In-depth: Depesh Mandalia, Marketing & Growth at Lost My Name

by Jessica Ramesh

Lost My Name is an innovative publishing start-up providing personalised books for children. Formed by Asi Sharabi with former advertising executive Tal Oron and comedy writer David Cadji-Newby, in 2014 they secured investment from Piers Linney of TV’s Dragons’ Den. Marketing and growth expert Depesh Mandalia tells us the company’s story so far and discusses the role of digital channels in its marketing strategy

Would you like to give us a quick introduction to the Lost My Name story so far? What’s unique about the books you produce and what was the thinking behind the initial launch?

The company was founded in early 2013. It started as a fun thing to do when our CEO Asi Sharabi had been given a personalised book for his daughter. Being underwhelmed by it, and coming from a technology and creative background, the founding team (friends Tal Oron and former BBC comedy writer David Cadji-Newby) recognised this as an area that was being hugely under-exploited. And so ‘The little girl/boy that lost his/her way home’ was born. Our uniqueness comes from the way we construct the personalised experience. We use different stories based on the letters of a child’s name. Each character the child meets in the story gives them the first letter from their own name to help the child find theirs. We own the full publishing stack and market the book directly to customers, helping us maintain operating efficiencies and profitability.

The book is now available in six different languages (and counting) with sales in over 120 countries and our second product due out later this year. Our growth rocketed in late 2014 which has accelerated business growth through product development and recruitment.

Last year Lost my Name secured the highest ever Dragons’ Den investment in terms of valuation. Can you tell us something about the Dragons’ Den experience and what the funding and publicity meant for the launch?

The short answer as to why we were on Dragons’ Den was simply for investment and exposure. Word-of-mouth was already working wonders for us and we wanted to attract investors that could add value to Lost My Name beyond their funding.

Being on Dragons’ Den was, from a business viewpoint, a perfect way to place our vision in front of the right people—not just the dragons, but the viewing public, some of whom were press and others who were likely to be interested in our product. The resulting publicity attracted the attention of the UK media and we managed to nab a top dragon in Piers Linney. Our USP is that we combine the power of traditional storytelling with the possibilities of innovative technology. As a father and successful IT and technology entrepreneur, Piers was a perfect fit.

How have you approached marketing the books? What channels or platforms are you investing in and what strategies have proved most effective?

Our approach to marketing has adapted as we’ve better understood our marketing levers and developed the growth plan. It’s important to find the right blend for short and long-term growth for a start-up so we focussed on ensuring that we nailed our immediate growth whilst laying future foundations. Word-of-mouth became apparent as a growth lever very early on in the product development process and was something we looked at from the start.

However, since you can only scale word-of-mouth as fast as you acquire new customers, we needed a way to accelerate new customer growth and fuel word-of-mouth marketing. As a pure-play ecommerce retailer we focused our attention online through direct response and PR. Facebook ads in particular helped us scale growth initially in the UK, quickly followed by the US, Europe and further afield.

PR has played an important role for us from the early days and continues to do so, with media interviews, book reviews, thought-pieces and other media placements helping to grow brand awareness and recall to support direct marketing. SEO, social media, paid search and affiliates all play an important role in the marketing mix whilst we continue to research into new opportunities such as Pinterest and Instagram to reach new audiences.

You’ve recently written elsewhere about ‘pre-consideration marketing.’ Could you give us a quick introduction to the concept and explain why it’s significant development?

The concept of pre-consideration marketing, where you embed a product in the consumer’s mind before they have conceived the idea of buying it, is something which TV and other broadcast media have tried to instil since the very early days of advertising.

The biggest difference now is the amount of data we’re willingly giving to advertising platforms (which are purporting to be social media networks or search engines). This has changed the media buying landscape significantly. Google initially disrupted every other advertising medium with paid search where a media buyer could target keywords and infer what the consumer was thinking of, whether the keyword contained the word ‘buy’ or not.

However, Facebook have since changed the game again. Their deep learning algorithms slice and dice millions of data points to be able to calculate, with a high degree of accuracy, which users are likely to interact with an ad. There’s obviously lots an advertiser needs to do to find the right users and it’s easy to burn money on Facebooks ads. A trivial but insightful piece on how much data Facebook has was their data science-led analysis of the blue-dress phenomena, which it felt the whole world had an opinion on. The article goes on to describe that men are significantly more likely to perceive the dress as black and blue, as are younger people, and people on a desktop instead of a phone.

Facebook can also predict your relationship status and whether you’re in love – these tidbits are tiny insights into what Facebook can infer explicitly (through Likes, shares and comments) and implicitly (through interactions, general usage and models) to build models for advertisers to target.

This for me is the new bold frontier of advertising which, if Facebook can tread carefully through privacy concerns and maintain a newsfeed which still feels relevant and engaging, will reap benefits for advertisers for years to come.

What advice would you have for digital marketers at start-ups (or elsewhere) who want to make a big impact with their marketing despite limited resources?

If you don’t yet have product market fit then you’re going to struggle. There are a few definitions of this, such as building things people want and creating functional or emotional value. You can market anything to anyone for a short-term gain, but creating a valuable business requires a clear link between your product and the consumer’s value or need for it.

I worked in a start-up where we had no differentiator with competitors and overpaid in acquisition costs to maintain a flow of sales. We didn’t deliver the right product market fit and so we struggled to differentiate in a busy vertical. We drove short-term sales with no long-term foundation.

At Lost My Name, we found our product market fit early on through consistent positive feedback and grew sales through word-of-mouth, in-house PR and by piggy-backing re-sellers which enabled us to reach the right audience at a larger scale.

At the early stages I’d suggest obsessing with testing and learning. We scaled Facebook to become a seven figure revenue channel after six months of relative failure. Even then, we were spinning multiple plates until Facebook excelled. We didn’t plan for this, which is why strategic planning and past experience count for less than simply doing. No two start-ups will have the same marketing growth levers and whilst the term ‘growth hacking’ may or may not rock your boat, one part of the growth hacker’s toolkit which every early-stage marketer must have is a clear plan to test, learn and grow for every hypothesis, idea and action.