Imagine you had a marketer on your team who could look at every element of your strategy — from media buying to creative execution — and implement quick, data-driven tweaks to win you new customers and retain those you already have.
That’s what growth marketers do — and if it sounds good to you, you’re not alone. Interest in growth marketers has been growing since 2011, according to Google Trends.
But what is a growth marketer, exactly? And how do you know if your brand needs one? We asked the experts.
Meet our sources
- Michael Griffith a growth marketer and core marketing contributor at Synthetix
- Jonathan Martinez, a growth marketing manager at Uber
- Trevor Sookraj, founder and CEO of growth agency Divisional
- Jordan Finger, CEO of growth marketing agency Noal Partners
Plus, cameos from…
- Nik Sharma, DTC marketing expert and founder of Sharma Brands.
- Andrew Capland, founder of Delivering Value and former head of growth at Postscript
- Katelyn Glass, founder of e-commerce and marketing agency Fifty Six and former COO of Rowing Blazers
- Sean Ellis, Dropbox’s referral program pioneer
- Ron Berman, associate professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School
- Phil Cisneros, creative content director at memorial diamond brand Eterneva
Growth marketing, explained in <250 words
Growth marketing is about optimizing for whatever a business deems the key metrics in its funnel. The goal of growth marketing is relatively simple: improved engagement and conversion metrics throughout the marketing funnel.
“Growth marketing is the end-to-end job of acquiring users from the top of the funnel all the way to retaining those users,” Uber growth marketing manager Jonathan Martinez told MarketerHire.
“Growth marketing is the end-to-end job of acquiring users from the top of the funnel all the way to retaining those users.”
Wait, so what’s growing, exactly?
Growth marketers might focus on lifting…
- Click-through rate
- Conversion rate
- Monthly active users
That’s right: growth marketers don’t confine themselves to top-of-funnel metrics.
“A growth marketer's core function is to identify marketing channels, solutions, [and] ideas that will efficiently drive new customers to the brand and increase revenue,” growth marketer and marketing contributor at Synthetix Michael Griffith said.
Ultimately, growth marketing is defined as much by its process as end results, though: iterative testing.
Cheap tests can lead to big payoff
A good growth marketer thinks big and tests small. They can envision anything — even Craigslist! — as a marketing channel, but they also run cheap, iterative tests to make sure their ideas can work.
When DTC growth guru and investor Nik Sharma worked with Hint Water, for example, every major strategy pivot began as a small, impactful test.
That helped the brand avoid expensive missteps — and pioneer influencer marketing as we know it today.
“Years ago, nobody else was doing it and people thought it was kind of sketchy,” Sharma told MarketerHire.
These days, it’s approaching the popularity of social media marketing itself.
That's the power of growth marketing — it’s an approach that allows you to confidently invest in a new channel. You just start with a small budget, and test as you go.
How growth marketing changes as companies mature
Growth marketing efforts at the startup level aren’t quite the same as growth marketing for massive, billion-dollar companies. The objectives of the work shift as companies scale.
Growth marketing at startups centers on testing and innovation.
Startups often struggle to determine which marketer they should hire first. A growth marketer is a good bet — especially if they already have product-market fit, hypotheses about their existing customer base, a marketing funnel and strong brand guidelines in place.
“[Growth marketers] are especially impactful at early-stage companies where there isn't enough conviction to invest heavily into one given channel, due to lack of validation,” said Trevor Sookraj, founder and CEO of growth agency Divisional.
“[Growth marketers] are especially impactful at early-stage companies.”
But the earliest-stage startups typically aren’t ready for a senior growth marketer or a head of growth — roles that are more strategy-focused and less about execution. Instead, mid-career growth marketers who can get things moving quickly tend to be the best fit for early-stage startups, Andrew Capland, former head of growth at Postscript, told MarketerHire.
Growth marketing at the enterprise-level focuses on incremental changes.
For more established organizations, it’s helpful to bring a growth marketer on if your current strategy feels stale, or even slightly suboptimal.
Startups are looking for high-impact updates, but at big organizations making billions of dollars, even a 0.01% improvement can bring in major cash. “A noticeable lift in conversion rates can have massive effects” at a large company, Sookraj said.
“A noticeable lift in conversion rates can have massive effects.”
When channels have been active for long enough — as is the case in large organizations — there’s tons of historical data to sift through, too. With support from a marketing analyst who knows data inside and out, a growth marketer can optimize existing channels.
How to spot a growth marketer in the wild
Growth marketers typically spend their days checking the dashboards for paid media accounts; tweaking spend, messaging, and creative; and summarizing the week in custom reports for clients.
“It’s a lot like day trading,” said Jordan Finger, CEO of growth marketing agency Noal Partners — even when the marketing campaigns stay the same, the results vary. Paid ad CPMs and effectiveness change constantly, so the strategies that worked yesterday may not work today.
“It’s a lot like day trading.”
Similar to stockbrokers, growth marketers stay on top of trends — like Apple’s iOS 14 update, which flipped the paid social media marketing playbook — and can communicate market nuances to clients.
They shouldn’t be confused with these other, related marketing roles:
- Performance marketers: These specialists only work on paid channels, most often paid social — on channels like Facebook Ads — and search engine marketing (SEM). They typically don't work with email, content, or other channels — whereas growth marketers will test out any channel.
- Digital marketing managers: These marketers often lead the marketing function in small companies. As such, they are generalists — writing blog posts, sending customer emails and running paid campaigns. They think holistically about the company and its growth, but are less data and metrics-driven than growth marketers.
- Demand generation marketers: These are the closest to a growth marketer of these three options the options listed above, Sookraj said. However, they typically focus more narrowly on top-of-funnel activity, like attracting leads and customers.
Similar to “marketing managers” of the past, growth marketers should know enough to be dangerous when it comes to:
- Paid search
- Paid social
- User experience
- Email marketing
- Content marketing
- Search engine optimization (SEO)
They tend to have the deepest knowledge on:
- Acquisition marketing
- Conversion-rate optimization (CRO)
A growth marketer is someone who runs constant, iterative tests throughout the funnel, and uses the results to craft data-driven strategy updates that lift key performance metrics. Think of them as a CMO-lite, or a modernized marketing manager.
They’re more focused on strategy than execution, though. You will likely need someone more specialized, like an email marketer or a paid search marketer, to 10X the big-picture plans a growth marketer puts in place.
Day-to-day growth marketer responsibilities often include things like:
- A/B testing
- Updating creative copy
- Managing paid search and social acquisition channels
- Building out referral programs
- Optimizing email nurture campaigns and send times
- Working through traditional marketing programs and campaigns
- Testing incremental updates to impact the overall funnel
- Creating reports for key stakeholders
6 top qualities of successful growth marketers
Growth marketers’ combination of analytical ability and strategic thinking is what makes them so special — and so sought after.
“I think that growth marketers need to be full stack and have an ability to analyze and take action on metrics from any channel at any part of the funnel,” said Griffith.
“I think that growth marketers need to be full stack and have an ability to analyze and take action on metrics from any channel at any part of the funnel.”
Here are the qualities that make the best growth marketers so good at their jobs.
1. They’re opinionated about creative.
Growth marketers aren’t necessarily the snappiest copywriters, nor do they make the prettiest designs, but they recognize strong creative elements when they see them.
They can also deduce if and when creative isn’t working and give actionable feedback on how to improve it.
You can easily pair a growth marketer with a graphic designer to really boost the performance and effectiveness of both roles.
2. They’re data-driven.
Growth marketers understand performance data on a deep level, and they know the right metrics to consider in any situation.
Better yet, they can use A/B tests to help brands make data-driven decisions around strategy and channel implementation.
A/B testing is what takes marketing out of “the Mad Men days” and into the present, growth marketer Katelyn Glass told MarketerHire.
Before A/B testing, “you would pay a million dollars to get your products in a magazine spread, but you would never really know the results,” she said.
Nowadays, growth marketers can bring you concrete A/B (or A/B/C!) test results that help you optimize for metrics like: optimizing metrics like:
- Customer acquisition costs (CAC)
- Customer lifetime value (LTV)
- Conversion rate
- Return on ad spend (ROAS)
- Subscribe and unsubscribe rates
- Content engagement and reach
- Email and SMS open rates and click rates
- Customer retention rates and churn
Couldn’t you just do some DIY A/B testing? Not exactly — experience matters here.
University of Pennsylvania associate marketing professor Ron Berman’s research showed that companies that run more A/B tests make fewer false discoveries — in other words, they’re less likely to have A/B test findings that look significant, but don’t actually improve performance.
Nearly a quarter of A/B test results significant at the 5% level are false discoveries, according to a paper Berman co-authored.
Experienced growth marketers can help avoid these, though, with techniques like two-stage A/B tests and hard-won instincts about what’s worth testing.
3. They’re open to any channel.
The best growth marketers think about the funnel as a whole, rather than focusing on specific layers, as channel specialists might.
“When hiring your first growth marketer, don't hire a specialist on one channel,” Martinez said.
“When hiring your first growth marketer, don't hire a specialist on one channel.”
Instead, look for someone who’s worked on a variety of channels, and touched a variety of stages of the customer journey — for instance, paid acquisition and lifecycle marketing.
A strong growth marketing professional can see the big picture, and look holistically at how each channel fits into a larger framework. That often involves working on multiple channels at the same time.
4. They’re engineers at heart.
A growth marketing team’s efforts ultimately touch every aspect of a company, not just marketing.
This requires an engineer-like marketing mind. Growth marketers are passionate about turning a business model and the entire customer funnel into a highly productive, predictable machine.
5. They’re a little impatient.
In this role, impatience is a good thing. Growth marketers can, and should, focus on boosting conversions and engagement in the short-term.
That’s what they’re best at — optimizing based on immediate impact metrics.
6. They’re innovative.
This forward thinking means that it will often be your growth marketer encouraging you to test out newer channels like TikTok or underrated channels like Pinterest. They often bring new measurement strategies to the table for these new channels.
4 signs you should hire a growth marketer
At MarketerHire, we find that about a third of the companies looking to hire marketers — from early-stage startups to Fortune 500 enterprises — want growth marketers. And that’s been the case for a while.
They’re our most popular hires because companies at all stages need more conversions, customers, and revenue.
Here are four signs it’s time to hire a growth marketer, according to our panel of experts.
1. You want to prioritize revenue.
More traditional marketers focus on top-of-funnel metrics, like brand awareness and leads — but growth marketers go much deeper into the funnel, always keeping one eye on your bottom line.
Sometimes, they’ll maximize revenue by refreshing strategy for core marketing channels — or replacing or dropping channels entirely.
A solid growth marketer will help you do that. They’ll find ways to boost current revenue sources and open new sources without overburdening the business with expenses, increasing churn, or shortening customer lifetime value (LTV).
2. You want to acquire new customers efficiently.
Whether you build leads through a social media campaign, improved SEO, a generous free trial period or gated content, there are more vehicles than ever to acquire new customers.
Typically, growth marketers build a baseline growth engine rooted in Facebook, Instagram, and Google ads, then add other paid channels to their arsenal — YouTube, LinkedIn, maybe even podcast ads — and determine which ones make the most sense for your business.
By testing new channels and optimizing those that already exist, you can expect a growth marketer to quickly scale your acquisition strategy.
Sometimes, revenue can grow 18% MoM in just for five straight months right out of the gate. Other times, ROI materializes more slowly.“Founders who are patient and work with growth marketers may not see ROI in the first couple of weeks, but they [will] be learning about their company, what works, and what doesn't,” Sookraj said.
With time and testing, a more efficient growth flywheel will emerge.
3. You want to retain new customers.
Solidifying your retention strategy is task number one — even before you go and seek new customers and new business. What good are new customers if you can’t keep the ones you have?
Growth marketers boost retention by keeping a close eye on engagement and conversion rates across the entire marketing funnel — ads, landing page, email and more.
Sound like too much for one person? Growth marketers often rely heavily on graphic designers, copywriters and developers to implement their strategies.
4. You want to experiment and find new opportunities.
Growth marketers’ superpower is being open to — and excited about — trying new things. They are open-minded strategists who architect experiments, track results, and follow the data.
“Growth marketers should be approaching every company with the hunger to learn and [an] open mind,” said Sookraj. Experiments they’ve conducted in the past might not work at your company. And that’s okay! Growth marketers are always ready to try something new.
3 questions to ask yourself before hiring a growth marketer
Before onboarding a growth marketer, there are a handful of key questions to think through to ensure that this is an impactful hire.
Have I developed a brand identity, guidelines and personas?
While a growth marketer can weigh in on branding, this traditionally falls into the realm of a brand marketing manager, audience development manager or a CMO.
Once this work is done, a growth marketer can come in, look at brand and personas, and figure out data-backed ways to better attract, engage and convert your target audience — all while staying within brand guidelines.
Do I have enough budget for a growth marketer and graphic design, copywriting and/or development resources?
Fast, iterative and statistically significant tests are a big part of a growth marketer’s job, and growth marketers usually collaborate with graphic designers, copywriters and developers to execute those tests.
If you’re bringing on a growth marketer, consider allocating budget for one, if not all three, of these roles, on at least a contract basis. Together, these roles can make up a powerhouse growth team.
Do I have enough data or am I still searching for a baseline?
Early-stage startups don’t really need a growth marketer until they have enough historical data to provide a baseline for the growth marketer’s tests.
“[It's] important to give the [growth] marketer lots of context on your business,” Sookraj said. “This will help them quickly realize what channels aren't worth exploring, how to frame experiments, and how to work with your team.”
Growth marketers need existing data and defined marketing messages to pull from, so it may be better to start by hiring a paid search or paid social media marketer to build up your data on paid digital. Then you can bring in a growth marketer to optimize the funnel, reduce CAC and test out additional channels.
3 examples of successful growth marketing strategies
What does it look like when growth marketing works? Below, we rounded up three examples of successful growth strategies in action.
Keep in mind, though, these are not quick and easy "growth hacks." Most growth marketers that see successes like this are part of integrated marketing teams with copywriting and development support — and realistic timelines.
Outer: Paid digital.
Ad campaign success doesn't always scale linearly, as any experienced growth marketer knows. There’s a point of diminishing returns for every growth playbook.
To avoid hitting that point Outer brought in a paid ads marketer who helped them efficiently scale Facebook spend 10x and Google spend 100x.
The result? In the summer of 2020, Outer was named the fastest-growing DTC brand in the U.S.
Dropbox: Product marketing.
In 2008, Dropbox wanted to grow faster, and implemented a now-popular growth marketing tactic: a referral program.
The referral program offered referrers and new users free storage space. Sean Ellis, who coined the term "growth hacking" and led growth at Dropbox at the time, explained that this structure was rooted in testing his friend, Jamie Siminoff, did at another startup, PhoneTag.
“He had tested different ways to do referral programs and found that this double-sided incentive worked the best,” Ellis explained on How Things Grow. “[Y]ou could also see that it was working well at PayPal."
So Dropbox tested it out — and it took off. The in-product incentive drove product adoption for new and current users.
The referral program drove 4,000% user growth over a 15-month period, Forbes reported. From 2008 to 2009, 35% of the company’s daily signups came from its referral program.
This program is the ultimate case study in data-backed customer acquisition tactics — a.k.a. growth marketing.
Eterneva: Organic TikTok.
In early 2020, memorial diamond brand Eterneva’s organic social audience had more or less plateaued. EnterTikTok.
The short-form video platform wasn’t necessarily a natural fit for Eterneva. At the time, TikTok was mostly a platform for dancing videos. Eterneva makes lab-grown diamonds from the ashes of dead people and pets.
None of the company’s competitors were on the platform, Eterneva’s creative content director Phil Cisneros told MarketerHire.
But Eterneva found four content categories that resonated with TikTok users — and when the brand hopped on a TikTok trend in September 2021, the below video got 16 million views.
The TikTok’s popularity catapulted the brand’s audience from 240,000 followers to over a million. By February 2022, Eterneva had 1.3 million TikTok followers.
TikTok has sparked full-funnel growth for Eterneva, too — not just top-of-funnel awareness. These days, about 80% of the company’s leads come through TikTok, Cisneros said.
Investing in growth marketing is investing in your entire business
Growth marketers use data-backed insights, iterative testing, and statistical modeling to grow your business.
The insights you’ll gain from hiring a growth marketer can be applied across every core function of your business — from sales to operations to relationship management. Growth marketers’ natural curiosity, combined with their full-funnel marketing skillset, means they bear a resemblance to the all-star marketers of the past — but they’re ready for the future.
We have expert growth marketers in our network who are ready to partner with you and create lasting impact.
This story was originally published on March 13, 2021. Kelsey Donk and Courtney Grace contributed to this story.