The 3 stages of building world-class growth funnels

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Don’t reinvent the growth funnel.

There’s more than a decade of growth marketing now behind us. Thousands of startups have experimented with infinite variations and tweaks to their growth funnel, so why should you try to reinvent the same foundation?

The most important aspects are acquisition, activation and retention. While referral and monetization are also quite important, they won’t make or break a startup like those first three. If you can’t acquire, activate or retain consumers to your startup, your probability of success is practically nil.

In this article I will walk you through world-class setups from several leading companies, broken down by each stage of the funnel, so that you can draw inspiration from what has already been proven over the last decade.

This isn’t meant to be a teardown of each specific startup, but rather a holistic look into what leading companies are doing, their mindsets when it comes to growth and how to replicate these actions in your own startup.

Funnel stage I: Acquisition

Without question, the most advanced acquisition I personally encountered occurred while I was a leader of rider growth at Uber. As you can imagine, at that time we had swarms of product managers, data scientists and all the complementary growth roles you can think of helping us push our growth marketing team forward.

When building the correct approach for acquisition, these are the aspects that will elevate a world-class program above an average one:

  • Attribution setup
  • Mindset on metrics
  • Focus on large levers

In terms of our attribution, I must begin by qualifying that I have never seen an attribution framework that was 100% accurate, as it is essentially impossible to capture all acquisition data without leakage.

At Uber we did still spend a great deal of time working with our attribution partners, such as our mobile measurement partner, and were constantly locating areas of improvement. Before unloading on your acquisition budget, you should first ensure you are capturing all possible data from your paid channels. If you’re acquiring on the web, this means adding UTM parameters to all campaigns.

Acquisition, activation and retention are critical. While referral and monetization are also quite important, they won’t make or break a startup.

Conversely, if you’re acquiring on a mobile app, this means having a mobile measurement partner fully integrated into your app. I’ve written an entire column on how to set up a proper tech stack that I implore readers to visit if they are starting their own attribution efforts from scratch.

Mindset on acquisition is what separates marketers flashing vanity metrics such as CTR and CVR, while simultaneously losing sight on down-funnel conversion metrics. At Uber, we focused on advanced metrics such as predicted LTV (pLTV) and predicted first trips (pFT) of new riders that we were acquiring in real time. Using methodologies we developed in-house that analyzed various data points, including acquisition channel and geography, we were able to accurately predict the number of trips a new user would make 90 days out.

Whatever your north star metric is, you should always be looking far into the future to understand the value of your acquisition so that you can double down on those channels that bring the highest-value consumers.

Acquisition is ever-changing and the best-in-class marketers work hard to stay in touch with the latest creative trends, new ad formats to test, and those next golden pockets to sell to. When I was on the growth team at Coinbase, we spent a minimum of 10% of our budget testing the new ad formats that TikTok was releasing.

The point here is that you should focus on the largest paid acquisition levers as they come to fruition, with one such example being creative on paid social. I recommend the following sites that keep startup founders up-to-date on the latest growth and marketing trends — SocialMediaToday for paid social or Search Engine Land for paid search.

Funnel stage II: Activation

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