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Level Up Your Lean Startup Methodology with Traction Marketing

by Geoff Wilson

While lean startup methodology has room for improvement, there is no denying the overwhelmingly positive impact that it has left on the innovation community: it results in better products built quicker. Where lean startup methodologies most often fall short is in turning those great products into great businesses.

Although lean startup emphasizes a recurring, iterative feedback loop to enhance features, building a business around a new product requires a lot of assumptions about customers, pricing, market demand and more. And whether they’d like to admit or not, many founders and product managers have no way of quickly proving if their assumptions are true. So, many early stage companies are forced to make important decisions based on an incomplete understanding of their marketplace.

Enter traction marketing, a growth-centric approach to digital marketing that incorporates the lean startup reliance on rapid experimentation, agility and a willingness to fail. Where lean startup paves the way for products built to customer needs, traction marketing provides a strategy guaranteed to deliver the most impactful results, as quickly as possible.

What is Traction Marketing? 

Marketing is about driving results – traffic, sales, conversions. To accomplish these, Gabriel Weinberg, co-author of Traction, cites 19 “customer acquisition channels” that startups can use to “lead to explosive growth for your business.” From content marketing and affiliate programs to PR, community building and speaking events, Weinberg argues that any one of the 19 channels can propel a product from rags to riches.

The Challenge: You just have to find your most impactful channel — and pour on the gas.

Traction marketing — often used interchangeably with growth hacking or product marketing — helps companies launching a new product understand quickly if something is working or failing and how it can adjust to perform better.

When launching a new product, most product managers and business owners view traction as a point in time — you hit the top of the App Store, made your 5000th sale or secured a new funding round. In reality, these milestones are more likely the outcome of a few dozen decisions. That’s because traction is an iterative, ongoing process that requires different approaches to both traditional and digital marketing.

Ideally, true traction should mean that your 5000th customer continually buys from you again and again, or that your new round of funding creates sustainable growth. Where most marketing strategies focus on the top awareness and acquisition levels of your customer funnel, modern companies need to acquire and nurture customers at every level of the product and customer life cycles. Doing this effectively requires speed, flexibility and a willingness to experiment.

We can infer a number of traction success stories by looking at how some brands went from zero to hero. Mint and reddit, for example, grew by targeting blogs to attract users. Tinder’s unconventional PR team hit the ground to visit sororities and fraternities. Dropbox scaled by engineering growth mechanisms into the product — refer a friend, get extra storage. Wikipedia found its niche via community building. When you look at how many of today’s top tech brands generated momentum and growth, the more you see the fingerprints of traction marketing.

How can a startup find traction? 

Finding traction through product marketing requires broad and deep marketing expertise, a willingness to experiment and a lean startup mentality. Here are a few tips to begin:

  • Rank channels in three tiers: The Possible, the Probable and the Effective, to measure and meet goals
  • Create lightweight experiments to test tactics across your effective tiered goals
  • Based on the data, invest time, money and resources on an iterative strategy that conveys knowledge instead of deliverables
  • With an agile mindset, lay the groundwork by incorporating building block tactics such as SEO, conversion-rate optimization and data analytics
  • Use insights and information from your groundwork to identify customer acquisition costs, lifetime value of a customer and key channels for acquisition or retention
  • Test, at a minimum, 3-5 acquisition channels to find the one that works best for you

No matter the size of your business, there’s an inherent uncertainty about tomorrow. A nimbler competitor may siphon customers away or you could lose touch with existing clients. While established companies can ride the predictable wave that traditional marketing campaigns may deliver, there’s no guarantee that their strategies are actually effective. For an early stage company with a brand new product, a 6-month marketing experiment can be the difference between survival and failure.

Traction marketing gives businesses the flexibility and speed to test new tactics and determine which channels will deliver impactful results. For those that embrace a traction marketing mindset, there’s no telling how far or how fast your company can grow.

Image and inline image via 352 Inc.

Geoff Wilson is the President and founder, 352 Inc., an Atlanta-based digital product development and marketing agency with offices in Tampa and Gainesville, FL.

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