building a growth marketing strategy for a business on a computer

Every Growth Marketing Framework and Formula Ever

building a growth marketing strategy for a business on a computer

Building a reliable, scalable growth marketing engine is central to the long-term success of any business. Done right, growth marketing drives sustainable, profitable growth, with a battle-tested framework that delivers a tangible return on investment by constantly optimizing every element of the marketing strategy.

And while you might primarily associate growth marketing with the tech industry, its principles can actually be applied to literally any field, and help companies of all shapes and sizes to prosper. Accordingly, the popularity of growth marketing has increased rapidly in recent years, and more and more businesses are abandoning more conventional marketing activities and reallocating resources towards a growth marketing approach. 

Successfully embracing growth marketing means mastering new tools, frameworks, and formulas, many of which are radically different to traditional marketing strategies. There are many processes, frameworks, and formulas that outline the various elements of growth marketing. But sorting the good from the bad can represent a challenge – especially if you’re new to the field. 

All good growth marketing frameworks and formulas have one thing in common: they bring clarity to your business. Great growth marketing doesn’t have to be complicated, or rely on a million different moving parts. Instead, a great growth marketing strategy clearly defines the most important things you need to focus on to deliver results. 

As a growth marketing agency, Tuff’s approach to growth is constantly evolving. We embrace a growth mindset, and adopt the latest tools, processes, and perspectives as they emerge, incorporating them into our work to help us get that little bit better every day. 

Every growth marketer should do the same. This field moves fast, but there’s some principles that have stood the test of time, and have established themselves as cornerstones of our industry. Let’s explore ten of the top growth marketing frameworks and formulas out there today:

#1 Forbes: Growth Marketing: A Five Step Framework

This framework, from Phillip Alexeev, Head of Growth at Sketchfab and a member of the Forbes New York Business Council, can be applied to any business, and helps marketers think through their growth strategy in five key stages:

  1. Identify a ‘North-star’ metric
  2. Achieve product/market fit
  3. Apply data and analytics
  4. Understand user journeys and funnels
  5. Analyze paid and organic traffic

We like this model because of its simplicity and accessibility. The five steps are progressive, and clearly outline the steps that businesses should take before diving into the deep end of growth marketing. All too often, we see businesses without product/market fit pursue growth marketing. But the fact is that it’s almost always extremely challenging to achieve sustainable growth with a product that doesn’t truly meet the needs of your market. Focus on nailing your product/market fit, and then scale your business with growth marketing. 

#2 In The Know: A Three Step Framework

In The Know is a great resource for growth marketers, with regular podcasts and articles from some of the world’s top growth practitioners. Their three step growth marketing framework is based on years of research and experience successfully scaling businesses. It’s designed for businesses that have already achieved product/market fit. 

The framework goes into great depth, and is built around the concept of ‘storyvesting’ – true, meaningful alignment between businesses and their customers. Businesses reach this status by deeply understanding their customers, closely aligning their product with their customers needs, and recruiting employees who truly believe in the alignment between customer and product. In some ways, it’s a step beyond achieving product/market fit.

Once a business reaches this point, they should focus on the three P’s that make up much of growth marketing: people, processes, and platforms. To be successful, businesses need skilled people, systematic, documented processes that are frequently updated, and a range of platforms, or marketing tools, that enable them to successfully conduct growth marketing. Apply these principles throughout your marketing funnel, and your business will be well positioned to create enduring customer relationships and sustained growth. 

#3 Neil Patel’s Seven Step Growth Hacking Framework 

If you search for growth marketing on Google, a lot of what you’ll find will be tips, tricks, and tactics that promise to help your business scale. But growth marketing demands much more rigor than that – applying a series of ‘growth hacks’ won’t deliver the sustained growth businesses desire. Instead, growth marketing is driven by clear processes, with a repeatable formula that enables you to quickly test out new ideas. 

Neil Patel’s growth hacking framework starts with this idea at its very foundation, and expands into seven steps that, when followed, help businesses to create growth marketing playbooks that can be applied to all kinds of use cases. 

Check it out here: How to Create a Growth Hacking Framework

#4 Demand Curve: A Methodical Process

This framework, from the team over at DemandCurve, explores the five key phases of a growth funnel. Like other models, before you can successfully apply these principles to your business, you need to have a product that people actually want. Without this product/market fit, the funnel quickly collapses, and your growth strategy will never truly get off the ground. 

Here’s the five stages of the growth funnel:

  1. Acquisition: the channels that bring customers to your business
  2. Activation: getting customers to start using your product
  3. Revenue: getting customers to pay for your product
  4. Retention: ensure customers continue using your product in perpetuity
  5. Referral: evangelizing customers and encouraging them to refer others

You might see this model, or a variation of it, referred to as the AARRR model – it’s one of the fundamental ways of thinking through the various stages of a growth funnel, and appears in several frameworks. If you apply it to your business, ensure that there are tangible metrics that can be reviewed at each stage, and use them to continually iterate and optimize every element of your growth funnel. 

#5 CrowdTamers: A Seven Step Process

Growth marketing is all about continuous experimentation and ideation. But without a framework to effectively measure every new acquisition channel or retention initiative, it’s all too easy for a growth marketing strategy to get off track. 

This framework from CrowdTamers provides growth marketers with seven repeatable steps that can be used to systematically test every element of a growth marketing strategy. It starts by helping marketers understand how to define and measure their marketing funnels, and then outlines how growth teams should conceptualize, prioritize, test, and evaluate their ideas. 

We’re fans of this framework because it helps marketers easily identify the metrics they should focus on. As an extension of that, the framework also makes it easier to understand the actions that will have a direct impact on moving the needle on these metrics, closely tying actions to results.

#6 Lean Labs: The 6 Levers of Growth

Effective growth marketers know which levers to pull to deliver growth. In many ways, growth marketing is like operating a complex piece of machinery, and it’s important that marketers understand the relationships between the various levers that drive growth. 

Lean Labs, a team of growth marketers, highlight six key levers of growth in their framework, which they call the AAARRR growth marketing framework. It’s similar to Demand Curve’s framework, and is sometimes referred to as the pirate funnel (Aaarrr… get it?). Here’s what each letter stands for:

  1. Awareness
  2. Acquisition
  3. Activation
  4. Revenue
  5. Retention
  6. Referral

In a traditional business, the three A’s of the framework are handled by marketing, and the three R’s are managed by sales. But in the view of the team at Lean Labs, it’s important that businesses take a more joined up approach to ensure each lever, and the relationship between them, is fully optimized. We agree. 

#7 Growthmentor: From Framework to Experimentation in 90 Days

This growth marketing formula, from Christopher Schachner at Growthmentor, walks businesses through the first 90 days of building a growth strategy from scratch. It incorporates many lessons from elsewhere, including the AAARRR framework, and emphasizes the importance of aligning on North-star metrics. 

To successfully get the ball rolling on a growth marketing strategy, businesses should follow the following steps:

  1. Day 0 – 7: Setting the stage
  2. Day 8 – 15: Identifying and building frameworks
  3. Day 16 – 30: Analyzing potential growth channels
  4. Day 31 – 38: Building processes to rigorously experiment
  5. Day 39 – 53: Running various experiments
  6. Day 54 – 90: Optimizing strategies based on initial learnings

#8 Mbudo: Three Step Growth Marketing Framework

Mbudo is an inbound marketing agency that helps to scale B2B tech companies in Europe. Their growth marketing framework keeps things simple, outlining the three most important steps businesses should bear in mind as they implement a growth marketing framework:

  1. Identify and track key metrics
  2. Understand and strengths and weaknesses 
  3. Secure buy in and alignment from the entire organization

> Learn more about Mbudo’s three step growth marketing framework

#9 The Ladder Growth Blueprint: An Interactive Strategy Framework

This blueprint, from growth marketing strategists Ladder, is designed to act as a map of a businesses marketing funnel and growth strategies. 

If you’re new to growth marketing, it can be all too easy to dive into testing all kinds of channels and strategies without having a solid understanding of the relationship between them; nevermind the impact they have on your overall growth marketing funnel. With so many channels out there, this is a great way to burn through your budget fast, with little to show for it.

Ladder’s interactive growth framework seeks to address that. It provides marketers with formulas to measure the effectiveness of their entire funnel, identifies areas of concern, and gives marketers the metrics they need to make better decisions. We recommend that marketers use the blueprint as a living document, and focus on the output and process – it’ll help you identify which levers to pull to increase growth. 

#10 New Breed: Five Steps for Running an Experiment

Running experiments is a central component of any growth marketing strategy. After all, growth marketing is driven by data, and it’s impossible to get high-quality data without constant ideation, testing, and analysis. 

This framework from the team at New Breed offers a series of guidelines that specify how growth marketers can run effective experiments across every stage of the AAARRR growth marketing cycle. Here’s a brief overview of each step:

  1. Identify metrics that need improvement
  2. Design an experiment around this focus area
  3. Run the experiment, making sure you achieve statistical significance
  4. Analyze the results
  5. Start the next experiment

Key Takeaways from Our Top Ten Growth Marketing Frameworks

There you have it: ten frameworks from some of the world’s best growth marketers. Some frameworks have as few as three steps, while some have as many as seven. Each approach is called something different: a framework, a formula, a system, a process, and so on.

But by now, you’ve probably realized that there’s a lot of overlap between these frameworks. That’s not surprising: they’re all based on similar principles, and they’ve all been tested and refined to ensure they work. 

We get it – you’re not going to apply ten different frameworks to your growth marketing strategy. That would add more confusion than clarity. Instead, identify the core elements they all share, and take inspiration from the best pieces for each framework. Here are our key takeaways from these growth marketing frameworks:

Product/Market Fit is a Prerequisite to Success

Unless your business has product/market fit, it’s unlikely you’ll be successful. If your product doesn’t satisfy the needs of your customers, no growth marketing strategy will save it. When you’ve got product/market fit, you’ll know it – if you don’t, keep working on your product. 

Identify Your North-Star Metrics

Remember, growth marketing is driven by data. And as the old adage goes, you can’t manage what you can’t measure. Identify the metrics that are the clearest indicators of the success of your growth marketing strategy. What those are will be dictated by the nature of your business, but it’s crucial you closely monitor them and gear every element of your framework towards improving them. 

Master The AAARRR Funnel

Virtually all of these frameworks, whether they called it the AAARRR funnel or not, are premised on the importance of optimizing every element of the marketing funnel. Getting familiar with the various levers you can pull at the Awareness, Acquisition, Activation, Revenue, Retention, and Referral stages of this funnel are key to creating a winning strategy. 

Commit to Constant Experimentation

Growth marketing moves fast, and new technologies, processes, and best practices are constantly emerging. The ability to rapidly generate new ideas, rigorously test them out, and act quickly on the results is central to the continuous improvement of your growth marketing strategy. 

Tuff Growth: Your Trusted Growth Marketing Partner

These processes are all well-documented and proven to scale across a variety of industries. But real growth isn’t driven solely by frameworks and formulas: it’s driven by the right team. 

At Tuff Growth, we’ve got a deep bench of talent, from experienced growth marketers that build and manage bespoke growth strategies, to channel experts that get down in the weeds and own the details on every single platform.

Want to learn more about growth marketing? Check out our 50 page growth marketing guide. It’s an open scrapbook that walks you through our approach to growth, and shares the step-by-step process we’ve successfully applied to scale more than 50 companies across a wide variety of industries. 

> Get Tuff’s Growth Marketing Guide now

growth marketing team

16 Growth Marketing Myths and Misconceptions

growth marketing team

Growth marketing is a huge field, and relies on a vast array of diverse strategies, tactics, and acquisition channels to deliver growth for your business. The principles of growth marketing can be applied to practically any business, and help to deliver growth through a process of rapid ideation, experimentation, and optimization. 

There’s no shortage of places to learn about growth marketing: there are countless industry blogs and well-established experts to follow. But as with any form of learning, it’s crucial to make sure that the information you’re consuming comes from a credible source. 

Growth marketing moves incredibly fast. As a discipline, it’s driven by constant iteration, newly emerging best practices, and ever-improving technology. Some––or many––of the opinions you might read and take as gospel simply don’t hold up anymore. 

In this article, we’ll explore 16 of the most common myths and misconceptions in the growth marketing world. As you continue your learning journey, bear these in mind. Interrogating assumptions and challenging commonly held knowledge is at the heart of any growth marketing agency, and you should apply that same approach as you learn about the industry. 

Ready? Let’s deconstruct the most prevalent myths and misconceptions out there today!

#1 You should only focus on last-click attribution

We get it: everyone wants to know which marketing channels are responsible for driving revenue. The easiest (aka, laziest) way to do that is to use a last-click attribution model: attributing revenue from a sale to the last marketing touchpoint the customer interacted with. 

This completely overlooks the important role all kinds of other sources play. Consumers interact with your brand many times, through all kinds of channels, before getting out their wallet. 

The implications of over-indexing on last-click attribution can be disastrous. Reallocating spend to different channels based on a last-click attribution model could have a domino effect on your campaign results, and severely limit your ability to test channels like Facebook, TikTok, YouTube, and more. Increase spend in one channel that’s attributed with a lot of last-click conversions, and you could easily see the performance of your marketing stack crumble. 

Pro Tip: adding a “How did you hear about us?” question to your demo request form or checkout page can produce high-quality insights into the channels that are working the best. 

#2 Test every channel

There’s no shortage of potential acquisition channels, and it’s tough to know which ones will work. But don’t be tempted to just test every channel out: be intentional and focus on the channels that make the most sense for your business. 

Few businesses can afford to test every channel, and even if they can, it’s difficult to get a read for what works when you’re spreading your budget thin across a number of different platforms. Instead, your approach should be shaped by user research. 

Listen closely to your customers and make an effort to deeply understand their perspective. Pay attention to where they are, and how they interact with your business. User research should, in some shape or form, play a role in the design of any new channel or tactic strategy. 

Learn More: How We Tested 7 Different Acquisition Channels to Get Better Applicants for Sabio

#3 It worked for one company, so it’ll work for you too

We’re all for exchanging ideas, chatting about growth tactics, and borrowing inspiration from other places. Connecting with fellow founders, engaging with your network, or talking to a mentor is extremely helpful as you grow, but it can lead to you chasing ideas that don’t drive growth for your business. 

Your business is unique. It solves a specific problem, for a specific group of people, in a specific way. A growth strategy that worked for another business––even one in the same industry as you––isn’t guaranteed to work. Avoid the temptation to take strategies that worked for others and directly apply them to your business; instead, focus on your users and the unique value your business provides to them. 

#4 TikTok only works for younger demographics and DTC brands

TikTok might be known for dance videos and silly challenges, but it was actually the most visited website in the world last year. More people visited TikTok than Facebook, Google, or YouTube. And it’s true that there are a lot of young people on TikTok, and that it’s a great channel for DTC brands. 

But that doesn’t mean it’s not also an incredible channel for businesses in other verticals. At Tuff, we’ve seen TikTok work REALLY well for businesses in the Fintech and B2B SaaS spaces. Try it out – we bet you’ll be surprised with the results. 

Double Click: How We Achieved a 12x ROAS on TikTok with $7k in Ad Spend

#5 Top of the funnel channels don’t drive bottom-line results

If you’re stuck on a last-click attribution model, it can be easy to think that investments into the top of your funnel don’t show a tangible return on your bottom line. But here’s the reality: without the right investment in top of funnel channels, there is no bottom of the funnel where customers convert. 

Countless studies have shown the synergy between different channels at different stages of the funnel. To convert users, it’s critical to get in front of them at every stage of their buying journey, from driving awareness and demand at the top of the funnel to nudging your prospects towards conversion as they learn more about your business. 

#6 Our product is right for everyone

If you’ve invested lots of time and money in developing a new product, and have fallen in love with its potential, it’s easy to think that everyone will feel the same way. While this can be the case for the world’s biggest brands (think the iPhone), it’s probably not the case for your startup. 

If you try to appeal to too broad an audience, it’s more than likely you’ll end up wasting a lot of your ad dollars on audiences that won’t convert. Instead, carry out initial research and audience testing to identify groups of people that are most likely to buy your product or service, and then cater your growth marketing approach to reach them directly. 

#7 Facebook is the only scalable channel

Look, Facebook, with its huge reach, different platforms, and sophisticated targeting algorithms, is more than likely going to play some kind of role in your growth marketing strategy. But to say it’s the only truly scalable channel – well that’s a flat-out lie. 

Since the launch of iOS14 last year, many businesses have been focused on channel diversification, branching out to other platforms, including TikTok, YouTube, and programmatic display ads. A diverse mix of channels adds strength, reduces dependence on any one channel, and provides your brand with a broader range of touchpoints to engage with customers. 

#8 Good growth marketing will deliver instant results

Want to know the ultimate secret for skyrocketing your growth overnight? 

It doesn’t exist. 

Scaling a business is hard. It’s a process, one that requires investment, patience, and continuous, iterative improvement. It’s just not possible to flip a switch and profitably acquire thousands of new customers overnight – otherwise everyone would be doing it. 

Embracing a growth marketing philosophy puts your business on a path to creating a sustainable growth curve. It’s about investing your marketing dollars intelligently, with a balance between high-risk/high-reward strategies and stable, proven tactics. It’s about creating valuable, relevant marketing campaigns that speak directly to your buyer’s needs. And it’s about a commitment to constant improvement that over time, delivers a meaningful impact to your bottom line. 

#9 More money = more customers

At some level, there’s some truth to this statement. The business with a $1m marketing budget is virtually always going to attract more customers than the business with $100k to spend. 

But there’s a lot of variables that are equally, or more, important than the amount of capital you’ve got at your disposal. If you don’t have the right strategy, or growth marketers to execute it, it’s easy to waste a big budget, fast. The scale of platforms like Google and Facebook mean you can easily spend a month’s budget in an afternoon. Besides, throwing more money at a channel doesn’t guarantee better results, especially if you’re not set up to track the right KPIs. Scaling ad spend effectively demands a deliberate, strategic approach: not a blank checkbook. 

#10 If you build it, they will come

Content plays a key role in growth marketing. You could create the best content in the world, but if you don’t tell anyone about it, they’ll never consume it. In growth marketing, content distribution is just as important––if not more important––than content creation. 

To be successful, it’s vital you discover sustainable, scalable ways to get your content in front of your target audience. 

Related: How to Use Off-Page SEO to Supplement Your Growth Content

#11 You need all the right tools

There’s an arsenal of growth marketing tools out there that you can incorporate into your growth marketing stack, but you’d be surprised at what you can achieve with free tools like Google Analytics. 

As you scale, you’ll definitely benefit from the detailed analytics available from more sophisticated platforms, but access to these platforms should never hold you back from testing out new channels, learning about your audience, and developing strategies that work. 

#12 Gated content works

The idea behind gated content is simple: in exchange for some value-add content, you get a lead’s contact information. But in our experience, gated content just adds friction to the process, and causes potential leads to drop out of your funnel, never to be heard from again. 

Nobody wants to field phone calls and emails from your sales reps just for a PDF. If you truly believe in the value of the content you’re putting out there, then share it openly. Far more people will read it and will interact with your business organically, on their own terms. 

#13 It’s all about speed

A lot of people are rooted in the belief that growth marketing occurs at breakneck speed, and adopt the ‘move fast and break things’ mantra – but that era is over now

Sure, growth marketing moves quicker than conventional marketing, and it’s true that growth marketers rely on a lot of rapid ideation, testing, and iteration. But successful growth marketing is anchored in long-term thinking. Creating a sustainable, scalable growth marketing model cements a defensible long-term competitive advantage, and while it might take some patience to get there, it’s absolutely worth the investment. 

#14 Every decision needs to be supported by data

A lot of growth marketing decisions are––and should––be backed by data, but that shouldn’t be the case for every single decision. Sometimes, you’ve got to go with your gut, trusting the intuition and experience of your growth marketing team to guide you down the right path. 

We often see teams try to back into data to support every decision they make. This impacts speed, creativity, and even accuracy; after all, it’s possible to spin data to support any narrative you like. It’s important to accept that not every decision, strategy, or tactic is a guaranteed success. As a growth marketer, you’ll make mistakes. What counts is that you learn from them, and take forward the lessons and apply them to future decisions. 

#15 Any design will do

Creative is central to the success of growth marketing, and you ignore it at your peril. As consumers, we’ve all built up some level of immunity to ads: after all, we see thousands every day. 

Many marketers overlook the importance of creative, instead preferring to focus on shaping strategy, allocating spend, and building out audiences. But without killer creative, none of that matters. Your ads will blend in, potential customers will scroll right on by, and you’ll spend your entire budget with little to show for it. 

With the huge array of channels we growth marketers have at our disposal, it’s never been easier to get the word out. But at the same time, it’s never been harder to stand out. Meaningful, impactful creative is the secret sauce that helps set your brand apart. 

Dive Deeper: The Beginner’s Guide to High-Performance, Channel Specific Ad Creative

#16 You can do it without a team  

Effective growth marketing demands a wide range of skills. It’s impossible for one person to handle everything alone: they’ll quickly become overwhelmed, and progress will be minimal.

At Tuff, we take a different approach. Every client is paired with a growth marketer responsible for setting goals, shaping strategy, and overseeing successful execution. From there, we draft in channel specialists to work on everything from Google Ads to content strategy – they’re true masters of their craft who dive into the details, optimize every tiny aspect of your strategy, and deliver results on a channel-by-channel basis. 

Successful growth marketing demands expertise, and real expertise demands a team of specialists who live and breathe their craft – not a lone wolf going it alone.   

***

Interested in learning more about growth marketing? Check out our Growth Marketing Guide for an overview of what we’re learning about and working on right now. 

Want to talk to us about growth marketing strategies for your business? We’re down – schedule an intro call now

How Much Will Growth Marketing Costs Be For My Startup?

Gearing up for a raise takes serious time and effort. Between conversations with investors, validating your idea, finding PMF, refining your pitch deck, and reviewing term sheets, it’s a tricky balancing act of prioritization. 

And at the same time, while you work to secure funding—whether that’s pre-seed or Series A—you also need a plan to allocate the investment once you have it. Count “growth” among your key expenses.This encompasses both a growth model as well as a team that can help you prioritize high-impact campaigns to quickly drive key learnings, then invest in additional campaigns to scale up what works. This will help you to demonstrate that you can hit very specific, value-creating milestones and regale investors with drool-worthy potential.

Enter: Tuff! We’re a growth marketing agency that partners with startups and scales ups. And we often get this question: 

“I’m looking for initial talks and ballpark estimate of pricing so that I can take that information to potential investors I am working with to raise money.” 

Here’s an example of a founder who asked this exact thing in our contact form last week: 

question about growth marketing costs

If you find yourself asking this question, too (whether you’ve recently secured funding or are at the beginning of the journey) here’s how we think about it at Tuff. 

First, Reframe The Question

Another version of the question above is this: How can I allocate investors’ money wisely to increase startup performance? How much should go to growth marketing to help us find traction and scale? 

With limited funds, you have to think strategically about what success looks like, what you are trying to learn, and how you’re going to make it to the next milestone. While revenue is often the most important long-term goal, right now, the biggest priority is to turn guesses into facts by gaining knowledge, data, and experience. 

But you can’t test on every channel and you can’t afford to waste money on tactics that are sub-optimal. So, what do you do? 

First, you want to identify a milestone. Milestones are different from your company’s general goals in that they are specific, measurable, and tangible. They are well-defined steps in a company’s growth journey. These are things like a new feature launched, acquisition metrics hit, a new important hire, or reaching first revenues. 

Once you have your initial set of critical milestones, you want to create a growth model for your business. A solid model will also help you identify priorities to feed into your growth machine. From traffic to qualified leads to paying customers, you’ll be able to measure and optimize the full funnel to increase conversion rates and uncover pressure points that need extra attention. 

This will help you spend your time on things that will have an actual impact on your growth. At the very least, it’ll help you eliminate things that don’t. 

Then, Test Ideas Quickly (Learn) 

When it comes to growth marketing, there are hundreds of different tactics, channels, and campaign ideas that you can test out. Additionally, there are a ton of different frameworks out there that seek to help you identify the right user acquisition channel to pursue, but ultimately this all comes down to knowing your industry and target market.

Instead of spending months and tens of thousands of dollars building a product you are not sure people need and will pay for though, it’s much more effective to build a growth model that enables you to learn where people go to find products like yours, how much they’re willing to pay for it, and, ultimately, whether or not they’ll pay enough (often enough) to keep you in business. 

Here are three specific examples of ways we’ll tackle these questions: 

  • Create a landing page and drive paid traffic to it for two weeks. While you do this, set up Google Analytics to track onsite behavior, as well as hold interviews with at least 10 potential users. Identify what is resonating (and what’s not) and move forward. 
  • Test value props on Facebook with a $1,000 budget. Using Tuff’s value prop spreadsheet (#11), identify 2-3 distinct value props. Then, set up a campaign in Ads Manager to test these against each other. What ad copy has the best CTR and onsite performance? Learn from this and weave it into your messaging for landing page creation, website optimization, email copy, and more. 
  • Set up Google Search campaigns for non-branded traffic. With Google Ads, identify 10-15 high-intent keywords that you know your audience is searching for. Start with Google Search and run your campaigns for two weeks. Unlike Facebook or Landing Page development, these clicks are high-intent, meaning they are in the process of looking for a solution. If you have your value props, pricing, and offer right, this traffic should be highly engaged and willing to convert. 

And Then, Invest in the Right Team & Growth Tactics 

Once you have your milestone on paper, have experimented and tested a few initial growth ideas, and begun generating a small amount of traction, you’ll be in the perfect position to think about resourcing. Now, do you bring in a team, hire in-house, or continue to do it yourself? Or a combo of all three? 

The Case for a Team / Agency 

When you hire a growth marketing agency the major, overarching benefit is that it typically comes stacked with a full team that can get a holistic view of your business. This team will collaborate with you to identify the best course of action and delegate execution tasks to true channel experts. With an agency, you can often reallocate resources as you learn and move more quickly because the team has a long history of experience.

An agency is going to cost you anywhere from $7,500 – $20,000 at this stage depending on the pricing model. Here’s how we think about pricing at Tuff

The Case for an In-House Hire 

Finding a full-time hire is a great option for many companies. But they come with their own set of pros and cons when compared to a plug-in growth marketing team. The major benefit is the expertise and time they bring to the team. Pulling a full-time, smart marketing hustler that can squeeze the most out of a small budget and stay in lockstep with everything else you have going on can be a huge asset. The biggest downsides and risks are finding the right fit, investing the high cost and hoping that they can remain your go-to even if it becomes time to test tactics that fall outside of their wheelhouse. Ultimately, an in-house hire is right if you’re already confident in the channels that work for you and just need someone to help you refine and grow those 1-2 channels.

The Case for DIY 

A third option is to continue experimenting with growth tactics on your own, as your company’s Head of Growth. We strongly recommend that Founders and CEOs play an active role in growth marketing in the early stages of the company to get a real understanding of the growth process and how to think about experimentation. The downside here is of course time. It’s not likely that you’re an expert at each channel and that you’ll have time to research the right strategy and then execute. What might take you 5 weeks to execute could take a team or in-house hire just 1. 

Most common growth marketing expenses

It’s important to understand the different types of costs you’ll incur as you think about growth marketing. Here’s a shortlist of costs you’ll likely have as a startup when it comes to growth marketing:

  • Ad Spend: $3,000 – $5,000 per channel 
  • Content Production: $0.35 per word at 4,000 words per month 
  • Design: $1,500/month  
    • Ad Creative 
    • Email 
    • Landing Page Design 
  • Website CRO: $1,500/month
    • Developer Costs 
  • Marketing Tech Stack: $250/month 

If you work with an agency, a lot of these costs will be included already in the retainer depending on their services so you’re really just thinking about agency cost + ad spend. For example, if you work with Tuff and are in our Lean Package, we’ll cover design, website CRO, and Content under our retainer if we’ve scoped those services. You’ll pay our $10,000/month management fee + ad spend per channel. We have clients spending as little as $5,000 a month and as high as $1M a month. 

If you work with an in-house hire, the same logic applies but changes based on that in-house hire’s skillset. If they are really great at development and you’re using a friendly CMS, you won’t have to outsource that cost. Or if they are a great writer and can manage content production, you won’t have to outsource that cost. Instead of an agency retainer, you’ll pay a salary or contract hours, plus ad spend and any execution they need to outsource. 

Last but not least, if you continue to DIY, you’ll likely need to outsource some, if not all of the execution. You save on a retainer or salary but lose on-time costs because you’ll be the one managing and running the strategy. For this, if you outsource design, content, and website development then you are looking at around $5,000 a month + ad spend. 

Consider all your options before hiring an agency 

The more we have these conversations, the more the internal team at Tuff comes back together to really try to get to the root of the question: “if you’re an early-stage startup, should you hire a growth marketing agency?” There are pros and cons to resourcing your team and we break down considerations in this blog post here.

people working in a conference room

Most Valuable Software Tools for Growth Marketers

people working in a conference room

If you’re new to growth marketing, it can be difficult to know where to start. With so many software platforms covering everything from analytics to web development, it’s easy to get lost in the intricacies of individual tools, and lose focus of your ultimate goal: growth. 

But even for experienced growth marketers, there’s no map to navigate the ever-growing network of software tools available. Choosing the right tools to invest in goes a long way to helping you drive growth, but identifying the platforms that will be most effective for your business is very situational. It depends on your industry, optimal marketing channels, and the skills of your team, alongside many other factors. 

Using these growth marketing software tools is non-negotiable. As a growth marketing agency, we leverage a suite of these tools to unearth game-changing insights and optimize performance. These tools can be broken down into a few categories. In this guide, we’ll introduce you to the best tools in each category and share how to best leverage them to drive growth for your company.

Analytics Tools

Analytics is at the core of all growth marketing. Access to high-quality data enables marketers to measure the performance of different channels, campaigns, and creatives, ultimately helping them make better decisions.

Many of the tools discussed in this article have built-in analytics features. But when it comes to tools that offer a holistic overview of a company’s entire marketing stack, there are a few standout analytics platforms. 

Google Analytics

Google Analytics is packed with advanced analytics capabilities, and is perhaps the most widely used analytics tool. Growth marketers can use it to track various aspects of their strategies, including:

  • Acquisition Channels
  • User Experience
  • Conversion Events
  • User Demographics

Google Analytics works with any website, and is simple to install, only requiring the implementation of a short tracking code to unlock a host of powerful insights. 

Google Search Console

Another popular tool is Google Search Console, which enables marketers to understand organic performance on Google Search. 

Marketers can track the performance of their site over time, accessing analytics on everything from popular search terms to the average position of their web pages in Google Search. The platform is particularly useful for those running Search Engine Optimization (SEO) campaigns, providing a simple yet powerful set of analytics that track performance over time. 

Hotjar

Once website visitors come to your site, tracking their behavior can yield all kinds of insights. That’s where Hotjar comes in. 

Hotjar enables marketers to run A/B tests and other experiments. It’s possible to view heat maps that show how customers navigate your site, capture screen recordings of individual browsing sessions, and identify points of friction which hurt user experience. Apply these insights to optimize user experiences and improve conversion rates. 

Website Auditing Tools

Websites are foundational elements of any growth marketing strategy. They’re where you’ll drive traffic to, the place you’ll engage with users, and ultimately, the platform where you’ll convert prospects to paying customers. 

Growth marketers should regularly audit both their own websites, and those belonging to competitors. And while there’s plenty of site optimization best practices, identifying opportunities for improvement often means digging into the data. These website auditing tools help you do exactly that.

Alexa Site Audit

Many companies underperform on organic search because their sites are saddled with undiagnosed technical errors. Alexa helps marketers identify, understand, and fix technical SEO issues. The tool conducts periodic reports, giving sites an overall grade and pinpointing issues that should be addressed. 

Alexa also offers tools to assist with competitor research, keyword identification, and target audience analysis. By leveraging these features, companies can start bringing in significantly more organic traffic, helping them reach new customers. 

Similarweb

Assessing competitor strategies and identifying opportunities to outperform them is an important aspect of growth marketing. Similarweb enables marketers to understand web traffic patterns for any website, offering an opportunity to understand the strategy and strength of a competitor.

The platform also provides tools for sales intelligence, keyword research, and industry benchmarking. Together, these enable marketers to identify and capitalize on growth opportunities.

SEO Tools

SEO tools should be in every growth marketer’s arsenal. These platforms enable growth marketers to improve both on-page and off-page SEO, boosting search engine rankings and driving high-intent traffic to their websites. 

SEMRush

SEMRush offers solutions for everything from social media marketing to PPC advertising, but their SEO tools remain what they do best.

With SEMRush, marketers can discover high-potential keywords, run technical SEO audits, and assess competitor backlink profiles. The platform has a plethora of tools that cover every aspect of SEO, helping marketers grow their organic search performance quickly. One of the best features is the search ranking tracker, which displays changes in rankings over time. 

Ahrefs

Ahrefs is similar to SEMRush, and offers marketers a suite of SEO tools that enable better analysis, tracking, and performance. 

In addition to their core features, Ahrefs has a ton of content to help get you up to speed on all things SEO, as well as an active community of 10,000 SEO marketers who frequently share best practices. 

Yoast SEO

If you’ve got a WordPress site, Yoast SEO is indispensable. It’s a plug-in for WordPress that optimizes your site content and keywords to improve organic performance 

With plug-ins for everything from video SEO to local SEO, Yoast helps marketers enhance every aspect of their site. Users can optimize keyword selection, leverage real-time content quality and link suggestions before they publish, and access every course in the Yoast SEO Academy. 

Web Development Tools

Growth marketers have to be able to quickly iterate their company’s websites to reflect new trends, account for changing user behavior, and run experiments. And if your website is coded manually, it’s near impossible to do that. 

Marketers are embracing no-code web development tools, which use templates to enable marketers to quickly build landing pages, sign up forms, and more. Here are some of the best web development tools.

Webflow

Webflow is perhaps the most sophisticated out of the web development tools mentioned here, allowing users to design, build, and launch fully responsive websites. No code is required, and there’s a range of templates for different kinds of sites.

Once the site is built, Webflow hosts it, and provides SEO tools and integrations with other marketing platforms to enable users to start growing their site fast. It’s perfect for growth marketers looking to quickly launch new projects or initiatives, minimizing the time spent on web development.

WordPress

Did you know more than 42% of the internet is built on WordPress? There’s good reason for that: WordPress is an easy-to-use website builder with more than 50,000 plug-ins and themes that enable users to build beautiful, functional websites without any coding. 

Users can launch a website in just a few minutes. There’s tools and integrations that help scale your website from a simple informational page to a comprehensive online platform, and support for everything from eCommerce to mobile apps.

Squarespace 

Squarespace offers no-code web development tools for product and service based businesses. There’s a range of templates available to build your site with, powerful commerce features, and integrations with a wide range of third-party apps to help you automate your growth strategies. 

There’s also an ever-growing marketing toolkit, with features including an email marketing platform, social media tools, and an analytics suite that offers a comprehensive overview of the entire stack.

Creative and Design Tools 

Growth marketing isn’t just about acquiring new users; it’s also about retaining and evangelizing existing ones. One of the best ways to do that is by creating memorable, beautifully designed user experiences. 

This requires collaboration between marketers, creatives, and developers. The tools that enable this are a crucial component of any growth marketing stack.

Figma

Figma is a graphic and user interface design platform. It’s used to design everything from website wireframes to marketing collateral, and makes collaboration between teams and contributors a breeze. 

Everyone can collaborate on the same file in real-time, and you can even create interactive prototypes. The newly-launched FigJam is an online whiteboard that helps remote teams collaborate and brainstorm together. 

Adobe Creative Cloud

Adobe Creative Cloud is a collection of more than 20 of Adobe’s top apps, including Photoshop, InDesign, and Premiere Pro. If you’re creating assets for a marketing campaign, Creative Cloud will help you take your designs to the next level. 

Impactful creative is critical to successful marketing. And with Adobe’s industry-leading design tools, you’ll be able to produce creative on par with the best brands on the planet.

Project Management Tools

Part of being a successful growth marketer is the ability to juggle several balls at once – seamlessly hopping between managing PPC campaigns and designing landing pages. Many growth marketers have multiple clients, all with different campaigns, strategies, and budgets. 

Managing this complexity demands sophisticated project management tools that help keep everything on track. At Tuff, we’ve tried out a few in our time. Here’s our favorites:

Teamwork

Teamwork is the perfect platform for teams who work with a number of different stakeholders. It streamlines the project management process, enabling marketers to manage clients, freelancers, and their internal team in one place. 

We recently switched to Teamwork, and it’s been a gamechanger for our team. If you’re transitioning from another project management tool, you can import all existing tasks and projects to Teamwork in just one click.

Notion

Notion is a project management platform that functions as an all-in-one workspace for your team, blending a number of common applications into one location. 

Use Notion as a centralized hub for teams, projects, and important documents. There’s a series of templates as well as fully customizable workflows to help you quickly configure the platform to your needs. 

Trello

Trello is one of the world’s most popular project management tools. It enables growth marketers to track projects on a Kanban-style project board, with automation for routine tasks, and integrations to productivity tools like Google Drive and Slack.

At Tuff, we used Trello for a long time before switching to Teamwork. We work with a lot of clients, so while Teamwork was a better fit for us, if you’re more focused on internal projects, Trello might work best for your team. 

CRM Tools

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tools are vital for all types of company –– not just B2B companies. After all, investing in relationships with your customers and building a database of warm leads are important aspects of any growth marketing strategy. 

CRM tools automate the vast majority of that process, enabling companies to scale faster and improve the quality of the customer experience throughout the sales process. 

Salesforce

Salesforce boasts an extensive suite of marketing and sales tools suitable for businesses of all sizes. There’s tailored products for certain industries, and solutions for everything from customer support to complex analytics. 

However, the main focus is customer relationship management, and there’s an excellent range of tools that help companies grow by building their business around their customers. 

HubSpot

HubSpot provides inbound marketing, sales, and service tools. Their CRM platform automates many of the tasks that would traditionally be done by salespeople, generating insights on prospects, scheduling meetings, and helping teams close more deals.

There’s a range of different features for growth marketers, including tools for lead generation, marketing automation, content management, and more. 

Marketo

Marketo simplifies complex customer journeys using a range of marketing automation tools. With support in areas like email marketing, lead management, and revenue attribution, Marketo helps growth teams scale quickly, all while collecting data that helps optimize campaigns. 

The platform’s core capabilities include content personalization, cross-channel engagement, and advanced marketing analytics. Altogether, Marketo helps marketers deliver a uniform experience across brand touchpoints while arming them with the insights required to fuel further growth. 

eCommerce Tools

For online stores, eCommerce tools are indispensable. But building your own platform is a long, expensive process. Instead, leverage one of the amazing solutions already out there. 

The best eCommerce platforms are more than just online storefronts. Instead, they provide a wide range of tools that help marketers grow revenue. 

Bigcommerce

Bigcommerce enables businesses to build, innovate, and grow their online eCommerce businesses. There’s solutions for a wide range of industries, and no matter whether your business is D2C, B2B, wholesale, or something else, there’s probably a solution for you. 

With tools that enable cross-channel commerce across dozens of platforms, marketers can dramatically increase their reach with minimal extra work. There’s support for companies growing internationally, and tools for design and conversion optimization that enable marketers to maximize their online channels. 

Shopify

Shopify is an online eCommerce platform used by more than one million businesses around the world. The platform comes with a range of marketing tools, as well as a dashboard packed with important analytics covering various aspects of business performance. 

A unique element of Shopify is the Shopify App Store, which offers more than 6,000 apps that businesses can add on to their eCommerce platform. There’s a number of apps perfectly suited to growth marketing, including Klayvio and AdRoll

Social Media Management Tools

Social media plays a central role in many growth marketing campaigns. Whether it’s going viral on TikTok, running influencer campaigns on Instagram, or sharing Twitter threads, practically every business can leverage social media to drive growth. 

Managing campaigns across multiple social media channels can be a challenge for even the best growth marketers, which is why it’s common to use social media management tools to schedule posts and analyze performance. 

Buffer

Buffer enables marketers to schedule social posts in advance on all major social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and more. Analytics help marketers determine the most optimal time to post, and it’s easy to respond to comments. 

Sprout Social

Sprout Social is an all-in-one social media marketing platform that enables marketers to plan, schedule, and publish social content across multiple platforms. There’s also a range of analytics and engagement tools, as well as social listening tools that help marketers uncover audience insights and trends to improve the relevancy of their marketing strategies. 

Start Experimenting with Growth Marketing Tools Today

If you’re a growth marketer, we bet you’ve heard of, if not used, more than a few of these tools. They’re indispensable partners in your growth marketing efforts, helping you to understand which channels are working best, optimize individual campaigns, and keep all your projects on track. 

But just a few years ago, this list would have looked completely different. New tools are emerging all the time, and identifying them can help you get a step on the competition. Keep track of new tools, experiment with them, and reach out and let us know if you find any we should add to this list.

Best Growth Marketing Blogs to Read in 2021

Teams in nearly every industry, from individual founders who are self-funded, to large established players with multi-million dollar ad budgets have begun to invest in growth marketing to attract and retain new customers. But what exactly is growth marketing?

Companies that adopt growth marketing embrace a wide variety of marketing strategies and verticals, continuously experimenting and iterating to determine how to best optimize their growth efforts, seeking to achieve the perfect formula that sends traction and scale into overdrive. 

Growth marketing is a very fluid field, and new best practices, software platforms, and marketing strategies are constantly emerging. For growth marketers to stay up-to-date and continue to keep driving their companies forward, it’s important to embrace a growth mindset focused on constant learning. 

One of the best ways to learn? By paying close attention to the very best growth marketers out there. The easiest way to do that is to read the writing of the most innovative growth marketers out there today. But knowing who to trust can be an issue – how can marketers separate the signal from the noise? 

This list provides eighteen of the very best growth marketing blogs out there in 2021 and beyond. Each of the marketers and organizations on this list have a proven track record of driving huge successes for their brands and clients, and openly share their best practices with the rest of the industry. 

Ready to explore what they’re currently excited about? Let’s dive in!

#1 Deviate Labs

Deviate Labs is a growth marketing agency that applies growth hacking techniques to help brands scale. They work with companies of all shapes and sizes, from billion dollar brands like Dollar Shave Club to small local service businesses. 

The founders of Deviate Labs, Raymond Fong and Chad Riddersen, quite literally wrote the book on growth marketing, codifying the growth tactics employed by leading Silicon Valley tech companies into a simple framework any business can apply. 

Read Deviate Labs’ top posts:

#2 Relevance with Misty Larkins 

As the president of Relevance, Misty and her team consistently publish high-value resources to feed growth marketers with email, PR, off-page SEO, and content strategies.

Working with over 300 expert writers, academics, executives and practitioners, Relevance builds thought leadership with the most advanced strategies and tactics for navigating the complex growth marketing landscape. 

Read Relevance’s top posts:

#3 Tuff Growth Blog

Here at Tuff, we take a transparent approach to growth marketing. In our blog, you’ll find breakdowns on a variety of topics, from SEO to TikTok. Each post is written by one of our channel experts. You’ll be getting the best growth marketing practices straight from the minds of dedicated pros who spend all day working on the channel they’re writing about.

Here’s a couple of our most-read articles:

#4 Lenny Rachitsky

Every week, Lenny Rachitsky writes a newsletter packed with valuable, actionable advice for entrepreneurs. Backed by years as a founder and his experience leading growth at Airbnb, Lenny’s areas of expertise include product strategy, growth marketing, and people management. 

You can read his monthly newsletter for free, or join 80,000 other paid subscribers for weekly updates. 

Lenny’s top growth marketing articles:

#5 Brian Balfour

Having led growth at Hubspot and successfully scaled user bases to millions of daily users at venture-backed startups, Brian Balfour is now the Founder and CEO of Reforge (more on them in a minute). 

On his blog, Brian pens essays that explore growth and user acquisition strategies in great detail. He’s also taught Growth at Harvard Business School. 

Here’s a couple of Brian’s most popular essays:

#6 Reforge

Let’s stick with Brian Balfour for a second. He’s now the CEO of Reforge, which provides high-calibre training programs for growth marketers looking to take their career to the next level. 

The company’s blog is packed with articles and insights on growth strategy from leading executives at companies like Slack and Tinder. 

Check out Reforge’s best reads on growth strategy:

#7 The Appcues Blog

Appcues is a no-code solution that enables businesses to improve their user onboarding and product adoption process, with the ultimate goal of helping companies dramatically boost their customer retention rates. 

Remember, growth marketing isn’t all about getting new users – it’s also about effectively retaining and evangelizing them. And by reading Appcues’ blog, you can learn more about strategies across product marketing, growth, and UX design that help businesses do exactly that. 

Read Appcues’ blog posts on user journeys and onboarding:

#8 OkDork by Noah Kagan

Noah Kagan was an early employee at Facebook and Mint, and is currently the Founder and CEO of AppSumo.

On his website, OkDork, Noah shares his thoughts on all things marketing and entrepreneurship through blog posts, podcasts, and videos.   

Noah Kagan’s top posts:

#9 GrowthMentor 

With leadership from Foti Panagiotakopoulos and Jessica Volbrecht, GrowthMentor is a curated platform of invite-only startup and marketing mentors which have proven experience in their respective fields. 

The team consistently publishes insights and growth marketing articles on the blog — often articles written in-house or straight from the growth marketing community. 

GrowthMentor’s top posts:

#10 Portent Digital Marketing Blog

The team over at Portent are a full-service digital marketing agency, with experience leading growth strategies for companies like Adidas and Tumi. Their blog regularly dissects the latest industry news, breaking down the latest issues in ways growth marketers can easily digest and translate into actionable strategies of their own. 

Read Portent’s top growth marketing blog posts:

#11 Orbit Media Content Marketing Blog

Orbit Media is a web design agency based out of Chicago that focuses on building beautiful websites that convert at high levels. In their blog, they share practical tips for all things marketing, analytics, and web design, helping marketers around the world to leverage content marketing strategies to grow their business.

Check out Orbit Media’s most popular posts:

#12 Grow and Convert Blog

The team at Grow and Convert are passionate about creating content marketing strategies that actually drive conversions for the brands they work with. 

On their blog, they share case studies detailing the strategies and tactics they use for their partners, and provide all kinds of guidance about how marketers can employ content strategies to drive serious growth.

Grow and Convert’s best posts:

#13 Copyhackers by Joanne Weibe 

Copyhackers’ blog produces content to help teach you how to write copy you’ll be proud of because it reflects your brand and vision AND converts. With a focus on revenue-generating content, Joanne’s team has blog content, ebooks, videos, training, and more. 

Copyhackers best posts:

#14 Criminally Prolific

On the Criminally Prolific blog, growth marketer Dmitry Dragilev teaches entrepreneurs how to scale their business by using growth tactics like cold email outreach, content marketing, PR, and SEO. 

Check out these Criminally Prolific articles:

#15 Part and Sum 

We’re such big fans of Part and Sum at Tuff — and especially their growth marketing content. Part and Sum was founded in 2018 and has teams in Los Angeles and New York City. Their team has deep experience in strategy, innovation, growth, and data. 

You’ll find a variety of topics to dig into on the blog, from performance creative to calculating CAC, their content spans across multiple stages of the user journey. 

Read Part and Sum’s best posts:

#16 Quicksprout

The team at Quicksprout puts out a huge variety of business content, and if you’re just starting to learn about growth strategies, their marketing blog is the perfect place to begin.

You’ll find rundowns of the best software tools for growth marketers, as well as a series of entry level guides that make it easy for first timers to get started with growth marketing.

Read Quicksprout’s best posts:

#17 Growth Media

Growth Media is a revenue focused agency that helps SaaS and eCommerce businesses scale quickly. In their blog, they share the strategies that they use to deliver rapid growth, with articles covering everything from backlink strategy to conversion rate optimization.

Check out Growth Media’s top blogs for growth marketers:

#18 Venture Harbour

Venture Harbour is a startup studio focused on building and scaling bootstrapped businesses. In their blog, the team shares their insights, guides, and war stories from their years of experience building and scaling these high-growth businesses. 

Read Venture Harbour’s most insightful articles:

Other Growth Marketing Resources

This list is by no means exhaustive. Growth marketing is a diverse, growing field, and new thought leaders are constantly emerging. Be sure to explore some of the following resources too to find the content that’s most useful for your business:

Quora

Quora is a question and answer platform that anyone can use to pose a question to subject matter experts. The platform organizes content into different categories: of particular interest to growth marketers are spaces like Growth Hacking, Product Marketing, and Digital Marketing

Reddit

There are several active communities on Reddit where growth marketers gather to share case studies, discuss strategies, and ask for advice. Some of the best subreddits include r/GrowthHacking and r/DigitalMarketing

Twitter

Virtually all of the growth marketing blogs listed in this article have an active Twitter presence. In addition to those listed above, check out Twitter users like Alex Garcia and Growth Tactics for detailed growth marketing threads and case studies. Follow them and watch who they interact with to discover more growth leaders. 

Podcasts

Podcasts offer a unique opportunity to hear the unfiltered perspectives of some of the top growth marketing leaders in the world. Some growth marketers, like Noah Kagan, have their own podcasts, whereas other podcasts like Marketing Trends feature interviews with founders and top executives from high-growth startups. 

Start Your Personal Growth Today

This is a long list, and we’re not saying that you have to consume all this content to be a successful growth marketer. But learning, and personal growth, is in many ways similar to growth marketing. By exposing yourself to new ideas and strategies, you’re putting yourself, and your business, in the best position possible.

Read a few of these blog posts, experiment with some of the strategies they outline, and return to the writers that work best for you. Levelling up your information diet is one of the best ways to expose yourself to high-impact growth marketing concepts that can help you take your business to the next level. 

Did we miss any of your favorite growth marketers? Reach out and let us know!

customer information on computer

Zero Party Data: What It Means + Why And How You Should Be Collecting It

customer information on computer

As a growth marketing agency, our ability to access customer data is a major (if not the most important) factor in developing growth marketing strategies and executing them to find traction or scale. That’s why—before we spend a dollar with a new partner—we make sure proper tracking is set up and correctly capturing user’s data. 

In the last few months, accessing specific types of data about customers has been increasingly more difficult. It’s a topic that’s so monumental to the future of marketing and even business growth, as well as user privacy, that it’s been making headlines across the world. Don’t get us wrong, though, we believe this is a good thing; consumers should be able to control how their data is used in advertising. 

Despite that, brands should know the realities of what the advertising landscape looks like in a world without pixel tracking. 

There are varying levels of customer data that have become more difficult to access due to restrictions put in place by tech giants like Apple & Google that have reshaped the online advertising space (ahem, iOS 14). To understand how these changes have impacted digital advertising, start by understanding the different types of data. 

The three most common types are first-party, second-party, and third-party data. 

First-Party Data: Company-Owned

First-party data is any data collected by a company about their customers. This information is compiled through a brand’s website and used to develop various marketing strategies that cater to an individual or group (ex: target audience). For example, we use first-party data at Tuff when we look at a brand’s users’ website behavior, listen to inbound sales call recordings, or analyze purchase history to learn more about a company’s existing users and customers. 

Second-party data: Provided by a Partner

Now that you understand first-party data, second-party data will be easy to pick up. Second party data is first-party data that is provided by a known partner. Say you run an online outdoor publication and you know that your customer list would be good for a specific brand that sells backpacking tents. The brand that receives that audience to use in their targeting would be receiving second-party data.

Third-party data: Provided by an Outside Source 

Unlike first-party data, third-party data usually comes from an outside source (third party) that has collected the data about its customers. I don’t want to name names but so let’s make up a third party platform that might collect vast amounts of data about its users to be used for advertising. We’ll call it Facebook. Hypothetically speaking, let’s say Facebook has 2.89 Billion active users on its platform and due to how it tracks users on its platform and used to be able to across the web, then Facebook has copious amounts of data on a large chunk of the world’s population. Facebook then shares that data with advertisers to help them target specific audiences.

That’s third party data! 

Restrictions on Data

20 years ago, the internet embraced digital advertising and, in the process, annihilated traditional forms of advertising like print, FM/AM radio, and television. 

The reason? Hyper-specific targeting. 

Before the internet, advertising used broad targeting that was rather inefficient in comparison to what the internet made possible. Reaching your audience was done through the earlier mentioned traditional forms of advertising and their targeting options were fairly general. 

As Brian X. Chen from the New York Times explained in his article “The Battle For Digital Privacy is Shaping the Internet”, the internet made hyper-specific targeting available at scale and for a much lower cost than radio and tv could sell. 

Brands splashed their ads across websites, with their promotions often tailored to people’s specific interests. Those digital ads powered the growth of Facebook, Google and Twitter, which offered their search and social networking services to people without charge. But in exchange, people were tracked from site to site by technologies such as cookies and their personal data was used to target them with relevant marketing.” 

In April 2021, Apple released an update to their iPhone software called iOS 14 which contained a feature that enabled iPhone users to block their personal information from being shared. The feature has disrupted the advertising industry because it has made it fairly difficult for advertisers to retarget to users as well as measure how their ads are impacting conversion. 

Once a user on an iPhone clicks an ad on Facebook and leaves a Facebook-owned property,  without pixel tracking, we lose the data that tells us where that person came from when they get to the external website and begin their customer journey. 

This makes it incredibly difficult for us to analyze data in such a way that says definitively for every $1 you put into this paid acquisition channel you will receive $5 from a paying customer or with this channel you see an average cost per sale of $10. The reason? We have no idea of the channel source. 

To be clear though – attribution was never perfect, but it’s harder than ever now. 

Meet Zero Party Data: Provided by Your Audience

Zero-party data is optional information that the consumer chooses to willingly provide to a company, to hopefully improve their user experience. 

For example, you might position a “how did you hear about us” survey at the end of your customer journey after they convert. You can then tie the conversion amount to the source and then back to your ad spend to determine effectiveness.

Forrester Research first defined the term as follows:

“Zero-party data is that which a customer intentionally and proactively shares with a brand. It can include preference center data, purchase intentions, personal context, and how the individual wants the brand to recognize [them].”

The great thing about zero-party data is that it displays intentionality between the user or customer and brand.

As SalesForces.com expresses:

“As industry regulations such as GDPR and the CCPA put a heightened focus on safeguarding consumer privacy, and as more browsers move to phase out third party cookies and allow users to easily opt out of being tracked, marketers are placing a greater premium and reliance on data that their audiences knowingly and voluntarily give them.”

Zero-party data doesn’t have to be post-purchase only.

Take StichFix for example, they’ve built the majority of their $2 billion business off of their sign up quiz, which asks users numerous questions about how they feel about shopping and what types of clothes they like to wear to develop a consumer profile for them that enables StitchFix to send their customers customized clothing selections in a subscription service. 

Ultimately, we know that as consumers get savvier and the methods for blocking data trackers like pixels gets more sophisticated, relying on first, second, and third-party data will only get more complex. So, although it takes more time, intentionality, and strategy, we believe zero-party data is the future.

Do you have any strategies in place for collecting zero-party data? Whether your answer is yes or no, we’d love to talk!

team planning a fintech marketing strategy

Developing a Successful Fintech Marketing Strategy

team planning a fintech marketing strategy

Fintech is an exploding market, accounting for over 650 VC-backed deals in Q2 2021 alone, with $30.8 billion in funding. Market Data Forecast anticipates that Fintech will grow by over 23% annually through 2026, reaching a market value of over $320 billion in that time period.  As the fintech market fills with startups and scaleups, standing out above the noise will be a critical challenge for any fintech organization that desires to be successful. Fintech organizations that have a growth marketing strategy to acquire and convert inbound leads will have a leg up on the competition. 

Before we dive into growth marketing strategies, let’s chat about inbound marketing for a moment. 

Inbound vs. Outbound Marketing for Fintech

A lot of B2B organizations rely on outbound marketing for lead generation and driving sales. Traditional outbound marketing efforts, like trade shows, seminars, cold calling, are slowly fading out of favor with B2B organizations because of the manpower and cost required to manage these efforts. Inbound marketing, however, relies on capturing demand and meeting users that need you: not the other way around. 

Think of it this way: it costs significantly less for organizations to convert a lead who is coming to them, than it is to generate a prospect and convert them via cold calling. Fintech marketing teams that may have previously generated customers via outbound marketing are now shifting to an inbound marketing strategy. 

Know Your Target Audience

It seems obvious enough, right? Every growth marketing strategy should start with identifying the target audience and the value propositions for the organization. If this sounds fundamental, it’s because it is. 

Knowing your target audience rules out potential strategies that were on the table, and unlocks opportunities you may not have previously considered.

For example: if you are a B2C fintech organization – you probably aren’t going to put the majority of your ad spend on LinkedIn. 

Alternatively: if you are a B2B fintech organization that provides solutions to SMB owners, you may discover subreddits or Youtube channels that are large gathering places for your target audience that you can add in your targeting. 

Knowing your target audience also helps you figure out how to communicate with them. Since there are SO MANY fintech startups and scaleups, being able to speak directly to the needs of your target audience clearly will help you stand out above the noise. If you are developing a fintech marketing strategy, grab the Value Props Exercise spreadsheet from the Tuff blog and start identifying your target audience’s needs. 

Know Your Funnel 

The marketing funnel has three main components, top, middle, and bottom of the funnel. Matching your messaging and strategy for each stage in the funnel is incredibly important. 

Many channels, such as Facebook, can serve as multiple stages of the funnel for fintech marketing efforts. Here are some examples of an effective funnel for a fintech organization that Tuff currently partners with: 

  • Top of Funnel: Prospecting ads on Facebook centered around value propositions, Youtube Ads with a brand-focused video that directly addresses value propositions
  • Mid Funnel: Non-branded PPC Search Campaign, Retargeting campaign on Youtube, remarketing display ads
  • Bottom Funnel: Branded Search Campaign, Retargeting campaign on Facebook with an introductory offer

Some additional funnel strategies that could be a good fit for your organization: 

  • Lead capture in middle of funnel combined with a bottom funnel email marketing drip campaign aimed at converting leads 
  • Prospecting on Reddit, LinkedIn, or other demographic-based acquisition channels
  • Partnering with influencers to reach your target audience

Focus Efforts on Demand Generation 

In order for inbound marketing efforts to be successful, people need to know about your organization and how exactly it helps them. One of the most common issues fintech organizations run into is that users don’t know that they need their services or product to be successful. 

Chris Walker at Refine Labs says the following

“Most marketing teams only focus on capturing existing market demand. They wait for people to look for them. Then try to capture it with SEO, SEM… They spend all their time and effort and money fighting over the 0.1% of the market that is actively buying…All of the upside is in marketing to the 99% of the market that isn’t actively buying.”

A common example I use in explaining demand generation is Uber. Before Uber, people had taxis, or they relied on friends or daily for rides when they needed it. People didn’t know they needed Uber, until Uber came along and showed everyone why ridesharing was a better alternative to the status quo. 

Explaining your organization’s solution to a problem can be tricky. This is why it is important to spend time with value propositions and identifying how to best drum up demand. 

One disclaimer on-demand generation: using tools such as Google Analytics to determine attribution is only as accurate as the data it is being fed. Not all engagement, consideration, and offsite activity can be measured in Google Analytics, and can possibly make your demand generation efforts look less effective than they truly are. This leads us to…

Rely on Your Zero Party Data

Once you’re up and running with your campaigns, generating leads, and possibly sales – it’s time to figure out how you are capturing your target audience’s attention. With demand generation efforts, analytic tools can be inaccurate as to true attribution. This applies to both inbound and outbound marketing efforts. 

For inbound marketing efforts, if a user hears about you via a Facebook campaign, but does not click the ad, and later finds you via organic search, Google Analytics will tell you that the user found you organically – and make you feel great about your SEO efforts. For outbound marketing efforts, replace Facebook with a trade show, direct mail, or even a cold call, and you could run into the same issue.  

The way to solve this is easy: generate zero party data. Zero party data is data that customers share with brands. Intentionally collecting zero party data can be as simple as asking users how they first heard about you when they sign up. Zero party data is only as accurate as the information is being shared with you, so instead of relying solely on analytics tools or zero party data, look at both often, and develop insights from there. 

Spend Time with CRO 

CRO, or conversion rate optimization, is the ongoing effort of refining your site’s user experience to improve your lead capturing abilities. Getting traffic is one thing – converting them is another. Fintech organizations that spend time continually evaluating their site, implementing tests, and smoothing the path to conversion can see higher returns on their acquisition efforts. 

Some ways that CRO can be included in a fintech marketing strategy are: 

  • Testing different value propositions in the hero section of your landing page
  • A/B test call-to-actions or sign-up perks
  • Incorporating gamification, or other engagement tools on your site

The great thing about CRO is that it is a continual process – as your learnings grow, so do the possibilities.

If you are unsure about how CRO, zero-party data, or demand generation can be incorporated into your fintech marketing strategy — let’s talk.

Zeroing In On Your Channel Mix: Channel Diversification Cheat Sheet

Zeroing in on your channel mix—in other words, how you make people aware of you or get traffic to your website—has always been a critical component of growth. It’s essentially the first half of the growth equation. 

Half one: make people aware of you.

Half two: implement tactics to get them to do something. 

So, put that way, if you can’t get in front of your target audience, you’re going to seriously struggle to grow your business in any meaningful way. 

That’s why finding the right combination of acquisition channels for your business is so critical. It’s also really hard. It’s also, also why so many companies are focused on diversifying their channel mix in order to find new pockets, outside of Facebook and Google, to scale their acquisition efforts. 

When it comes to determining what channels to test and what budget to allocate, it’s a balance. You can’t afford (and don’t want to) spread your resources across every single channel that exists. You’ll end up with sloppy execution and merky data. You also can’t afford to not test new channels. You’ll end up with all your eggs in one basket and run the risk of being beholden to a single channel and the big shifts that channel implements (looking at you iOS 14). 

So what do you do? 

As a growth marketing agency, we’re constantly looking for ways to solve this challenge for our partners. At any given time, almost 30% of the spend under management at Tuff is being allocated to what we would call “emerging growth channels.” In this post, we’re going to break down what we’ve learned and which channels are currently our favorites. 

What are acquisition channels?

If you jump into any Google Analytics account, you’ll find a mix of traffic coming from five core sources. These include: 

  1. Paid 
  2. Organic 
  3. Email 
  4. Direct 
  5. Referral 

A paid acquisition channel is a place where a potential customer finds out about your company—think LinkedIn, Google Search, Facebook, etc. They are diverse and plenty, with cost per clicks (CPCs) ranging from as low as $0.15 to as high as $30. Knowing your CPC is important. It’ll help you determine how much budget you actually need to test a new paid channel. 

When it comes to channel exploration, we like to get anywhere from 300-500 clicks per channel (or campaign) before reworking or determining results. For cheaper channels in specific industries, this could mean that $500 is enough to test a new channel but for others, you’ll want to have at least $5,000. 

What are the core acquisitions channels?

For the last 10+ years, the majority of paid spend has gone into the pocket of one of two core acquisition channels: 

  • Google (+Bing) 
  • Facebook/Instagram

In addition to being some of the most advanced advertising platforms, both Google and Facebook make sense for companies as acquisition channels because: 

  • They have huge audiences and advanced targeting options 
  • They are self-service platforms and make it easy for people to use 
  • They can be cost-effective 

That said, the majority of brands, at some point, will start to see diminishing returns on channels like Facebook and Google when they try to scale rapidly. Layer on the fact that the advertising landscape has (and will continue to) change. According to ProfitWell, customer acquisition costs have gone up by over 60% in the last 5 years, making channel diversification that much more important. 

What are the best emerging channels?

There are a number of emerging channels available for companies to leverage to find traction and scale outside of Facebook and Google. We’ve tested on all of the major channels and have some initial favorites so far in 2021: 

  • YouTube 
  • TikTok 
  • Snapchat 
  • Amazon 

YouTube

At Tuff, we’ve been running campaigns on YouTube for over three years. When we started on YouTube, at the most, 10% of our clients were experimenting on this channel. Today, almost 65% of our clients are running campaigns on this channel. 

YouTube is great because it’s a blend between Google and Facebook. With YouTube advertising, you can get extremely targeted and identify high-intent, niche keywords and audiences to segment. At the same time, it’s also extremely creative-forward and visual like Facebook. I like this combination because you get advanced targeting paired with video in a way you can’t on any other platform. 

When it comes to YouTube, we often use this as a top-of-the-funnel initiative. We use it to get as many quality eyeballs as possible on our videos and then implement tactics to move these users further down our funnel. That said, we also have clients that use YouTube extremely successfully as a last-click customer acquisition channel. 

Here are what the results can look like so you have context as you experiment or compare with existing campaigns. Take a look at a full spreadsheet from some of the YouTube campaigns in the Tuff MCC account. 

Here are some of the major YouTube tips: 

  • Consolidate your spend on geos: Chris, our YouTube expert, always talks about YouTube like a Billboards. With so much inventory available on YouTube, and attribution getting more difficult, if you consolidate your spend to specific geos it will be easier to see lift (or no lift) in revenue or conversions from YouTube. 
  • Leverage Retargeting: YouTube retargeting is significantly cheaper than other channels and you can retarget both site traffic and video views. 
  • Reduce CPC with Custom Intent: Build custom intent audiences using high CPC keywords instead of relying exclusively on search. Here’s a full blog post breaking down this exact strategy

We talk about YouTube a lot at Tuff and have a full playlist on the blog with YouTube campaign examples, data, and best practices. Check it out

TikTok

We get more inquiries and questions about TikTok from clients and prospects than any other channel combined. For the right audience, TikTok can be super cost-effective and drive a serious amount of traffic and revenue but it’s not for everyone. It also takes a slightly modified approach to get the right results. In other words, it’s far more finicky than on Facebook. Some of the things you’d do to set up your campaigns on Facebook and Instagram are completely different for TikTok. 

For successful results, here are some things to consider: 

  • Audience: For TikTok, based on what we’ve seen, you need to go broad with your audience. On other channels, like Facebook, it’s easy to get extremely granular and focus on an audience of 1M or fewer but on TikTok you need to expand. The algorithm is extremely sophisticated and the larger your audience, the better the results will be. For instance, the For You Page on TikTok knows exactly what type of content you’re interested in. The short story: trust that the algorithm will serve your ads to the users who would be interested in your ads.
  • Creative: You can’t even consider TikTok without video creative. Do you have really strong video assets and can you create new videos on a 3-4 week basis? If not, TikTok might not be for you. Layer on the fact that TikTok users have a super high BS-o-meter, and you’ll want to get super particular with what you publish. The good news: there’s tons of room to test and doing so doesn’t need to drain your bank account. We’re a performance-creative focused crew here at Tuff and have written a full blog post on this exact topic

If you want a deep dive on what to expect with TikTok, here’s a list of practical tips and recommendations for creating high-performing TikTok campaigns. 

Snapchat

The good news: if you’ve taken on the task of making creative for TikTok, you’re already most of the way towards firing up a Snapchat strategy as well. Unlike TikTok, Snapchat surprisingly has some amazingly sophisticated targeting options (which is not surprising when you find out they partner with Neilsen to make it happen). Ultimately, Snapchat is extremely dependent on native-looking and always-refreshing creative, but if you can crack that nut, you can quite possibly unlock a powerful acquisition channel. 

Amazon

When it comes to eCommerce growth, Amazon has been part of the conversation for a while now and for good reason. In 2020, Amazon advertising became the number three ad publisher in the United States, accounting for over $15.73 billion in ad revenue. It’s estimated that Amazon’s ad business is growing even more in 2021, with a projected ad revenue of over $20 billion (over 30% annual growth). 

While there are many pros and cons to selling on Amazon, having an effective Amazon advertising strategy is an essential part of a growth strategy for almost every single eCommerce brand. 

We get into a number of best practices and Amazon advertising tips in this post, but to highlight a few priorities: 

  • Split out branded and non-branded campaigns (just like you would do on Google!) 
  • Use automated targeting on Amazon ads to get better insights into your manual bid strategies 
  • Measure and correlate spikes in organic sales as you optimize you paid efforts 

It’s worth mentioning that there are other channels we are actively testing on that collectively make up about the same amount of spend as the channels above. These include: Reddit, Quora, Twitter, Spotify, LinkedIn, and Pinterest. It’s not to say that these channels aren’t the right ones for your business (if your target audience is actively there) but we haven’t seen as much scale on these platforms as we’d like. They can be great supporting channels but aren’t, at this point, going to be your hero channel. 

What about non-paid acquisition channels?

This post has focused primarily on diversifying your paid channel mix. And if you’re an early stage startup or in extreme scale mode, paid is where you are going to get the quickest result. But, I can’t stress enough the importance of organic acquisition. Being completely reliant on paid is something that you just can’t do. 

Unlike paid acquisition, organic traffic is going to bring you the best long-term, most compounding growth results if you have the right SEO strategy. It can take up to 12 months of work until you start seeing results but it’s arguably the best growth tactic you can implement for your business. Here’s an in-depth post on how we build a holistic SEO strategy to help businesses see more organic traction. 

My advice: Fill the gaps and find short-term momentum with paid acquisition until you are able to implement and see traction with organic acquisition. 

 

Trial By Fire: How to Start a Growth Marketing Agency

This August, we’re heading into our fifth year at Tuff. While I learn something new every day, there are four major takeaways I can confidently share about how to build a growth marketing agency

First, though, I’ll note that these days, I spend quite a bit of time communicating with these kinds of people:

  • Successful freelancers, wondering if it’s time to start an agency.
  • Agency owners, wondering how to grow.
  • Owners or solopreneurs ready to segue into an agency model.

After quite a few of 1:1 convos, I realized that I found myself recounting the four ways Tuff has achieved steady growth. So I thought it might be helpful to share it with a broader audience!

If you’re thinking about building an agency, are in the process of building an agency, or just want to know how all of this works, here’s what I’ve learned so far. 

4 Key Tips for Building an Agency

First, let me say this: every business is different. How you grow an agency will be different than how we get results and grow our agency. Even if alignment is strong, there will always be notable differences when it comes to approach, personalities, priorities, etc. 

That said, these are four concrete things I’ve learned growing this business that I’m sure can be adapted to any context.

Hire an Incredible Team

Agencies are service-based businesses, and there’s no level of infrastructure or product quality that has the ability to eclipse the value of the right people. People matter, and they aren’t always easy to find, so I’ve learned that hiring and people ops is just as important as generating new business. 

After a handful of wrong hires, we worked for months to put together a very streamlined and effective hiring process that includes:

  • Attracting the right people with employer branding 
  • Developing internal impact descriptions that map to our Career Framework 
  • Well-written job descriptions 
  • A three-step interview process with a mini (and always-rotating) hiring committee 
  • A tool to manage applications and steps in the interview process (Workable

It’s also important to identify which team members you currently have who are the right fit to manage or be involved in this process. Some people are inherently good talent-seekers who have a deep understanding of your clients and their goals as well as the vision of company and team culture. Figure out how to position your current team to build your future team.

Systemically, all of this represents an investment of time and money into culture and people ops. My first ever agency hire was a people ops strategist. Truth. I wish I could take more credit for this because it’s honestly the best thing that ever happened to Tuff but it was just dumb luck. My sister, Mary, has been in the people ops space for over 10 years and came on to Tuff in the beginning to help us lay our foundation. 

Some of our strategic investments in people ops include:

Having a team that is autonomous and collaborative is the only way to sustain growth in your agency. Creating a great place to work is our second highest priority (just after staying in business). 

Build a Repeatable Formula for Generating New Business

Hiring the right people and building a repeatable lead pipeline were both the two hardest things and the two most important things we did to build our business. It took us about 18 months to build a repeatable formula for new business; one that we control. 

We tested out a lot of tactics. 95% of them didn’t work. Once we eliminated the ones that failed, we really refined the ones that succeeded, and now we can count on the outcomes. That process was obviously not fast and it was definitely not easy, but if you want to grow an agency, there’s no substitute for this work.

Here’s what didn’t work: 

Outbound: Outbound sales didn’t work for us and here’s why. We had a lot of conversations (helpful conversations in which I learned a ton) but not a lot of action. With outbound, there’s a lot of: 

  • Sure, I might as well investigate just in case.
  • Please don’t email me again 
  • What does it cost? 
  • Actually, something came up, need to push our meeting a week.

Here’s what did work: 

Inbound: This was the harder route (less immediate and it took a tremendous amount of consistency and commitment) but one that has led to compounding growth. We worked tirelessly (and still do) to capture demand by ranking on page one for high-intent keywords like “growth marketing agency” “growth agency” “startup marketing agency” etc. We worked on our SEO and organic strategy for six months before seeing results. 

With inbound, the conversions started to be more like: 

  • I want to learn about your services and team 
  • Can we schedule a time this week to connect? 
  • We’re ready to chat and we think you could be the best fit. 

So, in the early days we filled the gaps and found short-term momentum with outbound until we were able to implement an inbound system that worked. 

Even though we now see results, we’re just scratching the surface of this. Undoubtedly, the process of generating new (and the right) business always has room for improvement.

I’ll say this: we haven’t created the biggest, most profitable agency in the world, but we have learned a ton that we know is critical to an agency’s success. And that’s the key: if you can be patient, willing to try new things, willing to learn from your mistakes, and willing to ditch what doesn’t work, you’ve got a shot to build something great. 

Going into it with an explorer mentality ensures that you don’t get tied too early to efforts that yield questionable results. Try more. Learn from it. Keep moving. 

Trim the Fat

In the last five years, one of my biggest challenges as an agency owner has been to make some hard calls, ie, to trim the fat. 

Here are the brass tacks:

  • When you get to a place where you can say no to new partnerships: say no.
  • If you are in partnerships that are no longer a good fit: get out.

When your business is growing, you’re going to outgrow clients. You need to be able to have those hard conversations, and you must be selective.

It can be hard as an owner when you have a client who wants to work with you and pay top dollar (especially when it took 18 months to generate your first handful of inbound leads), but you need to make these decisions in the real world, and with the long-term goal in mind. 

This may seem wild if you are still in the early days, but there will come a time when you will say no to multiple revenue opportunities and good ideas because it’s not the right fit for your team. This is a net positive move that preserves the health of your company, your people, and keeps you true to your mission and goals.

Adapt Quickly and Pivot Your Services When You Need To

We’ve all heard, “the riches are in the niches,” but even more than nicheing, successful agency owners listen to the market and let it inform their strategic planning. This is really applicable to where I was when Tuff first started. 

I didn’t have the truest understanding of what people needed from a growth marketing agency, I just knew that agencies get a really bad rap. It’s often because the experience feels opaque, needlessly expensive, and peppered with sneaky opportunities to upsell. I knew there had to be a better way to treat clients. But it took me a long time to understand from a servicing perspective where Tuff could be most valuable.

In the first few years with Tuff, I did more cold pitching, outbound prospecting, and sales calls than I have in my entire career. In fact, I had never done sales before. It was a huge learning opportunity. It’s also why I still do sales today even though our team is significantly bigger. Ultimately, there is NO replacement for testing your own messaging in the market. There’s probably a faster way to get there but the result was invaluable. 

We now know with absolute clarity who we are and what we can provide, which not only accelerates the sales process but makes us an effective partner for our clients.

Practical Steps to Creating a Marketing Agency

Those four high-level insights, I would say, are mission critical for growing an agency. As someone who has been in the thick of it, I know that other people’s stories are helpful. I’m willing to be super honest about what it took for me to get to this five-year mark. Here’s a little of what it cost me and some of what didn’t work (and what did), to get Tuff where it is today.

  • I freelanced for almost 8 months so I could afford to get a website up and running, as well as pay salaries for at least three employees for six months. I didn’t want it to be a “chicken and egg” situation, so I banked some capital to float the business launch. 
  • My first hire was a people ops consultant who helped build our career framework and compensation strategy, which is a unique move for an agency owner. This was sheer dumb luck. Most people look at this and think that a people ops consultant isn’t a revenue-generating employee, which is technically true in that they don’t have billable hours. However, the return on investment you get from hiring the right people is the most revenue generating investment you can make. It is a hard decision to make at the beginning, but one I would do over and over again.
  • Over the course of 18 months, we tried about 20 different things to generate a lead pipeline: only one of them worked at scale. For us, there’s a whole laundry list of what didn’t work, including: Outbound Sales, Cold Email, Events / Networking , Workshops, Speaking Opportunities, Partnership, and Sponsorships. To be clear: one of our failed attempts may very well be your money-maker. The point is that we tried a lot until we found a reliable source of lead gen.
  • I want a whole separate point for the timeline, because it is a major reality check for many agency owners looking to scale. If you consider that I first had to save money, then spent 18 months experimenting, Tuff took at least two years finding traction and scale. Now, we have a much steadier growth curve. There are myriad factors that can make this timeline shorter, including owner experience, credibility/name recognition, existing clout or networks, etc. For the rest of us, it just takes time.
  • In the beginning, I said yes to everything, because I learn by doing. We were staying alive and using this ever present “yes” to keep the lights on. That worked for us because it gave us hands-on experience. That said, once we started to grow, we had to unwind those habits. Now, we say “no” quite a bit and are selective about what we work on, but we grew into that. In other words, do what you have to do until you don’t have to do it anymore.

Building a Growth Marketing Agency

Growth marketing helps companies get to their goals faster. An agency that can facilitate it doesn’t succeed with half-formed ideas or untested strategies. If you have the ambition, commit to the process. Your journey won’t be the same as ours, but those four learnings from above probably feel very relatable. For more content like this, check out the rest of the Tuff blog. Whether you’ve been in business for five months — or five years like us (wahoo!) — I wish you all the success in the world.

inbox on a phone

They WANT to Hear From You: How to Use Email Drip Campaigns to Engage Your Best Customers

person building email drip campaigns on computer

If you’ve been following Tuff for truly any amount of time, you know that we have a history of taking a hard stance on email marketing. Hyperboles aside, email is a channel that truly pulls its weight in a full-funnel marketing strategy. What’s more, your customers (and/or clients, leads, prospects) WANT to hear from you. Need some proof?

Did you know that 72% of customers prefer email as their main channel for business communication? Did you further know that 60% of consumers say they’ve made a purchase as the result of a marketing email they’ve received? (Source)

The short story: an opt-in is a sure sign from your customer that they want to hear you. When you honor that with timely, actionable, and relevant communication in their inbox, you energize your on-the-fence customers and engage your best ones. In other words: you create a real, scalable path to growth. 

The catch: between e-blasts, marketing emails, transaction emails, list segmentation, and automation it’s hard to know where to start. We’ve got your back. 

Disclaimer! As a growth marketing agency, we’re constantly preaching about prioritization; how to identify your highest-impact/lightest-lift activities so you can quickly implement, optimize, test, and use your findings to build more detailed, impactful strategies on other channels. Email is no different. This article digs deep into drip campaigns: in our opinion, one of the best ways to drive revenue using email. But! That’s not to say that e-blasts or automated flows might make the greater impact for you. Not quite sure where to start? Let’s talk.

The Vocab: Email Marketing 101

A solid email strategy starts with a clear understanding of your options. An important note: depending on where you’re getting your information, the following terminology may vary (or be used a bit differently).

E-Blast vs. Drip Campaign vs. Automated Flow

There are a number of different methods for emailing your customers that have opted into hearing from you. The first, and typically the most common is e-blasts. This is where most founders or marketers start: this is a one-off or a consistently sent email meant to keep your customers up to date on new content, product launches, and/or events. These are manual and hands-on—the content will change each time you send. 

A drip campaign, meanwhile, is static, predetermined, and scheduled content based on pre-defined triggers. For example, a series of email that sends to someone who’s just created an account, abandoned their cart, or downloaded a white paper. The content of the series is catered specifically to the action that the user has taken. And while particularities of the content (like dynamic product content blocks based on the actual items in the user’s abandoned cart), the series itself is a fixed number of emails that eventually ends. 

Finally, an automated flow is a series of emails that dynamically changes based on a user’s behavior (the distinction between a drip campaign and an automated flow is relatively subtle). For example, if a customer has indicated through a series of behaviors that they’re a top user of your app, you can program an automated email to encourage them to upgrade their subscription, leave a review, refer a friend, or take another higher-value action. Then, if that user ends up taking that action, the automation will either drop them out of the flow or put them into a new one. 

While each type pulls its weight in a holistic email marketing strategy, above, they’re ordered from the simplest to the most complex. We recommend starting with e-blasts and maintaining a steady cadence while you build out drip campaigns. Once you’ve had an opportunity to really hone in on list segmentation, get super specific with user behavior patterns, and collect data on your open, click through, and unsubscribe rates, then (in our opinion) it’s time to dig into automated flows. 

How to Build an Effective Email Drip Campaign

Drip campaigns are communications that meet a customer when they’re most engaged: right after they’ve taken a notable action. Before you write one subject line or begin to map out your campaign, it’s super important to get specific with your triggers. 

Step 1: List Every Possible Trigger

No matter what kind of business you run (SaaS, B2B, B2C) your customer journey is stacked with actions for your potential customers to take. From the very first time they discover you, all the way through to conversion, they’ll (likely…ideally!) be seeing and clicking on your ads, finding new ways to learn about you, engaging with ways to save, and ultimately, buying. Here are just a handful of examples:

  • Placing an order
  • Attending an event at your store
  • Signing up for a webcast
  • Registering for a report or white paper
  • Abandoning a shopping cart
  • Engaging with customer service

This is also the step during which you’ll do the heavy lifting when it comes to segmentation.

email flow

We could (and probably will!) write a full extra article on segmentation but the short story: if your lists aren’t thoughtfully and properly segmented, the rest of your strategy will have a hard time getting off the ground.

Step 2: Determine Where Each Trigger Fits in Your Marketing Funnel

Where these leads sit in your funnel helps dictate how you message them and what actions you call them to take. Here are the above examples organized by where they fit in the funnel:

Top of Funnel → signing up for a webcast, registering for a report or white paper

Middle of Funnel → attending an event at your store, engaging with customer service

Bottom of Funnel → abandoning a shopping cart

Step 3: Decide How Often to Send

Quick tip: you can send more emails than you think you should. Customers WANT to hear from you. Our tactical recommendations differ depending on industry (eCommerce companies can get away with sending at a higher cadence while B2B or SAAS companies should resist sending more than five emails a month).

Lay out your email cadence depending on how long your sales/conversion process usually takes and/or how long it will take to tell a complete story about why they should purchase or subscribe based on where they are in the funnel.

A quick blueprint to help you find your starting line:

  • Plan to include 5 – 10 emails in your campaign
  • Send 4 days apart if you’re B2C, 7 if you’re B2B

Step 4: Create Your Email Content

An email drip (as well as an automated flow) is a story — how do you tell a full story from end to end? Again, this messaging will vary greatly depending on where your user is in the funnel. 

email campaign example

Users in the top of your marketing funnel will resonate best with heavy education (how does your product/service make their life better), a word from experts, general tips for how easy it is to integrate your product/service into their life. Consider crafting all emails with the primary CTA of “Learn More.”

Users in the middle of your marketing funnel are in the consideration phase. Core messaging here should be focused on how your product or service tactically works, insights or experiences from real users, and press mentions. The primary CTA here is get in touch with customer service or start shopping.

Users in the bottom of your marketing funnel are nearing conversion and actively looking to buy from you or a competitor. Core messaging here should center on your brand story—why they should believe in your company and how you outpace the competition. Here, we’ve found that personal notes from founders, explaining why and how they’ve built the company in all its particularities can make an impact. The primary CTA here is to place an order, subscribe, or whatever your ultimate conversion action is. 

Step 5: Launch, Check In. Optimize. Rinse & Repeat.

No matter which email strategy you adopt and implement, it’s critical to continuously check in on your drip campaigns to increase performance and, overtime, drive more revenue. Here’s a quick cheat sheet outlining the best metrics to scrutinize and what to try to elevate their performance:

Deliverability Rate

  • What it is: The number of emails accepted by the recipient’s server. 
  • Why it might be underperforming: You bought a list of emails (BIG no no), you don’t have a clear unsubscribe rate, or you’re using spammy/overly-salesy language.
  • How to improve it: Continuously clean your lists, delete any addresses that bounce or are invalid, and ensure the unsubscribe button is clearly visible.

Open Rate

  • What it is: The percentage of recipients that open your email. 
  • Why it might be underperforming: Your email has landed in the spam folder, it’s hard to tell who you (the sender) is, or your subject line is uninspiring.
  • How to improve it: Use simple A/B subject line tests to see what kind of language your audience resonates with.

Click-Through Rate (CTR)

  • What it is: The percentage of people that open your email and also click through to a link. 
  • Why it might be underperforming: Your CTA buttons are too far down the email, it isn’t clear to your recipients what kind of action you want them to take, or the link isn’t compelling enough.
  • How to improve it: Test different text lengths, button styles, and actionable copy to encourage a click.

Conversion Rate (CVR)

  • What it is: The percentage of people that click through to your site and also make a purchase. 
  • Why it might be underperforming: The experience of your email doesn’t match the experience a user has when they hit the site.
  • How to improve it: Ensure a smooth/consistent experience from your email to your site.

There’s truly no gilded road to email success—the best strategies start with the questions, “what’s going to be the most impactful for my business and my customer/prospect?” Sometimes, this can feel a bit daunting. The good news: we’ve got your back! Ready to fire up some effective drop campaigns? Let’s talk!