Imran Khan is an experienced entrepreneur, has appeared on CNBC, Bloomberg TV and on the cover of Adweek, and has been named one of the top 50 most indispensable executives in business. Before becoming the Chairman of the Board at Aleph Holding, he served as Chief Strategy Officer at Snapchat and played a key role in its IPO. Now, Imran has founded a new company called Verishop – a platform for independent merchants to sell their goods.
When it comes to growth strategy, Imran is an expert. He spoke at the recent GoGlobal conference on approaches to growth and advertising – here are some of his insights.
Growing a small business or entering a new market
Imran lays out the path for initial growth – either for a small business looking to find its place or for an established business entering a new market.
Because there’s little consumer awareness at the outset, Imran suggests the following three ways to build a platform:
- Build something viral
- Conduct significant brand marketing
- Engage in performance marketing to match the right audience with the right consumer
The option you choose will depend on the type of product you’re launching. For example, in the case of Snapchat, virality was the focus. If you land one user, they’ll each bring five of their friends with them, who’ll in turn bring five more.
Brand marketing, on the other hand, speaks to the masses, and can result in dollar spend leakage by addressing an audience that might not be interested in your product at all.
You’re then left with performance marketing as a method to drive volume.
“We found that you aren’t going to be everything to everyone. In the early days, it’s important to find your audience that connects with your language and speaks to you.”
Data analytics – a small business’ best friend
When asked about what a small business’ focus should be, and what growing pains to expect, Imran says that the biggest hurdle to overcome in performance marketing is data analytics.
Specifically, he says that the key to growth is truly understanding your analytics – where the traffic is coming from, and, when there’s a transaction, understanding what triggered the buyer. This is done by doubling down on multi-touch attribution, discovering customer lifetime value (LTV) from different traffic sources, focusing on key metrics such as conversions and order value and essentially identifying the most valuable customers for you.
Sometimes, initial data will make one channel look quite attractive, specifically when looking at the customer acquisition metrics. However, if that customer doesn’t make repeat purchases, their lifetime value may be significantly less than that of customers from other traffic sources. This can then inform which channels and platforms you should be focusing on.
Performance marketing vs. brand marketing
When discussing the age-old question, performance marketing vs. brand marketing, Imran believes there’s room for both.
“At Verishop we’re realizing after spending a meaningful amount in marketing dollar, we’re talking double digit millions, branding is important. It’s all about making sure users have a great experience on the platform, and reminding them of it.”
He also says that for each brand, the mix of performance vs. brand marketing will be different depending on objectives. If you have a high transaction business, performance marketing will be high value. If your business is deeply rooted in social messaging, you might have to spend more on branding.
But placing a focus on brand marketing doesn’t mean you have to give up on being data-driven. Even on the branding side, you can take a performance marketing approach.
“I don’t fundamentally believe that it can’t be both. At the end of the day, when you’re getting customers, you have a message for them. The message ultimately is connected to what your ethos is. Performance helps you reach those customers in a more quantitative way.”
Hacking the performance marketing playbook
Regardless of whether he was working with a major brand like Snapchat or looking to get his new business off the ground, Imran says that one of his long-running keys to success has been collaborating with Aleph.
“Every business has different needs. That’s where companies like Aleph can really help. Because they’ve seen the playbooks from different companies, and have seen what works. They can help you wherever you are and adopt approaches that have proven to work for others.”
On a similar note, Imran suggests speaking to different companies and founders to learn more about what they’re doing. For example, Imran shares that when he was creating Verishop, email marketing was becoming increasingly less effective and SMS marketing was starting to outperform it. This change had tremendous implications and he learned about it by talking to another founder.
Fundamentally, Imran believes that sharing knowledge and experience is the great equalizer, whether it be through speaking to others, working with companies like Aleph, or simply leveraging the internet’s ability to connect you to new people and information. The equalization of knowledge fosters opportunity to compete with bigger brands. In many ways, Imran says this is in line with Verishop’s mission – supporting independent merchants to compete with the bigger players.
Growing a mission-driven business
Penetrating new platforms is hard. In Verishop’s case, they’re letting their mission dictate their approach to growth.
“91% of consumers are looking for brands not owned by large corporations. Having all of these on one platform [i.e. Verishop] helps. If you look at ecommerce companies, they’re search-based. Price is the most common denominator. There’s no story, so people are going to pay the lower price. Mission is the differentiator. We empower these independent brands to tell their stories, which helps people discover and support the cause.”
Being culturally in tune with what’s going on is also important. To represent thousands of brands in a meaningful way, Verishop has created themed gift shops that are female-owned, Latino-owned, African American-owned, etc. By amplifying brands’ messages, Verishop ensures their own growth as well. Imran adds “That’s what I think a platform’s job is.”
Verishop has helped many local independent stores reach wider audiences. For example, a homewares brand that had only a small physical store in Brooklyn, NY, was doing $500k or so in sales. Since moving to Verishop’s platform, they’re now bringing in 6x more revenue.
Bold predictions for what to expect in the future
Imran is consistent in believing that everything should be (and will be) analytics-driven.
“There will come a time when people will think about every marketing dollar in a performance marketing way. In other words, you should never spend your company’s money without understanding why you’re spending the money, and what the ROI is.
20-30 years ago there wasn’t enough data. My prediction is that 100% of marketing dollars will become analytics-driven. It’ll look like brand marketing, but will be done in a performance marketing way.”
Additionally, he sees what he believes to be the fulfillment of the promise of the internet, democratization. Taking resources typically reserved for the elite and providing access to everyone. For example, Hollywood is casting people from TikTok. These people otherwise wouldn’t have access to agents and such opportunities but because of this new social platform, doors that were previously closed are now open. And Aleph is playing a big part in equalizing the playing field.
These insights are based on an interview with Imran Khan by Danny Wright, the Chief Brand Officer of Adweek. To see their full interview, visit the GoGlobal platform for the video recording.