazon ads based on purchase data.

💾 Intel is spending $20 billion to build two new chip plants in Arizona.

😎 Afra changes name to Chord and raises $18M series for DTC platform.

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