Category: Target Market

From zero to Hero in 12 months, How ShopBack does it

This post originally appears on Techinasia

The first phase of a start-up often involves finding ways of to get the early adopters on-board and generating feedback to iterate the idea. You may have seen many of those blogs that discuss customer acquisition strategies in theory but these are usually difficult to be replicated without understanding the context. To really nail product development, follow the journey of a “Hero”, someone who has been there and done that – like Shanru Lai, Head of Marketing at ShopBack. In this interview, she shares some affordable yet effective marketing strategies that worked for them.

Why ShopBack?

The founders of ShopBack, Henry Chan and Joel Leong were first-time entrepreneurs but they have managed to build a large customer base within a year from launch. Started in August 2014, ShopBack has powered more than 100,000 customer transactions at popular eCommerce portals both in Singapore and abroad within less than 10 months. ShopBack offers online shoppers up to 30% cash back when they shop online at any of the 300 Asian and North American brands. Shopping categories range from fashion to F&B, travel and electronics, and the team has brought on board well known retailers like ZALORA, ASOS and Groupon.

And running a start-up often means making the best of the little you have. According to Shanru, even though ShopBack is in a slightly more advantageous position as they have raised over US$500,000 in seed funding last year, they are always mindful of how they can optimise marketing spend to give the company its longest runway.

Firstly, identify your market segment

Crafting successful marketing campaigns begins with an end in mind. ShopBack identifies their target market as anyone who shops online in South East Asia and typically between the age of 18 to 45 years old. Shanru shared that this helped them to focus on the choice of marketing channels — those that their target market frequently engages with – Facebook, instagram and blogs. She insists there is no one-size-fits-all social platform: some customers are inactive on Facebook but are heavy SnapChat users so ShopBack needs mix its media. These behaviors, however, always depend on the market and location of your users.

Paid marketing for new user acquisition

While paid marketing has worked very well for eCommerce companies, it all boils down to one simple strategy – deliver real value to customers. To attract new customers, ShopBack relies on Facebook ads, engagement on other social media and blogs.

The first step is to create a daily budget for Facebook ads, which is in line with their monthly targets. Optimising the images, content, and the time of posts is an ongoing task. Shanru scrutinizes the analytics data regularly to identify trends or confirm certain hypothesis, for example, the most effective timing to put up the Facebook post to maximise engagement. The most popular content among ShopBack’s users tends to include price promotions, especially when discounts can be stacked with cash back. The key is also to find out the 80/20 when it comes to selecting which brand partners’ sale promotions to promote. Knowing the top online brands that bring about the highest conversions or has the highest web traffic enable ShopBack to prioritise the brands to focus the majority of marketing dollar on them.

For new start-ups with no history of data to fall back on, Shanru shared that they can start by observing the content and timing of the Facebook posts on major competitors’ pages and then adapt their strategy accordingly.

Following Acquisition with Retention

The work does not end after the new customers are acquired as they still need to be persuaded to make a transaction or be actively engaged to make repeat transactions. Shanru’s strategy for retention:  email marketing. To achieve high click rates, ShopBack crafts relevant content alongside persuasive copy and fine tuned design. Through the email analytics she has done, Shanru realises that it is often effective to entice new customers or those who have not made a recent transaction by sending exclusive bonuses on their next purchase.

In addition, Shanru shares that their blog has played a pivotal role in bringing in more traffic to their site and creating conversions to first sales. They would share good promotions from their brand partners on the blog and this has also enabled them to package more value into the marketing campaigns they run for the partners. Again, this is a way of delivering real value to their customers. For new start-ups, one concern could be how to maintain a blog team sustainably. ShopBack does it in the beginning by working with freelancers and having a central person to manage and edit the posts.

From time to time, Shanrun has also found it effective to engage fans in a fun and different way. Once a month, they run contests on Facebook and on their blog, in the form of lucky draws or giveaways of a particular brand’s vouchers or products, to engage users.

Get a marketing expert onboard

It sounds like a no-brainer but it is an area that is often overlooked. As a founder, unless you have prior marketing experience, it is essential to have someone experienced in marketing onboard if you are running an eCommerce business. It is possible for someone to learn on the job but it works much more efficient to have someone who’s already in the know, given the limited runway.

Shanru shared that she was already running marketing campaigns back in ZALORA and therefore ensuring that marketing efforts deliver the business objectives is no stranger to her.

Hoping that it gets viral in the end

While getting the word out through their marketing efforts has been effective in general, Shanru maintained that the holy grail is still word of mouth marketing, via their referral program. But it will take some time for the business to get to that stage, as the number of customers need to reach a certain level before an exponential increase can happen. Having said that, referral programs should be there from day 1 and it is worth setting up a simple yet reliable referral system to enable your local customers to share about your site. Every quarter, in addition to the social media campaigns, Shanru would run a special bonus referral campaign so that customers would be more incentivized to share actively during those particular months.


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Getting the word out on your business — Effective Facebook marketing (Part2)

Getting the word out on your business — Effective Facebook marketing (Part2)

I came across this interesting insights on increasing your facebook’s organic reach and find it so useful that I gotta share!

3 things I find particularly memorable:

1. Post at non-peak times, around 10pm – 2am, so that you compete with less of those who are posting too

2. Post organic, behind the scenes photos. Interested readers want to know all about you

3. Ask questions, but not for the sake of it. Facebook is your channel of communicating directly with your consumers, so use the chance to know their queries, feedback and suggestions.

facebook organic reach infographic

Getting the word out on your business — Affordable yet Effective ways (Part 1)

Getting the word out on your business — Affordable yet Effective ways (Part 1)

I will be sharing about one of my favorite subjects, Marketing and consumer psychology in this post. The ideas below are also inspired from this wonderful article from I have added the local context to those tips I think work here and also added an estimate to the budget/customer.

Running a startup often mean two things — low budget for marketing but a vital need to be top of mind. Here’s some means to achieve both ends 🙂

Online ideas

  • Participate actively in forums
  • If your business is in the B2C space,  you may find participating in forums that are participated by your target customers very cost effective. The key is to establish credibility for yourself, engage the other forum participants in a ‘non-predatory’ manner and present your startup in a FYI, factual ways. Having people to endorse you or give good reviews and testimonials will go a long way. (Cost: your time)
  • Sell on,,, carousel app and other e-commerce sites 
  • Why invent the wheel when there are throngs of people already buying things from these apps and e-commerce marketplaces? If your business centres around selling products to consumers, open a virtual store and start marketing your products and services.  The transaction fees get lower as your sales volume increases and it can be a good way of getting your brand noticed, before you build a loyal following which will follow you from your e-commerce marketplace store to a standalone online store.
  • Self-publish an e- book.
  • There are quite a few channels to help market e-books by amateurs and free lancers. As puts it, “Nothing screams “expert” quite so loudly as a book written about a subject.” It is as good as an advertisement for your company that’ll last forever. You won’t make money on the book. You’ll make it because of the book.

Create promo codes

  • and set them up on cuponation, retailmenot, and This is more suitable for e-commerce businesses and it helps in being discovered. ($x depending on the depth of the discount – your usual cost to acquire a customer)

Offline ideas

  • Burn the flyers… try Door-hangers on gates instead.
  • Imagine the home owner reaching out for the gate and then discovering this colorful door hangers with a promotion for your company’s product or service attractively displayed… Good idea isn’t it? However, this is just limited to businesses that are geographical based or involve delivery to home. For example: “Having a headache thinking of what’s for dinner tonight? Order now from for $10 off and get piping hot dinner delivered free to your home. ($2/customer (excluding your time to hang the advertisements))
  • T-shirts and vests.
  • Not an especially unique idea but it could work if you hand them out strategically. For example, if you have thirty employees and your office is based in a highly populated area, with most being in your target segment, giving them company shirts with crisp, catchy taglines may gain you walking billboards, 5 days a week. Handing printed t-shirts to your target customers also help them to keep your brand top of mind, provided that the shirt has a nice design, the right material for the climate and right size for the wearer 🙂 ($10/customer)


Ray of 9gag says “GAS” when it comes to creating a good startup

(Photograpy credit to Marcus Tan, Liana Ho, Plugin@blk71)

I was at Echelon and KopiChat at Plugin@blk71 today and it felt like déjà vu, watching Ray Chan, Cofounder of
9gag speak again on the maxims and his take on starting up.
I find it particularly
refreshing hearing from him, as he comes across as a straightforward, candid
yet smart guy. Sharing some of what I took away from his talks over these 2
days. He actually advocated GAP (Goals, Audience, Platform) and ACT (Audience, Consistency, Testing) but I’m shortening to just GAS :p
My colleagues would quote me saying “keeping
the end in mind” and “objectives” most often at work but success truly begins
with having a goal or vision at the end of the day. Like Amazon, because of
their culture and the customer oriented goals that they espouse, individual
departments could make their own decisions as long as they achieve the common
goals of the company.
For 9GAG, keeping the audience in mind is
crucial. Making the target audience happy, keeping them coming back for more is
what makes 9GAG so successful. In the same vein, whether you are a B2B or B2C
startup, you need to know who is your audience and what they want, what they
want to see etc. In one of my previous posts I mentioned about treatingconsumers (app users) as the laziest persons on earth and that resonates with the point that
Ray is trying to make. Make your product useful/helpful/entertaining for your
audience and you will score.
It’s not about style
vs substance but Steve Jobs would agree with Ray that style is as important as
substance in today’s world. And it’s also about consistency in the delivery of
style. Ray shared that he stayed up till 4am the night before, curating the style of the work his team has put up. Even with the millions he
has raised, he is still the only editor in his team. There is no substitute for
style and style draws the audience who agrees with your style and likes it.
So to sum it up, having
a Goal and knowing your Audience helps you to decide your style and style when
correctly executed, gives you the Audience you want and helps you achieve your
At Echelon, I met
Elaine Huang in person as last as well as a junior called Benjamin from the NUS
Overseas program. Given the time in between the talks or during lunch, I wish I
could meet more people in this trade as opportunities often sprouts from these
meetups. Coincidently, as my startup friend, Don Sim of Daylight Studio puts
it, he thinks that business networking is probably more important than the
talks themselves.

I couldn’t agree more
and this reminds me of Jublia, this easy to use and awesome business networking
Check it out at the upcoming Singapore Gift Show.

If you are keen to read about what Ray covers in his speech at Echelon, here you go
(Courtesy of Oliver Wee, my fabulous colleague :))


It stands for Goal, Audience and Platform
  • Goal
Not having a clear goal leads
to death by a thousand compromises.
Define the goal, different
goals would have different strategies to accomplish them.
  • Audience
It is better to make a few
people really happy than to make a lot of people semi happy
Know the taste of your
  • Platform
Media companies are ubiquitous
Be wary of ‘social media’
Know the best practice of each
Use attractive thumbnails
Eye – catching titles
More informative titles
Limitation of 140 characters


It stands for Audience, Consistency and
  • Audience
It is imperative to know what
users care about.
  • Consistency
Consistent one usage of style,
Consistent content updates.
12 daily videos
Usage of big data to understand
user needs
  • Testing
Users do not care about
technical problems.
Keep testing their users’ taste
and create better services.
· regard themselves as a
tech company in the media space.


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