- Kaylin Marcotte runs Jiggy Puzzles, which has sold more than 250,000 units in three years.
- She says word of mouth — partnerships with brands and customers — has helped drive growth.
- She says the key to a good organic marketing campaign is a two-way partnership.
- This article is part of “Small Business Marketing,” a series examining the fundamentals of marketing strategy for SBOs to acquire new customers and grow their business.
This essay is based on a conversation with Kaylin Marcotte, the 32-year-old New York-based founder and CEO of Jiggy Puzzles, about the marketing tactics she uses for her company. It has been edited for length and clarity.
I’ve always been a fan of word of mouth for my small business.
I started my direct-to-consumer puzzle brand during what felt like a D2C e-commerce boom. All the founders around me followed the script of raising lots of VC money to pump it into social media and Google ads to get their brand known. It seemed like a quick way to build a multi-million dollar business – until we saw how quickly these platforms could change and effectively turn off your entire growth mechanism.
I bootstrapped my business, so I never had the money for that strategy anyway. But even if I had, I don’t think I would have taken that approach. I think word of mouth is so much more powerful and an affordable way to reach new audiences and build a stronger brand through trusted recommendations. Also, we have a lot more control than the big marketing channels.
Not following the traditional playbook hasn’t really slowed us down: We’ve sold 250,000 units, gained 100,000 email subscribers, and grown to multi-million dollar business status in our three years in business.
I believe this type of organic marketing really aligns my business for long-term success. Here are three strategies I use to do this, including partnering with other brands and individuals.
Cooperations are integrated into our business model
From the beginning, Jiggy Puzzles has featured the work of contemporary women artists. While we could have easily commissioned their work, we chose to pay them through royalties. We recently launched Jiggy Studios to allow even more artists to collaborate with us to create jigsaw puzzles.
Part of it was out of necessity: as a Bootstrapping founder, I couldn’t afford the upfront cost of their art. But it has also created a powerful word of mouth marketing channel. All of these artists suddenly had an incentive to help us market their puzzles.
It really becomes a game of scale: each artist might only have 3,000 to 50,000 social media followers or email subscribers, but when we stand in front of their entire audience, that’s tens of thousands of new people who know about Jiggy. While some of our artists have a larger following – like Sara Boccaccini Meadows, Charly Clements and Joanna Muñoz – each and every collaboration contributes to our growth.
I think part of this has been so successful because we really see this as a two-way partnership: we’re here to help with manufacturing, distribution and even marketing materials, and they now have a new way to monetize theirs Art.
We went for partnerships instead of white labeling
Many product-based companies are pursuing business-to-business partnerships as a way to create a new revenue stream. But if these are only used for income, I think it’s a missed marketing opportunity. When we opened up the opportunity for businesses, nonprofits and celebrities to create branded puzzles, we decided that these should be co-branded (clearly made in collaboration with Jiggy) rather than white-labeled (sold to the partner without our branding ) should be provided.
For example, when bourbon brand Woodford Reserve approached us to create a jigsaw puzzle for their big Kentucky Derby campaign, we could have just made the jigsaw puzzles, given them to the company, and celebrated the sale. Instead, we aim to create a brand moment with every collaboration that amplifies our partners’ initiatives, while introducing Jiggy to her entire community – and often giving us access to audiences we could never have afforded on our own.
To that end, we typically pair the launch of each custom puzzle with a custom marketing campaign, which may include things like social media giveaways or a press push, to encourage our partners to share them at scale. We see every moment as a lead generation moment too and make sure we have all the best practices in place with our website, email capture and ad retargeting tracking pixels to attract this new influx of potential customers into our sales funnel bring to.
We treat ambassadors as part of our company
Of course, we mustn’t forget the classic word-of-mouth strategy: ambassadors. From the start, we’ve empowered our organic ambassadors by including instructions and encouragement on our product packaging to help puzzlers share their progress on social media.
Lately we’ve sped things up by launching an official ambassador program. We truly see these ambassadors as part of our company and have done the work to help them, help us and make sure they feel valued. Each ambassador is given a unique code that offers a discount to the people they share it with and then earns them a commission on the sales they make. We’ve also put together a kit for them with branded language, Jiggy FAQs and social media posting best practices.
We’ve already seen the results in terms of helping them increase sales, create user-generated content, and get us in front of audiences we otherwise wouldn’t have had access to. While they’re not a huge audience, they’re often very engaging: one ambassador, for example, regularly shares Jiggy on her private Facebook groups for moms.
Word of mouth isn’t necessarily the quickest or easiest win. And doing this successfully takes a lot of care and dedication to finding the value proposition for everyone involved. But I’ve found that if done successfully, it can really build an enduring brand with a lot of power behind it.