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How did Mint acquire 1.0m+ users without a high viral coefficient, scalable SEO strategy, or paid customer acquisition channel?

Florin Muresan
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100,000 users in 6 months.

That was the goal Mint’s co-founder, Aaron Patzer, set me when I first started as Mint’s Marketing Director. I thought to myself as the nerves began to kick in.

“How am I going to achieve that?”

Fast forward 6 months and Mint had over 1 million users – 10x the target Aaron set me on my first day.

So how did that happen?

There are 2 key reasons for Mint’s success:

First, the product was awesome. Having a great product makes marketing less about “selling” and more about educating your target audience and spreading the word. Still, no matter how great your product is, if no-one knows it exists, no-one will use it.

The secret to marketing is…. Build a great product.

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Second, before Mint launched I knew we needed a growth strategy. So instead of opening up Google and doing ‘social media marketing’ or ‘growth hacking,’ I created a framework to reverse engineer our growth from zero to 100,000 users.

And that exact framework is what I’d love to share with you today. Here’s the strategy I used to grow Mint.com from zero to 1m users…It was subsequently bought for $270 million dollars by Intuit.


Quant-based Marketing: Reverse Engineering Marketing Success

No matter what your goal, whether it’s 10 new consulting clients, 10,000 people on your mailing list or 100,000 sign up so your new app, quant-based marketing can help.

The key focal point to this strategy is to work backwards. Instead of starting with an intimidating zero playing on your mind, start at the solution and map your plan back from there.

Think of it as a road trip – you start with a set destination in mind and then plan your route there. You don’t get in your car and start driving without in the hope that you magically end up where you wanted to be.

So where should you begin?

Getting started with quant based marketing in 7 simple steps:


Step 1: Setup your goal

Having a goal to aim for is the most important part of any marketing strategy.

Way before you start thinking about specific tactics or growth experiments you need to have a tangible and measurable goal set in stone.

There are various ways to come up with great goals, but with the quant-based marketing approach, I’d recommend working backward from your overall company goal or the amount of revenue you’re targeting.

For example, let’s say you’re selling a product at $100 per month and want to increase your monthly revenue from $0 to $10,000. The first thing you need to do is work out how many customers you need to hit the sweet spot of $10,000 per month. In this case, it’d be 100 customers paying $100 a month.


Step 2: Choose a timeframe

Without a time frame, there’s no sense of urgency to achieve it, and it can be hard to work out whether you’re on track or lagging behind where you should be. Saying ‘we need $10,000 per month someday’ won’t work. But if you anchor it within a timeframe, like ‘in 3 months’, then you’re instantly set in motion and ready to start working towards your goal.

100 new customers in 3 months. Now that sounds like a real goal, right? You could even break it down further to ~16 new customers per week.

Once you have your goal set, the next step is to start formulating your plan.


Step 3: Set up your spreadsheet

Now that you have a clear goal in mind you can start to building a strategy on how to achieve it.

The best way to do this is by using a quant-based marketing spreadsheet to plan, track and measure all of your marketing activity.

Here’s an example spreadsheet I used at Mint:

The spreadsheet is broken down into eight columns. Here’s how to use each column:

  • Source: Where are these users coming from? This source could be a blog you’re aiming for coverage on, Facebook Ads, Google AdWords, or any marketing channel
  • Traffic: How much traffic does this channel receive? Or for an ad on Facebook or AdWords, how many impressions will you make? Use your BEST GUESS. The point here is to help you prioritize the different marketing channels
  • CTR (Click-through rate): How much of that traffic will click through from the source to your website?
  • Conversion %: Of those who click-through to your site, what percentage of those will convert to sign ups?
  • Users: How many users will this channel bring you? These are people who complete your signup process and use your product (this is your best estimate based on the numbers in the previous columns)
  • Status: Where are you with this source? Is it all ready to go? Have you sent the first inquiry about the setup? Keep track of the status of each source in this column
  • Confirmed: Is this happening? Yes or No
  • Confirmed users: How many users did this source bring you? Confirmed users is the most critical column in the sheet. This number shows you how many users you generated from this source. Then you can re-prioritize your marketing efforts moving forward based on the results

The most important part here is putting the framework in place to enable your success.


Step 4: Research your sources

With your spreadsheet ready to rock, it’s time to start thinking about your sources and where your users are going to come from.

There are thousands of tactics and channels you can use as a part of your marketing strategy, and this step is all about narrowing them down and choosing a number of specific sources to focus on in order to achieve your goal.

From my example spreadsheet, you can see I targeted 10 very specific sources to drive traffic to Mint.com and contribute to the goal of acquiring 100,000 users in 6 months:

As Mint was focused on personal finance, I wanted to target personal finance bloggers and tech professionals.

Who’s your target customer?

Here’s a bunch of channels you could use:

  • PR: Pitching the press and bloggers in your niche to cover your story
  • SEM (Search engine marketing): Paid ads on search engines like Bing and Google, so your name will appear when certain keywords are searched
  • SEO (Search engine optimization): Optimizing your blog posts, landing pages and site to rank well in search engines for keywords related to your business
  • Social and display ads: Targeting your audience through ads on social channels like Twitter and Facebook
  • Content marketing: Creating and publishing content (blogs, podcast, video) with the goal of generating interest in your product/service
  • Direct sales: Directly speaking to potential customers. This could mean picking up the phone and calling potential customers or sending cold emails to prospects
  • Target market blogs: Sponsor posts and content on popular blogs within your target market
  • Influencer marketing: Identify and build relationships with individuals who have influence over your target market (e.g. high profile bloggers or Instagrammers)

1. This helps you prioritize
2. List at least 10, ideally 15
3. Point is to just think about WHERE those ideal customers are.

To prioritize which sources to run with in your quant-based marketing strategy, I’d recommend using a simple scoring system based on:

  • Ease of implementation
  • Potential impact

With this system, you’re looking for the sources that could have the highest impact with the easiest implementation. For example, getting featured in the NY Times could have incredible impact, but extremely hard to implement, whereas working with a couple of influencers in your niche could be highly impactful and straightforward to implement.

Take each channel and give it a score out of 5 for both ease of implementation (1 being hard, 5 being easy) and potential impact (1 being low and 5 being high) and then prioritize the sources with the highest scores. For example:

Now your high priority sources should be clear, and you can ensure you focus your time on only the maximum impact opportunities. So from the spreadsheet above I can see I should be focusing on influencer marketing, target market blogs and content marketing.

Consider your budget and timeframe

When thinking about the ease of implementation and the potential impact a source may have, it’s important for you to consider your timeframe and budget.

Timeframe:
Let’s say you’re starting at zero and trying to acquire 100 new customer in a month. Would it make sense to create a fully fledged SEO strategy?

Probably not.

Since you only have a month, it doesn’t make sense to focus on SEO as a successful SEO strategy would take a long time to implement and reap rewards from.

In contrast, with a one-month timeframe, it might make more sense to take a more direct approach to customer acquisition like emailing close contacts or picking up the phone and calling companies who may be interested in what you’re selling.

Budget:
At Mint we paid for about 40% of the traffic, we generated to grow from zero to 1 million users. When you pick your sources, keep your budget in mind and factor in costs to deciding which sources to prioritize.

If you have some budget, sources like paid sponsorships and social ads can work amazingly. With a small budget or zero budget, it could be better to focus on more organic channels like content and PR.


Step 5: Set your targets

With your sources all in place, it’s now time to set your targets for each source.

Setting your targets is hands down one of the most important parts of your strategy. Once you’ve launched your campaign for each source, these targets will give you something to measure against and figure out what’s working, what’s not and where you need to adjust.

So, how do you go about setting targets for your sources?

When it comes to traffic, you can often find benchmarks by using tools like SimilarWeb or SEMRush. For example, here’s a SimilarWeb traffic estimate for TechCrunch:

CTR and Conversion % is a little harder to gauge. Not all publications will share CTR’s and Conversion %’s for previous advertisers publicly. The point is not about CTR / Conversion but what OUTCOME you expect to get from the source., so you may have to search for some case studies and read up about other’s experiences with each publication you’re targeting.

There are far more benchmarks out there for advertising platforms like Facebook and Google AdWords. For example, WordStream found that the average click-through rate on AdWords paid search ads is about 2%. So if AdWords is part of your strategy, you’ll likely want to aim for around 2% CTR.

When setting your targets, the trick is to use your BEST GUESS; it doesn’t have to be an exact science. It’s all to help you PRIORITIZE your marketing activities.


Step 6: Create a timeline

Now you have all of your sources and targets set; the next step is to break down these targets into smaller, time-focused goals and create a timeline.

Recently I’ve been through this process to set targets for my podcast, Noah Kagan Presents. My goal is to have 100,000 downloads per episode by December. To achieve that, I’ve broken down my goal over 12 months from January to December 2017:

No matter what time frame you’re working with, break it down into smaller, more achievable chunks. If your timeframe is three months, set monthly targets. If it’s three weeks, break it down into weekly targets.

Why should you do this?

Well, aside from making your goals feel more achievable, it’s also highly motivating to tick off the smaller goals on route to achieving your overall target.

With each of your sources, take your overall targets and break them down into more manageable chunks that fit within your timeframe.

For instance, you could breakdown a goal of 1,000 new users from Facebook Ads as follows:

  • Week 1: 50 users
  • Week 2: 200 users
  • Week 3: 250 users
  • Week 4: 500 users

With this approach, you’re not heading into week 1 thinking “I have to get 1,000 users.” You’re setting yourself a smaller goal and creating time to experiment and learn what works. After the first week, you can begin to make tweaks and start scaling as you progress and get more familiar with how to drive the best results from each source.

So apply the quant-based marketing framework to each source by working backward from your primary goal, and breaking it down into smaller weekly or monthly growth targets.

Tip: Don’t leave it to chance

Only confirmed traffic sources matter when it comes to quant-based marketing. If you want to be successful, you need to have everything set up and ready to go ahead of time. Don’t leave it up to chance and hope everything falls into place.

Get every source confirmed well before you plan on going live.

For example, if you’re sponsoring a post on a target market blog, ensure they have all the needed content resources and everything is signed off and ready to go well before it’s needed.

Bonus tip: If you are working with partners, give them a calendar invite and the scripts you want them to send. The easier you make it for them, the more likely they are to do it.


Step 7: Track your progress

You’ve now reverse engineered your marketing strategy and should be all set to get the ball rolling. But like any form of great marketing, this isn’t something you can set and forget.

You need to always be measuring and iterating to achieve your goals.

Once you go live, some sources might work right off the bat, especially those you may be a little more experienced with. But you definitely won’t hit a homerun with every source you try, and that’s perfectly fine. I like to check back against my assumptions monthly. From there I take the ones performing and see if I can 2x them, the ones underperforming I’ll generally kill, immediately.

The most important thing to ensure you’re on track to hit your end goal.

The first couple of weeks of your strategy will likely feature a lot of experimentation and testing until you find what works (and what doesn’t).

At Mint, we tested some landing pages (6 in total) when we first started marketing the product. The data from these tests enabled us to learn more about which messaging resonated most with our target audience and helped us to refine our copy and increase our conversions.

This is why it’s key to measure your results in a spreadsheet so that you can spot where you need to adjust your plan.

If a source is underperforming, and you’ve tried multiple tests to get to the bottom of why that is, you can drop it and replace it with another source.

Likewise, if a source begins to perform exceedingly well, you should double down your resources there in order to maximize your growth.

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