Imagine if you could command an army of your greatest supporters, engage them and grow their passion even further? Crowdtap is taking Brand Advocacy to a new level by connecting brands and their most passionate consumers to grow their businesses.
Brandon Evans sharpened his expertise in youth marketing as one of the Managing Partners of MRY, an early social media driven youth agency that was sold to Publicis.
Very quickly we were able to see how college students were able to penetrate their communities a lot better than we could. They had all the connections, they had a way of reaching out on Facebook, through and even more than that kind of they had the ideas and knew how to really reach people with a message that matters.”
Listen in or read along as Roy Weissman talks with Brandon about what he is doing to utilize Social Media as a potent marketing tool.
You can listen to the interview as well as read it below:
Roy: My name is Roy Weissman from MediaJobs.com. Today we’re speaking with Brandon Evans, the founder and CEO of Crowdtap. Crowdtap is a collaborative marketing platform. With Crowdtap brands can learn, ideate, and market with their consumers on demand.
How are you today Brandon?
Brandon: Doing well thanks.
Roy: Well that’s good. How did you get into this business? When did you start Crowdtap and why Crowdtap?
Brandon: Sure, yes. I’ve been in social marketing really before it was called social marketing or really since the start. I was one of the managing partners and built an agency called Mr. Youth which is now MRY part of Publicis. Really early on in kind of working there back around 2005 we were doing a lot of work in particular with the youth market and college students. Really started to see how they were leveraging Facebook before Facebook was public beyond college and built out a business around college ambassador networks. A platform called RepNation, which is still a big part of what they do. Just really saw how effective this type of marketing was and kind of the client’s demand for it.
Very quickly we were able to see how college students were able to penetrate their communities a lot better than we could. They had all the connections, they had a way of reaching out on Facebook, through and even more than that kind of they had the ideas and knew how to really reach people with a message that matters. When we started off we were kind of giving them events to run and things to do and we very quickly saw that the best ideas came from those college students themselves, on how to reach their market. That really led to how do we do this with all other markets? How do we do this with moms and teens and other demographics? That was really the birth of Crowdtap.
Roy: Share with us. Crowdtap is a social … is a platform. Explain how that works.
Brandon: Correct. We are a social technology platform. Basically brands pay us via SAAS model so a monthly subscription fee and there’s various different types of subscriptions based on kind of how they want market with their consumers. Some brands leverage it more on the research end to really communicate with consumers to understand, drive insights, crowd source ideas. Others use it to do a lot of that as well as to really manage their advocates and word of mouth strategy, so to be able to kind of reach out and scale a group of advocates to represent the brand. To share content on social channels, to create content, to do stuff offline to represent the brand through events in home or sample products. We really track that through our platform and report back all of the results to the brand.
Roy: How does it … or are consumers tied into the platform? Explain … give us an example of exactly how a campaign might work.
Brandon: When we bring on … a new brand starts to use and leveraging Crowdtap kind of the first step is really to recruit their existing advocates. To be able to reach out to their existing channels whether that be CRM, Facebook, Twitter, etcetera. We have tools to help them easily recruit those people in. Those people sign up with a Facebook log in on Crowdtap and from that point on we’re able to track a lot of their behaviors and how they talk about the brand. We’re able to target them with specific opportunities based on their profiles.
In addition Crowdtap we have several hundred thousand people as well that have signed up in the past that we’re able to match to those brands. That number’s continually growing through our kind of recruitment network, so that brand’s kind of continually recruiting and bringing in new people that are able to participate with the brand and really scale the level of advocacy they have.
Roy: In essence a brand that already had a Facebook page and a Twitter, you tie in with LinkedIn also, or just Twitter and Facebook, or which social channels do you work with?
Brandon: LinkedIn isn’t kind of a big part of it. We can really leverage anything, but we’re very consumer focused so our main focus is really on Facebook and Twitter. We do a lot of stuff as well in helping our advocates share out via Instagram and Pinterest and have done a lot of work on those as well, but we’re most integrated with Facebook and Twitter. Those are kind of where brands have the majority of their community already, so we kind of leverage a lot of that and then help then drive a lot more activity on those channels, so people actually engage in talking about their brands.
Roy: What kind of activities other than obviously you probably do some contests, what are the kinds of things you use to lead a campaign?
Brandon: We have actions across the entire marketing lifecycle everything from research to the ability to poll, gain quick feedback, really in seconds. You can have feedback from consumers. We have brands that use it within a meeting to get feedback for their CEO in the meetings they’re having. Really in an instant you can get a lot of great feedback.
We have actions that allow you to crowd source ideas. To have online discussions, vote up ideas with actual consumers. The ability to share out content, to really amply the existing content that you have, that you may want your advocates to have either kind of get exposed to first or just help amplify. You can kind of seed that content with them and have them share that out. That can be anything from videos to apps to special offers.
Then we do a lot of stuff around content creation so we have an action called challenges so we do photo challenges and text challenges and really the ability to kind of catch everything in a photo or video or text. It can be anything from go to Wal-Mart and take a picture in front of our latest display or style your favorite outfit for Old Navy who’s a client. It could be really anything that can drive content.
Lastly we do a lot of stuff in actually activating these advocates, not just online, but offline as well. We have something called sample and share which is the ability for advocates to sample products to actually sample physical products to their friends. They report back all the activities as well as kind of share a lot of content online, oftentimes writing blogs, videos as well. Then actually throw branded events in their homes.
They can actually throw parties direct to the client. They’ve leveraged a lot of these branded events, actually passion parties. Their target is really actually monogamous couples, so they have parties where they showcase a lot of different sexual enhancements and different products that, through this network they’re able to really get out through those channels.
Roy: Do you have an example of a case study or something you did that had some great results you could share with us?
Brandon: We have many of them and we work with many, most CPG companies. We also work a lot in retail. We have a lot of banking clients, entertainment clients; just it’s really across the board. I just mentioned Old Navy. They have been a client for well over two years now. They were one of our beta clients. They’ve leveraged the platform really for everything.
They kind of initially came on with a real interest of driving advocacy and they knew that people love their brand but they really weren’t seeing a lot of that in social channels. They really wanted to kind of build that out that community, and build out people that were talking about their brand and have a direct connection with them so they were sending out the right messages and really understood kind of the different things that Old Navy was up to.
They’ve done a lot of stuff around sampling every month they have a new product that they’re featuring in stores and they sample that to a select number of their advocates. Their advocates go in the store with friends and are able to get the product for free, catalog their shopping experiences, share that through all kinds of social channels and blogs.
They do a ton of work with challenges. I mentioned stuff around sampling your favorite outfit or taking a pic that was of your favorite fashion accessory. They do a lot of stuff that generates content that way. Then they’ve also really found a lot of value in the inside type stuff as well. They’ve been able to do things like figure out very quickly they should charge for a pair of flip flops or whether they should have large or small polka dots on their spring dresses and really offer … enable the consumer voice to have a place at the table as they’re making a lot of these decisions.
Typically they wouldn’t have enough time to do formal research around … things are obviously moving much quicker than they have in the past. You can’t run a research campaign to determine what you Tweet out or post on your Facebook page or what every single product you sell and creative. Really I think a lot of brands are now looking, now that there’s these ways to connect directly with consumers and ways that they can have a much closer relationship to those consumers so that those people can be involved in a lot of these decisions. Those people are the first to know about the exciting things that are happening with the brand and those people can really represent the brand and carry out the brand’s messaging.
Roy: Do you find that most clients are using you just primarily to build a relationship to increase the advertising exposure and impressions or are people actually using metrics to measure increased sales or metrics that are more financially driven?
Brandon: Obviously sales is always the bottom line. I think a lot of times that’s kind of difficult to track directly through a program like this and to really, all of, a lot social and digital and a lot of most marketing. I think we have a lot of key measures that we provide them that really kind of help them understand how it’s affecting their business. We provide metrics like engagements, impressions which are all delivered kind of peer to peer. We have a list showing in great detail where those impressions are delivered. We have Facebook, we have Twitter and show kind of all the different engagements that happen, show all the different social posts, blog posts, etcetera.
We also do a lot of brand equity research. I work closely with Joanna Seddon who’s the former CEO of Millward Brown Consulting Practice. Developed a lot of our kind research methodology and measurement methodology early on. We do a lot of stuff with brands, measuring pre and post lists. In particular we do a lot of stuff around net promoter score given that we’re very focused on advocacy, purchase intents and can show brands lists and how that’s affecting their brand.
Roy: It seems like this space, obviously community, social, since the start of the internet they’ve been talking about communities. Communities involved into social and we have communities on Facebook, Twitter wherever and it seems like the number of companies out there, and maybe you could tell me. It’s like, I know there’s a company called Social Core and they have a platform. What do they do and what are you doing different from them, better, how do you compare yourself to them.
Then there’s another company Buzz Agent, that’s been around for ages, but again going into the market for brands to test their … to talk to communities and build awareness and similar kinds of objectives that you’re talking about. Compare yourself to these companies and anybody else you think is relevant.
Brandon: We have a pretty differentiated offering on the market. I think most of the competitors tend to either be kind of a single solution provider as we call them. That kind of is similar to Buzz Agent which really focuses on sampling of products. Oftentimes that can be a great solution around product launches and things like that, but you lose touch with those people kind of right after. You’re really buying an audience and then if you ever want to do anything again you’re kind of restarting from scratch basically.
A lot of our platform is really built on how do you understand who these people are over time, engage them over time and really have a close connection to them. That’s kind of one big difference between kind of those types of competitors. With the Social Chorus and some other guys, the other platforms, those types of platforms. Those did more white label focused so they’re focused on kind of creating, kind of a separate community for a particular brand. In my experience in building out previous platforms, that’s very difficult to do and near impossible for most brands; because no brand has enough engagement activity, rewards, samples, things going on at any given time to kind of keep people engaged over time.
A key part of our platform is that people can engage with multiple brands in ways that interest them so that people stay highly engaged over time and then we’re also able to build in kind of scoring within the system so we know who’s following through. If they’re given a sample are they following through? Are they participating and really able to motivate people and really build a kind of a centralized gamification. That’s really allowed us to have extremely high quality and quantity of responses for brands.
The brands that have worked with us, very often, very early in the programs notice the level of engagement, the quality of engagement and that’s really what gets them to renew and continue to build on their crowd.
Roy: Do you think with all the engagement, social, it’s like probably the number one marketing effort today. Everybody’s out being social on all these, on the key platforms. Do you think that maybe the consumers are going to get burned out and social will turn into a fad or will it evolve to something different, or do you envision five years from today we’ll still be in the same kind of environment using social media the way we are?
Brandon: I definitely don’t think social’s a fad. I think social is, now that we’ve opened up those lines of communications for consumers, whether they be with their friends, their family , with brands, with celebrities; it’s clear that they have an interest and spend a good percentage of their time there. I think social’s as a separate thing is definitely going away.
I think social is really about technology that enables … I refer to it usually as social technology versus social media. It’s really social technology that’s enabled, all these businesses, businesses like ours and really everything. The news I read all the different apps I have they’re all tied into my social feeds and my interests and it’s what I listen to and what I read. Spotify has all my friends and they’re listening to and that’s how I discover music.
Social is within everything and I think we have some stats that state basically that 80% of content online is now consumer generated. That 85% of people’s purchasing decisions are made … the number one influencing factor is a friend or peer. Those are pretty powerful numbers. Now that people have those connections and the ability to kind of hear about brands and hear about things from their friends and communicate those things in a much easier way it’s definitely a powerful force.
I will say that I think this … one of the problems I think with brands in social is when you mention the word community we don’t refer to ourselves as community. We’re not trying to kind of create another place where people can hang out and meet people and talk to people. I think that’s kind of where a lot of brands failed in kind of the early days. People don’t want to a community around a brand per se. They don’t want to … the broader community at least. Doesn’t want to kind of go log in and … you’re not going to get millions and millions of people to log in every day and talk about your brand and engage with your brand. They have a lot of other destinations.
We’re really focused on kind of those people that are most interested in those brands and having … every brand has 10,000, 100,000 people that they can communicate closely with that understand their brand message and can then communicate that out to everyone.
We’re not trying to focus that around all consumers and expect to have millions and millions of people but really how do you … every brand really needs a relationship with the people using their products that want to talk about their products, or want to engage the brand further and help them open those lines of communication. That’s really where we’ve been focused.
Roy: So in essence Crowdtap is enhancing the existing social channels that a company might be using to basically get a higher return for them out of their existing channels. Would that be an accurate assessment?
Brandon: Exactly. It’s 1% of people that create, I’m forgetting the exact stat, I think it’s 80% or 90% of branded content. It’s how do you engage with that 1% rather than trying to get everyone interested and having conversation with your brand. How do you engage those people? I think marketing’s really moving from this top down, it’s been top down for ages.
Mass media made it very easy to have kind of this big top down strategy, blast messages out and eventually it’d trickle down. Because of all the different ways that people get information now, all the different media channels, all the different ways people interact and consume, I think it’s more and more important to employ top off strategy as well.
Really look for those people that are attentive, that do want to hear more about your brand, build and keep relationships with those people and then enable those people to tell their friends and others and bring other people into the fold and hear about your products. We’re really focused on kind of that bottom up strategy.
Roy: This is pretty much your fourth year almost or third and a half year of operation?
Brandon: We’re still working on 2009, at the end of 2009 we launched in beta in 2010. Really have been kind of selling now for 2½ years, 2011, 2012 and now. It’s been a great experience. I think we’ve learned a lot of things. We’ve changed our model up from 2011 to 2012 and really seen things really rapidly growing over the last 18 months.
Roy: Do you see yourself just targeting the largest consumer products companies?
Brandon: That’s our core focus right now, just because that’s where we’ve had a lot of success. It’s easiest for us to scale right now. We get into some of these big companies and they have multiple brands and after they see success on our platform where we look to see if it kind of builds throughout those businesses. I think down the road there’s certainly opportunities to work with other brands but our focus and our strategy has really been in the top … working with the top marketers.
Roy: What percentage of that market would you say you guys have conquered so far?
Brandon: That’s pretty hard to scope. It really depends on how you frame that. Is that all of social budgets, all of advertising budgets, all of promotions…
Roy: Just looking at it from just the penetration of companies. If you’re doing business with a company, whatever that business is, what percentage of companies would you say you’ve managed to do business with?
Brandon: We’re working with about 50 Fortune 500, 1,000 brands right now. That’s kind of where we’re at right now. Certainly there’s a lot more brands out there. I don’t the exact numbers in front of me but …
Roy: Can you share with us some of your clients that have had success with you? The names?
Brandon: I mentioned Durex; I’m working with a bunch of Reckitt brands. We started working there with Woolite and Durex and Veets just had a lot of success, working with them. Old Navy’s another I mentioned that’s been working with us for a long time. Then we’re working with brands from Nestle, Clorox, P&G, Pepsi. Those are just some of the ones. Sony and movies, we’ve done a lot of work with.
Then we work with a lot of agencies. Sometimes we’re working kind of … our clients will buy kind of direct from the client. A lot of other times we work with a lot of media buyers and PR agencies and social agencies and individual agencies. It really just depends on kind of how the client’s set up. We usually partner closely with agencies.
Roy: Do you see the social technology … you consider yourself I guess in the social technology market, is that correct?
Brandon: That’s how I would describe it. I’ve never liked kind of social media because it’s … what we’re trying to … it’s really not media. What we do is we’re not … people aren’t buying media. We’re helping people better communicate via social which is really because of the technology. It’s also I don’t think, separate destinations. The New York Times is social. Everything has social built into it for the most part at this point. I prefer to call it social technology.
Roy: Do you think of yourselves more as a technology company or a marketing company?
Brandon: We’re definitely a technology company. The business orient is ad pac and marketing but we’re … our product is pure technology. We have a large product team, tech team. That’s kind of the focus of the business. We kind of continuing to build the platform out. That’s what our clients are paying us for.
Roy: How many employees do you guys have now?
Brandon: There’s 37 full time I believe. Probably about nine interns this summer.
Roy: That’s fantastic. Now did you guys raise money initially to get the business going?
Brandon: Yeah, we initially funded it with the key agency, of course spinning it off and then we raised a half a million dollars Series A round led by Foundry Groups in 2011, then that really spun everything off, completely separately. Then we sold Mr. Youth right after that as well.
Roy: You sold, I’m sorry?
Brandon: Shortly after that we sold Mr. Youth to Publicis. We resold the agency, To Publicis and they’re really separate entities now.
Roy: Have you guys obtained profitability yet?
Brandon: We’re close. We’re … right now we’re really focused on just kind of building the business. We’re really focused on kind of driving revenue and kind of building out a great product that our clients love, so it hasn’t been kind of a core goal to necessarily move to profitability yet. We’ve had a pretty steep growth curve so we’re pretty focused on just kind of maximizing the business, but certainly within reach if you want to go that direction.
Roy: That sounds fantastic. Is there anything I didn’t ask you that you want to share with us that you think is extremely important about what you guys are up to?
Brandon: No, not … I think one thing; people are interested in we call it kind of collaborative marketing. People are interested in kind of collaborative marketing space, really marketing with consumers. We recently released a white paper kind of website. Our client website is corp.crowdtap.com and the whitepaper’s on the website. It really gives a lot more detail and king of what collaborative marketing is. Kind of what we do. Where we see the future of marketing really headed. I think that would be a great piece and anyone listening who’s interested in learning more could go pick that up there.
Roy: That sounds fantastic. I think that you’re definitely leading in an industry that needs all the technology it can get. I think that as … the interesting thing is you see, do you see someone else taking over for Facebook or someone else becoming, another company becoming a serious competitor to Facebook with respect to the community they’ve got?
Brandon: I think Facebook is obviously has a huge number of users and very smart people working there. I think that there’s a lot that they are figuring out and are going to figure out and remain a very relevant player. I think you do see more specialty sites, things that are more focused on particular needs like Instagram and photos and Pinterest and saving shopping images. I think there’s a variety of things happening around that space. I think there will be room for people to engage, but really more than technology, as I mentioned, I think social’s being built into pretty much everything.
I think Facebook has a great position in the market with the number of users they have the amount of data they have. A lot of it will go to how you execute and remain relevant and how they … what other people they acquire and how they kind of kind of stream in Instagram all the other players together. I think it will be … it’s definitely an interesting time. I think marketing in general is I think really moving towards being about technology and data.
It used to all be about creativity and messaging and I think really the marketers who best understand technology and data are the ones that are going to win in the future, so I think we’re seeing a massive shift towards that and there’s … that’s why you see so many different players and so many, not just different social networks but so many data and analytics and variety of different companies in the space. I think budgets will very rapidly continue to shift through to stuff that’s measured and analyzed and leveraged through those technologies.
Roy: What do you think the effect of mobile is going to have on all the things you’re … Crowdtap as well as the whole environment?
Brandon: We have … 26% of our users are already leveraging Crowdtap on mobile. We haven’t … we’ve started work there but we really haven’t kind of built out our whole presence. That’s something that is certainly important. I think people’s time is shifting. What mobile is, is … the tablets are kind of in between and you have different size mobile devices but it’s clear that people are spending more and more time leveraging those devices versus logging onto their computers. Oftentimes they’re doing so at times they’re more likely to purchase.
I think that’s obviously where Facebook and a lot of these companies see growth. That can continue to be a big role. I don’t think it necessarily changes everything. I think a lot of what you’re trying to do is similar. I think you just have to think about different behavioral state and different screen space and things like that. A lot of the same things that people are trying to do can work in both places. You just have to really be cognizant of it and really make sure that you’re thinking about the mobile experience.
Roy: Well Brandon, we appreciate you taking the time to share some information about Crowdtap. I think that yet another organization that is in a way, obviously to the major companies you’re working with they know who you are, but to a lot of others here’s a company quietly building a huge business that will probably be a very big business one of these days.
As Facebook builds, as more engagement builds and of course as you evolve as the world, the technology, the environment changes … but let me ask you one other thing while I’m thinking of it.
What percentage of your audience is international? Outside the U.S.
Brandon: Right now we’re 100% U.S. based. We’re all U.S. based right now.
Roy: There’s a huge opportunity once you establish yourself in the U.S. Do you envision doing more international things soon, later, a year, two years? What do you think?
Brandon: I try not to look any more than six months to a year out because things change so rapidly. I think we have plenty of work to do in the U.S. kind of in that time. I think we’re now, probably for the next year we’re pretty hands down focused on the U.S. We’ve had great response from the marketers we’re working with here. There’s still a lot of marketers we’re not working with who are relationships we can expand and build upon. That’s really our focus right now, but certainly there’ll be opportunity internationally was well.
Roy: Definitely you’ve barely have scratched the surface. There’s a lot more room to go.
Roy: We appreciate you taking the time to share some of information today and thank you for the time.
Brandon: Thanks Roy, I appreciate it. It was great speaking with you.