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Q&A: Andy Cockburn, CEO and Co-Founder, Mention Me

Andy Cockburn is CEO and Co-Founder of Mention Me, the Referral Engineering™  platform for growth-obsessed ecommerce brands. Since co-founding the business with Tim Boughton in 2013,… View Article


Q&A: Andy Cockburn, CEO and Co-Founder, Mention Me

Andy Cockburn is CEO and Co-Founder of Mention Me, the Referral Engineering™  platform for growth-obsessed ecommerce brands. Since co-founding the business with Tim Boughton in 2013, he’s scaled it to employ more than 90 Referral Experts who have delivered more than 4 million referrals totalling £1bn in revenue for clients.

Prior to Mention Me, Andy was the UK Managing Director of HomeAway, the world’s largest market-place for holiday rentals (that floated on the NASDAQ for $3bn), and formerly the founder and CEO of Wigadoo, a technology start-up in the social payment space.

He has an MBA from INSEAD and MA from Cambridge University.

Can you tell us a bit about your background?

I’m a serial entrepreneur with a background of working in the travel industry. That might sound quite different to what I do now, but it was in my role as Managing Director of a holiday rental marketplace that I realised the potential of referral. I saw first-hand how powerful it could be, but also how difficult it was to run at scale. That led to me and my colleague at the time, Tim Boughton, co-founding Mention Me in 2013.

What does your company do? / What is your USP?

Mention Me is a Referral Engineering platform for growth-obsessed ecommerce brands. We equip ambitious businesses to fuel growth through incentivising, tracking and optimising the everyday recommendations consumers make about their brand. To date, we’ve delivered more than 4 million referrals totalling £1bn+ in revenue for our clients.

What’s special about the platform and your approach?

More and more brands are recognising the potential of referral marketing, but many are stuck with one-size-fits-all widgets that deliver limited results. In contrast, our platform makes referral a scientific, high-performance channel that amplifies performance across brands’ marketing activity.

Our approach (what we call Referral Engineering™) relies on data, human behavioural science, strategy, expertise and more. It equips brands to learn what makes their best customers tick; to constantly test, analyse and optimise performance; and to gather rich first-party data that enhances their other channels. By constantly evolving their referral programmes, these brands are acquiring high-quality customers who typically spend 11% more on their first order, deliver 10x ROI and are 5x more likely to refer onwards.

As well as driving notable results for marketers, our platform also enhances the customer experience. For example, our unique Name Share™feature lets customers refer friends simply by telling them to ‘enter my name at checkout’ for an exclusive reward. This removes the need to remember long codes or dig through emails and drives great results – 34% of referrals across our client base come through Name Share™.

What advantage does it add?

Consumers don’t trust ads the way they used to, so many marketers are frustrated by the diminishing returns they’re getting on channels like Facebook and Google. This is set only to worsen with ad blockers and the impending death of third-party cookies.

In the face of this challenging landscape, Mention Me equips retailers to harness customer enthusiasm for their brand and create an ever-expanding team of unpaid brand marketers. People love telling their friends about great brands, and their friends often listen to (and act on) their recommendations. By tapping into this highly trusted form of advertising, brands can acquire new, high-quality customers while nurturing existing ones, creating a powerful cycle of long-term growth.

How does a product/service implementation actually look like and how do you measure success?

Setting up Mention Me is straightforward – it requires minimal development work and our Onboarding team takes care of the heavy lifting. Typically, our clients are up and running within 30 days.

Once they’re set up, our Referral Experts work closely with our clients to make sure the programme feeds into achieving their specific business goals. That includes providing strategic guidance, hands-on campaign management, and continuously experimenting with what resonates most with their customers. We typically help brands uplift performance 4x in the first six months through strategic A/B testing by cohort.

How we measure success will depend on each specific client and their goals, but key metrics tend to be new customer acquisition, average order value and brand awareness.

How are retailers using your systems to gain competitive advantage and what does best practice look like? Can you share a case study with us? 

Mention Me equips retailers to get the word out about their brand and rapidly grow a base of high-quality customers. Flower delivery service Bloom & Wild is a great example of this. We started working together back in 2014, when its CEO Aron Gelbard recognised the potential of referral for its ambitious growth plans.

To understand how subscription customers behave differently to those making one-off purchases, we ran different tests for each, experimenting with elements of the referral journey including incentives, creative and sharing options. These tests resulted in optimising Bloom & Wild’s referral programme to become one of its primary acquisition channels, acquiring more than 30% of new customers during peak months. 7 years on, we’re still working closely together and I feel very proud to have been a part of Bloom & Wild’s remarkable growth journey.

Are there other companies you partner with? 

Yes – partnerships are absolutely crucial to Mention Me. Our platform integrates with many well-known marketing systems such as Ometria, Trustpilot and Klaviyo, and we work very closely with agencies such as Nest Performance and Vervaunt.

To give an example of the value this can drive, our client PrettyLittleThing integrated Emarsys with its referral campaigns to send automated email reminders of referral rewards, and subsequently acquired 9% more new customers through referral and increased average order value by 4%. Another example is our recent work with paid social agency Nest Performance. Through working together, we’ve discovered that referrer lookalike audiences on paid social are 53% more likely to convert into new customers than standard seed audiences.

We also recently graduated from the customer experience accelerator, which gave us access to SAP’s sales, technical and marketing resources, and means we’re now listed on its app store. We continue to work closely together to drive even more long-term value from the relationship.

What challenges and opportunities do you see in UK retail for 2021 / What challenges are retailers facing in 2022?

Retailers are facing a number of challenges and opportunities, but for me the underlying theme of them all is digitalisation. Multichannel retailers, including some of the nation’s most beloved brands, have relied on a physical presence for too long. The pandemic has widened the gap between them and their online competitors – now it’s a race to close that gap before it’s too late.

Retailers must plug into a modern and effective technology stack. The pandemic has permanently changed consumer behaviour; customers are no longer willing to shop with brands serving poor digital experiences. To make it through the next year and beyond, retailers must now prioritise seamless online customer experiences that nurture brand loyalty and engagement.

How will you address these challenges and turn them into successes?

For me, it’s all about trust. Consumers are savvy; they do their research and want to buy from brands they feel an affinity with. Customer-centric marketing is crucial to building this trust.

Marketers should look beyond their regular go-to channels and experiment with new ways of engaging with customers and target consumers. Take referral, for instance. This is about more than sticking a promo code on an email for customers who introduce friends. It’s about digging deep into what makes your best customers tick, testing everything from incentives to touchpoints and designs to better understand them. Once you start gathering these insights (or Referral Intelligence, as we call it at Mention Me), you can apply them across your marketing activity to optimise results throughout the customer lifecycle.

What is on the horizon for you as a company? 

It’s a really exciting time for Mention Me. We recently celebrated delivering £1bn in revenue to our clients, and now our gaze is set firmly on the future.

We’re on a mission to put referral at the heart of marketing, delivering a channel and data that no marketing team can do without. That’ll include milestones around developing our product, building on our partnerships, and driving even more value for our clients.

Any final thoughts

For retailers thinking about referral, it’s vital to think of it as a channel, rather than a simple add-on. Get it right, and you can open a powerful new revenue stream that amplifies your other marketing channels. As well as acquiring new, high-quality customers, it’ll reveal important insights such as who your customers are, what they value and the experiences that will keep them coming back for more.

To find out how Mention Me can help your retail operation, click here.

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