No doubt you’ve come across the phrase “growth marketing” many times before. In fact, the concept stems from the term “growth hacking,” which was first coined around 2010 by Sean Ellis to describe how agile organizations like Airbnb and Amazon approach growth. Growth marketing and growth hacking are both experimental at their cores, which means there is built-in room for failures (and successes!).
Much like growth hacking promotes constant optimization within a product roadmap, growth marketing transforms pre-defined marketing calendars into ever-changing, personalized lifecycle messaging. In fact, over the past decade, growth marketing has taken center stage in place of traditional marketing as a direct consequence of the internet age we live in. How? It all comes down to data.
As businesses move more of their marketing activities online, whether through digital advertising, social media marketing, email marketing, or search engine optimization (SEO), the result is a wealth of data about online consumer behavior: what they click, which emails they read, which products they buy, how much time they spend on a web page — the list is endless.
What if there was a way to use this data to improve your marketing activities and fine-tune them constantly over time to get better results? What if you could hack your online campaigns to get more customers, more clicks, more conversions, more sales?
Welcome to the world of growth marketing.
Traditional Marketing vs. Growth Marketing
Today, growth marketing is an entire industry in and of itself — separate and distinct from traditional marketing — yet it’s also an integrated part of a company’s wider marketing efforts. Growth marketing is something of an anomaly. On the one hand, it is heavily focused on the online realm and data-driven tactics. On the other hand, it can be used to enhance traditional marketing activities.
Say you want to drive visitors to your booth at an upcoming conference. The event falls under the traditional marketing umbrella, but the email campaigns, social media campaigns, digital ads, and push notifications you use to boost your booth traffic among potential customers are all part of the growth marketing repertoire.
While all marketing aims to promote a brand or business, sell a product or service, or build awareness among customers, growth marketing is primarily focused on growing or scaling a business via customer data-driven tactics and strategies. These tactics tend to be most effective in the digital online space due to the prevalence of available customer data and increased audience targeting accuracy.
Growth marketing is primarily focused on growing or scaling a business via customer data-driven tactics and strategies.
Why Growth Marketing Works
In 1994, when the first search engine launched, 16 million people were using the internet. Fast forward to 2019, that number has reached over 4 billion. From multinational corporations to local businesses, the internet is the world’s arena for building customer relationships, promoting products and services, and selling goods. According to a 2018 study, two-thirds of businesses invest in online advertising. Any business, in every industry, must engage in online marketing to stay competitive.
Yet with businesses facing so much competition online, simply posting on social media or scheduling a few ads on Google Display Network will not be enough to scale. This is where growth marketing comes into play.
Growth marketing not only helps businesses scale but also works fast. This is critical in the rapidly moving internet environment. Before the internet, you would have to wait a month to publish a new ad in the next edition of a magazine. Today, with online marketing tools, you can publish a new ad in seconds — and it will likely be a better ad than before since it will be created using data from previous campaigns.
Growth marketers can access sophisticated data about their campaigns and their customers’ online activities almost in real-time. It’s an ongoing feedback loop that enables growth marketers to work agilely and effectively. With the tools to adjust their digital marketing activities at any moment, growth marketers can experiment quickly to extract better results.
Growth Marketing Tactics: Get the Most From the Customer Journey
Another key characteristic of growth marketing is that it covers the entire marketing flywheel. Like the marketing funnel, the flywheel is a simplified way of looking at the customer journey. Unlike a funnel, the flywheel doesn’t end when a prospect becomes a customer. Instead, it tracks the user journey beyond the purchase and helps you understand how to turn customers into even more customers.
While traditional marketing methods focus on the customer at one touchpoint — visiting a booth at a trade show, reading an ad in the newspaper, watching a video about a product — growth marketing measures the success of a campaign across all the stages of the customer’s journey with your business.
In a traditional funnel, the stages of a customer journey are arrayed linearly starting with awareness, and often ending at purchase, or occasionally touching on referrals. The flywheel is similar, but breaks things out a little less granularly and adds a follow-on service-oriented component. Here are some examples of how the stages translate from funnel to flywheel, and how growth marketing can be applied in each:
Awareness (Funnel) / Attract (Flywheel)
At this stage, the growth marketer is concerned with getting the brand ‘out there’ and creating awareness of the business, product, or service among potential audiences. This can be achieved via targeted advertising on social media, display or native ad networks, viral video campaigns, influencer marketing campaigns, and more.
Whereas a traditional marketer would just seek to grab attention, the growth marketer tries to attract customers into a recurring relationship with the brand. This could include publishing a workbook that potential customers might find useful.
Interest (Funnel) / Engage (Flywheel)
When potential customers have shown interest in your brand or business, say by visiting your website or clicking on an ad, this is an ideal time for retargeted advertising campaigns. You can do this on social media networks, mobile ad networks, or native ad networks. Retargeting interested users with video ads allowed Bulldog Digital Media to re-engage a full 96% of one-time website visitors who might have otherwise been lost. It provided a prime opportunity to tell the brand story and entice the viewer to return to the website. This was part of a wider strategy that saw up to 79% increased return on ad spend (ROAS) for the agency’s clients.
Traditional marketers seek to build immediate interest in customers. Growth marketers look to create real, meaningful engagement. This can take the shape of creating a community that leads want to join, or experimenting with outreach channels to see where leads prefer to be found.
Acquisition (Funnel) / Engage (Flywheel)
Once the customer has converted (e.g., if they purchase your product), you can offer digital discount coupons on their next purchase, or you could reduce the number of steps during checkout to reduce cart abandonment issues. The challenge at this stage is to create ways to maximize the customer’s interaction with you during the conversion process.
Traditional marketing typically focuses on a singular conversion point. Growth marketing has multiple conversion points, offering customers a variety of ways to buy and celebrating success across a variety of customer actions. A growth marketer would, for example, experiment with various social selling channels instead of using social as simply a way to push customers to their e-commerce platform.
Retention (Funnel) / Delight (Flywheel)
Once you have acquired a customer, retaining them is a key goal. 80% of future profits come from just 20% of existing customers. Investing in customer retention is vital, so make sure to employ tactics such as satisfaction surveys, email campaigns with discount offers, or chatbot support for customer inquiries.
Traditional marketers don’t often look beyond the sale for ways to keep customers happy, as they believe other departments to take over customer engagement at that point. Growth marketers are obsessed with building long-term satisfying relationships, whether a sale has been made or not. For example, a growth marketer would look at how customers prefer to interact with a brand and use those channels to set up user groups and solicit regular feedback on product performance and customer satisfaction.
Growth marketers are obsessed with building long-term satisfying relationships, whether a sale has been made or not.
Referral (Funnel) / Delight/Attract (Flywheel)
This is the stage where your customers become more than customers; they become your advocates or ambassadors. Loyalty clubs, ‘refer a friend’ programs, micro-influencer marketing campaigns, and testimonial video campaigns are all growth marketing tactics you can try to spread word-of-mouth referrals quickly and effectively online.
This is the stage where the flywheel circles back around on itself. Traditional marketers may focus on individual tactics to create referrals. Growth marketers would work with sales, service, support, and product to make customers so happy that they want to refer, and then build tools to make referrals easy. Great examples of this are featured in almost every popular app on the market — the ubiquitous “Like our product? Refer a friend and get $10 off” links. Rather than creating a separate referral program, the opportunity to be an advocate is baked right in alongside standard use.
The purpose of growth marketing is to nurture customers at all stages of the journey through the marketing flywheel. Instead of investing massive resources into one traditional marketing effort, like a Superbowl ad, growth marketing attends to every contact with customers, no matter how small, no matter where they are in the flywheel. This constant focused attention to the customer along their entire journey is the secret to amplifying business growth.
Growth marketing attends to every contact with customers, no matter how small, no matter where they are in the flywheel.
Why Testing is Key to Growth Marketing
Growth marketing is wholly dependent on marketing metrics and data. However, it is primarily concerned with the metrics that shed light on the path to growing the business. It is not the number of likes or impressions that count. It is the cost per acquisition, sales data, and other metrics that have a direct effect on the bottom line of your business. A video can get 5000 views, but if there’s only one click, then it is not a growth marketing success.
Returning to our previous example, Bulldog Digital Media was having no trouble driving traffic to its clients’ websites. Yet it wasn’t managing to follow up these website visits with enough converting customers. Bulldog managed to turn things around and boost ROAS via a combination of strategies, including the creation of audience profiles based on visitors’ online journeys, video ad retargeting, real-time campaign tracking, and split testing (or A/B testing).
Testing is the most important aspect of growth marketing and the one that differentiates itself from all other marketing strategies. Constant, scientific testing of online marketing campaigns and activities is the tried-and-true method of success in growth marketing. But first, that means setting SMART goals — Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Based.
Growth marketers don’t say things like, “I want to be the most popular coaster manufacturer.” They say, “I want to sell 1000 more coasters this month over last month.” That is a specific, measurable, and time-based goal. Now that the goal is set, the growth marketer can develop tactics to meet the goal. For example, an email marketing campaign to existing customers offering a free coaster for every 3 coasters purchased.
Once the campaign is running, you can set up tests to see what works and what doesn’t. Then, based on the results, the campaign can be repeatedly optimized to accelerate your path to success. A popular testing method is A/B testing. In A/B tests, two identical campaigns are run simultaneously, but with one element adjusted differently for each. Then, observe which group performed better, A or B. The higher-performing variant can then be tested against another variant, and on and on until you have hacked the campaign to its maximum potential.
Testing is the most important aspect of growth marketing and the one that differentiates itself from all other marketing strategies.
In the case of an email campaign, you can run different subject lines and see which gets a better open rate. For an advertising campaign, you could test an ad with two different images, or different headlines, even different color backgrounds, and see which gets the highest click-through rate (CTR).
In growth marketing, nothing is left to chance. Every resource and skill is devoted to methodical testing and analysis of online marketing activities with the goal of rapidly scaling the business.
The Growth Marketing Team: A Constellation of Expertise
A well-functioning growth marketing team demands equal parts of engineering/development, product, analytical, and creative skills. At AdRoll, we recently introduced a team specifically dedicated to growth marketing. We think of it as our customer SWAT team: drawing talent from every part of our marketing, sales, and support teams, and touching on the activities of all those departments. The mission is simple: make every step on the customer journey as successful for the customer as it can be so that every one of them turns into an advocate.
Put another way, we make sure there’s no resistance in the flywheel so it can spin as quickly as possible, and we do so by starting at the beginning (point of entry) with prospective customers and working forwards to make sure every customer has the best experience possible.
Our growth marketing team includes marksmen and markswomen dedicated to hitting these targets:
· Knowledge base: Making sure customers can find and access solutions (not just answers) at their fingertips.
· Lifecycle: Giving us insight into how customers interact with our brand from start to finish, and helping us understand where pain points and bottlenecks happen.
· SEO: Because we start at the beginning of the customer journey, and so many journeys begin with search, we want to understand how people find AdRoll and what their next steps are.
· Email Marketing: Engaging with customers throughout their journey requires being able to reach them. Our email expert helps us figure out what to send and when to send it.
· Digital/Paid Media & Ads: As with SEO, we need to understand how customers find us, and how we can find them, from the start of their engagement to long after they are a loyal customer.
Each team member is not only a technical expert in their domain, they are also creative and passionate about customers. Instead of being siloed into their function, we work together as a unit to understand how these channels can work together throughout the entire customer journey, and how they can help attract prospects, engage leads, and delight customers.
However you formulate your infrastructure, there are some key characteristics to look for when putting together a growth marketing team. Here are some considerations:
Growth marketers must have a high aptitude for technology since there is a wealth of tools and software designed to create, setup, monitor, and analyze online campaigns. They must also be mathematically inclined and logical thinkers, with the ability to persevere through the smallest incremental changes designed to exact the largest effects.
Although highly technical and statistical by nature, growth marketing also requires people who possess that original spark of creativity to continuously create unique, exciting, and attractive campaigns, both from a design and copywriting standpoint.
Knowledge of Product and Customer Base
Growth marketing is the link between the product and the customer who will buy it. Understanding the evolution of the product, new features, changes, and updates are key for a successful growth marketing team, as is a solid understanding of the target audience, existing customers, customer feedback and concerns.
Depending on the size of the company, the growth marketing team may include SEO specialists, conversion optimization specialists, content writers, email marketing specialists, retention specialists, data analysts, and graphic designers.
Quick to Adapt
The world of online marketing is incredibly fast-paced. New platforms, new algorithms, and new tactics pop up constantly. The ideal growth marketer is a fast learner and quick to adapt, with the ability to keep on top of new developments, within the company, in the niche industry in which they operate, and in the wider digital marketing industry.
A growth marketer always thinks there is room for improvement in customer relationships. They are never satisfied with the status quo and constantly think of and test new ways to make customers happier.
Grow Into Growth Marketing
Although your company will inevitably have its own definition of what growth marketing means for you, certain ground rules cover the basics of growth marketing.
· Growth marketing is all about growing or scaling your business at a rapid rate, based on data gathered online about your customers and your industry.
· Growth marketing is not the same as traditional marketing, although growth marketing can be very useful in maximizing your traditional marketing activities.
· Growth marketing is concerned with every part of the customer’s journey with your business, from early-stage awareness, through interest, acquisition, retention, and referral, when the customer becomes an advocate for your brand.
· Testing is a key aspect of growth marketing. Without advanced, consistent testing, growth marketing will not succeed.
· Growth marketing experts and teams require a wide range of skills — from engineering and development, through analytics, copywriting, design, and a high aptitude for online software and tools. Plus, they must be quick learners and fast adapters.
If it seems that there is no definite consensus in the industry about what exactly growth marketing is, you may be right. The online world is deeply complex. There are endless tools, channels, platforms, and tactics that fall into the category of growth marketing. Many aspects of growth marketing incorporate traditional marketing methods. After all, an ad is still an ad, whether it is printed in a magazine or served by an ad exchange on the internet.
And most importantly, the customer is still the customer, in 2019, as in 1999, and 1969. Even so, there is no denying that the marketing landscape has radically changed with the times, and that means your marketing department must change too.
Julie Zhou is the Senior Director for Growth at AdRoll. Her team manages paid ads, SEO, lifecycle marketing, emails, partnerships, knowledge base, and the website. When not working, she enjoys deadlifting multiples of her bodyweight and chasing after her toddler.