That means there is now an enormous wealth of information about growth hacking and marketing online – including here on the Ladder Growth Marketing Blog.
There’s no need to drop $150k on an MBA or marketing degree, or even $50 on a Udemy course – paradoxically the best content is often free.
Once you know the basic frameworks you won’t even need the blogs – you can run your own experiments, discover new techniques and write up the results in your own marketing blog.
At Ladder, we want to bridge the gap between an absolute beginner and someone who is able to conduct their own marketing experiments and learn independently. This list of blog posts and videos is the ‘wheat’ from the past five years I’ve spent reading ‘chaff’.
Absorb this information and you’ll understand all you need to run a successful marketing campaign, from strategy to execution across channels. You’ll know how to get consistent repeatable and scalable results, and how to use data and strategic frameworks to justify your approach.
The course should take a maximum of 15 weeks part-time (9 hours per week) to complete, or you could go hard and complete it in 3 weeks full-time.
The goal is not to get through this as quickly as possible – the goal is to understand the information to the point you can confidently reference it in a meeting or apply it in practice.
In putting this curriculum together I re-read each piece and still found it every bit as useful as the first time I read it. With all the day to day distractions you face it’s easy to forget what you know or get undisciplined with putting it into action, so remember to come back to this material any time you’re lacking inspiration.
Table of Contents
Section 1: Strategy
This first section walks you through how to think strategically, analyze performance and execute effectively within a defined process. This is important because amateur marketers make the mistake of jumping straight to tactics they know, instead of doing the necessary prep work.
It feels slower, but taking the time to think through your strategy, dive deep into the numbers, do the necessary admin and keep the bar for execution high will save you an enormous amount of time, money and resource in the long run. Many tactics and techniques are doomed to fail from the start – preparation is the key to avoiding unnecessary waste.
To understand what’s possible with marketing, you need a solid grounding in the mechanics of human behavior. Once you understand human behavior, you can predict it and ultimately influence it. Understanding economic concepts can give you a way of making sense of the world.
You’ll be able to calculate the rational approach and figure out how to leverage opportunities where the market departs from rationality. Finally, you’ll be able to work smarter by avoiding tactics that aren’t likely to work and reverse engineer the cause when things go wrong.
- Monopoly power
- How to Succeed in Business by Bundling – and Unbundling
- Comparative advantage
- What Is The 80/20 Rule And Why It Will Change Your Life
- The First Principles Method Explained by Elon Musk
- Fermi equations
- The effect of scale on values
- Cobra effect
- List of fallacies
- Increasing, Diminishing, and Negative Marginal Returns
- The end of asymmetric information
- KPCB 2017 Internet trends
- Artificial intelligence revolution
- The paradox of exceptional marketing
The numbers are important, but all the mathematical modeling in the world won’t save you if users don’t trust and identify with your brand. Defining who your customer is and why they should care about your business is the bedrock of any successful marketing campaign. A brand is one of the few ways to build a lasting, defensible monopoly, and in some industries, it’s the only thing that differentiates largely similar products.
- Dan Cobley: What physics taught me about marketing
- Life lessons from an ad man – Rory Sutherland
- Start With Why – Simon Sinek
- Start-Ups Need a Minimum Viable Brand
- Startup Branding: A Practical Guide for Entrepreneurs
- Clay Christensen’s Milkshake Marketing
- Positioning Your Startup is Vital — Here’s How to Nail It
- Marketing worth sharing
- A Business Owner’s Guide to Building and Owning Your Brand
Now you’ve got your business economics and brand sorted, you need a go-to-market strategy. Most businesses fail because they have no way to acquire new customers cost-effectively. Some businesses succeed purely because they have better distribution than their competitors. Figuring out what marketing channels and tactics to employ is ultimately the job our clients hire us to do, so we need to be well versed in how this works.
- The Startup Pyramid
- Growth has two phases and using the wrong one can sink you
- The lean startup – Eric Ries
- Understanding the innovator’s dilemma
- Niche to win baby
- How Birchbox discovered the beauty consumer everyone else was ignoring
- Case Studies Seomoz and Circle of Moms
- Building habit forming products
- Growth – Alex Schultz
- Law of shitty clickthroughs
- How new user acquisition channels drive change
- Digitial Marketing Strategy Done Right
- The mobile growth stack revisited
- When does paid acquisition work for SaaS startups
- No stack startups
You’d be forgiven for forgetting about this if you spend too much time in Silicon Valley, but every startup eventually needs to make money. Even a well-capitalized startup should be thinking about how much a user will eventually be worth for them, and how they’ll capture that value. Your monetization strategy intimately affects how you build your product and defines which marketing strategy you can employ.
- Five ways to build $100m business
- All Revenue is Not Created Equal
- A Surprisingly Powerful Mechanism For Growing A SaaS Startup: Cash Collection
- The Margin Manifesto: 11 Tenets for Reaching (or Doubling) Profitability in 3 Months
- How to Work from Home and Make $8,000 a Month Teaching Watercolor Painting
- Measuring Price Elasticity and More
- Netflix and the Law of Conservation of Attractive Profits
The key to effective decision-making in marketing is understanding data. Having a good command of analytics will make you one of the most powerful and influential people inside any organization – nobody can argue with a good argument backed by solid analysis. Tying the data you’re seeing to economic concepts and frameworks will help give you the context needed to understand how people are using your product, and where the product is failing. It’ll help you find ways to further monetize those users, whilst making them happier with their experience.
- Quant-based marketing for startups
- The Biggest Mistake Web Analysts Make… And How To Avoid It!
- Startup Metrics for Pirates
- Growth Accounting & Triangle Heatmap Explanation
- Google tag manager data layer: explained like never before
- How I forecast performance for six-figure marketing campaigns
- You’re still modeling growth wrong
- Google Analytics Academy
- UTM parameters best practices
- Good, bad and ugly attribution models
- Excel functions for a growth hacker
- A Foolproof Approach To Writing Complex Excel Formulas
After spending some time analyzing data you’ll start to realize that it’s hard to know what decision to make, just by crunching the numbers. To really understand how something works, you need to make a change and observe how that change affects behavior.
Testing is the bedrock of how we’re able to affect positive change and prove we’re doing a good job. Set up correctly, testing can give us unlimited insights into how to improve our client’s products and marketing campaigns. Thinking of things to test and actually seeing the results in real time is what makes this job so interesting and rewarding.
- How to (Scientifically) Pick The Best Domain Name
- The Hustler’s Guide to Experimentation
- How Obama raised $60 million by running a simple experiment
- Lean Analytics: Using data to build a better startup faster
- ConversionXL, Peep Laja “WARNING: 13 Ways You’re Screwing Up Your A/B Tests”
- When to Run Bandit Tests
- Using Cohort Analysis for Conversion Optimization
- How we put Facebook on the path to 1 billion users
- Know the difference between data-informed and versus data-driven
- How a story from WW2 shapes Facebook today
- ‘The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable’
With so many possible things to spend your time on, you need a clean process for deciding what to do and when. Being disciplined and staying focused on what’s important is what separates the top 10% of performers from the rest. Long term a good process is what keeps you productive when you’re distracted or off your game.
Setting expectations for a defined process is what keeps our clients happy with us. Doing what we said we would do when we would do it is how we earn their trust. Any deviation from the plan (without proper justification) is a failure and it’s harder to rebuild trust than it was to earn it in the first place. Process is also what protects us from unruly or unreasonable clients – if we stick to the script we’re safe.
- Building a Growth Engine – Brian Balfour
- Indispensable Growth Frameworks from My Years at Facebook, Twitter and Wealthfront
- Customer Value Optimization
- Rogue Marketing Strategies
- Manifesto for Agile Software Development
- Principles of JKD Idealogy
- Design Sprints by Google Ventures
- Bill Walsh Leadership Lessons
- What’s your Intuition?
- Rap Genius Explains Why Worse is Better
We should always be working out ways to make our activities more scalable. Licensing or building a tool to save us time, or delegating work to lower costs adds money directly to our bottom line. That means we can get more done, translating to better pay and benefits for our staff.
It also locks client’s into our relationship – it’s harder to leave us on a whim if we’ve got key technology set up and running smoothly to deliver growth. Unlike other industries, automating yourself out of a job gets you promoted at Ladder, not laid off. Help the robots win!
- Scaling lessons from the fastest scaling SaaS company ever
- Growth hacker is the new VP of marketing
- Programming for Marketers
- Make a website
- Make an interactive website
- Michael Hartle Ruby on Rails Tutorial
- The difference between the easy and the impossible
- Excel for SEO
- A Digital Marketer’s Quick Guide to HTML and CSS
Testing which creative and copywriting work is by far the most effective tactic we employ in our arsenal. Understanding the simple rules behind designing assets and writing copy will help you get to something that performs, quicker.
Even if you never need to create an ad in the course of your duties, you’ll definitely have to sign one off that was made by someone else. Being able to identify good or bad creative, and knowing the language with which designers and copywriters speak, will go a long way.
- Ricky Gervais tells a story about how he learned to write
- How Louis C.K. Became Funny and Why it Matters
- Canva Design School
- UX Principles to guide your product design
- Typography tips
- Everything is a Remix
- The Seven Basic Plots
- The Hero’s Journey
- Hey Whipple Squeeze This: A Guide to Creating Great Ads
- The Gary Halbert Letters
- Copyblogger Writing Exercises
- 10 ways to Win the Internets
At this point, I hope you might be inspired but slightly overwhelmed. No worries – there are a few simple tricks that the most productive people use to stay on top and get shit done. These small tweaks will help you avoid distractions, stay on plan and feel good about how much you’ve achieved.
- How to Be Less Stressed and More Productive Using Asana
- Google first, ask questions later
- Productivity 101: A Primer to The Pomodoro Technique
- Read this Google email about time management strategy
- Simple Sabotage Field Manual
- Lead Bullets
- Speed matters: Why working quickly is more important than it seems
- Good, Cheap and Fast
- How did Elon Musk become so successful?
Section 2: Growth Channels
Here I’ve outlined the main growth channels through which you can grow a business. They are roughly in order – all new businesses start by manually reaching out to potential users (sales). Once you have a product people love, they’ll stay retained (retention) and start recommending you (virality). When you’re getting users you didn’t recruit directly, it makes sense to try turning more of those users into customers (conversion) and making your site better optimized for search engines and social networks (SEO). At this point, you start trying to get influencers talking about you (PR). Finally, all businesses run out of ‘free’ channels and start paying to scale (advertising). We cover retargeting and acquisition through self-serve digital channels but leave out TV and offline media as we aren’t usually involved at that scale.
Obviously not every business works in this order and sometimes only 1 or 2 of these channels are viable at any given time. I chose this order because it’s what usually makes sense for a resource-constrained startup. Many startups choose to focus only on getting the product right, and never move past conversion or SEO. In some cases, you can accelerate your growth by skipping directly to the later channels which scale quicker (but cost more). Generally speaking, if you don’t have enough data to work on a specific growth channel, go back to the previous channel until you do. If you struggle with improving any further, move on to the next channel.
Sales – reaching out to customers directly via cold emails, calls or at events
Retention – getting more repeat users through product improvements or email
Virality – growing through social referrals, word of mouth and viral loops
Conversion – increasing conversions through better copy or design
SEO – optimizing your site content to maximize search (and social) traffic
PR – prompting referrals through direct outreach and influencer relationships
Advertising – paying publishers, platforms or influencers to promote your product
Reaching out to customers directly via cold emails, calls or at events. This is a high-touch, expensive and hard to scale channel. However, it’s also one of the most effective. Some businesses can only truly be built by a slick sales operation, and the process of selling gives you an enormous amount of feedback on what people think about your product. It’s also the only tactic that needs zero technical development resource – you can get started with an elevator pitch before you have a product or even a website. Almost all businesses start with sales or direct outreach for these reasons.
- Do Things That Don’t Scale
- The rule of seven touches
- How to win friends and influence people
- Alex Baldwin & Glengarry Glenn Ross – Always Be Closing
- A Guide to Growing via Partnerships
- 6 Steps to Writing Great Cold Emails
- Growing to 30k in MRR
- Scalable Sales Models in SaaS
Getting more repeat users through product improvements or email. Once you have customers, you’ll need to retain them. It’s virtually impossible to grow your business if those customers are leaving shortly after joining – you’re pouring water into a leaky bucket. Improving retention can be hard and take a long time, but it almost always costs less to keep a customer than it does to win a new one to replace them. High retention is also the sign that you’ve built something people love, which is really what we’re all trying to achieve.
- Growth is Good, but Retention is Forever
- Your app makes me fat
- 25 reasons users STOP using your product: An analysis of customer lifecycle
- New data shows losing 80% of mobile users is normal, and why the best apps do better
- What I learned talking to 500 customers in 4 weeks
Growing through social referrals, word of mouth and viral loops. Once you’ve built something people love, your customers will tell other people about it. There’s no form of marketing more effective than a real customer telling their friends to use you. A high viral factor is another sign that you’ve built a compelling product, and it makes every other marketing channel more cost-effective when you know acquiring 1 customer will lead to 2-3 when they tell their friends.
- Facebook viral marketing: When and why do apps “jump the shark?”
- Ahalogy, Michael Wohlschlaeger “How To Win Instagram & Pinterest Followers”
- Why Content Goes Viral: What Analyzing 100 Million Articles Taught Us
- 27 Referral Program Hack-tics in 20 Minutes
- What’s the ROI of your mother?
- Instagram Growth Hacks: Actionable Tactics to Grow Your Following–The Right Way
- How to Create Content That Generated 5,228 Visitors in Only 14 Days
Increasing conversions through better copy or design. Once you have people coming to your site or downloading your app, it makes sense to work on getting more value out of those visits. Even the smallest of changes can make an enormous difference in how many people buy your product or stay on your website.
There are lots of great tricks and tips for improving conversion, and it often improves your retention and referral metrics as well. It’s relatively easy to test conversion tactics and prove performance, so this is a rich vein of improvement. It also improves the efficiency of all your other marketing tactics, if you convert more of each visitor they bring.
- How to Optimize Ad Copy for Maximizing Lead Conversions
- Using Instagram to Drive Conversions and Grow a Community
- What Is A Good Conversion Rate?
- 10 Usability Lessons from Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think
- 13 ways to use social proof for increased conversions
- How to generate awesome candidates for A/B testing
- 18 Cognitive Biases You Can Use for Conversion Optimization
- How Optimizely onboards new users
Optimizing your site content to maximize search (and social) traffic. Now your site is converting well, your users are sticking around and telling their friends, you want to branch out to other channels. One of the most cost-effective ways to get more traffic is to make your site more appealing to Google and Facebook.
There is a lot of information out there about how to do this, but it’s ultimately about adding more shareable content to your site, making it easier to interpret and getting influencers to refer your content as an authoritative source. This channel takes a while to build, but once you get it working it can become an unassailable advantage.
- Beginner’s Guide to SEO
- Local SEO: How to Rank Your Business in Google Maps and Search
- Demystifying Smart SEO for Business Growth
- Free Inbound Certification Course
- How this blog grows: Evergreen content, Social whales, and “Don’t get bored”
- 11 beginner mistakes that cripple blogs in their first year
- Demystifying SEO Experiments
- Time to long click
- Skyscraper technique
- 24 Proven SEO Growth Strategies [Beginner’s Guide]
Prompting referrals through direct outreach and influencer relationships. Getting influencers to promote you can be a way to generate a lot of awareness and credibility all at once. Because it’s less measurable and predictable, there’s a tendency for people to waste a lot of time and money in this channel. However it’s an important complement to SEO, and it can be a good way to prime the market for your other (less manual) campaigns.
- How to get media coverage for your startup
- How To Get PR For Your Startup: Fire Your PR Company
- Crystallizing public opinion
- A Beginner’s Guide To Public Relations For Tech Startups
Paying publishers, platforms or influencers to promote your product. All companies eventually resort to paid advertising to scale, despite their original “build it and they’ll come” mindset. Nothing can match the scale of TV, but well optimized Facebook and Google campaigns can get you in front of an audience of millions.
Paid channels have the advantage of delivering the most immediate and measurable return on investment. This gives it an advantage early on when you’re looking to test hypotheses quickly and prove you’re on the right track. If done wrong, it’s also easy to lose money in this channel, so stay on top of any active campaigns.
- Adwords certification
- Why You’re Leaving Money on the Table If You Don’t Run Ads
- What Marketers Can Learn From The Most Effective Russian Ads from the 2016 Election
- How We Drove Newsletter Growth Using Facebook Lead Ads
- Adbeat Webinar Driving Traffic Secrets of a Pay Per Click Marketer.
- 38 proven Facebook ads optimizations to boost conversions
- Converting with Facebook: How to Optimize Ads, Target Audiences & Boost Your ROI
- How to advertise on a porn website
- Interstate Analytics, Jamie Quint “Measuring for Revenue Attribution”
- Remarketing for startups
- How Facebook Ads Really Work: Facebook Advertising Demystified
- The Reddit Ads Experiment: What We Learned for $250
- 10 Powerful Twitter Ads Strategies to Supercharge Your Growth
- 2017 Update: 209 Actionable Growth Strategist for Your Business
- The Ultimate Customer Acquisition Checklist
- 123 Ways to Get More Website Traffic: A Sumo-Sized Guide
- 21 Actionable Growth Hacking Tactics