We asked 14 questions to India's best performance marketing specialist. Ft. Siddharth Dwivedi
I was about to interview one of India's best performance marketing specialists on our Growth Series.
I tapped on my external mic, checked to see if it was working, and clicked on the "test my microphone" button on Zoom.
To my utter surprise, the mic that worked perfectly till then didn't send an input. I was perplexed.
So I closed my Zoom window and clicked on the link to the meeting one more time.
As the Zoom portal opened up, I looked at the clock. It read '3:05 PM' in plain numbers.
The interview should have started at 3:00 PM. But, here I am with a technical issue that seemed to be making Murphy's law come true.
As the Zoom portal opened, I was relieved to know that Siddharth still wasn't here.
Maybe the clock on my room was a tad fast as my mother often told me.
So, I removed the external mic and added it into the audio port one last time.
I hit "test my microphone" and it still wasn't working.
Frustrated with it, I closed the Zoom window one more time.
But as I was closing it, I saw someone enter the Zoom session. Could it be Siddharth himself? Even it was him, I had no choice, as I had already closed it.
This time, I restarted my laptop and started all over again. As soon as my laptop booted up, I opened the Zoom link and clicked on it.
I landed on the Zoom portal and there he was. Siddharth Dwivedi was on time and waiting.
It was embarassing, but I was also relieved.
I apologized for the delay and explained the technical difficulty on my side.
He was cool about it and asked if it was sorted.
And, by the good angel's grace that flew over me, the technical error was sorted. The external mic now worked perfectly.
With my intros and thanks in place, I started with my first question of the interview.
If you would rather watch a video of this interview, here you go.
But before going further, I want to take the time to explain performance marketing in detail.
Q.What is performance marketing?
Performance marketing is a combination of paid advertising and brand marketing. It is a process in which a customer only pays when a certain action has been completed by their target audience.
This action may involve anything from leads, sales, e-book downloads, app downloads, and much more.
So with that basic introduction of performance marketing, let's dive into this interview.
Q. How did you go from an engineer to running your own digital marketing agency?
Back in the very first year of my college, I started my own magazine and led it as a literary for three years. That's where I kind of built my team and learned organizational skills. That was my first crowdfunding experience as well. We went to the students and asked them if they'd like to subscribe to our magazine.
I told them the following, “We have one month, three months, and an annual subscription, which one would you like to subscribe to?”
Our magazine did not have a big impact at that time, but people were ready to actually support it when I showed them a vision. That was my first learning as a marketer. I eventually sold ad inventories for the magazine as well.
So that's exactly where my team was built, and I thought about turning this into another business. As I was of finishing college, I trained myself in performance marketing by reading about it. So that's how everything turned out to be.
Here's the best thing about it:
I had, I had a team to back me. I think that was one of the most fantastic things that happened to me.
Here's a key takeaway:
If you're looking to do great things, build a team and trust them with the work.
I learned a ton of lessons from this. I learned the importance of building a team, as Siddharth keeps coming back to it over and over.
I also understood, why it's better to build a team and than doing it all alone. With a team, it kind of becomes fun. With a team, everything becomes better.
With that first lesson out of the way, I was pumped to ask my second question to Siddharth. When I was digging into Siddharth Dwivedi's Linkedin profile, I saw that he started his agency along with two co-founders. I wanted to dig into that question and find out how he got there.
I was kind of hoping for an answer where they all went rogue and kind of gave up placements to found XOR labs.
and I have to accept that Siddharth's answer did not surprise me.
I told you about the magazine right. So it was the three of us who started the magazine as well. The best part about starting XOR labs was I already knew who my partners are going to be.
I was quite confident about it and my friends were actually confident about each other's skills and commitment to the project. Our confidence was the most important part in the success of XOR labs. We also made a pact that when coming out of college, we are not going to apply anywhere (although we got a lot of offers).
The three of us didn't join anywhere, we didn't sit for any interviews. We were quite committed that this is something that we wanted to start. There were no specific reasons for starting XOR labs, but we knew that whatever we are doing has marketing implications.
XOR Labs started as a content marketing agency in mind.
We initially started XOR labs with the idea of content marketing in mind, because, that's because that's how you can relate to the magazine. But once we started with the content marketing part, we knew that this can be evolved into something else. As we talked to many brands, we learned that they were looking for other requirements as well.
Starting a business with your friends can be one of the biggest gifts you can receive. I personally know two other co-founders who were childhood friends before starting their business.
I tried to start a fitness blog with one of my closest friends in college. It bombed big time, but we're still friends with each other.
I have also heard about stories where two or more friends started a business and eventually failed in it. But in the process of losing their business, sometimes they lost their friends too!
Here's a key takeaway:
Starting a business and running it successfully is hard. Starting it with a friend who you mutually trust and respect will make it easier.
Although I'm not an expert at starting a business with a friend, I'm good at finding the right articles from Google. Check out this article to get a better understanding of the do's and don't of starting a business with your friends.
The next thing I was itching to ask Siddharth was about Vaizle - a social media analytics platform. There were about 100 different performance marketing questions I wanted to ask about this.
But like the average interviewer, I defaulted to the most basic question.
Q: How did you get the idea to start Vaizle?
Starting Vaizle was an addition to part accident and part planning. During the 2016 IPL, we had a thought - “Why not track the brands featured in the biggest marketing event in India - IPL”.
I think Nitin, my partner, and my teammate came up with this idea. We had this crazy thought of “Why not track the brands on social media and see how they're performing, and also assist them?”
I think that time, we tried tracking 50 or 60 brands at that time, with a very rudimentary tool. Our tool used the API of the social media platforms to fetch all the required data. We used this data to assess the results of all the marketing campaigns.
To our surprise, this experiment really took off and we got amazing responses from most of the brands. It was downloaded over 450 times and most of it was all organic. We instantly knew that this had the potential to become something bigger. So, we eventually started building the tool properly.
Performance marketing is all about experiments!
While we were improving the tool, we also published reports on, Pro Kabaddi League, Indian startups, and also on the National Football League. We also tried to use the tool to actually get some idea on the election campaigns as well. As we were exploring this side of the business, we got our first biggest client from one of those experiments.
This client was one of the biggest real estate companies in the world. So they reached out to us and explained their needs. Fortunately what they wanted was specifically the tool, we were developing at the back-end.
So, we were now fully convinced that this has potential, and we thought, “Why not turn this into a tool?”
So it's safe to say Vaizle was born with a combination of part accident, and part planning.
Now I had a burning question to ask him.
I read on one of his Linkedin posts, where he mentioned having cracked a Fortune 500 client.
I so desperately wanted to know if this real estate client was the Fortune 500 client he had mentioned in his post.
Before I could have any second thoughts, I went ahead and asked the question
Q: Is this the Fortune 500 client, that you mentioned in a LinkedIn post?
Yes, yes, it is one of those clients.
Here's a key performance marketing takeaway:
Do things just for the fun of it. Siddharth and his friends didn't start Vaizle to make money. They wanted to test out the results of marketing campaigns run by the most famous brands in IPL.
They were curious about it and created a basic tool to test out. Their curiosity led them to start a new startup called Vaizle.
A curious mind and the willingness to experiment can earn you more money than you ever think you can.
Most of the questions in this interview are based on a Linkedin post that I read on Siddharth's profile. So I believe it's only fair for me to leave a screenshot of that Linkedin post in here.
After these basic questions, I decided to dive a little deep. I read in Siddharth's bio, that he has maintained close to $17 million in ad spends. Naturally I was cruious about it and wanted to ask some questions on that topic.
Q: What have you learned after spending $17 million in ads?
When you start working in a specific domain, you think that's everything. With performance marketing, I really never understood the core fundamentals in the initial days.
It took me some time to understand that performance marketing is not for everyone, and not suitable for everyone. It has to be changed, for the industry and businesses you're working on. With each product and industry, the application completely changes.
One of the fundamental things is - you should be sure about what you are going to do, and why you are going to do it.
Because you don't have much data when you're launching a campaign for the very first time. But, you kind of build upon the data, and then try to scale the budget. So, this was one of the best learning for me as a performance marketer.
The first project that I had was completely messed up. I think we were working at almost 10,000 rupees per month, and remember I totally messing it all up. But that was part of the learning curve and when I look back, a lot of things could have been improved at that time.
You shouldn't just be thinking about your product, but also about other marketing assets and your brand visibility.
You need to understand certain points like
- What is the perception of the people?
- How good is the product?
- Does it have good retention?
- What's the feedback on your product?
Because all of these factors work in a never-ending loop. It's not like you focus on one thing, that changes everything in and about your business.
Here's a key performance marketing takeaway:
If you're going to run advertisements for your business, the Return On Investment (ROI), depends on a number of factors.
For example: If your brand is fairly new and not know by a ton of people, you will have to spend more money to get conversions and sales.
Now when you compare that with a bigger brand, they can spend the same amount of money and get higher ROI.
So if you're looking to spend money on ads, you need to get a holistic view of the business and the product. Understand the market and the competitors before you go all in.
With that question out of the way, I noticed something Siddharth said in this answer. He spoke about the time when he messed up a client's work.
I wanted to dig into that and ask him more about his mistake. However, I did understand that not everyone is happy about answering questions about their mistakes.
There was a good chance that I might have made it a sour question.
I went ahead and asked him about his biggest mistake with ad spends. Siddharth was more than happy to share what he had learnt after spending $17 million in ad spends.
Q: What's your biggest mistake while working on ads?
Yeah, absolutely, I mean why not?
I think, one of the biggest mistakes is not planning in advance. By planning, I mean a long-term mindset and not just the next three months. When you're spending money on ads, it's common to have a very short-term mindset. You don't build this long-term view unless you have this entrepreneurial mindset, right?
You're always thinking of short timings like a three-month or six-month term. When I was starting out, my biggest was thinking in terms of one month, and that's how a lot of marketers, business owners, brand managers think. They want to hit the target for this month or the quarter, right. It's very rare for marketers and business owners to think about the year.
As the business and the years progress, every single dollar you put on ad spend is a sunk cost, right? The hundred dollars you spent yesterday is gone, so how do you strategize all that?
How do you make sure that it's impact stays? How do you actually use that ad budget to also create different kinds of assets for your business?
You have to approach ad spends from the long-term perspective. The assets you're trying to build can also be the community you're looking to build.
For example, we have some clients for whom, not a single dollar of their entire budget is spent on conversion. We're totally spending all their budget on brand building activities,
As a proper marketer, you shouldn't just think about Ads in terms of getting sales and leads. You need to plan everything and look at Ads in a long-term mindset.
Here's a key performance marketing takeaway:
Ads shouldn't just focus on conversions, sales, and leads. In the short term, they are really good metrics to focus on.
But you need to look at ads from a long-term mindset. Figure how you can use that traffic to build long-term assets for your business.
It can be anything from building your social media following, your email lists or even a private community.
After thinking about what Siddharth said, I realized that this is something we follow at Picmaker too. We have annual goals and we break them down into quarterly and monthly goals. We approach all our actions and tasks from a long-term mindset.
Before sitting on any task, we ask ourselves "How does this help achieve the end goal?".
You need to set big goals and realize how you will achieve them with daily tasks. Breaking down big goals into daily and weekly tasks is not something many business owners and marketers are good at.
But to succeed at marketing and business, you need to understand how everything can be connected to the end goal.
With that said, a new question popped into my mind.
Q: What's the best long-term tactic for social media marketing?
I think the tactics change with time. Five or ten years back, a lot of people were focused on attaining more followers. But now people are not looking at followers, but they are looking for genuine people who actually care about what you have to say.
The biggest learning I would say in social media right now is focus. I won't get into the nitty-gritty of creating content, and building community. These are equally important too, but you need to be very focused on your core ethos.
When you're going social, it's like working as a politician. You need to be consistent with your message and your ideas. Of course, our politicians are not consistent, but you need to have a core idea about what you are going after.
You have to stick to it even if you just have 1,000 followers. In a crowded world of social media, that's much, better than having ten thousand followers.
Take Kevin Kelly's example. He came up with the idea of a thousand loyal followers. If these thousand loyal followers are paying you ten dollars per month, you will be able to make a hundred thousand dollars very effectively, right?
The point is rather than going for a big volume, in times like these, you need to have a small set of loyal followers. The advent of platforms like Substack, and Medium, have also attested to this philosophy.
You don't need a huge audience to succeed on social media anymore. You can do wonders with the very small chunk of the audience who actually cares about you and your brand.
Here's a key performance marketing takeaway:
Gone are the times when you need to focus on huge audiences. As a marketer, you need to be focusing on a very loyal and focused following that will help you generate revenue.
You need to find a niche population and create your products/ services for them. The better your focus, the better is your revenue.
After asking a series of questions about marketing, I decided to take the interview in a totally different direction. I read through Siddharth's bio and understood that he reads a ton of books. So I wanted to ask him something about books.
Q: What's your favorite book?
I remember reading this big novel called, ‘Gone with the Wind,’ it's a very romantic kind of novel, based in the post-civil war era of the United States. That's where I learned the idea that how actually racism worked. When you're in business, a lot of people actually discourage you from going and reading fiction.
That's my first memory of this book and that has been my best book till now. The book comprises of 900 to 1000 pages and it is a long read. But there are certain characters that have never left my memory from that particular book.
First, there's this depiction of a very strong character of a woman, that I really admire. Then there's a character of different kinds of men in there, that you can still relate to in your life.
That was one of the first books I remember and it is something I will never forget in my life. If I ever get a chance to read something maybe years later, that's the one book I would definitely like to read.
Then there was this book called the "Story of Philosophy". I read it when I was 10 years old and I couldn't understand it for obvious reasons. I was too young to understand what it really meant. I read it another time when I was 18 years old, and it made total sense.
I think that book influenced me in many ways. It didn't just influence my career or personal decisions, but that also made me think about the philosophy of life itself. This book pushed me to ask the right set of questions in life.
Apparently, 16 years of research went into the creation of the book by Will Durant - one of the great historians and philosophers of contemporary times. I think that this book has allowed me to do frame my arguments, and understand the logical fallacies. It helped me improve as a person, and as a communicator.
A lot of thoughts and the decisions I made in life, I can still point it to that book. I have the whole book underlined on, all the pages.
These are the two books I would say are my all time favourites.
Here's a key takeaway:
Read books. Read books from different genres. The more you read, the more you learn about the world.
Sometimes, one of these books might also end up changing your life forever.
After asking Siddharth about his favourite book, I wanted to carry the conversation back into marketing.
So here's what I asked him.
Q. What are your favorite books on marketing and psychology?
I wouldn't specifically put them in the category of marketing and psychology. I read books on a variety of subjects. I've been an ardent reader and I read on any subject that kind of intrigues me. But as you read these books, you will notice that you are able to relate to the concept from one field to another.
For instance, there's a book called, "Talking to Strangers", by Malcolm Gladwell. So, technically, this is a book about communication, and how we actually talk to strangers, per se, but it's also a great book about marketing too.
If you look at the process in which you and I are talking right now, you'll understand that this is a very complex process. If you look at it on the deepest level, it's extremely complex, I'm moving my hands when I'm talking and we are also smiling. We are like pronouncing some syllables, which have certain meanings.
When you take the time to think about it, you'll understand the complexity behind everyday communication. A ton of thing is happening while we are talking to each other. Most of which are just under the control of our subconscious mind.
This book will help you understand that there's nothing simple about talking about strangers. While everything is so obvious when we try to judge others, everything is also complex when we try to judge ourselves.
This is a book, that shows the greatness of marketing and everyone should just read it.
On the psychology side of things, there is a book called ‘Psychology of Money,’ and it's a book less about money and more about psychology. A ton of people will read it because it is about money, but I would recommend you to read this book because it's more about psychology.
How we think about money, is also about how we live or how we choose to behave with people, or how do we choose to behave with our juniors, our seniors, the downtrodden in our society, or the leaders of our society, right?
So, the psychology of money is a book about how we lead our lives, and from a psychological perspective, this is a great book.
The first chapter of this book is the most under-appreciated chapter of this book. This book is extremely popular, and I see people passing out its quotes on Twitter every single day. But the one chapter from which you will never find a quote is the first chapter. The first chapter is all about empathy, and about understanding that the decisions people make are based on their life's own experiences,
People read this book to understand money, but this book is more about psychology. That's exactly why I love this book.
Your major takeaway:
You can become a terrific marketer if you understand the fundamentals of Human Psychology. The best way to understand human psychology is to read books on the topic.
Here's a small list of the best marketing books to get you started.
It was funny that Siddharth mentioned these books in our interview. I am a bibliophile and have both books in my library. Coincidentally, I had finished The Psychology of Money two days before this interview.
It was also funny how he mentioned that this book was more about human psychology than about money.
So after asking Siddharth two back-to-back questions about books, I decided to switch it up.
I saw that Vaizle has 7 free tools for marketers. I understood that building these tools and hositng them should have cost some money for their team. I wanted to understand the ROI they got from these 7 free tools
Q. What's the ROI of Vaizle's 7 free tools?
That's a fantastic question, and I think that's a great takeaway for everyone who's listening to this or reading this. Those seven tools are created solely for two perspectives - one is giving free value to the target users and the second is to target certain keywords, which is extremely popular.
You can go into any SEO-related tool, and you'll find that all those seven tools rank for extremely popular keywords across the world. They rank for more than 50 to 60 keywords across the world.
With these free tools, we have been able to build a list of almost 10,000 people. The marketing expense for all the tools is practically zero.
The reason I recommend this strategy in a SaaS business or any kind of business in the whole world. If you can offer something for free, maybe a taste of your product, or something they, they are looking for to solve their problem - it will work like crazy for you.
These 7 free tools have worked wonders for us so far. As a matter of fact, we are coming up with another new free tool called the Instagram engagement calculator. This tool will be live in a week or so, it will be our eighth free tool in our arsenal. But our whole point is that this tool has given us huge traction and put us miles ahead of our competitors.
Your major takeaway:
If you're a SaaS business, take out one of your best features and offer it as an individual tool for free. This allows you to garner engagement for your original tool, without spending a ton of money on marketing.
Just like Vaizle's case, this free tool will build trust and portray you as the authority over all the competitors.
Even if you're a service based business, you can offer an educational material to gain trust with your audience. An E-book or another free tool is a great example of lead magnets like this.
My next question dives into design and designers. This is the part I love the most in this interview.
This is the part where Siddharth compared designers to your Mom.
Are you curious to know how?
Then read along!
Q. What are the fundamentals of a social media ad creative?
A lot of people when thinking about creatives in terms of their aesthetic sense. This aesthetic sense is completely subjective and varies from person to person.
For example, I may go to a party in a black t-shirt, and in my eyes I'm awesome, but a lot of people won't like that.
So, one thing that I always recommend when we even talk about creating social media posts, it's not about the creative itself, it's about the people you are targeting.
it doesn't matter if you are writing something or designing something, it's not about what you are. Its always about the person on the other side
A question that good marketers ask themselves is "Is it adding value to their life?"
And, value can be anything, from information to humor, or simply entertainment. Your core focus when designing something should be to look at if it's adding certain value in time,
When it comes to social media, you're not just competing against your competitors, you're competing against every single person who's on social media.
Let's say that you are trying to build your personal brand, but in a way, you're also competing against Netflix and Zomato. We all are looking for people's attention, and when you are creating something, your sole focus should be - "Will this make the person who is uh scrolling through his feed, stop, take a look, maybe share it"
At the end of the day, the person should at least should stop at your post.
I personally don't meddle with the designers and tell them how to do their job. As a non-designer, the best recommendation I make is don't meddle in the design. It's a big ‘NO.’
Just focus and understand if the design is achieving the purpose that you wanted it to achieve. Leave it to the designer!
He has certain expertise in it and has spent time in it to craft his work. We don't go about telling our moms how they should cook.
We let her decide because she is really good at it. The same goes with designers, let them design it. All you need to do is focus on whether it is delicious or not. That should be the end objective.
Your major design takeaway:
Leave the designs to a designer Or use a Do-it-Yourself design tool like Picmaker.
Just as you wouldn't tell your mom how to cook.
So I have read a ton of blog posts that state the importance of data and analytics in marketing. But I wanted to know about this from the maestro.
So I asked him the ultimate question.
Q. How important is data and analytics in performance marketing?
It's a no-brainer actually, data is of fundamental importance when you're working in marketing, I would say there are only two things that a marketer should be good at - communication and the second is analytics. The rest of the things can be figured out. These are the two toughest parts of marketing.
Coming back to the analytics, part. Let me take you back to, the design question.
How do we actually assess if this design is actually good? How do you assess if a particular landing page is good?
You can say that the design or the landing page is good if it gives you results.
The same goes for creators as well. How do they find out the best creative, that gives them results?
What is the best marketing campaign that is actually giving you the sale, right?
So, the answers to all these questions can be found with Analytics. The point I'm trying to make is no marketing activity can be executed without having the analytics in mind. There is no running away from it.
When I talk to young marketers who are just trying to get into the field, they all make one common mistake. They're all too focused on doing things, rather than measuring things. On the contrary, in my agency, we focus on measuring more than actually doing things.
That's how important data and analytics is to me!
Your major performance marketing takeaway:
Measure things and try to analyze if it's producing the expected results. Good marketers don't just do stuff, they also measure it.
Measure every step of your marketing efforts.
Here is a small infographic to help you understand what you should be measuring in various marketing channels.
With that idea about measuring stuff in marketing, I had another burning question.
Should everything be measured in marketing?
With time I have come to understand that not everything in marketing can be measured.
But I wanted to desperately find a solid answer to this question. So I put it to the test and asked Siddharth about it.
Q. Should you measure everything in performance marketing?
Even the best data analytics company in the world, cannot measure every single touchpoint in your marketing campaign. There is no fixed way to actually do things, and measure their results. But, as an optimist, I feel that there will come a point where you will be able to measure everything in your marketing campaign.
I think there will be a time for that. In a sense, it's almost like the study of meteorology. Even if you predict that it's going to rain, there is one single parameter that changes, and it ends up changing the whole weather. Since there are like millions of other factors, you really don't know, what really changed the weather suddenly.
Your major performance marketing takeaway:
Everything that can be measured must be measured in marketing. It is your responsibility to put proper plans to measure all your marketing campaigns.
Measuring gives you the ability to work with inforeseen circumstances and change them accordingly.
However that example about weather and marketing took me to my childhood days.
Those were the days when I was duped by my weatherman into believing that schools would be closed due to bad weather. But eventually, the weather would clear up and schools were held.
Those were some of my most disappointment filled days in my life.
With that sense of nostalgia, I jumped back into consciousness. It was time to ask my final question for this interview.
Q. What is one social media superpower you'd love to have?
That's a fascinating question. I think the ability to come up with content ideas almost immediately would be my superpower. If I could just sit here and come up with an endless amount of content ideas, that would just be great. Because the thinking part actually takes a lot of time and that's why most people are inconsistent with content creation.
The ability to come up with a ton of content ideas. That is one superpower, I would like to have!
With that beautiful answer, that was a wrap to my interview with Siddharth Dwivedi.
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