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It’s Time to Think Differently About Traction

Every business and customer is different and requires a unique approach to finding traction and scaling growth. While one may acquire customers at a competitive price point on its first try, another may require a more creative approach that builds affinity over many touchpoints. The only way you can know which method will work for your business is to experiment, validate, and iterate your strategy in market. Traction is one framework by which you can find the best method for scaling your business.

The faster you run high-quality experiments, the more likely you’ll find scalable, effective growth tactics. Determining the success of a customer acquisition idea is dependent on an effective tracking and reporting system, so don’t start testing until your tracking/reporting system has been implemented.

Gabriel Weinberg

Traction: A Startup Guide to Getting Customers 

Almost anybody who has been in the digital marketing world for a while has probably heard of Traction Marketing. The 2015 book by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares discusses the 19 channels a startup can leverage to find new customers and grow their business. These channels range from sales development to social media to engineering-as-marketing and more. In reality, things change – and they change fast – especially in the marketing world. 

So this book that isn’t even a decade old can feel outdated. Does it still speak to the current challenges businesses face, such as: being short-staffed, short runways to get campaigns ready, and limited resources? Well, let’s look at the benefits of the Traction methodology. 

Benefits of the Traction Bullseye Framework

The Traction framework benefits teams across many aspects of a growth strategy, from strategic ideation to operations and profitability. It encourages teams to remove bias, brainstorm ideas in unfamiliar channels, and keep acquisition costs low. 

Reduce Risk

Traction takes the emotion out of decision-making. Traction encourages teams to use data and customer-centricity to get answers to critical business questions. In the early stages of launching a product, poor decisions can lead to poor team morale, unhappy investors, and in the worst case, a failed product. 

Using the Traction framework leverages lean budgets and quick tests to determine where to increase your investment or pivot. You can apply this idea across multiple tactics and channels, collecting data to help you compare channels to one another effectively.

Eliminate Channel Bias 

Traction allows you to explore all the possibilities for your brand – not just the ones you’ve used successfully before. This can be uncomfortable for teams with tried and true strategies. Understandably, many marketing leaders want to stick with what they know. But to make Traction work, you must force yourself out of those comfortable patterns.

We challenge clients to remember these brainstorms are designed to push expectations. Try to think of ideas you may not believe to be immediately viable but will open up discussion. This freedom is where the most exciting ideas come out in traction workshops. Be different. That’s what will drive traction.

I’ve done traction workshops with middle schoolers for field trips and many clients over the years. The starkest difference I see doing the same workshop with kids and adults is the freedom kids feel in making suggestions and doing something unexpected. Adults tend to fall into similar patterns. We can always rein in ideas and make them more practical – if we allow ourselves the freedom to do it.

Megan Hord
Senior Content Marketing Strategist

Sticking to what we know is a common scenario. Maybe you’ve had acquisition success with Adwords on a previous project, so you attempt to replicate that success on your next launch. Twelve months later, their acquisition cost is unsustainable, and you’re having conversations about sunsetting the product altogether. What happened? Every product and market is unique, and the same tactics that worked for one business might not work for another. 

Traction is only as good as the openness and creativity of the individuals participating. It can be a powerful tool to help teams reconsider ideas, push boundaries and stay abreast of the latest opportunities.

Chelsea Burns
Director of Product Management

Narrow Focus

The Bullseye forces us to narrow our efforts to just three test channels to find the one primary channel (the Bullseye) that will maximize results. Using speed to test through channels rapidly, we have a better chance of quickly finding a core Traction channel that fuels growth. 

Bringing Traction Marketing to Modern Day

Ok, we have laid the groundwork for the benefits of Traction. But how do we apply this framework? The basics of using traction marketing typically go something like this:

  • Step 1: Brainstorm ideas for each channel
  • Step 2: Rank the channels by whether they seem like long-shots, have business potential, or are the most immediately promising. 
  • Step 3: Test 1-2 of the channels in the inner circle to see if they bring in customers.

If you follow the framework outlined with only the 19 channels listed initially, you’ll most assuredly leave opportunities on the table. The quickest way to bring traction marketing up to date is by reexamining these channels and seeing where you may need to adjust the definition or make some additions. For instance, our growth and innovation firm, Three Five Two, has added channels to our traction brainstorming (Product-Led Growth & Influencer Marketing) to make them more comprehensive.  But perhaps more critically, the framework is just that – a practical framework to help marketers prioritize their efforts on the most impactful channels.

Once you have these exciting and different ideas, how do you bring them to life? What makes the Traction methodology different from a traditional one is mapping out how to test your hypothesis about whether a channel is a long shot or a money-maker. 

Each traction brainstorm should consider the following:

  • Cost – What is the expected cost to acquire new customers through each idea?
  • Audience – How many customers can you expect to acquire at that cost before reaching market saturation?
  • Timeline – How long do you need to run your test before getting actionable results?

The Tension with Testing

At its core, Traction is an experimental framework designed to help marketers think like scientists. Make a hypothesis, run an experiment, report your findings, and make better decisions for your next experiment. In this case, start with small experiments to get a sense of what might work and then add fuel to the fire, pivot to a new tactic, or kill the experiment to find the next opportunity. But it’s not always that simple. When launching a new product, there are several critical items a company must prioritize. They need to learn how to improve their product, but they need results to hit the bottom line. Testing allows you to prioritize your learnings across multiple channels for faster results that enable product and marketing iterations.

The faster you run high-quality experiments, the more likely you’ll find scalable, effective growth tactics. Determining the success of a customer acquisition idea is dependent on an effective tracking and reporting system, so don’t start testing until your tracking/reporting system has been implemented.

Gabriel Weinberg
Traction: A Startup Guide to Getting Customers

One example is conducting A/B tests – or using a control version against a variation to see what audiences respond to more. You could include versions that each focus on a particular feature of your product (Feature A and Feature B). When you test both, you can see what features audiences care about (and what might need to be tweaked). This testing mentality allows you to shift from “product vs. customer” to leveraging your customers to learn about your product. Win-win!

Not Just for Startups Anymore

Traction has most frequently been used for startups beginning from net zero. But enterprise clients have a lot to learn from this type of nimble thinking and challenges to their tried and true methods. By leveraging Traction, even the largest organizations can rethink what they have always done and discover new opportunities that may be out there.

Startups naturally think lean, scrappy, and iterative. Enterprise companies think large, scalable, and repeatable. When we start to work with companies who aren’t used to the “startup” mentality, there is usually pushback on the effectiveness of this approach. However, through validating learnings and showing speed to achieve these learnings, we’ve transformed Fortune 100 marketing teams from using traditional processes to embracing Traction’s lean, iterative approach.

Lauren LeDonne
Director of Product Management

What We Can Learn From Traction

Despite being nearly a decade old, there is still much to learn from the Traction methodology. With a bit of tweaking, any business can use the framework to challenge its assumptions, push its boundaries, and – ultimately – grow its business. 

At its core, Traction teaches us to bullishly focus our experimentation efforts to find traction as quickly as possible. It can help teams shrug off legacy approaches to growth that fail to attract and return early adopters in new categories. 

Traction’s emphasis on data-driven decisions through fast channel experimentation makes it highly relevant for today’s product growth teams tasked with delivering impactful, quantifiable insights senior leaders need to determine the next iteration for a product or company. 

Finally, Traction is a system by which we pursue radical customer growth. Our goals may change as we learn more about our customers and how they interact with our brand. And that’s ok. Traction is about the speed-to-adoption of new insights that will drive growth. 

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