Digital marketing is a science. We should all have realised by now that in the world of online, nothing happens by chance. Every GIF, Vine, video or comment that we see is most likely the result of somebody somewhere’s social media marketing strategy.
What has become self-evident today, however, began as an unintended side-effect of the global uptake of the internet. Facebook was never intended to be a marketing tool, Youtube was simply a means of sharing your home made videos, and even Google was first and foremost a means to an end. You could call it the age of innocence, and inevitably, it did not last long.
The internet is by a distance the most powerful phenomenon of this, or perhaps any other generation, and back when it first began, whilst most of us engaged with it, the more perceptive amongst us saw that it was up for grabs.
Matt Wheeler is somebody for whom the expression “ahead of his time” could have been invented. At age 15, he founded his first search marketing business using his bedroom as an office. Matt is not your archetypal boy-genius type, however, socially insecure but writing algorithms for fun, but rather somebody who realised the social impact that the internet could have, and decided that he wanted to be one of the people directing the traffic.
Warren Buffet once described Value Investing as “like an inoculation – you either get it right away, or you never get it.” The same could be said about search marketing. From an early age, Matt simply “got it”, he understood that identifying how different people used the internet would be the key to harnessing its power. So he set about finding out as much about it as he could.
Although his early businesses were successful in their own small way, having graduated from Bath University with a degree in molecular biology, he needed to expand his horizons, so he joined a company called Traffic Broker. Its founder, Neil Hutchinson, was to become his long-time friend, collaborator and mentor.
Matt was the third employee at Traffic Broker, which switched its name to Forward Internet Group in 2007, entering the nascent Google AdWords and paid search market. The Company experienced phenomenal growth, achieving revenues of over £100 million per year and hiring over 500 employees.
Staff were taught to carry out projects that had usually begun as a leap of faith by the management team, based on what direction they thought the market would go. With no precedent or rulebook to follow, they were literally making it up as they went along, blazing a trail for others to follow.
Matt was enjoying the ride. He created Omio, a Forward Group Portfolio Company, mainly as a means to discover more about search marketing. It was a mobile comparison site comparing an astonishing 1.5 million mobile contracts online, years before the likes of GoCompare and Compare the Market were launched at great expense, using televised advertising campaigns featuring the now famous opera singer and meerkat toys. In fact, the comparison engine Matt built for Omio is still used today to power sites including TechRadar and CNET.
OMIO merged with uSwitch in 2010, with Matt becoming Director of Product. The Company soon acquired and integrated Top10 Broadband, driving up conversion rates and improving user experience to create the UK’s largest mobile phone and broadband comparison service.
Based in Camden, London, Matt’s interest was piqued by the explosion of tech start-ups in the so called “Silicon Roundabout”, and once again the early adopter in him sensed opportunity. His next project was Forward Labs, later to become Forward Partners, a start-up studio helping new ecommerce businesses find their feet. The Company has already invested in Hailo, Zopa, and other brands which have gone on to establish themselves in the public’s consciousness.
Which brings us to Driftrock: after working closely with Facebook for many years, whilst others were sceptical of its ability to deliver financial sustainability through advertising revenues, Matt realised that “with Facebook, you can target pretty much any demographic you want, no matter how specific”.
Age group, tastes, hobbies, friendship groups and even optimum time of day to send an advertising message were all within scope. “You can experiment with groups, and work out which audience is best for your business; with social you can know for sure”.
Driftrock’s message is simple: “you can reach more customers, cheaper, through the power of data”. The team have developed a suite of tools, each designed as a separate app, to help optimise brand’s social media campaigns.
It’s a collaborative effort, in the sense that what works for a brand also works for Driftrock, helping to prove concept and allowing them to refine their offering accordingly. Driftrock share all of their tips and tricks, believing that doing so is reputation enhancing, and will ultimately help them stay ahead of the game.
The Company has raised funding of over $1 million via a seed round of 2 stages, attracting investment from stellar names like Andy Mclaughlin, Gi Fernando, Nick Hynes and of course, old friend Neil Hutchinson. “Amazing Angels with amazing ideas”, explains Matt, adding “I knew this was something I wanted to do, the opportunity is simply too big to ignore”.
Advertisers have covered so much ground over the past decade, we could be forgiven for thinking that search marketing has now reached critical mass, that there is nowhere for it go. But again, you’d be wrong. Matt feels that there is more work to be done.
“We plan on rolling out more data-driven marketing tools. For example, we are currently testing weather-triggered Facebook marketing with some of the large FMCG and Travel brands.”
What next, a drone that drops a Burger King whopper into our hands just as we are about to enter McDonalds? A package holiday that diverts our plane to whichever resort is hottest, with fewest people by the pool?
In fact, the success of Matt and many others has been based on harnessing the inner mad scientist with a realistic assessment of what is useful information, and what is intrusive or privacy invading. Most of all, the work of people like Matt has made all of us business people, managing our own brand, leveraging trends and paying attention to how we are perceived in order to optimise our lifestyles and / or businesses.
Companies like Driftrock effectively democratise and demystify the world of advertising, giving us all a platform from which we can deliver our message, whatever it may be. It’s no coincidence that most of us are now playing the marketing game, to a greater or lesser extent.
Driftrock’s top 5 tips to get the best out of your social media campaigns:
Experiment: Treat digital marketing like a science. Digital media is highly measurable, so tacking the data means you can optimize quickly. Create experiments with hypothesis and run tests. It’s obvious, but do more of the things that work and less of the things that don’t. The more experiments you run, the better the performance over time.
Never use the Facebook Boost button! Facebook has the best digital media targeting without exception. Using the boost button on posts doesn’t make the most of this. Create ads by clicking “Manage Adverts” and ideally use Facebook’s Power Editor or 3rd party tools to increase performance.
Jump on new ad products: Facebook and Twitter launch new ad formats and features every month. Early mover advantage really pays off in this space. If you can be one of the first, you enjoy lower costs, more engagement and reach.
Reach people at the right time: It’s no longer enough just to advertise to a given market. To compete in the world of mobile, brands need to think about context. Platforms and tools like Driftrock allow you to reach the right people at the right time. For example, advertising sun cream when it’s sunny or broadband when it’s raining.
Use Custom Audiences: Facebook Custom Audiences and Twitter Tailored Audiences are in our opinion a game-changing ad format. You can use them to retarget customers who haven’t converted, or market to customers similar to your best ones. We’ve seen clients scale to hundreds of sales a day, using nothing but Custom Audience campaigns.
Matt’s 3 tips for Social Entrepreneurs
Do something you love: The early version of Forward Labs involved testing lots of diverse startup ideas quickly. Although lots of these ideas were successful, the ones that truly became winning businesses where ones where there was a founder who loved what they were doing. Vision, passion and culture come from the early team, and if they love the subject matter, it’s far more likely to work.
Focus: I’ve made this mistake with both Driftrock and Omio, and still find it hard. Focusing on being the best in the world at one thing, makes everything easy, even if the 5 year plan is far bigger. One of my mentors Gi Fernando eloquently describes this as taking a huge idea and making it small.
Surround yourself with amazing people: One of the key lessons I learnt from Neil in the early Forward days was that being humble about what you know and what you don’t is essential. Neil surrounded himself amazing advisors in many different aspects of the business. I’m convinced it was this advice that helped Forward break out of being an interesting startup to a $100 million+ portfolio company. I’ve done my best to do the same in all my ventures.
this article first appeared on Forbes Online 20/08/2014