Over 500,000 new businesses start in the US every year, and over 200 billion dollars is collectively spent on marketing each year.
In such a crowded environment, it can be hard for any company to stand out.
In order to break through the noise, it’s become increasingly important to have a marketing strategy that is creative, iterative, and compelling. A strategy that not only helps with customer acquisition, but one that is a breeding ground for viralitty, word of mouth, and organic growth.
This new and powerful way of building a loyal user base has a name: growth marketing.
Let’s take a look at what growth marketing entails and see what it takes to become a successful growth marketer.
What is Growth Marketing?
Growth marketing is marketing 2.0. It takes the traditional marketing model and adds layers such as A/B testing, value-additive blog posts, data-driven email marketing campaigns, SEO optimization, creative ad copy, and technical analysis of every aspect of a user’s experience. The insights gained from these strategies are quickly implemented in order to achieve robust and sustainable growth.
A growth marketer is often a T-shaped marketer — with strong base knowledge, foundation, and depth.
What Makes Growth Marketing Different?
Traditional marketing involves “set it and forget it” strategies that burn through a set budget and hope for the best. Think Google Adwords and display campaigns with some basic ad copy. These strategies can be a great way to build traffic to the top of your sales funnel, aiding to increase a company’s awareness and user acquisition, but that’s where the value dwindles.
Growth marketing goes beyond the top of the funnel.
When done right, it adds value all the way through the marketing funnel by attracting users, engaging them, retaining them, and finally turning them into champions for your brand.
Growth focuses on the full funnel — while marketing usually focuses on top of funnel.
These data-driven marketers are highly involved in shaping a strategy, trying new experiments, and failing fast to quickly zero in on what works.
But growth marketing is also a stochastic process, like biological evolution. This means there is an element of randomness to the strategies that might work. The only way to be certain what will be a fruitful road to go down is to start throwing things at the wall and see what sticks.
Qualities of Successful Growth Marketers
The best growth marketers are known to be:
The days of making decisions based on gut feeling are over. Ditto to making decisions based solely on the using the HiPPO strategy (highest paid person’s opinion). The modern growth marketer dives deep into the data to figure out what strategies are working and is comfortable using all the tools that allow for such analysis.
The best growth marketers are willing to think creatively. They never say “it’s never been done before, so why try?”
If that was the attitude Airbnb had when they were trying to grow, they never would have come up with the idea of providing free professional photography services to each and every person listing on their site. What some thought was crazy or unnecessary turned out to be a fantastic engine for driving their growth.
High-quality photo captured by an Airbnb photographer for a listing in Cape Town.
Airbnb in San Francisco, California.
An axiom of the sales world is that you can’t sell a product you don’t understand. Seeing as growth marketers are also in the business of selling and evangelizing, the same rule applies. Your goal is not to trick people into buying something they don’t want, but rather to elucidate the many benefits of a valuable product that you truly believe will help people.
Posses a Hacker Mentality
A growth marketer needs to be a jack of all trades. On any given day you might be creating a video, optimizing ad copy, implementing a new A/B test, or even doing some coding. The more and varied your skill set, the more you can add to an organization (especially at an early stage).
Has No Fear of Failure
Successful growth marketers believe that a failed experiment is not a bad thing. In fact, failure is the quickest way to gain valuable information.
No growth marketer is clairvoyant. You must be open to attempting anything and everything to see what works. You will eventually hit on things that succeed, and then you optimize those and continue the process.
Knows How to Tell a Story
All the data in the world won’t help you figure out how to truly connect with your users. You must have the ability to synthesize both quantitative and qualitative information into a compelling story that resonates with your potential customers.
Consider the case of TOMS. The brand’s growth team was able to effectively communicate how social good is a key tenant for their business.
Can Juggle Multiple Responsibilities
An effective growth marketer needs to be a contradiction of sorts.
Details obsessed but keeps the big picture in mind. Results driven but comfortable with ambiguity. Measures everything and trusts the data but also values human intuition.
What Types of Companies Hire Growth Marketers?
Many types of companies are in the business of building growth marketing teams, but most of the opportunities will be found at either established technology companies or emerging technology startups.
By looking at a sample job postings from each type of company, we can see the kind of candidate that each stage of the company is looking for.
First, let’s look at the responsibilities for a role as Head of Audience Growth and Digital Marketing from a large media company, Vice Media:
Now check out a job posting for a much smaller, up and coming supplement startup, Bulletproof 360 for the role of Director of Growth Marketing:
There growth marketing job descriptions have more similarities than differences. Both companies want the candidates to have strategic skills and passion for data analytics.
The difference seems to mainly center on the smaller company wanting someone who will launch and scale something from the ground up. From the job posting, it’s implied that you will have slightly fewer resources, but probably slightly more freedom. This is likely to be typical of any growth marketing role for a company that has yet to firmly establish itself as an industry leader.
Growth Marketing vs. Growth Hacking
While the terms “Growth Marketing” and “Growth Hacking” are often used interchangeably, there are some subtle differences between these roles at many companies.
Growth hackers are more like expert consultants brought on to solve a specific problem, and to solve it fast. They are tasked, often on a small budget, with finding creative solutions to tough problems. To a growth hacker, speed is everything, and problems need to be solved yesterday.
Growth marketers tend to take a longer-term approach. They have to strategize on how to scale many different SaaS growth metrics across many different dimensions, and how to do so sustainably.
Growth hacks can be thought of as akin to day trading in the stock market. Sure, you can make money like that, but it’s not necessarily going to be a stable source of income for the long term.
An effective growth marketing process distills the best attributes of growth hacking (namely, the desire to think outside the box to gain traction) down into a sustainable practice based on rock solid principles. In that way, growth marketing is the opposite of day trading — it’s investing for the long term based on data-driven metrics that are always being optimized.
Important Goals & Measurements for a Growth Marketer
So, what are the basics of growth marketing?
Goal: Get Traffic to Your Site
A major one goal of any growth marketing manager will be to boost traffic numbers. This is done in a variety of ways.
These are the users who arrive at your site after performing a search with a major search engine. In order to optimize organic traffic, you want to do all the things that help you rank near the top of the search results. This includes sharing your quality content with other sites so that you build up inbound links and producing content that has been thoroughly search engine optimized.
An example of an organic growth hack is how Nerdwallet used a survey on emotional overspending to drive organic traffic to their site, and pitch other sites to include backlinks to the post. They were able to successfully secure links from The Simple Dollar, QuickenLoans, Yahoo, and Fidelity.
SEO analysis from Ahrefs of backlinks to the survey conducted by Nerdwallet.
These are the users that come to your site via your advertising channels. You want to monitor how much you are spending, the number of impressions your ads are generating, and the CPA (cost per acquisition).
Lately, more and more companies have been experimenting with native advertising, which involves non-traditional ad placements that are made to look like they are more content focused. Dollar Shave Club would be the folks to emulate when trying experiments in the native space, as they leveraged that medium with great success.
Examples of Dollar Shave Club native ads.
This is any and all traffic that does not come from a major search engine. So, social media traffic as well as all the other sites linking to your content.
If you are doing things right, people will start sharing and talking about your content simply because they are naturally inclined to do so. This is the definition of viral content. Tracking the volume and source of all referral traffic will help you to optimize in this regard.
You can use competitive analysis to gain an edge, such as monitoring your competitors’ engagement spikes on social media and then trying to reverse engineer their success.
Publishing guest blog posts can also be a great way of building referral traffic.
It’s always critical to know what’s actually happening on your site. You want to know where your visitors are coming from, what actions they are taking, and how long they are spending on the site. Another important number to monitor is your bounce rate, as it’s a great indicator of the relevance of your content or landing page.
Goal: Get Leads & Improve Conversion Rate
All the visitors in the world don’t mean anything if they aren’t being converted into new users. Here are the key areas to optimize.
What is the overall conversion rate of people coming to your site through any avenue? You should give extra scrutiny to any pages that have significant drop-offs compared with other parts of the site.
Hubspot experimented with different website designs and found one that doubled their overall conversion rates.
Landing Page Conversion Rates
What is the conversion rate of users who hit your main landing page? There are many ways to optimize here, such as tinkering with copy, design, and layout.
An interesting area to experiment is in length of the headline for content you display on a landing page. For example, it’s been shown that shorter, punchier headlines generally perform better.
See how Doordash, effectively communicates for drivers to sign up with the short, catchy headline “Bring home the bacon.”
Are you producing compelling content that people actually want to read? That needs to be your first priority. For an example of a company blog that people genuinely love and get a lot of value out of, go explore the blog of SEO company Moz. They craft long-form content that many people would pay for, but Moz gives it away for free.
If you are already creating good content, you then want to make sure it is driving the actions you want? You can figure this out by analyzing things such as the click-through rate, subscriber growth, and shares.
Increase free trials to paid plans
If you have a freemium product, you ultimately want to convert users on free trials into paying customers.
A great example is how the growth marketers at DocuSign leveraged tracking technology to expose certain premium features to only a unique subset of users. Their tests allowed them to know exactly what features to show, and their experiment resulted in a 5% lift in upgrade conversions.
Goal: Retain Customers
Churn refers to the percentage of users who sign up for your service but then stop using it. This is an especially critical metrics for SaaS companies in growth mode because churn is the archenemy of exponential growth. If you are losing a significant portion of your customers, you simply won’t be able to achieve the critical mass of users you need to start making serious revenue.
Analyze every aspect of why users stop using the service and ruthlessly iterate to plug the holes. One area that could be tripping you up? User interface. Make sure it’s smooth and seamless, or people will leave.
Increase Average Order Value
By tracking and analyzing user behavior, you can start to target them in ways that will increase the average order value. Areas to look into include bundling, targeting customers based on past behavior, and upselling.
Increase Lifetime Value
Once you have a customer on board, how do you maximize the value you get from them? Strategies might include conducting user surveys to find new features people want, encouraging customers to switch to an annual billing cycle, or providing targeted, premium, customer service.
Goal: Build a Brand
Once you have a company that is trusted, reliable, and provides a great user experience, you can leverage that into building a true brand. Meaning, your name can become synonymous with quality in that particular industry.
It starts by building a great company culture. Then, the process of brand building can be helped along with a smart PR campaign, influencer marketing, positive word of mouth, and referral programs.
A Growth Marketers Toolkit
In order to grow with the best, you’ll want to leverage some of these fantastic services.
Leadpages — helps you build customized landing pages.
Adroll — track the people who visit your site through ads
Sumo — build an amazing email list
Ahrefs — the industry leader in building quality keyword lists
Proof — increase conversions by letting the customer do the selling
Po.st — see who is sharing your posts
Buzzsumo — analyze the content of any of your URLs in detail
Voila Norbert — build relationships with important marketers with this email finding tool
Amplitude — helps you find your stickiest features
Apptimize — A/B test your mobile app
How do you get into growth marketing?
Learn from the best Growth Marketers
Here are a few thought leaders in the growth marketing world who you should be keeping tabs on:
Brian Balfour — former VP of Growth at Hubspot, shares tons of insider details on growth marketing on his blog.
Danielle Morrill — former Head of Growth at Mattermark, now a VC who blogs with a keen wit and dives deep on sales and marketing tips.
Neil Patel — His eponymous growth marketing site has millions of followers. It excels in it’s easy to read guides, such as this one for writing a case study. Neil is a thought leader in SEO and content marketing, and he puts out some of the best work in the industry.
Companies Known for Growth Marketing Excellence
Hubspot — they are basically a household name in this space, with over 40,000 happy customers. They provide tools for everything from blogging to marketing automation to lead management, and their long-form content on their blog is second to none.
Intercom — they are the masters of messaging, expertly using bots and live chat to engage users from the second they land on site. Like HubSpot, they are happy to lay out their strategies on growth marketing in an array of engaging handbooks.
Proof — As the industry leaders in using social proof to drive conversions, we are proud to share our deep knowledge of this new space on our blog. Some of our favorite posts cover why social proof matters and new ways to maximize conversion rates.
Customer.io — they are creating engaging blog content for all the email junkies out there. They have excellent posts detailing growth marketing email strategies covering topics such as writing upgrade emails that convert.
Forums and Communities to Check Out
GrowthHackers — This site is run by growth marketer du jour Sean Ellis, and it provides a place to talk strategy, come up with new ideas, and job hunt.
BAMF — The acronym stands for Bad Ass Marketers and Founders. As the name implies, it’s a place for enthusiastic growth marketers to chat, exchange information, and show each other support.
As long as you continue to learn, relentlessly test, and focus on telling a compelling story through data, you will find success in growth marketing. Good luck!