- 02/13/2014

Ecommerce, Social

How Growth Hacking Has Transformed Online Advertising and What’s Next: An Interview with Peter Borden

Peter Borden is a strategist, technologist, growth hacker, and full-stack marketer, with over 15 years of experience building marketing and sales infrastructure to fuel explosive growth for his clients, taking them from 7 to 8 to 9 figure valuations and beyond.

His work has been featured on CNN, CNBC, and Bloomberg, as well as in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, New York Magazine, TechCrunch, U.S. News & World Report, Fast Company, Business Insider, VentureBeat, Mashable, AllThingsD, The Next Web, and others.

He’s currently helping SumAll with growth hacking, user acquisition, and e-mail marketing among other things.

Peter, thanks for taking the time to do this series on growth hacking. This first interview is about demand generation. What exactly do you do?

I call myself a marketing strategist, but that may be misleading because people associate marketing with branding and messaging, which is totally not what I do. I specialize in online advertising, measurable marketing, and growth hacking.

Your focus is on demand generation, e-mail optimization, and acquisition optimization. Can you talk about what those terms mean and how they are related?

It’s like a layer cake: On the top is traffic (or demand generation). This includes how people find out about you, where they come from, what the different audiences and segments of the population are, and how they become aware of your site. Then there’s conversion: They come to your website but do they convert into a user, do they request a demo or a free trial, or do they buy a product? The next layer is e-mail. You have e-mail addresses of people interested in your services which allows you to start e-mail marketing and to continue developing a relationship with them. The last layer is all that fancy stuff like growth hacking and trying to increase virality around your product.

Can you talk a little bit more about demand generation?

A good place to start is to talk about the challenges associated with getting traffic. If you’ve never done this before, you probably don’t know which channels are more effective than others. The people who are selling courses for SEO are going to say SEO is the magic bullet; if the course is on AdWords then AdWords is going to be the answer to your advertising problems, but it’s not necessarily true. Over time the law of diminishing returns kicks in and a channel that was working well for a long time becomes less and less effective as more people inundate that platform. In 2003 AdWords was incredibly profitable for people, but as more people flocked to it – and Google changed its policies – it became stagnant. Part of advertising online effectively is finding those hidden gems, those channels people aren’t talking about.

If you had a new client, how would you lay out all the advertising options out there and decide which one to pick?

Google AdWords is deceptively easy because setting it up and running it takes a minimal amount of effort. The challenge is that if you don’t have any background knowledge of how to use AdWords, you’re going to end up spending too much money and the traffic you’ll receive will be average. If you were to start using it, I would recommend turning on keyword terms for your brand name – it’s an easy place to start and will most likely be your most profitable keywords.

The next channel I would recommend trying out is SEO. The first phase is making sure your page is SEO friendly; it’s worth paying a hundred bucks for someone to do an SEO audit to make sure everything is correctly set up. The second phase is actually doing the link building and making sure that people are pointing back at your site. This is something I’ll usually hire an SEO firm for. You do have to know enough about SEO to vet your firm to make sure they’re doing things that aren’t going to hurt you in three years when Google changes its policies. Cost for an SEO firm is usually $2,500 dollars a month and I’ll see 20-30% month over month traffic growth.

“Social media requires a lot of effort and is hard to get right … You actually have to go out and interact with people.”

Social media requires a lot of effort and is hard to get right. Too often I see people treat social media as a broadcasting channel to blast out anything they publish, but it doesn’t work that way. You actually have to go out and interact with people. My piece of advice is that unless you really love social media, don’t do it. The type of business you have matters a lot too, because if you’re a B2B SaaS company, like Oracle or SAP, social media doesn’t really matter. The smaller you are, the more loyal your fans are, which also impacts customer retention and acquisition.

I also usually start out with ad retargeting right out of the gates. Retargeting is essentially a display ad that follows you around with my vendor of choice being AdRoll because of their retargeting capabilities on Facebook and Twitter. The key to being successful with retargeting is being very intelligent with how you define your segments. You really want to retarget people who came to the site and didn’t convert. If you’re a fairly small business that isn’t getting a lot of site traffic, ad retargeting will be fairly cheap because the pricing is based on how many visitors you have to your site. The other key is to turn the impression frequency to between 1 and 3 ads per day. It starts to annoy people if it’s much higher than that and they’ll know you started following them.

Display ads across the web tends to be incredibly profitable. Generally the cost per acquisition of a lead will be half to a quarter of what it is on AdWords with an audience that is more targeted. You can buy display ads either through Google or by contacting the website directly which will usually be cheaper.

Joint ventures is also incredibly effective. For example, another company has an e-mail list with 200,000 subscribers, how can you market your product to that list? Some companies you can give money to and they’ll let you e-mail their list, others will do it if they like you – those opportunities are worth going after. Other companies in your space that offer related but not a competing product you could essentially trade mailing lists and it tends to be cheap and work really well.

You covered the paid versus unpaid advertising, what are your recommendations on how to start out and what to focus on?

For people who are first starting out, they either have money or they have time. If they don’t have money but have time, then I usually recommend blogging, participating in social media, and doing content marketing. If they have a budget, I would start with retargeting, AdWords, and joint ventures, but at the end of the day it’s a mix with all the campaigns feeding off each other.

Have you seen a change over time regarding any of these channels?

AdWords has changed tremendously. Affiliate marketing is filled with people looking to make a quick buck. Google has tightened up its restrictions around landing pages and squeeze pages. Now you can get penalized on your quality score on Google if you have a squeeze page – a page with no navigation. You must have have footer links to terms of service, privacy policy, and contacts or else they’ll take down your ads.

What’s the new channel? What’s working well? Every time a new channel opens up to advertising, usually those ads become the next hot thing. When Facebook opened up to advertisers, the ads worked really well. When twitter did, the same thing happened. You can bet that when Pinterest or Snapchat starts offering ads that there will be good ROI there.

If you are a new business, would you recommend going for mass rather than quality?

I would say quality. There’s a great article called 1,000 True Fans. Kevin Kelly argues you really only need 1,000 customers who are faithful. You can make a lot of money doing that without having to market to everybody. If your goal is to be the next Snapchat and be worth a few billion dollars then, yes, you’ll probably have to go after everybody, but most people aren’t in that boat.

How do you see Facebook, Twitter and other social media networks as ad channels?

It’s getting harder to build your business on the back of a single channel. Sometimes it works, sometimes you find this one channel and one growth strategy that outperforms the rest. But generally my response would be to focus on three or four channels and don’t feel like you have to be everywhere. It’s pretty much impossible to do it all well.

We will continue next week with acquisition optimization, covering converting visitors into users. If you have any questions for Peter, leave a comment below.