The Newcastle SaaS startup shaking up how we prove marketing impact

Jamie Hardesty, November 22, 2019 5 min read

Marketing has never been an exact science. For marketers, demonstrating return on investment to clients can be a tough gig.

While the rise of trackable, data-driven activity has made it easier to showcase value, multiple digital accounts and data formats have conjured their own time-consuming challenges.

Moreover, with offline marketing continuing to play an integral role in campaigns, today’s industry professionals are faced with not only justifying projects but also recording and presenting them as coherently as possible. One startup which may have the answer to repeated industry woes is Newcastle-based Marketing Engine.

Founded by creative professionals Aimee Muirhead and Kieron Goldsborough, Marketing Engine helps marketers and agencies build and monitor their marketing performance in one place.

With a strong belief that marketing decisions should be based on data and directly correlated with business objectives, the pair have created a platform which records all marketing activity as simply as possible.

In turn, clients can access project progress via a “visual, easy-to-analyse canvas allowing them to understand exactly what their marketing activity looks like in real-time and what effect it’s having,” explains Aimee.

Measuring success

Kieron and Aimee both come from the agency world, working at Narrative Communications – a full-service marketing agency which Kieron owns. Marketing Engine spun out of the business in April earlier this year, when the pair launched an MVP.

“Kieron and I have thirty years worth of combined industry experience between us. We’ve always found that clients, in looking for a return on investment, are yearning for a value for money figure. It’s hard to do that with current analytics tools, there’s nothing out there which can give a definitive answer,” says Aimee.

“Digital marketing is great and you can demonstrate some measure of success to clients via click-through rates and the like but TV and radio, plus other offline activity, are still vital ways to reach customers. But how do you know how successful they’ve been for you?

“Marketing Engine helps prove that a mix of channels works. Using our cloud-based marketing intelligence platform, a user can plot multiple data sources and marketing activities in one place. They can then analyse which activity is making the most impact on their business’ or clients’ bottom line.”

Concept to Development

Marketing Engine came to life as an initial 12-page, colour-coded spreadsheet designed to demonstrate the impact of a radio campaign for a client. Plotting the time each radio ad aired against direct visits to the client’s website, Aimee was able to determine and visibly prove a correlation between the marketing and online traffic leading to conversions.

“When we repeated this basic approach for a direct mail campaign, it worked very well in showing the results of our marketing actions. The only problem was printing off our spreadsheet and sellotaping it together didn’t look great,” explains Aimee.

Needing a quicker solution that looked good and could also be automated, Aimee and Kieron decided to build their own digital version of the idea. Working on initial design sprints with award-winning, Newcastle-based software house Nebula Labs, early mockups and user-testing soon brought the idea to life.

“This was something I’d never done before”, reveals Aimee. “We were learning something new every day, constantly refining and improving and adding bits that we knew would bring value to users.”

The Network Effect

While often grouped together, the needs of digital agencies and high potential tech startups are hugely different. The latter is defined by a series of challenges unique to creating and developing something new; from product development to customer growth, scaling a startup is no easy feat.

More often than not, and especially true with first-time tech founders, a resilient attitude coupled with a strong, supportive network is key to success. For Aimee, the North East tech community is worth its weight in gold.

“I love meeting others who have been there and done it. From creating and protecting value, to iterating and funding, there is so much you need to know. We couldn’t have done this without the network around us.

“We’ve met people who have created SaaS businesses and shared their stories of pre-revenue pitfalls, we’ve met great software developers and we’ve connected with experienced entrepreneurs who’ve given their time and advice for free; it’s amazing.”

Of course, as any entrepreneur will tell you, the startup game is high risk and certainly not easy. One thing Aimee recommends to anyone is a cofounder.

“In my career, I’ve always worked in close teams, but Marketing Engine is a bit more lonely, there’s both more responsibility on my shoulders and much higher risk. Having a business partner helps so much.

“Marketing Engine is a product of our joint skill set. My side lies in the scientific, ie the data and market research, while Kieron is creative and incredibly visual. He wants the graphs over the numbers but we absolutely do complement one another!”

Advice for early-stage entrepreneurs

Aimee is also a staunch advocate of ‘being brave’ in the industry. “Go and knock on doors. You have everything to lose and nothing to lose; no-one shut the door in our face! Maybe that’s something different about the North East, it’s open and people are up for the entrepreneurial journey.”

Similarly, she believes that if you have an idea that you believe in, it’s best to get it out there even if it isn’t perfect.

“Fail hard rather than avoid failing at all. Don’t wait until things are perfect, they may never be! Focus on what you need your platform to do, get something out there, take feedback, evolve and get something out there again!

Admittedly Aimee describes herself as having a “perfectionist approach to work by nature”, although she understands that good founders must be adaptable and, crucially, open to criticism, “especially when what’s being scrutinised is so special to you”.

Moving forward, Aimee is hugely excited at what the future may bring for Marketing Engine both in product development and the wider business vision.

“The platform and the canvases which users can take advantage of are simple, straightforward and intuitive. That will never change. We are constantly looking to improve though – we’re already incorporating AI and forecasting into our next version.

“The more people that use Marketing Engine, the more powerful it becomes. Big data will unlock market trends and that’s really important for us moving forward.

“We’d like to bring some more people on board, create jobs and ultimately create a team. We believe this can go a long way and we’d love to see it scale. But it’s actually really fun not knowing what will happen next. I can’t believe it – I’m an inventor!”

Community, North East