Use Pirate Metrics to Drive Your Company's Growth

Get in front of more prospects, convert subscribers, and close more customers. Top it off with more referrals using pirate metrics.

What if you had a model to drive your company’s growth marketing strategy? A framework tested and refined over the last 15 years. One that can mold to fit your operation.

Pirate Metrics, named because of the acronym AAARRR, will hold light up your company and expose gaps. The acronym is Awareness, Acquisition, Activation, Revenue, Retention, and Referral. It’s the customer lifecycle. What gaps? In the customer journey.

If you’re not sure where to start to improve, fix gaps, or drive growth, Pirate Metrics is an excellent place to start. 

Table of Contents

pirate metrics awareness activation acquisition revenue referral retention

If you’re not sure where to start to improve, fix gaps, or drive growth, Pirate Metrics is an excellent place to start. 

Where did Pirate Metrics originate?

Time machine, in 2007, Dave McClure, venture Capitalist and former PayPal Director of Marketing, coined the term. In 2016 Growth Tribe added Awareness to the beginning. The framework has grown and been refined over time.

What can you get from Pirate Metrics?

The answer? Growth Marketing. Since Pirate Metrics enables you to implement Growth Marketing, you reap the benefits.

  • Accountability. Growth marketing relates to business objectives and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
  • Testable, trackable, and scalable. You can’t be accountable without being data-driven and testing everything. Then, building campaigns to scale.
  • Scientific method. Create a hypothesis, test it, and evaluate the results. Why wouldn’t you do this?
  • Growth marketers keep up with trends and changes in all marketing channels, tracking technologies, and multiple industry heartbeats.
  • Collaboration. Growth marketers generally play nice with other people, teams, and groups like traditional marketing departments and engineering.
Each company will use the metrics differently.
Each presents different customer journeys and experiences.
You don’t have to follow Pirate Metrics in order, and your company doesn’t have to put them in the order other companies do. Your Activation may come before Revenue. You also may change this over time.
Awareness is every potential touchpoint customers have with your brand. The metric Acquisition is when they engage with you. An app install, a registration, a freemium, or a chatbot. Some companies put paid sales in Acquisition. There’s no, one size fits. Activation is your onboarding and customer support.
Revenue seems straightforward.
Retention referral is where most companies fall short. Understandable. You got the sale, the client’s happy, move on. You can learn, and earn, a lot in these two areas.
Use this as a manual for your company’s Growth Marketing plan.
Each metric is described below with questions to help you implement strategy, the metrics to track results, and advice to get it done.
Begin with Awareness, though each metric is equally essential.

Awareness Metric

Metric Awareness is every potential touchpoint customers have with your brand.
Awareness is all content in each channel in all formats. All media. Is it necessary to list everything? It’s going to change. Churn.
If the landscape’s constantly changing, what can you control?
Here’s your chance to emotionally resonate and connect with a statement, a story, voice, and design. Growth marketing is all about data-driven metrics and tracking. Your prospects live in a world where millions of companies compete for their attention. Emotionally connect by creating relationships.
Y0ur brand, voice, mission and design.

Create the story of your brand and bring your clients into that story. Your company will seem more relatable. You’ll resonate with clients and amplify that relationship.

Separate your company from the others. You know this works. Make it recognizable.


Quick steps to improve your brand

Four steps you can take to improve your brand

  • Create your Mission Statement. Craft a sentence about your primary goals. It’s for your clients and to guide internal, strategic decisions.
  • Do you have a company story? It’s a product/consumer-focused story where you saw a problem and solved it. Or an origin-type story about the founder(s.)
  • Settle on a brand voice. How would your company speak if it were a person? Tone, style? How would you come across? Can you keep this consistent in all communications?
  • Design. We don’t have to spend much time on Brand Design, do we?
Worried your company is too small for this work? You can answer the questions and start the narrative even if you’re a one-person shop.
Do you have a content strategy? Evaluate your content inventory and determine what’s popular and why. Figure out what people want to read. Then further research and analysis to find more details about what people want to read.
Then produce and publish. Ensure you work with other teams on this content creation and distribution.
Questions to ask:
  1. What does Awareness mean for your business?
  2. What channels will lead to your target market? (this may evolve)
  3. What platforms are your potential customers engaging with other brands to solve your product or service problems?
  4. Can you use those channels to engage with your potential customers?
Metrics to measure
  • Website (visits, CTR, bounce rate, pages per visit)
  • Podcast impressions
  • Social metrics


  • Here is where analytics, testing, iteration, and improvement can change results. It’s a process.
  • Are you targeting the right potential customers using the right messaging when they arrive? 
  • Have you created Personas and gained a deep understanding of why they chose your solution or not?
  • Does your copy and calls to action reflect this?
Brand work is an ongoing effort that leads into the next Pirate Metric area, Acquisition.

Acquisition Pirate Metric

Acquisition is when potential customers initiate contact or interaction with your company.

If you’re gathering leads through free mechanism devices

by getting at minimum an email address and at max, for high ticket items, deeper

personal info, then you’re involved in Acquisition.  

You may gather (acquire) contact information for a sales call. You may have freemium signups, chatbots, and gated content.

Landing pages and emails can be a/b tested and systematically improved.

These actions alone can drastically change conversion rates and Revenue.

Not to mention the other side effects of getting more customers. 

And having tweaked the Acquisition area of your business, you can move on to Retention or Referrals.

Tips for the Acquisition Metric

  • Here is where analytics, testing, iteration, and improvement can change results. It’s a process.
  • Are you targeting the right potential customers using the right messaging when they arrive? 
  • Have you created Personas and gained a deep understanding of why they chose your solution or not?
  • Does your copy and calls to action reflect this?

Questions for the Acquisition Metric

  • What does Acquisition mean for your business?
  • Do our free offerings match and quickly lead to our paid offerings.
  • Does our message match what the market expects?
  • Does our copy reflect what the potential customer is thinking?
  • Are we helping the potential customer through the journey?
  • Are we considering the potential customers’ stage or Awareness and sophistication?

Metrics for Acquisition

  • Customer acquisition cost (per channel)
  • Conversion rate
  • Click-through rate
  • Cost per click

Once you’ve acquired a customer or lead, the work continues. Provide an exceptional experience with the following tips and advice.

Activation Pirate Metric

The Activation metric sits in a category with Retention and Referral.

The neglected category. 

Activation and Retention are related. How? Clients should have “feel good” moments” along with “AHA” moments when activating and onboarding with you.

You want them to feel they’ve made the right decision and think, “Aha, I made the right choice. 

Why do companies neglect this area? The sale is over. No teams form to improve these areas until it’s too late.

So what are we talking about in Activation?

Customer onboarding. The lead process. Any exchange of information in an interaction between your company and your new lead or client. 

Map out your workflow and onboarding process. Go through it yourself. Is it painless and easy?

Ask yourself a question. How do I want to feel after doing a particular action?

New customers want to immediately experience your software, app, product, or service. they also want a reliable, trustworthy experience.

How to excel in User Activation

  • Build customer relationships.
  • By gathering information about why they buy or don’t buy. 
  • Segment customer lists to refine customer behavior further.
  • Provide immediate value in your product, service, app, or membership?

Give your clients an “AHA” moment when they realize they’ve made a great decision.

Closely examine each step in the client’s journey through your organization. Are there roadblocks? Areas of confusion or frustration? Work through these. They’re just as crucial as finding more qualified visitors, improving conversion rates, and getting more referrals.

You know this. Being a happy client makes you fully experience the product or service. It’s

like reading a good book, you forget you’re reading and just live in the story.

If you do one thing, get User Onboarding right.

User Activation Questions to Ask

  • How fast do clients recognize the value of your service?
  • What does Activation mean for your business?
  • How can you give your clients a memorable experience?
  • What do your clients value most about what you provide?

User Activation Metrics to Measure

  • Drop-off rate
  • Refunds
  • Successful onboards

If you can excel in Activation, use what you learn in other areas of Pirate Metrics, especially Revenue.

Revenue Pirate Metric

Companies define and measure the revenue metric differently—some group this with Acquisition. When a prospect becomes a customer, it’s a Revenue event. Some only consider it a revenue event once the customer breaks even with the Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC.) 

Share this area of Growth Marketing strategy closely with product strategy and other company teams.

Strategies to increase Revenue

Get more customers, increase order value, and compel repeat purchases.

On a sales page, you can sell better with better copywriting:

  • You can improve the value proposition.
  • You can change the pricing strategy.
  • You can change and improve the offer.
  • You can add more proof.

The metric includes all activities related to increased Revenue. More customers. Repeat purchases. Higher per transaction amounts. Upsells, cross-sells. Cost savings.

Get granular with pricing strategies on order forms to increase per transaction amounts.

Do you need a lesson in the lifetime value of a customer? Or average order value?

Now that you’ve got the client retain the client.

Retention Pirate Metric

Are you keeping customers happy? What does that even mean? Do you ignore them or engage with them?  

When you engage, is it to try and sell them something else? Or is it to listen, understand, and resolve? Then learn, document, and implement what you learned in other areas of Pirate Metrics?

Do you see how this is working?

Do you have a newsletter? Do you educate them on new features and products?

Any kinds of highlights, spotlights, or company news? Do you have anything interesting to say at all?

How about contests, offers, and free giveaways?

What about polls to get information about how they grow with your product or service?

Then, are you using this data to improve Retention and other areas?

Acquiring a new customer is more expensive than keeping an existing customer. 

A follow-up, nurturing, and simple service process can lead to more Revenue, more referrals, or just learning more about serving the market better.

Most companies fall flat here. Always have.

Good companies that follow up with past clients reap the benefits of a mutually growing relationship.

How well do you keep your clients and fight churn?

Retention is where the other metrics inform and help you. Each metric has valuable lessons.

Keeping your customers may be common sense and simple. Keep them informed and let them know you care. And, really care. It’s not easy. Someone has to drive the project and collaborates with the product team to keep clients informed. Those emails have to go out with tracking for open rates and click-throughs. Then someone has to review those metrics to see if clients are even reading what you’re sending. Or do you need to change messaging?

Are you going to reach out to clients for a product feature survey? 

There are plenty of Retention activities, just like all other metric categories. Someone needs to strategize, execute, and follow up, right? Otherwise, what’s the sense in doing any of this?

Now we’re jumping from the Retention soapbox right to the Referral soapbox. Hold on!

Referral Pirate Metric

How serious is your company about an automated, trackable, incentivized referral system?

What system? Set a referral trigger as soon as you sign a new client. You provide excellent service, right?

Knowing this, your Project System automatically sends a template email to new clients 1/2 way through a project with that note that you’ll be asking for a referral after the project is complete.

Another email is sent two weeks after project completion. Because one week after, you’re going to follow up with a phone call to make sure they’re happy and satisfied.

Oh, and three weeks later, you will send a postcard with a handwritten thank you. Maybe this is too much for a big company. Is it?

How to Increase Referrals

  • Does your company have an automated referral system in place for clients?  
  • Does it ask for referrals when they’re happy with your service in the client journey?
  • Do you make referrals painless and easy for them?

Make it easy. Make it, so people want to refer to you. So they feel good about helping their friend and you.

Again, simple, but not easy.

Referrals don’t have to be trigger points in a journey. They can be messages to old accounts.

But why do you have old accounts? The point of growth marketing is ‘old’ nothing. Email is free. Constantly engage.

Also, some brands like to focus on phrases like “viral loops” and the “viral coefficient.” If you have a system of asking for referrals at critical points in the client journey and then continually ask, the viral loop will always be there. You’ll have constant, mini-viral-loops. Your entire client base will be in a viral loop.

Net Promoter Score

An indicator of how likely clients are to recommend your product or service. Focus on an automated, tracked referral system that you review and improve.

Referral Questions to Ask

  • At what points in the customer journey can we tell clients we’ll be asking for a referral, and when can we ask them?
  • Who is sending out referrals? Create a mechanism to track this.
  • What are the referrals doing?
  • Can you give incentives for referrals?

Referral Metrics to Measure

  • Lifetime values (clients who refer, who don’t, who get referred)
  • Referral sent invitations (successful, unsuccessful)

Will you embrace Growth Marketing and use Pirate Metrics to hold a light up to your customer’s lifecycle and look for gaps?

Under your control, each metric is a lever you can pull to drive your company’s growth. You decide the strategy. Go after the easy to solve, low hanging fruit first, or tackle the problematic traffic, conversion, and retention problems.

Will you focus on Awareness, Acquisition, and Revenue like most companies and ignore the others? Or will you make an effort to improve Activation? Will you set up Referral systems with tracking, using templates and automation?

Do them all. Do everything in this article. The point is, don’t do it all at once. Do one at a time

until the needle isn’t moving much anymore, then move to the next. Keep doing this over and over.

Keep notes, and track metrics in spreadsheets.

Whatever you decide, plan and take action. Execute. Fail small, track changes, and make improvements.

Keep on iterating!

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