19 Customer Traction Channels for Growing Your Startup

To read a guide on how to get customer traction, including how to identify your core channel using the bullseye framework, read our blog post titled

What is the best way for my startup to get traction?

In this post, we’re not going to cover the framework. Instead, we’ll briefly review each of the 19 traction channels as listed in the book TRACTION. If you haven’t read this book, you can click below and purchase it on Amazon. The book is a must read for startup founders or any business professional responsible for customer growth. It is hands-down one of the best books I’ve ever read on formulating a distribution strategy to acquire customers.

Customer Traction Book

Book on getting explosive customer traction for your startup

Before We Begin, Let’s Review What a Traction Channel Is

A traction channel is an acquisition or distribution channel that is used to acquire users or customers, also known as traction. These channels are inbound and outbound marketing efforts to either create or capture customer demand. For purposes of simplicity, we’re not going to get into the weeds and discuss the differences between inbound and outbound channels. Just know that both are used to get more customers.

Lucky for us, there are lots of traction channels to try. In fact, we’re going to cover 19 of them in this post. Best of all, within each of these 19 channels are hundreds of specific channels. You certainly will have no difficulty finding channels to try with your startup.

Let’s get started with our first traction channel – Targeting Blogs.

The 19 Channels

Channel #1 – Targeting Blogs

Going to where the people are that are interested in your industry or product can be a very powerful way to gain traction. Targeting blogs involves doing just that – finding the blogs that have active readers with the same interests as your potential customers. You then advertise on the blogs.

The advertising can be in the form of actual advertisements (banner ads), you writing guest posts for their blog and including links to your site or product, or even you just actively commenting on the posts (with backlinks to your business in your avatar). Bottom line, it connects you and your product with a very relevant audience.

Channel #2 – Publicity

Publicity is getting attention through the media, be it online news websites, radio segments, TV specials, or trade journals. There are many media outlets you can reach out to. Believe it or not, it’s not as hard as you probably think. The media needs content to survive, so if you have a compelling story, they’ll probably be interested.

Kevin and I used publicity with our startup Menyu way back when we launched it as an iPhone app. We went on TV pitching the app. We started by doing a TV shoot at a restaurant called Cockeye BBQ in Warren, OH. It aired Saturday morning on the Youngstown news station. We then went on the Cleveland news and spoke about the app in a quick one-minute segment. We got an initial surge of app downloads (big surge) from the news, and then it died way down and returned to normal. What I learned from our brief publicity experiment was:

  1. You need a very compelling, viral-like product to really take advantage of publicity
  2. You need to consistently pursue it. The surge from a piece of publicity will die down, so you need to follow it up with a second, third, and so on.

Channel #3 – Unconventional PR

Unconventional public relation is the pursuit of building a positive public image but using unconventional methods. These could include viral videos, publicity stunts, or customer appreciation in the form of surprises and giveaways. I tend to think of this one more as gorilla marketing.

Kevin and I did a small experiment with this when launching Menyu. We had 1,000 refrigerator magnets made (we still give these away on our startup’s website. Navigate to themenyuapp.com, visit a restaurant’s profile page, and scroll to the bottom. If you signup for our newsletter we mail you a free magnet). We then traveled around the suburbs of Cleveland, Akron, and Youngstown and stuck the magnets on gas pumps.

As people pumped gas, they would read the magnet, take it home, stick it on their fridge, and hopefully use our website. Unfortunately, we didn’t think this through. We had no way to monitor the failure or success of the campaign, so we stopped. We should have used a unique landing page URL.

Live and learn…

Channel #4 – Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is the process of purchasing ads on search engines. Google and Bing are the two most popular. We’ve all seen the ads in Google’s search results. These are from people using Google’s AdWords platform to advertise their website. You can create an account, set up a payment method, design an ad that targets specific keywords, make it active, and watch the traffic roll in and your credit card bill go up.

About 15 years ago, I owned a website that offered car insurance quotes. You entered your information, clicked submit, and would be given quotes from several major insurance companies. To drive traffic to the website, I used Google AdWords. When people googled car insurance quotes, my ad showed up. If someone clicked the ad and came to my website, I owed Google let’s say $1.50. For every lead I would send to the car insurance companies I would receive say $50. This means I needed to get one conversion for every 33 clicks on my ad, or a 3% conversion rate, to break even.

The car insurance space was insanely competitive (and is worse now), so it was terribly hard to rank high using SEO (covered later in this post). That’s why search engine marketing made a lot of sense. Of course, the cost of buying search engine ads continued to increase because of the competition, eventually squeezing my margins out and forcing me to exit the business.

A takeaway about SEM – if you want to quickly test customer traction for a product OR have very high margins on your product, SEM can be a fantastic traction channel.

Channel #5 – Social and Display Ads

This channel represents displaying ads across social media as well as independent websites. In terms of social ads, Facebook Ads are probably the most popular. Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Yelp are other large social media platforms that have robust advertising platforms.

In terms of display ads on independent websites, it is often an underutilized channel. In the late 1990’s early 2000’s this was big business. There is still a lot of money to be made and paid in this area. One example from my past – I previously own a flash game website (let’s guess and say 2007-2008).

I had thousands of free flash games and a user community built around those games (flash is practically dead; think goodness I exited that thing years ago). To build my userbase, I purchased banner ads in the headers of other flash game websites. I also purchased ads on blogs about online gaming.

Online forums around your startup’s industry or product is another fantastic way to use this channel.

Channel #6 – Offline Ads

Offline ads consist of newspaper ads, billboards, magazines, mail order advertisements, or even wraps for your vehicle (think the plumbing guy that has his name, phone, and website on his van). Many a business have pursued this channel. I’ve used it numerous times across my past business pursuits.

I once owned a website that connected college students with off-campus housing. Colleges and universities would put a link to my website on their Off-Campus Housing page (.edu backlinks are fantastic for SEO).
This would drive the student traffic to my two-sided marketplace. I would then use the sales channel (mentioned below) to get landlords to pay us to list their rental properties on our site.

Anyway, the way I would attract new colleges and universities to use our website was direct mail advertisements emailed to their chiefs of off-campus housing. This would get my foot in the door to then sell them on the benefits, close the deal, and get the backlink.

Sadly, after a profitable run of more than a decade, I just shut that business down. It needed totally rewritten for PHP 7.2 and the ROI didn’t make sense, so I shut it down.

Channel #7 – Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

SEO is the ongoing process of optimizing your website to show high in search engine rankings – most notably Google. These search engine rankings are called SERPs (search engine ranking pages). There are many components to SEO, which is why you will find no small amount of SEO blogs and agencies online offering their services. It’s quite easy though.

At the time of this writing I’m 39 years old. I’ve been creating websites and doing SEO since 2003. It has changed a lot over the years, but in a nutshell it is very simple – use header tags wisely, use meaningful title and description meta tags on all your site pages, fill your website with valuable, unique content, and get high quality related websites to link to yours (called external backlinks).

Our startup Menyu uses SEO as its core acquisition channel. Other than me knowing it well, we use it as our core channel because it makes sense. We list restaurants and their food menus on our website and people looking for restaurant menus are searching for them using Google. Thus, it makes sense for us to do SEO so when a user searches for a menu, we’re the first result they see.

Channel #8 – Content Marketing

Content Marketing is the creation of great content that attracts users who are potential customers. For example, I could create a free 50-page eBook on how to start an online business from scratch. I could then actively distribute that book across the internet. Within the book I would include my business info and website. Naturally, people that love the book will visit my website. Or so the thought goes.

Another great example of content marketing is blogging. This blog you are reading now is content marketing for Menyu (Kevin and I’s startup), our Podcast The Startup Menyu, and our brand in general. We share our knowledge and experiences in the form of content hoping to gain customers who click our advertisements, buy our products, and show interest in whatever else we’re selling at the time.

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Channel #9 – Email Marketing

Email marketing is straight forward – you email people. Just like sales calls, you can do cold or warm emailing. Cold means you find peoples’ email addresses and email them. Warm means you’ve had a previous interaction with them. Maybe they signed up for your newsletter or registered as a user on your website.

When doing email marketing, there are a few important things to keep in mind. First, there are laws in place to protect people from getting spam email. Because of this, you need their permission to email them and they must be able to opt out. Second, most hosting companies won’t let you email thousands of people in a matter of seconds. Third, you can get your domain blacklisted if you’re not careful and fourth you will want to track stats on how your audience interacts with your emails.

Fortunately, there are several software packages that make sending out mass emails easy and risk-free. We use MailChimp. We have a newsletter with over 500 people and growing daily. I wrote PHP code so when someone joins our list our site will use the MailChimp’s API and automatically add them to our MailChimp email list. Kevin and I can then login to MailChimp to create campaigns, schedule email blasts, and track the stats (opens, unsubscribes, clicks, etc.).

Channel #10 – Engineering as Marketing

Engineering as marketing means to create a product that markets your core product or services. Widgets, WordPress plugins, small games, and fremium (trial with premium version) software are some examples.

Kevin and I actively use this channel with Menyu. I wrote a 10-line snippet of code that can be pasted into a restaurant’s webpage. It will then automatically pull their menu from our website and display it neatly on their site’s Menu page. By doing this free for restaurants, it encourages them to claim their restaurant profile on Menyu and keep their menu up to date, helping us provide better value to our customers (and theirs).

I have also mulled creating a restaurant menu WordPress plugin. It could be used by developers that work on restaurant websites. It would help market our business to more restaurants. As of now, I’ve decided against it because it would have to be open source and there are better ways for me to market our business (like using our core channel – SEO).

Channel #11 – Viral Marketing

Viral marketing is the act of encouraging users to share and speak about a company’s products or services. Content that lends itself to going viral is typically content that can arouse positive emotions like happiness. I’ll be honest, I don’t have any experiences or thoughts on this one. I know what it is but have simply never taken an interest in it.

Channel #12 – Business Development

Business development is the process of creating strategic relationships with other businesses to gain customers. One example would be our menu snippet from above. By developing relationships with restaurants, we can better satisfy their customer’s needs (an updated online menu) and gain traffic (customers) to our site.

Another example would be if we partnered with Yelp to provide their restaurant menus. We’re too small and don’t have enough restaurants, but if we did it would be game changing for our business. The partnership would send insane amounts of traffic (customers) our way. I believe GrubHub and Yelp may do this, but I’m not for sure.

Don’t underestimate the power of this channel. Many startups exit this way – they develop a business relationship and eventually get purchased by the other business in the relationship. It can be a very powerful channel that helps build valuable connections to other businesses and entrepreneurs.

Channel #13 – Sales

Sales is the act of selling your products or services. Inside sales typically consists of people at your business that cold or warm call prospective customers. Think call centers. Outside sales consists of salespeople selling outside their organization, usually to people in person – for example a used car dealership employs salespeople to actively sell their inventory.

When using the sales channel, leads become very important. Often inside salespeople are used to not sell but develop leads. You may also need canvassers who capture leads to feed the sales team – the professionals who actually sell and are skilled at closing deals (these people are called closers and make tons of money).

Channel #14 – Affiliate Programs

If you have a product to offer and high margins, an affiliate program could make a lot of sense as your core channel. You can have resellers register an account with you (there are many websites that will manage your affiliate program, so you don’t need to develop a website or anything). They then get an affiliate ID that they include links to your website. That link might be an image of your product. If someone clicks on that image and lands on your site and buys your product, you owe a commission to the reseller. You must give up a portion of your profit, but you gained a customer.

Multiply this scenario out by 1,000 monthly and you can see the crazy power of affiliate programs. Amazon is a company that uses an affiliate program to fuel growth (among many other channels). They have the most successful affiliate program in the country.

Channel #15 – Existing Platforms

This channel refers to social media platforms. We’re all familiar with Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and so on. All these platforms have millions of users and myriad ways to market your business on them. We have hundreds of backlinks from Pinterest and get regular traffic from our restaurant boards and pins. We also get traffic from Facebook, although not much.

Choose the platform, if any, that makes the most sense for you and your business and get creative.

Channel #16 – Trade Shows

Tradeshows are industry-specific events that are organized so companies can show off their latest products and services, visit with others in their industry, see what the market is up to, and learn information about their competitors. They are also used by companies to sell their products and services to the consumers that attend.

One example is the residential replacement window and door industry. Many retail window dealers attend home improvement tradeshows early in the year and gather leads from consumers who also attend. The consumers are looking to replace their windows later in the year when the weather gets nicer.

Channel #17 – Offline Events

Like tradeshows, offline events are gatherings of like-minded people meeting up. Unlike tradeshows, they’re not usually industry specific. For example, there are many mastermind groups, startup conferences, and other gatherings that cover a broad topic of interest. These are great places to get the word out about your business and network with other like-mined people.

Channel #18 – Speaking Engagements

For those people that are accomplished, speaking engagements can be a fantastic channel to get customers. For example, let’s say you’re an online marketer with a successful blog and you’ve recently developed a 10-part training course on how to start an online business. It might make sense for you to find offline events, call their organizers, and attempt to secure one of the presentational slots.

You can then craft a presentation that adds value to the audience and promotes your new training courses. As you do more and more events, you’ll start to gain traction.

Channel #19 – Community Building

Community building refers to building communities. Right?

Better explained, it is creating a group of people that bond, share interests, meet regularly (online or off) and can be converted into customers. Let’s look at an example.

I have this blog about running a startup. Let’s pretend I offer classes, sell a book, and run an SEO agency as part of my blog and startup. I need customers for my products, so I decide to start a bootstrapping startup community in Akron, OH. I use other channels to drum up interest, I rent a conference room in the Hilton for a Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, I line up speakers, I hire a catering company, etc.

The time for the event roles around. I MC the event, we have a good turnout and it goes off without a hitch. Throughout the 3-day event, I plaster our new community web address all over the place, including materials and giveaways that each participate gets.

I just built a community – one that I can not only continue to cultivate and grow, but market all our services and products to. Boom!

Find Your One Channel and Get Traction

With these 19 channels, you are now armed with an arsenal capable of getting traction out the wazoo. Use the bullseye framework to work through all 19 and determine which channel(s) will get you the most traction and then tackle them like Ray Lewis in the Super Bowl. Who knows, you might just win.

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