Set The Pirate Funnel On Fire With Creative Marketing


Have you ever created a funnel for your website?

If so, was it the Pirate Funnel that you used?

And afterwards, were you unsure if you were creative enough with your campaign?


Hard questions to answer, but these are the questions vital to ask if you want to succeed in marketing.

Especially creative marketing.


Creativity is like adding spices to a curry – too much and it doesn’t work. But get the amount just right and the result can be delightful!

In this thought-piece, I’ll show you how you can infuse your existing Pirate Funnel with essences of creativity. All of which will lead to more innovative and original marketing campaigns – so stay tuned for inspiration!


Picasso is quoted as saying “great artists steal”.

And with that as my justification to go carte blanche on sourcing inspiration, I have compiled a comprehensive list of real-world examples showing creativity at the different points in the Pirate funnel.

But to quickly get you up to speed – just incase you’re not too familiar with the Pirate Funnel itself – here’s a quick snapshot of what I’m talking about.

The six levels of the Pirate Funnel comprise of:

Awareness: how we get people to visit our product or service online or offline

Acquisition: what is an acquired user

Activation: what is the wow moment

Retention: what is a retained user

Referral: what is virality

Revenue: what is the business or pricing model

For the seasoned pirate funnellers among you, you might notice that activation has been added into the mix.

The reason why is simple: activation is what will lead to a retained user.

For instance, Twitter requires you to follow thirty people before they consider you a retained user. Likewise, Slack categorises a retained user as someone who has sent 2,000 messages.

Now, if you aaarrr (sorry) ready, let’s dive into some examples of creativity within the established parameters of the Pirate Funnel..


Creative Marketing Examples Of Awareness

Awareness, by definition, is about getting people to visit your product or service. And that’s exactly what these next examples succeeded in doing.

Starting with example numbero uno, let’s talk about the ever-innovative furniture chain, IKEA. When launching a new line of furniture in Russia, IKEA hijacked Instagram’s simple features to create a website within Instagram.

To begin with, Ikea took beautiful photographs of their benches, storage, lights and textiles. Once uploaded onto Instagram, tags were created within the images highlighting the different pieces of furniture. Then, in the description, Ikea used hashtags which allowed them to track the conversation online and engage with their followers after the launch.

After buying their pieces and sharing on Instagram, customers used the tagging features and hashtags to become part of the community.

Clever, right?!

This campaign nailed ‘awareness’ by targeting Instagram users’ tendency to be aspirational while seeking out inspiration from the platform.

IKEA allowed their customers to engage with a community of creators, allowing those seeking inspiration to see what previous Ikea customers created with their pieces.

The main metric of this campaign by IKEA was social engagement, and with over 20 thousand active Instagram followers today.. I think it’s safe to say they achieved what they set out to.


Creative Marketing During The Acquisition Phase

The Acquisition phase is where you want to witness commitment from a potential customer. Depending on your business model, you need to identify what an acquired user looks like to you.

Usually, after a person visits your website, a cookie is used to track them across different websites and social media channels.

When it comes to retargeting this site visitor, a channel which is severely underused in my opinion is YouTube, the digital platform that reaches 18 times more viewers than any TV network.

The creative example this time, is a re-marketing campaign by XTB – a stock market trading platform. The ad featured Mads Mikkelsen and aired just after the final season of Hannibal.

What is beautiful about this advert is the perfect copywriting which evokes a nostalgic remembrance of Mads Mikkelsen’s portrayal of Hannibal. Especially with his finishing line:

Every experience makes me better, I trade, I love it.

The video alone received over 2 million views on YouTube.

Although it must have cost a TON to have Mads Mikkelsen feature at the height of his acting career, going the extra mile always helps with acquiring new customers.


Another example comes from OnePlus, the mobile phone manufacturer.

OnePlus’ first mobile was named the ‘flagship killer’ as it cost just €400! Using a crafty ‘invite only’ strategy helped OnePLus achieve exponential growth!

When OnePlus released the third version of its phone in 2016, they coordinated 7 pop up shops in New York, London, Paris, Berlin, Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore.

Just look at the HUNDREDS of people queueing up for the event in this video!

For OnePlus, the huge buzz and ridiculous queues meant a lot of media attention.


Activation Can Be Hard To Pinpoint

Activation is dependent on the wow moment.

But what is this ‘wow moment’?

It occurs when someone completely understands your product / service or when they decide they need it in their life. It can be different for every user.

An example of a company creatively constructing a wow moment comes from Contours.

Contours manufacture strollers for babies but decided to create an adult version!

This video of the campaign has over 450 thousand views and you can’t help but laugh to yourself. This a beautiful example of an activation strategy because it combines creativity and activism to target new parents during one of the biggest purchases for a new born baby.


Another example comes from CoSchedule; an editorial calendar for your social media and blogs.

The thing that CoSchedule did to get people engaging with its content was create a small extension to its website called the Headline Analyser.

The Headline Analyser will analyse your headline to assess if it will motivate people to click by assessing the words you use and providing a score.

Once the assessment is finished it categorises your words as ‘general’, ‘power’ or ‘emotional’ language – this allows you to understand how to improve your copy.

Btw: A score over 70 is considered to be very good.

The wow moment in this case happens when you get your first good score because it means you can objectively test your headline writing skills. Over time you get better and start to expand your vocabulary as you start to play with power and emotional words.



Got Retention?

If a business does not have retention, then it can kiss an easy revenue channel goodbye.

Research has shown that a 5% increase in customer retention can yield a 75% increase in profits.

When it comes to retention, it really depends how you want to do it.

You can focus on exceptional customer service, or create an online community, or have the best flexible pricing plans.

Australian entrepreneur Daniel Priestley however, suggests in his book Entrepreneur Revolution that you should take half of your marketing budget and spend it on your existing customers.

He suggests running events for your customers to create intimate business occasions to get to understand your customers better through osmosis.

And of course, with this deeper level of understanding, you help your product development team stay ahead of the curve!

Daniel Priestley practices what he preaches with his company, Dent. Each year they entertain a small number of people across the globe to facilitate increased brand awareness and encourage retention.


On the topic of retention, Leadpages do an amazing job at helping people access their community online.

When you sign up, immediately they ask you to schedule a webinar.

During this webinar, they onboard you through their resources section which includes referencing their private Facebook group where you can get feedback from employees and customers.

Currently the Leadpages Facebook group has over 15,000 users with several posts per day.


A retention strategy through email marketing by Airbnb

Although email marketing MAY be abused within the SAAS market.. Airbnb’s email marketing campaigns demonstrate a clever approach for newcomers to email marketing.

As soon as Airbnb grab your email, they send an inspirational email listing three or four locations as your next potential holiday destination.

The goal is to offer the end user a personalised sequence of emails. Once they click, Airbnb register this as showing interest and they will follow up with more content related to the option you choose.


For example, they tested this campaign in 2015:

  1. First, they sent ‘Choose Your Adventure’ featuring three options such as Europe, North America and Asia
  2. The second email subject was ‘Your adventure in Europe awaits’, if the recipient had clicked on Europe in the first email. In the second email, the options were romance, outdoors and beach
  3. The final email subject line would be, ‘Ready to embark on your romantic adventure in Europe?       


Choose Your Adventure’ above was the first email which started the personalisation campaign

This is, from both perspectives, a fair campaign as Airbnb are not just bombarding the receiver with pointless emails.

Instead they are seeking to provide the user with inspiration to observe what interests them.

Bonus take away: the use of emotional and powerful words such as ready, adventure, choose and romantic.

Creative Referral Campaigns

In certain cases, referral marketing can be a gift from the gods for marketers.

Take for example the PayPal example, where they found they could acquire a customer for $20 – at one interview between Elon Musk and Sal Khan, Musk said that PayPal had acquired 100 thousand users within their first month after spending just ‘60 or 70 million dollars’.

Quick and interesting referral idea: challenge your community to do something!

An example of this comes from the London Real Academy where they challenge their followers to take part in ‘10 Videos in 10 Days’ challenge. The idea is to find your passion through publishing content on YouTube.

This is a referral campaign in it’s most basic form as each person who takes part will reference London Real in their first video.

Brilliant, right?!

Each challenge participant will then actively promote their new videos on social media which will then be seen by their whole online following.



This means new followers on social media for London Real Academy which leads to new subscribers on their website…


The Key In The Door: Revenue

Revenue is the end point of the whole process.

A trend to watch is the subscription model, a hot trend because of millennials’ preference towards renting or subscribing to services rather than purchasing.

One of the most potent businesses within this market is Amazon with Prime, Fire, Fresh and Audible.

Amazon Prime has grown from 13 million customers in 2013 to an estimated 66 million customers in 2017.

On top of this, Amazon Prime customers spend on average double the amount as non-prime members according to Statistica.

John Warrillow, in his book the Automatic Customer, states that a subscription business is worth 2.6 times more than a typical revenue business. He points out that the subscription model is only capable through light switch reliability.

I remember using dial up well into the noughties in Ireland – not a hugely reliable service..

However, today a $19 subscription to Barkbox for dog treats is as dependable as electricity. ‘Barkbox wouldn’t have made much sense back when there wasn’t much trust in online commerce and the internet was slower’ according to  Barkbox founder Matt Meeker.

In short a subscription model can:

  • Add real value to your business
  • Increase the lifetime value of your customers
  • Increase what you know about your customers which leads to better solutions


The example I love comes from a company called Bestowed, formerly Conscious Box.

Bestowed offer subscribers a box of foods which are all natural with no GMO ingredients. The Home Box starts at $24.95 for one month.

Once a customer receives a box of products, they are encouraged to review each product they received. For every review, a customer receives 10 points and after 100 points they get $1 to spend in the Conscious Box store. Each month between 5 and 20 percent of customers rate a product in the box.

What’s interesting about this business model is that each customer tries the product after they have already made a commitment, and this means a level of trust is already established.

Additionally, because the business is niche, Bestowed can really control the market through clever content marketing, attracting people during the acquisition phase in the Pirate funnel.



I hope you have found these examples useful and that they have inspired you to create a brainstorming session and come up with new ideas. Feel free to mull over some of the questions below to get you thinking about combining the pirate funnel and creativity for your business.


What was your best campaign in the past year? Analysing your best campaign will provide insights into the channels and triggers you used.


Where do people leave your website? Using Google Analytics flow charts will help you understand where people leave, indicating where you need to focus in the pirate funnel.


Spoken to your customer service department? Each day this area of your business speaks to customers at the worst point in the customer experience. These employees have some amazing insights which could help you find the best area in the pirate funnel to focus on.


Where can I find inspiration? I would suggest searching on Niice, Pinterest or any designer space such as Behance.


What are your competitors doing? Don’t just recreate what they are doing but find out what is working for them to get inspiration.


What is currently trending? At times, certain campaigns blow up on the internet, find these and see what you can learn.


How do I judge my ideas? You can use the BRASS and PIES framework to judge ideas within the Awareness and Acquisition channels. At the deeper levels within the pirate funnel it’s harder to judge, so test small and scale it up as you learn more.


And if you want to stay updated on the latest tools to execute on your creativity.. Check out the latest Growth Insights video! All the newest tips, tools, tactics and techniques and all in under 7 minutes!



Growth, content and events! Passionate about uncovering new growth tactics and sharing knowledge to the world.