Hear Josh’s insights on alternative approaches to growth—such as how to time innovations.
Josh Hay, partner at Chameleon Collective, has passionately worked on innovating throughout his career. With a career that began in the music industry and has since intersected with many fields, he’s gleaned powerful insights on how alternative approaches to business growth can result in success or chaos. From adopting new technologies to rethinking approaches to classic problems, Josh tackled tough questions about growth—like how to time an innovation just right.
What exactly is growth marketing?
“I look at it as a big tent … any marketing activity that you can execute to grow your business,” Josh explains. “I would say it includes media, SEO, communications—especially outbound communications, like email marketing, SMS marketing—and even website optimization.” He’s had a chance to work across all these areas throughout his career.
Now, let’s look at two distinct elements of strong business growth marketing, according to Josh.
The centrality of data
Make everything data-driven, Josh urges. “Most activities in growth marketing can be measured, and we live in a world of measurement now,” he says. After all, you have to go back to your board and show the results you’ve tracked based on assumptions made. Doing this effectively will help you build out plans.
The importance of empathy
“To be a good growth marketer, you’ve got to have empathy,” he continues. “The best ones have a strong connection and feeling to what they’re doing.” If you don’t care enough, you can easily become reckless. You also need to have humility when you make mistakes, he notes. Set yourself up for minimal risks, but find the best ways of fixing things when mistakes inevitably happen.
What differentiates his approach?
Josh has ended up in a unique position, having worked with a variety of B2B and B2C clients and companies. “I do like to do upfront strategy,” he says. By this, he means laying out what they want to accomplish and how they can do it, setting the foundation.
“I like to be able to build out some of it on my own, so that I can be part of the end-to-end,” he adds. “Sometimes there’s a loss in translation because people just hand things off. … I can at least say that the strategy I deliver gets implemented in the way I intend.”
Timing innovation just right
When it comes to innovation, what’s too late, what’s too soon, and what’s just right? Josh shares crucial advice on when to release a new idea.
Has he ever adopted new technologies too far ahead of the curve?
He actually had a two-year job like that, he laughs. When he worked at Nokia Music, they had a product called Comes With Music, which streams free music to people’s phones. The iPhone 2 was just hitting, so the time seemed right—except that data was slow.
The product launched in 20 countries. “They were hoping that people used wifi with their phones, which wasn’t a thing that was happening,” Josh says. “It was just one year too soon, and a little bit too advanced for the technology,” he says.
He sees this a lot in the Web3 and blockchain world, noting, “There’s a lot of ‘too soon’ that we’ve seen since 2017.” Sometimes the infrastructure hasn’t been built yet; sometimes the product just isn’t the right fit. With blockchain, you also need a certain level of adoption and usability that just hasn’t hit the mainstream yet.
Has the age of NFTs arrived?
We’re still at the beginning, finding the right applications for them. Art is a fascinating application; using them as passes or tickets is interesting, he says. “I think we’re seeing the beginning of adoption,” he adds—if they are to be adopted on a wide scale.
“Almost any brand with the right strategy and the right application could find a way to do an NFT if it’s genuine,” he says. “To do it for a cash grab—I would never recommend that. It becomes disingenuous on a brand level. But if you can find a strong utility, a strong application for your brand, I think you can excel in the NFT world.”
We’re probably approaching the right time to jump in—which means we’re seeing a lot of wacky ideas and some good ones. “It’s a crazy market where there are crazy projects that make no sense at all but are worth tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars,” says Josh—or even millions. There’s no logic—it’s a supply-and-demand marketplace, he adds. And many people who have done well with crypto are transferring wealth into NFTs to keep their money in the Web3 space.
Has he ever moved too early—or late—and regretted it?
At Hopeless Records, he helped create Download Punk, an indie-music-only download site. Similar to Comes With Music, it just didn’t stick. But he hasn’t regretted it—when trying out new ideas, we can’t always know what will lead to business growth, he notes.
He also recalls making his own ringtones for his phone using a method of hacking and downloading them. Then it became a billion-dollar industry for about five years—and he realized he’d missed the boat on that one.
“I don’t think there’s regrets. I think it’s about getting to a point in your career where you have a lot of experience in executing—and being able to pull yourself back a little bit more and try to figure out where to prioritize efforts, and figuring out the best way to do things,” Josh asserts. Working hard plays an important role, but so does working smart and continuing to learn from experience, whether you’re planning an AI tool or something in the metaverse.
Freddie points out that even if an idea fails because it’s too early, you’ll already be an authority in that space when the time is right.
Tips for determining if it’s too early
Use the “sleep on it” test, says Josh. Is it the first thing on your mind when you wake up in the morning?
Consider how tough it feels to execute, too. “If it’s so hard to do, and the barrier of entry is so difficult, it should be put on the back burner for a little bit—because if it’s hard for you, and you’re passionate about it, then either you have to continue to invest in it and make it better for other people to utilize, or maybe wait ’til more innovation’s happened in this space,” Josh emphasizes.
Advice for handling mistakes
If you make a mistake, remember that everyone has pressed “send” too early or reached out to someone too soon, he notes. Let it go by the time you go to bed.
“Channel that energy into creating something good,” Josh urges. When you wake up, it will be a new day and you can focus on building something new. If you can do that, you’ll continue to succeed—as long as you feel comfortable with the effort you’ve put in.
Testing market fit for new tech
Too often an idea falls flat on its face because it’s really a solution in search of a problem—meaning it doesn’t have market fit, Freddie notes. How does Josh test the viability of an idea?
Josh likes to use “the parent test” to find out if something will be huge: “If you can send it to your parent, and they can figure out how to do it with minimal help, then you’ve got something that has great usability.” If his mom can navigate a checkout page, he’s done a good job, he notes.
Encountering unforeseen hurdles
In consulting with Chameleon Collective, Josh has worked on many companies’ Amazon and other paid media campaigns. Once, he and Freddie took a client from $1 million to $10 million in Amazon revenue through growth-hacking the platform’s algorithm. The technologies available are amazing, like the ability to create negative keywords, he notes. (And no tool has worked better for him yet than running Google Ad campaigns with highly experienced people.)
However, he’s had negative results with tools that technically can work but often don’t unless people invest a massive amount of money in them. Set yourself up to quickly stop using a tool if it doesn’t work, he advises.
Additionally, while it’s easy to get impressions, getting them to convert is the real challenge. And of course, the cost of ads is going up. That’s why Josh likes to work in a multi-channel mindset, so if costs increase on any particular channel, they can boost efficiencies elsewhere.
Balancing privacy with increased reach
How do you balance privacy with increasing reach via technologies like texting? Freddie asks.
Josh likes to dabble in alternative tech like advertising in the blockchain world. He always strives to research the implications of using a technology before getting started with it, reading white papers on the subject. “Yes, you want to take risks, but you don’t want to take obscene risks,” he says. “The last thing you want to do is get in trouble for text-messaging someone.”
For instance, you can’t just upload phone numbers and start texting them. With MailChimp, you have to certify that you have permission to message people.
Plus, you don’t want to bombard people with messages—or push notifications. “It’s about figuring out the right communication cadence,” he affirms.
Communicate with companies and their legal teams on how you’re actually going to do it, so everyone has buy-in for the plan. This ties back into laying a strong foundation, helping your entire campaign to run smoothly!