Growth Marketers have 19 different customer acquisition channels at their disposal to drive distribution strategy and revenue growth.

But very few channels will prove effective unless we can cut through the noise and build brand awareness:

Hitting home on what matters most to the customer.

Before you start testing for traction you’ll need to tackle the other two ‘fits’ (language/market and channel/product) by focusing on three things:

  • what your brand is
  • how your brand resonates with your existing audience
  • who your target customer is

All of these are important, but the last one—in particular.

Knowing your customer is one of the most important factors in transitioning to growth.

As Jeremiah Gardner eloquently put it:

“Learning to see your growth efforts through the eyes of your customer is a critical skill every growth marketer should possess.”

But shouldn’t we already be doing this?

Yes! Of course!

It’s obvious in theory, but in practice, the data proves otherwise.

A recent study by IBM showed that almost 80% of consumers surveyed said that brands really don’t know them.

The same study also found that almost 90 percent of marketers agree that personalizing the customer experience is critical to their success.

The divergence is not surprising — personalization and hyper-targeting are very labor intensive and require a lot of data collection.

But what happens if you a few weeks to launch in new cities and don’t have the marketing budget to deploy the most effective market expansion tactics used by Series A & Series B funded startups?

I arrived at a crazy hypothesis to test when I realized that my tests were performing poorly due to poorly constructed segments and a basic understanding of which messages resonated with whom:


There’s a reason I’m sharing these tactics with you today:

I found out what happens. And..

It helped us build brand awareness. Fast.

It is TOUGH to convince people to use your service when you haven’t invested the time in getting to know them.

But if you do, and execute it well…

You can expect some ridiculous results and significant revenue growth if you have product/market fit.

And at the center of it all is your brand and how it’s perceived by your existing customers:

I’ve found that consistency in brand positioning – the way your customers perceive your brand –

Is one of the best ways to not only build brand awareness in new markets

but to also gain credibility in the eyes of prospective customers

and get them to convert.

Keanu Reeves Whoa Meme

When Doorman launched in Chicago in October, we knew there was a need for our service.

And having only been at the company for two weeks, there was a lot of customer data I didn’t know and wouldn’t be able to obtain:

  • Who that person who needed it was
  • How they would respond to certain messaging
  • What voice to utilize when trying to acquire customers
  • Why potential customers would use our service (there are many use cases)

But in those first 90 days, we kept learning about our customers, we kept learning about our brand,we built brand awareness…

and doubled MRR in the process.

How To Hack Brand Awareness and Unlock Revenue Growth

Sidewalk Sale on Chevy Truck

We took what we knew about the pain points of our customers in the distinct, homogenous segments in our first market and used them to unify our brand voice and identity across our channels.

We then took a press release from a local media authority that aligned our message, voice, and identity and pushed it out into the world without a noticeable Call-to-Action via Facebook:

Doorman New York Promoted Post

The rest, and to paraphrase Rand Fishkin, a little bit of serendipity.

In this post, I’ll cover the steps we took to build this brand awareness campaign and acquire new customers for pennies on the dollar.

You’re about to learn about your customers and understand your brand at scale. Fast.

I want to get you thinking about the following questions and how you can extract the answers to these questions:

  • Why should startups care about their brand identity and positioning early on?
  • How can I use what I discover about my brand and/or customers to use as a starting point for my traction experiments?
  • Where can you inject your brand positioning across channels to improve your traction tests?

If you have product/market fit and need to get to know your customers quickly, don’t panic.

Simply shut out the rest of the world for a bit and continue reading… Or bookmark this article for reading later…

Because we’re diving in deep and getting tactical.

And believe it or not, it may actually (gasp!) be actionable.

Let’s get started!


When it comes time to throw things at the wall to see what sticks,

how often do you think about the impact your brand has on your customer acquisition tactics?

Most startups don’t have the growth marketer equal of an all-state quarterback. More often than not, pursuing traction takes a backseat to developing product.

Which means you often lack data.

Data on the psychographic traits of your customers.

Like knowing what the most frequent Zero Moment of Truth your high value customers experience.

You know, important stuff.

My Moment of Truth

While examining the messaging for the 400+ startups in the on-demand space, (I eyeballed that number, don’t quote me on it) I developed the following hypothesis:

An opportunity existed to differentiate ourselves from the glut of startups using feature and benefits-driven positioning by being able to answer the following questions holistically with our market messaging and brand voice:

  • How do we make the customer feel by using our service?
  • What emotions do customers receive as a result of using our service?
  • What it our value as seen through the eyes of our best customers?
  • What is the nature of our brand? What is our character?

The good news?

Your customers own your brand.

How they feel about your company is how it is perceived.

In other words:

You can get insight into how they feel towards your brand by asking…

Or by getting unsolicited feedback.

Just like the following gentleman from Chicago did, when I was used generic messaging in a paid acquisition channel test

(and sounded like every other on-demand startup from San Francisco)

Brand Criticism Facebook Post
Source: Doorman

Albeit crude, it was just the wake-up call I needed.

Jesse, if you’re reading this:

Thank you for inspiring my hypothesis. You’re the best.


Sherlock Holmes Silhouette
Source: Pixabay

“Data! Data! Data!” he cried impatiently. “I can’t make bricks without clay.”

Sherlock Holmes

Broadly-targeted customer profiles, leaky conversion funnels, or improperly setup tracking mechanisms on your web properties are just a few of the things that we have to endure when the product/traction balance is not maintained.

You need customer data.

But you may be asking, where do I start?


Short answer: No.

Have you ever googled “buyer persona questions?”

If you haven’t, don’t bother.

Yikes! How many questions do I really need to ask? 100? 150?

The answer: Only a few,

because “Ain’t nobody got time for that!”

You’ll need a minimum-viable buyer persona.

Buyer Persona Questions Google Search
Source: Doorman

You do, however, have time to think about what data would be most valuable to your business.

My approach was inspired by Michael Skok’s concept of the Minimum Viable Segment.

The key is to ask the least amount of questions that will yield the greatest impact on your traction tests.

But, you’ll also need to make the data you will need to collect relevant to your business model.

For example:

We have a subscription-based revenue model and utilize the Startup Metrics for Pirates: AARRR framework. #500Strong

Dave McClure AARRR Framework

So, we asked questions that aligned closely with this model.

Since we were launching in two new cities a few weeks apart from one another, we wanted to focus on understanding how users find us and how they tell others about services they like.

Craft Your Minimum Viable Buyer Persona

In order to build brand awareness we had to ask the following of the customers most familiar with our brand:

How customers discovered us

  • What was your primary reason for trying the
    service for the first time?
  • Where did you first hear about us?

How customers perceive our brand

  • Which terms do you associate with our brand?
  • We’d love to know how our customers describe our service. How do you describe it?

How customers share with their friends

  • Which two social networks are you most active on?
  • How do you recommend a product or service that
    you think a friend would enjoy?
  • How did you describe our service when you first told someone about it? (Language/Market Fit)

Getting answers to these questions gave us more psychographic variables to incorporate into our segmentation for future tests.

Quick note: Each startup will have different gaps in their customer data, so don’t feel obligated to use these exact questions. However, don’t fall prey to greedy marketer syndrome, be sure to only ask for what you need – each additional question decreases the likelihood of the customer completing it.


You need explicit qualitative data that will inform language/market fit and channel/product fit.

Interviews take too long.

It’s likely that you’ll collect that information using a survey — which means you’ll have to ask for the moon on a stick.

Sending a one-size-fits-all email to your customers for such a big ask is not going to cut it.

Think about it:

Why would someone take time out of their day to help you when you can’t even take the time to write them an email that is relevant and personalized to them?

Multiply that times 50 if you’ll be asking them to take a survey.

Asking a customer to take a survey can be a daunting experience.

Especially when their cumulative responses will save you tens of hours in interviewing time or thousands of dollars from being wasted communicating the wrong message to the wrong audience.

In short: there is no room for error.

Turning a sharp corner on a motorbike
Source: Pixabay

Don’t worry, I have you covered on delivering a highly-personalized ask to your customers.

A friendly reminder of the value you’ve delivered to your customer over time is the best approach.

Doing so requires a bit of creativity and some inspiration from my ‘junk email’ account.

Customer Survey Email Copy Template
Fair warning: My background in analytics and operations. Writing copy is not. Please be kind. Source: Doorman

Ultimate Survey Email Copy Checklist

Outlined below you’ll find either: the logic behind why that question was asked of the customer or what custom data needs to be appended to your email list upload.

Step 1) Ask customers who know your brand for a favor.

Step 2) Personalize the email with their name.

Step 3) Quantify how long they’ve been a customer

Step 4) The phrase bracket should read something like:

  • “about six months ago”
  • “about a year ago.”

Step 5) Quantify the value delivered as a result of your relationship with the customer.

  • We used deliveries – if you received 30 deliveries over the past 5 months, we included it that figure in the email.

Step 6) Set proper expectations: you are asking people to take a survey after all.

  • How long is this survey going to take?
  • What is the survey about?
  • What will you use this information for?

Step 7) Use a CTA button containing the customer’s unique ID in your database.

Step 8) Thank them and sign it as the co-founder.

Pushing Customer Data to Your Survey Tool

Pushing customer data is essential to having a 1-to-1 match for your survey responses.

You’ll want to take the customer’s unique ID housed in your database’s user table and push it to the survey tool using hidden fields.

What to Expect When You Click Send

If you have a high NPS (Net Promoter Score) and put all these ideas into practice, two things you are likely to do:

  • blow some minds
  • actually get people to open the email and take your survey.

Survey Invitation Email with a 45% CTR

Ultimate Email Survey Results
Source: Doorman

Don’t Forget: Email deliverability matters. Run a series of email deliverability and rendering tests using a tool like Litmus. It comes pre-loaded into Campaign Monitor, the email client we use at Doorman.

Every aspect of the email needs to be on point – design included.

It’d be awful to hear about one gaff that caused your email to hit the junk folder.


If you are asking your customers to take a survey, put some personality into the content and care into it’s design. Make it as fun as a survey possibly can be.

It’ll make a huge difference in the response rate.

Tips For Creating an Effective Customer Survey​

  • Have 1-to-1 match for each survey response to a customer ID in your database
  • Front-load the survey with your most pressing questions you need answered in the event that the respondent drops off at some point
  • Incorporate logic maps
  • Inform respondents of their progress during the survey
    • Ex. “The longest part of the survey is over! You’re almost home free… five short multiple choice questions left!!!”
  • Reward them for completing the survey

Avoid These When Creating Survey Questions​

  • Anchor a response, or in other words: ie. fabricating a bias by presenting answers in a certain manner or order
  • Waste valuable survey real estate asking questions you can answer by analyzing existing data
  • Having more than one free-form response

Get an 89% Completion Rate On Your Customer Survey

Customer Survey with High Completion Rate

89% Completion rate.

I’m becoming a believer of this customer-centricity approach.

After you compile the results, you’ll want to map your findings (with a match such as a VLOOKUP) to every other data point you’d like to incorporate into segmentation.

Latent Class Models or a K-Means clustering algorithm using R or Excel will do the trick (I’ll cover this topic in a future blog post at some point).

After you’ve re-segmented your high value customers that know you’re brand,

Take a moment and do one of these!

Tom Cruise Jumps on Couch


What We Learned

How customers discovered us

  • What was your primary reason for trying the
    service for the first time?
  • 43% were worried about package theft
  • 24% work late and needed evening package delivery
  • 13% purchased items requiring a signature (wine, iphones, etc…)
  • Where did you first hear about us?
    • 30% learned from a friend
    • 17% learned via social media

How customers perceive our brand

  • Which terms do you associate with our brand?
    • 80% said Reliable
    • 52% said Friendly
    • 41% said Innovative
    • Followed by: Cool, Boring, Caring, Stealthy, Snooty, and Useless.
  • We’d love to know how our customers describe our service. How do you describe it?
    • Take a look at our home page, you’ll see the messaging there: front and center.

How customers share with their friends

  • Which two social networks are you most active on?
    • 79% of respondents selected Facebook
    • 40% of respondents selected
  • How do you recommend a product or service that
    you think a friend would enjoy?
  • 70% of respondents tell friends in person – aligning with Zack Onisko’s view that growth is all about word of mouth
  • How did you describe our service when you first told someone about it? (The Language/Product Fit Question)
    • Take a look at our home page, you’ll see it front and center.

Survey-inspired Assumptions Tested And Validated

We then tested the efficacy of utilizing look-a-like audiences using a segmentation model that included the data captured in the survey vs a look-a-like audience that lacked many of the psychographic variables.

The former outperformed the latter by a magnitude of nearly 7x.

Some other takeaways we got compelling evidence to support:

  1. Our brand voice needed to reflect our customers’ perception of us.
    1. We needed to have a voice that aligned with our customers’ perception of our brand – one of reliability and friendliness.
    2. Check out Erika Heald’s method for developing a brand voice chart. It’s super helpful for this step.
  2. Double-sided referrals aren’t likely to be effective.
  3. Focus on messaging that addresses their biggest pain-point: worrying about packages being stolen
  4. Our customers learn about new services/products on Facebook


After spending too much money on testing inneffective conversion-focused campaigns and app-install campaigns, we had a hunch that we needed to re-evaluate our approach and focus on educating the customer in our new markets.

PR Promoted Post Facebook Campaign

Use a Local PR-Driven Promoted Post On Facebook To Drive Brand Awareness

Outlined below you’ll find the best iteration of the PR-Driven Promoted Post Tactics we tested.

  1. Imagery that immediately get to that “a-ha moment” to establish the context of the post.
  2. Keep It Simple and focused on target market
  3. Explicitly state what problem you solve (avoiding package theft)
  4. Promote a piece from a media outlet with significant clout in your target market.
  5. Boost a post featuring a story that aligns with the pain points you are addressing with your brand messaging and market positioning

Chicago Sign up Conversion Rate
Source: Doorman

Referral Traffic From Promoted Posts Drive Chicago Signups

One of the most profound things was an incredible average conversion rate we got on the referral traffic. I utilized a piece pitched to DNA Info Chicago and gave the promoted post a facelift to hit the pain points more effectively.

Average weekly Sign Up rate Peaked at 16.67%.

Doorman New York Promoted Post
Source: Doorman

Replicate Chicago’s Acquisition Success in New York City

So we did it again in New York a few weeks later,

employing the same strategy – using a piece our PR team pitched to Brick Underground instead.

The conversion rates for the NYC tests were even higher.

Topping out at an average 26.67% for the week.

Home Page Referral Conversion
Source: Doorman

Some context: Doorman had a good understanding of the demographics of our customers (at the aggregate level) and worked with our PR agency, Antenna Group, to pitch local and national publications that aligned with our audience just before I joined Doorman.


“Make sure you hold the hands of as many customers as it takes

– Aaron Ross, Author of Predictable Revenue

Package Theft Facebook Promoted Post
Source: Doorman

Do Things That Don’t Scale

Growth marketers are knee deep in data for a majority of their day. They should jump at every opportunity they have to get in front of and delight potential customers.

The most important tactic in this set of tactics focused on communicating with potential early adopters.

It was also the best part about running these experiments.

Interacting With Potential Early Adopters

  • Make it personal: include your name in your responses
  • Be thankful to the person sharing on your behalf: Tell them they’re awesome, too
  • Introduce yourself: See if they have any questions about the service/product
  • Be ridiculously helpful: Do your very best to answer any question they may have.
  • Don’t be a stiff: Have a sense of humor – prospective customers aren’t talking to the customer service department at a large company.
  • Follow up: If the conversation trails off, check in a few days later

Final Thoughts

Launching campaigns in new markets that both educate your target market and make them want to use your service isn’t easy. Especially on a shoe-string budget.

However, going back to the fundamentals of knowing your brand and your customer — are your best bet at achieving a good foundation for testing your traction channels.

Although this may seem ludicrous, employing these tactics allowed us to launch GTM campaigns in two cities on a seed stage budget – something others did in the space in Series A or Series B.

It pays to listen to your customer.

I’d love to hear your approaches to combining traction channels and finding something that moves the needle. What methods have you used?