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Anatomy of a Disruptor: Jack McNamara, Founder, DrinkTru

Written by: Shane O'Neill, Director of Content

Anatomy of a Growth Marketer is an ongoing blog series showcasing top talent in the field of digital advertising.

“Whether you are cramped in a cubicle or hitting the gym, we will help you crush your day.”

Jack McNamara

This sentence sums up DrinkTru founder Jack McNamara’s company mission. Everyone — from elite athletes to intellectuals — needs help performing their best at the game of life.

For McNamara, the way forward to optimal human performance is natural drinks. And it’s not all about being “energized.”

While the “5-Hour Energy” brand is known to the masses, McNamara is thinking more broadly with a variety of shot drinks for different life circumstances. There’s a shot to help you relax (Tru Breeze), to enhance mental alertness (Tru Focus), to induce sleep (Tru Dream), and, of course, there’s a shot to boost energy (Tru Energy). All with natural ingredients.

McNamara, a former pro hockey player, is building the Tru brand from the ground up and making all the sacrifices required of a young “go for broke” entrepreneur. I mean, the man lives in a gym!

The Tru Energy drink is now in over 500 stores and vending machines. One of the ways McNamara is keeping the brand and himself (literally) exposed is through YouTube. The company’s funny Tru Lifeguard commercial has racked up 240K views.

We recently spoke with Jack about the challenges of disrupting an established industry, the importance of understanding your audience, and the future of digital advertising.

What were the biggest challenges in taking DrinkTru from idea to functioning business? How did you overcome them?

A lack of funding hindered Tru in the early days as we tried to accomplish so many initiatives as quickly as possible. That being said, I always tell people that if we were given $1 million on day one, we would have certainly failed. It would have put us on the path to overspending.

By not asking the right questions or doing the background research, we would have rushed into the wrong partnerships with manufacturers and marketing agencies. By having a limited budget, we were forced to become experts instead of hiring experts, while also learning to operate on a boot-strapped budget.

Once you start scaling the business, time becomes your most valuable asset. So take advantage of time in the early days to ensure that you’ve built the right foundation.

What strategies do you recommend for building brand awareness? This could include PR, digital advertising and/or customer service.

Awareness is obviously key to the success of any brand. If people have never heard of you, they won’t trust you. You can’t be the best to everyone so it’s key to find out who your customers truly are before you start to sell.

The brands that win in digital advertising will make the justified gambles early on and invest in the platforms that give them the the greatest return on investment. They know how and where to target their customers.

Sales is the lifeblood of any business. Your customer is your best friend, so ghosting is not an option. Whether they are reaching out via Instagram, email or a phone call, your response has to be fast, genuine, and over-the-top friendly.

At the end of the day, you need to give people a reason to buy your product instead of the other guy’s. PR and digital ads can definitely scale your business, but customer service is vital to your brand and word of mouth will always be the greatest advertisement. It cannot be duplicated.

What are two pieces of advice you’d give to DTC (direct to consumer) brands trying to disrupt an established industry?

First, find your audience and find them quick. For us, we thought our customer would be elite athletes; however, we realized quickly that our early adopters were actually women in their late twenties to late thirties who live close to metropolitan areas and want to live a healthier lifestyle, rather than max out on the bench press.

This data helped us revamp our brand in multiple ways. We changed our packaging, adjusted our positioning, and even reformulated our beverages. Our messaging was no longer targeted just to a locker room audience. Rather, it was catered more toward boutique fitness studios. This allowed us to focus our budget on the correct niche rather than throwing pasta against the wall and praying something would stick.

Second, find out what you truly stand for as a brand. In our initial board meeting, everyone wanted our team to come up with the one reason we were better. In addition to raising capital, we had to zero in on a specific focus. We wanted to be a trusted natural brand and we wanted to deliver every-day performance to the masses. So we focused on letting consumers know that DrinkTru is a natural option for a more sound sleep or a mid-day boost of focus. Simply put, our natural drinks improve your day.

Describe the paid social strategies (in terms of creative, audience targeting and/or platform) that have succeeded for DrinkTru? Any social advertising you haven’t done yet but plan to do?

Our social strategy is always evolving as technology continues its epic pace of innovation. The game is always changing. The platforms or mediums of today may not dominate in the future.

The brands that win in digital advertising will make the justified gambles early on and invest in the platforms that give them the the greatest return on investment. They know how and where to target their customers.

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For example, the audience on Facebook is older than it was five years ago and the competition for specific audiences is more expensive now. You have to move fast. Instagram was adopted by a younger audience at the beginning, but the older generation moved over soon enough. The key is knowing your audience’s social media tendencies and focusing on the platform where you can convert that audience the best with the least budget.

For us, we acquire most of our customers through Amazon because Amazon customers have a higher intent of purchasing via search than on any other platform. But we are always looking at more efficient ways to acquire customers at a lower cost.

Where do you see the digital advertising landscape going in the next five years (technology, platforms, audience preferences), and how should DTC businesses prepare for the shift?

A Super bowl ad would add tremendous value to any brand. But I’d argue that $4 million could be better spent on digital ads. It’s easier to track; you know what you are getting in real time; and you can make adjustments on the fly.

We believe the key to brand awareness is not through traditional advertising, but through YouTube. Creators have found their own global voice and loyal followers through unique, honest content. Brands have begun to do the same. Redbull is a perfect example. Whether you drink RedBull or not, everyone can appreciate their video content. They take chances; they entertain; and they sell a risk-taking lifestyle.

Brands that are amazing at telling their story make millions. Brands that are amazing at showing their story through visually-engaging content make billions.

Although we’re a small beverage startup at Tru, we want to show the world who we are, how we got to where we are, and who we strive to become. Blog posts are great, but I think in the next few years you’ll see more brands remove the curtain and give people an inside look at their brand through video content.

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