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Performance Marketing Manager

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Creating a marketing strategy that's built for success.

Nick has forged a career helping seed and growth stage start-ups develop marketing and communication infrastructure that enables them to scale and – since joining Growth Gorilla in June 2021 – he continues to create and execute marketing strategies that revolve around growth. 

The challenge:

Nick would be the first to tell you that working with start-ups means operating in a diverse, ever-changing environment that’s filled with complexity and ambiguity. And that was certainly the case when he joined the team at the inception of Simba – a fledgling company looking to disrupt the traditional mattress market. 

“Working at a start-up comes with its own set of challenges, but imagine doing that in a vertical where you have no previous experience,” says Nick. “Add to that the fact that everyone needs a mattress, so how do you go about defining the most relevant customer for your product? Oh, and we also had no data as we hadn’t sold a mattress before. So it’s fair to say we were starting from scratch with quite limited means!” 

And while the company was ultimately a huge success, Nick says there’s a lot to be learned from the mistakes and missteps they made along the way. Here he gives a candid insight into the trial and error that should inform every start-up strategy. From identifying the right branding to the right data to the right testing, Nick tells us why marketing is never a set-and-forget solution. Read on for some key learnings that are applicable to every industry: 

The solution:

The right branding 

When it came to developing a marketing strategy for the company, Nick says the brand came before the product. “From day one, there was a very clear sense of what the founders wanted the business to be. There was a whole piece around the science of sleep, but they also wanted the product to be cool and innovative and different.” Keen to move away from “old-fashioned mattress retailers” the brand launched its blue mattress – as opposed to the conventional white – and aimed to bake a point of difference into its DNA.

Lesson: “It was essential that we communicated our brand persona to our audience, because every marketing strategy should talk about what makes you different – pushing that will help you stand out from the crowd. Monzo is a great example. At the beginning it was  simply a bank account, but everyone went for it because of its branding.” Even if you can’t send customers a brightly coloured card, you need to be clear on what makes your brand the best and what you are going to offer the customer.

The right customer

Brand persona was the jumping off point, and from there we began to define our customer. “At the start we (incorrectly) thought we would be talking to people just like us – most likely men in their 20s who work for a start-up, probably in the tech sector.

We decided that they would spend slightly more on gadgets. That they were probably going to be quite informed and curious. We felt we weren’t talking to people who would purchase the most super-duper mattress that you might find at The Ritz, but equally we weren’t talking to people who are purchasing at a low price-point. However, the reality soon dawned on us: the people who wanted our product were women in their 40s.”

Lesson: When you're starting a new business and you don't have very many customers, you’ll find they usually match what you're advertising to. For example, Nick started advertising to men between 25 and 55 and, unsurprisingly, all of their customers were men between 25 and 55. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. That said, it's still useful to collect customer demographic data because you don't know what’s going to be useful down the line. 

In addition, when thinking about your target customer, be sure to hone in on both the purchaser and the decision-maker – because they are likely to be two different people. “This eluded us for ages, but anyone in B2B would have told you to find the person who's actually going to use the tool to get them to put pressure on their boss – it was the same here – the person with the credit card wasn’t necessarily the decision-maker,” says Nick.

The right data

While their customers threw them a curveball, Nick says the business’s approach to meticulously tracking performance meant they were able to quickly see where they went wrong. “Through our data-led approach we were able to pivot to a new audience segment, otherwise we might well have made the same mistake again and again. And for this reason, we also collected data that might be useful in the future – for example – when it was time to market new products.”

Think about what data your business needs to collect throughout its journey to ensure you don’t have to learn the same lesson twice. “That doesn't mean going out and investing loads in expensive tools, it's about mindset – think about how you can codify and maintain business knowledge.”

Lesson: Before pressing ‘go’, make sure you’re in a position to achieve what you want to achieve. “Don’t launch your website if you’re not fully ready to benefit from the data that you bring in,” says Nick. “At the beginning, you're probably not going to bring in huge volumes of people, and you're not going to see great ROI.

But remember it's about increasing awareness and increasing share of voice, as well as collecting data that you can measure and later leverage. If you start out without these things in place, all you’re doing is limiting your potential lifetime return on that marketing investment. Particularly with products that are not tangible, like an app, it's much more difficult to go back and get the data you should have captured initially.”

The right messaging

The company discovered more about its potential customers completely by accident. “One day adverts on the tube were selling really cheaply so we went for it and, off the back of that, were able to explore our London customer base in more detail.” This was what led in part to the realisation that people visiting the website were from a very different audience segment to the one Nick and the team had envisaged. 

“This meant reorienting our marketing message towards that audience – from reviewing who we were targeting on Facebook to changing the emphasis in our creative by using more lifestyle imagery and pictures of women as opposed to science-driven, space-age diagrams of mattresses.

But then we went too far – moving away from our original messaging to a more kitsch approach, and this turned off the audience as they didn’t want to engage with ‘just another’ mattress company. So there’s always an element of zigzagging, but it will ultimately inch you closer to the right messaging.”

Lesson: It’s always worth allocating some budget to trying and testing new marketing channels in order to learn more about your audience. 

The right tests 

Having established who the customer was, it was a question of experimenting in order to drill deeper into achieving the right messaging. And this required the right testing to discover what psychological triggers make people act and what resonates with the target demographic. 

“We ran a lot of offers to find out what appealed to people. Once we got down to the weeds of doing that type of stuff, like going really granular into decision-makers and finding out what their triggers were, that's where we started seeing success and things took-off.” 

Lesson: Embrace an always-on testing approach. “It can be difficult to know what to narrow in on,”  says Nick. “But the key is to test concepts, and make sure what you're testing is transferable.

A lot of brands A/B test ads and the outcome is that you know people prefer advert A over advert B. But why? Was it the colour, the image, the message? Essentially, you need to know what you want to find out, have a plan and – when you have the insight you wanted – stop.” 

The right journey 

“In terms of where in the customer journey we were hitting, it was a high-value product and a considered purchase, so retargeting played a huge part. Once potential customers were in the funnel, we’d be across pretty much every platform we could find them on. And then it was a case of running various versions of our messaging until they converted. We found users tended to visit the site eight times before converting, so that gave us a very clear idea of when to stop.”

Driving people through the funnel meant paying attention to where potential customers were, both on and off the website. “As a result, we put a huge amount of effort into collecting positive customer reviews, typically on Trustpilot, but also on-site.

We’d run competitions to incentivise feedback, because we found that users who touched review assets on the website converted so much higher than anybody else. We saw it in our customer journeys, which typically went from landing page to reviews to product page to purchase.”

Lesson: Get what you can for free and dig into user-generated content (UGC). Nick suggests running social media campaigns in order to generate a response by encouraging people to tag their friends or to comment, as this can dramatically increase the organic reach of your content.

The right metrics 

“Our core KPI was cost per acquisition (CPA), but later that changed to customer acquisition cost (CAC), partly because by then we had more than one product. But we were also very aware that we should focus on share of voice and brand awareness, even if we weren’t optimising towards those. We would run periodic brand campaigns on a few platforms just to see how many people had heard about us. 

Lesson: Don’t overlook brand awareness and share of voice in favour of conversions. “What we saw as our most successful campaigns were probably not actually as successful as we thought because, while they might have had higher conversion rates, fewer people were actually seeing them.

Want to find out more about Nick? Connect with him on LinkedIn or get in touch with our team to find out more.

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