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Putting customers first: a planning framework for growth marketers
Here's a simple marketing truth: sustainable growth comes from consistently planning new activities that resonate with real people. But how many marketers can say they commit enough time to the type of deep, strategic planning needed for content and campaigns that truly captivate?
If you’re eager to be that kind of marketer, keep reading. This guide offers an easy-to-use framework, a breakdown of clear-cut methods, and a shortlist of efficient tools to fit any marketing budget. Use them to uncover opportunities and build data-driven, customer-focused initiatives that boost real growth.
Here are the three key elements of an effective marketing planning process:
The AARRR framework: based on customer journey stages, this framework provides structure to your marketing planning process
3 methods to use in planning: blending quantitative and qualitative data, you can uncover high- and low-impact efforts, or start boosting underused channels
Must-have tools in 4 areas of planning: boasting various capabilities, these tools enhance your content and campaign optimization plans
What is the AARRR framework?
A framework provides structure to your marketing planning process. It helps you systematically approach steps like measuring growth and generating activities instead of randomly making decisions and hoping for the desired results.
In this guide, we use the AARRR framework, also known as the pirate funnel or pirate metrics (AARRR, I’m a pirate!—get it? 🏴☠). Dave McClure, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and investor, introduced the framework based on these five customer journey stages:
Acquisition: how do people discover your product or service?
Activation: what is the user’s initial experience with you?
Retention: what keeps your customers returning?
Referral: do customers recommend you, and why?
Revenue: how and when do you earn from your customers?
📝 Note: regardless of their names, the five stages function like those you see in other models—e.g. awareness, interest, desire, and action (or AIDA). The pirate metrics, which sometimes include awareness, are a kind of funnel that attracts, engages, and converts prospects into paying customers.
Once you adopt the AARRR framework, you can start to identify the key metrics driving growth for each stage, also known as your conversion and web analytics metrics. See the infographic below for sample metrics to include in your list.
After listing your key metrics, track them to understand what works and what doesn't across your framework. This way, you’ll gain insights into customer experiences at each stage and make informed decisions about future activities, such as organic content and advertising campaigns.
💡 Pro tip: track your activation metrics in Hotjar (hi there 👋). Specifically, build user flows in Funnels to monitor where conversions and drop-offs occur. You can create a flow for visitors contacting your company, for example, by adding a step for each session where users:
Viewed the Pricing page > clicked the ‘Get in touch now’ button > submitted a form
Instantly spot where your conversion rate shrank and start an inquiry from there. Click through to view related session recordings to see what users experienced and uncover any conversion blockers within the flow.
Immediately see where conversion rate changes happen with this handy contact funnel
3 concrete methods to help you plan activities that customers connect with
Now that you’ve identified and begun tracking the metrics that matter to your business’s marketing strategy, growth, and sustainability, it’s time to pick them apart. Analyze their performance using these three approaches:
Know what’s working—and do more of it
First, use your reporting or attribution tools to initially understand where your purchases and conversions come from. For example, on your chosen platforms for paid advertising, you can track
The number of times your ad appeared (impressions)
The number of conversions resulting from your ad
The cost per conversion (CPC) you incurred
You can then pinpoint your top-performing ads through these metrics.
However, while these metrics tell you which ads are a hit among users, they don't explain why that’s the case. It's not enough to solely rely on them when deciding which ads to boost or recreate in your next campaign.
To uncover the reasons, combine qualitative and quantitative user research instead. You can do this by adding Hotjar Surveys to the mix. Set up an attribution survey on the landing pages linked to the ad campaign, asking users what motivated them to click on specific ads.
Find out what users feel when clicking your ad via Surveys
This offers a more accurate view of what people want when they engage with an ad, and helps you tweak existing ads or apply the insights to new ones.
💡 Pro tip: through Surveys, you’ll see beyond the numbers and comprehend what attracts people to your ads. This enables you to gather insights into the user experience (UX) outside your app or website, further strengthening your overarching marketing strategy.
Tune into the voice of the customer by creating surveys in three different ways:
Using Hotjar AI, a smart assistant that crafts questions based on your marketing goals
Choosing from 40+ free survey templates—a collection of pre-built surveys including traffic attribution, NPS, and market research
Adding your own questions and images to a blank canvas you can customize based on your targets and needs
Investigate what’s not working—and stop doing it
The same hard data can also reveal which channels and activities aren't driving growth. Consider the opposite of our earlier example: this time, use metrics like impressions, conversions, and CPC to identify underperforming ads.
Then again, numbers alone don't explain why some ads fail. So, dig deeper by launching surveys on pages linked to low-performing ads. Ask visitors who saw your ad but didn’t end up converting what they disliked about the ad. Then analyze their feedback to spot errors or UX issues.
Know what users dislike about your ad
Don’t just stop doing what isn’t working—adjust your marketing tactics based on the user insights:
If surveys show people don't like certain ads because they're unclear or irrelevant, focus on making ads with clearer messages or more relevant content
Or, if users dislike overly salesy ads, try a more informative or story-based style instead
This shift, which incorporates the voice of the customer, makes your marketing strategy more efficient and effective.
💡 Pro tip: the Hotjar suite of solutions helps you unveil and invest in your most influential touchpoint.
As you track user flows in Funnels, you may discover that it’s inaccurate to give all the credit to a user’s last touchpoint before conversion. For instance, in an ecommerce flow, it’s entirely possible for visitors to type your homepage URL, click on a product page, and proceed to checkout.
Yet, you don’t attribute the sale to the checkout page—not even the homepage or product page. Instead, you learn from watching relevant recordings that users completed the flow smoothly, as if they already knew what to look for.
Also, survey responses validated your assumption that visitors found out about your most popular product through a high-ranking blog post in organic search. Inspired by these insights, you plan to create and A/B test similar content pieces, enhancing your conversion driver while giving the audience more of what they want.
Easily view funnel steps—and find out how fast your ecommerce users reach checkout—with session recordings
Start something new
Get more from your qualitative data with this third method. For instance, your attribution survey may highlight that a small blog or influencer, currently underused, is boosting customer growth. By redirecting more focus and resources to these channels, you can enhance their positive impact and strengthen what's already proven to work well.
Meanwhile, talking directly to your users in one-on-one conversations helps you understand their needs and wants. These user interview sessions show you what truly matters to them—their pain points, motivations, and expectations—so you can craft new campaigns that resonate with customers.
Talking to current or potential customers can give so much more than insight into your products. The more you understand their world, the better you can understand how they buy, where they go for information, and how best to communicate with them.
Of course, we saved the biggest and best for last. Market research is a vital part of marketing strategic planning. It helps you explore and validate major business decisions like breaking into new markets, reaching different audience segments, or introducing new product lines.
For example, Swiss company Smallpdf used market research—via the user persona survey template—to improve their 'PDF to Word' conversion tool, explicitly addressing the needs of their admin user segment. This approach also works brilliantly for marketing campaigns to ensure they match what your audience wants.
💡 Pro tip: say you’re doing user research for a website redesign…for the very first time. This major overhaul will affect all customer journey stages and many AARRR metrics. But you have zero idea how your new and existing users will react.
Enter Hotjar Engage.
It’s a user interview tool that multitasks. Aside from enabling you to host a session online, it automates screening, scheduling, recording, and transcribing. Plus, it perfectly matches you with the right group of people. This ensures you understand customers' needs, feel more connected to them, and create experiences that help their business goals.
Here’s how to add the human touch to your user research:
Must-have tools in 4 areas of planning
Let's dive into the essential tools you'll need in four key areas of planning. These applications, platforms, and software will streamline your processes, enhancing efficiency and ensuring you're fully equipped for success.
Attribution reporting tools enable you to track the most effective channels for driving engagement and conversions. If you manage a few touchpoints, check out tools like Google Analytics—for basic users—and Mixpanel, for more advanced users. (Hotjar integrates with both. 🤝)
If you simultaneously use multiple channels, it’ll be much easier to get access to your quantitative and qualitative data in one place. This is where you open Hotjar and work wonders with our well-connected tools and features. You already met Funnels. Now, get familiar with
Dashboards: fully customizable, high-level views of your most important conversion metrics. The data updates in real-time, bringing more opportunities to enhance your marketing strategy.
Trends: visualize your data into charts, dig through it when you notice a spike or dip in your metrics, and find relevant insights that explain the user experience
Customer and market research
Customer and market research tools allow you to allocate your time, effort, and marketing budget to the right marketing channels. Paid ads platforms like Google Ads and Facebook Ads offer traffic analytics reports, helping you gauge their popularity among users.
But! ☝️ Paid marketing tools don't always provide accurate insights (Google Ads can count conversions multiple times, e.g. when a visitor reaches a landing page and refreshes it, which can inflate figures). You need to complement them with user research tools that prioritize people's goals and aspirations:
Interviews: connect with your target market directly via Hotjar Engage
Surveys: set up a user persona survey for a detailed understanding of each audience segment
Feedback: ask about customers and their experience on your site or app
Customer retention tools measure customer loyalty and product popularity. By regularly using these tools, such as NPS surveys, you can directly collect feedback from customers about their experiences and perceptions. This feedback provides clear insights into what customers like and what needs to improve.
Then, use this information to make targeted changes to your products and services, ensuring you meet or exceed customer expectations.
Content ideation tools enhance the creative thinking process involved in developing new content strategies, themes, and topics. They facilitate the generation of innovative content, crucial for your latest product marketing campaign or content conversion rate optimization (CRO) plan.
Tools like Ahrefs, SEMrush, and TubeBuddy help you research keywords and identify trending topics. Use this data, alongside your unique storytelling skills, to craft content that grabs attention at the very start of the customer journey.
Adding surveys to your website or after webinars is another smart move to gather fresh ideas for content or events straight from your audience.
Furthermore, conducting user interviews is crucial. Chatting with the people who matter most gives you a clearer picture of their desires and problems. These insights help you craft content that hits the mark, keeping them captivated and interested.
Pursuing activities and campaigns that prioritize customers
You have the power to take your marketing planning to new heights. With our framework, methods, and tools at your fingertips, you’ll create content and campaigns that truly resonate with your customers and leave a lasting impact.
But don't forget about the bigger picture. To truly succeed as a marketer, it's important to focus on activities that drive growth and ensure sustainability for your business. Striking this balance is key. By setting your priorities straight, you’ll meet your customers' needs while also enhancing your business's bottom line.