Lean Your Marketing: Make Tracking Part Of The Product Plan


I’ve got to say, everything I’ve recommended on these slides so far has been something that, even if clients weren’t doing it right away, they got there eventually– deciding on a key metric, figuring CPA, etc.  This, though?  This one’s more like a cri de couer for a perfect that world that might exist if we all hold hands and dream together.  This is something that I’ve never really seen happen, but that I’d hope all new companies do, and then when they are wise, grey-whiskered 5-year-old companies we’ll all look back and say, “Can you believe that people didn’t used to make tracking part of their product plan right from the get-go? Wow, what a pain in the butt that was.”

But wait– let me back up and explain what I’m talking about.

Pretty much every place I’ve ever worked or consulted, tracking metrics has involved placing a snippet of code on every page you want tracked.  Google Analytics works that way, KISSMetrics works that way, Mixpanel works that way, etc.  Further, to do the sort of tracking we smart lean marketers are going to do, where we are tracking conversion events deep in the funnel and not just surface stuff like site traffic, you need to tell your metrics tool what counts as a conversion– often by citing a page that comes up after a success event occurs (such as a thank-you page after a signup or a purchase).  There are other ways to track successes, but that is by far the most common one– basically telling your tracking tool that “when you see Page X, count it as a conversion.”

At the last couple of places where I set up new metrics regimens, though, this wasn’t possible. The user flow wasn’t set up to deliver such a unique page; however, at both places, we didn’t even realize this until we were validating the numbers against what was in the database and just couldn’t figure out why they wouldn’t come out correctly.  In both cases we eventually realized that the page we had marked as coming up only for new users came up any time a user created a new page, account, whatever.  So we were tracking *a* metric, just not *the* metric we wanted.  This then resulted in having to create a klugey work-around, put a change in user flow into the next product plan, and put a little asterisk on all the reports to explain why the number we’d be using was wrong and shouldn’t really be compared to future numbers, and… ugh.

How much better would it have been if the person designing the user flow and the person in charge of tracking results had a quick chat before the product was even launched to coordinate on what was going to be tracked and how to track it?  And how lovely would it be if when site changes are planned, those two people meet again to make sure that tracking that’s in place will be maintained, that funnels won’t be wiped out, etc?

In an organization where numbers-driven decision-making is front and center, this is what will happen.  If we all just hold hands and dream hard enough.

Next up: how to track things that don’t really seem trackable.

(Photo credit: theiry49)


Lean Your Marketing: The Slide Deck

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Lean Your Marketing: Have A Goal And A Target Cost Per Acquisition


Okay, so you’ve figured out your key performance indicator— you’re all set, right?  Almost.  But to really make sure you understand whether your marketing is performing the way you want it to, you need to create a goal for your KPI that is specific and time-bound.  Instead of saying that you just want “more leads,” for example, say that you want 100,000 leads in a year’s time. Sure, this seems pretty obvious, but you’d be surprised how many clients I talk to don’t have specific goals in mind.  You’ll learn pretty quickly whether your target goal is realistic, but if you don’t at least put something out there then you don’t have a real yardstick to measure results against.


Basically everything I’m recommending here comes from asking clients what they’re trying to achieve and having them answer,”????” Not only do they often not know what metrics are most important to them, they don’t have a goal in mind and they definitely don’t have a target Cost Per Acquisition, or CPA.  But this is a very important boundary condition to know, because it does a lot to dictate what marketing methods you’re willing to try and helps you figure out which ones are more effective.  If you are willing to pay $100 per lead, there are a lot more programs you can try than if you only want to pay $10 per lead.

Calculating Your Target Cost Per Acquisition

There are a couple of ways to go about this.  In one, you take the pot of money you have available for marketing, divide it by how many (we’ll just call them leads, but substitute your own success event) you want, and there’s your target cost per lead:

Marketing Budget $100,000
Lead Goal 25,000
Cost Per Lead $4

The problem with this method is that it doesn’t tell you if you’re losing money on every acquisition.  If you’re spending $100,000 to get $10,000 your business isn’t going to be one for the ages.  So the better method is to figure out how much value you get from each new lead:

Leads 10,000
% Convert to Customer 1,000
Conv % 10%
Lifetime Rev / Customer $150
Lifetime Profit  / Customer $50
Target Cost / Lead
Lifetime Profit * Conv % $5

Once you’ve used a method like this to figure out how much you should be paying to get people to your site, it will be easier to evaluate each new method to see whether it is working.

Next up: making tracking a part of your product plan.


Lean Your Marketing: The Slide Deck

Slide 1 | Slide 2 | Slide 3 | Slides 4, 5, 6 | Slide 7 | Slide 8 | Slides 9 & 10 | Slides 11 & 12 | Slide 13 | Slide 14 | Slide 15 | Slide 16 | Slide 17 | Slides 18, 19 & 20


Lean Your Marketing: Find The Metric That Pays Your Bills


The customer funnel. We know what this is, right? It’s the progression of people through stages of your marketing, from (for example) searching on an ad, clicking on the ad, visiting your site, and signing up for or buying your wonderful product. All of those stages produce opportunities for tracking.  Any one-horse ad product is going to give you impressions, clicks, that kind of thing.  And the most basic GA implementation will give you site visits.  And because those numbers are easy to get and also large and easily juice-able… well, you’d be surprised at how many people consider those to be very important metrics.

Well, no less an authority than Mark Andreessen has a message for you: your metrics are bullshit.

Eric Ries, author of Lean Startup, is more genteel, so he calls them vanity metrics.  If you pay attention only to things at the top of the funnel– ad clicks, site traffic, page views– you can feel like you are making progress when in truth your growth is stalled or worse.


Instead, smart organizations look deep into the funnel to find the one KPI, the key performance indicator, that really shows the health of their business.  What is it? Well, it’s going to be different for different organizations.  The way I like to approach it with different clients is to ask them: what pays your bills?  If there is revenue coming into the organization, what is its main source?  Is it subscriptions? Product sales? Donations?  Then that’s the KPI.  Even if the company is pre-revenue you are likely to still have a business plan in place for how money will come in eventually; is it by acquiring active users? Is it by showing ads to a big user base?

The exciting thing about identifying this core metric is that it gives everyone in the organization the same focus.  Once you’ve agreed what the single most important number is for your organization, everyone should be adjusting their performance to making that KPI grow.  You won’t have your marketing people off looking at ad clicks and while your product people are looking at user engagement.  If your organization has agreed that Daily Active Users is your KPI, then that’s what everyone should be trying to produce.  Your product people will be tuning the site to increase this number, and your marketing people will judge their projects solely on the number of daily active users they generate.  Your customer service people might have targets for how quickly they handle tickets and amount of positive feedback from customers, but the overall goal of their group will be helping to maintain daily active users.  Everyone in the organization will be rowing the same direction.

Is it easy to track deep into the funnel?  Generally no, and that’s why so many companies don’t bother.  But is it worth it?  Absolutely.  Having a real understanding of what’s going on in your organization will lead to smarter, more confident decisions.

Once you’ve identified your KPI you’ll want to turn it into a goal; that’s the topic of my next couple of slides.


Lean Your Marketing: The Slide Deck

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Lean Your Marketing: Start Early And Stay Focused


Aaaah, the Measure portion of the presentation. *cracks knuckles, gets ready*

So, it was kind of funny trying to figure out how to organize this presentation, because Measure kept wanting to come first, despite being clearly second in the Build-Measure-Learn cycle.  And the reason it kept wanting to come first was because of this recommendation: start early.  Many’s the company that literally tackles things in that order: build it first, then figure out how to measure it.  But you should think about measuring and metrics very early in the game because, people: Google Analytics is a great tool, especially considering its price, but it isn’t magic.  Not a few people have asked, once I got some tracking set up on GA, if it could look at past results.  Yes, let me just drape a little blue cape on it and make it fly around the world until time flows backwards.  You want a baseline of your early performance?  You’ve got to set up performance tracking early.  It’s pretty simple.

As for what you track, it can be surprisingly hard for companies to be disciplined when it comes to looking at numbers.  When I’m talking to potential clients I’ll ask them if they’re interested in more traffic, more leads, more sales, etc, and they’ll generally answer yes to everything.  But it’s not that helpful to try to optimize 15 different stats at once– instead you should focus on the numbers that really matter, which is the subject of the next couple of slides.


Lean Your Marketing: The Slide Deck

Slide 1 | Slide 2 | Slide 3 | Slides 4, 5, 6 | Slide 7 | Slide 8 | Slides 9 & 10 | Slides 11 & 12 | Slide 13 | Slide 14 | Slide 15 | Slide 16 | Slide 17 | Slides 18, 19 & 20


Lean Your Marketing: Tread Lightly On Engineering Resources


When I worked at Red Bricks Media, part of the startup process was, OF COURSE, figuring out what we wanted to track to see if our marketing programs were succeeding. Often this required some sort of tracking pixel to be placed on the client’s site.  And often, when we handed over the code and the implementation instructions, the answer we got back was, “Yeah, that’s not likely to happen. We should figure out what we can do without this.” I always marveled  at what I figured was the complete dysfunction of these organizations that couldn’t implement a small change so important to their marketing programs.

And then I started working on the client side.

For this slide the original picture I had (before being told I should actually own the rights to the images I used) was of a big black and white Great Dane looking down at a tiny, cowering dog.  The suggestion was that the tiny, cowering dog is what marketers feel like every time they make a request of the engineering team. The fact is that engineers usually have about 1,000 tickets on their list at any given time, and placing a tracking pixel will definitely tend to fall behind launching a new product, fixing a bug, implementing a new feature, etc.  And creating a whole landing page, with design and functionality? Forget about it. So marketing meekly requests changes, engineering tells them to get in line, and Current Beth laughs at Past Beth and her delusions about How The World Should Work.

The good news is that this is a known pain point, and where there are pain points there are clever companies stepping in to address them.  The Holy Grail for marketing services is tools that deliver site changes with minimal input from engineering, which makes both sides much happier and also hews closer to the ideal of the MVI, the minimum viable investment.  Part of what you’re trying to minimize is staff involvement, which means it’s probably smart not to get your design and engineering teams bogged down with every tiny landing page change and idea that you want to test before you even know if it is important.  Look to tools like these to create and manage site content with minimal involvement from the Big Dogs in engineering:

  • Optimizely allows you to do easy split testing on any page.  If you’re the kind of dork who enjoys this sort of thing, go there now and enter the URL of your website to see it instantly transformed into clickable sections that you can edit for content, style, or placement.  To use it, you just have to beg engineering for one simple line of code to be inserted on pages you’d like to test– after that you can create all the variations you like, and Optimizely will track the different experiments and let you see the results.  Instead of waiting a day to a week to see if that call to action or this headline is more successful, you can have your experiment up and running almost as soon as you think of it.  I’m not sure how it is managed from a technical standpoint, but I’m pretty sure it’s magic.
  • Unbounce goes one further– it lets you create landing pages yourself with a WYSIWIG editor– no HTML skills required. It also allows for simple A/B testing. With Unbounce you can achieve your nirvana state of dedicated, optimized landing pages for every marketing channel and program. The top of your funnel will be so full it will look like Times Square on New Year’s Eve.
  • Gathering data? Wufoo lets you create forms and embed them in your website and collects the entries for you.  Lead gen, invites, simple surveys– you can have forms up and running in minutes with Wufoo, and the only engineering help you’ll need is embedding the form on a page on your site. Even that’s not necessary if the stripped-down Wufoo interface works for your project.
  • The thee sites above help you optimize the top of the funnel. But what about site engagement? Is that best left to the product and engineering teams?  Well, one way to build engagement is to make sure people know how to use your site.  Kera.io is new tool that lets teams build in-app tutorials.  As with Optimizely, once some code is placed on pages then marketing can create the tutorials with minimal engineering help

Most of these services are free or have a low cost and month-to-month commitment. They are a great way to create site content and to cycle through tests and changes more rapidly than could be done if engineering had to do a full release with each change.  Give these tools a try and you may never hear engineering bark at you again.


Lean Your Marketing: The Slide Deck

Slide 1 | Slide 2 | Slide 3 | Slides 4, 5, 6 | Slide 7 | Slide 8 | Slides 9 & 10 | Slides 11 & 12 | Slide 13 | Slide 14 | Slide 15 | Slide 16 | Slide 17 | Slides 18, 19 & 20


Lean Your Marketing: The Minimum Viable Investment

I’ll hit on the next three slides together, because they are all around the same general topic: the idea of sampling/testing new marketing channels & projects before going big on investment.


In my last post I talked about the key Lean concept of Build Measure Learn. Another equally important idea is the MVP: the Minimum Viable Product.  A lean company tries to get real feedback from real customers as early and often as possible, and that means not investing thousands of hours in developing a full-featured, well-polished product before you know that it’s something customers even care about. Instead, you develop just enough to get an idea if the product or feature is what people want. In some cases the MVP doesn’t even have to be a product; in the classic example from The Lean Startup, Dropbox drummed up demand for their file-sharing service with a video that described what it would do.

So how does this translate to marketing? Through the MVI: the Minimum Viable Investment.

The MVI is the smallest combination of resources– time, money, and staff– that you can apply to any new marketing channel or project while still yielding the learning you’re looking for.  The idea is that before you go all in on a marketing project, you should test the waters first to see if it even makes sense.  Or, as I put it in the next slide:


Oftentimes what this means is that before you outsource projects or hire staff or contractors, you should try things out in house and with the staff you have.  Say you want to give paid search marketing a try, for example. Any agency you hire is likely to charge a setup fee for keyword research and is going to give you a list of hundreds or thousands of words that you’ll have to parse through to understand (or give up understanding), and in the end there’s a chance it might not even be the right channel for you.  So instead of going straight to hiring an agency, why not just set up your own account on Google, add in 10-20 keywords, use Google’s automated bidding and budgeting tools to control your costs, and see if you can even approach the volume you need at a price per conversion that makes sense for you?  You might not have the time or expertise to produce the most efficient and effective campaign possible, but you’ll get a good directional idea for whether that channel makes sense for you.  If your efforts look promising, then it might make sense to get in a professional to polish the campaign up.

Another example is with events. I worked with a company that decided to sponsor a whole series of conferences aimed at the market they were targeting. It seemed like a great opportunity to get their brand and message in front of viable contacts and to network with people they wanted to meet.  However, after attending a few of the events it became clear that although the general industry was right, the people coming to these conferences were from far smaller organizations than they generally hoped to meet, and the roles of the people weren’t quite right either.  The overall sponsorship was quite expensive; add to that the cost of flying staff members to the conferences and putting them up in hotels as well as the staff time invested in preparing for and following up from the conferences, and it turned out to be a far less interesting opportunity than they had hoped.

They had made the mistake of going exploring in an aircraft carrier.

The good news is, they learned from that episode and the next time an event came up, they pulled out the canoe instead.  They bypassed official sponsorships and booths and instead engaged in what they called “LobbyCon”. They bought a couple of attendee passes, signed up for  several more free exhibit hall passes, put on matching t-shirts, hung out in common areas, and simply engaged people as they walked by. They didn’t spend thousands of dollars on printed materials, just armed themselves with business cards and little chocolates they offered as an icebreaker. They ended up far exceeding their goals for generating leads, and at a cost significantly less than their previous conference sponsorship. They got a sense for who was attending the conference and how easy it was to interact with them; now that they have seen the possibilities up close they have a better idea of whether to expand their investment next year.  They followed the advice of Vincent van Gogh from my next slide:


Instead of just spending a lot of money, they used creativity and hustle, and in the process they gained learning about a particular new marketing channel. Even a sad fellow like Vincent would have to smile at that.


Lean Your Marketing: The Slide Deck

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Lean Your Marketing: Build, Measure, Learn

Lean Your Marketing Build Measure Learn

One of the key concepts in Lean Startup methodology is the Build – Measure – Learn cycle. The idea behind this is that many companies spend months or years building products without ever showing them to prospective customers to figure out if they even want the thing.  If it turns out that the product is not compelling, the company fails and that money and effort is wasted.

The better way to go about product development is to make sure that you get features in front of customers as soon as possible.  Consider each new feature release to be an experiment: go in with a hypothesis about what value you think the customer will get from the product (or the feature) and a way to measure the results.  Once you’ve collected your data your hypothesis will be either validated or invalidated; either way, you’ll have learned something about the customer and will have some good ideas about where to go next.

How does this translate to marketing?  In my last slide I noted that a lot of times when companies come to me I can see they’ve done a fine job at the Build portion.  They’ve set up their social media, hired a PR team and gotten some placements, run some PPC ads, set up their blog, etc.  But the three parts of the cycle are like the three legs of a stool; if they aren’t all present, the stool just dumps you on your butt.  Where I find companies having problems is in the Measure and Learn legs. They are out there swinging away, but they haven’t set up any way of figuring out if they are being successful because they don’t know how to set up a proper metrics regimen, and without the numbers you’re not likely to learn anything of value.

So let’s pull out our woodworking tools and figure out how to make a nice, useful stool that doesn’t tip you to the ground, okay?  Next up: The Minimum Viable Investment.


Lean Your Marketing: The Slide Deck

Slide 1 | Slide 2 | Slide 3 | Slides 4, 5, 6 | Slide 7 | Slide 8 | Slides 9 & 10 | Slides 11 & 12 | Slide 13 | Slide 14 | Slide 15 | Slide 16 | Slide 17 | Slides 18, 19 & 20


Lean Your Marketing: How Many Startups Do Marketing

Poor girl. She's confused.

I’ve worked with a bunch of different startups both formally and informally, and often some variation of the below process has been undertaken before they’ve decided they might want help with marketing:

1) Create Awesome Product

2) Launch Awesome Product

3) Realize that merely posting existence of Awesome Product on their Twitter feed did not lead to 1,000,000 people beating down doors for Awesome Product

4) Try some Facebook ads because their seed investor asked them why they weren’t. And more Twitter posts. And…Google?  And what is SEO again? And the other investor keeps asking us about our viral loops?

5) Hire a PR firm

6) Look at reports showing lots of clicks on ads and a big list of PR placements and try to connect that with demand for Awesome Product

7) Bury hands in face like girl above

In short, for a lot of companies I talk to I find that there has been a bunch of money and/or time invested and very little idea of what has worked and what hasn’t. It’s not that they aren’t creative and thorough about looking at and trying all the options that are out there for a modern internet marketer, it’s that they haven’t set up processes that will give them confidence that what they are trying is or isn’t useful for them.  So money gets spent, results are inconclusive, and everyone comes away feeling frustrated.  In the worst case scenario a company becomes jaded on the whole concept of marketing and everyone who purveys it.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.  One of the goals of Lean Startup methodology is to help companies spend money and time more wisely and to understand what works and what doesn’t.  This will be explored more in the next slide: Build, Measure, Learn.


Lean Your Marketing: The Slide Deck

Slide 1 | Slide 2 | Slide 3 | Slides 4, 5, 6 | Slide 7 | Slide 8 | Slides 9 & 10 | Slides 11 & 12 | Slide 13 | Slide 14 | Slide 15 | Slide 16 | Slide 17 | Slides 18, 19 & 20

Lean Your Marketing: Extended Edition

As I mentioned in my last post, quite a few people at the Lean Startup Conference asked for copies of my slides (“quite a few” is how we marketers describe those poor suckers slow enough to have had our cards foisted on them in passing). But as I also mentioned, the slides by their nature were quite succinct, each consisting of an image and a couple of words.  So, not that helpful to those who weren’t in the audience actually hearing the complete fifteen seconds of wisdom I laid down with each slide.  Not only that, but getting each slide down to just 15 seconds required me to surrender many of my best ideas, leaving examples and details laying on the ground like glitter in the wake of a drag queen. So I thought it might make sense to use the blog to blow out each slide a little more fully.

bringing lean startup principles to startup marketing

I first read The Lean Startup by Eric Ries maybe 6 or 8 months ago, after it was recommended to me by Jason Putorti of Mint and Votizen.  My own marketing career has been kind of nontraditional; after studying the Four P’s and the Customer Lifecycle and all that big-brand stuff as an undergrad, I got a job selling extra-long twin sheets to college students via direct mail. The science of setting up split tests and tracking response rates woke up a latent love for numbers that my poor calculus professor, Dr. E. Ray Bobo, would not have recognized.  Since then I have mostly worked at startups or nonprofits, all places with minuscule marketing budgets that required a lot of creativity, and I’ve been focused on digital media, with its streams of data and ample opportunity for testing and optimization.  So the Lean Startup message of staying small and making every dollar count completely resonated with me.  I’ve been shoving this book on people ever since then, and when I heard them put out the call for speakers I leapt on it. The book is pretty focused on product development, but I wanted to show that the same principles could lead to smarter, better marketing for startups, too.

I’m taking this at a post per slide, by the way, because otherwise tl;dr, amirite?  Next Up: The Way Many Startups Do Marketing.


Lean Your Marketing: The Slide Deck

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Ignite Lean Startup Presentation: Lean Your Marketing

Just got home from speaking at the kickoff of the Lean Startup Conference, where 15 speakers had 5 minutes each to present 20 slides.  The twist is that we had no control over the pace of the slides; they advanced every 15 seconds, unrelentingly, like waves breaking upon the shore.  Here’s some video:

Here all week!  Try the veal!

No, but seriously, folks.  It actually turned out to be a very fun and energizing format with a lot of great presentations.  My presentation was called “Lean Your Marketing” and looked at how lean principles like testing in small batches and giving much respect to measurement are exactly the kinds of skills startup marketers need.  For those who have asked for a copy of my presentation, I put it up on SlideShare, so enjoy.  Although given that each slide consists of a funny picture and a few words, not sure how much use the actual slides will be. Feel free to drop me a line if you have more questions about the topic.


Lean Your Marketing: The Slide Deck

Slide 1 | Slide 2 | Slide 3 | Slides 4, 5, 6 | Slide 7 | Slide 8 | Slides 9 & 10 | Slides 11 & 12 | Slide 13 | Slide 14 | Slide 15 | Slide 16 | Slide 17 | Slides 18, 19 & 20

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