Social Studies is a talk show produced by TINT about marketing, social media, and technology through the lens of the industry’s most innovative minds. Hosted by Nathan Zaru. In this episode we welcome Jason Hitchcock, director of customer success at Singular. You can tweet him @jasonhitchcock and tweet us with comments and requests @TINT and @YES.
Growth Marketing Experiments with Jason Hitchcock
Nathan Zaru: Hey everyone. Welcome to Social Studies podcast. Today I’ve brought Jason Hitchcock onto the show. He is Director of Customer Success at Singular. He’s a lifelong business development and SaaS guy. He’s here to tell us about all the great wins he’s had in the marketing and business development areas for the start-ups he’s worked with over the course of his life. Hope you guys enjoy. Cheers! Hey, Jason, man.
Jason Hitchcock: Hey. Thanks for having me. Thanks for the delicious Macallan whiskey.
Nathan Zaru: Macallan whiskey for sure. I also got us a bottle, you guys can’t see it, but it’s called Fidencio Mezcal. Mezcal is like the dirty stepsister of tequila. It tastes like tequila, but actually it has the smokiness and flavor profile of the Macallan 12.
Jason Hitchcock: They say that corporate communications basically come in two forms. You have your public facing, like here are the product announcements that the market needs to know about and then there’s the other type where it’s a peek behind the curtain and it’s like, “Come in and have tea with us.” I feel like this podcast is that version.
Nathan Zaru: Exactly.
Jason Hitchcock: Cheers.
Nathan Zaru: Cheers to that. This is one of our first Social Studies podcasts and Jason, I really appreciate you coming on and helping us start this out because I think this is going to be really big for marketers all around the world. Just so you guys, the listeners, know, Jason and I have known each other for years. Companies we’ve worked at have been very closely related in the past, both in L.A. and now San Francisco. It was really funny actually, I was at a food truck lounge a few weeks ago and only then did I, I bumped into this dude by accident, I was like, “Oh, sorry man,” and sure enough it was Jason and his office is actually just around the corner from us here at TINT.
Jason Hitchcock: The last time I saw you was in Los Angeles two years prior.
Nathan Zaru: Yeah. I guess that’s right. I guess that’s right. Funny world we live in with this technology, right? Just so everyone listening knows, Jason is Director of Customer Success at Singular where he makes sure the business grows as much as it can, but Jason, do you want to tell us a little bit about how you got into business development and start-ups?
Jason Hitchcock: Yeah. Sure, and I think I’ll tell the story I guess from the perspective that I think some of your listeners can probably empathize with, whether or not they’re your customers or people who are just interested in getting into marketing. I remember when I was in college I was someone who basically there were two things about me that I thought, you know careers about, I thought one, I love public policy and politics, had been following that path for a long time in terms of content. I also really loved the Internet.
I was one of the really early dig users, who basically fought my way to get up into the top fifty most influential dig users right away. I was in a cabal of users sending each other stories to vote on and stuff like that. Actually I’ve seen some of those users go off and now they’ve all started companies and all the content though that started in that space was all marketing related. It was ten tips on how to do Twitter, thirty tips on how to manage a YouTube page. That’s when I first got interested in growth marketing essentially.
After college, I was deciding do I want to go into law school like everyone in my life is telling me, or do I want to try something else and figure out another career path? I thought, “I don’t really actually have a good reason yet to go to law school, even though I feel like I could do it. I want to find inspiration first if I’m going to go to law school, because being a lawyer … Law school is just too hard and expensive to just go to to open up doors for no reason, especially with today’s market.”
Right away I started working at a think tank doing public policy work and I was on their new media team as well, so getting their website and their online presence going. This was right when Facebook had, it’s been out for like two years and businesses don’t even know what it is. Getting basically a reader acquisition loop going with this think tank was really innovative for them and so I built that out for the first time, and then I decided I still hadn’t caught my inspiration to go to law school yet, so jumped into campaign politics after, eventually becoming a little jaded with politics and decided “let’s just keep this as a hobby.”
I moved out to California and started work doing business development at Olark, figuring out what our partnerships for Olark, they had never had a BD person and by the way, Olark is a Y Combinator Live Chat provider. They’re just a couple blocks away from here.
Nathan Zaru: Another funny story about that is I used to work for a company in downtown Palo Alto, called Moxie and you were at the Olark and we only just realized a couple weeks ago that we worked down the street from each other.
Jason Hitchcock: Oh, that’s right.
Nathan Zaru: Without even realizing it, like four years ago.
Jason Hitchcock: Yeah, exactly. After working at Olark for about a year and a half, I ended up having the opportunity to continue exploring really what I wanted to do with my career in tech and someone asked me to be their co-founder, which I think in hindsight it was pretty immature of me to just say yes to that. You know what? I was young and my goal was to learn what I want to do, so I left Olark, moved down to L.A., did the co-founding thing of a start-up. We went through an accelerator for a mobile survey company and that’s where I met you.
We shoot, fast forward through the accelerator, decided to leave, break up with my partner like most founding stories end up happening, learned a lot, joined ARKE, which was a mobile ad network, and ended up building out a pretty global performance ad sales and publisher sales team for the ad network, learned a ton about ad tech. Now I’m running Customer Success at Singular, which is an analytics company in the ad tech space. We work with some of the top grossing mobile publishers and we’re helping them quantify the full sales funnel, which is a pretty cool concept right now. There’s the long and short of it, well, there’s the long of it.
Nathan Zaru: The long of it.
Jason Hitchcock: Yeah.
Nathan Zaru: Jason, the reason why I asked you, I think it was the obvious choice, I’m really happy you came here today to join the Social Studies podcast, but every time we get in a conversation, whether we’re not in a office, no matter where we are, no matter what we’re talking about, we end up getting in just very deep conversations about people, about marketing, about business development, about start-ups, about SaaS, about companies.
You’re very passionate just like me. We’re both passionate people, and you have a lot to bring. I’m really excited to bring to our listeners all the great stories and learnings that you have from all your great successes. I think you mentioned there’s some great stuff to talk about from ARKE, maybe Singular. Where are you going to start us off today, Jason?
Jason Hitchcock: Yeah. Oh, thank you for that. I am passionate and stop me if I just talk at you. I’m working on that. One thing I was thinking about, thinking about what is TINT? What are TINT’s clients like? What is TINT all about? It’s really all about everything in the new media space when it comes to marketing. Content is changing and the user experience with content is completely different than it was. I wanted to think what are the main principles that really guide the effectiveness of marketer today, a growth marketer? I think that they boil down to two things.
Like I was saying before the podcast, it comes down to a function of the volume, frequency, or number of experiments and the quality of experiments that a marketer can do.
One thing that I think about in all the jobs I’ve had, and when I look at companies that are really effective, I think organizations and people are effective based on the number of experiments and quality of the experiments they do. You can evaluate yourself as a marketer that way, you can evaluate your organization that way, and you should be looking for tools that help you scale the quality and the frequency of experiments you can run. You should be looking for people that can add quality to your experiments, but that’s one way to really look at it.
Nathan Zaru: We’re both definitely test driven and data driven marketers. I completely agree with your assessment. Running experiments is very important but also you have to be intelligent about which experiments you choose to run. What if you’re in a company that actually prohibits or inhibits your ability to run experiments? What do you think about that?
Jason Hitchcock: Oh, well I guess you’d have to really think how am I limited? Are you not given the budget that you need to do things? Are you limited to only addressing specific channels because of maybe you have best practices that are just so best that they are just stone cold practices and you’re not adding new stuff to them? If you’re not changing, today tech is moving so fast that if you’re doing the same thing that you were doing six months ago, and you’re not embarrassed by that, the lack of change, then there’s something wrong. You’re not reflecting enough.
One thing I would say, there was a really good quote from Marc Andreessen, where he said, “What’s the difference between a technology company and a non-technology company?” It’s that technology companies need to have the courage to reflect inside and reinvent themselves constantly. Campbell’s soup was soup in a can a hundred years ago and it’s soup in a can today, whereas Salesforce, even ten years ago, was just a CRM, but Salesforce1 just came out and now that’s a whole new framework for enterprise protocols and accessing the [inaudible 00:09:13]. You have to constantly reinvent yourself.
Nathan Zaru: Salesforce is changing all the time. They have several big ads out here on 101 that says, “The world’s leading customer success platform.” I guess they [inaudible 00:09:24].
Jason Hitchcock: Yeah. HubSpot started as just they had free tools for grading your blog posts and SEO and now HubSpot is a full-stack customer acquisition and retention platform that handles all the channels that you need to deal with. You need to constantly be evolving and media’s changing so much.
Nathan Zaru: Totally. Along the lines of being experiment and data driven, you have a lot of great examples in your portfolio, marketing campaigns you put together. Do you want to tell us about anything specific today?
Jason Hitchcock: Yeah. One that we were talking about before, as we were getting ready for this, when I was at ARKE we had a really great opportunity to work with a company called Ubisoft, which they make some triple A games out there.
Nathan Zaru: Can you remind us again by the way, ARKE and [crosstalk 00:10:07] Ubisoft relationship?
Jason Hitchcock: Oh, yeah. Sorry. ARKE is a mobile advertising network. They monetize games by putting ads in them and those ads are actually for other apps because right now apps have figured out the monetization loop better than other types of content. Most of the ads on mobile are performance ads and so Ubisoft was looking to acquire users. If you look at mobile devices and you see banner ads that you never click on or you see a full-screen video ad just pop into place, a company like ARKE or SponsorPay or Yahoo, so many companies are serving those ads into these specific apps.
Those ads all point to The App Store, so the funnel is users playing a game, they see an ad, they click on the ad because it’s so great, the ad takes them to the store. Then they go to the store, they kind of have another moment of qualification, do I really want to install this app? Then they install it and then hopefully that user then becomes an ROI positive, high LTV user.
Ubisoft was just entering mobile. They had a whole bunch of console games and so their first approach to mobile was by going with paid games. Rayman Fiesta had just come out, which also has in-app purchases, so they had two goals, the marketing team. One was to maximize the volume of installs, the number of installs they were getting because that’s just straight revenue right there. Then also maximize downstream events that were ROI, that were transaction events.
Nathan Zaru: The marketing team was trying to get paid installs as well as in-app purchases.
Jason Hitchcock: If you think of the high level, goals are maximize revenue.
Nathan Zaru: Oh, sure.
Jason Hitchcock: Right and then you double click on that how you break that down. The low hanging fruit is well first they got to install the game, no revenue. Can we earn more revenue incrementally by having post-install events? Now, you can’t address all KPIs, no good campaign addresses every part of the funnel. You can’t do that. If you do, then go raise money on that and I will become a customer.
Nathan Zaru: Yes.
Jason Hitchcock: The problem that we had in this experiment was we ran a few types of ad units with them. We ran static banners that everyone ignores but they actually do work. We ran video ads, which show at different lengths, seven, fifteen, thirty second video ads, which should qualify customers by showing them exactly what the game experience is. We had incentivized ads, where users could click on the ad and they would get virtual currency if they installed the game and then got to like level three. These were different ways to incentivize the customer to download the app and become a good user all through different ways of qualifying them through showing them the content. The results were really bad across all of those and that was ARKE’s bread and butter.
Nathan Zaru: Advertising doesn’t work? What the heck?
Jason Hitchcock: The thing is, when it comes to paid apps, users are expecting free apps and so that was one challenge, but that was constraint on the campaign and Ubisoft knew that. What was interesting was how that, even video which is a highly qualifying experience, it’s why TV commercials work so well, you get to see and hear lots of things, lots of sensory inputs. They were working just as poorly as the static banners. Even the incentivized ads just did not, users were not accepting virtual currency. That was not enough to increase conversion rates. What we did find, because ARKE happened to have this other technology it’s investing in, enriched media platform, and that’s an area that is trying to grow. We typically didn’t use this platform, which was designed for creating interactive ads for brands. It wasn’t designed to be making ads for games. In this case we decided, “You know what? This campaign, we have another experiment we could run to at least affect the results and then let’s see where that goes.” We made an interactive ad that we couldn’t duplicate the game experience, that was too ambitious, but instead we made an interactive ad where you could essentially understand what is the brand of this game. We had trivia questions and things like that. It just made the user stop and think for a second. What we found is that it had similar results in terms of the number of users that the other ads were leading to installs, but the downstream events went up.
Nathan Zaru: More installs.
Jason Hitchcock: What that meant is the same number of users were installing as the video and static banners, however the downstream events that led to other monetization did increase.
Nathan Zaru: I see.
Jason Hitchcock: To me what that says is the same audience can be further qualified with interactive experiences essentially. You’re not going to get more eyeballs with interactive, but you’re going to get more qualified customers because they get to go through more of an experience. Like we were talking before about that interesting study that I thought kind of reinforced this, one of the original game designers, Zynga, I went to a talk that he gave and I’ll send you a link to this. He talks about an interesting study where they studied the brainwave activity of different people doing different types of content.
They studied the brainwave activity of people who are reading books, listening to music, watching movies, a scientist doing lab science, a fighter pilot mid-flight, and somebody playing video games. They found that the fighter pilot and the gamer had really high brainwave activities and everybody else had pretty flat brainwave activity, even the scientist.
The idea was that if you are constantly thinking and making decisions, and having to deal with a constant wave of salient information you’re going to form all these new axons and neuron connections in your brain and dopamine will fire and the reward cycle will go on hyper-drive. Anything that happens in that experience is more important to the user, so whereas we’re more trained to basically filter out the video and audio and text because we’re just used to that.
Nathan Zaru: What does that tell us about people? Does that mean if you want to make a successful advertisement you have to either give them a game or put them in an airplane?
Jason Hitchcock: No. You said the word game and I think what you have to do is you have to make your customers go through a series of meaningful decisions. That I have heard is one of the most abstract definitions of a game, a series of meaningful decisions. What is the sales funnel? Well, the sales funnel is a series of meaningful decisions that you try to walk a customer through. The top level is discovery. “I’m going to show you this thing. Now you know about it. Okay, now you need to investigate this. Now you know about Coke or Pepsi because, well first, you need to drink soda because you’re thirsty.”
You’re like, “Yeah. Okay.” “You should be drinking soda because it’s delicious.” “Okay. Well, what about Coke or Pepsi?” “Well, you should drink Coke because it’s more delicious. Okay, here’s a coupon. Now, do you want to drink Coke? It’s right here.” Then you convert. There’s a series of meaningful decisions that get you through each one of those things. Having your ads or any of your content require input from your users that they don’t expect is a way to engage with their brain and get them to remember you more.
Nathan Zaru: It seems like the best way to get someone to do what you need them to do as a marketer is to gamify them in some way and gamification is really just a series of meaningful decisions?
Jason Hitchcock: Yeah, and to that point, I remember going to a talk from I think his names is Chris Shoemoney, where he has the big affiliate blog.
Nathan Zaru: Oh, yes, sure.
Jason Hitchcock: He was talking about basically two different affiliate, the most successful affiliate ad he’d ever done. He did an AB test. Basically the Netflix referral program is famous in the affiliate world for being so great. In the early days of Netflix nobody had it. Netflix would have a really high payout for free signups, so that people were just posting the ad for Netflix on Facebook and just generating lots of free signups. Now, what he did though, was he made a quiz where he just targeted, “Are you a diehard cornhusker?” Which I think is like the Kansas, University of Kansas …
Nathan Zaru: Something like that, yeah.
Jason Hitchcock: Yeah, and he made quizzes that were just targeted towards every college campus in the country and he just went to Wikipedia, made it a five-question quiz and then no matter what, you were an A-plus. It didn’t matter if you were wrong on all the answers. Then as a reward you got the Netflix. It’s like, “Are you the number one Michigan fan? If so, you’re going to get a free Netflix thing.”
Everybody went through the quiz because they wanted to be number one. They shared it with everyone to see if they were better than their friends, and the conversion rate was insane, because they were going through a series of meaningful decisions and then they felt like, “Oh, as a reward, you get this conversion.” Well, thanks I’ll take the reward.
Nathan Zaru: Jason, another meaningful talk indeed. Thanks.
Jason Hitchcock: Okay, yeah.
Nathan Zaru: Cheers.
Jason Hitchcock: Appreciate it.