According to the Oxford dictionary, hacking is ‘the gaining of unauthorized access to data in a system or computer’ and we all know that. Well, the marketing world has certainly turned this negative into a commonly used positive verb when it comes to accelerating growth from a data and digital marketing perspective. It’s a fascinating topic from a long-term vs short-term and promise vs delivery standpoint, as agencies and consultants are constantly evolving new skills, tools and tech solutions to hack and deliver growth in the shortest possible time.
Once again, I have brought in three experts, good friends of mine from the media and tech industry, to tell us what it takes to hack growth, including: creating data and platform-driven strategies, especially on marketplaces; leveraging media audit to deliver higher efficiency and return on investment; and the role of artificial intelligence (AI) for contextual and relevant placement of content to drive better click-through rates (CTRs) with the right audiences at the right time.
Samir Ayoub, CEO & Founder, Medpush Media Consultancy
David Quaife, Managing Director MENA, Pattern International
Sunil Sivarajan, Co-Founder & CBO, Simplifai Labs
What does the term ‘growth hacking’ actually mean to your clients and the businesses you manage in the region? To illustrate a recent example, along with key trends observed during the pandemic?
David: Most people will associate the word ‘hacking’ by taking short cuts to get quick results. But true digital growth hacking should not only accelerate growth in the short term but also look at the longer-term picture. We use as much data as possible across marketing, customer and product, and with the use of technology and creative strategies we speed up growth for that brand. Longer-term growth is achieved from A/B testing, experimentation and constantly reviewing the data to ensure you are getting the best possible growth for a business or brand.
Sunil: “I will give you a hack”, said my friend’s eight-year-old son when we were struggling to open the bottle of ketchup at his place. I was not only amazed to hear this from a young child, but also instantly connected with him as the term is extensively used in the start-up ecosystem and has entered the corporate world recently. A growth hacker typically uses creative, innovative, analytical and low-cost methods to grow the business exponentially.
The term ‘growth hacking’ has become more commonly used in business since the outbreak of the pandemic, as we are all forced to think about growth hacking strategies. We are seeing inevitable shifts in traditional ways of conducting business due to innovative technology, accelerated digital transformation and changes in consumer journeys. It is remarkably interesting to see many businesses using growth hacking techniques, manoeuvring through the challenges and leveraging on the opportunities that the pandemic has opened for them.
Universally, the online retail and education fields have witnessed accelerated growth during the pandemic. In the Middle East region, it is interesting to see how other industries have also stood out, especially during the lockdown, with travel restrictions and social distancing being strictly followed. The proptech (property technology) industry has transformed, with leading players providing customers opportunities to view properties through AI in the comfort of their homes, investors and landlords using cloud services to streamline rent collection and management tools, and tenants using apps as payment methods. The hotel industry has been working to mitigate the pressure of low occupancy rates by converting them into co-working spaces.
Growth hacking techniques could also include smart strategies to augment business growth and retention of customers. With consumers’ heightened awareness about ethics and values, especially during the pandemic, it has become important for clients to understand their consumers and their journeys. Local banks in the UAE are following a strategy of recruiting key personnel from diverse work backgrounds to get a better understanding of the expectations of their consumers, whereas in the past they only considered people from financial backgrounds. Companies that know what their clients want and what they expect can also work on customising the customer experience to create loyalty and recurring revenues. Retention is far better than acquiring a new customer and saves significant cost.
Samir: All marketers aim for growth year-on-year, which is becoming an even more challenging task given the market conditions in the past few years coupled with the impact of Covid-19. Driving efficiency across the entire media value chain is key for growth. There is a strong need to question and revisit the practices and put in place a more cohesive and accountable system, to track performance not only in digital but across all channels with a proper correlation between results and investment. The name of the game is real-time data and optimisation. At Medpush, we take a holistic view of the challenge in hand while delivering higher efficiencies and value for every dollar invested.
With focus and investments shifting to bottom-of-the-funnel objectives and short-term tactics, what is the significance of brand strategy, positioning, idea and creativity in achieving growth?
Samir: The ultimate objective of any marketing investment is to sell while building brand image and values. Marketers have to be super careful in how they invest to attract consumers and convert into sales, as by focusing purely on conversion they may lose on brand building and vice versa. The role of each channel within the marketing mix varies. Some are good for short-time and quick conversations, others are suitable for long-term conversions and brand building. There should be a balance not only in choosing the mix but also in the type of activities and message for healthy and continuous growth.
Sunil: The focus on the bottom of the funnel is mainly because the digital marketers are under pressure to deliver results quickly, and hence most digital campaigns do not meet the marketing objectives set by the advertiser.
Jeff Green, CEO at The Trade Desk, says, “there is no way to win the game if you don’t set the rules up in a way that you can actually win the game”. In a game of football, every player in the team needs to be given certain credit for the team’s win, not just the one who shot the goal. There are many people who do not click on the ads despite being exposed to the banner or a video but may just go directly to the brand’s website and convert. Last click attribution is important, but it is also important to give credit to the awareness and prospecting phases of the funnel. Additional metrics such as view-through conversions can help us understand those in the prospecting phase of the funnel. CMOs are great storytellers and will resonate well with the digital reports that we share with them if we can build a story with all the relevant metrics representing campaign performance. They very well understand the significance of the consumer journey and will look beyond focusing on the bottom of the funnel.
Ideally, to improve campaign performance, it is recommended to do the following:
1) Keep building your customer base, as the current customers you have is always shrinking. Start with connecting consumers at the top of the funnel. Awareness and consideration stages are equally as important as they have always been before Covid-19. Keep building first-party data that is most relevant for your business. Push them down to trigger consideration, and finally purchase through your retargeting strategies.
2) Capitalise on the cost advantage with lower CPM campaigns. Publishers have witnessed ad CPMs drop with the current crisis at play in spite of increases in site traffic. Buy more impressions and reach more prospects.
3) Focus on quality inventory. Place ads alongside content that evokes positive sentiment and emotion to the consumers, so that advertising messages are better received and resonate with consumers.
David: All businesses in 2020 have had to realign their commercial objectives to deal with the added pressure of Covid. Short-term tactics like promotions don’t drive growth but are fixing a short-term problem. Brands should be starting to think about how they can drive growth in the future based on the new norms we find ourselves in, but also anticipating how consumer behaviours and expectations will change in the near future. This is where brand positioning and strategy will play a vital role.
Technology, specifically AI, is being leveraged across marketing actions, amplification and customer experience. How is it helping brands achieve better CTRs across the full marketing funnel?
Sunil: Digital media teams in agencies usually cite challenges that they regularly face like ad fraud, brand safety, viewability, in-target audience, the emergence of new platforms, dropping attention levels, and maximising user impact and value. Not one platform provides a solution for all of these pressing issues. So, today, agencies and clients are forced to work with multiple platforms and each of these platforms is competing to improve the brand’s campaign performance leveraging on its unique selling point.
However, a cramped digital media plan with many line items is not recommended, as this may lead to retargeting the same users and not optimising towards incremental performance. The planner today must diligently work towards selecting a mix of suitable platforms that complement each other and deliver on the campaign and overall marketing objectives of the brand. Planners today are considering metrics beyond CTRs, as those do not correlate to business objectives like increasing revenues or customer acquisition. Also, there are pitfalls of chasing high CTRs or clicks, as there could be a skew towards low-value clicks. It is extremely important to also focus on metrics like viewability and inventory quality.
Samir: Technology is needed for facilitation, speed, tracking and improving efficiency but it’s not sufficient on its own. The role of talent remains unavoidable to manage and run the tech devices, generate ideas, provide insights, conduct analytics and give recommendations to clients. In other words, talent should leverage rather than relying purely on tech for better results
David: From a practical implementation point of view, I think machine learning should be the focus for brands looking to optimise CTRs and also conversion metrics. There are a plethora of tools out there that leverage machine learning to optimise actions based on data in real-time, something businesses could have only dreamed of in the past. Our tool Predict optimises campaigns on Amazon using huge amounts of data; the more data we give it the better it gets. Where we have seen this work even better is using AI to predict the future opportunity of a product or brand based on the data we have, to take a proactive approach to marketing.