Duolingo Marketing Channels

Which channels would you use to increase top-of-the-funnel activities?

A Product Marketing Question for Product Management Interviews


StellarPeers is a community platform that helps professionals prepare for interviews. We think the best way to prepare, is to work through questions and practice mock interviews as much as possible. We meet weekly to discuss product management interview questions on product design, product launch, strategy, marketing, pricing, and others. Last week, we worked on a product marketing interview question.

What is this question about?

This product marketing interview question tests your knowledge of growth marketing strategies.

What is the interviewer looking for?

The interviewer is evaluating you on the following:

  • Do you have a structured way of thinking?
  • Are you able to empathize with users? Do you think about their goals and needs?
  • Can you come up with multiple ideas?
  • Do you know how to prioritize among multiple marketing channels?
  • Are you articulate? Can the interviewer follow your thought process?

How to structure your answer?

We suggest structuring your answer in the following way:

  • Ask clarifying questions to confirm/disconfirm assumptions you may have.
  • Describe your process or strategy for identifying and selecting marketing channels.
  • Pick a product and apply your process to illustrate with a concrete example.
  • Wrap up

Answer Example

INTERVIEWEE: By top-of-the-funnel activities do you mean awareness or acquisition?

INTERVIEWER: Awareness.

INTERVIEWEE: Do you have a particular product in mind? I ask because the type of channels to use will depend on who the customers and where to find them.

INTERVIEWER: Use a product you know to illustrate your thought process.

INTERVIEWEE: Okay, I will use Duolingo as an example. Here are the general steps I use to select the best channels to raise awareness:

  • Understand the customers. I would try to understand who the customers are as well as their goals and needs concerning the product.
  • Understand the context. I would discover where and when can we reach the customers with a targeted message?
  • List the channels. I would make a list of the channels that could be used to reach them at the most appropriate moments.
  • Prioritize the channels. I would pick the channels that are likely to produce the best ROI.
  • Set goals. I would define awareness metrics and set goals to help evaluate how the channels performed.
  • Evaluate the channels. I would compare the channels regarding performance on awareness metrics and double down on the best performing channels. After exhausting the first channels, I would start testing the rest of the channels to fill the pipeline.

I would like to illustrate now how I would apply this process to Duolingo. Are you familiar with Duolingo?

INTERVIEWER: A bit. Remind of what they do.

INTERVIEWEE: Duolingo is a freemium language learning platform that includes a website and an app. The key to their success has been the use of gamification techniques to motivate and engage users. Duolingo has been very successful in raising awareness through word-of-mouth and free PR. They practically haven’t used any paid marketing yet. Let’s say, however, that they wanted to ramp up their awareness efforts; so here is how I would apply the process I described.

Customers and Context

The first step is to understand the customers and their context. I would start by asking questions such as: Why do people want to use Duolingo? When and where would they use the platform? What are the users thinking? What are they feeling in those moments? Answers to these questions will help identify where we can reach them, when is the most appropriate time, and what message to convey to pique their interest.

So, let’s start by listing who the likely users are:

  • Students. Students from public schools, universities or language schools that are taking classes to learn a second language. They have time and are already motivated to learn.
  • Professionals. Sales people, consultants or business people that travel abroad frequently. These professionals may want to learn basic conversational skills in a second language.
  • People who are moving to another country. People who are moving abroad for an extended period of time, for example, students in an exchange program, or professionals moving abroad on assignment. Learning the language of the host country would be a top priority for most of these users.
  • Hobbyists. These are people going on vacation or holidays that want to learn basic phrases to get by, like ordering food at a restaurant or taking a taxi. They are occasional users who are not committed to continuous learning.
  • Immigrants. Adults that immigrate to a new country for economic or political reasons do not usually speak the host country’s language. However, they feel the need to learn the language, but don’t have the time or resources to attend a language school.

Would you like me to focus on a specific user since there are too many types to cover in the amount of time we have?

INTERVIEWER: There are quite a few. Tell me which users you would consider the most important.

INTERVIEWEE: Sure. I think the best users to target would be those that already have an interest in learning a language out of necessity. Either because they are traveling abroad, or they need to learn a second language for school, or are already taking a foreign language class and want to improve. Therefore, I think that students and professionals fit these criteria best.

Channels

Now, I would like to go deeper into analyzing the context in which these users would need Duolingo. Knowing why they need help in learning a language, and where and when will help identify which channels to use to reach them. Let’s start with students.

Students:

  • Students who are already learning a second language at school, university or language school will invariably need help with grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation. The first place they would go to for help is the Internet. So organic search such as SEO or search ads would be good channels to reach them. I would do keyword analysis to find out the most frequent words and phrases they use for their searches, and use those words in Duolingo’s site. To grab their attention more strongly, I would also design search ads to include the same words they used in their search. For example, if they are searching for resources to help them with grammar, a display ad should emphasize how Duolingo can improve their grammar skills.
  • Amazon is another venue where students may look for language learning resources such as books or audiobooks. Display advertising on Amazon pages related to language learning tools would be another channel option.
  • Language teachers are always looking for better ways to help students practice their language skills. Email campaigns could be used to raise awareness with teachers.
  • Schools, Universities or language schools usually have exchange programs for students to spend a summer or a year abroad. Partnering with schools to raise awareness with students in exchange programs is another channel.
  • Certification or diplomas from different language organizations are sometimes prerequisites for students applying to universities in a different country. For example, the TOEFL certification is required from foreign students to apply to American colleges or universities. A partnership with such an organization would be an excellent channel to bring awareness of Duolingo.

Professionals

Let’s explore contexts in which professionals could be reached opportunistically with ads:

  • Driving. Outdoor advertising such as billboards along highways would be a good channel.
  • Airports. Location-aware mobile ads or digital signage in terminals could remind people of their desire to improve their language skills before traveling abroad.
  • Hotel rooms. Once abroad, users might need help with translation. Hotels are good places for Duolingo to have digital signage ads with QR codes or location-aware mobile ads to download the app.
  • Restaurants. Users traveling abroad will find themselves in situations like looking for directions, ordering food or using a taxi. During these moments location-aware mobile ads within other apps such as Waze, Google Maps, Yelp, TripAdvisor, WeatherChannel, or Foursquare could be used.
  • Commuter trains. In Asian countries, reading street signs and using transportation is challenging. Having an app to help translate and pronounce words would rescue many travelers. Again, location-aware mobile ads and digital signage ads in widely used stations are good channels to use.
  • Travel reservations. Reaching users while they are making travel reservations would be a good moment to remind them of Duolingo. Showing display ads on travel websites like Travelocity or Expedia and partnerships with enterprise travel services like Concur could be good channels to raise awareness.

Let me summarize all the channels for Students and Professionals with a table.

(Interviewee draws a table of the channels.)

Summary of marketing channels for students and professionals.

Summary of marketing channels for students and professionals.

One channel I have not talked about is referrals. Referrals are one of the most important channels for any application to raise awareness and Duolingo has used it effectively. Every time Duolingo users accomplish something, like translating a sentence correctly, completing a learning streak or passing a test, they are invited to share their accomplishment with friends. I would treat referrals as a special channel because it is also part of the UX experience and design of the product, which is out of scope for this question. However, I would be happy to discuss this further, if you would like me to.

INTERVIEWER: No, not now. Let’s finish up with this question first.

INTERVIEWEE: Okay.

Prioritization

There are too many channels to try, so I need to prioritize. My criteria would be to choose first those channels that are more likely to grab the user’s attention, are quick to implement and not too costly. To gain the user’s attention, the user must be in a situation where he or she is already thinking about learning or improving their skills in a second language. And I think organic search, search ads, and location-aware mobile ads fit these criteria. The act of searching for resources to learn a language implies intention and interest, so organic and paid search ads are good channels to capture a user’s attention at that moment. And, with location-aware technology, Duolingo ads can be precisely displayed when users are thinking about getting help with a foreign language such. For example at airports or when they have arrived to their hotels in a different country. Regarding speed to implement and cost, these three channels outweigh the others.

Goals

In order to evaluate the performance of the chosen channels, it is important to set goals. Duolingo is already doing a fantastic job in SEO. So, I would use their SEO metrics as a base reference for search ads and location-aware mobile ads. Search ads and location-aware mobile ads are only worth paying for if they outperform SEO. For example, the total number of downloads or the total number of new visitors to the app page in the App Store due to search ad and location-aware ads should outperform SEO efforts. I would also segment these metrics by location (countries) to identify which countries perform the best.

While exhausting the prioritized channels, I would also run small tests with the rest of the channels to preselect them. This way, I can include them in the pipeline.

In summary, I described a process for selecting the best channels to raise awareness. And applied this process to Duolingo as an example. In a nutshell, the process includes understanding the customers, selecting the best channels, setting metrics and goals, evaluating metrics, doubling down on the best channels, and continue putting new channels in the pipeline. For the Duolingo, I recommended targeting Students learning a second language and Professionals traveling abroad. Based on my analysis, search ads and location-aware ads are the best channels to reach them when they need help with a second language. While the preferred channels are being exhausted, the rest of the channels can be pre-tested to include them in the pipeline. I also mentioned referrals as another important awareness channel to keep in mind. But, since referrals are tied to product design, it would require a different type of analysis that I am happy to discuss if you like me to.

INTERVIEWER: No, thank you. I think we just about run out of time.

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