A screen capture of the homepage of Sabio Coding Bootcamp

From Google Ads to Reddit: How We Tested 7 Different Acquisition Channels to Get Better Applicants for Sabio

A screen capture of the homepage of Sabio Coding Bootcamp

If you’re a founder, you face two major obstacles: 

  1. Finding traction: proving that there’s a sustainable hunger for your product or service.
  2. Scaling: taking your proven concept and bringing it to the masses.  

Together, these two obstacles are an impressive challenge. One we’ve built our business to help founders overcome. Over the past few years we’ve worked with all kinds of different businesses across a range of industries to help them figure this out. 

In this post, we share our experimentation process and the original channels we chose to help an early-stage company acquire new users online. 

The scenario: 

Liliana, CEO of Sabio, approached Tuff in November 2020 with one goal: 

“Can you help us acquire new students for our online coding bootcamp?” 

Sabio has strong product market fit, growing revenue, consistent enrollments, and regularly gets feedback from graduates to refine their course curriculum. For a company at this stage, we knew our biggest opportunity was to test a variety of different channels to see which would bring us the best students (high quality leads) at the most efficient cost. 

 

The entire Tuff Team is amazing, which is no surprise because their leadership is exceptional. Ellen has put together one of the most amazing firms out there, and we are so happy to be working with TUFF.“  – Liliana Monge, CEO, Sabio (Read all Reviews on Google)

 

How to Find the Best Acquisition Channels for Your Business

Acquisition channels are diverse and plenty. With so many options, how can you create a channel strategy that will really accomplish your goals?

The first thing you need to do is focus on your users, not your channels. Who are you trying to get in front of and who is your target audience? Once you have this down on paper, channel selection becomes significantly easier. 

In general, there are two types of targeting options — behavioral based and intent based. When it comes to behavioral targeting, think channels like Facebook and Instagram or TikTok. For these channels, you can get very specific with who you are targeting based on things like age, income, job titles, and interests. Clicks can be cheap and reach can be wide. 

On the flip side, you also have intent based targeting. This could be a channel like Bing, Google, or YouTube. Intent based targeting means you can target based on search terms or people who express some intent to purchase or learn more about a service you might offer. Clicks can be expensive and conversion rates can be extremely high. 

A screen capture of a Sabio alumni testimonial

Our target audience: Post-graduate students between the ages of 21-27 who are looking for a career change. 

Using the above, we looked at 30 different channels and ultimately decided on the below because we knew we’d be able to get in front of this group on each. We also had enough video creative to explore both YouTube and TikTok. 

  • Google 
  • Bing
  • Reddit 
  • Quora 
  • YouTube 
  • Facebook & Instagram
  • TikTok 

Budget and Goals 

We had two options on this account: 

  • Test all seven channels at once 
  • Test one channel at a time 

We decided to test all channels at once for three reasons: 

  1. We have a stacked team of experts. Among our full team of growth marketers we divided the work and put our best strategy and execution into each channel. A smaller team would run into trouble investing enough time and resources into all six channels without dividing resources and diluting focus.
  2. We had a healthy budget. Not every company can afford to actively use more than a handful of channels and, even so, it’s tough to figure out which ones are delivering the right customers. Because we had more than $25,000 a month to allocate to our paid efforts, we decided to test each channel, eliminate under performers, and scale up winners as we learned. 
  3. We had an existing library of strong creative assets. For some intent-based channels like Bing or Google where ads are text-based, you don’t need a big inventory of graphics and videos. But for channels like YouTube, TikTok, and Facebook, you definitely want a library of creative assets to test and optimize. For Sabio, we had at least 15 different videos to support our efforts and knew we were unlikely to see creative fatigue right away. 

TikTok 

TikTok is new and growing fast. Because Sabio had such strong video creative and an active organic audience on TikTok already, we carved out $4,000/month for this channel for initial testing. Here were the initial videos we tested: 

Video 1  |  Video 2   |  Video 3  |  Video 4  |  Video 5

TikTok brought us the most student applications for the lowest CPA. The volume was high but the quality of applicants was average. 

As we continued to optimize on TikTok, three things became extremely important: 

Dayparting 

When we first launched ads on TikTok, all of our daily budget was being spent before 2 p.m. Our hunch was that our audience was most active on TikTok in the evenings, and we were missing valuable impressions. 

We scheduled our ads to be served from 12 p.m. to 12 a.m., and our CPA dropped 34% because of this simple switch. 

Approvals

TikTok’s ad policies are strict, and getting ads approved was definitely a challenge for Sabio, a brand that really exists to help people advance their careers. Sabio’s strongest value props are around potential salary, their tuition program, and job opportunities post-bootcamp. We had to be really strategic with our copy and video to get around some of TikTok’s ad policies. 

Additionally, there are also strict guidelines for the landing page your TikTok ad drives to. Be sure to to study TikTok’s ad policies before launching campaigns to avoid potential disapprovals. 

Pre-Paid  

TikTok requires that advertisers pre pay a balance on their account, instead of retroactively billing the advertiser like other social channels. We quickly learned that it’s important to stay on top of the ad account balance making sure there were plenty of pre-paid funds. 

Every time your account runs out of balance, your campaigns reset and results tend to dip for a day or two as the algorithm re-optimizes. To maintain consistent results, we recommend adding the entire monthly budget to your account at a time instead of small increments.

Twitter 

A screen capture of a Twitter ad "what is the difference between HTML and CSS?"

While only about 5% of all Tuff clients explore Twitter as a paid acquisition channel, because of the handle and hashtag targeting capabilities, we knew we needed to test this out and see if we could find potential developers and engineers. Here’s what this setup looked like: 

  • Optimized the campaigns for traffic 
  • Daily Budget: $95
  • Audiences: 
    • Career Switch
    • Women in STEM
    • Coding Interests
    • Gaming Interests
  • CPC: $1.51 

We tested several ad creatives on Twitter to see what would perform the best and we found that video ads had a 58% lower CPC but yielded lower quality site traffic compared to images and graphics. We optimized our campaigns so that the majority of our Twitter spend went to the top performing image ads. 

While we had a few applicants come in during the first four weeks, we ultimately decided to kill this channel after six weeks of testing. The CPA was high, bounce rate high, and time on site was extremely low. We ditched it and reallocated the funds to Google and Bing.

Google Ads 

a screen capture of a Google Search Ad "Pay $0 until you get a job"

For almost any business that gets searched online, Google Ads is a no brainer. For this channel, Sabio was already running campaigns and our big focus as a team was to get into the account and clean it up so that we could more efficiently drive scale. Almost immediately, we were able to find some quick wins. 

We quickly noticed that over 75% of the conversions from Google Search campaigns in the previous three months had come from branded terms. Although branded search is a critical component to most brand’s search campaign structure, we knew that we needed to expand into non-branded campaigns to increase the volume of applications for Sabio. 

Our initial keyword research also uncovered significant opportunities to add highly-targeted, long tail keywords into our campaigns. With high volume projected on these long tail keywords, we were able to stick primarily to exact-match targeting while also removing previous non-branded broad match keywords that were wasting a significant portion of the search campaign budget. 

Over time, our keyword list has shrunk as we have gathered data, reviewed the search terms reports, and honed in on the exact terms we need to focus on as exact-match keywords.

A table showcasing cost, clicks, CPC, and more data for Sabio Google Ads performance

Overall, our strategy on Google has been simple but effective:

  • Avoid wasteful broad-match terms and general search queries by targeting long tail keywords
  • Break out campaigns by location-focused KWs vs. remote to match the structure of the search and the website 
  • Create and break out a branded search campaign to capture all Sabio searches optimized for impression share

Within three months, we’ve been able to decrease the CPA by 36% while almost doubling the total amount of leads just by finding ways to eliminate waste. 

Bing Ads 

We think about Bing ads in a very similar way to Google. The intent is high and the searchers are already looking for a solution similar to Sabio. 

The interesting thing about Bing is that it can be cheaper and less crowded. If we can get results on Google, we can almost guarantee that we’ll see the same results on Bing

For Sabio, not the case. Bing was expensive and low scale. We tested for three months and ended up reallocating the spend elsewhere for Q2 based on initial learnings. In comparison, here’s what the costs looked like across both channels for the final two months of testing: 

A chart showcasing how Google Ads was a stronger performer than Bing for Sabio

Although CPCs were slightly cheaper on Bing for the same keywords, the traffic quality was not nearly as strong as Google, resulting in Cost Per Application over 2x that of Google Search, and a conversion rate less than half.

With these results and sufficient testing spend already having been allocated to Bing, moving future funds over to other channels with lower conversion costs made sense. 

Reddit 

A screen capture of a Reddit ad "Score a $100k job, then pay tuition"

Reddit is a smart strategy for very select, specific, and niche companies. It’s not a channel for everyone. 

While we ended up killing Reddit after two months, we wanted to try this channel because we knew we could get ads (for a very low cost) in front of a specific audience and relevant subreddits. 

Our big focus on Reddit was to get our campaign structure right. To do this, we started by split testing two different objectives: Traffic and Brand Awareness/Reach. 

Like other social platforms, we wanted to test both campaign objectives to analyze how the metrics would truly shake out. For example, would the Traffic objective yield more clicks and lower CPCs as it is intended to? Or would our testing show that Brand Awareness was actually a better option for getting traffic from Reddit?

Interestingly, in our final month of testing, the Brand Awareness objective campaign outperformed the Traffic objective campaign in both of these top level metrics, yielding lower CPCs at about half the cost of the Traffic objective campaign, as well as a higher CTR. Without testing, we could very easily have assumed that the Traffic objective campaign would have been more effective at driving traffic, although the results tell a different story in this case.

A chart showcasing Reddit performance for Sabio

We also decided to target four different subreddits: r/earnprogramming, r/coding, r/codinghelp, r/codingbootcamp. Over time we dropped the low performers and added in new subreddits for testing. 

We also got specific with our creative. We didn’t want the ads to stand out on Reddit. We were constantly rotating in new creative ways depending on success from other channels. 

Ultimately, we killed the channel due to low performance but here’s a look at the data to get an idea on how this might compare to a more traditional channel like Facebook or Google: 

  • Spend: $1,707
  • Traffic: 1,839
  • CPC: $0.82
  • Applications: 10 
  • CPA: $170
  • CVR: 0.54% 

Facebook & Instagram

A screen capture of a Facebook ad for Sabio "Hesitant to invest in your future?" A screen capture of an Instagram ad for Sabio "Your six-figure career in tech begins now"

While we originally thought Facebook and Instagram ads would be an incredible channel for retargeting, it proved successful for both prospecting and retargeting, bringing us some our lowest CPAs. 

Similar to other channels, our success was dependent on our optimization strategy. When we took over the account, the majority of the campaigns were being optimized for traffic. Within the first week, after configuring conversion goals and events within Facebook, we started testing out campaigns optimized for conversions. For Sabio, this meant a user clicking on an ad and filling out a form on the website. The results were drastic. Not only did the conversion-optimized campaigns drive more leads but the traffic was significantly higher quality when we analyzed the performance of each ad creative in Google Analytics. 

Here’s how this works: 

Your optimization strategy plays a significant role in performance on Facebook and Instagram. Audiences on the channel are typically millions of users in size, and it’s the algorithm’s job to prioritize who out of that audience will see your ad. By choosing certain optimizations (like conversions for example), you’re essentially telling the algorithm to go out and find users most likely to take that action (like filling out a Sabio application).

But in order for that to work properly, the conversion event has to have enough data to help the algorithm prioritize users in your audience. For some brands, there just isn’t enough conversion data available on their Facebook pixel to optimize for lower funnel events, and it’s better to optimize for traffic instead. 

Facebook—along with TikTok—is now fueling two areas of our marketing funnel for Sabio. We’ve allocated spend to prospecting audiences on both channels to drive new traffic to the website as well as spend around 30% of the budget on retargeting campaigns to drive traffic back to the site to convert. These social channels sandwich our PPC campaigns on Google, YouTube, and Bing. 

YouTube Ads

A YouTube Ad for Sabio on mobile A YouTube ad for Sabio: "Learn to code."

Last but not least, YouTube ads. This is one of the fastest growing channels and a personal favorite at Tuff. 

For context, a few years ago (2019ish) maybe 10% of our clients were advertising on YouTube. Fast forward to today, almost every client we work with is actively running YouTube campaigns or has tested out the channel. 

YouTube is great for so many reasons but in particular it can supercharge results for brands that have solid video assets because of the targeting capabilities. YouTube is like a hybrid of Google Ads (intent-based targeting) and Facebook Ads (behavioral-based targeting). You can get extremely specific with who you serve your ads to based on their actual search history and you can also leverage high-converting visual creative assets to reach them. It’s the best of both worlds. 

For YouTube, we tested Video Action Campaigns and YouTube In-Stream Prospecting – the In-Stream tanked and we killed it quick. The Video Action campaigns were, and have continued to be, super effective. 

We tested multiple videos and quickly isolated top performers in order to lower cost and drive up quality. Here’s an example of a two-week creative test in which we sought to understand which video would resonate the most (and drive conversions): 

A chart showcasing how different video creative assets drive very different results on YouTube

After isolating creative and campaign type, we then shifted our focus to additional targeting optimizations. Within a few weeks, we were able to test targeting placements and channel placements, discovering that for this unique account, topics are significantly more effective than channels. Here’s a peek: 

  • Topics = $46.24 CPA
  • Channels = $281 CPA

After this, we layered on retargeting and have continue to optimize the follow areas to improve performance: 

  • Campaign Type 
  • Audience Targeting 
  • Creative 

What’s next? Strategy for Q2 

We started our partnership with Sabio at the end of 2020 and we’re actively building on our strategy for Q2. Our mission stays the same: Can we drive more applications on the Sabio website at an efficient cost? 

Based on our learnings from the last three months, here our some of the initial optimizations we plan to apply to our next round of campaigns as a team: 

  • Allocate at least 50-60% to the intent-based channels (they’re higher cost but higher quality)
  • Kill Reddit, Bing, and Twitter. Move forward with TikTok, Google Ads, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube
  • Continue to work on attribution so we can get an even better understanding of quality (vs quantity) 
  • Test two new channels: LinkedIn and Snapchat (stay tuned!) 

As we’ve outlined above, the first step is defining the user acquisition channels that will or have the biggest impact on growth, and working tirelessly to test and validate the combination that will have the biggest impact on your business. It can seem overwhelming at the start, but testing and optimization should become part of your growth DNA. What might seem like a steep learning curve will turn into a path with long-term payoff when you get it right.

 

Elle Ossello

Tuff Growth Marketer, Elle, on Finding a Balance of Creative and Analytical

Elle Ossello

 

Meet Elle, a Growth Marketer at Tuff. Elle partners with Tuff clients to build measurable, data-driven, bottomline growth. She is also an incredibly talented wordsmith, teaching us new words on the reg.

Below she shares about her journey to growth marketing rooted in creative, her connection to bikes, and the cookbook she’s currently dreaming about writing.

Can you tell me a bit about your 3-5 years before Tuff? What were you working on? 

All of the five preceding years before Tuff, I was working as a Copywriter and then Creative Director at a creative-first advertising agency. So, with all the projects that came in the door, we applied our creative lens first and then we were thinking about how to activate that creative. 

All of my coworkers were really great creatives and really big thinkers. And, we would often defer to outside experts to bring our strategies down to earth. So, with Tuff, that was a muscle that I was looking to flex more.

Why did you decide to join Tuff? What was it that made you say ‘yes’?

I was fortunate to have a peek behind the curtain. When I was working at my old agency we had the opportunity to freelance, which is something that is needed in the creative world. I was able to take on clients and run my own small business after hours. And, I was approached by Tuff to help out with paid ad copy. 

I was really impressed by how Tuff is organized, efficient, and has a very clear vision for what creative is going to do. When I saw that there was a job opening for Growth Marketer at Tuff, I knew there were some skills that would need tuning in my toolkit. But Ellen was very encouraging and helped me understand that the creative foundation that I would bring was something that Tuff could use. 

So, the main reason I came on to Tuff was Ellen’s support helping me visualize a path towards being successful in this role. And then the resources that I was granted to kick this skill building off at lightspeed. I clearly saw this path to building a skill set that is valuable in the market and can really help small businesses.

What have you been working on since you joined Tuff? 

Right now I am working with two clients; kind of two and a half as I co-pilot a client with Ellen that will eventually transition into a full-time client of mine. 

One of the clients I’m working with is Joyn. They’re an amazing company with a great vision that’s providing a subscription for a more inclusive way to get a workout in. We’re seeing some neat growth for them which is cool because they’re doing a lot internally to grow as well. 

I’m also working with Offline. They’re also a subscription-based service in Raleigh. On the 1st of every month, Offline sends an email to their subscribers to introduce them to 1-2 local restaurants along with a discount to go check them out. It’s been great helping them to better understand the user journey on their website.

What are you fired up about at work right now? 

Content Marketing and Organic Growth is where a lot of my eagerness to dive deeper is stemming from right now. We’re having this conversation the day after our new Content Marketing Manager has signed his offer letter so I’m really looking forward to working with him on these areas. And, helping our clients understand how their audience finds their websites and how to provide a smart answer at the right time, in the right place. 

Elle Ossello

What advice would you give to a founder who is also diving into learning more about growth marketing?

Often when somebody is first starting their business they obsess about logo and visual branding because they are so tangible. It is a concrete way to show up in the world. But, I’m putting together a presentation right now for a client to first answer the questions: what are you creating and who wants it? How can you bring those people to your business? 

Brand and creative only goes so far because you’re kind of throwing it into the world and hoping people are going to find it and connect. Growth marketing is a different exercise in showing up where people already exist. You’re not asking them to move towards your brand but giving them something while they’re in a space to receive it. 

In general, for founders, I think growth marketing can feel like something that just comes later when there is a budget for it. But it can teach you so much about where people are in the world right now and when they’re in need of what you have to offer. 

What do you like doing outside of work? 

I love bikes. Bikes are a vehicle for not only being out in the world and moving through it in a way that’s just so gratifying but there’s a connection component. I love pedaling with friends and letting the topics flow. I use bikes as a way to connect to myself in the world and my people. I’m lucky to live in a town that has back trails snaking through it. 

I also love gardening and home projects, you know, essential 30-year old things. I like learning how to use new tools and how to have a vision for a space and bring it to life. Stretching my brain in ways that are really tactile is gratifying as a person who sits in front of a computer. Cooking also scratches that itch for me. I love experimenting with recipes and have been compiling the beginnings of a cookbook aimed at helping people create beautiful dishes using what they grow themselves – that’s a bucket list item for me. 

And, of course, my dogs and husband are my favorite parts of life outside of work!

What is something about you that typically surprises people? 

My impression of myself is that I’m a super open book. I love to walk through my thinking so there is rarely a scenario where somebody asks me ‘well, how did you come to that conclusion?’ and I would be protective of that answer. I am always eagerly willing to share it.

What advice would you give to someone who is looking to make that transition from a more creative marketing to a more analytical role?

Something I could have done better in my time spent working in the creative world is really thinking about and empathizing with the immediate problems and motivations of a founder. A brand voice is a really nice thing to have and I’ve seen clients glow and get goosebumps when you get it right. It’s amazing. 

However, I think there’s a wrinkle between giving people great creative, and then understanding how to use it to grow their business. Turning that brand voice into value propositions, which can be picked off the paper and put onto a landing page, is something that’s really helpful. So, practice thinking about the immediate problems that founders are trying to solve and deliver creative in a way that can be put to work with minimal legwork.

Tuff’s Social Ads Strategist, Kristin, on A/B Testing Ads and Smoked Chicken Recipes

Meet Kristin, a Social Ads Strategist at Tuff. Kristin partners with Tuff clients and social media platforms to build measurable, data-driven, bottom line growth.  

Below she shares about her love for numbers, her first-place grade school science fair projects, and advice for people getting started with running ads on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and more. 

 

Can you tell me a bit about your 3-5 years before Tuff? What were you working on? 

My whole career has been at different advertising agencies. 

I started out at a small agency where I dove in as the first full-time hire. I loved it. That’s where I got my start in organic social media, making content calendars, scheduling posts and all that fun stuff. I learned SO much. We worked with a handful of really large clients who were spending upwards of  $85K a month on Facebook ads, so I was able to learn a ton really quickly through that experience. 

Much of my agency experience had revolved around organic social media marketing and creating content with consumption on social media in mind. But I found myself looking for freelance work and opportunities to help other teams run paid social ads. I’m a numbers and spreadsheets sort of gal, so this focus on content creation early on in my career really pushed me out of my comfort zone.

I learned so much about creating content, but ultimately I wanted to get back into a role focused on paid acquisition – like what I’m now doing at Tuff! I love working in a startup environment on a smaller team where you get to wear a ton of hats, learn daily from your peers, and do what it takes to get a project done. 

Why did you decide to join Tuff? What was it that made you say ‘yes’?

Many years down the road (if I could ever get the guts to do it!), I would love to own my own business. That’s a big dream of mine, so mentorship was a big factor when I decided to join Tuff. When I met Ellen in my first interview, I knew I’d be able to learn so much from her on how she’s grown her business.

I also want to grow my skill set in other digital marketing areas. I have a strong background in social, but I was hoping to find an opportunity to work closely alongside other marketing disciplines. At Tuff, I get to work closely with other channel specialists like Chris and Derek to learn more about what they are so great at. I’ve already picked up so many little nuggets, just from being in meetings with them. 

Kristin working on her computer.

 

What have you been working on since you joined Tuff? 

I have been building a LOT of Facebook ads! I currently work with nine clients, so onboarding included learning about their businesses, learning the processes at Tuff, and then implementing social ad campaigns to help achieve their goals. 

Another big project that I tackled was building out a paid social training course! It’s about five hours long, and will help us teach future and current employees how we run social ads here at Tuff. 

What is it about paid social that gets you fired up? 

I really like A/B testing. 

I always have. When I was in elementary school, I would go all out for science fair projects. (I’m a little competitive… and by a little, I mean A LOT.)  For one science fair project, I made everyone I knew take a test to see which side of their body – right or left – was dominate. It was like 25 different exercises, and I meticulously recorded all of the data in a little notebook. I took home the blue first place ribbon that year. 

I like to treat paid social campaigns kinda like my elementary school science fair project (but without all the exercises). You can tell quickly what’s working and what’s not. I find testing audiences and creative to be super interesting – especially when what I assume won’t work is among the top performers. 

What has your experience been like working for a fully remote team?

I love it. I feel more in control of my workday when I work from home, and I love not having to commute to an office. My legging collection has increased tenfold, but who needs real pants anyways? 

What do you like doing outside of work? 

Kristin with Liam.

In the summers, we spend a ton of time at the lake on our boat! I have a one-year-old son, Liam, who keeps me busy. When I’m not chasing him, I’m usually throwing a frisbee to our two dogs. 

I also love to cook, bake, and entertain! With COVID and quarantining, we really haven’t gotten to entertain as much this year, but I’ve had a lot of time to try new recipes. One of our pandemic purchases has been an electric smoker, and I can make some mean smoked chicken wings. 

What is something about you that typically surprises people? 

I poke fun at people (lovingly) and pranks are my thing. I grew up in Tennessee and that’s just part of how my family has always expressed ourselves. That’s been one of the more interesting parts of working remotely – learning how to implement my communication style via Slack and through Zoom calls without a ton of body language. GIFs are emojis help me out though! 

What is your best advice for people looking to get into social ads? 

Read, read, read as much as you can! Social ads are constantly changing – from creative best practices and trends to tiny nuances in Facebook Ads Manager. A few of my favorite social ads gurus are John Loomer and Neil Patel – they’re both transparent with their data and constantly post content about the latest updates. 

When you work in social media, it’s easy to be glued to your phone. I know I constantly feel the need to keep up with all the latest trends. Recently, I read a stat that on average, Americans have 8 social networking apps downloaded on their phone and spend upwards of 3 hours a day on them. WHAT.

You have to find a happy medium so you stay up to date without burning out or missing time with your friends and family. I like to devote time each week for researching trends, and I have screen time limits set up on my phone. 

Tuff’s PPC Analyst, Joe, On Settling Into Tuff and Finding Ownership

Joe Nguyen

Meet Joe Nguyen, a PPC analyst at Tuff. Joe partners with Tuff’s clients to identify, test, and scale profitable paid channels. 

Below, he shares what it has been like settling into a new role during a pandemic, the flexibility remote work has provided,  and what advice he’d give to someone new to working in PPC.

 

It’s been about 6 weeks since you joined Tuff. How has it gone getting settled?

Everyone has been super helpful. I’ve mostly been learning more about managing accounts and Google Ads. I came from an agency where I was a sales manager. So I audited accounts, but I wasn’t deeply in the day-to-day managing and creating campaigns for clients. So it’s been super helpful working with Chris and using him as a backboard for everything.

I’ve learned a lot in the last six weeks, jamming in a lot of information and getting into a rhythm. I’ve been getting to know my team members, how each one communicates and works together, and how each Growth Marketer manages their clients and work. It’s been a learning process to see how everyone operates. Overall, getting settled has been really positive!

What have you been working on since you joined Tuff? 

My first few weeks I was shadowing PPC accounts that Chris was working on. And, now we’re being thoughtful about how we transition some of those clients over to me. We also have had two new clients join since I started and I’m taking those on without Chris. I have six clients that should be a hundred percent me by the next month.

What were you working on before? What led you to Tuff? 

I was at an agency before Tuff and it was a pretty large one. We did pretty much everything – Google Ads management, Facebook, email marketing, the whole spread. So it wasn’t a crazy transition by any means but the scale is different – there is more of a startup mentality at Tuff.  At my old agency, there was a department for pretty much everything. If something was wrong with a data feed, there was an analytics department and a coding department. With Tuff, you are the department! 

This has been really good and I’ve been learning like crazy over the last six weeks. There’s a level of ownership with Tuff where you can just make stuff happen. I’m learning more on the technical side but I also am getting to spend more time with clients. Something that is cool about Tuff is how well we get to know our clients and stick with them. 

I also recently had a baby, Margo. She was born 10 weeks early so I’ve been spending a lot of time at the hospital. I needed to be here for my wife and Tuff’s fully remote team structure has made that possible for me. I also transitioned from more of a reactive sales role where to heads down PPC work. 

Why did you decide to join Tuff? What was it that made you say ‘yes’?

Coming from a bigger company you start to kind of feel like a cog in an entire machine, you know? Something I thought was cool about Tuff in the interview process is I asked Ellen if she planned on scaling Tuff or how big she could see Tuff being. And, while she said there is always room to change and grow, she talked a lot about our client base and making sure our growth is intentional and that each new client makes sense for Tuff. No growth just for the sake of growth but intentional, not just taking on anybody who is gonna pay. 

This gives me a feeling that if we only work with a select number of qualified clients, and each person only manages a couple of clients, we can actually cater to each client. We can be more invested because we’re not being asked to churn out as much work as we possibly can and check boxes quickly. There’s a higher quality of contribution here that has me feeling more invested.  

What is it about digital marketing that gets you fired up? 

I think it’s crazy, in general, to think that you can just pop up your store or your website right in front of someone at the moment they’re looking for what you offer. If you have a business or a product that you really think can help somebody in an exceptional way, PPC is an awesome tool for getting it to them. So to be able to work with clients to leverage these tools is a cool thing.

There are a lot of aspects of PPC where you can get lost in the sauce, hours can go by really quickly when I’m working on an account. One cool thing about Google Ads is the awareness. You can see the search volume that’s already there, so it just becomes a matter of getting your product or service in front of that search volume. 

Okay – enough work stuff. Tell me about yourself outside of the context of Tuff. What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

Honestly I was already kind of like a homebody pre-COVID so my lifestyle hasn’t changed too much. I’m spending a lot of time at the hospital with my wife and baby. And, I feel really lucky that I’m able to do that right now. I have the flexibility of working remotely and safely while service providers don’t. I feel pretty blessed, you know, and always try to be grateful because  there’s a lot of people that aren’t working right now. 

In slightly more normal times, I love watching movies, going to the gym, spending time with my family. 

What is something about you that typically surprises people? 

I don’t really have a lot of things to humble brag about, I don’t have anything like a sweet coin collection. In my early twenties I traveled a lot for work. My cousin and I had a business flipping iphones. We would buy them here in the U.S. and then travel to countries where it was tough to get an iphone at the time. 

What is your best advice for people looking to learn more about PPC?

There’s a lot of content out there from places like Google Ads Academy and, of course, YouTube. I’ve learned a lot from watching videos of other people showing their accounts. 

But, having Chris to work with has been hugely helpful. If you’re able to find someone you can shadow, I would recommend that. It’s helpful to see someone’s mindset as they work through accounts. Or, even if you can grab a cup of coffee with someone in the field to share the good, the bad, and the ugly.

DSW banner

DSW: How to Run Marketing Experiments Quickly and Find Big Wins

Presentation at Denver Startup week.

With Tuff, I’ve been fortunate to work with a range of companies in completely different stages of their marketing maturity. 

Even with the diversity in stage and industry, one step is always the same: creating a clear growth marketing strategy.

A growth marketing strategy is a high-level list of what tactics we’re going to test first, based on what is most likely to succeed. It’s a document that keeps you focused and working day-to-day on the things that have the highest impact on your business. 

For Denver Startup Week, I shared the process we’ve shaped, iterated, and battle-tested over the last few years with 50 different companies. This process helps small businesses and startups prioritize high-impact growth campaigns to quickly drive R.O.I. and key learnings, then invest in additional campaigns to scale up what works. 

Whether you tuned in for the live session, watched the recording, or stumbled across this blog post, here are all the documents I discussed in the presentation: 

DSW Slides & Presentation Deck 

tuff growth marketing presentation

 

Tuff’s Growth Marketing Process Spreadsheet 

tuff growth marketing spreadsheet

 

Acquisition Channel Cheat Sheet 

channel acquisition spreadsheet

 

While you’re here, I’d also recommend checking out the rest of the Tuff blog, giving us a shout on Twitter, or subscribing to our Tuff YouTube channel

We’re also actively hiring at Tuff. Check out our open positions here – if you or anyone you know would be a good fit, let us know!

Have questions from the presentation? Shoot me a note on LinkedIn or drop an email to ellen@tuffgrowth.com.

 

Man typing on his computer.

15 LinkedIn Advertising Stats to Get You Started Today

Man typing on his computer.

Whether it’s Twitter, Youtube, Snapchat, or Facebook, each major social media outlet has its own audience, targeting, ad formats, and process.  

As a business owner or marketer, one of the most important choices you can make is identifying the right channel and tactic for your audience. Exposure in the world of paid acquisition does not come cheap, and you must make sure that your advertising reaches the right audience. For businesses that wish to target business professionals or promote B2B content, LinkedIn advertising stands as a preeminent choice. 

Why LinkedIn Advertising?

The venerable LinkedIn launched at the end of 2002, more than a year before Facebook. Since then, it has grown tremendously to become one of the leading social media platforms in the world. It has also carved out a unique niche for itself. While sites like Facebook and Twitter cater to any use whatsoever, LinkedIn remains dedicated to a professional network. As a result, it has a clearly defined user base that relies upon the site for important things like job searches and professional development. 

Despite these qualities, LinkedIn’s advertising opportunities often get overlooked. This can represent an egregious oversight on the part of a marketer, as LinkedIn advertising can prove massively successful for the right type of business. Its large membership aside, LinkedIn offers several benefits that clearly distinguish it from other channels.

Let’s take a look! 

The Benefits of Advertising on LinkedIn

Many people use social media almost exclusively to share their personal information. Whether it’s vacation photos, or your personal opinions on the future of democracy, sites like Facebook offer a forum where users broadcast a steady stream of personal data. LinkedIn offers a singular advantage in this regard. Though users on other platforms share insights into their personalities, daily lives, beliefs, habits, and preferences, they rarely reveal their work history or place of employment. In fact, many people actively keep their career and social media presence squarely separate.

With LinkedIn Ads, your company gets access to accurate data about a sizable professional audience. Among other things, LinkedIn shares info about location, work position, prior work experience, professional skills, and education. This sort of information is a goldmine for savvy marketers, as it allows them to identify specific demographics for the effective placement of ads and content. When you launch a LinkedIn advertising campaign, you can choose among targeting options that include:

  • Location
  • Job Title
  • Company Name
  • Industry
  • Degree
  • Professional Interests
  • And more

LinkedIn also allows for variability in content. LinkedIn’s ad options allow you to choose between the best type of media to engage your audience, whether it’s text, video, or images. LinkedIn advertising also offers a variety of formats, including email and carousel ads.

For proof of LinkedIn’s success as a marketing forum, you need simply look at the statistics. These 15 LinkedIn advertising stats not only showcase the potential of this social media mainstay, but also whether it represents the right choice for your investment.

Vast Exposure

LinkedIn’s membership is massive. The social networking giant has over 660 million users, about half of which access the site regularly. Of that number, 40 percent use LinkedIn on a daily basis. Many users visit the site multiple times a day for content, messaging, networking, job searches, profile management, and other purposes. In addition to its individual users, LinkedIn also has membership from 30 million companies. The vast size of this network means that ads on LinkedIn can reach a staggering 12 percent of the world’s entire population.

The Promise of Growth

Since 2003, LinkedIn has grown at an astronomical pace. The site started off well, and amassed 1.6 million members shortly after its launch. In 2011, when LinkedIn had 160 million members, it went public. This lured a massive influx of new sign-ups, and the LinkedIn user base nearly tripled. As for continued growth, consider this: for every second that you spend reading this sentence, LinkedIn has acquired more than two new members. That works out to nearly 173,000 new users each and every day, and 62 million additions every year. 

A Professional Audience

Of this user base, the 303 million who use LinkedIn regularly are active and engaged professionals. When you consider that a major purpose of LinkedIn is to connect business professionals for career development, it’s not surprising that the site’s users tend to be mature, accomplished adults. 

Danielle Hollembaek is a marketing professional for Minute Suites, which offers air travelers private retreats in terminals around the country. She has used LinkedIn Ads to great success in the growth of her business.

“We have really focused on growing our LinkedIn audience. Through the use of LinkedIn advertising, we expanded our reach almost 1,000 followers in less than 6 months,” says Hollembaek. “Frequent flyers, business travelers, and business professionals were our main targets. With an investment of $1,000, we saw almost 223,000 impressions and 950 clicks to our website.”

The Cream of the Crop

If you break down LinkedIn’s membership, you’ll see that most users are over the age of 35. The most common age falls between 46 and 55, a range that should capture the focus of almost any advertiser. This is the age when many people attain the pinnacle of their professional achievement. If you analyze the income of U.S. adults organized into 5-year age groups, people between 50 and 54 make more money than anyone else. What’s more, the average CEO of a Fortune 500 company is 58. In other words, if you want to aim your marketing at people who have some money to spend, LinkedIn advertising is the way to go.

The Go-Getters

While most LinkedIn users are older, that doesn’t mean millennials consider the site irrelevant. Users between the ages of 25 and 34 represent one of the most rapidly growing segments of LinkedIn’s membership. This is another excellent demographic for marketing, as young professionals have a lot of purchasing power and room to grow in their careers. As of 2020, millennials count for an astonishing 50 percent of the U.S. workforce. As the engine of our economy, this age group presents a gold mine of prospects readily accessible through LinkedIn advertising.

A Trusted Source

Advertising does much better when it appears in a respected forum. Among 91 percent of marketing executives, LinkedIn rules the roost as the most trusted source for quality content. Twitter, on the other hand, only gets approval from 29 percent of marketing executives, while Facebook inspires confidence among only 27 percent. 

Equal Opportunity Advertising

If you want to reach a general audience reflective of the actual population, LinkedIn once again presents a way. Many social media sites skew toward men or women. For example, Facebook has more female users than male, while most YouTube users are men. LinkedIn, on the other hand, is split right down the middle, with virtually identical numbers of male and female members.

Influence the Influencers

Advertising on LinkedIn reaches a very different audience than on other social media platforms. An incredible one-third of LinkedIn’s users have positions of authority and count as upper management in the place of their employment. In 2019, LinkedIn could count among its users 90 million influencers of senior-level position, 63 million decision makers, 17 million industry opinion leaders, 40 million mass affluent professionals, and 10 million C-level executives.

The Dominant Channel for Content Distribution

LinkedIn has proven so successful for B2B marketers, that nearly every professional in the fields employs it for content distribution. An incredible 97 percent of B2B marketers use LinkedIn as their main outlet channel. This number, calculated in 2018, represented a 3 percent increase from the previous year. The second-most popular platform for B2B content, Twitter, actually saw a 2 percent decline over that same period of time.

High Returns for B2B

Among B2B marketing professionals, 58 percent identify LinkedIn Ads as producing a high return on investment. Emarketer’s ROI stats show that, along with Facebook, LinkedIn represents the top choice among social media platforms for value derived from paid advertising. Twitter comes in at third in this regard. According to this research, YouTube, despite its massive number of users, is four times less effective than LinkedIn for B2B marketing.

The B2B Social Media Leader

Another B2B-related statistic concerns LinkenIn’s dominance among social media leads. LinkedIn not only has a high lead conversion rate, but also accounts for an incredible 80 percent of all B2B social media leads. Facebook, by comparison, generates a paltry 6.73 percent of B2B leads.

The Top Choice for Content Marketing

If you plan to create and distribute B2B-related content, LinkedIn advertising is an indispensable forum. The vast majority of professional B2B marketers, nearly 80 percent of them, identify LinkedIn as the most effective choice for content marketing across social media. This puts LinkedIn far ahead of its rivals Facebook and Twitter, which respectively see use from only 42 and 48 percent of B2B marketers.

Global Traction

While the United States represents LinkedIn’s biggest individual market, 70 percent of the network’s total users live elsewhere in the world. This type of global reach is indispensable in the world of ecommerce. In addition to its 167 million users who reside in the U.S., LinkedIn boasts 211 million European members and 179 million from Asia-Pacific. Available in 24 languages, LinkedIn advertising allows marketers to reach across borders into practically any market they want.

The Impact of InMail

Anyone who does email marketing knows that most people will simply ignore their message. LinkedIn’s InMail, however, has a remarkable open rate of nearly 52 percent. How does this compare to normal email campaigns? According to data from MailChimp, only 21.3 percent of email advertisements garner so much as a glance. InMail, on the other hand, connects more than half the time. This type of LinkedIn advertising can prove particularly effective among the busy decision-makers in companies and sectors you want to target.  

Carol Li is the growth marketer and co-founder of CocoFax, a secure and reliable online fax service. She has seen great success with the use of InMail.

“Sponsored InMail is highly personalized, due to the fact that you are sending a direct message to a LinkedIn user who is in your target audience,” says Li. “With LinkedIn, you can do this to reach high-quality audiences such as target influencers, decision-makers, and business executives.”

LinkedIn Advertising Will Only Get Better

As of 2019, the steady growth of LinkedIn, along with its proven ROI for advertising, led 42 percent of marketing professionals to increase their investment in the service. This showcases a great deal of confidence in LinkedIn advertising, along with faith that returns will continue to grow in pace with the network’s community of users.  

One final thing: money matters in advertising. You need your marketing investment to generate a measurable return, and every dollar spent ineffectually can represent untold amounts of lost revenue. 

 

Man walking into building.

LinkedIn Advertising in 2020: LinkedIn Ad Examples From Tuff Clients

Man walking into building.

LinkedIn advertising has been quickly gaining momentum as a critical tactic for our clients at Tuff —and for good reason.

Unlike Facebook, Twitter, and Google, with LinkedIn advertising, you can connect with granular, business-oriented audiences with targeted copy and creative. It’s no wonder advertising on LinkedIn expanded 36.5% to $1.58 billion in 2019. The LinkedIn ad stats are, to say the least, very impressive. 

At Tuff, we’ve known the value of a comprehensive LinkedIn ad strategy for the last couple of years. We ran our first LinkedIn advertising campaign back in March 2017 and are still actively running campaigns for clients today. 

Example of a LinkedIn ad.

This is the first campaign we ran (ever!) on LinkedIn. It looks a little out-dated now but back then it was CUTTING-EDGE stuff.

We’re also willing to bet that LinkedIn will continue to grow throughout 2020 and beyond, especially as LinkedIn advertising features continue to improve and advance to match the same level of sophistication as other paid acquisitions channels. 

That’s why we recommend LinkedIn display ads to a variety of our partners, B2B, SaaS, and eCommerce, especially those with valuable content, brand awareness goals, or leads to collect.  

In this post, we’ll take a look at some of the LinkedIn ad campaigns we have run so far in 2020 alongside our partners. 

Follower Growth for CITI Program

CITI Program offers research ethics and compliance training for organizations like Harvard University, as well as ad hoc courses for individuals. When an organization subscribes to CITI Program, the annual base fee starts at $4,500 and scales from there. 

Example of a LinkedIn ad

We’ve been working with their team since October 2019 — and our focus has been on running campaigns and testing new channels to drive traffic and get more organizations to subscribe on their website. Our core channel mix includes Bing, Google, Facebook, and LinkedIn. 

For LinkedIn, we’ve leveraged the Sponsored Content ad format with a focus on three core objectives: 

  • Generating leads by sending highly targeted traffic to a landing page 
  • Increasing qualified traffic to posts or pages
  • Boosting follower total

For CITI, our best results have come from our campaigns that focus on follower count, which to be honest, was surprising to our entire team. Out of all the paid channels, LinkedIn is the most expensive, which means if you’re going to put your ad dollars here you typically need solid ROI numbers and last-click attribution data that signals this channel is worth the high sticker price. 

Follower ad on LinkedIn

Optimizing campaigns for followers works well for CITI because the buying cycle is long, sometimes up to 6+ months. With very specific job titles and email list uploads, we can grow the brand’s followers on LinkedIn with highly-targeted leads. From there, the sales team at CITI can develop a relationship with these followers and slowly move them down the funnel.  

For these LinkedIn lead gen campaigns to be successful, we knew it was important to nail the targeting. We were able to serve ads to key employees of target institutions that were not yet CITI Program subscribers. For these campaigns, we tested three different types of targeting: 

  • Saved Audiences: Company,  job seniority, job title, Groups
  • Lookalike Audiences- build audiences that look like your current customers
  • Nudge people in the funnel; Email List – Institutional contacts not yet subscribed 

Audience targeting options on LinkedIn.

This isn’t a strategy that is applicable to everyone (we’re paying almost $5 per quality follower!) but for CITI, it’s been one of their best performing campaign types.  

Demos for ThalamusGME

ThalamusGME is a digital interviewing software specifically designed for application to graduate medical education (GME) training programs. 

We’ve been working with their team since March 2019 and our focus has been on running campaigns that drive more demo sign-ups on the websites. Our core channel mix includes Bing, Google, Facebook, and LinkedIn. 

Example of a LinkedIn ad.

For Thalamus, we’ve seen the most success with Sponsored Content campaigns with a “Book Demo” CTA – and similar to CITI Program, the keys to our success have been in the targeting. For Thalamus LinkedIn ads, unlike Facebook or Google, we can target Residency Coordinators and key Program Managers at specific hospitals, making this a key channel for us.

Example of LinkedIn Ads reporting.

With these particular campaigns, we’ve experimented with optimizing for demos as well as landing page views and the results are almost identical. This screengrab from the ad account is a 7 day period – the top campaign was optimized for demos and the bottom for landing page views. The landing page views campaign was slightly cheaper ($1.21 per visit vs $1.34) but the onsite metrics (time on site, pages viewed, bounce rate) were almost identical. As of now, we’re still experimenting with both optimization objectives. 

LinkedIn Lead Generation for Xendoo 

Xendoo is a small business bookkeeping and accounting service. We’ve been working with this team for over three years and testing campaigns on almost every single platform. 

For the last two years, we’ve intermittently run campaigns on LinkedIn with a variety of objectives. We promoted webinars, boosted posts for engagement, grew the follower count, and sent sponsored in-mail for more direct lead generation. 

Out of all our campaigns, one of the areas we’ve seen the best success is with Sponsored In-Mail. This can work well for B2B and SaaS if you’ve already seen success with cold email outreach or if you have a specific, well-defined list of prospects. 

LinkedIn lead gen ad example.

When it comes to Sponsored In-Mail it takes a few weeks to really find traction. We ran this particular campaign (see above) for 30 days. Here’s what the stats looked like: 

  • Spend:$500 
  • Clicks: 271
  • CPC: $1.85
  • CTR: 43.71%

The key to Sponsored In Mail, like cold email, is the message. We had tested a variety of different CTAs on the website (and in other ads) and knew that the ‘Free Consultation’ was the most popular. We honed in on Xendoo’s USP and really channeled their target audience to craft the right message, which is why the CTR was so high.  

We love experimenting on LinkedIn to get results for our clients and are excited to see the channel continue to grow. 

It’s important to note that with these three examples, the clients all have higher acceptable CACs (in the $250-500 range) with over $3k LTVs. When it comes to LinkedIn advertising, you need big budgets, higher LTV, and an acceptable CAC above $300. It’s expensive, tricky, and is an easy place to waste money, especially if you’re a bootstrapped startup. This isn’t where you want to invest a bunch of resources if you haven’t already tested on other channels. 

That said, with the right targeting and ad budgets, we’ve seen consistent results with LinkedIn.

Typing on slack.

How We Set Up the Right Lines of Communication with Clients

Typing on slack.

Here at Tuff, we put a lot of time and energy into creating partnerships rooted in transparency and authenticity. The more informed, honest, and clear conversations we can have, the better work we will all do. 

Kicking off a new partnership comes with getting really clear on ‘where’ we’ll work. We’ve been a remote team since Day 1 and this helps us be really thoughtful about ways we communicate with our clients. Aside from setting the growth strategy for each company, choosing the tools, and executing tactics, we’ve got to be master communicators. 

That’s why, when we work together, we make sure it’s easy and clear where and how to communicate. 

Channels we often use with clients to streamline communication include:

  • Weekly Growth Marketing Meetings 
  • Shared Google Drive 
  • Slack Integration 

Tuff client communication map.

Weekly Growth Marketing Meetings

Weekly growth marketing meetings give us a chance to come together on Zoom and align on the most important marketing priorities. 

In these 30-minute sessions, we recap what was done the previous week, review corresponding metrics, and align on what we want to get done the following week as a team. 

Here’s what a common agenda might look like: 

  • What are we working on this week?
  • What do we think we can achieve this week?
  • Who is doing what? 
  • What do we expect the results to look like? 
  • What does the data say? 

Following this call, we have a specific game plan for the week that keeps us focused on executing tactics that influence revenue (vs. running around chasing ideas like a headless chicken).

Below is an example of our weekly marketing doc with one of our partners, Renogy. We’ve met every single Wednesday since August 2019 and this weekly marketing doc has a running record on everything we’ve collaborated on as a team. 

Example of weekly meeting doc.

The reason we like having weekly meetings is because it increases the visibility and accountability of each team member and tactic for that week. Short pockets of time (5 workdays) force us to make the most efficient use of our time because there isn’t an opportunity to push something down your to-do list or to do it later. 

It allows us, as an agency, to make sure all of our attention goes toward our top priorities. 

Shared Google Drive 

Google drive screenshot at Tuff.

Anytime we bring on a new client, we create a shared folder in Google Drive or Dropbox. During onboarding, we’ll ask our clients to drop in information like: 

  • Product description
  • Historical data 
  • Projections 
  • Value points
  • Personas 
  • Sales Data 
  • User Flow 

Then, on an ongoing basis, everything we work on at Tuff goes into this shared folder. This keeps us organized and efficient. As a client of Tuff, you have access at any time to data, creative, strategy docs, and more. 

Slack Integration

With Slack’s “Shared Channels” feature, separate organizations can collaborate together in a Slack channel, each from within their own Slack workspace. Members can send direct messages, upload files, use apps and integrations, and start calls—all in a common space.

Opening up Slack with our clients is inline with the type of relationship we like to create with our clients, one that mimics the experience of having an internal growth marketer on your team.

Slack channel example with client.

Setting Ground Rules

Opening up Slack with clients is a very big step. It eliminates back and forth emails and helps remove that blocker question of ‘should I send this in an email? Or, wait till we meet in person?’. 

But, it is important to set the right expectations on both sides. Deep and focused work is critical to the success of our clients and their campaigns so we don’t want clients or team members to constantly get pulled in by Slack notifications. 

If we’re going to get meaningful results together we need the time and space to focus on strategy and execution (without pings!) which is why we work to protect this with specific Slack expectations. 

  • We don’t expect clients to immediately drop everything and answer our question, and neither should they.
  • We can cut down on email by using Slack to share documents, ask questions, schedule meetings, update on goals, etc.

Open Communication Channels

These processes are part of what sets us apart as an agency and our goal to serve as true partners. By asking the right questions and being intentionally transparent about everything we’re working on, we’re able to build a relationship that’s grounded in authenticity and intention. 

And this, more than anything else, enables us to get results. 

Tuff’s Social Ads Strategist, Nate, on the Intersection of Life and Social Media

Nate Corliss, social ads strategist at Tuff.

Meet Nate, a Social Ads Strategist at Tuff. Nate partners with Tuff clients and social media platforms to build measurable, data-driven, bottom-line growth.  

Below, he shares what he learned from studying Japanese business practices, where you can find his favorite salt, and how being a parent impacts the way he approaches marketing. 

Can you tell me a bit about your time before Tuff? What were you working on? 

I studied international business at the University of Oregon and then studied abroad in Japan learning Japanese business practices and found that super interesting. 

After that, I worked at a website company in San Diego. This was before Squarespace, before Wix, before just anybody could build a website. I was on the support side and I got my first taste of social media marketing because we had these websites and we started to explore how social media could compliment a web presence. And, at the time, it was starting to become apparent that social was becoming a critical part of the marketing mix. 

From there I became a Marketing Manager at an investment group that owned a diverse group of businesses from golf courses to car dealerships. It was fascinating and similar to being at an agency because I was deploying these marketing plans for different businesses in different geos with different objectives. I had to be able to hop in and do like a website edit really quick and then launch a social media campaign in that role. That’s when my experience with Facebook advertising first started. 

From there, I went on to a pretty large digital marketing agency where we were balancing what resources we had available as well as the capabilities our team had to serve the client. So it forced me to stretch and evolve. And, it prepared me for the role at Tuff and asking ‘what is best for our partners we’re working with?’

Why did you decide to join Tuff? What was it that made you say ‘yes’?

I think Tuff is special as a growth agency, we’re extremely focused on helping other businesses succeed. We’re so flexible with our flat pricing to best serve our clients. Whereas other agencies pricing are typically so piecemeal, it’s, by channel, by spend increment, by thousand dollars spend increment. And it stymies the ability to move quickly and learn quickly, which is super important for our clients who are often startups or ecommerce. By being flexible, it gives us the opportunity to test something quickly, find new audiences, try a small test to validate if a new tactic will make sense for our client.

What has your experience been like working for a fully remote team?

Along with remote work at Tuff comes a lot of autonomy to get the job done. I was happy that when I came in, I was able to hit the ground running. I was able to come in and affect change and deploy my own tactics right away. That autonomy has been empowering and I’ve been able to build on that and learn collaboratively with the rest of the team and with our clients. It’s felt like a bit of an evolution in a really good and satisfying way. 

There’s some freedom, too, to be myself that layers in perfectly. We’re not all together in one office. There’s not a person looking over my shoulder at the end of the day to see if I got X, Y, and Z done. So I’m a lot more accountable here to end results than I am to doing things a specific way. And I think that that’s critical for remote work. 

Does being a parent impact the way you approach your work in marketing? 

Yeah, absolutely. It makes me try and look a little further into understanding people and what they’re trying to say. My daughter, Juni, is too young to be able to express herself fully. But, even as adults we’re not always able to express ourselves fully. So someone may say something but mean something else. I kind of become this interpreter when Juni is trying to communicate and that happens a lot with digital marketing. When working with clients, we are often peeling back what somebody says they want. They might say they want to try the latest and greatest social channel but what they really need is that damn lead. And so there’s a little bit of a translation aspect going on there. Being a parent has boosted my ability to take a step back and truly listen and understand what’s being said.  

What is something about you that typically surprises people?

I’ve often been told I look at the world a little bit differently than other people. And I think that is because I’ve always been kind of conflicted wanting to fit in and understanding what works well for me. Over the last few years, the evolution that I’ve gone through is figuring out how I feel and how I work best. 

I’ve become a major bike rider. Previously, riding a bike was something I had just kind of ignored and was even somewhat scared to do in a city.  And now it’s something I do almost every day. It feels so good to have that human powered movement in my life and the carbon benefits are important to me as well. I also do a very mini yoga practice to make sure that I’m present in my body and not just a brain operating machine.

Another thing I’ve come to love is this very specific salt. It’s a pink salt, mined in Utah. I mean, why buy salt that’s shipped from halfway around the world that has a larger carbon footprint when I can buy salt that’s made two States away? 

A lot of these interests are driven by having a diet that makes me feel good, having an exercise regimen that makes me feel good, and then continuously getting my life dialed in and continuing to evolve and adapt as things change.

What is something you’ve been working on personally?

I’ve been trying to do a better job separating out ideas and execution. 

So, it’s great to talk about an idea. For example, one of our clients had an initiative they’re working on and I got fired up about it. I was mentally starting to go down a path of making this whole presentation, mapped out in detail. But then I pumped the brakes and thought, ‘what if they don’t even want to go down that route? So, my mental presentation, outlining everything in beautiful visual detail turned into a few bullet points in a meeting agenda. I wanted to validate the ideas and be smart about how I was using my time. I’m learning to say no to myself, while still giving these ideas time and space. 

What do you enjoy about social advertising? 

There’s all these really specific tasks I do for social advertising but it doesn’t feel like a big task list, it feels like more of a dance. And what’s kind of trippy about it is that I’m dancing with machine learning and artificial intelligence. 

So my skill set is teasing out the best of these social ad platforms, algorithms, and AI to get to the end. So it’s like layering of targeting across social platforms. Because so many people are on these different platforms, the power is in knowing what type of capabilities are on each platform and figuring out that unique mix out for each client. That’s really what does it for me.

What is your best advice for someone just getting started with Facebook advertising?

Try to just dive right into an ads manager account. Either create your own or, if you can, join someone who already has an existing one. In tandem you can do a training course like Facebook Blueprint, but then apply those learnings in a real-world platform. It’s a little bit tricky with Facebook because it’s always going to be pay to play. It’s not going to be a free platform like Google Analytics where you set up your own blog and test. But, with Facebook, getting into those ads manager accounts is important.

Also, don’t limit yourself to Facebook. Become a digital citizen and a user of social platforms that you’re drawn to or that you know the types of companies you want to work with have users on. Understanding the cadence and the behavior of users on those platforms makes it so that your social advertising will blend more seamlessly. With social ads, you’re paying for showing ads that don’t look like ads. So if you can develop a fluency in what great organic posts look like, that can be a superpower. 

Sticky notes on the wall.

How We Build Growth Marketing Strategies at Tuff (with examples from past clients)

Sticky notes on the wall.

With Tuff, I’ve been fortunate to work with a range of companies in completely different stages of their marketing maturity. 

Even with the diversity in stage and industry, one step is always the same: creating a clear growth marketing strategy.

A growth marketing strategy is a high-level list of what tactics we’re going to test first, based on what is most likely to succeed. It’s a document that keeps you focused and working day-to-day on the things that have the highest impact on your business. 

To see what that looks like in action, let’s review some examples of successful growth marketing strategies from past clients:

Company: Mobile app for sending handwritten cards 

  1. Edited the onboarding flow to focus people on our main CTA: send their first card sooner 
  2. Fixed App Store copy to convert better (images and text) 
  3. Setup Branch.io to track every campaign 
  4. Set up Apple Search ads
  5. Set up Facebook/Instagram ads
  6. Set up Google Ads 
  7. Set up YouTube Ads 
  8. Developed USG videos ($0 – did these at home)
  9. Create push notifications to remind people to send cards (gratitude list) 
  10. Set up Influencer Program 
  11. Set Pinterest ads

Company: B2B SaaS product for small business owners 

  1. Rewrote, redesigned and rebuilt homepage and pricing page to distinguish from competitors + A/B test
  2. Fixed the onboarding flow to increase conversion rate
  3. Set up Google Ads 
  4. Tested offer and lead gen ads for a free accounting consultation 
  5. Set up Facebook ads pointing at free demo page
  6. Wrote drip emails to re-engage people who create an account but don’t finish registration
  7. Set up Google Ads
  8. Secured specific partnership, focusing on professional b2b business 

These look nice and tidy, not too intimidating when we’re able to list these out. And yet, to be effective, there’s hours or work involved at each step of the strategy. These strategies also rely on multiple team members at Tuff to execute on these. 

We often hear from founders that they’ve tried everything and nothing is sticking. Or, they’ve tried a bit of a BB gun approach shooting out all of the bullets to see if anything works. Effective growth marketing understands where you’re trying to go, where your audience spends time, and uses data to validate (or invalidate) how you will grow. 

These conversations we have over and over again is why I wanted to write this article; to share my experiences and learnings from creating successful growth marketing strategies at several companies over the years. 

In this post, we’ll go through 8 steps: 

  1. Start with your own audience 
  2. Outline your USP 
  3. Go through your competitors
  4. Look at the customer journey 
  5. Select the channels most likely to succeed
  6. Outline tactics to test 
  7. Try your idea on a small scale.
  8. If it works, do more of it. If it doesn’t, go back to Step 1.

Step 1: Start with your own audience 

We talk about this a lot at Tuff but you can’t really do anything without knowing who you are selling to. Without a clearly defined target audience, you’re going to seriously struggle with finding the right acquisition channels or identifying tactics to help grow your business. 

Without personas, how do you know what your offer should be?

Or, what channels will help you find traction and scale? Or, how to write ad copy to drive quality traffic? Or,how to build an organic keyword strategy?

Here’s an example of good target personas from a past client: 

AriaMelissaJohn
Customer 1Customer 2Customer 3
Demographics
LocationDenverArvadaFrisco
Household Income$150,000$63,000$130,000
ResponsibilitiesThey typically work 9-5, but often find themselves bringing work home. They have a dog, and are beginning to think about kids, but have some exploring of the world around them they want to do before taking that next step.She lives with three other women in Denver and they’ve become her family of sorts. She doesn’t have any pets or major responsibilities but is still trying to figure out what she wants from her career. She gets limited days off trying to make time on the weekends to go to Redrocks, hang out in Rino, and hike in Boulder.John’s an avid rock climber that is obsessed with outdoor and endurance sports in Colorado. He’s a project manager for Ascension and spends his weekdays at Movement. On the weekend he’s skiing in Vail or headed on a hut trip. He has a girlfriend, Jess, who loves the outdoors just as much. John lives in a two-bedroom condo.
Age292536
Situation
#1 PriorityA vacation that feels adventurous, without pushing too far beyond their comfort zone. While they thrive on the excitement of finding a secret gem (whether that be a hike or the best breakfast burrito in town), they often look to ‘experts’ to help navigate and curate their ideal adventure weekend experience.A weekend away with her girlfriends. They want to head down to Santa Fe, hitting hot springs and small towns before they land in Dulce. While they are after local experiences, they want to use the time to relax and rejuvenate.Ready to explore – not a vacation or a weekend away – an all-out adventure trip with pals to Moab for a week long bike extravaganza. He wants to get away from his computer and phone and spend as many hours on the bike before cooking a camp meal and having beers around the fire.
ChallengesIt’s hard to balance their weekend adventures with family and friend obligations. It feels like they are booked up for months.She’s not the most organized planner in the world so finding time with her other friends is hard. They typically do spur of the moment trips as a result.He is a super planner so the van or accommodations have to be available the exact time he needs it.
Pain PointsWhile they are happy with their disposable income, they don’t want to go crazy with spending because they are starting to think about kids and just bought their first starter home.Money is tight and she wants to make sure she has enough extra cash to eat out, go to hot springs, and other activities while on vacation.There are so many epic adventures on the list, how do you prioritize and get everyone organized to go?
ObjectionsWould it be cheaper and more relaxing if we just drove our car and did cute Airbnbs?Will we be able to handle a van? It looks amazing in pictures but driving it feels like a challenge.Is it rugged enough to handle on my adventures? I’m going to be spending all my time outside, do I really need an expensive van?
Sources
Books/PodcastsTalking With Strangers, ArmChair Expert, and VerityDoesn’t read but is an avid Spotify user.Shoe Dog, GaryVee Audio Experience, and Alone On The Wall
Magazines/MediaNYMag, YouTube, and Two Parts DenverHoroscopes, Fox Theater, and Bitch MediaPinkBike, GearTrade, and OpenSnow
Social MediaFacebook, Instagram, LinkedInInstagramNone
CommunitiesRec league soccer and trivia night on Tuesday at Platt Park Brewing Co. They are both in a fantasy football league. One of their favorite things of the year is the annual chili cookoff they do at their house with 20+ friends.Every once in a while will go to Trivia night at Spangalang but mostly stays at home. She’ll head to a concert at the BlueBird or Ogden a couple times a month.Spends most weeknights at Movement climbing in the winter. In the summer, he’s a big cycler with a committed training plan.
Quotes
“For me, being outside is what it’s all about. I just want to continue to adventure and be inspired to play more in Colorado.”⁣“These amazing women are my partners in crime, my rocks, my husks, and I have no idea what I’d do without them! Truly grateful for this trip and friends like these!”“It didn’t really matter in the end. I got my head on straight, enjoyed the company of a lot of passionate and friendly people, and got to see a side of Arizona mountain biking I didn’t know existed. Between the alpine adventures along Wolverton Mountain, or the beautiful and challenging landscape throughout the Granite Dells, or bombing down dusty and loose singletrack in the shadow of Thumb Butte, Prescott opened my eyes a bit.”

 

For more details on building out personas, check out this guide from Buffer. 

Step 2: Outline your USP 

What makes your offering unique? Why would someone buy your product, subscribe to your offering, or say yes to your service? 

How do you earn the right to attention? 

To find your unique selling proposition (USP), you can do a few things: 

  • Study your personas (that’s why we start with defining your own audience!). It sounds obvious, but put yourself in your customer’s shoes. You can’t design your growth marketing strategy for yourself and your subjective preferences. You want to understand your user’s world, learn more about their challenges, and generate ideas to communicate and give value to these poeple. 
  • Check out your competitors. If you’re in the early stages, you won’t have a lot of customers to ask yet, so you can learn from your competitors (see next section). 

Here are some of my favorite USP examples with steps on how to write or polish your own. 

Step 3: Go through your competitors (or similar companies) and fill out this template 

Checking out your competitors is a great way to learn about your users and identify tactics for your growth marketing strategy. You can also check out brands who might not be direct competitors but who sell to a similar audience.  

It’s important to know what your competitors are doing but you don’t want it to consume your strategy. Digest the info and then let it go.

Start by going to their website to read (really, read!) what they are saying and how they are saying it. How are they talking about their product and customers? What’s their primary CTA? What’s above the fold and why? What are the major themes? 

You may not have access to all the information, but you want to learn from them – and, in most cases, position yourself differently. Rember: Unique Selling Proposition.

Below is the template we use at Tuff to conduct a competitor analysis. We don’t do this on an ongoing basis, just while doing foundational research on a company to help shape our strategy. 

Competitor audit template.

There are a ton of free templates out there to help you do this but here’s one from Demand Curve that we like the best at Tuff. 

Step 4: Look at the customer journey 

So at this point, you’ve: 

  • Outlined your personas
  • Tightened up your USP
  • Reviewed your competitors 

Now you’re going to think about your customer journey. The customer journey is an outline of touchpoints you have with your customers – from initial contact, through the process of engagement, and into a long-term relationship.

You can think about it like this: 

  • Do they know you? (awareness) 
  • Do they like you? (consideration) 
  • Do they trust you? (decision) 

You want to think about your customers and understand them at each stage of the funnel. How would someone find out about you? Then, once they know about you, what’s going to make them buy something from you? And then, refer you or keep coming back to engage with you? 

At Tuff, we try to keep this simple. In a spreadsheet, we outline the three major stages in the funnel – awareness, consideration, and decision. 

Here’s what this looks like: 

Screenshot of growth marketing framework.

When you think about marketing channels through the lens of your user and then layer on each stage of the customer journey, you can align your marketing tactics with your current needs. 

For example, for most early stage companies you’ll want to bulk up the tactics you have in the awareness stage. 

Step 5: Select the channels most likely to succeed 

Let’s start by defining an acquisition channel. “Acquisition channel” is a way of saying “how do people find out about you?”.

Spending time on the right channel is one of the most important things you can do to grow. But at the same time, acquisition channels are diverse and plenty so how do you pick the right ones?

First, get familiar with all the channels that are out there. Here’s a cheat sheet for the most common acquisition channels

As you go through the above list, consider the following questions to help you prioritize channels with a “high propensity” to work for your business:

  • Does the channel have an audience that roughly matches your customer personas?
  • Is this channel crowded or emerging? Are your competitors there and will you have to shell out buckets of cash?
  • What part of the buyer’s journey do you believe the customer is in when they’re spending time on this platform? How does that align with your business goals?
  • Can you effectively filter your ads to reach only your target audience to better manage your costs and get the best bang for your buck?
  • Is this a compounding loop? Will this channel enable our users to grow the product for us?

Step 6: Outline tactics to test 

This step is one of my favorites. This is the first time, after a bunch of foundational research, you start to see an outline of what will turn into your final growth marketing strategy. 

A tactic is a test you run on a channel. It’s something specific, and measurable, that you can test and understand the impact on your business growth. 

Here are a few examples of specific tactics using a rental camper van company as the business. These won’t be relevant to your business (because your audience is different!) but it will illustrate how to think and define any test you run on a channel: 

Example of growth marketing tactic.

Example of growth marketing tactic.

Matthew Barby wrote an article “21 Customer Acquisition Strategies” that I return to a couple times a month. If you’re ready to brainstorm tactic ideas, start with that article and brainstorm from there. 

At this step, we try to generate 15-20 tactics that feel relevant for our target audience and goals. For each tactic, we rank them with the below details: 

  • Stage
  • Channel 
  • Impact 
  • Ease 

This rating system is important because you can’t do all your tactics at once. With limited resources and time, you have to be intentional about what tactics you actually implement. 

Again, a growth marketing strategy is a to-do list of what tactics we’re going to test first based on what is most likely to succeed. In order to select the tactics you’re going to test first, you need an evaluation process – which is where the ranking system comes into play. 

Step 7: Try your idea on a small scale

Now that you have a giant list of potential tactics (we organize ours in a spreadsheet like this – see tab “ideas backlog”), you need to prioritize. 

Unlike step 6, this is where it gets tough. As a founder with ambitious growth goals, it’s easy to want to try everything at once. Especially if you’re under pressure from a team or investor to deliver results on a specific timeline. 

You have to fight the urge to try all your ideas at the same time. When you do this, the execution will be crap and you won’t know what is actually having an impact on your business. 

Instead, pick 3-4 based on impact and ease. Start lean, test out a tactic, measure the results, and then decide what to do next.

Step 8: If it works, do more of it. If it doesn’t, go back to Step 1.

This one is the most straightforward. 

If you find a win, keep going. If you strike out, learn from it and pick a new tactic to try. 

There are a ton of different frameworks that have been published that seek to help you identify the right channel or tactic to pursue, but ultimately this comes down to a fair amount of trial and error, especially if you have no historical data to work with. 

Once you have your growth marketing strategy down on paper (your list of tactics you’re going to test first based on the likelihood of success), before you run any campaigns, you need to be able to track and measure the results. 

You aren’t trying to find your golden ticket with the first tactic – all you are trying to do is stay committed to testing, learn from each experiment, and lean on the data to help you make the best decisions for your business.