We failed, then THIS turned everything around

From 2011 to 2015, Ampush was the best at customer acquisition on Facebook. We viewed ourselves as almost quant traders of Facebook Ads. In fact, we used to call our marketing associates “media traders!”

We looked at FB Ads like math problems. What were the budgets? How do we bid effectively? And we won, a lot.

We used these systems to scale up Uber across 600 cities globally, launched the largest mobile game in history (Clash Royale), and grew Dollar Shave Club to 3M subscribers.

Then in 2016, something terrible happened.

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We were in a bake-off with another agency. Usually, we’d win these.

This time we didn’t. Even more shocking… the CAC they delivered was HALF of ours. $50 vs $100.

I was confused. Embarrassed. Worried.

The game had changed. As we did a retro on what happened, it became clear. Our once amazing “bidding algorithms” were worthless. Facebook’s ad systems were smarter. Our once amazing hyper-targeting was useless, Facebook’s algo was way better.

A few other things happened at this time:

  1. Red Ventures bought a stake in our company

  2. I read the book “Influence” which Charlie Munger described as his favorite book

  3. We hired a new engineering leader

As my horror lifted, it gave way to curiosity… HOW did this other agency beat us so badly?

We sleuthed around and found they had more creative, better creative and a unique quiz-based funnel experience. Throughout the bake-off, they tried new things almost every week.

I knew we had to change our approach.

Facebook ads and digital in general were moving so quickly. And often you’d start in one direction and need to iterate and change quickly as you learned/received data. I started to connect dots. Red Ventures had a system they called “Winputs” which they used to analyze new things to do and how those things would impact various levers. My new engineering lead was a huge fan of Agile.

For those who don’t know, the “old” system of engineering development was called “waterfall” - essentially you’d fully decide and scope out software and then slowly chip away at building parts of it. The “to-do” list would come down like a waterfall.

Of course, with waterfall, you could NOT change anything midstream and it would take 6+ months before you even had a prototype.

The agile system is the complete opposite. You scope out maybe a few months in advance but then break the work down into 2-week “sprints” where there are clear deliverables that can be demoed and then you re-rack priorities every 2 weeks, depending on what’s changed and what’s important. Then you go for another 2 weeks.

Reading “Influence” was valuable because I started learning about all the key “psychological” factors of great marketing… things like Authority, Scarcity, Urgency, etc.

As I thought about the new direction, we developed The GROWTH MARKETING sprint.

Here’s how it works:

Typically you assemble a cross-functional growth team: marketing analyst, designer, web developer, maybe copywriter. Or even a set of generalists.

You get some clarity on the metrics you’re trying to achieve. Either “hit $10,000” in daily pacing, or Lower CAC to $50 with a volume of 50 a day or some clear measurable output.

Then you will also have some clear inputs you can control such as: number of new creative tested and launched, shipping a new editorial landing page, and lighting up a new channel.

And of course, you have “fulcrum” metrics. The ones that sit between the inputs and the outputs. The two most common in digital marketing are CTR (click-through rate) and CvR (conversion rate.)

The sprint runs 2 weeks usually but could be a bit longer/shorter.

The first day you have your list of ideas that cut across channels, marketing funnel, etc.

If you don’t have any ideas, you can run a 1-week mini sprint to find ideas.

Usually, that's a combination of 1) talking to customers/potential customers, 2) looking at competitors, 3) seeing what's worked already in your marketing, 4) throwing crazy shit against the wall and seeing what sticks.

Once you have your ideas, you prioritize them based on ICE (Impact, Confidence, Ease). Sometimes I do TICE… T= Time.

The list of ideas can vary in size from “Entire site rebrand” (A tough one, because it would score LOW on ease, medium Confidence, and medium Impact) vs say “New creative on the IBS theme” which in this case is likely HIGH ease, medium confidence and medium impact.

You decide which ideas your team will work on. Different people own all or part of these ideas. And you go get to work.

The goal is to launch a few of these ideas during the sprint and some by the end of it.

Then you do the work, you launch things.

As the sprint ends, you pull everyone back together. And you ask a few simple questions:

  • What did we say we would do?

  • Did it get done?

  • Did it work?

I call this “accounting” - it’s simple/fast just getting the lay of the land.

Then you ask: “What did we learn?” and based on that: “What will we do next sprint?”

You use the data/results to inform/prioritize the backlog for your next sprint. You rinse and repeat.

One of my colleagues Libby Weissman uses an analogy I love: It’s like playing a game of Battleship.

At first, you have no clue where any of the ships are, but you keep giving coordinates and then getting feedback, and slowly but surely you get perfectly dialed in.

At Aux Insights, we include this slide in our deck to explain the process:

This is exactly what happens in marketing sprints. You move fast and DO NOT pretend to know anything about what will work and what won’t. Instead, you DO stuff. Then you get feedback and you dial it in. Rinse and repeat.

How do you know it's working?

The best-run growth teams are always in motion and you can tell because their results compound. Whenever people ask me for goals, I always advise against “static” goals like “$50 CPA” - instead I want all goals to be growth rates. So I’d say “CPA does down 5% per month” forever. Or “Scale grows 10% per month.” This goes hand in hand with the sprint method.

Within a year, we had rolled out the Marketing Sprint to every team inside of Ampush.

I watched as the internal dashboard showed growth every single month across our clients. Clients were blown away at the results we delivered month after month, and it made them nervous to leave us.

The sprint was a huge success. But that was only the beginning…

After I sold Ampush, I knew the sprint was something I'd use everywhere. From Day 1 of starting Gateway X, it's been a part of each company's operating system.

How did GrowthAssistant scale to $10M+ in 2 years? The marketing sprint.

How did we get our ecommerce brand to $5M in 18 months? The marketing sprint.

At Aux, private equity firms are hiring us and paying six figures to teach "The Marketing Sprint" to their companies!

It was a fateful moment for us to lose that bake-off, but has been the best thing that ever happened to me!

So there you have it, the Marketing Sprint.

As part of my collaboration with Notion, I turned our full marketing sprint system into a set of templates you can use over and over at your company.

If you haven’t signed up, you can get 6 months free.

Referral partner: Bootstrapped Giants

Partner code: BGXNotion

Whether you use my templates or create your own, I’d like to hear how you plan to use Marketing Sprints. Hit reply and let me know.