The Intersection of User Acquisition and User Research

Treat your users like people, not data points.



User research is a fundamental step in product conceptualization, development, and optimization. A lot of user acquisition specialists absolutely do incorporate demographic research, etc into their campaign strategy, however, in depth user research is often forgotten (let’s change that). Also, (disclaimer) I understand that the term ‘user research’ is in essence anachronistic with respect to a launch campaign; however, this is an experimental method of deciphering the psychographic dimension of a potential user/customer.

Below, I discuss how user research is an integral part of the user acquisition process by walking you through a full example of my framework. Plus, I give you a glimpse into my workflow (feel free to download and replicate) that will allow anyone to conduct quick, inexpensive and effective user research.

At chickpea, this framework is an integral part of our success. User research has decreased our client CPAs as much as 32%, and has also increased our viral growth kicker by 18% in a campaign A/B test. This is important stuff, especially in times of elevated social CPAs.



Before I dive into a full example, see below a basic workflow for every user acquisition campaign that I approach. Here it is:

Onboarding/Discovery > Initial Assumptions > User Research > Final Assumptions > QA/Approval > Execution > Iteration

Depending on the campaign timeline and budget, the user research stage can range from less than an hour to multiple days. This could mean conducting qualitative or quantitative user research, the difference of which I will elucidate in a coming post. Regardless of your approach, I suggest striking a balance between your research methods and timeline using Pareto Optimality (the 80:20 Rule).

I created a basic workflow in Google Sheets that all readers are more than welcome to replicate, check it out here. I hope this helps streamline your user research initiatives and helps decrease your CPAs.


Applying user research in the user acquisition process.

Let's dive into the example. Here's the scenario: the founder of a fitness app approaches me with her MVP two weeks before launch - she needs someone to build her user base quickly and effectively. Retention is particularly important to her because she is using a two-part pricing model (subscription at first, then upgrades 2 months after the user joins). Subsequently, understanding and championing the user is quintessentially important here.

After the onboarding and discovery process, I form my initial assumptions about the potential user and begin creating an overview of the possible acquisition strategy. I then begin the user research phase to garner a much better understanding of the potential user’s psychographic.

Here are my go-to methods of user research:


1. Transcript Analysis

Transcript Analysis (TA) is the process of aggregating and analyzing what potential users are saying about similar products. TA begins by breaking down a conversation or testimonial into smaller fragments. From there, the researcher extrapolates on the quotation by writing single sentences into ‘thinking’, ‘doing’, and ‘feeling’ categories. The researcher is in essence writing how the user thinks, acts, and feels given what they said in the excerpt of their transcript. Here is the basic flow:

Transcript/Quotation > ‘Thinking’ > ‘Doing’ > ‘Feeling’ > Opportunity

Begin by finding a quotation/transcript from a potential user. For example, check out this valuable quotation that I found from Reddit concerning getting into shape:

Transcript: (a potential user actually wrote this) “I want to get back into shape. I have an hour lunch and a bunch of machines and free weights at my disposal. 20~ machines and bench press/squat rack/etc. and I’m looking for a schedule to follow.”

Thinking: ("I believe/think..." - I am writing this from the view of the prospective user) “I want to get back into shape, I have the motivation, and I have the equipment, but I don't know where to begin.”

Doing: ("I 'verb'..." - I am writing this from the view of the prospective user) “I am seeking guidance with a work out routine. If I had a plan, I would go to the gym constantly. I look online and on social for resources and guided routines.”

Feeling: ("I feel..." - I am writing this from the view of the prospective user) “I feel overwhelmed - I don't know where to start with all the equipment that I have, and I don't know what routine will help me best accomplish my goals.”

Opportunity: Identify where this potential user would look for online resources regarding free workout routines, etc. Also, use this analysis to try to speak to the user in your messaging. For example, see below the transition in my messaging:

 Example transcript analysis.

Example transcript analysis.

Below, check out how my messaging evolved after a short transcript analysis. It became more specific and spoke to the user, rather than having a broad positioning statement. Also, (disclaimer) I'm not a copywriter so please feel free to critique.

Initial Ad Messaging Idea: "We’re changing the way you think about fitness. Download (app name) for free today to get personalized workouts."

(Personal Feedback: too general, not speaking to the user.)

Updated Ad Messaging Idea After TA: "When you have the equipment, but don’t know where to start. (app name) gets it. Sign up to get workouts that work for you."

(Personal Feedback: Speaks to this possible cohort of users who are overwhelmed at the gym, could be better.)

TA is normally conducted through a series of recorded user interviews; however, this can be expensive and isn’t always scalable. Instead of interviewing potential users, I have had success by garnering psychographic data from written reviews on related Amazon products and from comments on Reddit threads. In a world where everyone has an audience, this works well. In fact, in some cases, I prefer seeking this data because it increases the sample size and removes heuristic and geo-related biases.

Action. Check out this spreadsheet that takes you through my basic workflow and an in-depth example.

Application. When in doubt, always do a transcript analysis. The one that I built for this example took me 30 minutes, and it was well worth my time. I found some pretty valuable opportunities that will help me decrease this client’s CPAs and CPU.


2. Experience Mapping

Experience Mapping is the process of delineating, sequencing, and extrapolating every stage of the conversion funnel in hopes of garnering actionable insights into the psychographic of the potential user. If you have an econ background, think of the map like a game tree -  it delineates all the possible thoughts, behaviors, and feelings that the player/user could experience throughout the acquisition funnel. No customer will exhibit all of these possibilities that you identify.

Building an experience map helps me see the bigger picture about the relationship between a user and a product. This allows me to identify critical pain points, future product innovations, and many other things.

Below is what a sliver of an experience map looks like. A true map would have 3-5 stages, under which are 5-10 objectives. Then, under each objective are 3-5 behaviors, followed by 1-3 positive or negative feelings.


I do not use experience mapping in a conventional way, and this is when it becomes a little more experimental.

Instead of tracing the user journey, I trace the steps of the acquisition funnel. In essence, many would consider this to be similar to user persona development, but more in depth and sequenced by time and action. Subsequently, as I build the map to the right, I am paralleling the journey of traffic flowing deeper into the acquisition funnel.

See how the stages of the experience map parallel the steps in this (super) basic acquisition funnel?


To start building a map, find an open wall and lots of sticky notes. I always start by building out the different stages horizontal, then I build vertically to elucidate the objectives, behaviors, and feelings. I prioritize individual thoughts, behaviors, and feelings under their respective stage. After you create an experience map, build it out in a Google Sheet (see here for an example).

Action. Check out my experience map framework here. I start by mind mapping or brainstorming on a piece of paper, then I build out the map on an open wall, and finally I aggregate all of the items in a Google Sheet to store it for the client.

Application. Like TA, when in doubt, build an experience map. Mapping can take longer than TA, but it can be extremely valuable to delineate and sequence all of the possible thoughts, behaviors, and feelings of the potential user throughout the conversion funnel.


The final product.

Ads that speak to the prospective user

After conducting both TA and experience mapping, you will have a much better understanding of the prospective user. Subsequently, you can formulate a campaign that highlights their pain points and speaks to them directly. For a few of my clients, user research has completely changed the course of our strategy for the better. Excellent products are developed by holding the user as the champion, there shouldn't be a reason to not do the same in the acquisition process. 

All of this is to say that acquisition specialists often treat users as data points, and not as people.

Though all of this may seem like a hefty investment, it is well worth it. In a world where CPAs are inflated (see Russia-FB scandal) and ads are increasingly programmatic, campaign success is contingent on the degree to which you genuinely speak to the prospective user.