Media Buying Strategies for Increased ROAS and Growth

Samir Balwani is the CEO of QRY, a media agency helping e-commerce and direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands accelerate their growth and increase revenue. Using a full-funnel advertising approach and experimentation process, QRY optimizes campaigns and identifies new opportunities. Before QRY, Samir was the Senior Manager of Digital Innovation and Brand Strategy at American Express.

Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn: 

  • Samir Balwani’s catalyst for becoming an entrepreneur and founding QRY
  • How Samir developed a niche for his agency
  • What differentiates QRY from its competitors? 
  • QRY’s early business victories
  • The genesis of the Ecom Experiences podcast — and its ideal audience

In this episode…

When trying to scale, some mid-market e-commerce brands leverage fast-trending growth hacks, pursuing the latest shiny object purported to accelerate revenue. While this may lead to a brief surge, most of these brands encounter a plateau before plummeting. What strategies can you leverage to build an enduring brand?

As a media buying specialist, Samir Balwani recommends investing in full-funnel paid media campaigns. You can maximize ROAS and drive incremental growth for these campaigns by implementing data-driven processes to assess budgets, test brand awareness and conversion strategies, and monitor customers through the buying cycle. Samir partners with brands to optimize their budgets through forecasting and effective targeting.

Join Samir Balwani for the very first episode of Ecom Experiences as Chad Franzen of Rise25 interviews him about his media buying expertise. Samir shares his early victories as an entrepreneur, how he developed a niche for QRY, and the ideal audiences for the podcast. 

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Episode Transcript

Intro  0:04  

Welcome to another episode of Ecom Experiences a podcast for ecommerce marketing leaders who want to grow and scale their brands faster. Join us as we interview some of the smartest brand founders and marketing leaders in the industry. Explore the lessons they learned discover the keys to their success, discuss what excites them most about the future.

Samir Balwani  0:29  

I had Samir Balwani Here host of Ecom Experiences where we talk to brand founders and marketing leaders about their experiences growing brands. This episode is brought to you by QRY QRY is a ecommerce marketing agency designed for driving predictable and profitable growth. We create and execute full funnel paid media campaigns that help high growth e commerce brands deliver consistent results. To learn more about how we can help you visit Today, I have a special episode. Today we have Chad Franzen here on from Rise25, who has done 1000s of interviews with successful entrepreneurs and CEOs. kind of flipped the script today. He's going to be interviewing me. Nice to have your Chad. Hey, thanks

Chad Franzen  1:10  

so much, Samir. Great to be here. Hey, let's talk a little bit more about QRY. What I was just talking to you and you said it was five years old. What had you been doing up to the point when you decided to start it? And then why did you decide to start it?

Samir Balwani  1:24  

Yeah, yeah, so I've been doing, I've been in marketing for a pretty long time, I kind of fell in love with it and haven't turned back steps. Before starting query, I was actually helping manage brand strategy at American Express, which was an awesome opportunity. And it was great to be a part of a truly the, you know, household name, and then have the ability to impact such a great company. It was there that I realized that a lot of the best brands have true subject matter experts, and each one of those core competencies and marketing. And so when I was there, I learned a lot about how to run really great paid campaigns, everything from how to measure it to what the channels mixes need to be to how to even just budget for it and plan for it effectively. And what I realized is a lot of mid market brands don't have the rigor and forecasting foresight to be able to implement a lot of those things. You know, and especially in the E commerce world, a lot of the brands would be using full service agencies, you know, agencies that do everything for you. And the reality situation is they may do everything for you, but they don't do it great. And so there's definitely a tipping point at which ecommerce agencies and brands and general should be moving from full service into more boutique, pure, expertise driven agencies. And that's what I realized. That's why we wanted to make sure that we helped start from a paid media perspective. That's what gets me excited. That's what I want to continue working on. And so that's how curry came to be. We are a paid media agency for E commerce brands, we help brands really understand what it takes to grow. And then we create all the rigor and organizational tools around it to make sure that it's consistently happening.

Chad Franzen  3:27  

So what inspired you to you know, working for a brand like American Express, that's a pretty, that's a pretty good job, what inspired you to branch branch out on your own?

Samir Balwani  3:36  

Yeah, entrepreneurship is in my blood, my dad owned his own business, my sister owns her own business. So being at the dinner table, not being able to speak to that was kind of just, it was gonna happen sooner or later. So here I am. But there's something really amazing about being able to actually help some of our brands grow. And this, there's a pride that comes along with it. So there's nothing more exciting than going to a friend's house and seeing that they own one of our one of our clients and being able to say, hey, you know, we're helping create this household name. And that's, that's really special. That's exciting.

Chad Franzen  4:19  

So you learned while you were at American Express that it's important to kind of focus in on your specific area of expertise, rather than having a one size fits all type company or a, you know, a full service company, or did you figure that out afterward?

Samir Balwani  4:33  

Yeah, I figured that out while I was there, because that's how they're a lot of the Fortune 500 is work, right? So they'll have a dedicated creative agency. They'll have a dedicated media agency, they'll have a dedicated data analytics agency and affiliate agency. And, you know, the reason for that is, you know, there's some elements of bureaucracy and ownership internal that there are individual people that want to own these relationships. But what I identified is that when you bring all of these people together, there's this element of attention that that's created that leads to the best outcomes. So I'll give you a perfect example. You know, we partner with a lot of creative agencies pretty regularly. Because we don't do, we don't create creative, we'll brief the creative agency and say, here's what the data is showing us. Here's what we're doing. Here's what we see. But the creative agency is in charge of building long term brand. Building and brand community building brand elements. And sort of the tension between what might be working in the short term from a revenue driver and the long term brand connection, and that brand visual identity, that tension together leads to the best creatives where we kind of get the best of both worlds. Versus if you give a performance media agency all your money and say, Hey, go make creative, you're gonna get creative that has like, you know, 30% off 25%, like, sales work, or like really loud, no brand identity, because we're testing everything, and nothing is sacred. And so I think that that balance between the two is really key for being able to help grow a brand consistently. And so when we identified that, especially for mid market agencies, that's where we said, you know, what, this is what we're going to do, this is what we're going to do really well. Because that's, that's what the fortune 500 CEOs, they're doing a great job at it.

Chad Franzen  6:21  

What would you say? So now you're kind of five years into it, what would you say is the main reason why people come to you for what you do? Is there anything that kind of, you know, what is it that sets you guys apart from somebody else? Or is different?

Samir Balwani  6:37  

Yeah, it's funny, you ask that. So we've been doing this for five years now. So we've had the opportunity to really create a lot of that rigor and expertise that allow brands are missing. I think the biggest thing that holds mid market brands or even just high growth e-comm brands from growing consistently is they're very tactically focused. It's what is that growth hack that we're going to do today? What is that ad setup that we're going to do today, that's going to suddenly lead to revenue. And you might get this like, really nice spike, but then you're going to, as that tactic doesn't work anymore, you're going to kind of flatline out or even your retreat back. And so what our agency does is we help our clients really understand what the core fundamentals for media buying is. How do you actually invest in, you know, full funnel, paid media campaigns, so from brand awareness, to product consideration, all the way down to conversion. So really helping you understand what your return on adspend should be, what your budget should be, and then actually activating against it. We've created over the last five years, a lot of tools and systems and processes to make sure that we're consistently doing. So why do clients come to us, we've got a lot of the systems in place, so they don't have to build them, right. And like, that's what you want from an agency, you want someone that's going to help you say, this is how you, this is how you should be doing it. This is this is the process. This is what we implement. This is what works. And oh, are you thinking about it this way? And if not, how can we help you think about it that way? Or how can we help make the case for this? And so that's our core expertise. You're we're really thinking 12 month forecasting, for things like that, to learning agendas, what are we AV testing to help drive that incremental growth? All the way down to the actual tactical management of things? How are we actually setting up campaigns? What are the audiences? Why are they the audience? What are the keywords that we're going to be targeting? And then ultimately reporting back out on creative? How are we actually thinking about what's working? What's not working? How do we get more of that? How do we help you guys think through? Okay, this is what our offer is going to be? This is where we're budgeting, how are we taking all those learnings and kind of feeding it back into that strategy? So our three part is strategy execute report. And those three together kind of create this cycle where we're able to consistently grow and revisit what we're doing and how we're doing it. So

Chad Franzen  9:02  

as that process really evolved since day, one, five years ago,

Samir Balwani  9:07  

it's always evolving is what I'd like to say. That's the other element of it. The beauty of being a part of an agency is that you've got a team that's dedicated to just evolving the process and making sure that we're consistently getting better, especially in a world like paid advertising and digital advertising where it is changing day by day, week by week, month by month. And so yes, it it has evolved to continues to evolve. It gets better every time and we get the we have the luxury of looking across so many different brands, brands and being able to see what works across so many different brands. What that also means is we get to see the pain points across many different brands. So it allows us to say hey, brand A over here has this pain point brand B doesn't have it yet. it, let's solve it from brand A and apply it to brandy. So they never have the pain point to begin with. And so I think the best agencies are really thinking through, how do you put out fires before their fires. And it's really about being preventative versus, you know, reactionary. And that's where we get to do a lot of, and our focus allows us to do it really well. Because again, like, we're not, we're not full service agency. So I'm not serving creative problems and development problems. We also work with one, one type of client, we only work with E commerce brands. So I know every e-comm problem that you're going to have before you know it, I promise. What

Chad Franzen  10:38  

is it about e-comm brands that are particularly attractive for you to serve us?

Samir Balwani  10:43  

Yeah, you know, it's funny, because you would think, coming from American Express, I would have done financial services and just didn't like deep into finance. But there's something really amazing about being able to buy our clients products and see it and have it have that physical element of it. There's also something really amazing about knowing that we get to connect people with the things that make them happy, right? Who will we get to buy really cool. We get to help people buy like you fashion, new beauty, new electronics, home furnishings, we do a lot of which is fun. So there is this element of just being able to be a part of that. And it feels real, and it feels very fulfilling, I think it's the best way to say, the great

Chad Franzen  11:35  

seat. So you found your kind of area of expertise. You're, you've honed in on a process that's ever evolving. But you know, you have one out, what are some successes that you've that you're particularly proud of, or that are memorable? For you? Yeah, during this past? Yeah,

Samir Balwani  11:51  

I mean, it's funny, we've had a lot of successes over the years. And there's a few that kind of stand out. And the the beauty of it is we get to try all kinds of new things. And a lot of our clients are always open to trying things. And it's kind of built into the, the way we build our campaigns to write we'll set aside budgets for experimentation. And so we've had a few clients where we set aside budgets for experimentation. And suddenly they're seeing great results from some experiment, like, we have to tick tock for one of our clients, the next thing you know, they're getting 30x return from tick tock, and they were very excited about it. And now we're scaling it. That was a double edged sword. Because if you know anything about karate, we don't believe in very high return on adspend. That generally means you're under invested in channel. So as soon as we saw that, we're like, oh, we should be spending more money here. And let's let's get scale this as quickly as possible. And so that's what we did. And there, a client is killing it. But then we've had other clients where, you know, we've helped brands launch into a new space that they didn't exist in anymore. And we've been able to help them build brand awareness and build a brand lift. Yeah, we supported a client Dells see their luggage brand, when we help take over their campaigns, were able to grow their revenues, almost 140%. And it's because we really implemented this full funnel campaign strategy. So helping them really think about where, where to where are they getting new customers from? How are they introducing their brand to new audiences? And then how are we following those customers and those audiences through the entire buying cycle. And I think that that's one of the biggest mistakes a lot of brands make is that they only focus on pieces of the buying cycle, instead of really thinking about it holistically. And then you know, as e-comm is starting to change as the marketing, as consumer behavior is starting to change. Omni channel is becoming an even bigger element of it. So how much of our brand awareness budget is leading people to then purchase in store or from a retailer, not online, and then really thinking through the measurements of that, and and recognize that that is still a key piece of the entire buying cycle? We've had to really think through that for a lot of our brands and dulci is one of those where we have had that experience

Chad Franzen  14:13  

at what stage of an E commerce brands, developments or a what lifecycle would you say is ideal for them to come to you like, like they're like, Okay, we're at this point. Now we need now we need QRY.

Samir Balwani  14:28  

Yeah, if you are. So the best stage is there's there's probably three trigger points. I'd say one trigger point is you reached a stage where you're probably spending 100 $250,000 a month in advertising and you've plateaued and you just really can't figure out how to break through it. That's generally the point at which we see that happen. And so on and agency like us allows you to actually see the forecast and the reason why I say 100 200 If D is a lot of E commerce brands can tactically get to 100 to $115,000. And they're used to these like really big spikes, because you'll come up with a tactical thing that works. And it'll allow you to scale up real fast, and you'll come back down, and then you'll scale back up fast. And so you'll, you'll putter around this, like 100 $250,000 in media spend every month and but you just can't break through it, because you're not incrementally growing. So that's one. The second piece of it is, you've either brought on new investors or you've done something like you have cash, and you need to be able to reach a certain revenue target in the future, and you're willing to make those investments to get there. That's another element of it. That's another area that we generally get brought in. And then the third one is you may be working with an agency that you're just really unhappy with an error you spending three or $400,000 or 500, all the way up to a million a month. And you're you just need a level of expertise, you need someone that really understands e-comm, you need someone that can really think through, okay, you know, inventory is out of stock, what's that going to do to our forecast, or we really need to hit our forecasts, because there's cashflow implications for us, you know, things like that. That's when that's where we come in and can help clients really switch from a paid media agency to an e-comm media agency. And we bring out a little bit of a really understanding that a lot of other agencies Topgrading.

Chad Franzen  16:40  

Okay, great. Hey, let's talk a little bit about your podcast Ecom Experiences, what has made you decide to start this?

Samir Balwani  16:47  

You know, one of our ethos is to always stay curious and always ask questions. And so it was pretty easy to say, Hey, how come we're asking questions and publishing them? We ask our clients questions. We're asking Berlin's questions all the times. So why not take an opportunity and your share that so starting the podcast, because a lot of e-comm founders, a lot of e-comm, marketing leaders have really cool stories, and they do some really cool things. And I'd love to share those with the world. It's pretty much what what was the impetus?

Chad Franzen  17:21  

What? Why do you feel like curiosity is such an important thing.

Samir Balwani  17:27  

You know, especially in the marketing world, where, you know, we spoke about this a few minutes ago, where everything is changing all the time. And, and sitting still, and is not an option. Asking the questions why and being curious leads to innovation. When you when you ask questions, you start to see things from other people's perspective, you get to hear what other people are doing controls, learn what's going on. And then you take it back, and you apply it to what you're doing. But it's not only a matter of saying, Hey, I heard that experience, or I heard that and I learned that and I'm going to do exactly that. It's you take that back, and you adapt it to your business. And then the app becomes the next cool thing that I want to learn about. And I want to hear about and I want to be able to take back to my business and apply it. So I think it's this this asking questions, share your experiences, adapting it to what we do that leads to a lie, the innovation that we see in marketing, and I think it's key if you don't do that, again, you're just standing still, you're gonna get locked behind.

Chad Franzen  18:29  

You kind of answered this question, but who do you think would most benefit from from hearing this podcast?

Samir Balwani  18:33  

Yeah, I think if you're an e-comm, founder and marketing leader, you're gonna love this. But I think a lot of other if you're just starting in marketing to if you're just getting started. You just graduated college are interested in e-comm advertising e-comm marketing as a whole, I think you'll learn a lot too. Again, you're gonna have opportunity to hear from some of the the best leaders in the industry. And it'll be really cool to hear kind of how they got there, what they're doing, and what advice they might have for new marketing leaders too.

Chad Franzen  19:04  

Okay, awesome. Well, we will certainly look forward to hearing future episodes. Hey, Samir, I It's been great to talk to you today. Thanks so much for having me.

Samir Balwani  19:13  

Thank you, Chad. So long, everybody.

Outro  19:22  

Thanks for joining us. If you liked it, remember to subscribe so you'll be notified of new episodes. And if you know someone who would enjoy the show, don't forget to share and leave a review. It all helps us impact more brands. If you're looking to improve your paid media, go to and schedule a consultation. We're always happy to chat. See you for the next one.

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