Anne-Marie Faiola began making soap when she was 14 years old — not your average hobby for a teenager — and she greatly enjoyed getting lost in the process. When Anne-Marie went to college, her busy schedule pushed soapmaking to the wayside. After graduating, Anne- Marie worked as a corrections officer at a prison — a job with its fair share of pressure and stress. To cope with it, Anne-Marie returned to soapmaking. As she got back into it, she noticed that although a lot of people made soap, there weren’t a lot of soapmaking supply companies. In 1999, Anne-Marie quit her job, put $15,000 on a credit card, and started Bramble Berry, her own soapmaking supply company. Anne- Marie launched with a basic website and has been growing her business online ever since. “I knew that I needed to reach people at a really high, wide level if I wanted to sell these raw materials to manufacturers of soaps and toiletries,” said Anne-Marie.
As a digital-first company, Bramble Berry was an early user of online marketing. Anne-Marie relies on her blog, “Soap Queen,” her YouTube channel, “Soap Queen TV,” and, starting in 2017, on Google Ads. In its first year using Google Ads, Bramble Berry saw a fantastic return on its investment. “We got over a 500% return on investment with about $2.15 million in revenue this year that we can attribute to Google Search.” Due to the popularity of Anne-Marie’s blog, about half of Bramble Berry’s web traffic comes from organic search. “We have around 100,000 unique page views on the blog every single month,” said Anne-Marie. “That helps create a community by giving people a place to come together, learn, and try the same projects.” Bramble Berry also uses Google Analytics to monitor its display and video campaigns and G Suite to efficiently collaborate with its growing team.
Moving forward, Anne-Marie wants to grow her customer base by focusing on related markets, such as candle-making. Google products will be at the center of that effort, too. “We continue to increase our search spend with Google because it’s been very effective.” Anne-Marie even shares her knowledge of Google tools with her customers to help them succeed. Anne-Marie helps her local community, too, by donating soap and supporting various women’s charities. “Ninety-eight percent of Bramble Berry’s customer base is women, so we like to give back in that way,” she said. Reflecting on her transition from corrections officer to entrepreneur, Anne-Marie said she feels extremely lucky: “I hit the jackpot because I get to do something I’ve loved since I was a kid.”
After giving birth to her second child, Sally Bergesen was eager to get back into running. Having been a competitive runner since her early 20s, it was natural to get back into the groove of an athlete’s lifestyle. What she couldn't find, however, were running shorts that weren't poofy and baggy. "The shorts on the market were poor quality, poor fitting, and the prints and colors were dated," Sally recalls. "So, with the naive heart of the entrepreneur, I stepped forward with the idea of doing something new and different." She decided to combine her love for running with her background in brand strategy and design. In 2007, Sally founded Oiselle (French for "female bird"), launching a small apparel collection. "I knew from my own story, and others, that running has the power to change lives. I wanted to create an apparel line that honored that meaning and helped others find the same joy," she says.
In 2011, Sally launched Oiselle's e-commerce website. She uses AdWords, Google's advertising program, and Google My Business to bring customers to the site and their flagship store in Seattle's University Village. “We find that a lot of the acquisition tools available to us tend to do great on our digital channels,” Sally notes. In addition, "Google Analytics is a great tool for us to understand, in real time, how customers are reacting to the designs we put online," she says. "That data is incredibly important to many decisions related to our customer base: enthusiastic runners around the world." Oiselle also creates and posts videos to their YouTube channel to share their brand story. And within the company they use G Suite tools, such as Gmail, Docs, and Sheets, to manage their day-to-day operations.
Oiselle now sells a full line of running gear, accessories, and apparel—designed by and for women athletes who exercise outside, in every climate. They also expanded their business to include a team-based model, with women joining Oiselle to race together in a shared uniform, but perhaps more importantly, to simply connect with each other. To give back to their community and help young girls stay involved in sports, the company founded The Bras for Girls Program, donating sports bras to middle school girls in need. Online marketing has helped build the brand beyond Seattle. "We feel pretty fortunate to ride the rise of e-commerce using digital tools and technology," Sally says. "The web allows us to be connected directly to our community of women athletes in a way that companies 50 years ago couldn’t dream of."
Combat Flip Flops
Combat Flip Flops has been experiencing 450% annual growth
As U.S. Army Rangers with several Afghanistan tours behind them, Matthew Griffin and Donald Lee witnessed firsthand the devastations of war. “We saw that lack of education and employment was the main driver of negative effects in these war-torn areas,” says Matt. “These countries were filled with hard-working, creative people who wanted jobs, not handouts.” Understanding the tremendous good that could arise from opportunities for fair employment, the two veterans along with Matt's brother-in-law Andy launched Combat Flip Flops in 2012. They support textile manufacturers in war-torn countries and use the profits to fund education and demining efforts around the world.
Since their early days as a three-man operation in Matt's garage, Combat Flip Flops has relied on the Internet “to sell directly to consumers, compete with big brands, and ultimately level the playing field,” says Matt. Today, online sales comprise 80 percent of their revenue. AdWords, Google’s advertising program, helps them market their footwear, clothing, and accessories to consumers who believe in their mission. Google Analytics provides the customer insights “to refine our marketing in a thoughtful and methodical way and drive forward as a profitable company,” Don says. And G Suite tools Gmail, Docs, and Drive give them the logistical muscle of a much larger company. “Google enables us to act as a very nimble team. Coming from a Special Operations environment, we love that,” explains Matt.
In 2016 alone, Combat Flip Flops generated nearly $1.5 million in revenue, growing 450 percent year-over-year. Through their sales, they’ve helped fund the clearing of 7,700 square meters of landmines in Laos, put 255 girls through school in Afghanistan, and provided permanent jobs for 40 at-risk workers in Colombia. They’ve also partnered with a veteran-owned-and-operated apparel manufacturer in Washington state to support jobs at home while still advancing their cause. “When we first started, we felt alone and isolated. But now there are tens of thousands of people who want to see our mission go forward,” says Matt. “The ability to connect with all of them across any boundary, language, and timezone—that’s the best feature Google has provided us.”
The world increasingly relies on image-based media, both for professional and personal communication. PicMonkey, a design and photo editing platform, makes it possible for people with all levels of expertise to create amazing images. “We give users the ability to unlock their creative superpowers, and really take their images to the next level,” Chief Revenue Officer Maria Kaufman proudly states. So how does a small group of people in the tippy top corner of the US make a successful product with global impact? “We run on Google gas. Their productivity and communication apps help us work with partners and colleagues across time zones, while search, ad, and video products help us connect with and grow our user base."
PicMonkey uses AdWords, Google's advertising program, to help drive customers to their website. For a company with a digital product, this reach is huge. “AdWords is a vital part of our business, especially as we grow internationally,” Maria says. “Between Google Search and AdWords, 46% of our total site traffic in 2015 came from Google.” They use Google Apps for Work to collaborate, share ideas, and execute workflows instantly from anywhere. And they especially love YouTube. “There are thousands of user-created PicMonkey tutorial videos on YouTube,” Maria says. They also turn to AdSense, which helps them sell valuable ad space on their site, as an important revenue source. “AdSense is great for us because we have a tremendous global footprint,” Maria says. “In 2015 alone we saw over three billion ad impressions.”
If a picture's worth a thousand words, you could fill volumes about PicMonkey's bright future. They are expanding internationally in addition to hiring locally. “We're seeing double-digit growth in subscribers and triple-digit growth in average advertising revenue per session. It's exciting,” Maria reports. Just as photos take you around the world at the speed of a shutter snap, Google products help innovators like PicMonkey reach a global market instantly and easily.