Marketing 101 – The 19 Traction Channels

One of the key questions for any startup is how to generate enough awareness, interest, leads and sales at every stage of business to push it on to ever greater heights. Given the huge number of different marketing approaches you can take, how do you go about formulating an effective marketing strategy that can evolve as the business does? This is really marketing 101 – luckily there is a great book that can take you through the basics.

Traction, by Gabriel Weinberg, organizes the various marketing tactics into 19 channels. The premise of the book is that a focus on 1 or 2 of these channel tactics, deployed in the right way, will lead to consistent, reliable growth for your business. Traction, or moving the needle, is the central theme of the book and doesn’t just mean winning new business, but taking your business to next level through exponential growth.

While the content is by no means groundbreaking, the concepts are structured in a way that make them actionable and accessible, which makes for a great marketing 101 crash course. Weinberg breaks down the various options into 19 channels and recommends a model for testing each one to see which will work best for your business.

It’s a solid intro for non-marketing professionals to get up to speed on the basics, and there is enough in here for experienced marketers that should stimulate ideas for using the same old channels in new ways. I detail the 19 options further on in this blog and illustrate them with real-life examples of each channel in action, but for now they are:

1. Targeting Blogs
2. Publicity
3. Unconventional PR
4. SEM
5. Social and Display Ads
6. Offline Ads
7. SEO
8. Content Marketing
9. Email Marketing
10. Engineering as Marketing
11. Viral Marketing
12. Business Development
13. Sales
14. Affiliate Programs
15. Existing Platforms
16. Trade Shows / Conferences
17. Offline Events
18. Speaking Engagements
19. Community Building

Some of these are self-explanatory, some are certainly not, but most have much depth below the surface. If you can use this depth to develop novel ways of effectively growing your revenue you may just find your way to a short-term – or sustainable – competitive advtange.

The mistake a lot of CEOs of small businesses, or inexperienced marketers, make is that they try to do a little bit of everything. This leads to a lot of busy work, where it may feel you are doing well because there is a lot of activity. In reality, without focus on one or two of these channels you are unlikely to move the needle on the key metrics – whether that’s leads, opportunities or revenue.

To address this we will also look at how to set your traction goals to keep you focused, and the Bullseye method of testing which channel strategies will work for you – and then optimizing it to get the best results.

The 19 Traction Channels

1. Targeting Blogs

Leveraging the reach of existing blogs in your space can be a great way to attract new customers, particularly if your target niche is small but well-defined. Guest blogging, sponsored content, and special offers such as VIP access all fall into this category and can be used in combination to help get a start-up business off the ground.

2. Publicity

Traditional media outlets can be a great way to get your business out there if you have a story worth telling. While the major publications are typically out of reach for the average business, if creative marketers can generate some buzz on smaller platforms their larger counterparts may pick up on the story.

The key piece here is your angle – what makes your story worth telling? If it’s not truly compelling, or possibly even controversial, then it’s going to be difficult to get picked up in a way that will move the needle for your business development efforts.

HARO – Help A Reporter Out – can also be a great way to attach your name and brand to articles which are already in development. While the entire piece won’t be about your company this can be a great way to supplement your primary efforts.

3. Unconventional PR

AKA Guerilla Marketing – this is the not-so-humble publicity stunt. Typically used in B2C marketing, Publicity stunts can be a great way to get organic media coverage while bolstering a fun, rebellious, or generally unconventional brand image. While not exactly marketing 101, brands such as Virgin and Paddy Power (which we have covered elsewhere in the blog) are great examples of this in action.

Weinberg also suggests that smaller scale activities with customers or prospects can generate some buzz and word of mouth. This could be hand-written ‘thank you’ or follow-up notes, or giveaways such as quirky swag!

4. SEM

Paid Search, or PPC, involves advertising directly on Google’s SERP (Search Engine Results Page). You can essentially buy the space above organic search results and only pay for the clicks you get. Because these ads can be hyper-targeted based on the search terms used you can attract clicks from very specific market niches. SEM gives you a lot of control over how much you spend, and the ROI you can achieve.

While the details of SEM strategy are beyond the scope of this blog, the key things to think about are campaign and ad group structure, account settings, keywords, ad copy and bids.

5. Social and Display Ads

Distinct from SEM ads, social advertising involves using platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter to reach your audience. While many of the skills needed for SEM are transferable to social (such as copywriting and budgeting), finding your audience niche is very different, as is the tone you use in your copy. As well as this social is generally more suitable to B2C, high-volume e-commerce business than B2B or other slow sales cycle industries. (Though there are some great creative examples of all types of businesses using social to meet business goals.)

Display ads are placed directly on blogs or news pages – and are the primary way those free online publications make money from their website. The pricing method can be ‘per click’ or ‘per thousand impressions’. This channel can be incredibly effective at retargeting users who had previously visited your site or shown interest in your product.

6. Offline Ads

This may seem archaic when compared to modern advertising methods, but believe it or not you can still buy ad space in non-digital, real-world media such as magazines, billboards, radio, and TV. The key thing to look at here is the demographics of the audience of your chosen media, and comparing with your target market.

7. SEO

SEO is a real heavyweight when looking at the marketing channels in your arsenal, and can be effective for a wide range of businesses. The marketing 101 definition of SEO: optimizing your web pages and website content to rank as high as possible for particular search terms on search engines such as Google.

Done right, this can lead a deluge of new traffic to your site that can remain relatively consistent (with some maintenance), and is free (per click – the cost is in the time and effort needed to optimize your site, whether you do it yourself or outsource it).

8. Content Marketing

A close cousin of SEO, great content marketing positions you as an expert within your field while altruistically helping your target market without trying to sell to them. The best content marketers align free advice and thought leadership with the various stages of the Buyer Journey, gradually guiding the reader to a natural conclusion – your product or service is the best fit for their needs.

9. Email Marketing

What marketing 101 article would be complete without email marketing. This is one of the first channels that come to mind when anyone thinks about marketing, period. Yet, despite its ubiquity email marketing continues to be an extremely effective, and cost effective way of communicating with prospects.

10. Engineering as Marketing

This involves building calculators or software widgets that perform a simple function that is useful to your target audience, and aligned with your offering. Some companies are very adept at leveraging this channel. Take HubSpot, who created a Website Grader that automatically tells you how well your website is optimized for search engines. Not only is this a very useful tool for their audience, it aligns very well with their offering and helps to fill the top of the funnel with leads.

11. Viral Marketing

Viral marketing is a deeply misunderstood channel. Very literally, it means that each consumer (whether of your content or your products) passes it on to at least one other consumer who does the same, and so on. To put this in a very modern context, it is the same principle as the R number of COVID-19. If the R number (or viral coefficient) is greater than 1, then you will see growth of the virus (or your content), and if it drops below 1 your content will slowly die out.

While many businesses dream of ‘going viral’, it is about as likely as a once-in-a-century pandemic, so keep that in mind when considering this channel.

12. Business Development

Business development strategies involve partnering with other players in your space in order to reach customers more effectively. For example, when Apple initially launched the iPhone they partnered with telecoms providers in the US to make sure customers would be able to use the mobile phone like any other on the market at the time – which wasn’t a given considering that Apple were a new entrant to the market.

PayPal and eBay is another great example of successful business development – so much so that eBay acquired PayPal when they realised how important the partnership was for their core business.

13. Sales

Probably the most obvious of all the channels on this list – sometimes the most effective option might be to get out and do some direct selling. This is particularly true for B2B and enterprise sales type businesses.

14. Affiliate Programs

An affiliate programs strategy is where a business builds a network of affiliates (typically bloggers or other content creators) who promote their product or service on their behalf. This channel is very effective for e-commerce and consumer subscription products such as Netflix or Audible.

15. Existing Platforms

This channel involves using existing platforms or marketplaces that already have a large user base to sell your product or service. Common examples include the Apple App Store, Facebook Games, and Chrome browser extensions.

16. Trade Shows / Conferences

Attending the main trade shows and conferences in your space is a great way to connect with prospective customers and have real conversations. As you become more established these events can still play a part in maintaining those key relationships and reinforcing brand awareness.

17. Offline Events

Setting up your own offline events is also a legitimate strategy for generating leads. These could be small meet-ups with your best customers or a larger conference to focus on new products or industry developments.

18. Speaking Engagements

Why just attend industry conferences when you can earn a speaking engagement at them? Having your own session lets you guide the conversation in a way that suits you – though you should avoid explicitly promoting your own product

19. Community Building

Last but not least, community building involves facilitating the connection, and fostering the relationships between your customers and prospects. This can be achieved through existing platforms such as forums or LinkedIn Groups or by creating your own platform to bring buyers together to share insights and learn from each other.

Marketing 101 – Your Traction Goal

For every stage of your company’s development you should have a goal in mind that will move the needle enough so that you can reach the next phase of growth. This may be a certain amount of revenue, a certain number of customers, or a given share of the market.

The Critical Path is the list of activities that you absolutely must do to achieve the milestones needed to hit your traction goal. Many marketers go wrong by splitting their focus over many channels, or by trying to accomplish tasks that are not absolutely critical to the main goal. By zealously removing any activities that don’t meet the criteria of being essential to reaching your goal, you can keep focused and hit your target much more quickly.

The Bullseye

Figuring out which of the traction channels is going to work best for your business can be tough, which is why Weinberg recommends using the Bullseye framework to systematically test what will work. This is a 3-step process that will help you to determine the channels that are right for you.

1. The Outer Ring

This is the brainstorming phase. The task here is to think about all 19 channels and come up with ideas for how each one could work for you. Doing a little bit of research on how other players in your space have used the channels can give you inspiration and help you to break out of your normal thought process.

2. The Middle Ring

Then review all of your ideas and promote 2 or 3 of the most promising channels to the middle ring. The task here is to run cheap tests on each of these ideas to see if they stand up to your hypothesis. You are looking to answer 3 questions with these tests:

  1. How much will it cost to acquire customers through this channel?
  2. How many customers are available through this channel?
  3. Are the customers you’re getting through this channel the customers you want right now?

Your goal is to see if strategies in this channel can make a difference for your sales efforts within the bounds of $1,000 and a month of time. There are usually multiple channel strategies within a given channel – i.e. within SEO you could focus on creating new search engine friendly content, link-building activities, or improving your website speed and performance – all with the ultimate goal of increasing your search rankings. They key word here is strategy – stick to the bigger picture and figure out at a basic level if the channel is a good fit. Optimizing the channel will come later when you can think more tactically about the given channel strategy.

3. The Inner Ring

After running a number of cheap tests, you will ideally have found a single channel that will make a major impact on your lead generation efforts. Even if other channels were moderately successful it is important to focus on the single most effective channel and spend the time needed to test different channel strategies and optimize them. When you’re at this stage you can think about how to approach each strategy on a more tactical level.

At this point you’re on the cusp of proper growth hacking (which we’ll look at in detail in a future blog) and you should take a scientific approach to optimization. A/B testing is a common method of testing your marketing activities, and as you build comprehensive performance data on your channel strategy you can run in-depth analysis to look for areas that have outperformed the norm (in a statistically significant way).

One other note at this stage; while you want to pick one core channel strategy to focus on, you may use some of the other 18 channel strategies to supplement your efforts. For example, Targeting Blogs and Content Marketing can be an effective way to improve your results from SEO.

If you haven’t found a channel that will move the needle enough, then it’s time to go back to the first step and choose some more channels to test.


When the same old marketing activities aren’t quite delivering the ROI you expect, go back to the drawing board and brainstorm how the channels above may work to kickstart your lead gen. If you want to dive deeper into some of these channels, Traction is a good place to start – and can be picked up for under $10 at the time of writing.

Happy marketing.