Digital Marketing

“Money is a key growth marketing metric”: an interview with expert Mikhail Pashintsev

“Money is a key growth marketing metric”

Growth marketers are in high demand these days. They are professionals who combine promotion, analytics, and project management skills. Their main goal is to ensure sustainable business growth. Mikhail Pashintsev, former EMEA Head of Growth Marketing at Rakuten Viber shared his insights on how growth marketing works in practice and how it can benefit companies.

Mikhail, you have been working in mobile marketing and MarTech for over 15 years. In recent years, you have focused on growth. How did you get there? What enables you to work effectively?

In classic marketing, processes are rigid. Growth marketing is essential for making sales channels to work effectively, focusing on the aspects that matter for business growth. Growth approach involves marketing, sales funnel, attribution, and constant prioritization.

There are always weak points in the sales funnel. For example, you can test different sales channels, such as paid search or ads from relevant bloggers. But if there are problems in the landing page, acquisition, checkout or registration stage, then everything else becomes pointless.  Another example is when the user conversion is high, but the average order value for products or services is low. Then you need to think about pricing, test different product options at different prices. If these weaknesses are fixed, then the unit economics will improve: with the same customer traffic, revenues will increase.

Growth marketing is especially important in a crisis when a business always has to focus on its essentials and priorities. In a growing market, you can afford expensive experiments and non-systematic solutions. The shrinking economy forces you to pay attention to the efficiency of the entire marketing campaign. Therefore, professionals working in this niche are in demand.

Previously, you worked in marketing agencies with large clients like MS, Mercedes, and Intel. You switched to the client side in 2014, to Rakuten Viber. Did they already have a need for growth marketing or did you realize it later?

Initially, I followed a classic approach when working on the client side, but after about a year I realized that I needed to think deeper. For the systematic growth of the messenger, I had to analyze which traffic converted better into activity, and how to retain different segments of users in the messenger. So I changed my work.
I didn’t know much about growth marketing, but I started doing what seemed logical to me, while learning growth practices along the way. My manager supported me in this experiment and allowed me to choose people from the team. Sometimes I even interfered with the product, which the company was not ready for. Many asked: “Where are you going?” But I knew that it was critical for me to do some things, such as simplifying authorization.

Viber has the option to link your account to a social network profile. In this case, the new contact has not only a first and last name, but also a photo on the avatar, which few people upload manually during registration. If other users recognize the person, then they are more likely to want to message them. nitially, authorization was available through Facebook. I suggested adding a local social network button for Russian-speaking users as well. This idea was not hard to implement technically, but it increased the proportion of users with the most complete account. This greatly boosted the engagement of new audiences by making them recognize newly added users as their friends from the contact book and initiating chats with them.

Viber is one of the five most downloaded messengers, with over a billion users. What exactly could you contribute to such a giant?

The main KPI is the growth of the monthly active audience. In the five and a half years of my work, Viber’s MAU has grown four times, and more than 300 different global marketing campaigns and projects have been completed. The main areas of work were to improve activation and onboarding, engagement and retention of users.

Users should be engaged in using the app not only on the first day they register, but also after three days, after a week, after a month.

To do this, people should have as many reasons as possible to use the messenger – group chats, a huge number of personal conversations, etc. For example, on New Year’s Eve, Viber sends out messages, inviting 10 friends to join a bot and participate in a raffle with gifts. This encourages users to send more messages.

In general, the task of any messenger is to engage and retain the audience more, because it is the foundation for the growth of the product’s audience. Therefore, we started to increase the number of different group chats and communicate to users why they should create them in different situations, such as family chats, neighbors chats, and others.

By the way, more than 20% of all group chats in messengers in Central and Eastern Europe are parental. This type of chat is especially interesting. If the user doesn’t need to send a private message to someone right now, then they won’t enter the messenger either. But when they are in group chats, they always receive notifications and new messages, even if they don’t write anything themselves. If you are in a chat of a kindergarten or school where your child goes, then you can’t ignore it, because it contains information that is important to you, even if you are annoyed by users who send greeting cards, stickers and other media files all the time or have endless discussions because they are bored. For many, this is a problem.

For example, Viber has the functionality of assigning different rights to different user groups in chats, limiting the ability to send media files, pinning important messages at the top of the chat, creating polls for joint decision-making by a group of people – all this helps to reduce the number of irrelevant messages and make the conversation more useful and productive.

You also had another interesting experience – working at SberDevices – which is now a prominent player in the Russian market of smart devices. You joined the company a year after its inception. How did it all begin?

Yes, I started working at SberDevices in 2020, when the company released its first hardware product, the Okko Smart Box TV set-top box. The SberBox device with a smart assistant was launched while I was there. For the professional community, it was probably obvious that SberDevices would move towards smart devices, since releasing hardware without a virtual assistant did not make sense for the ecosystem. A virtual assistant created new value in electronic device products.

What tasks were assigned to you?

At SberDevices, I had two main tasks. The first was to increase the use of the Salyut virtual assistant on different surfaces of the ecosystem, which included SberDevices and other companies – mobile apps, websites, devices. During the two years that I worked at the company, the virtual assistant’s monthly active audience reached more than 20 million people.

A key priority was to increase the use of the virtual assistant mainly in the banking app, which has about 70 million users. Salyut was the first assistant who could handle financial transactions, which set it apart from its competitors. In general, financial teams were given the highest priority because users often transfer money to loved ones, top up their phone bills, or pay for utility services. We had to persuade a person to solve problems not through buttons, as they did before, but more conveniently and simply with the help of a voice assistant.

The second story was the promotion of sales of smart devices through online channels – our own e-commerce store and external retail. My team and I were responsible for marketing & sales funnels, and external, internal marketing tools. Thanks to the strategies I developed and implemented, I managed to sell more than a million devices. In general, the trading market is quite “wild”; there is not as much data transparency as in online advertising. Therefore, I had to actively build models of the impact of online and offline marketing on multi-channel sales on the websites of various retail partners: negotiate with retailers about accessing raw data, and evaluate and model which seller was worth investing more in.

What distinguishes good growth marketing, in your opinion? How do you know that it is effective?

There is no single algorithm to understand what works and how. You need to conduct both qualitative and quantitative data analysis and work on the marketing funnel.

It is important to compare yourself with market benchmarks and see what relevant players are doing in a similar topic. Sometimes it is worth thinking broader and evaluating what tools are used in other niches, so you don’t miss what remains beyond your scope.. IIn general, all sales channels are marketing to some extent, there is no such thing as organic content. Something still motivates users to come to the site.

If we talk about specific performance indicators, then one of the main growth marketing metrics is still money. But in order for this indicator to increase, you need to work with all the funnel metrics, both product and marketing. A comprehensive analysis of the user acquisition process and all conversions is required.

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