My Failed Teespring Campaigns By The Numbers

As you might have guessed by the title, my first Teespring experiment has been a (complete and utter) “failure.” :)

I generated $7.11 in revenue on $203.08 in expenses, bringing my grand total to a whopping -$195.97 profit. A terrible investment to be sure, but an excellent learning experience!

This is a long post, so get ready. If you haven’t already, go read part 1, called “Low & Slow: How I’m Using Facebook To Sell A T-Shirt before starting. I lay out the motivations behind this project in detail there.

Let’s dive in.


The Numbers

The results are in, and it doesn’t look great.

I’ve broken the data into 3 categories: expenses, clicks & traffic, and sales.

Expenses

If these numbers were for a real campaign, I‘d be fired. Though as an experiment, it was money well spent. Facebook and Instagram ads were the bulk of the spend, followed by the design, then Reddit ads.

  • Facebook & Instagram Ads: $103.08
  • UpWork Designer: $60.00
  • Reddit Ads: $40.00
  • Total Campaign Costs: $203.08

Clicks & Traffic

Facebook & Instagram Ads: It’s clear to me that social PPC campaigns work best when you have a large budget. I didn’t have the stomach to spend enough to reach a very large audience. Because of that, I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface here, but more on that later.

  • People Reached: 10,742
  • Impressions: 14,658
  • Cost Per Thousand Impressions (CPM): $6.98
  • Clicks: 76
  • Click Through Rate (CTR): 0.52%
  • Cost Per Click (CPC): $1.35
  • Pre-orders: 1
  • Total Spend: $103.08

Reddit Ads: I’ll start by saying that Reddit ads were responsible for my only campaign sale. I’m not a fan of their advertising platform, however. It offers very little flexibility, and long review times.

  • Impressions: 27,090
  • Cost Per Thousand Impressions (CPM): $1.48
  • Clicks: 169
  • Click Through Rate (CTR): 0.624%
  • Cost Per Click (CPC): $0.24
  • Pre-orders: 1
  • Total Spend: $40.00

Google Analytics: Without Google Analytics, I’d have no idea what was actually going on during my campaigns, since Teespring has no internal analytics.

I’m not positive I had the Teespring/GA integration set up correctly. Most notably, I never saw any events being tracked. In addition, every time I made a new Facebook ad, there was a flood of traffic from their ads review team. I think the numbers below remove the reviewer traffic, but I’m not absolutely sure.

  • Total Visitors: 412
  • Total Page Views: 448
  • Bounce Rate: 97.90%

Sales

All told, I started 3 campaigns.

  1. There was “Low & Slow” (the original design)
  2. Cessna Sunset” (Low & Slow without the text)
  3. Keep Calm And Read The Checklist” (using the same Cessna silhouette, paired with the “Keep Calm And Carry On” design that dominates most on-demand t-shirt market places.)

Only the “Low & Slow” campaign tipped, due to the 1-order minimum when the artwork is an EPS file. Had the “Keep Calm” artwork been formatted properly, that preorder would have become a sale as well.

  • Low & Slow Preorders: 1
  • Low & Slow Revenue: $7.11
  • Cessna Sunset Preorders: 0
  • Cessna Sunset Revenue: $0.00
  • Keep Calm And Read The Checklist Preorders: 1
  • Keep Calm And Read The Checklist Revenue: $0.00
  • Total Preorders: 2
  • Total Revenue: $7.11

What Worked

Hiring A Talented Designer — Mihai, as I mentioned previously, was amazing to work with. The artwork he sent me consisted of well organized vector files. These assets made it possible to create derivative campaigns based on his original design.

Derivative Campaigns — I forget exactly when I decided to make derivative campaigns, but it was a lightbulb moment for me. Since I started writing this, I dug deeper into past Teespring campaigns and found that this is ,apparently, a very common technique. E.g. — create design template, change a word or two, create campaigns for as many variations as you can think of.

I think this works because there is no easy way for a potential customer to explore past or existing designs, or see campaigns by user. The lack of visibility here makes Teespring a prime target to iterate at scale.

AdEspresso Dashboard. Not all of the data is visible.

Using AdEspresso — I tried setting up FB campaigns by hand and with AdEspresso. Using AdEspresso was far easier.

It was a simple matter of plugging in different images, headlines, and copy and they did the the work of turning the various permutations of those resources into different ads. It also has the added benefit of being able to run ad group level experiments. With this, I built a single campaign, then test ad groups by placement, or gender, etc… That level of segmentation would be hugely helpful for bigger budgets.

As I was only spending $10-$20 per day, I don’t think I ever had enough impressions to make any truly conclusive optimizations. I’ll discuss what impact my small budget had on the outcome in more detailer later.

Buying Reddit Ads — Turns out, targeting a specific sub-reddit was the way to go for advertising to private pilots. I ran an ad in “r/aviation” and “r/flying”.

My Reddit ad campaign numbers.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure which sub-reddit generated the conversion, since I only created a single campaign. That meant I couldn’t change the link UTM parameters for each sub-reddit.

Overall, the ad buying experience on Reddit sucks. Each campaign requires a minimum spend of $20.00, you can only run PPM campaigns, and the review takes a long time. Almost a day and a half in my case. I don’t feel like I have the agility here, like I do with Facebook.

There is also no way to easily test ad variations, so it’s either spend tons of money, or run a single ad and hope for the best.

I eagerly await improvements from Reddit, because sub-reddit targeting is definitely a viable channel for a lot of niches. Even still, it’s a pain.

Social Accounts — While I got around to this too late to make a real difference, creating niche-focused Facebook and Instagram accounts did drive a little bit of traffic. In my case, I ended up with 20 Instagram followers, and 3 FB fans as a result of my advertising. If those accounts had existing content, and had been updated frequently, I think I could have generated even more free social traffic. Plus, those audiences themselves are an asset, as I’ll be able to announce new campaigns directly to them in the future.


What Didn’t Work

No Market Research — There are no tools built into Teespring to easily see which campaigns worked and which didn’t. You get a glimpse of what’s happening now in the trending section on the homepage, and the ability to see a limited number of active campaigns via search.

In hindsight, an ugly-christmas-sweater design would have probably been more successful, based on what was selling last I looked.

Too Conservative With Ad Spend — Social ads work best when you have a large budget. At Crossfader, Adam Gold and I found success running Facebook mobile app install ads. In the end, the cost-per-install ended up being a downright steal. However, it took a fair bit of experimentation with creative, targeting, segmentation, etc… to get there. A large budget gave us time to get there and figure out what worked.

This time, having gone into Teespring design-first, spending my own money, I played it safe. Ultimately, I didn’t get enough impressions to test my way to optimal ad creative.

Too Much Time Baby Sitting Analytics — For the bulk of the last few days of the campaigns, I was glued to Google Analytics. I watched the real-time traffic graph pretty much non-stop. Focusing on watching traffic was a trap, which I always fall for. Such a waste of time, when I could have been creating more ad variations, or building my social profiles.

Poor prioritization on my part.

Campaigns Were Too Long — Since my budget was limited, I should have compressed the spending into 3–4 days, rather than 7–10. For one, it would have meant less nights not sleeping.

Second, since there is no cost to creating many campaigns, I would have been able to iterate on designs and hopefully stumble on something that resonated to private pilots with the same amount of money.


Improving Teespring

I’m a huge fan of Teespring. They took the CafePress concept and turned it into an easy to use platform for the modern web. Given the right attitude, and a desire to master their platform, selling on Teespring does seem like it could be a viable business.

There are, however, a number of problems I see with the existing product. Namely, analytics and email.

For the duration of my three campaigns, I spent way too much time watching the Google Analytics real-time graph, and the Facebook Ad Manager dashboard, as I mentioned. Even still, I felt like I didn’t have a good idea of what people were doing when they clicked on one of my ads.

Here’s how I’d improve analytics:

  1. Move analytics in-house. Present as much data as you can possibly collect right on the campaign dashboard.
  2. Failing that, improve Google Analytics event reporting. Show me when someone selects a different color or style, or when they click the reserve button.
  3. Remove the “GET Variables” chart from the existing analytics page. The one table they currently offer is pointless and doesn’t tell me anything useful.
  4. Illustrate the purchase funnel, and show me the conversion rate for each step. That would help me find areas of my campaign to improve. Are visitors not clicking the green button? Guess my copy or design sucks. Are visitors starting to pre-order an then bailing? Maybe my price is wrong. As it stands now, I have no way to know what exactly isn’t working.

As for emails, there is a room for improvement here. Off the top of my head…

  1. Email me as soon as I get a pre-order. Feels like a no-brainer, but as far as I saw, I was never notified about sales.
  2. Send me daily on-boarding emails for the duration on my first campaign. Teespring university has plenty of content, so why not slice that up into a daily drip during my first campaign?

Unrelated note: Teespring should ask visitors for their email address, even if they don’t buy. I sent a few hundred people to my campaigns. If only a few of them gave an email address, sending them a “That campaign you liked is almost over! Hurry!” message would be a huge boon. Feels like they’re leaving money on the table there.

Last unrelated note: Move the social buttons up! Please make it easier for people to share campaigns they like.

What I’ll Do Differently Next Time

When you find a design that works, run it into the ground.

Successful campaigns start with research. Pair that with a sizable, engaged social following, and I’m willing to bet Teespring can print money.

So I’d start there.

I’d be more aggressive about creating multiple campaigns around a design. This time, all the shirt previews were black men’s t-shirts. The lack of variation there limited my potential audience. Creating new campaigns takes 5 minutes, and there’s no downside to creating many campaigns, from what I can tell. Campaigns with only hoodies, or only women’s t-shirts, for example, would have been easy to test.

Next, I want to spend more time investigating Pinterest advertising. I saw first-hand how much traffic a well promoted pin generates at my first startup. I’m interested in seeing if that’s still the case, and if directly promoted pins generate sales. Probably not for men’s shirts, but who knows?

Same with Google ads. I put a few AdWords campaigns together, but never pulled the trigger on them, due to wanting to focus on Facebook this time. The more channels, the better.


Thanks for reading! If you have questions, want more numbers, or have experience of your own, please leave a comment.