Viral marketing is about inspiring consumers to spread the word about your content and campaigns. It starts with a great idea that elicits an emotional response in people. But it also needs to have a powerful message (supported by personalized messaging) that triggers people to want to share, almost without thinking about doing so. In episode #413 of our bi-weekly series Reimagine Growth sponsored by CleverTap, our host Peggy Anne Salz talks with Gaurav Gupta (GG), Head of Omnichannel & Martech Platforms at Circles.Life, a young, innovative telco headquartered in Singapore with a mission to re-imagine how mobile services are built and delivered with the customer at the center of the experience. GG discusses his approach to viral marketing and walks through some entertaining examples (including a campaign to give the finger to 2020 and market rivals). He also explains how fine-tuning messaging and segmentation has allowed Circles to create and customize journeys to suit key segments and re-target customers.
Thanks, Ricky, and thank you for joining Mobile Presence. I’m your host, as always, Peggy Anne Salz, mobile analyst, tech consultant and founder of MobileGroove and this week bringing you Reimagine Growth, a special mini-series on retention marketing brought to you by CleverTap. Of course, we say it over and over again but you can’t say it often enough – retention is indeed the new growth particularly here when we’re talking about winding up 2020 and we know that a single digit increase in retention can mean double or even triple digit increase in profits, that’s what we all want to get to.
But of course, you know, before you can get to retention, you have to grab my attention, okay? Look at it that way and that means that it’s something that you have to earn. It starts of course with offering value but it has to also be part of a memorable experience, a magic moment as we’ve heard people here on the series tell us, an engaging experience.
And engagement starts with interest, so how do you draw people in to interact with your brand or app or campaign in the first place? Well, we’re going to here today that one way to do this is to be controversial, to break the mould, change the rules – guess what? It works, it’s exciting to listen to this, it’s going to inspire you, I hope, as you think about campaigns and approaches going into the new year. My guest today knows how to stand out from the crowd, that’s what he’s doing, he’s paid to do it actually and, more importantly, he knows how to activate and motivate an audience at scale – he does it with guerrilla marketing but he has a different twist on it and he also does it with little or no paid marketing.
So, that’s something to note as well and he’s here to share all of the above, I hope he will inspire you as much as he’s inspired me in our prep talks to push the boundaries with your own marketing. So here I have GG, we’ll get to your real name, GG, but I love the fact it’s almost like a rapper here – GG, Head of Omnichannel & Martech Platforms at Circles.Life. Great to have you today.
Great to be here, Peggy, thanks so much for having me.
I am excited and I will say GG but of course that’s just because I wasn’t entirely certain about your first name, I do know it is Gupta at the end – but Gaurav?
Yes, that’s the way you can pronounce by name, Gaurav Gupta but call me GG – I guess my name itself is inspired by design thinking, if you notice the keyboard, the centre most key is actually G, so you press it twice and that’s my name.
There you go, it’s made to be, GG, you are in the place you need to be. Now, I was talking about what you’ve been doing, you’ve been at Circles.Life since 2015, kind of a mix between a mobile operator and a lifestyle brand, or at least that’s what you were telling me, that’s your ambition – how would you describe your company?
So, Circles.Life is a completely born and bred Singapore company. The three founders come from a business consulting background, these three guys got together and said, we pledge to create a company where we are not going to be at the forefront of technology within the telco space or even go beyond but the heart of this company is going to be giving power back to the customers and that’s what we have remained true to that resolve, to that philosophy and that pledge but more importantly, create a product and a service which just beyond our customers’ base and the people at large starts talking about Circles.Life and that’s when we realised it cannot just remain a telco company, it has to go beyond.
We have to keep continuing investing in the innovation because that’s where our OpEx going to be low, our CapEx going to be low and we’ll be able to push the value back to the customers.
And also push the envelope is what I’d like to say here, push the boundaries. I mean, that’s about the company but I also want to talk about very much your approach to marketing and before I get to that, I also noticed your early career at Harvest Media as a digital associate director – so I’m imagining you’re bringing the two of these together because you are a marketer having disruptive impact on your own. What brings that together, what inspired you? Do you think this is what makes you really good at what you do at the end of the day, GG?
Yes, so actually it’s a great question. I was always on the agency side of the world wherein I was a consultant to somebody else’s marketing programmes and me advising them how to go about running their media buying or their planning and strategy. But here was my fortune of jumping the ships or crossing the line and my single most motivation was to be able to make that impact on the ground and in a customer’s life.
And with Circles.Life, that’s the offer I got, I got a blank canvas to be able to paint what that customer experience would look like. In my arena of marketing, it meant how do I bring about a fairly unknown brand out in the market to be able to not only just reckon as a customer friendly brand or offering customers their power back?
So, I think this whole philosophy was how can we get into a smart marketing and the reason I call it smart marketing is to be able to identify who the right cohort is and then be able to talk in the language they will most warm up to. We identified that today’s audiences are time poor and information overloaded. It’ll take nothing less than a miracle for me to make them raise their heads from their phones and that’s where it sort of dawned on us that we have to make it something more so disruptive which is going to be, you know, could be because of controversy, could be because of disruption.
So nothing short of a controversy is how we identified that people will – we will be able to break into their media feed, intercept their media feed and feed that disruption.
I love the idea, it will take nothing short of a miracle to get us to look up from our phones – that is so very true. Just at a high level, I’d like to get into an example because I want to leave our listeners in this first segment with an idea of what you’ve been up to and then we’ll talk about the blueprint for it. Give me an example of one of your guerrilla marketing campaigns.
Well, Peggy, you really asked me to unleash the horses out there so I will do so. I think for us the biggest challenge was how do you break enter in a market that’s highly saturated in terms of telco as a product? Here’s us trying to bring this wonderful proposition saying we will give the telcos power back in your hands but how do we make them take notice, pay attention? So it all starts with can we give them a proposition which is really disruptive?
So, in a market where typically a 3Gg plan is going to cost you $20, we created a telco add-on in which you could get 20Gbs of data only for $20. So fairly impressive proposition, 20Gbs for $20 and it has a nice ring to it – 20 for 20. So created this campaign. Now, my big challenge was how do I make people raise their heads from their phones?
And we said, you know what, Singapore being just such a governed, such a disciplined city, why don’t we play with that idea and we created a campaign all on the basis of creator vandalism. So we orchestrated a vandalism, a live vandalism at a couple of subway stations – MRTs is what they are called here – and the idea was essentially we were first going to buy up spaces, going to plaster it with a fairly oblivious advertising about a new upcoming telco, completely fake, and then we were going to plant our own influencers who were going to go and vandalise the site.
And this was pre-orchestrated, in about 4 days’ time we were going to bring those down and we were going to then put our Circles.Life messaging saying this fake telco is only giving you 3Gbs for $20, here’s Circles.Life breaking the mould and giving you 20Gbs for $20 now.
On the launch day, we do just exactly what’s planned, we create the whole vandalism and just for the sheer act of vandalism, it got to the PR’s attention, got on the news flyers and because there’s all that frenzy people just notice as to exactly what’s happening and then the drama unfolds in about 48 hours where we are asked to pull those advertising down which had been vandalised in these MRT stations and then we said, okay, you know what – let’s speed it up, we don’t have 4 days, let’s just put our message out there. So we said okay, here’s Circles.Life bringing you 20Gbs for $20.
So here’s what we did, we created a controversy just to disrupt people’s newsfeeds, we got people’s attention – now that we got people’s attention, we need to generate curiosity out of it. So we created curiosity by introducing the problem of you have too little data for too much money and then comes how do I farm that curiosity and convert it into an interest is by showing them an answer to the problem of too little data for too much money. And then we said here’s Circles.Life’s offering for 20Gbs you only have to pay $20.
Now, this is us introducing a solution to the problem. This way, we are able to reel in the interested people or reel in their interest after we’ve generated a fair bit of curiosity and then it’s just about the last mile which essentially is how easy and how frictionless can I make a customer experience right from an advertising all the way to our website or to our app.
So, this is pretty much how we created kind of a wave at Singapore and now even to date, four years later, Circles.Life is still synonymous with that one campaign, the first campaign that we did vandalism and, well, we picked up an Effie for that and very proud of our team that we were able to pick up a whole bunch of awards but Effie is the most important for us anyway.
What’s really interesting about this, GG, is that it’s not just shock value, there is a funnel, there is a call to action, there’s something – you don’t just get my attention, you present a problem, you give a solution – it’s so well thought out, that’s why I wanted to have you on the show. And we’re going to talk about that blueprint but we do have to go to a break right now so listeners, you can see there’s a huge reason to come back – we’re going to hear a blueprint for, shall I say, disruption – a blueprint for disruption, GG, with you right after the break. So don’t go away, we’ll be right back.
And we’re back to Mobile Presence. I’m your host, Peggy Anne Salz, we have GG, Head of Omnichannel & Martech Platforms at Circles.Life. And GG, before the break we were talking about a fantastic award you got for real impact but in order to do this, you have to have a framework or you have to have something that you’re following and you do have a framework – design in a viral campaign by design. Tell me a little bit about the steps in that.
So, Peggy, I would be doing injustice if I were to say that we designed it first and then we started creating and ideating all these ideas. In fact, it was the other way round and we kind of stumbled upon it as the best of the inventions in our world has been kind of stumbled upon ideas, and this was exactly what it was.
So, when we created this vandalism campaign or when we gave away free money – another campaign which I would love to talk to you about later, but the idea essentially was how do we create a core of an idea and then once we have baited this controversy out there and people have caught onto it, how do we then sort of reel them in with enough curiosity and then towards the interest sort of embankment?
And that is what the whole idea was. Create an interception worthy enough to be able to get people’s attention, raise their heads off their phones, but then most important is that message cannot just be a flash in the pan, it has to be everywhere, it has to be over the various medias, talk about 360°, have to talk about it, have to present it exactly in the same manner. The vandalism campaign I spoke with you about, that may have happened only at 2 premises but it was backed by an influencer programme which essentially took on the social media campaign or the social media scape.
And we knew it was going to attract a fair bit of PR which was going to help us cover the rest of the larger public relations or PR sort of, you know, news buyers. And then it was bagged by a paid media initiative both digital as well as offline.
So in that sense, it was a complete envelope across all the genres, all the disciplines of media and around our audience cohort making the person feel gosh, this is everywhere and where is this activity happening, it seems to be happening everywhere – and that is what got the overwhelming sense which is what you want to leave the person with. It’s only when you will be able to make sure it doesn’t become a flash in the pan and then that’s it because that’s the last thing you want. You need for it to sustain itself and then maybe grow into an animal of its own.
So, this is exactly what it is – phase one, you create a file which is your core idea, then with social media and your PR, which is your heat and your influencers’ programme which essentially keeps it alive, and only then is when you sort of with paid media which is what I call light, is where you sort of, you know, let that message go far beyond.
So, it’s fire, heat and light kind of a mechanism that I use but more importantly is once you have gone into the fireplace, how do you keep it thriving and how do you keep fuelling it is where the seed of the product or the seed of the idea has to do the trick. If it doesn’t stick on, then it’s not going to give your heat or the light any life to it.
It’s not something that you’re building out of nothing, there has to be value there otherwise it will very quickly fizzle out because it will be exposed for what it is, which is just a lot of excitement, no substance.
Exactly. And I use a mechanics of just asking four questions – will I see it, will I care about it, will I understand it and will I act on it? See, care, understand, act. If I’m able to answer all those four questions as an affirmation, that means yes, my idea or my proposition makes sense and it has a higher chance of working. But if you were to ask in an economy that hey, have you cracked the formula of doing all your campaigns and let it go viral? Obviously, the answer is no, I haven’t cracked the formula to take every campaign viral.
And your point about the questions to ask are important to our audience as well because they can decide whether or not they have a campaign that can do this, you know, you have to ask these questions and not everyone is going to have a brand that’s as cool as yours where they can say, hey, vandalism will work for me. And one other thing that you’ve done is you’ve also turned it into a cycle here, you close the loop, you use messaging, call it here dangle solution, bait and hook – maybe you want to tell me a little more about that because that’s the CTA part, that’s the call to action and the path to conversion. What’s your approach there?
Yes, so, Peggy, you remember how I talked to you about criteria to evaluate whether the idea has some meat, has some strength? When you do see, care, understand, act – it’s the action part which is what defines whether it’s going to actually deliver on your business KPIs or on your proposition or just for the fact that the end result that you wanted this campaign to meet. The act piece is what is going to bring the money home or bread to our tables.
This is what essentially is the closing of the loop for us. When we understood that okay, we’ve created a vandalism, a great proposition of 20Gbs for $20 but how many sign-ups did I finally get and a big piece of that is customer experience and that customer experience will need to be able to deliver across all the channels, we needed a platform wherein we are able to sort of talk to everyone, get their feedback at every juncture of the conversation and then respond back which is where we kind of used an omnichannel platform but for our later campaigns, not for the vandalism but for the later campaigns, we partnered with CleverTap to be able to give us this platform for us to be able to orchestrate that conversation across all channels.
And then on the back of this platform is how we are able to record or get the responses back and then tie it back with our business KPIs. The action part comes back to us in a form of how did the customer respond to either our ads or to our conversation, our follow-up conversation either through emails or push notifications, if he’s already signed up or she is already signed up, or just on ads – when they clicked on it, they came to the website, how did they behave, have I been able to create success in a retargeting tool all across the funnel from just a home page to marketing pages to ecom and then cart abandonment and then am I able to farm that back?
So, given this methodology which was already in place, now we just needed a top of the funnel initiative which we thankfully have a framework of but it’s most important is when a person is going through that user journey, at every juncture am I able to create a datapoint, bring it back onto the platform and then be able to farm or use that intelligence to enrich a person’s persona, know a person more or better to be able to target them at a more affinity or high affinity channel or at a high affinity message to be able to close that loop?
So, it all goes back to the philosophy of see, care, understand, act.
So that makes a lot of sense, GG, because you have an approach that follows the funnel and you can also see from reaction and acknowledgement from the customers where they are in that funnel, you understand more about them, you can segment them properly, reengage as well – can you give me some idea of the metrics I’m going to be looking at as a marketer or the metrics that you’ve been able to move as a result that tell me that I’m on the right track here because there’s so many different moving parts – I want to be able to assess success and also have some early warnings when campaigns maybe aren’t failing but maybe not striking a chord with my audience.
Of course. Peggy, I think what’s important is when a person designs, we should not just get flown or blown away by the idea but should have a specific KPI at every juncture to be able to understand and those KPIs should be the measure of whether your campaign is actually going on the right trajectory and on the predefined path.
Take for example we had create various junctions right from the vandalism that had happened, we knew whether we’re creating enough tweets or retweets for the influencers and better we are able to create a fair bit of social mentions that I was right on the top. We had an ad or a video-based ad which was also following up the message and resonating on YouTube and we had benchmarks of number of completed views, same thing running on Facebook. And then all of those created an audience pool of people who had seen half the video or up to, say, brand mention, for us to retarget them back.
But more importantly, as a person goes and comes to our website or the campaign page, I know exactly how many visitors I’ve got and there’s a benchmark there typically compared to typically I run a campaign, I am expecting that if I’m able to hit a certain amount of news wires, or a certain amount of virality, then I should get let’s say a 2X or a 3X – in our case, we got a 5X jump on our visits, and more importantly was the organic visits have to increase because a true test of a campaign gone viral has to be that you’re getting an organic visitor, an influx of organic visits which is not sort of injected by paid media or influenced by any other media or any other action.
So, if you’re getting a healthy amount of organic visits it will be a true testament. In our case, it was 10X – it was a 10X jump which not only was a spike on that day but if I were to give you an average, we were averaging at 5X throughout the rest of the month, that was a good 20 day period where we not only got that jump of 10X on the first week, we also sustained it for a 5X jump which completely just changed the paradigm for us.
So, that was a true testament that, yes, the campaign has now gone viral and it’s churned out a fair bit of organic visits. What essentially it did was also that the share of total transactions or online purchases was pretty much skewed towards paid media at let’s say 30% or 35% and suddenly because of this influx of organic visits, we found that skew has now changed to less than 20% towards paid media or paid initiatives and 80% was now towards organic which was a huge win for us because we’d just about starting and we had already planned that there will be a fair bit of paid media or paid monies that will be required for us to continue keeping the lights on or just continuing hitting our targets but now, with this big wave of organic visits has put us into a different orbital trajectory.
I was going to say that is really incredible – orbital trajectory – I like that because that’s exactly what it is. I am astounded, the audience wants to hear more but we do have to go to one last break, GG, so listeners, don’t go away, we’ll be right back.
And we’re back to Mobile Presence. I’m your host, Peggy Anne Salz. We have GG, Head of Omnichannel & Martech Platforms at Circles.Life. And I usually end our shows with just like, okay, just high level, I’m going to ask something, word association – but no, I think we have to change the rule here, staying with your tradition – break the rules, go with some more cool campaigns. Tell me another one – vandalism was cool but you’ve got a number of them that are pretty cool and one that’s timely for 2020, I won’t give it away but I have to think that’s probably my favourite.
Yes, sure, I mean if you ask for more, I’ll give you more. I’ll tell you something – so iPhone is launching an iPhone X, it’s launching in Singapore and now here’s the first time that they will break the phone factor and remove the centre button. So it was going to become a big frenzy, we knew it. So we created a campaign, purely for targeting journalists and influencers, wherein we sent out an iPhone X package to all the journalists and all the top influencers in Singapore. That package was of iPhone X and it said nicely, you know, in a classic Apple iPhone X package, and nicely wrapped and everything, and it went to all the journalists saying it’s from Circles.Life.
And the whole idea was when the package arrives and a journalist will open it and first they will – instead of a phone, they will see a brick. Now, what just happened, and then there will be a note and the note would read, Hi, we sincerely wanted to send you the latest and the greatest Apple iPhone X but then we realised that you’re not on Circles.Life network so your phone anyway will render as a brick without the power of Circles.Life data and therefore, here’s a brick instead of an Apple phone.
And that obviously – some we rubbed up the wrong way but it was essentially for people could appreciate a good prank, they had a hearty laugh but more importantly, the end result was it created talkabililty and shareability among the seeders and the influencers who are anyways not only have a higher fan following and a high chunk of readers, but they have never been a party to a campaign or they have never been on the receiving end – they have always been the mediators and here’s a campaign which actually makes them the end users or at the receiving end.
So, it sort of catches them off guard and instead of us instigating them to write about it, they just automatically get motivated enough to write about it and then it starts another wave. So, here’s another campaign wherein we got the seeders off guard and we sent them a break instead of an iPhone X and we got away with it.
And I did say at the top, you know, we’re all happy to say goodbye to 2020 but you did it in a very different way, probably very classic for you at Circles.Life – tell me about that one, GG.
Well, that was done by our Australian team and the whole idea was that, again, in Australia when we’re launching, we are an unknown brand and we needed to make a mark so here the Australian team came up with an idea that why don’t we show the middle finger in the middle of the road creating an effigy of just a middle finger and we will place it in front of the headquarters of our competition but we cannot show the middle finger to our competition and blatantly so, so we were going to call it ‘Fuck 2020’ and then everybody, the whole public support or the public circumstances is going to combine right behind it because nobody likes 2020. Therefore, we’re just using that sentiment and catching that sentiment, we just came up with this idea of creating an effigy of a middle finger.
Now we happened to have placed it right in front of our competitor’s headquarters and then we moved it around to various places in Sydney and so that was us sticking our controversy, or rather forming a playbook out of the whole controversial framework and now spreading it across all our markets, Australia, Taiwan and now Indonesia.
What I’m happy about is our team has been able to keep the spirit alive and is able to replicate going back and proving that disruptive campaigns can be designed.
And speaking of playbook, I think that you should make your 2021 resolution be to build one from this because it really is interesting. Just as a last comment, you know, people will want to get in touch with you, they will want to understand what did you do, how do you do it – just maybe chat even on LinkedIn or elsewhere and you’re probably going to be pretty active in social, what’s the best way to stay in touch with you?
LinkedIn, LinkedIn is the best place.
And GG has shared his journey and, of course, to help marketers, organisations and our listeners as they drive customer connection and re-enter the market post-Covid-19, CleverTap continues with its Reimagine Growth series of webinars, it’s all over at #reimaginegrowth and in the Reimagine Growth webinar series, it’s all about lifting the lid on top mobile brands, how they’re successfully handling acquisition engagement retention right now so get ready to grow and check it all out over at clevertap.com/reimaginegrowth.
And if you want to keep up with me throughout the week, find out how you can be a guest or sponsor on Mobile Presence, you can email me, email@example.com, mobilegroove.com is where you can also find my portfolio of content marketing and app marketing services.
You can check out this and all earlier episodes of our show by going to wmr.fm or you can find our shows on iTunes, Stitcher, Spreaker, Spotify, Amazon and iheartRadio simply by searching Mobile Presence. So, until next time – remember – every minute is mobile, so make every minute count. Keep well, stay safe and we’ll see you soon.