Building an excellent product is one thing. Gaining traction is quite another. And in Gabriel Weinberg’s famous 2015 bestseller, Traction, he covers 19 of the most popular routes for doing precisely that.
The first thing to state upfront—you don’t want to be active on all 19 channels, equally, at the same time. That’s not the point of this post.
The point is to have a list of options, and to help you match and fit those which best suit your:
- Audience; and
- Style (brand)
If your product is highly technical, with a premium price tag, and requires a long, involved on-boarding process... chances are, a quick flashy instagram ad won’t be enough to win a new customer.
Making use of traction channels, therefore, is also about learning to prioritize these channels, according to your situation.
Hint: Your situation isn’t static, either.
You’ll want to be able to update the investment you place into each channel, dynamically. And that’s what our Traction Channels Prioritizer table is designed to help with.
First thing’s first, though.
What are the 19 Traction Channels?
Let’s just get this out of the way, then. Here’s the bullet list:
- Viral Marketing
- Public relations
- Unconventional PR
- Search Engine Marketing
- Social & Display Ads
- Offline Advertising
- Content Marketing
- Email Marketing
- Engineering As Marketing
- Business Development
- Affiliate Programs
- Existing Platforms
- Speaking Engagements
- Community Building
- Targeting Blogs
- Trade Shows (inc. Virtual)
The Bullseye Framework
Alongside the channels themselves, Weinberg also points out a methodology for honing in on and prioritizing traction channels once you are up and running.
- What’s Working: This can be pictured as the center of the board. Pick 3 channels that are working well for you, and run with them;
- What’s Probable: Zoom out one layer and you have a list of 6 additional channels that are on the horizion; and
- What’s Possible: Now we’re looking at the full dartboard, and on it we have all the remaining traction channels that are possible for future experimentation.
19 Tractions Channels and their common tactics
Your customers doing the marketing for you. A neat idea, no? Viral marketing deliberately deploys tactics that make it easier for the word of your product to spread and replicate: hence, virus. Whether you want to go deep into the psychology of mimetics, or Dawkin’s theory of the ‘meme’ and socio-cultural evolution—all you need to know is that some things are more likely to go viral than others.
You’ll find a few recommended tactics in the table, including:
- Word of mouth
- Embedding your product in other places; and
- Placing direct incentives to share (e.g. ‘Refer a friend and receive 10MB extra storage’)
The media has already changed a lot since Weinberg’s 2015 book. Today, ‘the media’ includes any variety of podcasts, bloggers, YouTubers and Substack writers—alongside the more traditional and institutional outlets.
That only to say that the opportunities for ‘Public Relations’ (PR) are bountiful in 2022. Some examples:
- Guest appearance on a podcast;
- Be interviewed for a YouTube channel; or
- Submit a company profile or product release to a blogger covering your niche.
Quite what it sounds like, unconventional approaches to PR often follow the logic of ‘no such thing as bad press’. Of course, that isn’t true, but taking an unconventional approach to PR means you don’t mind turning some heads; without spending too much on high production value.
This one I’ll leave the creativity to you on. But you might gain some inspiration from the ‘Dollar Shave Club’s’ sensational YouTube video campaign that certainly got the word out...
Search Engine Marketing
You can do search the patient way or the expensive way. The hard and patient way is SEO (we’ll cover more on that below). The expensive way is via Search Engine Marketing (SEM).
You know those results at the top of your Google search which read ‘Ad’ under them? That’s SEM. Some keywords are highly competitive—so much so that it may not really be an option for you to show up ‘organically’. But if the keyword is highly relevant for your target audience, and you feel that people searching those terms will be interested in your product—then SEM is a direct ticket to the top of the search results.
Social & Display Ads
You know what these are. Instagram, Facebook, Google Ad Network, LinkedIn, TikTok. While they have multiple revenue streams (LinkedIn, particularly), well, you already know it: they mostly run on ads.
As a user of the consumer product (social media), you’re typically on the receiving end of them. But as a business owner you may also choose to place yourself on the buying end—and fortunately, as some of the most powerful tech companies in the world, using these ad platforms is incredibly simple, intuitive and far-reaching.
Ever seen a billboard that made you stop and think? Gave you a chuckle? Made you curious to learn more? Well, that could be yours.
In fact, these days billboards, pamphlets and other forms of offline marketing are relatively cheap—since they’ve been largely overshadowed by their digital counterparts.
If you’re looking to advertise to a local, physical region—offline advertising might just be a winning ticket to gain some early traction and awareness.
Chances are you ended up on this page thanks to SEO. Maybe you searched something like ‘19 Traction Channels’ and this page showed up near the top? If so, you’ve just been on the receiving end of SEO’s superpowers... because I might have written this article 2 years ago, and it still might sit at the top of results, bringing you to my site where we can have this lovely, one-way conversation 🙂
The famous chicken-and-egg problem of ‘how do I get awesome testimonials if I have no customers if my prospective customers want to see testimonials before purchase, but to get those testimonials...’
Content marketing, in many ways, resolves this problem. For me, the best way to think about content marketing is in terms of giving value upfront. Your product might be a revolutionary AI SaaS platform that will change the way your customers order their cappucinos... but before they even give you a try, they’ll want to feel like they’ve gotten to know you a little better.
Content marketing lets you do that in a helpful way. Some of the other traction methods will ‘introduce you’ to your prospects, sure enough. But it’s promotional. It’s an ad. And, odds are, it’s annoying.
Content marketing lets you introduce yourself in a helpful way, sharing something of what you’re all about, giving some related tips and doing so in a non-intrusive way. After several such lovely interactions, don’t you think your readers might be a little more interested to hear what products you have to offer?
Email is still one of the most cost-effective channels for building relationships with customers and prospects. It deserves its own post (and there are already thousands of excellent breakdowns), but the tall and short of it is: email is one of the few traction channels that I recommend every business plan for by default. You can always opt out if it really isn’t relevant... but chances are, it is.
Engineering As Marketing
Ever found yourself inputting an email address to find out how much an apartment or house in your area costs? Ever signed up to a mailing list to ‘get the results’ of a quiz or a useful revenue calculator?
Engineering as marketing refers to using tech and tools as a means of giving visitors something valuable upfront—typically in exchange for an email or a way of reaching you later on.
Partnerships are another excellent way to gain traction early on. In the fast-moving world of modern SaaS, integrations are one of the most popular ways of partnering with other players.
But when it comes to spreading the word, you can also arrange co-marketing campaigns. Agreements to promote one another’s channels as you release a product, service, or maybe even an event together.
Where a lot of the channels mentioned so far might fall under the category of ‘inbound’ marketing and advertising, sales covers a large swath of activities that are best described as ‘outbound’. Cold emailing, follow-ups, networking events and knocking on doors—sales is about starting and building relationships with potential customers.
If you have a highly valuable (and costly) product, or if your customer/client relationships typically last a long time, then developing a strong sales channel and sales practices can be a very good idea.
A more formal version of the positive feedback loop that comes from viral marketing is an affiliate program. Here, members of your program are incentivised to spread the word of your product directly. The rewards for your affiliate program can vary based on your offering—for example, if you run a clothing line, you might offer stock from your catalog, or vouchers for purchase—but typically this can be a fixed percentage (commission) on every referred sale.
Some popular software exist for setting up affiliate programs, rapidly—or you can also check out this ‘Influencer Hub’ which doubles as an Affiliate Program tracker inside Notion, here.
This sounds rather generic, and it kind of is. But it covers everything from Instagram and LinkedIn to YouTube, Reddit, Pinterest, eBay and ProductHunt. If there already exist large platforms that service your target audience, and you have a profile there—leveraging that opportunity for discovery can be very valuable.
The past years have changed a lot about how we perceive events. For one thing, the rise in virtual events seems to be something that isn’t going away any time soon.
Events can be an excellent way to provide a more intimate experience for prospective customers, while still giving them every out—i.e. in a low pressure environment.
Check out community-based events platforms like Circle and Tevent if you’d like to get started with virtual events.
If you do go ahead and start running events, one thing you’ll quickly run into is a demand for speakers. What exactly is it that your attendees will be attending for, again?
Running your own events isn’t the only way to leverage events though. Picking up speaking gigs at conferences, events and workshops can be another way to put yourself in front of a highly relevant audience—and ensure that you have their full attention.
One of the fastest growing job categories is ‘Online Community Manager’. When you lump in similar roles like ‘Social Media Manager’ and ‘Community Moderator’, it becomes clear that fostering and cultivating your online cohorts is critical.
Building your community can be anything from asking their opinion on an upcoming feature to inviting them to a live event. If you don’t yet have a community, it can also mean joining existing communities, contributing what you can and seeing if there’s demand for a discussion around the thing you’re trying to build and deliver.
Since the strength of online writing has grown so much, the category of ‘targeting blogs’ almost blends into what was once traditional PR. But there are some nuances.
For example, the benefits of guest posts and appearances on blogs in your niche isn’t just the immediate boost of traffic from your partner’s readership—it’s also in the lovely SEO link juice that’s likely to come from any direct mention.
For those interested in investing in the content marketing and SEO game, targeting blogs in your niche can be a very important channel to cultivate.
Trade Shows (inc. Virtual)
The common scene for a 2015 startup might have still be to spend $2,500 on a booth at a trade show (I don’t know what it really costs 🤷), but in 2022 that may not be your only bet. Platforms like Hopin are becoming increasingly popular—and their virtual booth at conferences is perhaps the new version of a trade show traction channel.
Either way—trade shows can be a way to begin a conversation with high-stakes relationships and partners... probably not necessary if your goal is to sell mass volume of B2C type subscriptions or products.
How you acquire customers for your business will undoubtedly change over time. Understanding which channels are available to you is an important first step.
A useful second step is to be able to prioritize and sort them rapidly. You can use the Traction Channels component to help you do this, and update it whenever you and the team want to revisit where you’re investing your time on gaining traction.