As the year comes to an end, it’s important to reflect on what went right — and wrong — in 2015 while looking forward to the year ahead. Because of the speed in which companies operate, one year in the startup world feels like three or four anywhere else, so looking back at what I’ve learned in the last 12 months while running a new company is very revealing. My company Rukkus came into the year with defined expectations of growth and an idea of what measures we’d take to ensure it. But it’s the success in channels we weren’t expecting that has been even more illuminating. Here’s where we did unexpectedly well, so you can do the same for your own company in 2016.
We came into the year with a focus on paid search, because it’s widely understood to be the fastest and most efficient way to bring new customers to your site. We expected to put some effort toward organic search and search engine optimization, but we didn’t expect any short-term results from our campaigns because we understood that this channel is a long-term game. While we still put significant effort behind our paid search campaign and saw success there, it was a bit surprising to see how quickly our work on SEO came to fruition. On and off-site optimizations that we expected would take hold in months were paying off in weeks — and sometimes even in days. These dramatic improvements weren’t unexpected per se, but the fact that they were almost immediate surprised us.
We knew that adding content to our site was important in order to show our value to search engines, so we focused a lot of our efforts this year into publishing quality content on our site. We figured that it would be a long-term play to get crawled by Google and Bing. To our surprise, instead of taking months for our rankings to improve, we saw an upshot within weeks. The search engines are clearly rewarding sites that focus on unique and engaging content and when we saw this, we shifted more bandwidth to publish as much as possible. Instead of simply selling tickets to a show or sporting event, we’ve created content that informs the customer on the history of teams and bands which the search engines (as well as our users) find useful.
A big takeaway from our SEO push is that you can’t necessarily take “industry standards” and commonly held beliefs at face value. Instead of accepting that organic search would take months to show improvement, we tested our theory and were rewarded with an upshot in rankings.
Another unexpected boost we saw was from word-of-mouth marketing and repeat purchases from existing customers. The best marketing tool for any business is word-of-mouth testimonials — it’s free and coming from a trusted source. At the same time, it’s difficult to solicit recommendations without them coming off as contrived. Repeat purchases and customer retention might be a little bit easier to garner via traditional marketing channels through email and retargeting, but it’s hard to predict without a large sample size of customers.
On the surface, you might not think these two areas would be linked, but we discovered that our focus on customer service was the common denominator that lead to the growth in both areas. We believe we have a great product that is easy to use, but it’s our customer service team that has gone above and beyond to make sure our customers are provided with the best experience possible. This year we were able to not only grow, but optimize our customer service. We’ve even taken to calling it Fan Operations or “FanOps.”
Instead of looking at customer service as a necessary nuisance, we see it as an opportunity to interact with our customers and learn from them. If every company ran completely seamlessly, there would be no need for customer service. As we know, this isn’t feasible and even the most successful companies spend huge resources on customer service. Unlike some of those giants, we took the time to automate of our processes behind the scenes so that our FanOps team can focus on taking actionable feedback and growing relationships with customers. Sometimes that means upgraded concerts seats and other times it’s an Uber to the game, but we no matter what, we always strive to go above and beyond what is expected when it comes to service. People are often just as happy to get someone on the phone without having to wait or go through an automated menu. If you treat people right, they’ll keep coming back and will most likely tell their friends and family about the experience, essentially doing some of the work for you. This year we learned how valuable of a marketing tool that our own FanOps team truly is.
A company can’t survive and thrive without setting goals and roadmaps on the path to success; however, things won’t always go as planned. This year we had some unexpected wins that veered our plans slightly, but still reached our end goal in terms of growth. As we look to 2016 we’ll certainly take these lessons and apply them, knowing full well that there will be a pivot or two along the way.