5 Crucial Frameworks for Your Startup Toolkit

A few years ago I worked for a marketing consulting company that specialized in helping early stage tech companies gain traction. Every company had a unique problem that required a unique solution. Because of this, it was extremely difficult to replicate our work. The constant variable across every project was our process of formulating ideas through frameworks. The practice of using frameworks is largely underutilized by marketing teams, and can greatly impact your product, as well as your professional career.

Why frameworks?

A framework is a methodology designed to bring clarity to complex problems. Frameworks are generally created by thought-leaders and entrepreneurs who’ve formulated a repeatable process that can be used across many different industries and business models. They’ve been crucial for me as I build Bookstackk.

How to use frameworks:

To begin, simply understand the problem that’s being proposed. From there, browse a handful of business frameworks and find one that frames your questions correctly. Think of these frameworks as your architectural plan that ought to become the backbone for everything else in your marketing toolkit.

There are a handful of timeless business frameworks that are taught in business school: Porter’s Five Forces, SWOT analysis, and Innovation Strategy Matrix. In recent years, we’ve seen a a handful of methodologies that are crafted perfectly for today’s digital landscape.

The frameworks detailed below are organized as follows:

  1. Defining a business model
  2. Developing your product
  3. Understanding the customer lifecycle
  4. User acquisition
  5. Telling the brand’s story

1. Defining Business Model w/Business Model Canvas

The business model canvas is an excellent roadmap for conceptualizing the core elements of a business model. Whether you’re trying to pivot, design, or describe your business model clearly, this framework will become an important map. It’s also a great framework to prep for a VC pitch as they’ll likely drill into these strategic questions.

2. Product Development: The Lean Startup Methodology

The whole philosophy around Eric Reis’ Lean Startup methodology is to shorten development cycles and iterate more quickly. The approach stems around the notion that companies should initially release a minimum viable product (MVP) that simply features the core value proposition. With an MVP, feedback can be gathered, measured, and iterated on in a the leanest (and cheapest) way possible.

3. Understanding customer lifecycle: Pirate Metrics — AARRR!

Dave McClure, who’s among Silicon Valley’s brightest investors, coined “Pirate Metrics” as a 5-stage funnel that encompasses the customer lifecycle: Acquisition, Activation, Retention, Referral, and Revenue. AARRR matey! This framework can largely become the foundation for new marketing initiatives.

His process is outlined in his SlideShare presentation:

Startup Metrics for Pirates from Dave McClure

Understanding the AARRR funnel provides great context for brainstorming meetings. Instead of throwing ideas as the wall and seeing what sticks, it provides a more structured view of how customers behave and the marketing/product levers that could be pushed to move users into the next stage. A complimentary blog post for navigating the AARRR funnel can be found here.

The next framework is perfect for navigating the first stage of Dave McClure’s AARRR framework: Acquisition.

4. Discovering Acquisition Channels: Bullseye framework

Not attaining traction for a product is the number one cause of failure. PayPal founder Peter Thiel put it best:

It is very likely that one channel is optimal. Most businesses actually get zero distribution channels to work. Poor distribution — not product — is the number one cause of failure. If you can get even a single distribution channel to work, you have great business. If you try for several but don’t nail one, you’re finished.

Mastering user acquisition channels are key to building traction, and in a highly recommended book, Traction: A Startup Guide to Getting Customers, 19 distribution channels are illustrated along with a framework to vet your brainstorm. The idea is to think of ways to use every traction channel, then to prioritize, test, and focus the best channels.

Here’s the list of channels covered:

Viral Marketing
Unconventional PR
Social & Display Ads
Offline Ads
Content Marketing
Email Marketing
Engineering as Marketing
Targeting Blogs
Business Development
Affiliate Programs
Existing Platforms
Trade Shows
Offline Events
Speaking Engagements
Community Building

For a more more detailed look into how to prioritize and test specific channels, Brian Balfour‘s slides on building a growth machine is an excellent complimentary piece.

5. Telling Your Brand’s Story

To outlast your competitors, you need to win their heart. Telling a brand’s story is not done with website hacks, or traditional marketing. It’s done by infecting your entire product with personality and by building trust. Once that is achieved, your product markets itself. While the questions below aren’t technically classified as a framework, they aught to become an mandatory exercise for companies at any stage.

Below are 30 essential questions you must ask to build your product or service’s brand:

  1. Why are we doing this?
  2. Why are we the people to do it?
  3. Why is now the time to start?
  4. What will happen because this idea exists?
  5. How will this change how people feel about x?
  6. Who is it for?
  7. Why will they care?
  8. What do the people we hope to serve want?
  9. What do they believe?
  10. How do they feel about the problem we solve?
  11. What do they do — where, when, why, and with whom?
  12. What will customer say to their friends to recommend this product or service?
  13. How can we make customers feel good because they recommend the product of service?
  14. What are we really selling beyond the utility of the product or service?
  15. How can we add more value?
  16. What happens because our business or project exists?
  17. How will people find us?
  18. Where are they already looking, or not looking?
  19. What’s our greatest strength?
  20. What weakness might get in the way if we don’t address it?
  21. What does success look like today, this year, next year and give years from now?
  22. What do we value?
  23. What do we want to change?
  24. What promises do we want to make and keep?
  25. What matters most right now?
  26. What’s going to matter more three, sex or eighteen months from now?
  27. What’s our difference?
  28. What do we need to do today, to make sure that we can keep doing the things we want to do tomorrow?
  29. If we could do anything today, would this be it?
  30. If not this, then what?

These questions were outlined in Berndadette Jima’s book: Marketing, A Love Story. It struck me as the essential questions needed for a company to morph into a lovable brand. If you haven’t read Jima’s bitesized books, I highly recommend them. I’ve read dozens of marketing books, and I can honestly say there are none packed with more highlighter-worthy insight than in Jima’s books.