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Marketing Tools (Beginner's Guide)
A marketing stack is a set of tools that helps startups execute their marketing.
Most startups put zero thought into the design of this stack. They use whichever tools their marketers used at past jobs—and leave it at that.
But startups that design their marketing stacks properly can outpace others. They:
- Grow faster—thanks to quicker iteration and more automation. No one has to be repeatedly reminded to make important growth decisions.
- Save resources—thanks to needing to make fewer hires and spend less time in dashboards.
Here's the challenge, though: There are over 7,000 marketing tools to choose from.
We interviewed 100+ growth marketers from the fastest-growing B2B, mobile, and D2C startups to identify which tools they use and how they connect them for:
- Customer acquisition
- Engagement and conversion
In this playbook, you'll learn the answer to the question: Is my team using the latest and greatest marketing tools? If the answer is no, you'll know which tools to try instead.
Unlike our other playbooks, which feature advanced content, this is an introductory playbook. Its purpose is to help beginners learn about popular marketing tools and know when to use them.
Generally recommended tools
Briefly, here's a list of the most popular tools startups say they choose. The rest of this guide adds context and strategy to these recommendations.
- Clearscope: Helps you optimize your written content for SEO.
- Ahrefs: Best for performing SEO research, such as keyword and backlink analysis.
- Semrush: More full featured (and complicated) than Ahrefs, with a stronger focus on ads than organic.
- Unbounce: The most flexible landing page builder. It's used to create custom pages that convert new visitors into users.
- Instapage: Another landing page builder, with slightly less flexibility than Unbounce. Some marketers prefer it because of its large design template library.
- Webflow: The most full-featured landing page builder, but a lot more complicated to use. You can use it to build entire sites from scratch.
- Zapier: Zapier allows non-technical marketers to do the work of back-end engineers. You can set it up so that an action in one tool triggers an action in another.
- mParticle: A customer data platform (CDP)best for consumer businesses. mParticle automatically logs events such as user sign-ups, then routes that data into your other marketing tools. It's the foundation for many marketing stacks.
- Segment: Another option for your CDP—better for B2B companies.
Note: CDPs are used to manage customer behavior data. CRMs (customer relationship management platforms) manage interactions with customers. Both track customer data, but CRMs do it for customer-facing interactions, and CDPs are more behind the scenes. We’ll use both terms throughout this playbook.
- Intercom: The best all-around live chat/customer engagement tool.
- Drift: Best for sales-heavy organizations given its extensive chat automation features, which qualify and book leads.
- Clearbit: You can use Clearbit to find "people data"—like email addresses and job titles. Then you can personalize your website or marketing emails with that data.
- People Data Labs: A wholesale alternative to Clearbit.
- Buffer: Best for smaller companies, until they outgrow it and move to Hootsuite.
- Hootsuite: More suited for enterprise companies because of its complexity, deeper features, and cost.
- Amplitude: A user-level tracking tool with a generous free tier and intuitive UI.
- Mixpanel: The most popular user-level tracking tool. Rich features include live chat (like Intercom) and Zapier integrations.
- Google Analytics: The most commonly used analytics tool on the web. Suitable for basic analytics such as page views, bounce rates, and time on site—but not as good for user-level tracking.
- Heap: Another major (but less popular) user-level tracking tool. Heap's "automatic tracking" generates events for, say, web form submissions and link clicks. But the UI can be cumbersome.
- Google Optimize: A free A/B testing tool from Google that integrates with Google Analytics and Google Ads. Less featured than Optimizely, but it's free and does what most startups need.
- Optimizely: The most full-featured A/B testing platform on the market.
- Hotjar: The best tool for capturing heatmaps and user recordings to assess user behavior.
- Fullstory: A more expensive, better-featured, and more in-depth user session recording alternative to Hotjar.
- Singular: The top-rated attribution solution.
- Branch: The best mobile-focused attribution solution.
- Rockerbox: A popular option for ecommerce.
- Stripe: The go-to payment processing tool because of its ease of implementation.
- Bill.com: The go-to accounts payable and receivable platform. If your vendors/customers are already using Bill.com, payments are frictionless.
- Braintree: A great payment processing option for ecommerce companies, known for its powerful fraud prevention tools.
- Affirm: Used by ecommerce companies to offer payment plans to customers.
Here's a breakdown of common marketing stacks for different business model types:
Before you commit to specific tools, your business model, acquisition strategy, and target customers should all be aligned. That way, you'll be able to select the tools that will make growth easier for your business—instead of just going with the most popular ones.
Our Growth Program can help you with this. In it, you'll:
- Build a growth engine to acquire new customers, based on your startup's model.
- Execute proven growth tactics. You'll work with a dedicated growth advisor, who will make sure your time is spent on activities that drive real growth.
We've also partnered with many of the tools mentioned in this playbook to offer exclusive discounts to Growth Program members—for over $10,000 in savings. And we're constantly adding new tool discounts.
Get a free sample of the Growth Program.
How to design your marketing stack
Design your marketing technology (martech) stack as the solution to your bottlenecks.
- Example of a resource bottleneck: A B2B company that manually sends emails to nurture leads can switch to a semi- or fully automated approach for greater efficiency.
- Example of a conversion bottleneck: A B2C ecom company that struggles to convert users at checkout might use heatmaps to determine where to make UX changes. The goal would be to eradicate large drop-offs in their funnel and increase conversion.
So your first step in tool selection should be to study your customer's journey and find the bottlenecks. The second step: Audit your team's workflows. Look for redundant tasks that could be replaced by software.
Let's start tackling marketing objectives.
In this section, we'll focus on:
- Running ads
- Creating content for search engines
- Leveraging organic social media
- Building landing pages that convert
Ads are one of the most scalable and efficient ways to acquire customers.
Ad channels include:
- Google Ads
Facebook, Instagram, and Google account for over 60% of digital ad spend.
Most marketers run ads directly through each platform. For example, you can run Facebook ads through your Facebook Ads Manager or Google Ads through your business Google account.
But there are tools that make creating, running, and tracking ads easier—especially when you're running ads across many channels at once.
AdEspresso lets you run Facebook, Instagram, and Google campaigns through one dashboard.
It makes sense to use AdEspresso if:
- You're running multiple campaigns across ad platforms, and you lack the resources to do a deep dive into each channel’s ads manager dashboard on a daily basis.
- You're a generalist who doesn't have time to learn the nuances of every ad channel's dashboard. AdEspresso is convenient. You learn their dashboard—that's it.
- You work with a team that requires sign-offs on your campaigns. You can queue up ads, then a team member can launch them later with a few clicks.
Smartly automates ads on social channels, e.g., Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Snap.
You can create ads, run campaigns, and analyze your data from one location.
Two key differences between AdEspresso and Smartly:
- Smartly includes Snap and Pinterest but not Google Ads. In contrast, AdEspresso includes Google Ads but not Snap or Pinterest.
- Smartly leverages AI to dynamically show the copy and creative that should resonate most with your audience.
Use Smartly if:
- You run ads on Pinterest or Snap.
- You'd benefit from dynamic copy and creative in your ads.
- You're new to ads and want to put them on autopilot. Smartly will automatically optimize your targeting, budgets, and bidding to improve conversion.
A quick note on Google Ads
You can use martech tools to get the most out of your Google Ads campaigns:
- Semrush provides data on keywords in your niche, to help you make data-driven decisions about which to include in your Google Ads campaigns. You can also search for keywords that competitors are ranking for and run competing campaigns.
- Ahrefs is another keyword tool, but its emphasis is more on SEO and less on search ads. We'll cover Ahrefs in the upcoming section on content.
- Use Google Optimize (the A/B testing tool) for dynamic text replacement. On your landing page, you can dynamically insert the keyword that triggered your ad to be shown to the searcher. This improves personalization and, hopefully, conversion.
Each of these tools addresses the fact that Google Ads have intent-based targeting. They target people who want to answer timely questions or solve existing problems. Keyword and personalization tools home in on those unique intentions.
Recommended by TripAdvisor, LinkedIn, Netflix, Pinterest, and Adobe
Ahrefs, a technical SEO tool, helps you find popular keywords that potential customers are searching for. You can place those keywords in your written content or search ads.
Use Ahrefs to:
- Study what your customers are searching for. You can find keyword ideas and analyze keywords' ranking difficulty and estimated traffic potential.
- Optimize your website. By running an analysis on your site, you can find out what’s holding it back from ranking better for certain keywords.
- Analyze your competitors. See which keywords your competitors are ranking for and using for PPC campaigns. Consider launching campaigns that challenge competitors.
Recommended by Twilio, HubSpot, Intuit, and YouTube
Once you've identified your top keywords, you can use Clearscope to optimize your content's Google search rankings.
Clearscope is a keyword research and content optimization tool.
- You copy and paste your content into Clearscope.
- It analyzes your content and returns keyword modification recommendations.
- Then its grading tool tells you how likely you are to be a top 10 search result, and what terms to include in your headers, subheaders, and body text to get there.
How to convert your traffic
When people arrive at your site through your content, you need a way to incentivize them to provide their email address, so they can move along your funnel.
- Email capture tools: Most email marketing platforms (from Customer IO to Mailchimp) have built-in tools to capture emails, like popups and in-line email boxes. If your platform doesn't provide these tools, check out Sumo, Optinmonster, and Sleeknote.
- Quiz tools: Entice users to take a quiz, but have them submit their email address to get their results. You can use Typeform or SurveyMonkey to create your quiz.
Leveraging organic social media
There are two types of social media channels: persistence channels and hit-or-miss channels.
Twitter and LinkedIn are persistence channels—growth comes from posting regularly. If you post excellent content consistently, growth is all but guaranteed.
Hacker News, Reddit, and Product Hunt, on the other hand, are hit-or-miss channels. You're chasing a viral hit. To rank highly, you need to outperform others through phenomenal content.
The ROI of pursuing hit-or-miss channels is volatile, and it's hard to be consistent. So we recommend focusing on persistence channels.
All the tools we discuss below can remove friction for persistence channels. They don't usually support hit-or-miss channels. Instead, you'll work directly within hit-or-miss channels' UI to post content.
Recommended by Stripe, Intercom, Basecamp, Trello, and Github
Buffer helps you publish content across social media platforms—Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Twitter—in just a few clicks.
It lets you:
- Schedule posts for the best times of day for maximum engagement. While we're on the topic, here are the best times for the top four social channels: Facebook: 12pm EST, Twitter: 11am to 1pm EST, Instagram: 12-1pm EST, LinkedIn: 7:45am, 10:45am, 12:45pm, and 5:45pm EST.
- Collaborate with your team to go through review rounds before publishing.
- Measure and continually improve the performance of your content, using Buffer’s built-in analytics.
You can also connect Buffer to Slack to get notified about Twitter replies.
Recommended by Marketo, SXSW, and Meliá Hotels
Hootsuite is a social media management tool trusted by many Fortune 500 companies. Startups often find themselves choosing between Hootsuite and Buffer.
Here are the key differences:
- Buffer is less expensive, but Hootsuite provides deeper features at every plan level.
- Buffer has a cleaner interface, but it lacks some advanced organizational features that bigger businesses prefer.
- Hootsuite has a more advanced dashboard. Buffer shows your scheduled posts, while Hootsuite shows your timelines and replies.
In short, Buffer is good for small teams, but larger organizations should try Hootsuite.
Additional social media tools
A few more tools worth considering:
- Sprout Social: A highly rated social media management tool that's a competitor to both Buffer and Hootsuite. It's best suited for enterprise businesses. It's functional, easy to use, and intuitive, but it's expensive compared to the other options.
- Later: Best for businesses that rely on Instagram as their primary channel.
- Later for Reddit: Lets you schedule Reddit posts in advance.
- TweetDeck: Social media dashboard for Twitter accounts.
Building landing pages
A landing page is the first page people see when they come to your site. It's one of the most important assets for on-site conversion.
Great landing pages decrease your cost per click by improving your advertising quality scores on Google.
We recommend taking advantage of landing page builders to:
- A/B test different value propositions quickly.
- Use heatmaps to see where users stop engaging.
- Use long-tail keywords to write hyper-specific landing pages that convert better than generic ones.
- Modify CTAs to match search terms. For example, if someone does a Google search for “rent living room furniture,” they might be more likely to click a CTA that says “rent now” rather than “sign up.” On landing pages, context reinforcement is important.
- Leverage location data to make your product pages more relevant—e.g., a visitor from Germany would see a "we ship to Germany!" message.
The two most popular landing page builders are Instapage and Unbounce. These tools allow you to create custom pages that integrate with your domain—and they don't require coding expertise. You can then iterate on your pages using A/B testing tools.
The typical approach to using page builders is to create a subdomain on your site, such as get.demandcurve.com, which becomes the home for your landing page tests. This keeps your main site uncluttered.
Recommended by Helix, Within, Later, and Zola
Unbounce is a very easy-to-use landing page builder. Here are some features worth knowing about:
- The "dynamic text replacement" feature lets you display text on your landing page based on the search queries visitors use to arrive at your site.
- You can A/B test pages and compare your results through Unbounce's built-in analytics dashboard.
- You can include an email capture on your page, then use Unbounce's native integrations to add new email subscribers to segmented campaigns in your email marketing platform.
Use Unbounce if you want the most flexibility for creating pages. It's suitable for experienced marketers with advanced needs.
Recommended by HelloFresh, Ebay, Okta, and TrueCar
Instapage is another highly recommended landing page design tool. People love it because of its library of pre-built page templates.
Instapage's A/B testing and analytics functionalities are similar to Unbounce's, and it offers lead capture forms that can directly connect to your CRM.
We prefer Unbounce for its design, ease of use, and dynamic text replacement. But many startups prefer Instapage. We suggest experimenting with both free trials before choosing one. Speaking of which, Unbounce lets you preview their builder, so you can test it before signing up for a trial.
Double your conversion rate
Sharp copywriting can dramatically increase the conversion rate of your ads and landing pages.
In the Growth Program, you'll use copywriting frameworks to build landing pages that double your existing conversion. Get a free sample of the program here.
Engagement and conversion
Once you have leads coming in, the next step is to pick the right tools to move them further down the funnel.
Here's what we'll cover:
- Marketing automation (mostly via email)
- Live chat
- Data enrichment
Marketing automation helps you automate touchpoints throughout a lead's journey. It can streamline:
- Email marketing
- Lead nurturing
- In-app messaging and push notifications
- Retargeting ads
- SMS marketing
- And more
Email: Customer IO
Recommended by Segment, Reddit, and Codecademy
Customer IO is an email automation tool that helps you send targeted messages to users based on how they've interacted with your website. It also doubles as a newsletter-sending tool.
Customer IO is a flexible and easy-to-implement solution for data-driven startups and SMBs. It's made a splash with startups because of its ease of use, great design, and flexibility. You can create very complex funnels with it.
Some use cases for Customer IO:
- Send "broadcasts"—like newsletters—to a segment of your mailing list.
- For ecom startups: Integrate with Shopify's open-source Liquid logic for additional customization.
- Set up advanced email and SMS workflows that send relevant messages to subscribers and move them further down your funnel.
- Use welcome flows to introduce your brand and let customers know what they should expect from your emails.
- Use nurture flows to provide subscribers with valuable resources and nudge them toward purchase.
- Send transactional emails like receipts, shipping confirmations, and digital product deliveries. (Transactional emails are emails that send to customers automatically when they're transacting with a company.)
- Analyze your flows by metrics such as open rate, click-through rate, and conversion. Optimize your emails accordingly.
You can also push customer engagement data into Customer IO, then enrich it with contact details using Clearbit. This helps you get job titles, company industries, and more, so you can send personalized emails at scale.
Alternatives: Mailchimp (newsletters), Klaviyo, Drip (both ecommerce), ConvertKit (personal brands)
Workflow automation: Iterable
Recommended by DoorDash, Fender, Zillow, and Asics
Iterable is a leader in automated customer outreach. It spans email, SMS, cross-channel insights, and workflow automation.
It's suited for less technically savvy marketers, as it offers powerful features that don't require engineering resources, like:
- A clean drag-and-drop interface for automation flows
- Dynamic personalization and segmentation features
- Omni-channel campaigns
Iterable's cost structure is best for:
- Mid-sized companies
- Companies with over 100k emails on their list
Workflow automation: SendGrid
Recommended by Uber, Airbnb, Spotify, Yelp, and Instacart
SendGrid is a widely trusted email marketing platform. Its two core benefits are deliverability and scale:
- SendGrid provides domain authentication, compliance and deliverability coaching, and proactive ISP outreach. What that means is that your emails land in inboxes more often, instead of ending up in spam folders or getting blocked by firewalls.
- SendGrid's above-average deliverability improves email performance at scale.
SendGrid is best for:
- Email marketing automation and reliable transactional emails. Since SendGrid has the best deliverability among email service providers, transactional emails sent through it almost always reach their intended recipients.
- Developers and technical marketers, although non-technical marketers can use their drag-and-drop editor.
Workflow automation: HubSpot
Recommended by SurveyMonkey, ClassPass, Trello, and Soundcloud
HubSpot is an all-in-one marketing automation tool and CRM. It's packed with everything from social media management to sales automation.
Its marketing platform provides email automation, landing pages, analytics, and CRM tools in a comprehensive package.
HubSpot's key benefits:
- Developers don’t need to integrate a ton of different tools via APIs.
- Its comprehensive CRM allows for more granular segmentation than less data-heavy email marketing platforms, like Mailchimp.
- It has a stack of native integrations, and it connects with CDPs (like mParticle or Segment) to personalize email campaigns.
HubSpot is best for:
- Marketers looking for comprehensive solutions and tools for inbound marketing
- B2B companies that run inbound marketing
The downside? It’s expensive. And more importantly, you're sacrificing the quality of each individual tool (email software, CRM, landing pages, etc.) for the convenience of an all-in-one provider.
Sales emails: Mixmax
Recommended by Canva, Typeform, and Trend Analytics
Mixmax helps sales teams close leads through email.
It integrates with Gmail and allows you to send automated sequences to large lead lists.
Use cases include:
- Tracking opens, clicks, downloads, and RSVPs by person and message type—and then iterating on sequences to improve response rates.
- Receiving real-time notifications when people take action on your emails. For example, sales reps can see when a lead opens a message, which could be an ideal time to reach out to them.
- For sales leaders, integrating Mixmax with Salesforce to monitor their team's performance and ensure that all accounts are up to date.
Alternatives: Mailshake, Reply IO
No-code integrations: Zapier
Recommended by Spotify, Adobe, and Buzzfeed
Whereas the automation tools we've covered so far involve communication with customers, Zapier solves a different problem. It's the only tool that lets marketers build automations across all the tools we're discussing.
When two tools lack a direct integration, Zapier is a way to connect them. You do this by creating "Zaps": custom automations that work across your tech stack.
Say you want to alert your sales team by Slack when a large customer pays through Stripe. You can create a Zap that sends a Slack message to your team's #sales channel when a transaction is processed via Stripe. Then one of your sales reps can reach out to your customer to congratulate them and walk them through onboarding.
- After a user signs up, a Zap can enrich their data using Clearbit; add it to Airtable, a database, and/or a CRM; ping a Slack channel; send a welcome email through Gmail; and log an event in Mixpanel.
- When a customer schedules a call with a salesperson, a Zap can email them from the salesperson, log an event in Mixpanel, change their CRM stage to "scheduled call," and notify the salesperson in Slack.
- When a customer cancels their subscription through Stripe, a Zap can email them a confirmation, log an event in Mixpanel, and remove their access to your digital product.
- When you change someone's Airtable or CRM record to "sent contract," a Zap can have DocuSign send them a contract. Once they sign, another Zap can then set their record to "signed documents" and ping the salesperson.
Chat is typically seen as a customer support feature. But it's also an opportunity to connect with qualified leads at a critical moment—and close deals.
Once your live chat tool has collected sufficient data from your interactions with customers, you can build automations that are truly helpful for them. For example, if you're frequently answering similar questions about a product feature, you can build an automation into your chat tool that answers those customer questions and saves your team time.
Recommended by Shopify, IBM, Udemy, and Microsoft
After installing Intercom, you'll have a small chatbox on your site where customers can quickly get in touch with your team. It can be critically useful for both support and sales.
While most people know Intercom for its support functionality, it's also loaded with features for engagement and marketing.
- Engagement: Use interactive messages and product tours to onboard and activate new customers and reactive current ones.
- Marketing: Use personalized messages, bots, and real-time chat to convert people on the spot.
Some of the top use cases for Intercom include:
- Integrating with your CRM through mParticle to automatically qualify leads based on their chat responses.
- Integrating with Calendly, so VIP customers can quickly book calls with your sales team.
- Asking customers questions related to the Google search queries they used to arrive at your website.
- Using geotargeting to only allow customers within your key geographies to access your valuable support team, to keep their time well allocated. For instance, if you're selling a product to Canadians, you could use geofencing to only show your chatbot to Canadians.
Data enrichment is the process of consolidating user data to get a better understanding of your customers. It can be used with both data you already have and publicly searchable data.
For instance, if you have an email address, you can use data enrichment to get personal and company data associated with that email, like first name, city, income bracket, job title, and so on.
You can also use data enrichment to customize your landing pages with visitor-specific value propositions. And you can improve your onboarding experience by showing users the features their personas care about most.
Recommended by Notion, Outreach, Pantheon, and Flexport
Clearbit is the industry leader in quality data enrichment, providing up-to-date and accurate data on your leads. You can use Clearbit to find email addresses, LinkedIn profiles, job titles, etc., for almost anyone with an online presence.
When you integrate it with Gmail, Clearbit will show you information about the people you're emailing in your sidebar.
Its use cases allow you to:
- Automatically qualify leads (by filtering out those who aren't a good fit).
- Create personalized onboarding flows.
- Turn anonymous web traffic into full company profiles that inform your sales process.
- Turn an email address into a full profile to use for cold outreach.
- For B2B companies, run ads on Facebook with LinkedIn-level firmographic data. Clearbit has 100+ B2B targeting filters including title, industry, company size, and technology used.
People Data Labs
Recommended by IBM, PayPal, and Stripe
People Data Labs (PDL) is a data-aggregation company that provides the work emails and social media account details of over 2.5 billion people around the world.
It has a rich dataset of high-profile decision-makers in the US, UK, and Canada.
You can use PDL to enrich your customer (or prospect) data and make better-informed decisions.
Use cases include:
- B2C: Running your CRM through PDL's database to update your data, then using your newly updated data in your marketing campaigns.
- B2B: Running a sales prospect list through PDL's database to improve personalization of your cold outreach.
Analytics and optimization
Analytics tools allow marketers to collect meaningful behavioral data. This is then used to optimize campaigns across landing pages, emails, ads, product features, and more.
Most tools, like landing page builders, already come with built-in analytics, but they're generally underequipped. The best analytics tools focus only on analytics.
It's best to house all your data in one analytics tool.
For instance, it's inefficient for your email team to collect data in Customer IO, while your paid acquisition data lives exclusively in Facebook Ads Manager, and so on.
Most marketers are familiar with Google Analytics (GA), Google's free analytics dashboard. We recommend GA as a baseline, but you should upgrade as soon as you can afford to.
Paid analytics tools offer deep, event-based insights that GA doesn't provide. The improvement in insight quality will cover the cost of these tools.
Analytics is one tool category you don't want to skimp on.
Recommended by Instacart, PayPal, Dropbox, Rappi, and Blue Apron
Amplitude generates analytics at the user level by tracking users and events across every interaction with your business. It provides customizable, user-friendly dashboards that allow you to sync all your data in one place.
Unlike GA, Amplitude is good at tracking people when they switch devices (e.g., phone → laptop). This is important for accurate and thorough data collection across multi-device experiences.
You can also use Amplitude to identify behavioral trends that can help you make meaningful product optimizations—not just marketing automations.
Popular use cases include tracking:
- Funnel drop-off
- Revenue segmented by persona
- Sign-ups segmented by referring domain or source
- Purchases made after blog articles are read
- Weekly blog traffic growth
Recommended by DocuSign, Uber, Skyscanner, and Twitter
Mixpanel is similar to Amplitude in the way it tracks "events" on your site. You can capture details on button clicks, page scrolls, and navigation and get a clear picture of what visitors are doing on each page or view.
A popular use case entails integrating live chat tools like Intercom. You can automatically start a conversation with customers based on the actions they take on your site.
Additional analytics tools
- Heap: A user-level tracking tool with an added benefit of "automatic tracking." Events for form submissions and link clicks are generated automatically, which is helpful if you don't know how to set up tracking.
Optimization tools are used alongside an analytics dashboard to run and validate growth experiments such as A/B tests.
Common use cases for A/B testing include:
- Landing, product, and pricing page copy and design
- User onboarding flows
- In-app UX
- Landing page personalization. You can detect location, UTM tags, or Google Ad IDs to personalize page content, then test whether that personalization has had a measurable impact.
Recommended by Mailchimp, StubHub, Salesforce, and Blue Apron
With Optimizely, you can run A/B tests to see which copy, creative, and design variations convert the best.
Additionally, you can use Optimizely to direct visitors toward individualized funnels. For example, only some leads are worth your limited sales bandwidth. You could use your lead-scoring data to send visitors with priority sales personas into a more hands-on sales flow.
If you’re already using Google Analytics and Google Ads, consider Google's A/B testing tool: Optimize. It's a good-enough and completely free alternative to Optimizely.
The main difference between Optimizely and Google Optimize? Optimizely offers better flexibility and insights. We suggest starting with Optimize, then getting a sales demo from Optimizely to see if it's worth the upgrade.
Recommended by Brex, Adobe, SurveyMonkey, and Jet
Hotjar is a click heatmap and screen recording tool that provides insights into how users interact with your website and app.
Heatmaps allow you to see where users click on your page and how far down they scroll. This is a proxy for how engaging your page's various elements and value propositions are. It helps you learn what to cut and what to revise.
Heatmaps are equally useful for discovering what distracts users. If users spend a lot of time looking at and clicking in a low-value part of your page that doesn’t help them convert, it could make sense to remove that section.
Use cases for Hotjar include:
- Compare heatmaps across mobile, tablet, and desktop. Each has its own UX idiosyncrasies. A site that converts well on desktop doesn't necessarily convert well on mobile.
- Run heatmaps alongside Optimizely tests to see how your A/B tests affect page interaction.
- By studying scroll maps, you can identify the sections of your page that users gravitate toward. You can use this data to reorder sections, putting the best content first. The goal is to keep iterating until your page has nothing but attention-grabbing content that leads visitors to the next step in your funnel.
Attribution is the process of collecting visitor and user information at different touchpoints of the customer journey. You often do this using cookies or UTM tags in your URL.
Attribution tools can help you determine which touchpoints drive conversion. If you're running a multi-touch campaign, attribution tools can show you which ads or blog articles actually drive purchases.
But it gets tricky: Customers rarely convert after engaging with only one of your channels or pieces of content.
Instead, they engage with your brand across channels and over the course of a journey. A customer journey might look like this:
- A prospect sees your FB ad.
- They Google your company and click to your website.
- They read one of your blog posts.
- They forget about you for a month.
- Then they hear your brand name in a podcast ad, return to your site, and purchase.
Out of all that, which touchpoint led to the sale?
Well, they all played a part. It's this type of cross-channel attribution that's tough to track. That's where attribution tools come into play.
Recommended by Wish, Wealthfront, LinkedIn, Airbnb, and DoorDash
Singular is a marketing attribution platform that aggregates data and calculates the ROI of your campaigns. It integrates with over 2,000 tools.
Singular has 50% of the 200 top-grossing apps among its customers. It's a safe pick.
Its main value proposition is that it aggregates ad channel performance into a single dashboard.
Use Singular to:
- Measure the ROI of specific channels in a multi-touch campaign. This helps you uncover your least profitable channels and the breakouts you should double down on.
- Thoughtfully portion out ad spend across the entire customer journey.
Recommended by Pinterest, Strava, and Instacart
Branch provides best-in-class attribution for mobile. It uses deep linking, meaning it pieces together fragmented identifiers to provide a full picture of a customer’s journey. It does this across the web and your mobile app.
Branch is helpful in a post-IDFA world—it uses a predictive attribution algorithm to track conversions when there's no universal tracking ID. The rest of the industry relies on basic probabilistic methods, with accuracy rates of 60-70%, whereas Branch appears to have better data and results.
Additional attribution platforms
- Rockerbox: A DTC powerhouse that covers attribution for both digital and “non-UTM” channels (e.g., TV, radio, direct mail).
- AppsFlyer: A mobile attribution platform that specializes in app-install attribution. Because of its cost, it's best for mobile companies spending at least $1 million per year on advertising.
Turn analytics into revenue
Analytics are only useful when they inform high-leverage decisions.
Our Growth Program includes step-by-step video walk-throughs of how to set up your analytics. Once they're in place, you'll be able to run experiments that drive meaningful growth. Try a sample of the program.
Integrating your stack
Now let's walk through integrating your new tools into a scalable marketing engine.
Use a CDP to create your data foundation
Since most companies have data coming into their ecosystem in all sorts of ways, it’s tough to keep it standardized. Tools often don't share data with each other.
So the first step of creating a unified marketing stack is to set up a customer data platform (CDP). This is the foundation for all your tools.
CDPs consolidate customer data from sources like websites and mobile apps in real time. They create and update customer profiles that can power marketing and analytics tools instantly. They integrate all your tools and provide code-free access. And in doing so, they provide your marketing team with autonomy from engineering.
The two top CDPs on the market are mParticle and Segment.
We recommend mParticle to all of the consumer businesses we work with here at Demand Curve.
CDPs are often viewed as difficult to integrate and use. Not mParticle. Their integration is seamless, and their UI is easy to navigate. mParticle is often a less expensive alternative to Segment. For these reasons, consumer companies tend to prefer mParticle.
In addition, while some CDPs only store and process data, mParticle enables you to automate complex marketing processes using rules and conditional logic. And as marketing becomes privacy-first, mParticle becomes more valuable—mParticle records all opt-ins and opt-outs, so you’ll never hit someone with an unwanted piece of messaging. You’ll spend far less time managing privacy regulations.
Segment is best for B2B companies, since mParticle focuses solely on consumer businesses. But Segment also has comprehensive and accurate data.
Below are a few more tools we like. We’ve found them to be useful for project management and design.
Airtable is a wildly powerful productivity tool. It's a database-like replacement for Google Sheets for non-calculation work. It's sort of like a spreadsheet on top of a database.
Airtable also provides a convenient way to organize project tasks. You can switch views between spreadsheets, calendars, and galleries, and you can create fully customized forms.
- Create a sales CRM.
- Build a content calendar or distribution queue. (You can even use Airtable's Twitter app to automatically tweet on scheduled dates.)
- Create project management dashboards, similar to Trello or Asana.
- Build no-code versions of products using embedded Airtables, e.g., Demand Curve's job board.
Airtable keeps a database of templates and use cases called Airtable Universe. Check it out here.
Notion is a robust content workspace for teams. It allows you to create custom systems for note taking and project and knowledge management.
Think of Notion as a company wiki + Google Drive replacement + project management tool. Your team can collaborate and share all your important files in one workspace.
Notion is also useful for preparing external documents to share on the web. Some startups (and individuals) go as far as using Notion for landing pages.
Here are some of the most popular use cases for Notion:
- Create a company wiki to answer common questions and onboard new employees.
- Visualize your product roadmap and work cross-functionally to build it.
- Create a content release calendar.
ClickUp is an all-in-one project management tool. Compared to other project management tools like Asana and Trello, it's become a startup favorite for its ability to manage tasks, docs, chats, and goals in one spot. It's a super-app that replaces all other project management tools.
For smaller startups, ClickUp is also a more attractive option than Asana because its free plan includes more features. And when you do upgrade, ClickUp is half the price of Asana.
Here are a few problems that ClickUp addresses:
- Having to navigate many tools (Google Sheets for spreadsheets, Basecamp for announcements and file access, Asana for project management, etc.).
- Not knowing what everyone on your team is working on. You can use transparent "spaces" to get a feel for what others are prioritizing.
- Poor cross-team collaboration. For instance, your designer and VP of growth can share a dashboard to collaborate on ads before running campaigns.
Figma is the go-to collaborative design tool for startups. Use it to design ads, landing pages, social media content, and more—across your entire team.
A core benefit of Figma is the ability to have multiple people working in a single workspace. The importance of this can't be overstated. You can now work on a project with other team members without worrying about overlapping edits. It’s useful for projects with many handoffs between marketers and designers (or developers) before publication.
Other benefits of Figma include:
- It lets you easily and rapidly prototype product suggestions, without wasting valuable developer time.
- It uses CSS properties, so anyone on your team can copy-paste its visuals into code.
Canva is another simple, easy-to-use design tool. We like it for its thousands of free templates, and because it lets laypeople quickly build creatives of nearly every type.
Example marketing stacks
Here are a few case studies showing how different companies can leverage their marketing stacks.
1. Create an automated marketing workflow
You run a small DTC ecommerce company. You've been experimenting with marketing automation by using Customer IO to build email flows that sell on your behalf. Simultaneously, you've been testing PPC through Google Ads to drive traffic to your site.
Here's a look at a potential interaction with one of your customers:
- Marketing action: You start by using Semrush to find a list of high-intent search keywords. Then you run Google Ads using those keywords.
- Customer action: A lead searches for a keyword, clicks on your ad, and arrives at your landing page.
- Marketing action: Your email-capture popup in Customer IO triggers when the lead scrolls halfway down your landing page.
- Customer action: The lead reads your content, scrolls, and signs up for your newsletter via the popup.
- Marketing action: You’ve set up a newsletter welcome email via Customer IO that goes out to all new subscribers. It's segmented by engagement, so when someone clicks on a link in the email, they get more content that’s relevant to that specific link two days later.
- Customer action: The lead gets the welcome email and clicks on a link in it. Two days later, she gets an email about a blog post related to the link she clicked. She reads the post.
- Marketing action: In parallel, you're running a retargeting campaign on Instagram (through FB Ads Manager) to people who've visited your site twice in the last seven days.
- Customer action: While scrolling on Instagram one night, the lead clicks the retargeting ad. She decides she's interested in buying. So she adds your product to her cart, but then fails to check out—she gets distracted by a call from a friend.
- Marketing action: You’ve set up an abandoned-cart email in Customer IO. It emails people when they add items to their cart but don't complete their purchase.
- Customer action: Later that evening, the lead gets an email reminding her that your product is in her cart. She clicks through the email and buys the product.
The best part about the above interaction? No one on your team had to lift a finger. The ads and emails were already built—and can sell your product well into the future.
2. Optimize your onboarding flow
Imagine you run a startup that sells a Chrome extension. You acquire customers with ease, but a large percentage of users drop off during onboarding. Here's how you can solve the issue:
- You set up Amplitude to determine the precise step where most users fall off. You discover that most drop off on an information-capture page.
- Next, you use Hotjar's heatmaps and screen recordings to identify the reason for the drop-off. You notice that users start filling out the form, but they bounce before completing it.
- You hypothesize that you'd have a higher onboarding rate if users didn't have to fill out so many data fields. So you shorten the form.
- The bottleneck is fixed, but you decide that you can improve your onboarding conversion rate ever further.
- You use Optimizely to test improvements at each step of your onboarding process. You run A/B tests to see if adjustments to copy, CTAs, and visuals improve completion rates.
The result? A significant boost in onboarding completion—which translates to a lower acquisition cost.
3. Grow your top of funnel through a giveaway
You're the head of growth at a DTC brand. Product giveaways are a proven channel for you, so you run them frequently. For the first time, you're putting ad dollars behind the giveaway.
- You create a custom "giveaway" landing page using Unbounce.
- You use Buffer to schedule an organic social media post that highlights your giveaway (and you link to the landing page in your Instagram bio).
- Once the post is live, you run Instagram ads (through your FB Ads Manager) using a lookalike audience of your existing customers. The CTA on the ad brings people to your giveaway landing page.
- The ads, combined with the giveaway, help you capture the emails of best-fit customers—at a lower cost per email than you'd have without the giveaway campaign.
- As you capture emails through Instagram, they're automatically added to a segmented flow in Iterable, which moves them down funnel toward a purchase.
Staying up-to-date with tools
As your company scales, your needs will change. Keep an open mind, and when you come across a better tool, consider trying it out. Switching isn't easy, but you could save hundreds of hours by moving to a tool that's a better fit for you and your startup.
New to Demand Curve? We help startups build systems to acquire customers.
Startups are using the Growth Program to fast-track growth, save time, and learn the skills that are necessary to build a growth team. Here's what you'll get:
- The strategy and tactics to build a reliable growth engine—one with consistent, continually growing revenue.
- Fast time to results. You can move quickly and get initial results within two weeks. No more waiting for agencies that don't understand or prioritize your business.
- High ROI. The Growth Program can help you get the same results—if not better—that you’d get by paying $10k + per month for an outside agency.
- You'll develop your own growth strategy, so you focus only on the activities that lead to growth.
- Confidence and knowledge. Growth is one of the most important skills founders can have. You'll learn critical growth fundamentals, so you can lead your team and eventually vet and hire marketers and agencies.
Get a free sample of the program to see if it's right for you.
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