Tom Goodwin explores how Silicon Valley thinking, purpose-driven branding and creative PR can work in even the most unexpected places. From novelty gifts to debt collection, Tom's surprisingly creative approach to marketing will make you rethink your approach to growth after a year that was anything but business as usual.
- The Growth Marketing mindset
- Viral PR: From giant prosecco gifts to video bailiffs
- Exploring the unexpected in 2021
Hi, guys. I’m Tom Goodwin. [Inaudible] today about Growth Marketing in Some Unusual Places. I’m currently the Head of Growth at Just, which is a VC backed FinTech startup in the debt collection sector. If you’re interested in anything that I discussed in this presentation, be sure to hit me up on LinkedIn or find out more about just [inaudible] UK. I’m pretty social, and always willing to share knowledge with anyone who’s interested in what we’re discussing.
Just to introduce, there’s basically three things I’m going to talk about today. The first is what is growth marketing, and just talk about how that’s actually a mindset more so than any kind of technical skills, and then, I’m going to give two examples. The first example actually relates to Christmas gifts, and the creation of a viral product. It’s useful for b2c marketers, especially those with small budgets, this was a retailer with just a single shop. It really was competing against the BMS of this world, the John Lewis who would spend more on Christmas out than their entire turnover. The third example is a service space example, so that’s based on my current employer. That’s about shifting perceptions in an industry as a whole. So interesting, if you work in an industry that perhaps you feel is a bit unglamorous or something that wouldn’t usually be seen as right for a PR strategy.
Let’s get straight to it. First of all, what is growth marketing? In my opinion, and looking at the different literature, there’s a lot of different skills that go behind the modern marketer. Increasingly, we’re seeing companies refer to this as a growth department or growth marketing. This is something that really started in Silicon Valley. There’s a whole chunk of books that you can read about Airbnb, and about Facebook and Google, and the various different techniques that they use. In essence, it’s what marketing has always been, which is quite a broad skill set, and then quite a lot of specialism as well. Increasingly, this is referred to as a T-shaped skill set, which means that you’re covering a huge spectrum of different things, everything from social media, free to print advertising, free to direct mail, and copywriting and branding, and so forth. Increasingly, marketers are asked to specialize in certain areas as well. There’s also kind of a depth to what we’re doing. I think that, in general, anyone can be a growth marketer. It’s quite accessible as a description. It’s much more about curiosity and creativity, and the ability to kind of learn on the go a lot more, which is why increasingly, I think startups, particularly technology businesses that are quite fast moving, are increasingly hiring growth marketers these days.
I also want to talk a little bit, given that this is the CMO Summit, and there’ll be all different industries, and all different budgets, and all different setups in terms of team and structure and culture. I think that growth marketing, the ideas that have kind of come out of the literature and from some of the Silicon Valley companies, they’re really applicable everywhere. Whether you’re kind of a slower moving kind of corporate with more stakeholders, or whether you’re in the situation that I’m in where you’re more or less trying to do the whole kind of spectrum yourself, there’s always something that you can take from growth marketing and make it applicable to you. That’s what I really want to do today. I’m going to focus in on just one small example, which is your PR strategy, and talk about these two different examples from from prior experience.
The first example I’m giving is actually relating to Prosecco novelty gifts. This was a couple of years ago when I was working for a single shop gift retailer in Dorset town of 12,000 people. This gift retailer was called the Present Finder. Strangely enough, they become an unexpected e-commerce player, because they had a very early website in the year 2000. When Google made a whole bunch of changes to D ranked a number of companies based on the penguin and panda updates, these guys became suddenly first page players, and so they had to build a whole warehouse to service their e-commerce demand. That said, they were always operating on site margins. They didn’t have the buy in power of of some of the large players, so they were always looking for creative ideas and low budget strategies.
When I came to join them, it was towards the end of their period as an independent business they later sold. They were struggling quite a lot with their SEO, and they’re also looking for, for new ideas that can take them into different places, but also ship a number of units. Fairly common problems that a lot of retailers actually have these days, especially bricks and mortar retailers, where you’ve got diminishing footfall and you’re trying to compete, and try to find new ways of doing things.
As I mentioned, growth hackers are always learning. At the time, I was listening to a competitor podcast for Xbox and the CEO mentioned, he was asked his favorite book, and he mentioned this book called Trust Me Online, which is actually written by the former CEO of American Apparel, he became a New York Times Best Selling Author. This book is one of the most entertaining reads and accessible reads that I always recommend into the world of PR. If you’ve worked with PR agencies before, or if you’ve worked with PR in house before, you’ll know that PR is a little bit different in the marketing mix. Often, you’re talking to journalists, the paces is quite high. If you’re looking for newsworthy angles, it’s quite difficult if you don’t know how to access this world to get your press releases into the right places. Of course, when it does happen, it’s a really powerful thing for any business. It can often be something that the top level people are looking for.
There’s a joke that if you want to do a tech startup, then you have to get into TechCrunch. That’s like something that the VC will specifically ask for. Likewise, it could be for your business, it could be something like the FT, the broadsheets, it could be for an interior design business I worked for previously, it was Elle decoration, for example. Using some of these kind of techniques that have been pioneered by growth hackers can actually help you kind of level the playing field with your competitors with bigger budgets and be more experienced in this space.
I fully recommend this as a book to read if you’re interested in this type of thing for your PR strategy. From this book, I basically developed a pyramid scheme as it were. Now, it’s not a multi level marketing, it’s literally just a way in which we, as a business, as a small local business that realistically is not subject to national press, there was a family businesses, I think 15 people when I was there, and we were able to level the playing fields with the competitors like John Lewis. We did that by basically trading up our press coverage. What we worked out how to do, as an e-commerce player, was we were using the affiliate marketing approach to secure relationships with various different players and platforms. We found, at this time that this 2017, and Facebook was a very good channel for us. We were actually kind of securing affiliate deals with gift guides on Facebook, and they would share our products and then we’d sell out of hundreds of one unit in one day, and we’d have to go downstairs, and package up all of these different products.
What we plan to do, based on what the advice I found that book, was actually to trade that up all the way to the top. We launched products on social media, and then we demonstrate to the local press how popular that product was. Then, we take that local press coverage, and we send that to the national journalists. We try, at each stage, to demonstrate that we wouldn’t use the web either, that our products were sensational that they were causing some kind of public interest. That worked quite successfully, but there was a few failed attempts at the start.
Another thing that I think is very important to mention about the Silicon Valley approach to marketing is that you’ll often hear this idea of failing forward, which is that, in any creative process, you might have maybe 1012 different ideas and most of them probably aren’t going to work, but that’s okay, because you’re learning all the time. Just to give you a brief kind of overview of what we did at the present finder. The first product that we were looking to launch was a 200 pound underground beer fridge, and we thought, brilliant, we’ll get this product. We found at the trade show, and we’ll do like a YouTube video, and we’ll try and send the video to the different journalists. [Inaudible] it just didn’t work. The product was too expensive. It was too obscure. It wasn’t the right shot, which was a bit disappointing because it was going to be our Father’s Day [inaudible].
Then the next idea, which actually came from the CEO, was he was very taken by this novelty bread knife, which is basically a beget. You open the beget, and out comes a bread knife. He was very keen to to promote this product, but this product also was not not the right fit at all. It’s very difficult to kind of get that picked up by the social media, although he did actually get stopped in Bristol Airport when he was on the way to a trade conference because he’d forgotten about it. We did get some nice press from Bristol live. I spoke to the guys at Bristol Airport, and we managed to make a piece about their security measures as well, which is quite nice.
Where we have more success was with Prosecco fitting products. This was the time when there was a lot of exposure to per second, we were seeing from the data that we were saying that anything with Prosecco itself. We had Prosecco themed soaps, Prosecco themed lip balms. It was an excellent gift for various different occasions, so it would do well in Mother’s Day, do well on birthdays for her, do well for hen parties, do well for students. We were looking and trying to come up with all different ideas for different perspective in products.
Our first big success really was this product called Prosecco Pong, which is 15 pounds. It’s literally some disposable cups with a few ping pong balls, but it really caught the imagination. I’ve taken the screenshot of insider. These guys are based in New York City, but we were able to send them a Prosecco Pong, and they were able to kind of expose it on their channel. It did extremely well. They had like 20 million views. Suddenly, we were getting orders from the States. Bear in mind, this is a super small retailer. It’s literally a mom and dad family business. Apart from Christmas, it’s pretty quiet all the way through the year. Quite, in fact, that realistically, they made a loss all the way through the year, apart from the last few months of the year, where they made, hopefully, just enough money to break even at this point. This was a very good product, and it did really well for us. We sold, I think, 1200 units, which was which was quite a lot for the typical period that we were doing sandwiches over the summer.
What we actually did next was we built on that. We were looking through the different areas of the site, and we spotted that we had this product, the giant champagne glass, and it wasn’t selling. It was 15 pounds, it was down to 6 pounds. It wasn’t selling—novelty glasses had been around for a long time. We basically just rebranded it. We retitled it as a giant protective glass. The lady in the photo with the pink dress is actually PR marketing system, so we just asked her to take the face, she will get a lifestyle photo, and we’ll go with this, and we did the exact same product. It works. And it really works well, because we hit the right feeling that we’d learn from the previous kind of exposure, what could where, what kind of price points, where to place it. We got it into the online places. We sent it off to New York again. We had it featured on that Bible. Then, when we approached the different journalists, and showed them that it was doing well, it just took off. We had it in the Sun, the Metro, the Independent, all of these kind of titles and gift guides. Cosmopolitan picked it up.
One of the really surprising things was actually went international as well. On the right hand side, this is adoption new site, which talks about how the British media is going wild for giant Prosecco grass. This product did extremely well, and it was just a good example of the interplay between the data that we were seeing, and then the creativity. The idea that we could actually create a new genre of product that existed before, but just by making a few small changes and kind of learning as we go. It kicked off our Christmas season. This happened on the first of September, if you Google giant Prosecco glass, you’ll still find this listing. I’m told by Emily, our PR, that she still gets notified every Christmas, because her image is used in gift guides, the evening standard, or what to buy pictures. It continues to have a life of its own long after we’ve finished this campaign. That’s Porsecco, and it’s a product. It’s a small product that doesn’t cost too much is a retailer.
Now, I want to give you another example of how this kind of approach can work, specifically for a service business and specifically for let’s say a less glamorous business. This is what I’m telling to my current employer. My name is Justin, we’re a FinTech business, but we work in a very difficult industry, which is debt collection, otherwise known as bailiffs. We basically have a task to shift our whole industry perception. The whole industry isn’t engaged with PR at all, apart from the TV they listed that you’ll see on Channel 4, Channel 5. In fact, the proposition is quite complex. It involves quite a lot of legal and regulatory issues that are hard to understand from the outside in. There’s not a great deal of technological innovation in the industry, although that’s hopefully something we’re going to change. We have particular challenges over the last year with COVID, because actually, for the last 15 months, bailiffs have been unable to visit anyone’s homes. Our supplier network that we manage, have been restricted from a major source of income. In fact, many of the enforcement agents the bailiffs as they’re self employed, have been out of work during this whole period. We’re looking at how to kind of change the perceptions of this industry, and how to kind of bring some of the Silicon Valley’s kind of thinking and innovation to this industry.
What we decided to do during the first lockdown period, you remember that Zoom becomes a household name, and so a lot of things start happening virtually: birthdays, anniversaries, YouTube quizzes, gender reveal parties. A lot of things start happening just on a screen. People get used to the idea of doing things virtually. We’re in a virtual meeting ourselves, and we think, “Why can’t the debt collection process also be the same?” We’re challenging this kind of like established thinking. It turns out that there are some practical reasons which which I’ll go into, but there’s basically two reasons why that might not be able to happen. The first is the legislation, like whether it’s actually legal to do that in the process of the law and the statute book. The second is regulation, because no one’s ever done this before. When the law was written that Whatsapp, Facebook, zoom, like video conferencing, all of this technology was not anywhere near as mainstream as it is now.
What we like to do was effectively change the law, and change the industry. This is another example of kind of going beyond what’s I suppose more conventional and structured in industry. You can often take inspiration from different places from different industries, when you’re kind of ideating, when you’re coming up with different strategies. In this particular example, what we looked to do was to basically mock up how that process would work for the entire industry. We were going to pioneer this, but effectively make it a solution that the whole industry could use during this period. To do that was quite an unusual legal process.
On the right hand side, we actually have the judgment which is handed down, allowing us to do that, which is dated the 12th of January 2021, so it’s pretty recent. What we had to do was to go—we surveyed stakeholders, we got their feedback. Then, we did what’s called a part a claim where we asked the Royal Courts of Justice, whether within the kind of existing statute law, this was a legally equivalent idea. Whether instead of knocking on someone’s door, you could actually do a video call and negotiate a legal arrangement and sign it via DocuSign. That’s effectively what this legal process allows. The court ruling took a number of months, I think it’s about 6, 7 months in total, but actually ruled in our favor. It also ruled that there was to be no order as to costs. It left the door open as to how much you could charge for this, which is very good from our perspective, because, as a brand, what we’re looking to do is to basically allow the technology that exists today to reduce the cost of debt collection.
Now, imagine that’s quite important. This is quite an important thing as the economy recovers from COVID. The latest advice in the FCA says, warning for people actually will be at risk of arrears or risk of financial vulnerability due to the pandemic. This legal document opens the door to a more efficient way of doing that, a more cost effective way of doing that. Also, from the perspective of the industry, it’s actually shifting what’s possible and shifting the public perceptions that go with that industry. So, of course, we take this into the national press, again, using the same approaches before we’re looking at speaking to the legal Gazette, to notify them that the Court is ruled in this way. Then, we get to speak to the national press as well, and so it gets picked up. We get coverage in a way that is very unconventional for a debt collection firm to be doing this. It’s quite an interesting dynamic, because we’re looking at something in a slightly different way. We’re using this kind of thought process that comes from Silicon Valley, and we’re applying it to what’s actually quite a taboo industry in many ways. I always say to people that the first time somebody socially distance from me was when I tell them I worked in debt collection. There are many industries that are like that, I’m sure.
This is an example of how you can do growth marketing in even the most unusual spaces. Like whether it’s like a single shot retailer, or whether it’s an industry that doesn’t even touch PR, or actively avoided in some cases. You can apply some of these insights from the Facebook’s and the Google’s of the world, or in UK terms, it would be maybe the ecommerce retailers that are competing against you, or the platform businesses like Deliveroo and these kind of industries. You can look at what they’re doing, and you can try to see, how will that actually work for my industry and what I’m looking to do?
That’s really where I wanted to leave it today. As I said at the start, if you’re interested in these kind of ideas, and how these different kind of theoretical things might work for your business, please get in touch. Before I leave, like with the last slide, just looking at the the three different points. The first is that the growth marketing is a mindset. You don’t have to code, you don’t have to work in tech business. You can work in any business, and you can start learning about all these different ideas that are coming out of some of these fast moving technology businesses.
The second is that when you look at creating products, and making a product newsworthy, you don’t necessarily always have to sell right to the ideal, you can actually trade up through the system. You can trade up all the way from, let’s say, a TikTok video these days. In fact, this is how the media often operates now is that they take their news stories, and they take what’s interesting from a lower level, so from either something in social media or something in the local press, or something in the trade press, and you can then kind of use that to staircase your way towards the coverage sheet that you’re looking for.
Finally, I think it’s important not to feel that this is all good and well and good in theory, but it doesn’t apply to my business for whatever reason. Whether you have a business that you feel is is more traditional, whether you suffer from a lack of budget or a lot of pressure and in that department, or whether it’s just the feeling that it’s something that you’ve never done, so why would you kind of introduce it as an idea? I think it’s quite good to use this growth marketing model to challenge some established thinking, and to really ask yourself, what else can I do on a Monday to Friday, and what else can I do in my content calendar? What else can I do, which is beyond just scheduling social media channels? What else can I ask the agencies that are working with me today, beyond just what we’re worth asking them to do, or what we asked them to do last year? Some of these different ideas are certainly not going to work. This is why I give the examples of the learning curve that we went on before the overnight success, but when it does work, it can really shift what you do and how you do it. It’s also quite a lot of fun. I thought I’d leave you with that thought.
As I say, please contact me on LinkedIn [inaudible] or visit Just [inaudible] UK, and you’ll find out more information about how that story progresses.
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