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The Growth Strategy Shift: From PPC to PCC
How to Mix Product, Community, and Content to scale consumer apps sustainably
The limits of consumer growth channels
The current market downturn is making fundraising and growth more challenging than ever for consumer businesses. The main reason? Arguably, a lack of differentiation, not only in terms of product and positioning but also in distribution.
Starting with the usual suspects, performance marketing, especially paid social, is not as economically sustainable as in the 2010s. Channel saturation and competition have increased CAC beyond financially sustainable levels, desensitizing users to every kind of messaging. What’s worse is that the race to advertise on emerging channels like TikTok is getting frantic, shortening the channel’s lifecycle, compounding saturation, and favoring winner-take-all dynamics where incumbents with bigger budgets win.
Talking about content & SEO, these are traditionally expensive channels to scale without UGC dynamics. Yes, AI is about to unlock massive cost savings on content creation. Still, until we solve issues like content hallucinations, we’re yet to see the potential of this medium to emerge as a new growth standard.
Last but not least, referral programs do not apply to every product. If your product doesn’t have high LTV, is not intrinsically shareable, or doesn’t have network effects, it might be hard to engineer this type of distribution. Even when you have the above, it’s hard to scale referrals beyond the early stages of a company. Take Dropbox or PayPal as examples, products whose early consumer growth revolved around sharing features, turbocharged by their referral programs. Referrals are great for early growth but less so at the scale stage when virality makes the referral incentive less ‘appealing.’
These limits are affecting consumer growth marketing and VCs' appetite, who in recent years fundamentally refocused on profitability as a quasi-requirement for signing term sheets for both early- and growth-stage investments.
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The PLG miracle — only a B2B thing?
At the other end of the industry, B2B gained a significant leg up with product-led growth. In this motion, cross-functional teams use product, content, outbound, and community strategies to empower leads to self-qualify, drive virality (internally and externally), and scale acquisition at low CACs.
PLG has been a game changer for companies like Figma, Slack, and Notion, who grew their top-of-the-funnel in a true “consumerized SaaS” fashion with a robust B2C-like traffic engine that feeds into their B2B machines.
What does PLG teach us? That — when intentionally used in tandem — product, content, and community can be high-scale, low-CAC growth levers.
Switching back to B2C, we can observe early applications of this logic. Think Duolingo’ ‘world-class gamification — a great combo of cutting-edge content, social incentives to share, and rituals to gather around in a community — or NerdWallet’s content& SEO strategy, which created a meaningful edge over their competitors.
We say early applications because, despite these innovations, these orgs haven’t leveraged the full potential of high-scale, low-CAC channels, as B2B did with PLG. At HyperGrowth Partners, we believe they can — and we believe this approach can effectively overcome the limitations of traditional growth channels.
Introducing PCC — the PLG of B2C
What would happen if consumer growth teams intentionally leveraged all three pillars — product, content, and community — in tandem?
A coordinated product, content, and community approach can create a powerful halo effect at the top of the funnel, driving high-scale, low-CAC growth.
How? At a high level, these three pillars constitute a compelling full-funnel growth strategy across acquisition, engagement, and retention, where each pillar creates its specific growth loop that augments each other.
The first step to embracing the PCC model is to set up a content acquisition loop that grabs your audience's attention by entertaining and educating your audience about your value prop with an authentic, unique narrative. Earlier in this post, we mentioned the limits of traditional consumer content. To effectively stand out and overcome these bottlenecks, your content must have:
Bit-sized formats. You should optimize for short, hyper-consumable content formats like 15- to 30-second videos or shareable quotes. This should sensibly decrease production costs and increase scalability.
‘Surprising’ buckets. To effectively stand out from the crowd, your content buckets should optimize for novelty, which triggers a neurochemical reward for the audience. For simplicity, your content buckets can be grouped into:
Funny: something that makes your audience smile. This can work with any consumer brand and product, no matter how serious or fun your use case is.
Interesting: something that makes your audience curious and provides a snippet of valuable knowledge that will educate them on topics adjacent to your use case. This is especially relevant for personal development products like health and fitness and wealth-related products like fintech.
Memetic message. Bonus points to nail your surprise level; tap into the memetic culture of your audience. Every generation shares cultural “touchstones” of pop culture. Think movies, songs, fashion, trending news, and the people starring in them, like characters, actors, singers, producers, politicians, and entrepreneurs. Look for characters and scenes that recently went viral in your audience, and adapt them to your own set of problems you’re solving, use cases, or larger industry topics.
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Native production. Most brands still invest so much time and resources in writing pristine, engineered copy and videos with strong brand aesthetics, only to realize that this is what gets mostly scrolled through on social feeds — massively increase your creative ROAS! The reality is that UGC-produced ads in TikTok, Reels, and podcasts are becoming much stronger formats for audiences to discover and buy consumer products. Why? At a high level, because people buy from people, not from brands — even the average consumer doesn’t like to be sold directly. At a deeper level, it’s because of:
Problem mapping: users better understand what products do and how they can help them when the direct language that they understand and use.
Identity signaling: users can relate to who explains the product to them either because their peers to them (eg. nano or micro creator) or because they aspire to be like them (eg. macro creator or influencer).
Familiar context: when users browse Reels and TikTok, all they see is cute dogs, hot models, breathtaking holiday views, (aspiring) influencers, and movie memes — 90% of them shot with a selfie. Great content means leveraging this familiarity — fit in to stand out.
Once users are drawn in with the content, the product UX/UI must quickly confirm their expectations by providing a delightful, seamless, and intuitive experience that leads them to the Aha moment as quickly as possible.
This means the NUX — the New User Experience — has minimal taps for people to sign up, understand the benefits, and get to the first key outcome. Regarding NUX, it’s not a joke that “speed is everything.” However, it’s important to balance it with empathy, understanding, and the outcome of the aha moment.
Making a good impression is not enough; consumer apps must be built for strong retention and engagement to survive the growing competition of apps on our devices.
To do so effectively, it’s critical to inject game-like mechanics across your single- and multi-player use cases to give users a sense of continuous progress, accomplishment, and healthy competition, which helps to keep them engaged and coming back for more. In 2023, gamification is non-negotiable.
Streaks to remind users of progress made for continued product use.
Quests as mission-driven tasks to encourage specific feature activation and retention.
Levels, badges, and achievements to nurture retention breadth (eg. daily tasks to come back daily) and engagement depth (eg. earn badges to level up to graduate from casual, to core, to power user).
Points and in-app currency to redeem continued usage against benefits related to the aha moment or game-like mechanics (eg. streak freeze, XP boost, etc.).
Profiles, leagues, and leaderboards to drive users against each other in a healthy, competitive environment, engage socially, and display their achievements.
Completion sounds and haptic feedback to complement the individual and social with physical feedback that cements their habits.
Needless to say, Duolingo is among the leaders in gamification in consumer apps. But also consumer giants like Headspace, Waze, Spotify, and Airbnb are incorporating similar elements to gamify their experience.
Need help crafitng the best strategy to align your content, product, and community growth loops?
Gamification doesn’t just drive engagement and retention across demographics and use cases but can also help build community. At the middle and bottom of the funnel, a community loop can cement belonging and habit loops that further nurture engagement, amplify word of mouth, and even reduce customer support costs.
When you provide your users with a space and a set of incentives to connect, share tips and tricks, and solve problems together, you create a sense of belonging and shared identity, effectively increasing switching costs for competitive alternatives. Remember, as community expert Greg Isenberg mentioned:
“The difference between an audience and a community is which way the chairs are facing”.
Community-based or community-enhanced products are machines that compound tremendous growth with the aforementioned channels.
Content. Build a (free) audience to grab people’s attention.
Social (eg. Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, etc.)
Blog, Newsletter & Podcast
Product. Drive the audience to your product/app or alternatively to adjacent free community features.
Job board (eg. Pallet). Great for professional or personal development apps.
Store (eg. merchandising), ideal for monetizing fandom.
Info products (eg. books, tools, checklists). Think longer-form educational content.
Q&As (eg. Zoom, WhatsApp) to give product feedback or just hang with other users
Live performances (eg. companies-hosted gigs, webinars, or other sessions)
Community. Convert your free community members into product users or more active members. Most of these can be layered or are part of the aforementioned gamification strategy and can be baked directly into the product features.
Identity: usernames, avatars, memes, and shared aesthetics
Community board: Reddit, Discord, FB Group, Skool, WhatsApp
Quests & incentives: missions, tasks, and referrals
Reputation system: roles, levels, badging, and memberships
Loyalty program: rewards, incentives, and special access
Online/IRL meetups: 1:1s, workshops, Q&As, AMAs, office hours, etc.
Happy hours (eg. Notion class notes, Loom recorded sessions)
Keep in mind that building community is one of the hardest endeavors in tech and is not a straight line. The CMX Engagement Cycle is a great framework to get started.
Define community identity (eg. handles, avatars, vocabulary, roles)
Earn community trust (eg. by providing value upfront, for free)
Encourage participation (eg. games, challenges, quests, promise of rewards)
Give recurring rewards (eg. social, financial, knowledge, time, mastery, joy, etc.)
Does the current market downturn mark the end of performance marketing? Of course not, but paid ads can no longer serve as a primary growth driver to scale consumer businesses, nor a competitive moat.
What B2B has done with PLG is admirable — growth teams are slowly but surely, breaking down their silos and blending their skills into coordinated product, marketing, and sales efforts that resulted in high-scale, low-CAC growth machines.
Truth be told, these strategies don’t have to be just a B2B thing. Using the PCC model, consumer businesses can be more intentional about aligning their product, content, and community efforts to drive high-scale, low-CAC growth, which creates a competitive moat and draws in funding, particularly for use cases that revolve around personal development, like fitness, wellness, fintech, and collectibles.
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