Growth Hacking For Dummies
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Growth hacking is all about understanding where the biggest opportunities lie within the customer journey to grow the value you provide to your customers. To understand where such opportunities lie to power your growth hacking initiative, you need to visualize how customers get to that value.

A customer journey framework is a system to help you visualize customers’ experiences with your product or brand. Once you’ve visualized their journey, you can analyze how they complete each step of that journey. This analysis in turn helps you understand more about how you can better help them through each step of that journey. This (repeatable) process allows you to improve at growing the value you provide as they take more turns experiencing the value your product provides.

If you Google the term customer journey framework, you’ll see that people have come up with multiple ways to visualize this concept. The problem with most of them is that they can be too detailed or complicated for people with zero experience with growth or marketing. in all areas of growth hacking, you have to find a balance between getting things done and gaining an in-depth understanding of a topic.

The two frameworks that are often found to be most useful when getting started in growth hacking are the Pirate Metrics and Marketing Hourglass frameworks. As you’ll soon see, both of them do an excellent job of providing you with the big picture of the customer journey. This is important when starting out, because drilling down into detail without this macro view may cause you to miss, or misidentify, where your biggest growth opportunities may lie.

Applying the Pirate Metrics customer journey (also known as AARRR)

In 2007, Dave McClure, a co-founder of the startup accelerator known as 500 Startups, changed how startups thought about the customer journey. He presented a simple framework he called Pirate Metrics (you’ll see in a moment, why he came up with that name). The framework had five steps, called Acquisition, Activation, Retention, Referral, and Revenue.

Because the mnemonic (or memory aid) for it literally was “AARRR.”— the clichéd pirate expression from numerous books and movies — McClure felt that the term “Pirate Metrics” was a fitting one. It still is one of the most commonly referred-to frameworks for how startups think about key steps in the customer journey and how to optimize for them.

Acquisition, Activation, Retention, Referral, and Revenue are, as described by the questions in this list:

  • Acquisition: How are your prospective customers finding out about your product?
  • Activation: What convinces your prospective customer of the value of your product?
  • Retention: How do your customers continue experiencing the value of your product?
  • Referral: What gets your customers to talk about your product with others?
  • Revenue: What gets your customers to pay for your product?
McClure visualized these steps as a funnel to communicate the idea that as people work their way through each stage, fewer and fewer people make their way to the end of that customer journey.

Pirate Metrics Dave McClure’s Pirate Metrics.

Depending on the kind of product you sell, the position of Referral and Revenue in your funnel can be different. For example, a food delivery app may provide a referral code only after you’ve had a great experience that you’ve paid for.

Knowing how many people completed each stage gives you a macro picture of conversion rates and points to the part(s) of the journey where people are having difficulty realizing their true potential as customers. The advantage of this approach is that it focuses you on a subset of numbers that you absolutely must track and influence if your product is to deliver on its promised value.

A downside of McClure’s approach was that it lacked nuance — perhaps intentionally — for the sake of understanding his central point. It didn’t take into account that the relative difficulty of making it from one step of the journey to the next may be different based on which steps you’re talking about. Fortunately, another framework can help you understand this better.

Applying the Marketing Hourglass customer journey

John Jantsch, the creator of the Duct Tape Marketing System, came up with the concept of the Marketing Hourglass to address the fact that convincing people that your solution is the one they need is the toughest part of the journey. If you can do that, everything becomes easier from there on out.

He envisioned this as an hourglass where, just like a funnel, you could have a lot of people showing up and checking out your product, but fewer people would end up trying it. This represented the small neck of the hourglass. If people tried it and it was the right solution for them, you would have no problem persuading them to pay for and talk about your product.

Jantsch, helpfully, labeled each step of his process with easy-to-understand words, such as know, like, trust, try, buy, repeat, and refer.

The key difference between McClure’s approach and Jantsch’s approach is that the former is envisioned as a series of sequentially decreasing conversion rates that you can optimize, whereas the latter is meant to depict the increasing opportunity to create an advocate once they’ve decided to give your product a shot. He used an image similar to the one below to represent the Marketing Hourglass.

Marketing Hourglass John Jantsch’s Marketing Hourglass.

It’s fairly easy to tell that there are similarities in the words used to describe McClure’s Pirate Metrics and the stages of Jantsch’s Marketing Hourglass. You can see the two customer journey frameworks superimposed below.

Pirate Metrics and Marketing Hourglass, Superimposed
AARRR Startup Metrics Marketing Hourglass
Acquisition Know
Activation Like, trust, try
Revenue* Buy
Retention Repeat
Referral Refer*
*The position of Revenue is interchangeable based on the business.

The reality, however, is that neither of these frameworks gives you the complete picture of the customer journey.

Both customer journey frameworks — among other, similar ones — make it easy to understand key points in the customer journey. Their effectiveness in doing so is beyond question, given how often they’re quoted and used years after their introduction.

The problem with these oversimplified views is twofold:

  • Unidirectional: Despite the last steps of these frameworks being the act of referring your product to others, they’re visually depicted as unidirectional. If customers are going to refer someone, then referrals become, by definition, another way that people find out about your product. This suggests that the visual representation should be more like a loop than a funnel.
customer journey frameworks The AARRR funnel and Marketing Hourglass, visualized as loops.

This absence of visual element connecting the referral step to the acquisition step strengthens the implication of this 1-way traffic nature of the frameworks. If you connect the loop, it provides a better understanding of how the end of one journey enables the start of another and what you need to do to enable it.

  • Blind to nonlinearity: Think about the last time you bought something online. How much research did you do? How many tabs did you have to open during that research? How many review sites did you visit? Did you also ask any friends what they thought? And then did you make your purchase during the first visit to the product site? The reality is that, more often than not, your customer journey is more of a zigzag than a straight line.

    customer journey complexity The customer journey is complex.

These customer journey frameworks help with understanding the key points of a customer journey, but fall short of communicating the actual reality of that journey.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Anuj Adhiya learned growth hacking as a community moderator and then Director of Engagement and Analytics at GrowthHackers (founded by Sean Ellis, who coined "growth hacking"). He's mentored and coached a number of startups on the growth methodology at Harvard Innovation Labs & Seedstars. He's currently the VP of Growth at Jamber.

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