The Growth Hacking Canvas

I’ll start by saying I’m not an expert marketer. Everything I’ve learned has been very much on the job training. I love the material that continues to emerge on growth hacking- it’s both pulling the covers off dusty old practices and (more importantly) introducing fresh new ideas that really work and are highly accessible. Thanks growth hacking pioneers!

The #1 thing I’ve learned about branding is that consistency is trumps everything. The #1 thing I’ve learned about growth hacking is that you have to structure your ideas in a testable fashion, be creative, and grind it out. The most common failure mode I’ve seen in marketing programs is a lack of interdisciplinary collaboration- even within ‘marketing’ disciplines like SEO, events, product marketing.

I started playing with the Growth Hacking Canvas below is a way to manage through those items. So far, I’ve been pretty happy with it so I thought I’d write it up and put it online to see if anyone takes note. This is the canvas as it stands today:

growth-hacking-canvas-v1

What is it?

This is a working canvas, similar to the Business Model Canvas, for the jobs I described above. It’s main job is to describe the key elements of a growth program and their focal relationships in a way that’s highly transparent. These are the elements of the canvas:

  1. Segments & Personas
    Who are the customers? What do they think? See? Feel? Do?
  2. Value Propositions
    What’s compelling about the product to these personas? Why do they buy it, use it?
  3. Brand Experiences
    What are the key experiences customers have with the product? How do they find it? Buy it? Use it? How does this differ across actors? If a CIO or parent buys it and then a support person or child uses it, how does that work?
  4. Branding
    What is the personality of the brand? Its positioning? How does it talk about itself? How do is that executed?
  5. Lexicon
    What words and phrases do customers use to talk about the area? What do they type into Google?
  6. Assets
    What are the product’s most important brand assets?
  7. Activities
    What are the most important growth activities?
  8. Organic Channels
    What organic (unpaid) channels are most important to the product’s branding and growth?
  9. Paid Channels
    What paid channels are most important to the product’s branding and growth?
  10. Promotional Infrastructure
    What promotional infrastructure (email lists, in store displays, social media accounts) is working for the brand?

How do I get started?

You can download the Canvas and start sketching on it. Here’s a downloadable version: Growth Hacking Canvas (PDF).

There’s also a Google Slides based version available (Link to Growth Hac

Step 1 (of 10): Segments & Personas

customer-segments-personasHere I would think about your major segments and then describe the customer personas within those segments. In many of the projects I encounter, the segments are simply functional. For example, if you have a tool that helps doctors communicate with their patients, you’d have a segment ‘Doctors’ and a segment ‘Patients’. Then you’d use personas to think through the different types of customers within those segments and what makes them tick (see the link above for a tutorial on personas).

Here are a few specific questions to work through:
1. Segment Dimensions
Do you have a single or multi-sided market? If you have a multi-sided market you’ll have at least as many segments as you have sides. An example of such a market is a media property like CNN.com: they have readers on the one side and advertisers on the other.
2. Segment Composition
If the segment dimensions are the ‘macro’ analysis of your customer base, then looking within each segment at individual customer types as ‘Personas’ is the ‘micro’. Be sure to list both buyers and users of your product (many Personas will be both).

You should be able to visualize these Personas- what kind of shoes do they wear? And you should understand what they think, see, feel, and do in your product area. Pay special attention to the Think item in your persona: What tension exists between how thing are and how they’d like them to be. Also, how does that make them feel?

Output: a list of Personas, organized by Segment if you have more than one segment. I recommend trying to prioritize them- Who would you pitch first if you could only pitch one? Who next? And so forth…

Pro Tip: Don’t rush this section. The relationship between this section and the next section on Value Propositions is the ‘independent variable’ that drives everything else. You can’t market your way around a weak persona-proposition fit (same basically as product/market fit), or even a weak understanding of the persona-proposition fit. This Canvas is a tool for driving better interdisciplinary discussions, not a checklist. Not all the nine blocks are of equal importance (or durability).

Resources:

  1. Personas Tutorial
    This tutorial steps through the process of creating and using personas. It also links to a Google Docs template you can use to get started.
  2. Coursera Course on Agile + Design Thinking
    This provides a more in depth view of how to create, research, and use personas in an agile environment. Note: There’s both a paid and an ‘audit’ mode, which is free.

Step 2 (of 10): Value Propositions

value-propositionsWhat need, job or desire are you delivering on for the customer? Why is that better than their next best alternative?

Your job as a marketer isn’t simply to be a cheerleader for your brand. Your job is to deeply understand the customer and how you’re relevant in their world, including, and especially, the choices they face (small or large) and how you’re helping them choose you.

For this, I actually recommend starting with ‘problem scenarios’, then working through the customer’s alternatives and how your value proposition improves on those:

Personas-Problem-Scenarios-Alternatives

Problem Scenarios are the fundamental needs, habit, desires, jobs that you’re delivering on for the customer. If you’re familiar with the ‘job to be done’ concept, then, yes, this is the same thing. Once you identify these (ideally by interviewing customers), then I recommend thinking through their current alternatives- if the problem scenario really exists, those should be easy to identify. Then ask yourself what is unique about your Value Proposition(s) and why does your customer prefer them to their alternatives?

You may have a whole lot of these- and that’s fine. When you’re getting going with this, jot them all done on a whiteboard, index card, Post-It, etc. But then rank them and you’ll probably want to winnow out all but the most critical. What things do you do that actually cause a customer to pick you over a competitor or alternative?

For example, at Leonid, an enterprise software company I founded, we thought our largest customers worked with us because of the cost savings we offered and our knowledge about best practices. It turned out that was mostly wrong- reducing their time and risk to get new services to market was the most important. It’s not that the other things weren’t important, but they weren’t the top Value Proposition. That made a difference on how we sold the product and how we focused on operationalizing it for customers.

Once you’ve isolated these, try mapping them to the individual personas.

Output: a prioritized list of Value Propositions and linkages from each Persona to the VP’s relevant to them.

Pro Tips: Again, this pairing is the key driver for most business models. I’d be sure to make enough time for it. Also, consider the Lean Startup methods to test these ideas before you over invest in them- see below.

Resources:

  1. Lean Startup Tutorial
    Maybe you feel like you’re in good shape on understanding the customer’s world but you don’t have any validation on whether the Value Propositions are clicking because this is a new product or feature? If you’re not sure, that’s OK and good for you for acknowledging the uncertainty! It’s the responsible thing to do. The key is to write down those assumptions, prioritize them, and figure out the quickest and cheapest way to prove or disprove them. That’s what Lean/Startup is about.
  2. Coursera Course on Running Design Sprints
    Getting started with the above does take some work. The course above has material on organizing one week sprints to execute around Lean Startup. Note: There’s both a paid and an ‘audit’ mode, which is free.

Step 3 (of 10): Brand Experiences

brand-experiencesHere’s where you can really shine as a marketer/brand experience expert: What are the key brand experiences? How are those different across your segments and personas? Be sure to look out for subtle but important items like understanding your pricing or how to use your product. Be sure to think not only about the ‘happy path’ you want the customer to take, but what happens when things don’t go according to plan. I’m talking to you, airlines! But really, those things are important and often underexploited as a tool to build durable customer relationships.

One simple tool I like to use is the storyboard for thinking through the AIDAOR journey. The example below is for a (fictional) non-profit called United Children’s Theater that provides low cost outsourced arts education for children in public schools. They rely heavily on volunteer labor and word of mouth from parents.

aidaor-for-parents-at-united-children-s-theather

How does this work for your brand? Obviously, the AIDAOR path is just one relatively simple view of how this happens. There are dozens of experiences just under the Retention, rubric, for example. That said, the process of storyboarding it and asking the ‘dumb questions’ about how it all happens may stimulate useful discussion about what brand experiences really matter and what you’re doing around them.

Output: a list of key Brand Experiences, linked to Personas or Segments if they differ substantially.

Resources:

  1. Storyboarding Tutorial
    This will show you how to get started with storyboarding, including the AIDAOR process above.

Step 4 (of 10): Branding

brandingThe mysterious (and mostly broken) process of branding! This is where you talk about the personality of the brand and how you’ll represent it visually and in written form. From a Canvas perspective, the key thing to do here is to look at the relevance of that and the authenticity of it relative to the rest of the Canvas.

For this, I have found no better tool than the moodboard. In fact, I like it so much I worked with a a wonderful team of collaborators and we built a tool to make the process more accessible: Brand Lattice. And yes, it’s free to use. My recommendation is to use this as your primary input to the Branding section.

Output: A description of the brand personality and how you communicate that.

Resources:

  1. Moodboarding Tool
    You can do one of these in 10-15 minutes if you’re in a hurry.

Step 5 (of 10): Lexicon

lexiconNow more than ever, lexicon matters. It matters because

a) you should talk about yourself in terms customers use to describe what they want vs. weird proprietary language you create

b) search matters a lot

Durable SEO wins come less from some dark arts execution of SEO magic but rather from the consistent, integrated use of relevant lexicon. Not to get all Benjamin Franklin about it, but, yes, honestly really is the best policy. Google’s gotten pretty good at this whole search thing and not to get all Abe Lincoln about it but you can’t lie to people and expect them to trust you, Google in particular.

Go talk to customers. Listen carefully to word choice. Think about how those word choices relate to their problem scenarios, alternatives, and propositions. Then go forth and create a surgical view of your focal lexicon and watch your organic inbound swell.

Output: a list of key phrases that customers use to talk about their problems and that you use to talk about your propositions.

Congratulations on making it halfway! 

Step 6 (of 10): Assets

assetsIf someone said to you ‘Play to your strengths,’ what would those be? Basically, that’s what you want to think about here. If you have a great reputation with a particular segment and/or high brand awareness with them, note that. If you’re really good at content strategy and editorial, note that. If you’re really good at prototyping and testing new product ideas, note that. Gigantic email list? That’s relevant as well.

Outputs: A list of the brand’s key assets (including soft assets like capabilities).

Step 7 (of 10): Activities

activitiesWhat are you doing to increase growth, engagement, and monetization on the brand? That’s what goes here. Focus on the activity itself, vs. the medium. If parent engagement is key at United Children’s Theater, the item here would be something like ‘Promote Parent Engagement’. This is different than the infrastructure they might use- email lists, Facebook group, events, etc. That goes below in the section on Promotional Infrastructure.

Outputs: A list of key growth activities.

Step 8 (of 10): Organic Channels

organic-channelsThese are people and media that talk about your brand unpaid- PR, as they sometimes say. This obviously includes media of all stripes, but increasingly also social media cohorts. For example, in the case of United Children’s Theater, one such channel might be ‘Parents’ Facebook Group’. If your brand is really big, you might talk about these more generally.

Output: A list of key Organic Channels.

Step 9 (of 10): Paid Channels

paid-channelsThese are the channels you pay. This would include traditional media, digital media, and digital advertising like Google AdWords. It would also include event marketing and trade promotion.

Output: A list of key Paid Channels.

Step 10 (of 10): Promotional Infrastructure

promotional-infrastructureThese are the internal and external resources you use to promote growth (and engagement and monetization). Examples of this might include:

Content Marketing Team

Email Marketing on Marketo (or whatever)

Direct Sales Team

Trade Show Team