Scaling giffgaff from 0 to 1m customers

How we developed the right marketing system to drive growth, and helped build an agile organisation that could operate it.

O2 wanted to create a new mobile network, for three reasons:

  1. They had a customer segment they couldn’t serve — ‘free thinkers’, who loved mobile but rejected Big Mobile networks;
  2. They had a new MVNO technology platform they needed to test;
  3. Because O2’s Director of Innovation, Gav Thompson, believed there was an opportunity for a radically different business model, “the Wikipedia of mobile networks”.

First, we helped them turn a short business plan and list of principles in Gav’s notebook into a live business. We incubated the nascent team in our office, working with the founding team to shape everything from the name to the ‘goodybags’ price proposition, to the unique customer-powered customer service that underpins and enables the business model.

Then we helped them scale the business, from zero to the first million customers. Here’s how we did it:

We focused on the next audience, not the total audience

The giffgaff business model relied on being customer-powered. But we needed customers to do different jobs at each stage of its growth.

  • The job of the first 100 customers was to populate the customer service forum, so we handpicked and manually invited a mix of video games forum power users and passionate mobile advocates.
  • The job of the next 1,000 customers was to create buzz around the brand. So we created the Tool Hire campaign, creating a suite of whacky props that enabled creators to easily make on-brand videos. We seeded the campaign by working with some of the earliest YouTubers like amazingphil — remember this was back in early 2010.
  • The job of the next 10,000 customers was to be our first power users and referrers. We took advantage of the ‘problem’ that the tech team hadn’t built the ability to charge for mobile data, turning it into a proposition that went viral within this audience. Then we worked with the early community to develop the ‘spread’ referral mechanic and the ‘Payback’ reward scheme.
  • The job of the next 100,000 was to be the testbed for our mainstream digital acquisition marketing. We developed and multivariate tested a huge range of channels, targeting, messages and creative, iterating and optimising constantly to get the CPA down to c.£12 within a few months, and then scaled the system to meet the business’s growth targets.

We organised the growth team around the customer, not channels

Our cross-disciplinary, client-agency team worked in a seamless way with very little bureaucracy. We were focused on one really clear objective and had the autonomy to experiment freely without having to seek approval every step of the way.

We made a cross-channel growth hypothesis for each audience. Rather than thinking, ‘what should we do in Facebook advertising?’ we instead thought ‘what’s most likely to make 10,000 mobile early adopters sign up for a SIM card?’ We understood their likely customer journey, and then executed that across the channels.

We iterated furiously. We tested thousands of versions of Facebook creative and acquisition banners, iterating the messaging, proposition, imagery and formats to identify the most effective factors in reducing CPA. We did the same for giffgaff’s brand advertising, which you can read about here.

If you want to learn how we can help you build a growth marketing system and org for your business, please get in touch: jenny@albion.co