The Story Behind "Beyond Black Friday," a Docuseries by Klaviyo

Learn why Klaviyo created episodic content to educate and inspire ecommerce marketers to push their strategies to the next level.

Klaviyo is a Boston-based**text in italic tech company that helps businesses of every size build amazing experiences across email and other owned channels. From entrepreneurs to iconic brands, there’s no shortage of customer stories to share, but Alicia Thomas, Senior Marketing Manager at Klaviyo, had the goal of telling them in a way that went beyond traditional blog posts or podcasts. Creating a docuseries about some of their customers seemed like the best way to share these unique stories in a more entertaining and engaging way, and that’s how Beyond Black Friday came to be.

In this docuseries, Alicia went out to California to uncover how three brands, Chubbies, Sunski, and the Love is Project, prepare for Cyber Weekend and keep their businesses booming long after the holidays are over. By sharing the strategies of other successful brands, Klaviyo wanted to educate and inspire ecommerce marketers to push their own marketing strategies to the next level.

We had the chance to sit down with Alicia and dig deeper into the strategy, production, and promotion of Beyond Black Friday. Keep reading to learn more about Klaviyo’s journey to creating their own twelve-episode series and how it helps their business grow.

Wistia: What’s your role as Senior Marketing Manager at Klaviyo like?

Alicia: I spend a lot of time talking with our customers, creating content, and nurturing relationships. My role involves a lot of listening and trying to figure out the best ways I can help our community connect and learn from one another.

Wistia: How do content ideas come to fruition? Do you outsource others to help with ideation, production, or other creative needs?

Alicia: The bulk of my content ideas come from conversations with customers and folks in the ecommerce space. Klaviyo is also really collaborative. So on any given day, it’s not unusual for me to be chatting or Slacking with members of our success, support, and sales teams. They often come to me with cool customer stories that I can feature. They have an endless amount of ideas.

We’re super scrappy, too. Almost everything that we produce is in-house. We have a videographer on staff–he’s on our education team. But, as far as marketing projects, we usually do everything in-house. Our video series is the only exception to that rule. For that, we hire cinematographers and videographers in different locations.

Wistia: How did you come up with the strategy for Beyond Black Friday?

Alicia: In ecommerce, there’s a ton of “how-to” content and brand stories. People are doing features on different brands already, which is great. However, the format for those has historically always been blog posts, podcasts, case studies, and sometimes even screen captures on YouTube. After a couple of years writing for the Klaviyo blog, it became clear that a docuseries was a different way to teach and tell stories of other successful brands.

“After a couple of years writing for the Klaviyo blog, it became clear that a docuseries was a different way to teach and tell stories of other successful brands.”

Customers would always ask me, “How are they doing that?” and that became the focus for the work that I’m doing–how do we spread the word about strategies people are using to grow because everybody wants to know that information.

There’s also a ton of focus in our industry on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. It’s always been the make-it or break-it time for ecommerce brands, who are our audience. I wanted to find a way that was eye-catching to tell the stories of people who were doing things differently (and not just putting all of their eggs into the basket on that weekend). A docuseries was a new way to capture people’s attention.

Wistia: What was the production process like?

Alicia: For Beyond Black Friday, we used a cinematographer named Marlon Torres who I had worked with in the past at another company. I loved his style and knew he would produce a great product, was easy to work with, and that he could take my vision after a phone call and just run with it. Marlon has worked with companies like Zendesk in the past, and he understands emotional storytelling. So he was my main contact when it came to collaborating on that.

Wistia: When you were trying to figure out Klaviyo’s best clients to tell their stories, how did you do that?

Alicia: It started by sitting down with one of our sales leaders. I knew that I needed buy-in from the sales team for this project and the scope of it. The sales team would be leveraging this content so talking to him about some of the struggles the sales team was facing day in and day out was helpful. I also received direction for the types of customers who would be great to show off their stories. He gave me a few industries and types of problems and difficulties brands were facing. From there, I sat down with some of our account managers and said, “You work with these folks every day–who do you think would be into it and would have a great story to tell?” So collaborating with our sales and account management team to find the best fit is so much easier than digging through Salesforce or combing through my email subscriber list.

Wistia: How much time, if any, did you put into scripting?

Alicia: We scripted for the trailer video. For some of the videos, we needed to have a lead-in to help set a context for what was happening. Beyond that, I worked on a long list of questions for each brand before going out and shooting. We did four different shoots in San Francisco, and each time I would get on the phone and do a quick call or email to chat about what we would be talking about, which helped find the story we were going out there for. My questions were pretty open-ended. Typically, I like to shoot for the edit and script things for our internal videos. But, I knew going out and interviewing customers there would be some gems that we’d stumble into if we had more open-ended questions, and doing so honestly gave us some of the best content we had.

Wistia: How long did it take you to get these videos produced from end-to-end?

Alicia: It was quite a long time. We started shooting in October and we ended shooting in January. I went out to California four times in the course of that time frame. Then we started shipping early episodes while we were still shooting. Our first episode went live right after Black Friday. On November 30th we had a trailer and started to build a buzz for it. We were shipping and shooting and editing all at the same time, which became all-consuming.

Wistia: I think it’s great that you teased the series.

Alicia: Yeah, I think it was one of the reasons it was successful. It was that time of the year everybody got through the big weekend and it typically gets quiet in ecommerce. After Black Friday and the holidays, there’s a lull and that was my way of thinking “All right, we can get people’s attention to focus on it.”

Wistia: What’s your plan for continuing to promote Beyond Black Friday?

Alicia: We actually just wrapped up the last part of our strategy for Beyond Black Friday. We’ve been running the campaign for the last two quarters, and now we’re shifting into a new video project. But, the last effort that we had was an in-person event. It was a live AMA (Ask Me Anything) panel with the cast. We invited customers, prospects, and people in ecommerce around L.A. to come and ask the cast any questions they had after watching the series, which was cool. We were able to make it like a party and a premiere. Then we recorded the AMA panel and posted it. So we got more content out of that, which was a neat way of letting people ask more questions they might have after seeing the content.

Wistia: Did you write other blog posts supporting Beyond Black Friday?

Alicia: Yeah, after every episode we’d launch a blog post as well. Then for the panel event, we did a blog post and a video.

Wistia: Who were the key stakeholders that were involved in producing these videos, and how did you get them to buy into your episodic content idea?

Alicia: Beyond the head of marketing, I needed to get buy-in, as I mentioned before, from someone on the sales team. I knew that in order for us to get great distribution, and for them to use the content, I needed to make sure what we were producing was something they were on board with and had voiced their opinions on from the start. So I had one of our directors of sales meet with me before I even wrote a pitch or spoke with a single customer to make sure we were on the same page.

“I had one of our directors of sales meet with me before I even wrote a pitch or spoke with a single customer to make sure we were on the same page.”

Then after I built out a creative brief–I think it was 8 or 10 pages–I sat down with our CRO, who runs sales and marketing, and our VP and we went through the brief line by line talking about budget, story-arcing, and made sure that he was on board before we shot or spoke with any customers.

Wistia: What do you hope these videos will do for your business? What was your goal when it came to creating this content?

Alicia: We wanted to change the conversation in ecommerce and talk about being able to own your marketing channels and email, unlike paid advertising, and thinking about ways that you can continue to build relationships at scale. That is, having more meaningful conversations year-round with customers and building relationships off of things like data, getting ecommerce merchants to try new things, and shifting the focus away from Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Instead, they can do things like ask for people’s birthdays and have targeted sales based on past purchases. We’re trying to give them all these ideas to spark new ideas for them to market better. We’ve seen it happen already from the docuseries, workshops, and things like that. Changing the thought process and being thought leaders in our space was important as well. We wanted people to come to Klaviyo’s blog and docuseries, and know they were getting helpful information that could help them grow.

Wistia: What is the most challenging part of this process? What feels like the biggest risk?

Alicia: I think the fact that we were doing editing and shipping content at the same time was challenging. I was in the weeds of going through transcripts and pulling edits. I wanted to make sure it was polished. Killing your darlings, cutting down the content, and making sure we focus on distribution was a lot at once. In hindsight, it was important that we did so much pre-planning and nailed down our messaging, story arcing, and episodes before we shot a single one so when it was go-time we could have everyone on brand with the same messaging and make sure things happened in a calm manner.

The biggest risk felt like distribution. I knew if we didn’t execute well on that it would impact the entire series. Getting internal buy-in was huge. I put in a ton of focus and thinking about the best way to get everyone internally knowing about the series and sharing it. Our company has been scaling like crazy. During the two quarters we ran the campaign, we hired over 50 new employees. So how do we get all those new people who just joined to understand what’s going on and help spread the word? I thought, “We have to do this right or it could backfire on us.”

Wistia: Would you say a lot of people at Klaviyo believe in the power of video?

Alicia: I think this docuseries showed that to a lot of folks. I was mindful of highlighting when people were excited about the series, whether it was an email or a social comment, and sharing that with others. Showing that our series was resonating with our audience was important to get buy-in internally. It was important to make sure people saw those conversations happening, and not just me.

“Showing that our series was resonating with our audience was important to get buy-in internally. It was important to make sure people saw those conversations happening, and not just me.”

Wistia: What advice would you give someone who’s about to embark on a video series themselves?

Alicia: While it’s tempting to rush into shooting and then work backward, planning is the most important part of the series. Before we sat down with a customer, I had documents for messaging, story-arcing, and publishing. And, those parts are not glamorous such as going over the budget and meeting with finance. But, they were so important. They were a big part of the reason we were successful with this series.

Wistia: Does Klaviyo plan on investing more in video content? Can you tell me anything about your upcoming projects?

Alicia: We just launched a new video series called Ready, Set, Grow. I interview ecommerce brands about marketing strategies they’re using to find growth. The project was inspired out of the success of Beyond Black Friday, but stemmed from the Beyond part. We’re focused on showing growth stories from which other merchants can learn. It’ll be a weekly series where I travel to a brand’s office, go behind the scenes and chat with the actual people who are making the calls and marketing, in an effort to show there’s so much more you can be doing, and highlighting those stories.

We’re all in on video as a medium. That is, both produced content like the docuseries and unproduced like a selfie video. Sometimes we post unproduced content on LinkedIn and we have huge success. We will be doing more and more projects that are video-focused.

We loved hearing how Klaviyo invested in episodic video content to provide value for their ecommerce community. Beyond Black Friday was super fascinating and we can’t wait to see how else they use the power of video moving forward. Have you seen other brands creating episodic series? Tell us all about your favorites in the comments below!