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The Marketing Stack Part II: User Acquisition and Engagement

In our previous post on the growth marketing stack, the kickoff to the series, we posted version 1.0 of our “generic” marketing stack. We’ve updated the stack slightly to make a few things clearer and here is the latest version (1.2):

Iterable Marketing Stack v1.2


In this post we want to talk about some of the choices we made in constructing the stack and what the main parts contain. This will set us up to talk about the more interesting aspects of our framework in the coming weeks.

As mentioned in the previous post, the key goals of a marketing organization are User Acquisition and User Engagement, so lets first cover those in more detail.

User Acquisition

This layer of the stack can be divided into two main pieces: Inbound and Outbound.

The goal of both inbound and outbound marketing is to drive a user to a conversion. A purchase is what is most commonly thought of as a conversion, but depending on your business and goals, a conversion could be an article/video view (e.g., for a media company) or a lead (e.g., for a B2B vendor).

Iterable Marketing Stack User Acquisition


Inbound Marketing

Inbound means that users are finding you. In other words, you are not paying directly for access to users. If executed well, inbound marketing can be quite scalable — for example, a piece of content indexed by search engines can result in visits to your site for years.

The key components of inbound marketing are:

  • Content — content can be best categorized by type, and to some degree by length. It is worth calling these out separately because their production and distribution varies significantly:
  • Textual — includes your website copy, whitepapers and reports (long-form content), blog posts (medium-form) and social media posts (short-form), each taking advantage of the appropriate channels for distribution.
  • Visual — includes pictures (especially relevant in the age of Instagram and Pinterest), infographics, slide decks, data visualizations, etc.
  • Video — can also be long-form or short-form and distributed across channels as necessary.
  • PR — securing non-paid coverage in high-profile publications or by high-profile individuals (“influencers”), which will in turn serve the role of indexed content.
  • SEO — optimizing your content for favorable search engine indexing and placement.

Outbound Marketing

Outbound means that you are reaching out to customers, which generally means that you are incurring a direct cost. Most forms of outbound marketing are therefore a form of advertising. The key components of outbound marketing are:

  • Search Engine Marketing (SEM) — advertising on search engines, usually taking the form of text.
  • Display ads — advertising via different types of banner ads.
  • Video ads — there are different types of video ads (e.g., pre-rolls, post-rolls, etc.), but the concept is self-explanatory.
  • Social ads — ads appearing on social media in site-specific formats (e.g., “Promoted Tweets”), sometimes also called “native ads” (see below). Of course, social ads can also be simple display or video ads on a social channel.
  • Affiliates — these are “indirect ads”, where you essentially pay a third party (an “affiliate”) to promote your products/services.
  • Native ads — ads are sometimes called “native” by virtue of more closely resembling the environment in which they appear. This can refer to ads that appear “in-stream” on social media (i.e., they are not as intrusive as standard banners) or content that has been purposely developed for a “sponsor” but could theoretically stand on its own.
  • Retargeting — these are ads meant to attract users that have already shown some level of interest (e.g., a site visit) but have not yet converted. In fact, retargeting could also be considered a user engagement tool, although we’re primarily categorizing it as outbound user acquisition.
  • Events — this includes participation in third-party events (e.g., industry tradeshows) or organizing first-party events (e.g., user conferences/meetups).

We placed a “landing pages” layer under all user acquisition because it is often the goal of inbound/outbound marketing to drive a customer to a specific, optimized page in order to drive conversions. However, the landing page could also be a product page, a pricing page, an article or just the front page of your website.

User Engagement

This layer of the stack is all about building on the initial user acquisition and driving towards increased user lifetime value. Depending on your business model, there are three possible goals for user engagement:

  1. Building up towards a “real” conversion; this is also called “lead nurturing”.
  2. Getting a customer to purchase multiple times or at higher price points.
  3. Getting a user to view content on a regular basis (e.g., for a media company).

Goals 1 and 2 are not mutually exclusive, but goal 3 usually means that the company does not have a transaction-based business model.

Iterable Marketing Stack User Engagement


As you can see from the diagram, there are many ways to engage users, from the basic blast campaign to loyalty programs. We won’t go into each one in detail in this post, but there are some points we want to highlight:

  • Content — as in user acquisition, content is also an important activity here and has the same subcategories (textual, visual, video) that we itemized above.
  • Blast campaigns — these are marketing messages that are sent to users independently of their activity. Note that this doesn’t mean they can’t be customized — in fact, it is a best practice to target/customize blast marketing as much as possible.
  • Triggered campaigns — these are marketing messages that are sent as a direct result of a user activity (the “trigger”). This could be anything from a site visit, to an abandoned shopping cart to actual inactivity (e.g., no visits in 30 days). Transactional messages are a subset of this category, triggered when a user makes a purchase (e.g., a receipt email).

Of course, this is the Iterable blog and we would be remiss if we didn’t mention that our product enables marketers to execute world-class, omni-channel blast and triggered marketing campaigns (with a few additional things thrown in!).

Segmentation vs. Personalization

Finally, there are two more important activities that cut across all user engagement and that are worth discussing because there are different opinions on their meanings: segmentation and personalization.

In v1.0 of the stack we only had a segmentation layer. This reflects one school of thought around segmentation vs. personalization: that personalization simply means taking segmentation to the extreme (i.e., segments of one). In this case, you can arguably just rely on “segmentation” as the overarching term.

Upon further reflection, however, we are leaning towards another definition of the term “personalization”: when users themselves explicitly give you information on their interests or preferences. This definition merits adding it as another layer in the stack because it requires its own infrastructure and functionality, separate from that of segmentation. In fact, in this case, personalization information is one more input into segmentation. For this version (1.2) of our stack, we are going with this definition and have separated the terms, with personalization positioned above segmentation.

In our next post we will briefly cover some of the other activities not yet covered (e.g., optimization, automation, data) and also start laying the groundwork for how to think about growth.

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