New York City. Sept. 18, 2019. Pearls As One (PAO), the proprietary online pearl specialist course from the Cultured Pearl Association of America (CPAA), has been a massive success, with more than 70,000 student signups since the spring of 2018.
To celebrate this accomplishment, CPAA spoke with two board members who went above and beyond to ensure the course’s success: Jeremy Shepherd, course creator, CPAA treasurer, founder of PearlParadise.com, and co-founder of Pearl-Guide.com; and Kevin Canning, a marketing expert who is the founder of PearlsOfJoy.com, chair of the CPAA’s marketing committee, and co-founder of Pearl-Guide.com. Below is a Q&A with each about their respective contributions. First up, Jeremy Shepherd.
CPAA: Could you ever have imagined explosive growth like this for PAO? To go from 20,000 students to 70,000-plus in about a year is impressive. How long do you think it will take PAO to break 100,000?
Jeremy Shepherd: I could never have imagined the course would be this well-received. It shows there is a thirst for industry and pearl knowledge beyond our earlier assumptions. The feedback has been equally engaging. I predict that we will sign up more than 100,000 students globally in 2020.
CPAA: In the course itself, students are permitted to leave questions and comments. What are some of the most surprising questions to date?
JS: As of this moment, there are 41,687 comments and questions. It’s difficult to say which are the most surprising, but overall, the surprising factor has been the depth of knowledge some students are seeking. Many of their questions are very technical. There have been dozens of questions related to environmental temperature and nacre deposition rates, for example. Others have done independent research on early Japanese patents related to Mikimoto and others and posted questions and results from their own research.
CPAA: How instrumental has the financial support from the TPPAFP been in achieving these registration numbers for PAO?
JS: The support from The Tahitian Pearl Producer’s Association of French Polynesia (TPPAFP) has given us the ability to reach millions of people with our message and has resulted in more than 70,000 registrations, directly linked to the promotional campaigns they financed.
CPAA: Many trade groups have secured unique coupon codes to allow their members to take PAO at no cost. What are some of the groups with the greatest number of signups?
JS: There are trade groups and pearl companies signing up large numbers. Here is our list to date.
JCK – 94
GEM-A (United Kingdom) – 332
Gemmological Association of Australia – 78
WJA – 433
Instore magazine – 127
Imperial Pearl – 997
Mastoloni – 375
Pearls of Joy – 865
Reeds – 97
David Yurman – 219
Canadian Gem – 260
CPAA: Are you seeing evidence of increased pearl enthusiasm in the market as a result of PAO efforts?
JS: Fran Mastoloni of Mastoloni Pearls told me the story of one retailer who put their entire team through the Pearls As One course. Their pearl sales tripled. This is what can happen when staffs take the course.
Next up, Kevin Canning.
CPAA: CPAA enlisted you to serve on its marketing committee because of your expertise in Facebook and Instagram marketing. Describe your abilities in this arena, and how did you become an expert?
Kevin Canning: I’ve been involved with e-commerce and online marketing since 2002, primarily with my direct-to-consumer pearl jewelry brand PearlsofJoy.com. As a bootstrapped company, I had no choice but to develop expertise in all facets of digital marketing. In the last 17 years I’ve seen the rise of Google, social media, pay-per-click advertising, and more recently the Facebook marketing platform.
CPAA: What is the biggest challenge to achieving cost-effective ad results on these platforms?
KC: The challenge with Facebook is always managing scale. It’s relatively easy for a decent marketer to spend $50 a day and achieve a good return on investment, but spending $500, $1,000, or $2,000-plus per day is a whole different animal. The biggest challenge is not just finding the right audiences but knowing when to scale up and when to scale down as you exhaust the low-cost inventory.
CPAA: For PAO efforts, what does a cost-effective registration or per-person acquisition rate look like in terms of dollars and how did you achieve those results?
KC: To date we’ve been able to register around 70,000 users at a cost per acquisition (CPA) of approximately $4. This is 60 percent lower than our goal CPA of $10. Achieving this rate has not been easy. I’ve tested dozens of creative combinations and 100-plus audiences. There’s no secret formula other than constant testing and adjusting.
CPAA: How do you target trade versus consumers on these platforms?
KC: It’s estimated that Facebook has 5,000 data points on each user. This fact is a bit uncomfortable for the end user but a blessing for marketers. The Facebook marketing platform allows us to leverage this information and target users that are most likely to purchase fine jewelry.
CPAA: What tips do you have for novices who want to learn how to advertise on these platforms?
KC: Start slow and test, test, test. If an ad isn’t converting, it could be one or two small tweaks away from being a winner. Ultimately, all marketing is about matching the offer to the audience—if these aren’t in sync, the greatest ad in the world won’t convert.
This is proprietary CPAA content and may not be duplicated without the consent of Jennifer Heebner, CPAA executive director. Interested in sharing this story with others? Email JHeebner@cpaa.org.