Agile Branding

Agile branding is the art of quickly creating and improving your brand positioning so you can iterate and improve your marketing. When you’re starting out on a new venture you may feel the need to map out every step of your go to market strategy in advance. Normal project planning would tell you that a detailed roadmap is a great way to execute a large project. But when it comes to branding and marketing, you are in a constant dance with your customer. And we all know that dancing can be chaotic. There is real value in taking a more iterative and agile approach to building your brand.

The book Lean Startup by Eric Ries is a great reminder of just how powerful the tools of lean thinking, agility and adaptability can be in growing a business. The iterative thinking from the world of product development can also be applied to marketing.

A truly agile brand is user-focused and iterative. Building an agile brand is not about the rituals of agile software development such as sprints, scrums, stand-ups, and retrospectives. Instead, it’s about adopting the customer cantered thinking of the agile mindset into every part of your marketing.

To create an agile brand you will likely still need an agile workflow and processes, but that’s not what will make your brand agile. Brand agility comes from a fundamentally agile and iterative approach.

In a large organisation where you’re looking to bring formal agile methods into the company to speed up the learning cycle for your day-to-day marketing, then the process may be more formalised. But the agile mindset of delivering customer value, testing things quickly and learning from your mistakes will be the same for big and small companies.

Branding all at once

To create an agile brand you are going to move forward on all fronts at once. Parallel processing is an unusual way for a company to create a new brand, but it’s remarkably similar to the way that an individual designer works when they are actually doing the job of designing a new brand. 

I look at a brand as three main elements, the strategy & intent, the copywriting messagingand the visual system design. You can be prototyping, improving and iterating all three of these brand elements at once. To create a new brand quickly you need to address the strategy, messaging and design together.

1. Agile brand strategy

Creating and iterating a strategy is all about creating just enough strategic clarity to be able to make decisions and move forward day by day. Most strategies have so many different elements and so many different components that people spend as much time creating the strategy as they do implementing it. By the time traditional companies have implemented anything, they have to go back and create a new strategy.

There is a saying in the sport of boxing that “Everyone has a game plan until they get punched in the face.” Your brand strategy needs to be able to adapt quickly in the face of adverse feedback. To be resilient, an agile brand strategy needs to answer three questions:

  1. Who do you want to serve?
  2. What pain do you solve for your audience?
  3. How do you do it better than your competitors and substitutes?

An agile approach to brand strategy means that the answer to these three questions may change on a week to week basis as you collect customer feedback and monitor the performance of your trial marketing campaigns.

2. Agile brand messaging

Having an agile tagline that is constantly being updated would seem like a weird thing to do, but the way that you describe your brand should be evolving as you learn from your ongoing customer discovery and market research. Therefore, you need to be able to change the way that you describe your business over time. You don’t want to lock too many things in too rigidly into your brand.

The link between strategy and copywriting is the stories that you tell. If you find yourself, on a repeated basis, re-telling particular anecdotes about your brand, then those are a good place to look for copywriting and key messages.

A story is the functional unit of meaning; it is a way of conveying meaning to an audience. You should aim to standardise and modularise your copywriting so that you and the rest of your team can take key elements and recombine them to create collateral and correspondence on the fly.

The next important thing to realise about agile copywriting is the importance of testing:

  • With traditional ad agency copywriting you would rely entirely on market research, intuition and instinct to create pieces of communication that would persuade your audience.
  • With agile approaches to copywriting you can test the effectiveness of different pieces of copy and improve it as you go. This approach draws as much from the direct marketing and direct response school of advertising as it does from ad agency copywriting.

3. Agile brand design

The visual design system can seem like the least agile part of a brand. However, in the age of digital communication, with the right tools you can constantly be improving and iterating your brand’s visual design.

Your visual appearance as a brand can be just as lean, agile and adaptable as any other part of your strategy.

  • The problem is usually that companies are too reluctant to invest in good quality design as a priority and to continue investing in design over time.
  • The other half of the problem is that the providers of design services have been far too willing to sell their wares as one-off batch-and-queue projects instead of fighting for retainers to act as brand stewards.

Designing a new corporate logo has become something that is so mystified and sacrosanct that it is impossible to imagine quick, small, agile improvements to a company’s logo over time. But if you step back and look at Shell’s logo over the years or Pepsi or Coke (or any great brand taken from a far enough viewpoint), they have all iterated and improved their logos significantly over the years.

The challenge for a startup is simply to accelerate this process and to be willing to make changes faster to improve the brand. The unspoken restraint here is that startups are unwilling to invest in good visual design. It makes perfect sense for a startup to hire a developer and to be continually improving their product, yet somehow it seems self-indulgent for them to hire a graphic designer and to be continually improving their brand. This is because most startups misunderstand what design really is.

Good design doesn’t just make a product look good; good design makes a product work better for the user. Good design is user-centred design and that type of design is always going to be lean and agile, practical and grounded.

Clarity of strategy, message and design

Clarity is the key to agile branding. The way to create a brand that can survive rapid iteration is to increase the amount of clarity across strategy, messaging and design.

  • A clear strategy will be repeatable and articulable to all of your team members. It will help guide all aspects of your decision making in marketing, product and customer experience.
  • A clear set of messages to describe your brand and to persuade your audience will be more likely to be useful to the rest of your team and therefore more likely to be actively used.
  • Clear visual identity, through colours, fonts and shapes, increases the chances that your brand will be applied by the team members in a consistent and high-quality way.

An agile brand has a clear strategy, a clear message, and a clear look and feel.

Data Driven​

Data Driven: Harnessing Data and AI to Reinvent Customer Engagement by Tom Chavez, Chris O’Hara and Vivek Vaidya is one of those rare books that you can tell has been written by real-world practitioners (not consultants or theorists). It’s the best book that I’ve read so far on marketing technology and customer experience.

The three authors have all been deeply immersed in projects using big-data to personalise and optimise marketing at scale:

  • Tom Chavez was a co-founder of marketing technology platform Krux before it sold to Salesforce. He’s now a co-founder of startup studio Super{Set}.
  • Chris O’Hara was responsible for marketing at Krux and now leads marketing for Salesforce Marketing Cloud.
  • Vivek Vaidya was a co-founder and the CTO at Krux and is now a co-founder of Super{Set}.

The book was published in 2018 and is the first time I’ve seen someone really tell the truth about the nitty-gritty of delivering data-driven marketing at scale. The authors focus on the practical ways that data flows through a modern business.

The case studies aren’t just abstract examples, but real projects that Tom, Chris and Vivek have worked on with clients.

Personally, I’ve lived through the complexities of integrating CRM systems with web analytics, customer loyalty data and all sorts of other complex data sets. The real value in bringing these things all together isn’t just in marketing, it’s transformative for the whole business.

The book is so good that I thought the best way to review it was to pull out some samples that summarise the key concepts in the author’s own words (I’ve lightly edited the samples to fit the blog format). To really get the value of the content you need to read the examples and context so I recommend you grab the hardcover, kindle or audiobook.


Principles of customer data

There are three foundational principles described in the book: 

  1. Embrace the always changing “human becoming”. Let go of static concepts like audience segments and inflexible stages of the marketing funnel. Your customers and audiences are leaving behind breadcrumbs that can help you engage with them in an ever-evolving, multifaceted way.
  2. You have more data than you think … and you think you have more data than you actually do. Whether you believe you’re sitting on a mountain of data, or you think you’re hopelessly impoverished, the truth is somewhere in the middle. Build an inventory of your data assets, the data that’s hiding in plain sight as well as the missing (but gatherable) data within reach. 
  3. There is no single truth, just more and less useful theories. The data game isn’t about being right or wrong; it’s about being more right than wrong as you compile a continually evolving theory of the consumer. Make mistakes; learn fast.

How to use data

After unifying your data-in and your data-out in a single platform, apply the five sources of data-driven power: 

  1. Segmentation. Let a thousand flowers bloom as you define and continually re-define your customers and audiences.
  2. Activation. Target and measure the audiences you want to reach across all the available channels and platforms. Know exactly where “your people” are and how to reach them.
  3. Personalization. Build on segmentation and activation to achieve personalization in the broadest sense – cooler content, more relevant commerce, smarter selling and servicing of your customers.  
  4. Optimization. Adjust the velocity, pacing, reach, and frequency of your messages to achieve maximum efficiency in your marketing spend.
  5. Insights. Use the output from your data systems to accumulate richer insights into your customers. Put this data back into your marketing engine to increase precision, effectiveness, and efficiency.

Avoid data pitfalls

The book warns readers to avoid five pitfalls when implementing a data driven strategy: 

  1. Absence of clear goals for data transformation: Technology itself is not a panacea. Leverage it at the right time in concert with the right people, woven into the right process. 
  2. Lack of a formal owner: Empower a leader and a team to get the job done. 
  3. Operating in a silo: Data transformation entails coordination of complexity. Break the silos and pre-empt the tribalism that can stymie the best-laid plans. 
  4. Boiling the ocean: Celebrate small wins to build organizational momentum. Leverage measurable results from early-stage initiatives to fund future steps. 
  5. Failure to anticipate risk: Remain zen-like but relentless when the inevitable glitches occur. Data pipelines will break; naysayers will grumble. Persuade constituents of the career and company benefits to them of getting behind an all-in data strategy. 

Data layers

When establishing a data strategy for your organization, use the three-layer model to chart the who-what-when-where: 

  1. Know: Invest in data management to know your customers in a dynamic, 360-degree, real-time way. Reach them intelligently and with precision across every channel. 
  2. Personalize: Extend your brand and grow revenue by giving each customer more of what they want and less of what they don’t want. Use AI and machine learning to personalize all engagement—advertising, content, commerce, sales, and service. 
  3. Orchestrate: Reach your customers at just the right time and in the right place by mapping the journey they take with your brand. Measure the effectiveness of different touchpoints in varying sequences and combinations. Intentionally craft journeys that lead to the engagement you seek.

The authors also include guidance on applying artificial intelligence to marketing data and finish the book with several forecasts for future trends across customer experience, data and technology.


The book is available in hardcover, Kindle and audiobook. The audiobook is read by LJ Ganser who was a voice actor in Grand Theft Auto and has recorded almost 50 audiobooks. His voice is confident and clear. He really takes you along for the ride with Tom, Chris and Vivek for some of their client meetings in the early days of Krux.

Overall, a highly-recommended book for anyone that wants to understand how data and technology are changing marketing and customer experiences.

Customer Journey Mapping

Customer journey mapping is a great tool that sits at the intersection of user experience design, customer experience management and design thinking. Journey maps are useful because they help visualise the interconnectedness of modern cross-channel customer experiences. I’ve built a number of customer journey maps in my time for various products and services, but recently I’ve noticed that the tool is also useful for mapping a company’s marketing.

Modern marketing is moving from creating one-off campaigns towards creating always-on marketing systems. Customer journey mapping is increasingly being used in digital marketing to design path-to-purchase journeys that can be built using marketing automation tools. Modern customer journeys are non-linear and can bounce around across multiple stages, channels and touchpoints, but the exercise of converting the chaos of reality into a linear model is helpful for planning, creating clarity and making real-world improvements.

Customer Journey Map template from design firm Adaptive Path.

A customer journey map tells the story of a customer’s experience with your marketing, product or service over time. The most common presentation of the journey map is in a large format diagram that puts the journey into a linear timeline. This type of diagram simplifies the complexity of a real customer journey so that general insights can be drawn out and improvements made. A good customer journey map covers all the touchpoints that a customer comes into contact with while they are attempting to achieve their goal and the emotions that they experience during that journey.

A journey map is useful because it provides context and highlights how interconnected your various brand touchpoints are. In my experience, a journey map is helpful in bringing together people from various teams including marketin g, design and customer experience. These teams can use the journey map to spot pain points, gaps in the experience and to encourage empathy for the end customer. The ultimate aim of a journey map is usually to improve the customer experience, not just document it.

Customer Journey Map example from research user experience agency NN/g.

Steps to create a customer journey map

Based on the workshops and projects that I’ve run in-house and with clients, I’ve found that the key steps to create a customer journey map generally include:

  1. Scoping: The first step in defining a customer journey is to determine the customer or audience segment that you want to focus on and what stages of their journey you want to cover. I’ve found that it’s best to focus on a narrow audience and then go wide in terms of covering the experience stages, so you can capture a holistic view of the journey. It can be useful to use customer archetypes, personas or target segments that you are already using in other parts of your marketing as a starting point for your journey mapping.
  2. Research: A good journey map isn’t just made up out of thin air; it’s based on robust qualitative and quantitative research. Even offline experiences can be measured these days, so there’s no excuse for creating a journey map without some honest self-evaluation and research as the first input. Quantitative business data, survey data such as NPS or CSAT, and website analytics are great inputs to help to construct, prioritise and enhance your customer experience. Qualitative research is great for telling you something you don’t know, whereas quantitative research is more useful for confirming a hypothesis. The most powerful quantitative data often contains an “uncomfortable truth”. These hard truths are an excellent raw material for a journey map because they can spur the business into action.
  3. Analysis: The next step in creating a meaningful journey map is to consolidate a broad index of touchpoints into a more focused thread containing the key customer journeys. The analysis process is an exercise in selecting the most representative journeys and building them into a coherent narrative that moves realistically from step to step. I like to build these narratives in a workshop by taking an individual example customer, starting with them before they have engaged with the company and gradually walking in the customer’s shoes by asking “And what happens next?”. The goal is to build a connected series of triggers, reactions and emotional states that credibly flow from one into another in a linear sequence.
  4. Insights: The research and analysis phases can sometimes be very factual and analytical because you’re trying to capture a lot of information and to map the terrain. Once you have the core narrative down, it’s worth taking the time to explicitly dive into the wants, needs and fears that are present for your audience at each stage. Adding a cognitive layer to the journey is a way of forcing the company to empathise with their audience. A useful way to break down the cognitive layer is by looking at what the audience is doing, thinking and feeling at each stage. A sparkline showing the enjoyment level at each step is a common way to illustrate these insights, but I find that it needs some example quotes from users to bring the insights to life. A key tool for increasing empathy is to map out any pain points and friction that occurs for customers during their journey.
  5. Architecture: It’s a good discipline to try and collect the various touchpoints into logical stages that group nicely together. At this point in the process, you have the factual, narrative and emotional elements of the journey map in place, so the next step is to consolidate the various elements into a cohesive overview. This stage is about creating a structure and connecting the journey map into the wider context of the overall customer experience. To ensure that you’re building meaningful insights not just narrating a boring list of facts, I like to focus on the behavioural triggers and transitions between stages.
  6. Presentation: The journey map graphic is not meant to cover every single variation of a customer’s experience. Instead, it should tell a simple story that focuses on the customer’s most important needs. In my experience journey maps are a powerful tool because people from varied professional backgrounds can all look at them and find something meaningful for themselves while also being exposed to the wider context that creates the overall customer experience. A journey map needs to be bought to life as a visual artefact that travels around the business and can live on as a guide to future improvements. Your map needs to be clearly written, well laid out and well resolved from a design perspective. It might be unhealthy to fetishise the ephemera of the design process, but without a well-designed journey map as a guide to refer back to, the valuable empathy work done to create the map can be lost in the sands of time. A good journey map needs to be able to stand on its own without external explanation.
Example customer journey from Finish designer Salla Koivu.

Layers in a customer journey map

The layers that are commonly run across a customer journey map to describe the customer experience include:

  • Phases: What broad stages does the journey fit into? These are usually clusters of similar tasks that relate to the same goal.
  • Tasks: What are the physical actions that the user takes to move from one stage to the next?
  • Touchpoints: What are the ways that the user interacts with your brand? These are usually specific interactions or pieces of collateral, communications or content.
  • Channels: How are the communications or content delivered to the audience? What are the key messages that we want to deliver through the communications channels?
  • Expectations: What is the user expecting from this step in the journey?
  • Emotions: How is the user feeling during this stage? What are they thinking? What are their wants, needs or fears during this part of the journey?
  • Motivations: What job is the user trying to get done? How does this interaction fit into the rest of their life?
  • Questions: A great way to create empathy for points of uncertainty is to focus on what questions a user has at each stage in the process. What are they unsure about and what do they want to know?
  • Obstacles: What pain points and blockers could prevent the user from progressing? What is adding friction or not working in the way it is expected to?
  • External influences: What is outside our control that could influence how the user experiences this step and whether they move forward?
  • Data: What data are we collecting at this stage? What data could support or improve the movement to the next step?
  • Technology: What systems and processes are needed to deliver or improve this step?
  • Recommendations: What are the problems and opportunities that we have identified to improve this step?
  • Objectives: What goals, metrics and KPIs do we want to set for ourselves to measure the success of this step in the journey?
Rail Europe diagnotic experience map from Adaptive Path.

Types of customer journey map

Not all customer journey maps are the same. I’ve noticed that a project can get quickly de-railed when people are talking at cross-purposes about what they need from a customer journey map. For example, a software developer may need the journey map as a finished piece of documentation whereas the marketing team are still just trying to figure out the key stages. To help you separate the different types of customer journey maps you can look at several attributes that depend on the outcomes you want to achieve:

Lifecycle stage

A journey map can cover several different parts of the customer lifecycle. I’ve worked on journey maps that cover the path to purchase, the process of using the product, or the journey of repeat purchase and loyalty. As tempting as it is to try and cover the entire lifecycle in one map, I’ve found that it’s best to stick to one lifestage as the relevant personas, concerns and motivations can be quite different for prospects, customers and repeat customers. There are other more broad tools for mapping the entire customer lifecycles such as the business model canvas, flywheel, and integrated marketing funnel.

Time setting

The most basic dimension to choose when creating a journey map is whether you are going to describe the:

  • Past user journey – this type is used for auditing and business process improvement,
  • Diagnostic snapshot of the current user journey as it stands today – this type is used in a lot of design thinking, or
  • Proposed future user experience – this is the type used in new product development.

You can map the current state and future state on the same map by highlighting key gaps and improvements. However, I’ve found that a combined diagnostic and prescriptive map can age quickly once works begins on improvements, so these days I prefer to choose either current state or future state mapping and focus on getting that right.

Audience focus

Once you know when in time your journey is set, you need to know whose journey you are mapping. The best method for choosing an audience to map is to generate personas, archetypes or defined segments of your target audience. Most people design their customer journey for the “average” customer, but I’ve found that it’s best to design for you “ideal” customer instead. Imagine a highly engaged user that said yes to everything that you offered them. Playing the “yes game” allows you to design a comprehensive journey map.

For brands with multiple audiences, you may need to create separate journey maps for each main segment or audience. The level of detail you choose for the journey map depends on how detailed you want the map to be for each persona.

Data and technology

In design projects the journey map usually focuses entirely on the user, but for marketing automation it’s becoming common to include extra layers in the journey map that include the business data and technology needed to deliver a particular experience.

For digital marketing projects, the user, data and technology layers are all equally important. These types of customer journey maps are useful for bringing together cross-functional teams from different parts of a large organisation. The risk is that the journey map can become a perpetually incomplete set of product specifications because the linear format inherently skips some of the complexity needed in technical systems architecture. For example, flow charts are better than journey maps at dealing with diverging paths.

The back-stage systems, processes and technology can make or break the front-stage journey that the user experiences. Mapping the back-stage support systems together with the front-stage experience can highlight where handovers between systems are being missed.

Sources of information

One of the most important but hidden attributes of a journey map is the source of the inputs that created the map. Most of the journey maps I’ve worked on have been for new products created by companies that already knew their audience fairly well. In this situation, it’s tempting to just base the journey map on the personal experiences of the people in the room. However, to be robust output, a journey map should really have a robust set of inputs such as:

  1. Qualitative market research that involves immersion with the audience. The best source of human insights is to talk to other humans. Conversational interviewing is best achieved through the street-intercept style of research taught in design thinking courses or the ride-along immersion research practised by anthropologists. I’m also a fan of the “be your own customer” style of research where the key people are forced to go through their own customer experience (sometimes called mystery shopper research).
  2. Quantitative data and analytics that tells a compelling story about what parts of a journey works well and what parts can be improved. I like to look at completion speed, drop-off rate and satisfaction data for every step in the process if possible. Net promoter score and customer satisfaction scores can be a useful data input to identify pain points and prioritise improvements.
  3. Workshops, desk research and intuition, shouldn’t be entirely discarded because sometimes the role of a journey map is to act as a provocation or hypothesis that will get tested through experimentation during the rollout.

Rail Europe simplified customer journey map by Adaptive Path.

Limits of a customer journey map

As useful as customer journey maps are, they are only one tool in the design, development or marketing process. It’s worth remembering that a customer journey map is not:

Specifications: A journey map is not a full set of product requirements that a developer can code against. For your map to eventually become a living breathing product, it will need to go through a range of additional documentation such as wireframes, systems architecture and process flows. A code-ready process map will include additional layers such as audience triggers, filters and rules along with key dependencies and systems integrations.

User stories: In an agile environment, a key artefact before something is built is the user-stories, which are a fictional narrative that describe a user’s context, intention, actions and outcomes. User stories are often generated based on customer journey maps, but they are not the same thing because the user stories are more detailed.

Personas: Personas are an important input for a journey map, but the map itself doesn’t need to describe everything about the audience. A persona focuses on the person, whereas a journey map focuses on their experience.

Marketing Funnel: Journey mapping is a useful tool in creating a modern marketing funnel, but the journey map is not the funnel itself. A journey map tends to be a linear representation of a single journey, whereas a funnel is an aggregate view of all the different touchpoints. If a journey map tried to cover every single touchpoint, it would lose focus. A journey map usually assumes that someone makes all the way through the journey, whereas a funnel includes allowances for people to drop out of the journey.


The UK Government Communication Service’s journey map template.

Building your own journey maps

A hard truth about customer journey maps is that even though they look nice, the maps don’t generate an outcome by themselves. A journey map is a means to an end. The success of a journey map should be judged by what it enables people to create in terms of an improved customer experience.

Brands in New Zealand are catching up to the importance of building a connection between their top-of-the-funnel advertising and the rest of their digital and direct marketing. A customer journey map can help connects the dots between the various channels and elements of your marketing.

A real journey map is never finished. Especially if it’s for a digital product or marketing system, then the journey will be constantly improving. You may want to keep your original journey map as a record of where you’ve been, but I find that it’s better to treat your journey map as a living document and update it when you learn and create new things.

The uncertainty principle in analytics

Everyone loves data. But there is a hidden problem lurking underneath the increasing reliance on analytics in the world of marketing and design. It seems like the more that we measure things, the less that we actually know and sometimes more measurement just  ends up making things worse.  This got me wondering about the tension between art and science.

Werner Heisenberg was one of the creators of quantum physics. In 1927 he published the “uncertainty principle” for which he is now best known. The principle states that: “It is impossible to determine accurately both the position and the velocity of a particle at the same instant.” Electrons are particularly pesky because to know where they are at any given time you have to stop them and measure their location. However, if you want to know how fast an electron is moving, then you have to let it run free and measure its speed instead. The uncertainty principle says that you can’t know both the speed and the location of an electron at the same time, and that you have to trade off between these two types of knowledge.

The uncertainty principle is a useful way of understanding the limits of human knowledge in any area where you need to balance the accuracy of a measurement and the effort put into taking the measurement. The principle applies to marketing and design because the more precisely you want to measure user behaviour, the more impact it will have on the user (which can then distort their behaviour). There are several types of hidden tradeoffs that people don’t realise about adding more analytics to their business.

1. Tradeoffs that impact behaviour

In email marketing, we use tracking links to tell whether someone has clicked a particular link in an email. The extreme versions of these links can identify a click down to an individual user, their device and even their geographic location. But to do this type of analysis you need to redirect the user through a link cloaking tool or a link shortener. The tradeoff is that spam filters hate these link cloaking tools because they can be used by scammers to send people to random destinations, instead of where ever  the user thought they were going. When you add link tracking to your emails you gain better analytics, but lose deliverability because some email servers may think that you could be a scammer.

The balanced compromise is to use UTM tracking codes added to the end of a normal web address. The added parameters can feed data to a tool like Google Analytics without hiding the true destination from the user. But even these links carry a tradeoff because they look ugly and can be confusing to some users, who are less likely to click on them. Again you have to trade measurement for performance.

Tradeoffs where increased measurement can decrease performance are the most common and most harmful instances of the uncertainty principle in marketing because modern marketing says that if a tree falls in the woods and there were no analytics to measure it, then did it really fall? But too much measurement can accidentally hurt your campaign.

2. Tradeoffs that impact performance

One of the most heated (and obscure) arguments that I have ever had in my professional life was about the placement of the Google Analytics tracking pixel on a website.

If you place the tracking code at the top of a page, then Google Analytics will load before the content and will do cool stuff like measuring page load times and tracking people even if they leave before the page has loaded. The tradeoff is that this can cause tiny delays that slow down the loading time of the web page. If you put the tracking code at the bottom of the page, then you gain speed, but you lose precision in your tracking.

The compromise is supposed to be to use a technique called “lazy loading” that allows the content and the tracking to load at the same time without competing with each other. But I’ve found time and again that this is a false promise and lazy loading makes the page even slower and also makes the tracking worse so no-one wins.

Over the years, the school of hard knocks has taught me to look for the “minimum viable tracking”. Which I define as the least disruptive tracking you can install that will allow your team to make meaningful decisions and let you improve the website design by more than the cost imposed by the addition of the tracking tools.

3. Tradeoffs that impact design

The last type of uncertainty principle is much more subtle. Sometimes adding more tracking can lead you down a path to making bad design decisions. The popular case studies for proving the value of analytics always seem to involve A/B testing the colour of a button and discovering that one colour of button outperformed another coloured button.

A/B testing is the process of showing two versions of a website to users and testing to see which version performs better. This is seductive because it reduces soft skills like design, copywriting and brand strategy down to the level of provable mathematics. But all this testing seems to lead to incremental improvements rather than true breakthroughs.

Optimising only a small part of an overall process can have surprising knock-on impacts. I’ve seen this in a user sign-up process where making the first step easier ended up hurting the last step so much that the overall process was less effective. Mathematicians call this seeking a “local optimum” instead of a “global optimum” (which would include the entire system). Local optimisation May feel good at the time, but it usually has a long-term tradeoff.

Unfortunately, to measure and optimise an entire system can require hardcore integration between various marketing metrics and CRM systems that are too much for a small team. So most startups are left optimising each step in isolation in the hope that the entire system falls into place eventually.

Finding the balance

I love the customer insights that good data analysis can bring, but these days I’m much more conscious of the tradeoffs that the uncertainty principle brings with it. Every insight comes with a hidden cost. So I treat every chance to observe user behaviour as a golden opportunity worth making the most of. Good user data is a terrible thing to waste.

Recently I’ve been finding that the best user data doesn’t come from tracking tools and analytics platforms, it comes from the company’s own databases.

Your own transaction records, user databases and CRM could be hiding a goldmine of user insights that don’t carry such a heavy analytics tradeoff. So instead of always looking to add more tracking, maybe try making better use of the data that you already have.

Best equity crowdfunding platforms in New Zealand

Equity crowdfunding allows companies to raise capital from their customers, community, and external investors. Getting outside investment can help a company grow faster and expand into new markets. More and more companies are experimenting with equity crowdfunding as a way to raise capital to grow their operations.

The equity crowdfunding industry in New Zealand has been operating since 2014 when the process was legalised and has matured considerably in that time.  The major platforms in New Zealand have started to find their feet and to differentiate themselves from one another.

Equitise

The Australian equity crowdfunding legislation has been slow to come into force, so Australian platform Equitise has been trying out their model in New Zealand. They have built a reputation for focusing on early-stage tech companies and high-risk food and beverage companies. Examples include 1Above rehydration drink and Skins performance sportswear. They allow companies to raise privately and publicly from both big and small investors.

Equitise appears to have completed around $11 million in offers in New Zealand. They charge an upfront fee and 7.5% of the funds raised. You can see their latest stats and fees on their website: Equitise

PledgeMe

PledgeMe allows companies to offer rewards, debt or equity to the crowd. The platform tends to attract social enterprises and early-stage companies with a strong fan-base. The platform is simple to use and companies go through a crowdfunding training program which means that the campaigns are generally well put together. The campaign videos from their successful campaigns are well worth a watch. Successful campaigns include Parrotdog, Yeastie Boys, and Eat My Lunch (a debt campaign).

PledgeMe appears to have completed at least $12 million in offers in New Zealand. They charge 6.5% for equity campaigns plus another 2.5% on any pledges that use a credit card. You can see their latest stats and fees on their website: PledgeMe

Snowball Effect

Snowball Effect was the first platform to launch in NZ. Snowball Effect is focussed on larger raises for more established companies. They generally work with medium-sized growth companies in the tech and consumer space. Snowball Effect has also been conducting private offers targeting their own database of high-net-worth and sophisticated investors. They have recently added a share registry service and an independent director matching service. Successful offers include Zeffer cider, SOS beverages, and Invivo wines.

Snowball Effect has completed around $40 million in offers in New Zealand. They charge an upfront fee and 7.5% of capital raised. You can see their latest stats and fees on their website: Snowball Effect

Other platforms

Other platforms include AlphaCrowd, AngelEquity and Crowd88. Crowd88 is another Australian platform that is expanding into New Zealand and AngelEquity are the online part of Tauranga-based Enterprise Angels so it is only open to wholesale investors.


Choosing the best equity crowdfunding platform for you

As an entrepreneur, it’s worth doing your homework before choosing a platform to work with. When considering an equity crowdfunding platform to raise capital on, there are several things to look out for:

  1. How well does the platform know their investors?

If your offer will just be spammed out through a bulk newsletter, it won’t get as much traction as a platform that will do the hard yards (behind the scenes) to help prepare and promote your capital raise. To do that, they need to have a pretty sharp knowledge of their investor base. Ask about their internal CRM, investor relationships, and how proactive the platform will be in helping promote your offer to their own investor base.

  1. What do the big fish think?

Large investors make a big difference to a successful capital raising. Even if you offer shares to the general public, you’ll likely still need some large investors such as angels, venture capital investors, or a private equity firm. Find out whether your platform can play alongside the big kids. Look for examples of large investors who have invested into offers on the platform.

  1. How much has actually been raised through the website?

Some of the platforms count offline and pre-committed investments towards their published totals. The FMA has recently been cracking down on this practice, so most of the good platforms know exactly how much did and did not come through their coffers. Ask about the average investments sizes, how many people invest in each campaign, and how many people in each offer are repeat investors.

  1. How easy will it be for your crowd to invest?

If you want your customers to become investors, then the platform needs to provide a simple sign-up process and a good experience for first-time investors. Try signing up for each of the platforms yourself and ask them about how much effort they have put into streamlining important details like payment processing and compulsory anti-money-laundering checks.

Overall, equity crowdfunding can provide a great source of capital investment, but you need to choose the right platform that suits you and your potential investors. The industry is growing in New Zealand as a viable source of capital for growing companies.

Disclosure: This article was written while working at Snowball Effect. The information in the article is based on publicly available information. You should consult the FMA’s information on equity crowdfunding for issuers before deciding which platform to work with. 

Startup Community Values

When you work in a startup, the wider community of other people who are also working in startups is incredibly important because you need a peer group to hang out with. Lawyers like to hang out with lawyers, doctors like to hang out with other doctors and people who work in tech startups like to hang out and swap war stories.

“Are you a Java developer?” The man in a suit at my first startup event in London asked me briskly. “Because I’m looking for a Java developer.” I stumbled and stuttered a little because we hadn’t even finished exchanging pleasantries. He sensed that I wasn’t what he was looking for and turned his back on me sharply to disappear into the throng. I had only just arrived in London and I was used to the casual, and friendly way that people networked after-hours over a beer in New Zealand.

The London tech scene was a shock to the system for me because the city is much larger and people are much more focused on their own personal business objectives. But after a while, I began to find my tribe. It took several months of coffees, meetups and missed connections, but eventually the fabric of the London startup ecosystem started to make sense for me. By the time I left London in 2014 I was sad to leave behind so many good friends and a wide network of people that I knew and admired.

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Why is building a website so hard?

I’ve been working in tech startups for the last couple of years and have been up close and personal with what it takes to get something designed, built and onto the internet.

During the consulting parts of my career I’ve helped build plenty websites for clients. But it’s a whole different thing when you are in-house and personally responsible for whether the site is delivering results. I’ve found that as soon as you’re responsible for the actual business results, your whole mindset changes. Personally, I’ve found that all of a sudden usability and simplicity become more important than aesthetics.

I’ve always been fascinated by how things that seem like a nice easy website project can become complex, stressful and expensive. It’s not just the normal “things take longer than you expect” effect from project management. Something more profound is going on when building digital products. There are several interesting issues that cause website projects to be harder than you’d expect: Continue reading Why is building a website so hard?

How to get the most out of Startup Weekend

Startup Weekend Auckland is a full weekend event in which small teams come together and build an entire startup before pitching to a panel of investors and judges on Sunday evening. The teams don’t necessarily stay together after the weekend and usually the main benefit is the learning and the experience gained rather than any particular startup that gets built. The exercise of identifying a market problem, creating a solution and then packaging it all up into a website, mobile app and investment pitch is an adrenaline fuelled roller coaster.

Startup Weekend Logo
It’s amazing what you can get done with a highly motivated team in a short period of time and many successful companies have come out of startup weeekends around the world. But more important is that lessons that individual participants have taken back to their own startups or corporate jobs to make these organisations more flexible, agile and customer centred.

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Leaders Eat Last

Simon Sinek is a powerful author, marketer and public speaker. He now has one of the most watched TED talks in the world and his recent books are best sellers. But he wasn’t always this famous, I first came across Simon in a speech that he gave back in 2013 at the 99U Conference. At the time, he wasn’t that widely known, but I knew instantly that I’d found a kindred spirit and that he was going to be wildly successful. I’ve been a big fan of his ever since.

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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 Auckland and the rest of New Zealand to swap stories and share lessons learned.
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