It feels like it was just yesterday that growth marketing was having a moment. Oh, wait. It was yesterday—if you count yesterday as the past 10 years. Though it’s been a hot topic for about a decade now, the conversation around growth marketing still creates tons of buzz. Startups are hiring growth teams and implementing growth strategies with increased frequency.
This up-and-to-the-right trajectory is especially important in today’s entrepreneurial climate. Competition is high, and more players in the game make growth marketing increasingly essential. In a crowded space of close to 31 million small businesses in the U.S. alone, you have to stand out to survive. You’ve got to step into the spotlight. That’s where growth marketing comes in.
What is growth marketing?
Growth marketing is a long-term strategy that uses innovative, data-driven techniques to nurture the brand-customer relationship at every funnel stage. With growth marketing, you’re looking to bring in loads of new customers and give them reasons to stay loyal to your brand through engagement.
The ultimate goal is to retain those new users, turn them into brand advocates, and get them to sing your company’s praises. That brand evangelism brings even more new folks to your brand, and hopefully, the cycle continues.
Traditional marketers, on the other hand, often focus on the top of the funnel, creating campaigns to build awareness and acquire as many new leads as possible. Downstream impact—like activation and retention—can fall by the wayside.
Here’s an insider’s take from the head of growth at Census, Sylvain Giuliani:
For me, growth marketing is just the next evolution of marketing, especially for SaaS Companies. Marketing used to be all about copywriting and ads (think Mad Men). Then came the transition to digital marketing (ads on the web and television). Now, marketing has evolved to growth marketing in order to suit the needs of SaaS businesses. Your goal is still to create market awareness and demand, but with a scientific approach and using growth-related metrics.
What do growth marketers do?
If you’ve read dozens of growth marketer job descriptions and still don’t know exactly what growth marketers do, no worries. We feel you.
Simply put, growth marketers are data nerds. They use a data-driven approach to increase not only acquisition but also engagement, retention, and brand advocacy. They identify areas for improvement, develop experiments to test their hypotheses, and analyze results—all in the hopes of growing the business.
Growth hacking vs. growth marketing—what’s the difference?
The term “growth hacking” can be polarizing. While some marketers embrace the title of growth hacker, more traditional marketers feel like the term suggests taking shortcuts to gain more users.
We’re going to settle this debate for you right now. Growth marketing is growth hacking. Growth marketing just has a few more years of experience under its belt.
Coined back in 2010 by GrowthHackers Founder and CEO Sean Ellis, the term growth hacking is synonymous with the tech startup world. Startups are precisely the kind of businesses looking to grow really big and very fast (you know, the whole “move fast and break things” idea).
The growth hacker’s goal is clear: come up with an innovative, novel technique (aka a hack) to quickly achieve incredible growth without a massive budget. The primary focus is on a single metric (often user acquisition), and the avenue to success is usually focused on a specific channel (search, paid ads, email, etc.). We’re talking top-of-funnel stuff here.
Growth marketing is all about playing the long game. When you’re in it for the long haul, you see marketing efforts through the entire customer journey—from awareness all the way through to nurturing. This means you and all of your customers are going to become BFFs!
Long story short, growth hacking is a piece of the growth marketing puzzle. And now that we’ve settled that, let’s discuss how you can get into growth marketing for your business.
5 steps to get started with growth marketing
If you want a jumpstart in bringing growth strategies to your team or you want to include “growth marketer” in your LinkedIn headline, here’s everything you need to know:
1. Understand the growth frameworks
Growth frameworks give you and your team structure—they help you set goals, prioritize experiments, and apply learnings in a way that makes sense for your business.
The Product-Led Growth Flywheel, for example, is a framework for growing your business that focuses on a product-first user experience. The goal is to generate higher user satisfaction and increased advocacy, which in turn drives growth.
The Product-Led Growth Flywheel outlines five sequential user segments that correlate with stages in the user journey, from awareness to evangelism—Stranger, Explorer, Beginner, Regular, and Champion. This framework also outlines the key actions that your product team encourages users to take to graduate to the next stage: Evaluate, Activate, Adopt, Expand, and Advocate.
As more and more users complete each action, the flywheel spins faster, increasing the rate that users move from one segment to the next. This creates a positive feedback loop: more users become advocates, they drive more acquisition, and the rate of growth increases exponentially.
Another growth framework is high tempo testing (also called high velocity testing), which requires a team to launch new experiments at a high frequency in order to shake out insights and create a repeatable process.
High tempo testing is successful when you focus on three key metrics. You should have a metric for the top of the funnel (like “new site visitors”), one for the middle (like “sales appointments closed”), and one for the bottom (like “content created”).
The process for running high tempo tests can go something like this:
- Set a goal, like X launches per week.
- Brainstorm ideas with your team.
- Prioritize your ideas by way of a predicted outcome.
- Implement the experiments.
- Measure the outcomes.
- Continue with the good, and scrap the bad.
It’s a continuous process formally established by monthly or quarterly meetings—whichever way helps you meet the goal of exponential growth.
Remember growth hacking pioneer Sean Ellis? His framework for scaling a business is called the Startup Pyramid. This process’s foundation is all about the product/market fit.
You can’t grow a business with a product no one wants, so you’ve got to assess the product/market fit before even thinking about moving up the pyramid.
Okay, so you know people are going to pick up what you’re putting down. In other words, people want what you’re selling (whew)! Now you can begin the transition to growth. Once you’re at this stage, you need to find your product’s value proposition. When you know what special feature your product brings to the table, it’s easier to get consumers to see it, too.
We’ve finally reached the apex of the pyramid—growth! Let your inner scientist shine; it’s time for experimentation and analysis. You’re ready to market your product. Learn which channels are best for driving growth through continuous testing. Review the data you got from those tests, determine what methods work, and toss the ones that flopped.
If you fancy yourself a growth swashbuckler, you may already be familiar with the next growth framework— Pirate Metrics, or AARRR!
The AARRR! Framework encompasses the whole customer journey and can be broken down as follows:
- Acquisition: Discover which channels new users use to find your product. Is your blog bringing people in, or are those social media ads paying off?
- Activation: Find out what actions users take once they land on your site. These actions could include subscribing to your email newsletter, downloading an ebook, or signing up for a free trial.
- Retention: You’ve brought new users in, but are they sticking around? Calculate your churn rate to see how effective your efforts are.
- Revenue: We’re going to assume you’re not making money treasure hunting. Look into your revenue streams, and get clear on how you’re making money.
- Referral: Are you going viral? If your existing customers are bragging about you to their network, you want to know about it. Find out if your loyal customers are sending more business your way. Your investments in acquisition amplify when your current users bring in new users, too.
Calculating your pirate metrics will highlight your growth marketing strengths and weaknesses at the different stages of the funnel.
2. Know the key conversion Goals for growth
While growth marketers should always keep the entire flywheel in mind, they tend to focus on conversion milestones that attract prospects and turn them into high-paying customers.
A few key conversion goals include:
- Turning blog readers into blog subscribers: If blogging is one of your primary ways of gaining traffic, use call-to-action buttons that convert readers into subscribers. This allows you to continually share your content with a dedicated audience.
- Leveraging video to turn your viewers into customers: According to Wyzowl’s The State of Video Marketing 2020 Report, 84% of consumers say watching a brand’s video convinced them to make a purchase. Folks who click on your videos are there to conduct research. Convert these researchers into customers with videos that give them deeper insights into your product.
- Increasing free-to-paid or trial-to-paid conversions: Many companies have a freemium offering or a trial to get users in the door. To advance users through the marketing funnel, consider implementing tactics like paywalls or limiting product usage for free-trial users.
- Driving towards the “aha moment” during user onboarding: When a user first signs up for your product, you’ve got one chance to showcase your product's value. Create opportunities for users to experience an aha moment, where things just click and they realize they can truly benefit from your app. Chances are these users become regulars.
- Increasing product stickiness: There comes a time when customers reach a point of no return—they become committed to your product. They log in frequently and rely on your product for multiple use cases. Facebook famously found it needed users to add seven friends within 10 days for this magic to happen. Identify this pattern in your own app, and make it a focus for your team.
- Achieving viral growth: Viral growth is the holy grail that unlocks undeniable success. There isn’t a tried-and-true method for driving virality, but you can study previous examples for inspiration. One of the earliest examples was Hotmail adding a link at the bottom of every email their users sent to encourage other people to create a free email account. There’s also that time Airbnb hacked Craigslist to email promotions to people who were posting temporary apartment rentals.
- Increasing upgrades and reaching negative churn: While retention is a focus for growth marketers, keep your eyes on expansion revenue, too. Growth-oriented teams often provide excellent customer support and employ pricing models based on the amount of usage. As a customer’s usage increases, so does the value they gain from your product and naturally the price they are paying for it.
Keep the above conversion goals in mind as you get ready to develop a strategy to scale your business.
3. Create a growth marketing strategy
Growth marketing is more than just trying out an exciting, never-been-done-before hack to get new users. Successful growth efforts are part of a well-developed plan that starts with an overarching end goal.
Need an assist with strategy creation? We have a framework for that! Approach growth strategy creation with the EMBED Framework.
Start by establishing your end goal. Because you’re focused on more than just acquiring new users, you need to be clear on the results you hope for years down the line. Consider your specific revenue goals or your internal team’s ideal size, one, five, or 10 years into the future. What specific areas of your business do you wish to grow?
Once you have your desired outcome in mind, select the growth framework that will best suit your end goal. We mentioned a few earlier in this article. Think about the current state of your business, and choose the framework that will best help get you to where you want to go.
Next, map out your strategy by identifying your key metrics. Start by finding your North Star Metric—the one metric that represents your value proposition and helps you focus on sustainable long-term growth through customer retention. Your North Star could be monthly active users or the number of deals closed.
Growth marketing team, assemble! Bring in the growth hackers (and the rest of your marketing team)! It’s time for some big ideas. Now’s the moment when you get to brainstorm what tactics you can use to drive growth, engagement, and retention. Throw your wildest ideas out there on how you’ll achieve the goals, objectives, and key results you set. No idea is too grand at this stage.
You’ve worked hard creating your strategy. Get ready to execute it. At this point, take your list of big ideas and filter out the ones that don’t show a clear path back to your end goal. The idea you’re left with here is the one you’ll move into the experimentation stage.
Before you start testing this tactic, you need to come up with a hypothesis to figure out what you expect to happen when you execute your strategy. Once you have a hypothesis, you’re ready to develop and test your minimum viable product (MVP). Run A/B tests with your MVP to gather data about your tactic’s strengths and learn what ideas you should abandon.
You’ve wrapped up the experiments. You’ve got data on hand. Analyze the data, and see if your hypothesis proved true. Determine if this tactic would make a valuable addition to your growth strategy in the future. If it didn’t work, figure out why.
Got all of the info you need? Great! Now get ready to do it again. And by “it,” we mean revisiting the “E” in EMBED. Use these insights to learn how to further optimize your growth strategy as you move forward and repeat the process for your next goal.
4. Embrace growth software tools
Growth marketers wear many hats: copywriter, product manager, and data analyst, to name just a few. We prefer beanies.
With so many diverse tasks on their plate, most growth marketers turn to third-party tools to help drive results faster.
Here are a few of the most important growth marketing tools to have in your toolkit:
- Social listening tools: For the awareness stage of the customer journey, learn where your ideal customer is online and what they’re chatting about, so you can join the conversation. With a consumer intelligence tool BuzzSumo, you can listen in on what consumers are saying about your brand.
- Landing page tools: Send qualified traffic to landing pages designed to convert. Leadpages and Unbounce allow you to build and A/B test custom landing pages in drag-and-drop interfaces without needing to code. For advanced features, Instapage lets you dynamically personalize landing pages for every ad.
- A/B testing tools: Experiment with messaging, visuals, and even in-app features to drive growth. Optimizely offers the ability to run A/B tests on your website, app, and back-end code. Crazy Egg runs tests on your website, and Apptimize specializes in mobile app experimentation.
- Analytics tools: It’s important to reference tools that capture both customer data, like Segment, and in-app analytics, like Amplitude or Localytics. Meanwhile, Google Analytics provides multiple metrics, showing you the flow of user interactions on your website and your domain’s health.
- Engagement tools: Increase user activation by highlighting your best features in-app with walkthroughs and prompts using Appcues. To engage your users outside of your app, email tools like Mailchimp or Vero make one-off emails or automated, triggered sequences easy.
- User testing tools: Understand how your customers feel and behave when they’re using your product. UserTesting finds a user panel to evaluate your UX, filming the sessions so you can see exactly where people lose interest, get confused, or feel delighted. Qualaroo also solicits feedback on mockups or live features, but questions appear directly on your website to a targeted set of visitors. You can also create polls, surveys, forms, and other interactive documents for your users with Typeform.
- Retention tools: Keeping existing customers is usually more cost-effective than acquiring new ones. Baremetrics and ChartMogul are tools that provide you with real-time insights on important metrics like number of refunds and user churn.
- Customer referral tools: Word-of-mouth is a tried-and-true growth hack that’s as old as commerce itself. Once you’ve turned your existing customers into loyal brand advocates, it’s time to get them to spread the word. Extole is a tool that lets you build a brand advocacy program by helping you identify your brand evangelists and making it simple for them to share your brand with their network.
If you want to learn more, check out our comprehensive list of growth marketing tools.
5. Learn from the experts
One of the best ways to learn is to understand what has and hasn’t worked in the past. But getting insider insights from successful growth marketers isn’t so simple when they won’t accept your request to connect on social media. Luckily, there are a number of growth marketing experts who share successes, failures, and industry knowledge on their personal blogs.
Here are some of the growth marketing blogs we have bookmarked:
- Kieran Flanagan, the VP of marketing and growth at HubSpot, features interviews with industry-leading growth experts on his blog. He also releases a monthly newsletter on growth marketing.
- One of the most influential voices in conversion optimization, Talia Wolf shares her best practices on optimizing websites, copy, and social media channels on her blog, GetUplift.
- Dani Hart is the co-founder of Women in Growth, a mentor for Growthmentor, and previously led Growth at GrowthHackers. Her Women in Growth online community is a safe space for women to talk all things growth.
- Andrew Chen, a general partner at venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, has written more than 600 essays on his blog on topics ranging from mobile product design to user growth.
- GrowthRocks is not a personal blog. Instead, it features posts from a diverse pool of growth marketers on topics like SEO, email marketing, and brand awareness.
- The Product-Led Growth Collective is a community-driven resource made for growth-minded folks by growth-minded folks where industry leaders share the latest insights, strategies, and lessons from their own journeys to becoming product-led.
Looking for more resources? Check out this article for some of our favorite product marketing resources, from blogs to books to podcasts.
Good marketing is growth marketing
Though popular growth hacks shared by growth hacking influencers and startup founders may seem like shortcuts to success, the truth is that growth marketing is really just good marketing.
Growth marketing includes all the pillars of an effective marketing strategy: setting goals, forming a hypothesis, and gathering and analyzing data. And, of course, thinking about the entire customer journey, from acquisition to retention.
These are things every marketer should care about and be accountable for, whether they include “growth” in their title or not.
To learn more about the rise of growth titles, check out this piece on the rise of the growth product manager or this one on the skills growth PMs need to succeed.