Product-led Acquisition

How to make word-of-month a growth channel

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If you ever wanted to make your product go viral, you’re not alone.

But you are thinking about it the wrong way.

Don’t look for virality and a one-off hit of growth.

Instead, look for a more sustainable to drive word-of-mouth growth.

 Julian Shapiro calls it “Product-led Acquisition”. He defines it as:

Your users naturally invite other users while using your product.

Product-led acquisition is responsible for the growth of most of the biggest software companies: Dropbox, Slack, Airbnb, Facebook, PayPal, Netflix, Uber, Snapchat, Zoom, and more.

Product-led acquisition might also be termed as:

Whether you wish to call it, it’s word-of-mouth on steroids.

And to drive this type of growth, you need to engineer it.

Over the past 10+ years, I’ve gone deep on this topic. I’ve worked with several companies where the growth was based around this channel.

I’ve optimised tons of these flows and seen some companies who are best in -class at Product-Led Acquisition.

Here’s 6 ways to make Product-Led Acquisition work for your business:

This newsletter is kindly sponsored by - A big thanks to them.

My friends over at launched a massive guide about onboarding called the Ultimate Guide to Product Onboarding.

For all my onboarding and product growth enthusiasts, there are tons of tips, examples, and best practices that are really well done.

I’ve already added lots of examples to my swipe file after reading it.

1) Make users invite other users to achieve an outcome

This is the most common form of product-led acquisition.

It is when users invite others just to use the product.

Here’s the reality though: You need to build it in from the start.

If your product is not “inherently viral”, it’s going to be hard to build this in later.

Don’t worry if you’re product isn’t built like this already - there are other ways to drive product-led acquisition ( I will show you later).

Products that are built like this are buy-one-get-one-free machines that help you scale much faster.

I was once Head of Growth at a shared financial management and bill-splitting app called acasa, which was later acquired.

It was focused on people living in shared homes i.e. people with roommates mates (or flatmates to keep it real British).

Product-led acquisition worked like this:

  1. We’d acquire one customer via organic traffic or ads

  2. That one user would then invite their housemates to manage their shared costs.

  3. One user would bring in at least 1, but usually 2 new users.

This was very powerful for us.

It led to the product becoming a Top 20 finance app in the UK.

The strategy was focused on nailing activation and retention first.

Once we got activation to a strong place, we increased spend on customer acquisition knowing this channel could scale.

A key component was also to optimise the inviting process and inviting email.

Here’s how Loom, a video recording company recently acquired for $975m uses social proof and psychology to get users to share.

For your product, can you make your product more collaborative?

Are there ways to build in invitations from the start?

And can you make it easier to invite and more enticing to an invitee?

2) Make your product public and highly visible

To make your product drive growth, it needs to be visible.

People need to see it and be able to talk about it.

The more public it is, the more it triggers people to take action.

When challenger bank Monzo first launched in 2015, they wanted to stand out.

So they created bright Floral pink cards.

When customers were out spending in public, these cards drew attention.

I was one of those early adopters of Monzo.

I’m not in the American Express Black Card range, so flexing at the bar was usually kept to a minimum.

But for a short period when Monzo was still early, I had serious clout at the bar.

As I would be buying a drink, people in the bar or the bar staff would ask me what my card was.

I would tell them about Monzo and the other features within the product, which likely drove users back to the product.

Word of mouth was a big part of their growth and although it is only 8 years old, Monzo is now the 7th largest bank in the UK worth £4B.

So think about your product, can you make it stand out and make noise?

Can you be bold with your marketing or your messaging?

Boring doesn’t get people talking.

3) Watermark your products

When your product is being used, you need to proudly brand it so others will see it.

Apple understands this.

When you send an email on an iPhone it says, “Sent from an iPhone”.

This branding makes others aware of the iPhone. You have to actively take it off.

I recently worked with a company called Graphy.

They help teams quickly create beautiful interactive graphs and dashboards.

Because most charts and dashboards look so boring, when I share a chart with a client or another team member, they immediately want to know how I made it.

They see the ‘Made with Graphy’ branding and will often sign up and make a chart as a result.

This approach can work so well, that companies will often make this branding a part of the product on free plans.

But to take off the branding, users will have to pay.

So think about ways to brand your product and leave a “watermark”.

Make it easy to remove if it’s in communication like email.

But if you have a SaaS product and it you will get lots of eyeballs or potential users, make taking off the watermark /logo a paid feature.

4) Make the product part of someone’s identity

Reforge, the company that coined the term Growth Loop also created their own powerful growth loop.

(Of course they did)

And this one leverages online identity and status.

Reforge is a high-quality membership and training for growth and product people usually working at leading startups.

Those going through the program are exposed to top-tier educational content.

As a result, companies will look to hire people who have completed it.

Upon completion, people put Reforge in their bios.

Now if you look through Linkedin, you’ll find tons of people with Reforge in their bio similar to “Ex-Oxford, Ex-Google” or whatever credibility signals people use these days.

People will see people they admire on Linkedin with Reforge in their bio.

This encourages people who haven’t done it to want to take the program.

Prestige around Reforge increases.

Reforge drives more acquisition.

And when thinking about your product, can you make your product connect to prestige or a cause that people will align their identity around?

5) Encourage Users to Create Shareable Content 

We live in a social age where lots of our time and attention is spent on social channels.

When our users - sometimes ones with huge audiences - are using our products and sharing them online, this can be a huge growth driver for the product.

I first discovered this in my first role working at an e-commerce site.

The company had a feature where you could take pictures of your home and find products to put into your home from 1000s of online stores. All using a cool 3D technology.

To promote the technology, we allowed people to use the tech to create pictures of ideal virtual homes and share them online.

Users would create their dream homes and make collections on the site.

Big Interior designers would share their work with their audiences - usually on Pinterest - and people would come back to the site to see their collections.

People would also come back to the site to get inspired by other people’s work.

Some people became mini-influencers on the site and built reputations.

So as you build out your product, can you encourage your users to create user-generated content that comes back to your site?

6) Make your product remarkable

There are tons of ways to make your product remarkable. Solve a problem. Great User experience.

But here is an example outside of tech:

One of my favourite books on this network effects and virality is called Contagious by Jonah Berger.

He breaks down the science of going viral and one of the steps is about making the product remarkable.

He says that by making your product, people are way more likely to spread the word about it.

After reading the book, the late Grammy-award artist Nipsey Hussle, came up with a genius plan.

(Note: Nipsey is a top-ten Rapper of all time. Don’t @ me)

When selling his mixtape Crenshaw, he made a bold move that went down in music marketing history.

He sold it for $100.

As part of his “Proud To Pay” movement, he allowed fans to download it for free or to pay $100.

By paying $100, they would get unique benefits like early access and an invitation to a private listening party.

But by pricing it so high, it became a topic of conversation and the album went viral.

Fans who loved his music bought it.

Jay Z bought 100 copies.

The album became more than music.

It represented an artist properly valuing their art and being different.

But Nipsey couldn’t have pulled off such a move if the music wasn’t good.

It’s definitely a great piece of music - but the remarkable marketing of it drove lots of word of mouth.

One final thing on this topic that I think Julian Shapiro articulated well:

“People often use the term “product-led growth” (PLG) to refer to what I’m calling product-led acquisition.

But PLG is a misnomer: it’s used to refer to SaaS companies using self-serve sales funnels (where a salesperson isn’t required).

I believe that should be called product-led sales because it's for lead conversion instead of new lead acquisition

Julian Shapiro

I love this take. It really hits home for me.

Most of the experts thinking about network effects or “product-led growth” focus purely B2B SaaS.

I don’t. Over the past 10 years, many of the companies I helped were consumer apps, fintech and marketplaces. Not all of them were B2B SaaS.

I’ve gone really deep on product-led acquisition and love helping companies with this channel.

So if you’re interested in driving more word-of-mouth growth, REPLY to this message and I’ll see how I can help.

When you’re ready, here’s how I can help you grow:

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