How We Growth Hacked Our Way to $100k in Free Marketing

Okay, let’s start with the basics. There are thousands of ways to conduct a product launch. Don’t ever feel like yours isn’t the “right” way just because it’s different.

In many cases, if your launch idea is different, it’s actually better than the standard “launch”, which might include the generic tactics: creating social accounts, inviting friends via email, doing a press release and going live with your website.

It all depends on the nature of your business and growth strategy.

It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp

Unfortunately, the world can be a savage place—the tech world especially.

Consumers are inundated with new brands and products every day. There are so many tools enabling us entrepreneurs to launch products and services. It’s a blessing, but it comes with the curse of proliferation.

So How Do You Make Your Launch Stand out and Gain Engagement from Your Target Audience?

There’s no blanket solution that works for every product or brand. However, one method I’m passionate about is growth marketing through partnerships.

Recently, I wrote about growth hacking through big partnerships. At the time of writing, the idea sounded cool. Whether it was actually possible was still up for debate.

But with persistence, it is definitely possible to growth hack through big partnerships.

The goal is to leverage a big organization’s marketing channels, and in return, offer them some incentive to work with you.

Read: let someone else pay for your marketing.

Keep This in Mind

Partnerships are not the only way to hack your way to growth. This is one method. There are countless others: referral programs, social sharing in-product, hacking the press, and more.

There are a few new agencies like K&J Growth Marketers (my partner Kale and my growth agency) that do fully-custom initiatives by fusing all aspects of the business, including product features, marketing, finance and branding, on a shoestring budget.

One can either do the hacking in house, or hire help—both can work.

How We Growth-Hacked Our Way to $100k in Free Marketing

We have a fitness app that we were planning to launch in the coming months. We had almost no marketing budget, but had fire in our hearts. I’ll explain just how we used grit to hockey stick our growth graph.

A Quick Product overview: Vea Fitness is the only app that rewards every workout you complete. For example, you might run 2 miles to get 10% off your new running shoes. Willing to run 3? Get 15% off!

Our launch objective: We were seeking a large organization that could promote us on a grand scale, and in exchange, we’d offer them the Vea Fitness platform to get the data they wanted. This way, their employees, event attendees or other groups could use our fitness apps to motivate and improve their fitness, at no charge to our partner organization. The partner organization also gets robust user data that is normally hard to capture.

Our Marketing Objectives:

  • Gain 1,000 new users in Philadelphia
    • Goal reached. And exceed dramatically.
  • Gain press on 5 credible news outlets
    • Goal reached. We gained 6 dedicated stories, and 10+ more mentions in big local publications.
  • Sign 5 new brand partnerships
    • Snap Kitchen, Philadelphia Runner, Indego Bikeshare, Instacart, local fitness trainers, City of Philadelphia + others
    • Achieved. 

About the Launch Itself

The city of Philadelphia was planning a citywide fitness day called “Philly Free Streets” where they’d close 10 miles of streets to cars for a day and open the streets to runners, walkers, strollers, cyclists, and more. They wanted a way to motivate attendees to get active during the day’s events.

What better way than with Vea Fitness, right? Vea Fitness rewards every workout you do, with free fitness gear, products and discounts. It was the perfect motivational tool.

The Chronology

Summer 2016: We need local brands for our Philadelphia launch—to offer rewards for our users to earn.

July 2016: I cold-pitch Snap Kitchen on partnership while eating lunch. I was eying Snap Kitchen since they opened a location near my house. I’d cold pitched around 20 local businesses at this point, including Snap Kitchen’s competitors. I was down on myself because several partners had committed, but didn’t come through.

Snap Kitchen responds well.

Sidebar: It’s a great test of wits to pitch a cashier with a long line of hungry people behind you

August 1st, 2016: Snap Kitchen shares us with their partner, the City of Philadelphia government.

August 15, 2016: City of Philadelphia reaches out with a citywide fitness event they want our support on—15K+ expected attendees.

September 1st, 2016: After negotiations, we ink a deal where they put “Vea Fitness” on all their Philly Free Streets marketing in exchange for using Vea Fitness’ motivational platform, and data services. We magnified their efforts with paid social on 3 channels, email marketing, partner marketing through Vea’s brands, and a press release.

September 24 2016: Vea Fitness launches on 9/24 for Philly Free Streets with Snap Kitchen and City of Philadelphia as partners.

Locking it Down: a Few Tactics to Think Over

Keep promises: Every meeting we had with Snap Kitchen, we were bringing new ideas, fulfilling our partnership promises and making measurable progress on our own partner initiatives.

Fake it ‘til you make it: we rented shared office space for our “big” pitch meeting with the City of Philadelphia—cost ~$70 for an hour. We’re lucky we did, as one of the highest ranking city officials had a physical disability that was well-accommodated by our flashy—albeit temporary— office space.

Get ready for scale: we built out additional servers to handle increased capacity for our fitness apps, hired new interns, and cleared all low priority work from our desks.

Be a salesman all the damn time: always offer more and more value, stay positive and maintain a genuine smile—even during tough negotiations and dissonant meetings.

Use data to your advantage, if you can: a large value we offered the City of Philadelphia was our data. We’d provide them with metrics around the event, like how many people worked out at their event, miles run as a city, how many stayed active post-event, where the users came from, and more.

The Key Metrics from the Launch

  • $100k in free advertising for Vea Fitness
    • 50 5’ x 4’ bus shelters in Philadelphia ($79,000 for 4 weeks)
    • 20 5’ x 4’ Digital screens throughout Philadelphia ($14,000 for 2 weeks)
    • 3 magazine ads ($1,200 for 2 weeks)
    • 10,000+ direct mailer postcards ($3,000)
    • Door to door reps sharing the event ($2,000)
    • 3 press releases ($1,250)
    • Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney asking all attendees to download Vea Fitness in a press event

All marketing materials had download links for the Vea Fitness apps.

There were other data points worth noting. Over 40,000 people attended the citywide event. Vea, the city of Philadelphia and Snap Kitchen’s target was 15,000 attendees. Vea had 1,000 downloads the day before the event—about 2,000 total from the launch. Of those who downloaded Vea Fitness, 70% used it to earn rewards at Philly Free Streets. For reference, Twitter’s has  around 25 percent active users. 72.6 percent of new users came back to use the app for more fitness post-events.

Additionally, we gained 10+ news stories on local publications, like Be Well Philly, Philly Mag & more. Another, perhaps “soft” benefit, was validation, accreditation, and endorsement by the city of Philadelphia.

Important Notes on Making It Happen

First, to get the partnership with Snap Kitchen, we leveraged other key brand partnerships to add credibility, like New Balance and Thrive Market.

I should also note that we started with tiny, tiny reward partners at the beginning. Every new brand we enrolled to offer rewards on the Vea Fitness platform, we had another talking point for the next, bigger or more relevant brand.

How Can I Replicate Something like This for My Startup?

Put simply, be creative. This isn’t something you learn to do in school. Some might call it “partnership” others might call it “marketing”.

But really, it was scrappiness.

We had no marketing budget. There’s no way we could buy 50 bus shelter ads on our own.

So we got creative by buddying up with brands we aspire to be like.

When thinking about your own launch, think about who—from an institutional perspective—can use your platform or product?

Ask yourself: which brand could distribute our product to its employees? Or to its customers? Then offer them some incentive, like access to your data.

Not only do you get that initial base of users or customers, but you get to work in tandem with that company and establish a strong rapport.

Lessons Learned

To gain better adoption, next time I’ll require our partner has users register for the event through our app, so that every attendee becomes a user and tries our app.

Hire some outside help, like event reps. You can pay them around $50 for four hours to go around the event and talk to people, share your brand, and help with setup/teardown. We were hectic the day of because we didn’t have enough staff.

Besides those two, it was a huge success and I recommend the method to anyone looking to grow 10X versus 10 percent.

You may not feel like this type of launch is feasible for your own business. But it is. It just requires a bit of work up front—or help from someone else who has done this before.

Thanks for reading, JM

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