Harness Generally Accepted Marketing Principles for success

Digivizer CEO, Emma Lo Russo, explains why it’s time to take the measure of digital marketing and make marketing governance a priority. In accounting, there are Generally Accepted Accounting Principles. In boardrooms, there’s corporate and financial governance, particularly important and mandated in law for listed and private companies.

Marketing accountability requires transparency

As greater responsibility is placed on companies to manage the experiences, privacy and safety of customers, there is now a need to consider governance in marketing. 

Marketing governance remains opaque. Owned media has been described as an auditing black hole, something that should alarm every business owner, CEO or board. 

And this only gets worse when you include paid media, with hard currency having an impact which can be quite material to a company’s finances.

Marketing governance, not marketing guesswork

In a world emerging from the pandemic, the global advertising market is set to grow 12 percent this year, and to US$762 million by 2024. 

Whatever the size of your contribution to this huge number, you want to minimize what you waste. Not every marketing initiative will work. That, I think, is perfectly acceptable if you are measuring each initiative and know that’s the case. Then you can act to improve or change what you’re doing and take the lessons learned back into the business.

That’s where I think marketing governance comes in.

It’s a new take on marketing’s oldest question, about not knowing which half of your marketing spend works. 

Put another way, you need marketing governance, not marketing guesswork.

It works by going beyond being accountable up a chain of command, from the marketing executive to the marketing manager, the CMO, the COO or CEO (although those levels of accountability remain). It works best when applied across the organization, so that everyone is accountable for results, early enough for anyone to help identify insights and opportunities, to recommend making changes or flag concerns.

Introducing GAMP – Generally Accepted Marketing Principles

There are of course principles that everyone generally accepts in marketing: the need to build brand, to develop and own share of voice, and the basic engagement measures that demonstrate success.

Measurement around paid media analytics including measuring the cost per lead, cost per sales, cost per new customer acquisition, cost per click, cost per ad and return on social media advertising cost (from brand through to conversion or upsell), should all be in the centre of every marketing program.

But these are the tools used in marketing. It’s like using a ruler in protractor – you still need to understand the principles at work.

So, what are my Generally Accepted Marketing Principles?

  • Governance – providing visibility and transparency at every layer  of the organization, to know how investment in digital marketing performs, across the organization from marketing executive to CEO
  • Accountability – CMOs holding themselves accountable for the investment budget entrusted to them and the results they deliver to the organization, and holding  those they rely in turn equally accountable
  • Measurement – the measurement of the interplay of investment between paid owned and earned media, across multiple platforms, and to understand why measurements are what they are. Marketers need a single source of truth, something that anchors everything they measure
  • Performance – the insights around what’s working, and the benchmarks to continually refine performance in real-time. In the same way that scientists create hypotheses and then test them against accumulated knowledge, marketers must set benchmarks and targets, measure performance, and then reset their marketing hypotheses and test again.

Governance in marketing is therefore about measuring investments being made to deliver the best value that they can, and that those who have responsibility for that investment are able to continuously make improvements to value.  

Governing digital marketing spend

Digital marketing is powerful because you measure everything in real-time, so that you can course-correct before costing the business more than it should spend.

This is not a “deliver-once-and-wait-until-the-end-of-the-quarter-and-see” discipline. 

Digital marketing is always-on, is integrated across multiple channels, measures and reflects where all the different devices, platforms and channels that your customers can find you, and is a continuous measure-and-refine discipline.

A laptop displaying a screen from Digivizer's marketing metrics platform
Transparent, data-driven marketing requires continuous measure-and-refine discipline and delivers the best results.

To be successful, you need to invest in continuous content, continuous measurement, continuous optimization, and a continuous balancing of creative options and calls to action, all to feed the opportunity-beast that is your collective sum of individual preferences of your  customer and prospects. 

Digital marketing is also not choosing “one platform or play” option over another: the variables change continually, and different platforms and programs need to be deployed for each customer target and objective – who are also using those different platforms for different purposes.

Marketing governance also removes the uncertainty around program management, by superimposing practices designed to reward accountability while those programs are under way.

Eyes wide open: data-driven marketing

Marketing governance therefore creates visibility of data and insights for everyone and better decisions and better results.

We’ve seen impressive changes to the marketing cultures of companies big and small when they have adopted this type of governance approach. I get excited by companies, whatever their size, that make bold decisions based on data. And even more excited by those companies who see marketing as a set of levers that can continuously be tested and refined.

But these decisions are not brave, because they are made using data. We have seen businesses increase their ROAS by up to four times in six months by investing governance in their marketing. If you win customer shares of impressions and conversions on site, you have a strong program. If either declines, governance allows this to be picked up and the program refined.

The benefits of marketing governance

By deploying these four Generally Accepted Marketing Principles (GAMP)of governance, accountability, measurement and performance,  a number of things happen: the marketing agenda is reset to focus on commercial results; the CMO understands the new rules of engagement and can share those with the rest of the organization and the leadership team; and the broader organization understands the measures of success.

In short, marketing governance helps you get ahead of your competitors and be first in line for customers’ attention. 

The results? Better outcomes, across programs, budgets, and the company.

Never Go Back: Data Driven Marketing

Where to next in the digital ocean depends on the freedom to change route

In marketing, you are always moving forward. Data driven marketing even more so. Like some sharks, if you stop, you will die.

But the direction of where you travel in marketing – that’s something you can change as often as you need.

Making the decision as to where to go relies on knowing where you’ve come from, so you know the direction to take next.

And just like sharks, marketers should rely on real-time data inputs to guide their thinking and to help them make better decisions – prowling the digital ocean looking for new opportunities.

Better data, better decisions, faster and on the move

Sharks rely on an array of real-time sensors that feed data to their brains, about what’s happening in the water around them. And where.

It’s this array of sensors, providing multiple inputs about a range of options , that makes them so impressive and efficient. The shark always moves forward, but it’s supported by continuous sensory data.

What’s more, it moves forward with purpose, changing intent based on what’s just happened. In data driven marketing, you take a similar approach. You use digital technology, rather than organic sensors, to allow you to continuously course correct along the way.

You can easily look for trends, analyzing what’s been working and what hasn’t, to be able to make sense of what to double down on, and what to avoid.

That’s where data driven marketing gets interesting, and powerful. You can set and test hypotheses, based on the performance data to hand, and check on performance and results of each new test. The result? A state of continuous improvement, in the way resources are deployed, and in measuring the performance that flows from those deployments. This allows you to continuously improve your performance by tightening the value returned in the direction or route you take.

Using data to test and learn

You can apply these test hypotheses to your brand awareness programs, or your lead generation efforts – in fact the entire digital sales funnel. And you can segment your analysis between new leads and existing customers – all of which send different data about their interactions with you.

Just as our oceans change, the laws of the marketing ocean have also changed. Digital in itself no longer differentiates you. Because everyone’s customers are to be found online, that’s where all successful marketing companies are playing. And you’re competing against companies from entirely different segments. A potential customer’s discretionary spend might just as easily be a new car as a holiday, or a home renovation, jewellery or clothing.

And consumers themselves are proxy competitors, deciding whether or not to spend, or to save for a bigger opportunity in a few months’ time, or to not spend at all.

Back to the ocean analogy, you have to move fast and be in a continuous state of learning and improvement to stay ahead of your competitors.

Data driven marketing in real time

You learn from the past, but you have to do so in real time, because you can no longer pause to reflect. As with sharks, it’s a continuing process of moving forward, changing direction as you go, informed by the data you receive and the insights it gives you.

What you can’t afford to do is stop and to consider your next plan. If you do, your competitors will either overtake you, or eat you.

It’s essential to have the information and freedom to react in real-time, and the ability to change the route you take to your marketing destination, confident that you can indeed take decisions along the way without harming your brand or your reputation. This continuous improvement approach will get you to your destination goals faster.

Now, where are you in the digital ocean, and where will you go next?

Where to next in the digital ocean depends on the freedom to change route

In marketing, you are always moving forward. Data driven marketing even more so. Like some sharks, if you stop, you will die.

But the direction of where you travel in marketing – that’s something you can change as often as you need.

Making the decision as to where to go relies on knowing where you’ve come from, so you know the direction to take next.

And just like sharks, marketers should rely on real-time data inputs to guide their thinking and to help them make better decisions – prowling the digital ocean looking for new opportunities.

I explain more in my new article: go to the Digivizer website at https://digivizer.com/blog/data-driven-marketing-never-go-back/.

Leadership in challenging times

I recently joined Steve Vamos, CEO of Xero, Ali Akl, owner of Toby’s Estate, Sam Marciana, Founder & CEO of TIKS, and host and facilitator Rebekah Campbell, as part of the City of Sydney Reboot webinar series, discussing leadership in the post-Covid future.

I asked Steve Vamos three questions. Here they are, with his answers.

How do you build a high-performing, best-talent leadership team? 

“At the heart is you – the CEO or business owner, and you have to decide that this is a critical function that you are accountable for. This is one of the challenges I think founders and leaders face. They focus on what they do every day, but as they grow and attract a range of people and talent, all of a sudden they have interesting dynamics and complex challenges as more and more people join the team. And I think that’s really one of the points in the journey where a founder or CEO has to decide whether they really have an interest in being that head coach, a team leader who really is going to care about that aspect of the business. 

“You want to make sure everyone on the team is excited and committed to the purpose of your organization. So getting clarity of purpose, and aligning each person on the team, is important. I think then you look at the priorities, and the value of behaviours, and really make sure that the kind of work you want to get done fits with the people on your team. On top of that, you’ve got the relationships. But the reason why it’s important is that the more people who deal with you, or deal with people who work with you, who are positive about your environment, the bigger your momentum.”

How do you scale in the growth stage, maybe even ahead of profitability, which Xero has done well?

“If you have a mindset of really looking at the team and coaching the team you’ll find that your operating model, particularly in those early years of a new business, almost runs out of steam every six to nine months. So what happens is you appoint certain people into different roles, you decide on the way you’re going to operate. And that serves you really well for six months, and then around the ninth month, you discover that the role is now outgrowing the person who’s in it, or the way your business has evolved means the way you’ve been operating has to change again. Our operating model at Xero is still evolving, I think pretty much on an annual basis. So if you’re growing fast, that is the challenge of growth.  You always have to be open-minded about needing different capabilities, or needing to change the way you’re operating.”

What’s your advice about finding the right partners and distribution channels? How do you go about evaluating that? How important is that to strategy?

“It’s super important. And you know, I think a big part of the magic of Xero and what it’s accomplished has been the phenomenal partnership with accountants and bookkeepers, then the work that was put into connecting with banks and getting them engaged, and they’ve been great supporters, as well of our collective customers, joint customers, and making sure that they can leverage what Xero has, and get that really working for them. 

“So it is in our DNA. I think it comes down to strategy first and foremost. There has to be a good reason for pursuing partnerships because they have to be meaningful for you and for the partner. So you’ll learn very quickly whether or not you’re barking up the right tree or the wrong tree. Sometimes mistakes can lead to great outcomes, because they can probably point you in a better direction. 

“So have a look at your strategy, and then from there, it’s a very human dynamic of connecting, testing, learning and adapting.

“Now,  there’s no reason why you can’t start to think global about reaching customers. And you also have these amazing platforms you can leverage that reduce that cost of getting going, getting started. And what I love seeing is the way the Australian tech industry is continuing to grow and evolve with awesome businesses and entrepreneurs. That’s super-inspiring to see those successes and that development.”

Great insights from Steve, and a great opportunity to share these, and something of Digivizer’s own journey, with the audience.

AGSM Graduation Speech – ‘The power and benefits of being an infinite learner’

I had the privilege to present to this year’s AGSM MBA graduates yesterday. The power and benefits of being an infinite learner, perhaps above all else, was my theme. As newly-minted MBAs, this is the start of their own infinite learning journeys.

Thank you for the privilege and opportunity to share my learnings with you today, and a huge congratulations to all of you.

Let me start by saying before, during and post my MBA, I am a lifelong learner. The AGSM mantra of “Always be Learning” is something I believe is important for us to instil in our families, in our children, in our friends, in the organizations where we work, and most-importantly, for ourselves. 

I remember reading this quote when young and I still love today, from Oliver Wendell Holmes: “A mind once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions”.  And it is something that I personally aspire to do – to continuously push myself beyond my current levels of knowledge and comfort.  

After an interesting and successful corporate career, including operating as President & COO of ASX-listed electronics software company Altium, I learned that my passion was for growing businesses and growing people. 

I left to found Digivizer, a digital marketing analytics technology company now 10 years old, The Executive Agency, which provided coaching and leadership development (since sold), and goto.game, a destination for all things gaming which is now three years old.   

My passion is to help businesses grow by helping them get more sales and outcomes from their digital marketing investment. 

And I have learned that if you grow people, you will grow a business.

I started my working career at Macquarie Bank, alongside my Bachelor of Business degree.  Aged 20, I applied one of my assignments to develop a marketing plan for Macquarie, designed an organizational structure and added my CV to pitch the plan, team and my role to head it. I ended up, through a series of presentations, in front of the Executive Director for the division, who decided to give me (a young, passionate and very cocky upstart) a go.  

This was a good lesson in never waiting for a role to be written, or to take the safe, pre-determined career path. I learned very quickly to align with how organizations make their money, or how they can better use their money.  Many executives can help with cost management, fewer can generate new revenue or growth opportunities, revenues and top-line impact. 

And it was here that I forged a career based on marketing and leadership that focused on growth.   

As my career progressed, I didn’t finish my degree, but the years were very much filled with learning – reading, watching, listening, engaging experts and those I admired, studying the “how did they do what they did”.  

Fast forward to age 39, my children were challenging me about why I was asking them to consider studying hard and take a path to university for themselves, when I myself had not completed it.  

I had of course created my own career path, where I achieved great success and financial reward.  But it bugged me how often I was asked where I had done my MBA (not if I had done one), and I realized that the “school of business experience” answer did not equal a complete picture when it came to true stretch and infinite learning.  So with a view to derisking my foray into entrepreneurial ventures, I enrolled in my MBA here at the AGSM. 

It brought amazing focus, support and peer review. And it became much, much more than a “must do” set of tasks.

I used it as my discipline to complete things I needed for my business – today, I still use the cash flow sheet, the marketing plan, and the organizational plan that I built as part of my course work.

And there is no doubt that having a live case study in Digivizer, one where success or failure was real, and which mattered to me personally, added a very meaningful edge and purpose to the MBA. 

I am also delighted to share that I was able to use the work I completed in my strategy year – the research, business models, and market plan – to pitch and obtain over $2.2million in funding for Digivizer.        

It’s now seven years since I was in your shoes. Let me share what I have learned since I graduated:

  1. The first, and this is probably the most important, is to remember the law of the lid (a term created by John Maxwell in the 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership). Wherever you allow yourself to be limited to is how far you will grow. If you cap your thinking, or allow others to tell you what you can’t do, it will stop and stunt your growth.    For me it was leaving the safety of a corporate role to start my own entrepreneurial venture – challenging me more than anything else I had previously experienced.   It is my observation that most people are their own worst constrainers.  And so I also share Henry Ford’s idiom – if you believe you can or you believe you can’t, you are right!
  1. Invest in continuous learning.  The world is forever changing and it is important you don’t fix yourself to any one position. Fix yourself to a compelling vision, and then be prepared to continuously test and learn to get yourselves there.  Adaptability, identification of the levers you can use, the understanding of what the environment or variables are when you make these decisions, are essential. Build these skills, so that if they change (and something always will), you can evaluate what they will mean and then adapt.  In doing so, you will always be at the forefront of where you aim to be. 
  1. Apply what you have learned and everything you learn to guide and be your greatest life-long teacher. As in my own case, your MBA builds your knowledge, capability and skills, but the reality of the world will always throw up new unforeseen challenges, outliers, obstacles – and wonderful opportunities. Example: goto.game, our gaming company, the result of opportunities we saw in working with influencers in the gaming and esports worlds for clients seemed risky – but has more than paid off (and accelerated in a Covid world). Your MBAs equip you to anticipate risk and opportunities, but it is your courage, determination and values that create meaningful and successful responses.
  1. Look after your health. Don’t believe in the fallacy that there is no consequence to working too hard, or burning the candle at both ends.  It took me a long time to learn this lesson, but I am better for the exercise, the time out that brings a fresh perspective, to sleep, and the good health that sustains you over the long term. Not only will it help you be energized for a long career – it helps you balance the demands of family life. As they say on the airline safety card (remember them!?) “Put your oxygen mask on first – in order to be able to help others”. And as you lead, the example you set here is critical to the well-being of your organization. 
  1. Invest in and keep your networks up – investment in others will generate returns for you. The business world is small. Your personal reputation and brand become one of the most valuable assets you trade on as time goes on. The more senior your leadership,  the more important your ability to influence becomes.  Build a model – a frequency of regular contribution, connection, engagement, or investment that builds and grows others. This becomes an amazing source of motivation and enrichment that can be drawn on in important times. And as a leader, the more you grow your people, the more you grow your business
  1. Finally. Remember your value is in the decisions you make – don’t spend time on things that anyone can do or that can be automated. Invest in understanding data insights, patterns, and develop and test hypotheses. Think big, make leaps. No great change comes through optimization or playing on the sidelines.  It is the decisions you make, the risks that you take, the time that you use well – the one thing that is the same for all of us –  that sets you ahead, that makes you super-valuable, and will ensure you continue to excel and move forward in your careers.

Above all, your journey is yours.  

Be your very best.  Aim to end each day richer in knowledge and experience than the morning.  

I wish all of you congratulations – and every success as you embark on a post-MBA world.”

How the best ‘win in Asia’

Last week I was one of four panelists on the Asialink Business event How the best ‘win in Asia’: Business models from companies that are succeeding in Asian markets. The request was to share the learnings and how-to’s in taking a business to Asia. I have led Asia expansion both at an ASX-listed Corporate level, as well as a private company starting from day one in founding Digivizer. Being successful in doing business in Asia starts with making it personal and taking a long term view. I am sharing the key insights I shared in this article.

Being successful in doing business in Asia starts with making it personal and taking a long term view.

My passion for doing business in Asia  started when I was President & Chief Operating Officer of ASX-listed Australian technology company Altium in the mid-2000’s.  

We transformed what had mainly been an Australian company into a global one, with 97% of its revenues coming from offshore – much of that new growth coming from Asia, China in particular.

On quarterly visits, I literally saw the cities and companies in the region grow, mature and globalize at a rate greater than anything I saw elsewhere. Forums, smart phones,  mobile commerce – all were actively engaged with by a population intent on being successful. While we were still tethered to LAN cables in our offices in Australia, Europe and the US, China and Asia were going mobile and growing new businesses. 

It was then that I realised Australia represents only  0.33% of the world’s population. Asia has about 60% of the population, across 48 countries, each with its own culture, language and nuances. By 2040 more than 50% of the world’s GDP, and over 40% of the world’s consumption of goods, will be in Asia.

This is a massive opportunity for Australian businesses.

And in seeing that opportunity in the speed of mobile and smart device usage and the prevalence to connecting, engaging, sharing and buying online,  I co-founded Digivizer 10 years ago with these objectives and ambitions in mind: a global focus with a strong eye to Asia – in other words, to be where the growth is.

Digivizer now offers digital marketing analytics technology and agency services across Asia and the rest of the world. We’ve done so from our first few weeks. We now have a physical presence in seven countries, and serve a total of 14 countries in Asia. We work with companies that include Microsoft, Lenovo, Google, LinkedIn, Thinxtra and Roses Only, to name a few, but we also work with SMEs and startups – in Australia and Asia-  as well.

So my early exposure to the opportunities in Asia was at an ASX company, but those opportunities apply equally to private companies, including SMBs like Digivizer. 

Here’s what I’ve learned along the way:

  1. Personal relationships matter more in Asia than elsewhere. Trust, respect, cultural awareness, a commitment to business – all must be established, but when you take the time to do this, investing your personal time and educating/inviting/involving stakeholders, you can accelerate success.
  2. Invest in-region – through personal understanding, and hiring the best local talent.  Best talent means spending high in-market.
  3. Localization is much more than translation – you need to understand each country’s nuances, public holidays, celebrations, language, phrasing and location.
  4. Grow people to grow your business. Have development plans for your people, to keep, grow and retain them. Remember, they will be mobile as well, moving between countries, and even to Australia, as their careers develop. They are hungry for success, so ensure you help them be successful.
  5. Build cultural awareness across your entire organization – time zone awareness, cultural learnings, about your people are so important for removing any “HQ” mentality. Cultural business awareness has to be two-way.
  6. Think digital first. Customers in Asia often don’t have the same attachment to bricks-and-mortar brands as we do in the western world. Some of the most successful new businesses and customer engagement strategies are entirely built on digital, and Asia is a data-rich, data-first region.  There is a lot of comfort in digital banking, app usage, 3-way marketplaces, as examples. 
  7. Use technology to the maximum – Covid has accelerated this. We operated as a matter of instinct and habit on Zoom, Team and Google before the pandemic, but overlaid work practices. Use technology to promote mutual understanding, and as importantly, develop your organization’s culture across regions and language. It enables you to run cross-team projects, to share wins, create buddy systems, and more.
  8. Ensure you have strong banking and HR contracts that are relevant to the country and money runs smoothly. The mechanisms of doing business have to be right, and well-oiled. 

As a private company, you don’t have the luxury of patience – you don’t have the cash flow or resources! You can, though, still be successful – with the best-possible talent, a digital focus, and a regional, global view from day one. 

Thank you to fellow panelists Dig Howitt, CEO & President, Cochlear, Andrew Barkla, CEO, IDP Education, and Scott Speedie, Regional Head, Asia & New Zealand CEO Singapore, CBA, and also to Mukund Narayanamurti, CEO, Asialink Business, and the Asialink Business team.

10 is much more than just a number…

Reflections on what 10 years represent after leaving corporate and committing to the entrepreneur’s life…

Ten years ago I left the safety and good money of corporate c-level income and co-founded Digivizer with Clinton Larson. Clinton and I had worked earlier together at Macquarie Bank and when you know someone is super-smart and a good person, it makes it easy to decide to start a business with them. Clinton had also studied data analytics, lead a number of Customer Insights & Analytics team and had been COO of Memetrics, focusing on driving website performance and brought significant experience in managing and harnessing large customer databases to drive significant wins for businesses taking a data-driven marketing approach. 

I had spent the previous five years as President and COO, at ASX-listed electronics design software company Altium and saw the start of the global growth in intelligent devices first hand. Altium’s customers were designing and manufacturing them on our software, and many of the world’s products were beginning to be designed, not just manufactured in Asia, China in particular as the movement from “ imitation to innovation” was well underway. 

Watching first hand the speed of change and the phenomenal growth of China, now recognised as global economic power, together with a number of technology advancements driving innovation within smart devices, it was a powerful motivator for me to unlock the opportunities this created.

Specifically, as smart devices became more prolific, and social media had platforms to accelerate their growth, consumers became increasingly empowered. Consumers now engaged and interacted from wherever they were, whenever it suited them, on their mobile phones. And there was a lot of new insights able to be gained from the billions of digital footprints that were being left across social, digital and device usage. 

I was also an early adopter of Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn (and subsequently of all social platforms), and travelling often gave me new perspectives on how fast they were growing and the relative population infiltration and scale to what previously could only be reached through traditional media. The 100’s of millions of users in various platforms and forums (now billions), were far greater than the just over 20 million Australian population. That in itself was astonishing, but with digital and social being able to create active conversations and engaging relationships, it opened up a new world of customer engagement, marketing and business opportunities, including easier global reach.

Given all businesses everywhere are looking for more efficient and effective ways to acquire, cross-sell, retain and drive greater loyalty and referrals, it seemed clear that with digital opening up opportunities everywhere, there would come the need to measure effectiveness, in real-time, across these multiple channels, at what we now call the speed of social, managing and analysing millions of pieces of data.   

Thus, we opened our doors to Digivizer on 15th October 2010, with the promise of helping businesses grow through a better understanding of their customers and to help them gain a greater ROI through digital channels. 

Defining a future

While our core vision for the company hasn’t changed – to help businesses grow with a better understanding of their customers and a greater ROI on their digital marketing investment, we have pivoted and expanded the platform coverage and offerings as they themselves changed.

This has become increasingly important and relevant over the past 10 years: customers are now researching, buying, selling, influencing companies, markets and governments. We are moving more and more of our transactions online – both B2C and B2B – with increased acceleration due to COVID-19 in the past 10 months.

As organizations have understood the need to find better ways to acquire, grow and keep their customers, it has become increasingly more expensive to do so in digital without an effective digital strategy that uses the customer engagement data found throughout the digital marketing experience.  

Key growth milestones in past 10 years:

  • Initially it was Facebook, Twitter & Linkedin Social that we analyzed and worked with. Our platform now includes Instagram, Youtube, Google, Influencer tracking, hashtag tracking, organic search and web performance, across owned, earned and paid media 
  • Identification and permission-first tracking of influencers (across all their social) working with brands in platform, after recognising that people were following, engaging and sharing posts at a faster growth and higher engagement rate than they were of brands. We were early in identifying influencers, and now the ability to track them with permission is fully supported in our platform.
  • Incorporating and then spinning off a new company goto.game in 2017, after seeing the growth of gaming and esports as an interest area and driving significant engagement and a different type of content creator emerge.
  • Think Global from day one. We started in Manly, have grown out of 2 other offices and expanded across Asia and global, with over 60% of our revenues now earned outside of Australia. This focus on global has helped us serve some of the world’s largest multi-national companies, attract talent due to our footprint and customers, and has also helped with foreign exchange rate wins. It is meant we measure our success on global terms not the smaller Australian market.  
  • Starting with enterprise technology and then realizing that we were limiting our growth to a smaller number of businesses who could afford us, we pivoted to deliver our platform via SaaS, opening it up to thousands of users that could not have been served previously.

My biggest learnings (some painful!):

  • Corporate is safe, starting and growing a business is hard work. Much harder than I realized. I still don’t earn (by a factor of 4) what I did in corporate and yet the excitement of the challenge and genuine rewards that come from starting something that didn’t exist, building an engaged team that believes in your vision and helping thousands of customers is incredibly motivating and what I feel I will reflect upon as my most fulfilling period. If I am honest, I don’t feel the sense of achievement I did earlier in my career where success was more predefined and incrementally achieved, but I love that it is me who is defining the line of ambitious success and the strategy to get there. And the challenge to realise the value in invested by a future cash-investment or acquisition event, or in the value we create ourselves. 
  • Building a platform based on using formally negotiated API agreements in a fast changing world, can put you at risk from their whims and directional changes. Initially our model was built around ubiquitous free data, but as those models have changed, privacy laws have changed, paid advertising on platforms have grown, we have had to be in a continuous state of fast innovation and deployment. This ability to identify and fast move is now deeply embedded into our culture and I believe is why we are still here today, and the hundreds of companies that started in social and digital media analytics around the same time as us, are not. 
  • It’s never too early to charge for value. We started doing so in our second month, using our embryonic technology to deliver unique audits to larger companies about the state of their data and the insights they were missing. Bootstrapping sharpens your focus and gives you purpose. 
  • Be prepared to burn your boats – we couldn’t do enterprise analytics platform development and SMB software at the same time, at the size we were. We significantly grew once we put ourselves behind one platform strategy – a SaaS one for everyone – and although late into our journey (we launched our SaaS platform late 2018), it was the best decision yet
  • Be good to people everywhere and help them grow their careers. The world is small and after 10 years, so much of our business continues to be referred from previous and existing customers and employees. And now our business is larger, we have been able to help and invest in other startups and accelerators to fuel their own innovation. Feeding and supporting the ecosystem grows everyone and everything, including economies.
  • Running agency services (as requested by our customers) to take advantage of real-time insights and the software business, can be both rewarding and challenging. Like all cobblers, our own shoes are often the last to be soled – we know exactly what clients and agencies need, and we scope, test and use our platform ahead of releasing. There are huge advantages in “eating your own dog food“, but when you grow, you keep putting your best people on the biggest, most- immediate client revenue opportunities. When you double this with mostly boot-strapping, short-term opportunities can easily take precedence over longer-term opportunities. This tension is recognised and we happily support the two business models as we learn so much in helping our customers of all sizes grow and we accelerate that with our agency services taking advantage of our platform. But it remains a constant challenge to ensure we put our best people to marketing our platform.
  • Raising money is hard and distracting. I wish I had raised more money when I first raised (which was incredibly fast and easy and I should have put more time into!). We have mostly bootstrapped since which has plenty of upsides around our autonomy, but now I see that having given away more at the start, to have greater cash now to help us scale a SaaS platform, would have helped us grow faster.
  • Don’t give away too much sweat equity. It is a balance to know how to engage talent at the start when you can’t pay them, to allow for enough equity to reflect longer working paths and manage dilution further in your journey of growth (and fundraising).
  • Resilience is a learned skill. I’m so grateful for so many good people who made significant contributions during our first 10 years. It can sometimes be painful to recognize that some people are better suited to specific stages of growth, that is, the people who helped you get to here might not be the people who help you get to there. Being in a startup, or being part of a migration from startup to early-growth, is not for everyone. Growth is not for everyone – some of our earlier leadership team did not like the larger company and changing pressures 
  • Insights are interesting and valuable, but you need to build in capability and actionability of them to be of value to organizations.
  • While I am grateful for my MBA (good discipline, great people you meet, and it was my final strategy paper that I raised money for Digivizer around), nothing provides greater learning then launching a start-up and growing. We joke at Digivizer that every 6 months equals a mini-MBA. We are in continuous learning mode and one of the huge upsides of understanding digital and analytics is that everything can be measured. Keep doing more of what works, stop doing what does not (or does not fast enough). 
  • Culture is everything. You cannot do it all yourself. When you are scaling fast, burning boats or pivoting, you have to have a culture that supports this level of disruption, changing roles and flexibility. Hiring smart, talented people who get things done, are infinite learners and not arseholes, are key to protecting the vision but not being afraid to keep getting better at the ways we can achieve it. 

Back to the future

To predict precisely how the next 10 years will unfold would be foolish, but I am confident that with growth and variety in the number of platforms, smart devices, knowing what is automated and human engagement together with the growth in digital advertising spend – organizations will need to increasingly understand their customers and what matters to them. They will need to invest in platforms that help them know how to drive the greatest measure of delight and ROI. Digivizer will continue to spot these trends and insights and will answer this increasingly valued need of businesses.

Whilst the way we engage and work with our talented employees is changing, one thing I am confident of is that it will be our amazing employees who drive our growth and I look forward to rewarding and celebrating success with them. 

As for me and the next 10 years – I have a lot still to drive and deliver for Digivizer. I know why investors will often back a serial entrepreneur, the lessons you learn are invaluable. And while some lessons were painful, and some I would have done differently (and will do differently if I start another business), I remain a committed learner and am passionate about returning value to our early investors and employees, and importantly (and with great excitement) to help thousands of businesses grow and to help them gain more from their investment in digital marketing.   

Thank you to my family who have backed me, and to all of you who have supported and encouraged me over the years and who continue to believe in our continued growth and success.

This article is also published in LinkedIn.

The Facebook boycott: short-term strategy, or long-term solution?

The digital marketing and social media sectors continue to change the way consumers engage with each other and brands, and the way brands approach their digital marketing.

And some of these recent changes have been confronting to brands: in July, a number of global brands took the decision to withdraw their advertising spend on Facebook and Instagram, as part of the Stop Hate for Profit campaign.

But the reality was that for many businesses, especially those with large consumer customer bases, this wasn’t a long-term strategy because demand and necessity were always going to remain on Facebook and Instagram, and because any continued absence would likely raise huge opportunities for challenger brands.

What’s more, this decision by global brands masked a number of other inconvenient truths – around the role all of us have in stopping hate on social media, in the way we chose to use social media, and the way we engage with brands that chose to take these positions. 

I think the answer has to be to push for sustained, meaningful, long-term change across all channels, and it starts with education. Read my perspective in more detail in my latest article on Mi-3.

And elsewhere, I commented on Snapchat’s first global B2B marketing campaign in CMO magazine. Snapchat  is doing what all businesses are doing (including the other social and search platforms) – to advertise that brands should spend their marketing dollars with them. Any brand can be successful if they create content that is right for its audience and that maps best to the platforms being considered, by testing and measuring impact, and by refining content based on where the best results are found.

Data for every business – but how, when and why?

Yesterday, I took part in a panel discussion with executive recruitment firm Morgan McKinley, discussing how companies can accelerate their digital, data and automation strategies.

It was an interesting debate, not least because of the variety of roles and organizations taking part – SMEs and technology super-users, COOs, CEOs and founders, from the fintech  space and more-broadly. You can catch the debate – How to Unlock The Potential of Your Data – on demand at Morgan McKinley’s website. And it was great to join Leanne Ward, Salem Lassoued and Simon Herbert.

We were all asked for our top-five insights into getting the most out of your data. Here re mine:

  1. Start and be guided by your business objectives. Identify the customer outcomes that you need to deliver,  to achieve your business objectives.
  2. Determine what metrics are most important to you (and the business) – these should  indicate the customer outcomes (customer acquisition? product usage? et.c), and understand what is the core data you need to:
    • Understand success
    • Understand the funnel and levers you have to move that will drive that success – in other words, the relationship between all these touch points and data that will lead to successful outcomes
    • Make decisions against these
  3. Make your data actionable – identify the frequency and timeliness of data requirements, and the decisions you need to make and when you need to make them. Consider everything as a test environment where you are putting a series of hypotheses to test. For example, propose things like “if we do x, y should happen” – then measure if that hypothesis proved to be true or not.
  4. Present all data in the context of:
    • what it is
    • why it’s important
    • what you recommend be done next 
  5. Hire smart, talented people, who get things done, are infinite learners, and aren’t arseholes! You need highly adaptable, critical thinkers who can build and deliver outcomes.  As things change quickly, so must they, you and the decisions you make.  

I’d be interested in knowing how you and your organization get leverage from your data…

Making Australia Fit for the Future

I was recently part of a panel discussion on Sky News here in Australia – hosted by Andrew Johnson of the Australian Computer Society, alongside Gisele Kapterian of Salesforce and the Blueprint Institute, Alex Colvin, CEO and Founder of Pendula, and Edward Mandla, Advisory Board Member.

The topic was the current economic downturn expected by most – and how the technology sector will play a pivotal part in the turnaround.

Here’re some of the points we made as a panel:

  • technology underpins everything, and is part of every vertical market sector, and every horizontal economy
  • we’re a small country economically: just 0.33% of the global population, just 0.15% of the global GDP, and the 15 countries above us in the global GDP league tables contribute 69% of global GDP. We have to export, and export more than gravel – technology levels that global playing field in Australia’s favour
  • a lot of capability remains to be unlocked, there is upside at almost every turn – but only with equitable access to skills and technology, essential to turbocharge growth, especially as we pull out of the pandemic lockdown
  • government incentives must change to flatten the IT playing field to that Australian tech successes can mix it with the global leaders (something I’ve written about before) – in R&D funding, how VCs can enter and exit funding rounds, and how export activity is supported
  • today’s customers are digital. Be where they are
  • create content to create trust and transparency, engagement and sales…and do so using digital channels

Watch the full program on Sky News.