Growth Hacking in New Zealand

Growth hacking is the application of the mindsets and tools of a computer hacker to the challenge of growing a company. Basically, growth hacking is what happens when software developers try to do marketing. The essence of the growth hacking mindset is the scientific method and an iterative rapid prototyping approach to marketing. This type of marketing can be faster, cheaper and more effective than traditional marketing so growth hacking is becoming popular in many industries.

New Zealand has normally been pretty slow to adopt global trends in sales, marketing and design. As far as I can tell, there are still only a small number of New Zealand companies such as Vend, TradeMe and 90 Seconds TV that are applying growth hacking techniques to rapidly expand their businesses. I’m hoping to find more people doing growth hacking in New Zealand to swap stories and share lessons learned.

1. Applying the Scientific Method to Marketing

Many software developers have a background in engineering and science. When software developers inside tech startups with no marketing team looked at the challenge of growing a company’s user base, they began to apply an experimental approach based on the scientific method. The scientific method is designed to allow technical and analytical people to approach situations of high uncertainty and to iterate towards certainty.

The core of the scientific method is the cycle of hypothesis, experiment, measurement and validation. The “lean startup” approach is to build a new business by creating as many ideas as possible and then testing those ideas with the smallest and simplest experiments possible.

The experiments to test demand for a new product are called a Minimum Viable Product. A minimum viable product is the simplest and fasted version of a product that can be created to test and measure valid market demand for a future product or service. In the marketing world these experiments are called “growth experiments“. I think of them as the “minimum viable promotion” needed to test a creative idea.

The process is driven by a series of guiding questions. In the growth and marketing arena the experimental steps are:

  1. Hypothesis: A statement about what might increase the demand for the company’s products. This statement can be proven as either true or not true. For example: “If we create a free version of our product, people will want it, use it and will then upgrade to the paid version.”
  2. Experiment: A simple way to test the hypothesis and gather information. For example: “We will create a free version of the product and test how many people upgrade to the paid version.”
  3. Measurement: Analysing the data from the experiment to determine the result. For example: “How many people use the free version and what percentage upgrade to the paid version?”
  4. Validation: Learning from the results to iterate and improve. For example: “Did more people sign up to the paid version as a result of the free version or are we better having a paid model only?”

2. Application of Rapid Prototyping to Marketing

One of the most important things that the scientific method unlocks for companies is the freedom to run a lot of experiments very quickly. This in turn unlocks the freedom to experiment and be creative across a lot of parts of the business.

Growth hacking is agnostic across marketing channels and includes a mix of product and marketing.

In the world of marketing agencies there are well defined professional boundaries between advertising, public relations and design. But this new world of cross-channel promotion demands that agencies are able to conceive and execute ideas in every channel.

My personal hypothesis is that brand design agencies have a head start in this new world because they are used to being there at the starting point of big ideas and stories that play out across many channels.

To provide growth hacking services all that a branding agency really needs to do is become more involved in implementation. Branding firms will also need to up-skill on data and analytics, and some firms will need to learn to move faster than usual. But the raw material for a high intensity growth hacking engine is already hidden inside many branding agencies.

In the world of in-house marketing teams there are several challenges with being more scientific and more iterative with marketing:

  1. The product team are usually resource constrained and already have a product roadmap with priorities for improvements and changes to the core product. Therefore any creative ideas for product features that could increase growth have to be balanced against existing product priorities.
  2. On a personal level, the product team and marketing team probably have different world-views, ways of operating and ways of communicating. This is a natural and healthy tension but it can slow down the speed of collaboration.
  3. Using data and analytics to track and measure growth experiments is a difficult challenge and requires the team to balance the tension between measuring too much and being overwhelmed with useless data or not measuring enough to be able to make decisions.
  4. Internal growth projects can get distracted and derailed by other internal priorities. Growth experiments usually fall into the category of important but not urgent so they are easy to delay and procrastinate on. Most marketing teams have a to-do list somewhere with dozens of ideas that could make a major difference to growth if only they could get around to them.

When I was in-house I hired and fired several marketing, advertising and PR agencies. I have formed a view over time that a lot of the best growth hacking needs to be done by in-house teams. But I always wished that I had a SWAT Team on call to deploy when a really interesting growth idea came up. My ideal external growth team would meet the challenges listed above with:

  1. Full-stack: On-tap capacity to go all the way from concept and design to engineering and deployment. This “design & build” capability should be channel agnostic so that the team can deliver everything from advertising campaigns to mobile apps quickly, cheaply and with high quality.
  2. Collaborative: Multi-lingual across disciplines to serve and collaborate with different people inside the in-house team. The agency strategists, designers and developers should all play nice with others.
  3. Data-driven: Deep expertise in tracking, analytics and data. An in-house team can only really know the current analytics systems that they are using. An external team should be able to use and deploy tracking solutions from different providers and help the in-house team prioritise which metrics to track.
  4. Focused: An external team should have the focus and speed to deliver growth projects without being derailed by the company’s internal crises.

It’s early days, but I’m aiming to build exactly this type of external growth team at Richards Partners. If you’d like to learn more about this type of rapid and practical marketing then you can hit me up on [email protected] I’d also love to hear from other practitioners that are at the coal face running growth hacking teams. The New York and London startup scenes thrive on collaboration and sharing. We need to find and celebrate more great New Zealand growth hacking success stories.

The evolution of design, branding and digital marketing in New Zealand

I have been away from New Zealand for over five years. Life in New York and London moves pretty fast, so coming home to little old New Zealand has been quite a shock to the system. But the country is waking up to a more global worldview and embracing design and creativity. It turns out that things in paradise have changed a lot recently. I thought I’d take a moment to share some of the biggest changes that have occurred in my absence.

1. Design Thinking

When I left, talking to conservative business people about design thinking and innovation was a constant struggle. There was a withering cynicism towards any type of creativity. Design was seen as mere window dressing and fluff.

Today, there are wonderful success stories of fast-growing New Zealand companies that are using design, empathy and rapid new product development methods to bring world class products to life. These new products are are grounded in a genuine understanding of what their customers want. The Better by Design program seems to have had real impact in this area.

The core of good design thinking is empathy for the end-user (and a willingness to iterate and experiment). These design thinking mindsets are largely now seen as common sense in many New Zealand businesses. And where they aren’t, there is a growing appetite for change.

2. Brand Strategy

New Zealand has always had a cynical attitude towards sales and marketing. In the professional services the attitude was “the work should speak for itself” and in the consumer products industries there used to be a real lack of ambition and storytelling. Branding was restricted to logos and packaging and seldom went as far as good quality storytelling. Most brand strategy work wasn’t handed over to the client in a form that was durable and usable.

Today, there are some top class New Zealand design firms and a wide range of high quality brands coming out of New Zealand with good brand design, marketing and advertising. The prestige firms like Richards Partners, DNA Design, Dow Design, Designworks and Studio Alexander are all still going strong and there are a range of hot new brand design firms like Little Giant, Inject Design and HardHat Design.

3. Digital Marketing

Different industries adopt digital marketing and social media at different rates. But almost every company in New Zealand was behind the curve in adopting social media. And there was only one really creative social media agency (Young & Shand) who were surrounded by a cadre of old school web design firms like Zeald and Terabyte using outdated technology like Flash and Macromedia.

These days, most New Zealand brands have embraced social media and the two-way customer conversations that come with the new online channels. On the agency side there are now a wonderful range of user experience and digital creative agencies. Everything from the reborn Terabyte, who are championing good UX design, to creative social media agencies like Mosh and Socialites.

Growth hacking and truly cutting edge digital marketing as practised by modern startups is still a little lacking in New Zealand. Growth hacking requires an uncommon mix of willingness to fail combined with a ruthless focus on measurement.

There is also a growing startup ecosystem in New Zealand championed by groups like the Icehouse, Spark Labs and Startup Weekend. Things are looking bright for innovation and creativity in New Zealand.

Why You Should Become a Mentor

The best thing I did for my career last year was becoming a mentor for 500 Startups. Mentoring is a great chance to give back and to contribute to your local community. I found that being a mentor also had some great side-effects such as exposing me to fresh perspectives, clarifying my thinking on industry issues, and building my professional network.

When I moved to New York, I decided that it was time to start giving more back to the startup community, so I contacted the 500 Startups team about becoming a mentor. 500 Startups is one of the leading accelerators and seed stage investors in the world. Their new marketing-focused investment fund is called 500 Distro (short for distribution) and they had a couple of new portfolio companies in New York that seemed like a potential fit, so I started mentoring one of them in February.

Continue reading Why You Should Become a Mentor

Why in-house marketers are so different from external consultants

For the first half of my career I worked in professional services, first as a lawyer, then in management consulting, design, and most recently digital marketing. To be honest, all of these consulting disciplines blurred into one because the fundamental mechanics were so similar. The day-to-day issues like client management, project management and billing are the same in pretty much every external consulting firm. Even the larger issues are also pretty much the same, how to help the client sell more, connect with their audience, and build their reputation. But moving in-house to work in marketing was a rude awakening. In-house marketing as part of an internal growth team is very different from external consulting.

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What I learned about marketing from my first year in New York

I joined the SeedInvest team in New York just over a year ago. SeedInvest is an equity crowdfunding platform focused on angel investing and venture capital for technology companies.

When I first moved to the USA I looked at the West Coast online investing platforms like Fundersclub, Wefunder and AngelList. In the end, I chose to join SeedInvest because (like Seedrs whet I worked in the UK) they had focused on building a business that takes early-stage investing seriously and treats equity crowdfunding like a smaller version of high-end investment banking rather than a form of charity or gambling.

Continue reading What I learned about marketing from my first year in New York

Equity Crowdfunding is the Ultimate Customer Loyalty Program

Alex Tynion from SeedInvest and I sat down recently to talk through some of the things that we’ve learned from helping the first few companies who have “tested the waters” under the new Reg A equity crowdfunding rules. Regulation A is an equity crowdfunding rule that allows private companies to raise money from the general public. So far, we have helped three companies on SeedInvest to reach over $10M in indicated interest from over 2,000 people each.

There are some common mindsets and practices that we’ve seen across the companies that have been most successful with equity crowdfunding.

Continue reading Equity Crowdfunding is the Ultimate Customer Loyalty Program

The Moral Hazard Created by Abundant Startup Funds

I vehemently disagree with a lot of this article, but it’s so well written that I just had to share it. Murad Ahmed from the Financial Times neatly captures the changes that are happening in the London startup scene and the increase in angel investing and venture capital in Europe.

For 4 years I lived through the heyday of this boom in UK startup funding. But my experience was that to go along with the increase in investors, there has been a corresponding increase in startups so that the two have balanced each other out. The good startups that get funded by good investors are still dedicated, hardworking and humble.

I’ve reproduced the article from the Financial Times site below because the article is so important as a record of a certain time in London’s startup scene and it would be a shame to lose it. You can see the original article, if it’s still visible on the FT site.

Enter FT journalist Murad Ahmed

Continue reading The Moral Hazard Created by Abundant Startup Funds

Lean Copywriting

The Lean Branding process consists of strategy, messaging and design. Of these three, messaging and copywriting is often the hardest to apply lean principles to. Language can be very subjective, so judging how best to create copy in a fast-paced environment is not easy. There are a few lessons I’ve learned from creating copy to help express a refreshed brand position.

Copy and messaging is where your brand comes to life in the written word. People are visual creatures, but language is still one of the most powerful ways to communicate and persuade. In almost every industry copy and messaging is a vital part of bringing the brand to life.

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Traction: A startup guide to getting customers

One of my favorite marketing books to refer to for ideas is Traction: A startup guide to getting customers by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares. Their first edition was also available as an audiobook on Audible. They are now in the process of publishing a 2015 second edition so I thought I’d take a moment to share some of my favorite parts of the book. Continue reading Traction: A startup guide to getting customers