Hear how to build a brand that gets attention at Disrupt SF

Branding is an essential component of every startup. It’s more than publishing a tagline or a mission statement; it’s how your company comes alive in the eyes of customers. Some companies make it look easy, but designing and successfully launching a brand can be a daunting endeavor. How do you develop a brand strategy? What’s your brand positioning? How do you know if your brand is resonating with customers? At this year’s Disrupt SF, we’re bringing together Bumble’s Chelsea Maclin, PR expert Brooke Hammerling, and creative director Ben Pham to provide tactical advice for how to help your brand cut through the competition and stand out.

Each one of our speakers has a unique perspective on how to translate your startup’s values into a compelling brand that customers can engage with and support.

Chelsea Maclin: Chelsea leads Bumble’s global marketing strategies and initiatives, focusing on international campaigns, brand marketing, experiential marketing, and integrated partnerships. Her growing team works cross-functionally to test, develop and implement innovative marketing strategies for the brand across the globe. She helped the company launch its newest vertical, Bumble Bizz.

Brooke Hammerling: Brooke is the Founder of Brew and has over 23 years of experience in technology PR, strategy and communications. She started Brew determined to bring a different style to the PR world and Brew has grown to be a company that provides a unique blend of communications that she had envisioned. Some of the companies Brooke has worked with over the years include Live Nation, Framebridge, Refinery29, Sonos, Splice, GroupMe, SmartThings, August and Oracle. Hammerling is also a successfully exited entrepreneur in her own right, having sold Brew to Freuds for a reported $15 million.

Ben Pham: As a co-founder and creative director at Character, a branding agency based in SF, Ben has worked with numerous brands including Adobe, Uber, Facebook, Google, Samsung, Nike, Fitbit and Amazon. Ben likes to draw inspiration from unexpected places, relying on his personal motto of “look in the wrong place to find the right answer.” When he’s not in the studio in search of the next big idea, he can be found advising young entrepreneurs, snowboarding in Tahoe, and cooking for friends at his home in Oakland.

We’re thrilled to have this conversation, and we can’t wait to see you there. Buy tickets to Disrupt SF here.

Did you know Extra Crunch annual members get 20% off all TechCrunch event tickets? Head over here to get your annual pass, and then email [email protected] to get your 20% discount. Please note that it can take up to 24 hours to issue the discount code.

Verified Expert Growth Marketing Agency: Torch

CEO Jeremy OBriant never intended to create Torch, an agile growth marketing agency based in San Francisco. He started his career as a CPA, but after leading a growth team at Sidecar and running growth projects on his own, forming Torch was the most obvious thing to do. He now leads a team that implements “agile growth,” an iterative approach that involves setting clear goals and running smaller experiments over the course of monthly sprints. Learn more about their approach to growth, their ideal client, and more.

“Torch offers custom solutions to whatever you need. They are fast and deliver on what they promise. They are also scrappy and willing to try stuff to solve unique needs.” Head of Product in SF

Torch’s approach to growth

We aim to be the thought leaders of Agile Growth. We didn’t invent the term, but we are certainly becoming the leading voice of the process in the growth marketing world. Agile simply means being able to move quickly and with ease. We start with clearly defined business goals and prioritize growth tactics based on the impact, cost, and efficiency. Then collaborate with growth teams to execute a handful of items in recurring growth sprints, typically on a monthly cadence.”

On their ideal client

“Our ideal partner has product-market fit, is redefining their category, and is ready to scale in a sustainable way. We are very strategic in the types of businesses we work with and steer clear of doing narrow prescriptive tactics. We love to collaborate with partners that are open to taking a fresh strategic look at their entire growth stack and embrace the agile approach to discover the right strategy for their unique situation.”

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Below, you’ll find the rest of the founder reviews, the full interview, and more details like pricing and fee structures. This profile is part of our ongoing series covering startup growth marketing agencies with whom founders love to work, based on this survey and our own research. The survey is open indefinitely, so please fill it out if you haven’t already. 

Interview with Torch CEO Jeremy OBriant

Jeremy OBriant

Yvonne Leow: Tell me about your background and how you became a growth marketer. 

Jeremy OBriant: People are often surprised when I tell them I started my career as a CPA. I ended up working in the trenches on several M&A deals and heard lots of founding stories from entrepreneurs.

Verified Expert Growth Marketing Agency: 3Q Digital

With 12 offices and 350 employees around the world, 3Q Digital is a giant among growth marketing agencies. They’ve worked with companies like Brandless, Opendoor, and Warby Parker, but they also have an internal business unit called 3Q Incubate to work with startups in their pre-launch phase. 3Q Digital gets tech and that’s a testament to CEO and founder David Rodnitzky’s early days as a one-man growth marketing consulting practice in 2008. Learn more about 3Q Digital’s approach to growth, their ideal client, and more. 

“I’ve used them at 3 companies – 2 of which were small startups with minimal prior paid investment. In those cases, they helped me build our entire performance marketing foundation…” Matt O' Day, SF, Head of Performance Marketing and Analytics, Rylo Inc

3Q Digital’s approach to growth

“As far as our own focus, we’re a performance agency founded on a bedrock of SEM and paid social; as the digital landscape has grown and expanded (channels, skills, services), so have we, but we continue to have a reputation as one of the best online performance marketing agencies around.”

David’s proudest accomplishment

“We’ve not only survived in Silicon Valley for 11 years, we’ve grown massively. We are one of the largest performance marketing agencies in the San Francisco Bay Area, with over 100 people locally. We continue to get referrals from founders who used us for their first start-up and now have come back to us for their second or third. The same is true for many venture capital partners who rely on us again and again.”

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Below, you’ll find the rest of the founder reviews, the full interview, and more details like pricing and fee structures. This profile is part of our ongoing series covering startup growth marketing agencies with whom founders love to work, based on this survey and our own research. The survey is open indefinitely, so please fill it out if you haven’t already. 

Q&A with 3Q Digital CEO & Founder David Rodnitzky

David Rodnitzky 2019 headshot

Yvonne Leow: How did you become a growth marketer and start working with tech startups? 

David Rodnitzky: I moved to San Francisco in 1999 after graduating from law school in my home state of Iowa. In early 2000, I got a job at a Softbank — a Sequoia-backed SaaS startup as “manager of strategy.” I quickly realized that no one was running marketing, so I volunteered.

After spending $50K/month on PR and branding agencies, I discovered pay-per-click advertising via GoTo.com. I was immediately hooked by the measurability and ROI, and spent the next seven years working at Silicon Valley start-ups with a focus on measurable online marketing.

How should B2B startups think about growth? Not like B2C

Over the years, we’ve seen a lot of B2B companies apply ineffective demand generation strategies to their startup. If you’re a B2B founder trying to grow your business, this guide is for you.

Rule #1: B2B is not B2C. We are often dealing with considered purchases, multiple stakeholders, long decision cycles, and massive LTVs. These unique attributes matter when developing a growth strategy. We’ll share B2B best practices we’ve employed while working with awesome B2B companies like Zenefits, Crunchbase, Segment, OnDeck, Yelp, Kabbage, Farmers Business Network, and many more. Topics covered include:

  • Descriptions of growth stages you can use to determine your company’s status
  • Tactics for each stage with specific examples
  • Which advertising channels work best
  • Optimization of your ad copy to maximize CTR and conversions
  • Optimization of your sales funnel
  • Measuring the ROI of your advertising spend

We often crack growth for companies that didn’t think it was possible, based on their prior experience with agencies and/or internal resources. There are many misconceptions out there about B2B growth, rooted in the misapplication of B2C strategies and leading to poor performance. Study the differences and you’ll develop a filter for all the advice you get that’s good for one context (ex: B2C) but bad for another (ex: B2B). This guide will get you off on the right foot.

Table of Contents

What growth stage is your B2B startup?

The best growth strategy for your company ultimately depends on whether you’re in an incubation, iteration, or scale stage. One of the most common mistakes we see is a company acting like they’re in the scale phase when they’re actually in the iteration phase. As a result, many of them end up developing inefficient growth strategies that lead to exorbitant monthly ad spends, extraneous acquisition channels, hiring (and later firing) ineffective team members, and de-emphasizing critical customer feedback. There is often an intense pressure to grow, but believing your own hype before it’s real can kill early-stage ventures. Here’s a breakdown of each stage:

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Incubation is when you are building your minimum viable product (MVP). This should be done in close partnership with potential customers to ensure you are solving a real problem with a credible solution. Typically a founder is a voice of the customer, as someone who experienced the problem and sought out the solution s/he is now building. Other times, founders enter a new space and build a panel of prospective buyers to participate in the product development process. The endpoint of this phase is a working MVP.

Iteration is when you have customers using your MVP and you are rapidly improving the product. Success at this stage is rooted in customer insights – both qualitative and quantitative – not marketing excellence. It’s valuable to include in this iterative process customers with whom the founder(s) have no prior relationship. You want to test the product’s appeal, not friends’ willingness to help you out. We want a customer set that is an accurate sample of a much larger population you will later sell to. The endpoint of the iteration phase is product/market fit.

Scale is when you have product/market fit and are trying to grow your customer base. The goal of this phase is to build a portfolio of tactics that maximize market penetration with minimal – or at least profitable – cost. Success is rooted in growing lifetime value through retention and margin, maximizing funnel conversion to efficiently convert leads to customers, and finding repeatable tactics to drive prospective buyers’ awareness and consideration of your product. The endpoint of this phase is ultimately market saturation, leading to the incubation and iteration of new features, customer segments, and geographies.

How do you find B2B customers? 

Here’s a list of B2B customer acquisition tactics we commonly employ and recommend. Later in this article, we’ll connect each channel to the growth stage it’s best used in. This list is generally sorted by early stage to later stage:

1. Leveraging your network. This is particularly valuable for founders who are building a product based on their own past experience.

  • Reach out to old colleagues you know have the same problem you had (and are solving).
  • Leverage the startup ecosystem. If your startup is in YCombinator, for instance, other companies in your batch may be prospects, along with alumni who will take your call simply because of your affiliation.
  • Example: If you’re building an app for marketers, ask past marketing colleagues you’ve worked with to try out your product is a no brainer.

Verified Expert Growth Marketing Agency: TrueUp

It was the perfect storm when CEO and Founder Liam Reynolds finally decided to start TrueUp, a data-driven growth marketing agency/consultancy based in London. After decades of working for large creative advertising agencies, Liam quit his job right around the beginning of Silicon Valley’s growth hacking trend and plunged headfirst into running growth for early-stage startups.

TrueUp has since evolved from a one-man shop into an award-winning agency with a team of dedicated data, paid marketing and conversion specialists. Learn more about how they collaborate with clients and help them develop short- and long-term growth frameworks.

TrueUp’s approach to growth marketing:

“Rather than just saying ‘Look at these amazing results we’ve achieved,’ we would say, ‘Look, these are your growth opportunities, this is the process you need and here’s the framework unlock your true potential,’ We would build business models around this to show the opportunity in numbers, revenue and ROI.

Our approach to growth is anchored in delivering the right message to the right target audience in the right channel at the right time. It sounds simple but we’re amazed at how wrong people get this.

So we’ve created our own bespoke methodologies and frameworks to really explore and identify these hidden killer messages that drive action. We’ve built our own tools that allow us to do a lot of high-tempo, high-intensity testing.

It’s quite common that we have 500 to 600 tests running concurrently on Facebook for any given client. We’re continuously testing, learning, iterating, improving. As a result we’ve achieved some amazing results for our clients.”

Advice to founders:

“We approached True Up to help us establish and scale a UK paid marketing function. The team was highly professional from their initial pitch through the end of the project.” Maninder Saini, SF, International Operations Manager, Quizlet, Inc.

“For earlier stage startups, it’s to focus on achieving product-market fit and having awesome user experiences before worrying about growth. We worked with and mentored a lot of startups that immediately jump to, “Look I need to get X number of customers in X months.” However their products/services are often seriously lacking. This creates very weak foundations for growth. So their efforts would be better spent on creating products that genuinely meet a customer need. Once they’ve achieved product-market fit, it’s to communicate benefits not features. There’s always at least one killer message that cuts through but more often than not it’s hidden and not what the founders think it is. So a structured test program to explore this is also very much needed!”

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Below, you’ll find the rest of the founder reviews, the full interview, and more details like pricing and fee structures. This profile is part of our ongoing series covering startup growth marketing agencies with whom founders love to work, based on this survey and our own research. The survey is open indefinitely, so please fill it out if you haven’t already. 


Interview with TrueUp CEO & Founder Liam Reynolds

Liam photo

Yvonne Leow: Tell me about how you got into growth marketing and why you decided to start TrueUp.

Liam Reynolds: I started my career at a data marketing company called Dunnhumby. They were famous for managing the data science and intelligence behind TESCO’s Club Card, a very large loyalty program in the UK.

Verified Expert Brand Designer: Studio Rodrigo

Ritik Dholakia worked as a startup product manager before he co-founded Studio Rodrigo, a branding and product design agency based in NYC. Unlike traditional branding firms, Studio Rodrigo is proud of its product design chops, especially when it comes to helping early-stage startups build version one of their product. It’s not an easy balancing act since most companies eventually want to bring their product design talent in-house, but it turns out, Studio Rodrigo can help with that too. Learn more about the studio in our Q&A with founder Ritik Dholakia.

Studio Rodrigo’s unique approach:

“Studio Rodrigo listened to all of our goals and dreams, concerns and uncertainties, and created a brand identity, website, and marketing materials that were true to our vision but better than anything we could have imagined.” Tze Chun, NYC, Founder, Uprise Art

“Basically, we’re a full-stack product design team. We have people who can do brand identity from a pure graphic design and visual communications standpoint, and who can also connect the dots between design and technology, business, and customer needs. We don’t have a traditional agency model with a project and account management overhead. You work directly with our designers.”

On Studio Rodrigo’s ideal client:

“We like working with clients that are solving big, meaty, challenging problems. We’ve got a smart team that likes to wrap their heads around the kinds of technologies that are pushing industries forward. For us, that’s currently technologies like machine learning and artificial intelligence.”

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Below, you’ll find the rest of the founder reviews, the full interview, and more details like pricing and fee structures. This profile is part of our ongoing series covering startup brand designers and agencies with whom founders love to work, based on this survey and our own research. The survey is open indefinitely, so please fill it out if you haven’t already. 


Interview with Studio Rodrigo Co-founder Ritik Dholakia

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Yvonne Leow: First things first, how did you get into brand design and product development?

Ritik Dholakia: I’ve been in digital design and product development for about 20 years now. I actually started my career as a product manager at a startup. I worked for two venture-backed startups as the first product manager. I was part of the Series A team, managing product development, acquiring initial customers, and building market traction.

The first startup was an enterprise software platform for customers doing triple bottom line reporting. The second one was one of the earliest social networking platforms, pre-Facebook, and around the same time as Friendster, LinkedIn, and Spoke.

Verified Expert Brand Designer: Stitzlein Studio

After spending years working for in-house design teams and well-known brand agencies such as Nike, Google, and Pentagram, Joe and Leslie Stitzlein, who are also husband and wife, decided to launch their own branding studio. You’ve seen their work in many places; from launching the identities for Netflix, Mac OS X, Nike Flyknit, dwell and Lilly.

Stitzlein Studio has ushered in a new chapter for the couple who now works with a global network of independent designers, illustrators, and developers to help companies develop or expand their brands. It doesn’t matter whether it’s designing an identity or launching a new product, the founders of Stitzlein Studio are eager to share their vast experiences and take on a new challenge.

Advice for startup founders

“Be yourself, and be courageous. That is not easy, especially when you have investors to satisfy and payroll to make [we’re business owners too at the end of the day and totally get it]. We’ve seen founders try to mimic successful brands rather than spending time and energy on what makes them unique. Instead of trying to look like Google, figure out what you are and amplify the shit out of that. It’s surprising how many companies underestimate themselves when what they do is amazing. Our job is to find what makes them distinctive and pour gas on it.”

Stitzlein Studio’s branding philosophy

“Each brand has its own DNA, just as each person is unique. A company’s DNA comes to life both on a surface level by how they look, but also how the brand interacts with people in the world.”

Below, you’ll find the rest of the founder reviews, the full interview, and more details like pricing and fee structures. This profile is part of our ongoing series covering startup brand designers and agencies with whom founders love to work, based on this survey and our own research. The survey is open indefinitely, so please fill it out if you haven’t already.


Interview with Stitzlein Studio Creative Directors Joe and Leslie Stitzlein

Yvonne Leow: Can you tell me a little bit about your background and why the two of you decided to create a studio together?

Joe Stitzlein: Leslie and I had been working at a lot of different places before this. I had been in-house at Nike for seven years and spent three years at Google. There’s not a lot of opportunities to take risks in life, and we thought why not pivot from climbing the in-house ladder and share everything we’ve learned about branding with smaller startups as well as larger companies.

One aspect of our work that we really enjoy is taking a wonderful technical innovation and translating it into communications that are beautiful, helpful and inspiring. This is true for everything from a new running shoe to a new cryptocurrency; we love boiling complicated innovations down into a striking image or experience.

We wanted to take some of those lessons from the Nikes of the world, and the nonprofits and interactive clients Leslie had, and bring those to smaller scale clients. It was a fun opportunity.

Verified Expert Growth Marketing Agency: NoGood

NoGood CEO Mostafa Elbermawy describes how they evaluate a client’s growth challenges by quoting Zen teacher Hunryu Suzuki: “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are only a few.” Rather than deferring to in-house playbooks, NoGood adopts an open mind combined with a methodical, data-driven approach to find untapped growth opportunities for its clients. Learn more about how NoGood came to be and why they’re willing to say no to potential clients.

On NoGood’s approach to growth:

“Our work is methodical. It’s intentional. We have to talk about it. We are very transparent about what we do and it’s completely process oriented. Hacking is a misnomer. Growth is not about clever shortcuts. It has to be sustainable and repeatable, and if it’s not, we won’t do it.”

On NoGood’s proudest accomplishment:

“They helped us launch our business. They are our CMO and our CTO. Would recommend to anyone.” Erica Tsypin, Washington D.C., Co-Founder & COO, Steer

“Our success in jumpstarting Steer’s business is one of our proudest accomplishments this year. Steer is an electric car subscription startup that asked us to increase their activations. Basically, our job was to generate new active members, which not only meant encouraging more users to download the app, upload a license, and get approved, but it also meant delivering a car to a member’s door, having them drive that car and leaving a review. We were able to demonstrate signup traction for Steer and help them launch in under three months.”

 

Below, you’ll find the rest of the founder reviews, the full interview, and more details like pricing and fee structures. This profile is part of our ongoing series covering startup growth marketing agencies with whom founders love to work, based on this survey and our own research. The survey is open indefinitely, so please fill it out if you haven’t already.


Interview with NoGood CEO and Growth Lead Mostafa Elbermawy

Yvonne Leow: To kick things off, how did you get into growth?

Mostafa Elbermawy: Well, I went to school for archaeology, but hieroglyphics weren’t paying the bills, so I taught myself how to code and started a web design studio after college. I started building websites for clients, and they started asking me how to drive more users to their sites to help grow their business.

I started tinkering with growth out of curiosity, and eventually joined the digital experience team at American Express. That job helped me gain some marketing and growth experience, and I ended up falling in love with that part of the job.

Verified Expert Growth Marketing Agency: Growth Pilots

Growth Pilots is one of the more exclusive performance marketing agencies in San Francisco, but they know how to help high-growth startups excel at paid marketing. CEO and founder Soso Sazesh credits his personal experiences as an entrepreneur along with his team’s deep understanding of high-growth company needs and challenges as to what sets Growth Pilots apart. Whether you’re a founder of a seed or Series D stage startup, learn more about Growth Pilots’ approach to growth and partnerships.

Advice to early-stage founders

“I think a lot of times, especially at the early stage, founders don’t have a lot of time so they’re willing to find the path of least resistance to get their paid acquisition channels up and running. If things are not properly set up and managed, this can lead to a false negative in terms of writing off a channel’s effectiveness or scalability. It’s worth talking to an expert, even if it’s just for advice, to ensure you don’t fall into this trap.”

On Growth Pilots’ operations

“They have good business acumen, move fast and work as an extension to your internal team.” Guillaume McIntyre, SF, Head of Acquisition Marketing, Instacart

“Something we pride ourselves on is working with relatively few clients at a time so we can really focus all of our team’s efforts and energy on doing the highest quality work. Each of our team members works on a maximum of two to three accounts, and therefore they’re able to get very invested in each client’s business and integrated into their team. We really try to simulate the internal team dynamics as much as possible and pairing that with our external capabilities and expertise.”

Below, you’ll find the rest of the founder reviews, the full interview, and more details like pricing and fee structures. This profile is part of our ongoing series covering startup growth marketing agencies with whom founders love to work, based on this survey and our own research. The survey is open indefinitely, so please fill it out if you haven’t already.


Interview with Growth Pilots Founder and CEO Soso Sazesh

Yvonne Leow: Tell me a little bit about your background and how you got into growth.

Soso Sazesh: I grew up in northern Minnesota where there is no tech industry whatsoever and then after high school, I came out to Silicon Valley and got exposed to the epicenter of the technology industry. I became very interested in startups and hustled to find startup internships so I could get experience and learn how they operated.

After a couple of startup internships, I got accepted to UC Berkeley and that gave me even more exposure to the startup ecosystem with all of the startup events and resources that UC Berkeley had to offer. I worked on a couple of startup projects while I was at UC Berkeley, and I taught myself scrappy product management and how to get software built using contract developers.

Verified Expert Growth Marketing Agency: Bell Curve

Bell Curve founder Julian Shapiro describes his team as talented growth marketers who have a long tail expertise of various channels and who aren’t afraid to play part-time therapists. As an agency, they’re comfortable grounding founder expectations by explaining “No, virality isn’t a dependable growth strategy,” but “Hey, we can come up with a better strategy together.”

Bell Curve, the agency, also runs Demand Curve, a remote growth marketing training program that teaches students (and marketing professionals) the ins and outs of performance marketing.

For a glimpse of how Bell Curve thinks about growth marketing, check out Julian’s guest posts about how startups can actually get content marketing to work and how founders can hire a great growth marketer.

What makes Bell Curve different:

“Bell Curve runs a growth bootcamp which we took in February. It radically improved our growth rate, gave us access to enough data to experiment with, and as a result we built an engine for growth that we could continue to tune.” Gil Akos, SF, CEO & Co-founder, Astra
“We run a program where we train companies to run ads on every channel. So, what makes Bell Curve unique is that we, by necessity, have a deep understanding of many more channels than the average agency. We have an archive of tactics and approaches that we’ve accumulated for how to do them just as well as the big ad channels.

In effect, companies come to us when they need expertise beyond Facebook, Google and Instagram, which we still bring to the table, but when they also need to figure out how to make Quora ads profitable, how to get Reddit working, how to get YouTube videos working, Snapchat, Pinterest, etc. These are channels people don’t specialize in enough and so we also bring that long tail of expertise.”

On common misconceptions about growth:

“A common mistake people make coming into growth is thinking that growth hacks are a meaningful thing. The ultimate growth hack is having the self-discipline to pursue growth fundamentals properly and completely. So, things like properly A/B testing, identifying your most enticing value propositions and articulating them clearly and concisely, bringing in deep channel expertise for Facebook, Instagram, Google Search, and a couple of other channels. These are the tenants of making digital growth work. Not one-off hacks.”

Below, you’ll find the rest of the founder reviews, the full interview, and more details like pricing and fee structures. This profile is part of our ongoing series covering startup growth marketing agencies with whom founders love to work, based on this survey and our own research. The survey is open indefinitely, so please fill it out if you haven’t already.


Interview with Bell Curve Founder Julian Shapiro

Yvonne Leow: Can you tell me a little bit about how you got into this game of growth?

Julian Shapiro: I actually started by running growth for friends’ companies because they had a hard time finding experienced growth marketers. After a year and a half of doing this, I realized it’d be a more stable source of income if I formed an agency. It’d also allow me to pattern match so I could exchange learnings among clients and have a better net performance.

It all came together very quickly. Once Bell Curve hit about 10 clients, we had enough strategic and customer acquisition overlap that we were able to share tactics, double our volume of A/B testing, and get better results. It also gave us the ability to hire out a full-fledged team so we could start specializing, whereas, as a contractor, I was too much of a generalist. I wasn’t able to go deep on certain channels, like Snapchat or Pinterest ads.