At the recent Brand Innovators #BISummit in San Francisco, we got the chance to connect with Nik Sharma, Director of Performance Marketing at Hint Inc. (cue my craving for pear Hint water, please). Alon Amit, Origami Logic co-founder and head of product, asked Nik about his unusual journey that lead him to his current role at Hint and what performance marketing looks like for Nik’s team at Hint.
Three things we learned from Nik Sharma, Director of Performance Marketing at Hint Inc:
- Correlating product sales to marketing activities is the best way to measure marketing performance
- As the marketing and media space continues to evolve, key focus areas for Hint include breaking into experiential marketing, mobile and leveraging social influencers
- When it comes to media transparency, Nik’s team doesn’t miss a beat. Not one paid-media data point falls through the cracks in communication with their agency
Hustle to your dream job, no college necessary
Alon Amit (AA): I’d love to start off by discussing how you got involved with performance marketing, I’ve heard you kind of stumbled into this domain in an unusual way.
Nik Sharma (NS): Yeah, a really unusual way. After high school, I realized I was not a college person, so I was trying to figure out an alternative. I ended up finding an internship at an ad-tech company and then that internship turned into a full-time job. And shortly after, I transitioned to leading the sales division selling a lot of paid social advertising. Eventually, that company crashed and I was left at a fork in the road in terms of what to do next. At the age of nineteen, I had to figure out whether I should go to school, try to find another job or start my own thing.
My mom and I made a deal that I would get 1 year to figure out whether I could make money doing my own thing or if I needed to go to school. And so I took that year (this was May of last year), and I started a paid media agency called AdShepard where the whole idea is moving audiences like a shepherd. My book of clients from the ad-tech company came with me, who were mostly publishers, so we did a lot of paid social and paid influencer buying. But then I realized that publishers don’t make money at the start of the new year, so I had to get some brands under my belt, more specifically, CPG companies. As it turns out, Hint became a client of mine around this time last year. I started working with them more on the brand side and eventually this year, they brought me on full-time to run performance marketing and expand the eCommerce business. And that’s how I got here.
Tie programs to dollars, the rest is fluff
AA: We organically see a lot of different interpretations of performance marketing among our clients. What does this mean to you and what does it mean to Hint?
NS: Performance marketing for us is very sales oriented; for every dollar we spend, we want more than that back. And we’ve been able to consistently do that. I guess as a broader term, performance marketing is data driven and very ROI focused. Within that process of performance marketing, we care about messaging and how the brand is conveyed, but at the end of the day the goal is to acquire sales.
AA: I think a lot of people are curious about how companies think about the distinction between performance more directly tied to sales and ROI and brand building. How does Hint balance performance marketing vs. brand goals?
NS: Well I think in brand marketing, you can’t really have a KPI of direct sales, because all you see is impressions and engagements that are hard to quantify, sales-wise. Brand marketing is the team that gets the message out, and fills the top of the funnel. The performance marketing team comes in and takes that top to mid funnel activity and turns them into conversions and purchasers. It’s a joint effort. You can’t have one without the other.
Entering a new world of experience marketing and social influencers
AA: What main channels you guys are using?
NS: Mainly we’re going heavy on paid social. So Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, etc. We also do programmatic, search, native, video, sponsored content, etc. We run on nearly every possible channel. Each channel has different audience and a different message, and as a brand I want to make sure we’re omni-present with our audience.
AA: What are you seeing going forward? For Hint, for the industry in general, in terms of performance marketing, brand marketing, and other challenges.
NS: Heavy experience-focused marketing. I see Facebook canvas ads as a preview of what we, as marketers, are going to see in the next five to ten years. Audio is making a comeback, which is satellite radio, podcasts, and internet radio. You need to follow the attention. People still listen to audio, but they’re listening through Pandora Radio or Soundcloud, not through the FM tuner. It’s a great example of how history repeats itself.
In the same fashion, online video like Hulu or Netflix are becoming the destination of choice with video content. We will soon start to see ads there, if they’re not already present.
And lastly, more mobile-focused experiences from brands. Whether that’s using new tech like beacon technology or augmented reality. Ads will be personalized, targeted and provide an engaging experience for whoever is viewing it.
Media transparency utopia
AA: What are you seeing at Hint or maybe other places in the industry that you’re observing in terms of the relationship between the brands and the agencies?
NS: Bigger brands and their agencies operate as separate companies really. They’re given a budget and they’re given a KPI and they operate separately. It’s different for us. Our whole team is integrated with the agency. We’re on every single email. There’s full transparency. We’re in all of the paid media dashboards and have reporting that goes back and forth on a daily basis. There’s really nothing that they do that we don’t know about and vise-versa. We’re all one team with one goal at the end of the day.
AA: It’s great that your team has achieved this level of transparency. I think that’s the goal for every marketer. What you have going is like marketing data utopia. But like you said, it’s not realistic for the bigger brands. It’s harder for the larger brands to get that level of transparency and not always feasible to have that deep level of communication. We’re seeing this a lot. So as a quick plug here, that’s where Origami Logic comes in. To measure all those things effectively at scale is not easy, it requires some dedicated marketing measurement technology. But that’s just how we see those things.
Well, thank you for your time today, Nik. We admire your journey and how Hint prioritizes performance marketing.