Imagine you had a marketer on your team that could look at every function of your marketing funnel — from creative execution to technical optimization — and implement quick, sustainable growth strategies that would not only win you new customers, but maintain those you already have.
Sound too good to be true? It’s not.
Nearly 800,000 businesses were created in the U.S. in 2019 so not only is there competition amongst the newcomers, they’re up against tenured companies who have a solid strategy in place to continue finding new customers and retaining current ones.
Plus, when you consider that media spend annually is somewhere north of $200 billion…
There’s a lot of noise to cut through.
The term “growth marketing” isn’t novel or new by any means: Since the days of slicked hair, chain-smoking advertising execs, the principles of growth marketing have been applied to creative executions across magazines and billboards and, later on, social media carousel ads and commercials set in augmented reality.
While today’s idea of growth marketing can be laddered back to digital ad spend and metrics of impressions, reach, and CPC, any true marketer knows that growth marketing isn’t in the execution or even the result:
It’s in the experimentation, the strategy, and the “out of the box” thinking that’s going to set you apart from your competitors and disrupt the industry.
Okay Google, queue Miley Cyrus’ “The Climb”.
What Exactly is Growth Marketing?
Growth marketing (often referred to as growth hacking - a term we don’t love) doesn’t actually involve any hacking at all.
It applies data-driven, experiment-driven tactics from the top of the funnel down. This helps identify the best experiments and strategies to take advantage of potential wins.
Sure, this includes opportunities around customer acquisition and retention, but it can also be applied to product development and brand recognition efforts, too.
- A/B testing
- Updating creative copy
- Building out referral programs
- Optimizing email nurture campaigns and send times
- Overhauling paid social media strategy
- Working through traditional marketing programs and campaigns, and testing incremental updates to impact the overall conversion rate
Those are just a few of tactics and marketing efforts that growth marketing teams try when testing for the best possible outcome.
The goal is relatively simple: improve engagement and conversion metrics throughout the full funnel.
A strong growth marketer also knows the metrics to pay close attention to in order to determine what’s working — and what’s not.
Michael Griffith, an expert growth marketer with over 10 years experience in consumer tech and e-comm, puts growth marketing into his own words:
“It's all in the title; we drive growth for our clients via marketing. What a specific growth marketer does will vary depending on how large a business is and where they are seeing success, but at the end of the day, a growth marketer's core function is to identify marketing channels, solutions, ideas that will efficiently drive new customers to the brand and increase revenue on a consistent basis.”
This means that growth marketers are the modern marketing industry’s deep generalists.
Similar to what “marketing managers” of the past were, growth marketers know enough about paid search, paid social, CRO, user experience, email marketing, content marketing, and SEO to be dangerous –– though you might need someone more specialized to really 10x the strategies a growth marketer puts in place in each of these areas.
Look at this T-shaped model of growth marketing skills. They are generalists on a topn of topics, which is helpful for the entire organization, and go deep mostly in acquisition marketing which is conversion rate focused.
Why Should You Even Invest in Growth Marketing?
While the same methodical approach is applied to any organization, every company is faced with different challenges and desired outcomes.
The ability to reach those outcomes quickly and efficiently, though, is why growth marketing is a worthy investment.
Beyond that, many startups are faced with the difficult task of determining when and what exact role within the marketing discipline they should bring on a first marketing hire. A growth marketer is a good bet –– especially if you already have strong brand guidelines (this is typically not something a growth marketer will do).
Here are a few ways growth marketers can help your business –– of any size.
1. Increase profits.
Revenue is, of course, the end game for every business. Sometimes, the marketing channels driving that revenue need to be refreshed, replaced, or totally removed.
In order to increase profits and make money without increasing churn or shortening your customer’s lifetime value, a solid growth marketing strategy looks at ways to improve current revenue sources and open new sources without placing burdensome expenses on the business.
Again, for growth marketers, this is about increasing engagement and conversion at each stage of the funnel.
Here is a look at growth marketing areas of focus across the funnel, and traditional marketing areas of focus across the funnel. As you can see, growth marketers go much deeper into the funnel than traditional marketers.
2. Acquire new customers.
Whether you build leads through a solid social media campaign, improved SEO, a generous free trial period, or by creating enticing, gated content, there are more vehicles than ever to acquire new customers.
It’s not just about Google or Facebook, though these two channels will likely be a growth marketers first deep dive into the data and refreshing of strategy.
Solid growth marketers are well versed in all of these channels and can determine the ones that make the most sense to invest in for your business. By testing entire new channels or by optimizing those that already exist, you can expect a growth marketer to quickly scale your acquisition strategy.
Remember: Growth marketers are often deep generalists, with a focus on conversion rates.
They can do a lot of things well, and often make for a good first marketing hire if you need more sweeping marketing support.
3. 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? As Iterable puts it:
(pp) “When you prioritize delivering valuable customer experiences, you’re no longer attempting to monetize your audience... Growth marketing focuses on customer relationship building and fostering loyalty; it’s a long-term strategy where authenticity and engagement creates advocacy and organically grows customer lifetime values.”
Growth marketing does this primarily by keeping an incredibly close eye on engagement and conversion rates across the entire funnel, and building out processes to grow the top of funnel, move prospects through the funnel, and ultimately close more leads while building increased brand awareness.
This isn’t easy to do as a one-person show. Growth marketers often rely heavily on graphic designers, copywriters and developers to help put their strategies into play.
4. Increase awareness.
Before you can expect any customer — current or otherwise — to invest in your company or make a purchase of any kind, you have to broaden your brand awareness to educate, inform, and entertain that audience.
A growth marketer can be instrumental in growing that awareness through a number of channels. Social media and blog traffic are two such examples of channels that can help drive further awareness and seed value.
“A growth marketer's core function is to identify channels, solutions, ideas that will efficiently drive new customers." – Michael Griffith
This side of a growth marketer’s capabilities comes from their deep understanding of experimentation. In order to properly collect, measure and test data to see what is working best, you need to test out new channels or strategies, get a baseline, see if you can improve it - and then double down or move on to the next thing.
Growth marketers can often come up with these strategies, and even get them close to over the line (i.e. delivered), but often need the help of writers, designers and developers to really make the most use of their ideas.
What Qualities Make a Successful Growth Marketer [Chart Included]
Growth marketers aren’t just successful because they can peel away the layers of your strategy and put it back together again:
They’re engrained in every function of the business and use their skill set to work cross functionally, driving impact not only within the marketing department, but across the organization.
A successful growth marketer has a natural curiosity and a willingness to try, fail, learn, and try again. It’s an innate flexibility that makes them so special — and so highly sought after.
Before we dive into what makes a fantastic growth marketer, here is a quick chart on the skills and areas that growth marketers are particularly good at, and those that they aren’t so much.
Typical Growth Marketer Strengths and Weaknesses
Growth Marketer Strengths:
- Conversion rate optimization across channels
- Lowering CAC across channels
- Funnel optimization from lead-in to conversion
- Deep generalist who can execute across marketing disciplines, with aid from more creative and technical resources
- Digital marketing
Growth Marketer Weaknesses:
- Brand and audience development
- Graphic design
- Technical SEO
- Content marketing
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.
Naturally, anything involving “growth”, especially when onboarding new users or new customers, has to be rooted in data. A truly data-driven growth marketer knows the metrics to consider, like:
- CAC (customer acquisition cost)
- LTV (lifetime value)
- Conversion rate
- ROAS (return on ad spend)
- Subscribe and unsubscribe rates
- Content performance measurements like engagement and reach on the site all up as well as throughout landing pages
- Email and SMS open rates and click rates
- Customer retention rates and churn
Not only do they know how to sift through this data and make sense of it, they use it to inform their decisions around strategy shifts, channel implementation, and optimization efforts.
3. They are scrappy and can execute on many tasks.
On any given day, a growth marketer is looking from the top of the funnel down, optimizing and improving along the way.
Considering most companies have an entire team dedicated to these various marketing functions, that’s a lot to cover.
A strong growth marketing professional has the capability to look holistically at how each channel works as part of the larger, breathing strategy, and that often involves working on multiple projects or tasks at the same time.
When each of these tasks presents a unique set of challenges, growth marketers look for ways to complete each with a fresh lens. Then, they’re able to turn around and explain their process with conviction.
True scrappiness starts in the ideation process and is carried throughout execution. The best growth marketers? Super scrappy.
Also, they are ideally super organized with the ability to micro-manage their own time and tasks. Some productivity tools that can help are project management tools like Asana and note taking tools like Roam Research.
Whether your company identifies as B2B, B2C, e-commerce, or DTC, every organization is focused on their end customers. Moreover, they’re focused on the goals — both short-term and long-term — that are set to help them achieve sustainable growth.
At every step in the growth marketing process, the customer has to be top of mind. When they aren’t, brands risk wasting time, money, and resources on tasks that ultimately do nothing for the business.
This is a great call out though. Growth marketers are often more focused on the short-term increase in conversions and engagement, rather than the long-term.
This isn’t to say they aren’t customer-centric. What increases conversion and engagement should ultimately help a company narrow its target audience, and more efficiently talk to and sell to their prospects.
But, growth marketing is not brand building.
5. Business and product focused.
The very term “growth marketing” feels insincere, because the efforts applied by a growth marketer ultimately touch every aspect of the company’s function; not just marketing.
In the words of growth marketer Ryan Holidays:
“Growth Hackers [Marketers] believe that products — even whole businesses and business models — can and should be changed until they are primed to generate explosive reactions from the first people who see them.”
This is machine-level thinking. Growth marketers have the same passion about turning a business model and the entire customer funnel into a highly productive, predictable machine as Ray Dalio has about turning a work culture into that exact same thing.
A quote from Dalio that resonates with growth marketers:
“If you’re not failing, you’re not pushing your limits, and if you’re not pushing your limits, you’re not maximizing your potential”
― Ray Dalio, Principles: Life and Work
Marketing is often most successful when it’s ahead of trends, so growth marketing is no exception. Growth marketers have to consider where the business will be in a few weeks, a few months, and ultimately years down the line when making decisions around strategy and execution.
This forward thinking means that it will often be your growth marketing encouraging you to test our TikTok, or a direct mail campaign. And, they will often bring to the table thoughtful strategies and ways to measure the new channel.
But, they balance their forward thinking with a sharp focus on data-driven results in the here and now. Growth marketers focus on figuring out what works best at every point in the funnel and for that customer's lifecycle stage, before moving on to the next.
Keep in mind that because growth marketers are so data-driven, they often don’t have experience with less transactional marketing strategies or disciplines, like PR or brand building. They also don’t often have a ton of experience with marketing disciplines in which results appear over the long term like SEO or organic social media.
Balance what you need and want for your brand with the realities of what growth markets can and cannot do well.
When Should a Company Hire a Growth Marketer: Hint - Now
Short answer: Right away.
Truly, companies at every stage of life can benefit from having a growth marketer on board who can inform larger strategies based on hard data and strongly backed inferences.
For early-stage startups looking to differentiate from the crowd, a strategic growth team (or individual) can help tweak messaging and fine-tune channel strategy to ensure that you’re tackling corners of the market your competitors aren’t.
For more established organizations, it’s helpful to bring a growth marketer on if your current strategy feels stale or if you want to amplify new efforts at any point in your customer journey and funnel.
When channels have been on for long enough, there’s tons of data to sift through, giving a growth marketer ample opportunity to provide suggestions and a playbook for the future.
Think of a growth marketer like a full-stack marketing professional or a deep generalist.
“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… [they] need to have a more holistic approach that includes branding and core business financials,” says Griffith.
3 Questions & Considerations for Hiring a Growth Marketer
Here are a few questions to ask yourself and think through before you decide that a growth marketer is right for you.
Have you developed a brand identity, guidelines and personas?
A growth marketer can help with this, though this is traditionally the realm of a brand marketing manager, a brand or audience development manager, or a CMO (even if they are interim).
Growth marketers can be best utilized when this work is already done. This means a growth marketer can come in, look at the brand and personas, and figure out data-backed ways to better attract, engage and convert those targets.
And, they will be doing it while being on-brand. This is important, because while the short-term work of a growth marketer aids the long-term success of the brand, a growth marketer is data-focused, not necessarily brand focused. It helps to have guidelines for them to follow when it comes to brand standards.
Do you have enough budget for a growth marketer and graphic design, copywriting and/or development resources?
Fast, iterative and statistically relevant testing is a big part of a growth marketer’s job, and they do that work often in tandem with a graphic designer, copywriter and/or a developer.
As you think through bringing on a growth marketer, also think about additional supporting budget for one or all three of these roles. Together, this powerhouse team can make up the growth team (even on a contractor basis) and will be set up for success –– which is a big win for everyone.
Do you have enough data or are you still searching for a baseline?
While growth marketers are fantastic, deep generalist hires for most brands, a lot of start-ups don’t really need a growth marketer just yet. This is because you might not have the historical data for the growth marketer to make incremental, data-backed improvements.
If this is the case for you, it may be better to think through hiring a paid search and social person to build up your paid digital data quickly, and then bring in a growth marketer and likely even a content marketer to optimize the funnel and reduce CAC, and bring in additional organic traffic beyond your paid digital channels.
The Benefit of a Freelancer vs. Marketing Agency or In-House
Global pandemic aside, there are plenty of reasons why companies are shifting toward a remote model and hiring expert marketing talent in droves –– on an hourly, per project basis.
For one, hiring a freelancer costs less than paying agency retainers or footing a salary and benefits for a full-time employee. Freelancers often have years of expertise under their belt, too, so they come to you with a specific set of skills and experience working either with a specific industry or a range of different types of companies.
This is especially important when you’re looking for a strategic growth marketer. This means that you can get started faster with pre-built templates, and someone who likely already has an understanding of the audience.
Besides, as you grow, you aren’t having to spend additional on agency fees as a percentage of spend, and you can path freelancers toward an in-house hire if the work and relationship prove meaningful.
Pre-vetted freelancers like those on MarketerHire are less risky, and get you the same or better results faster.
4 Examples of Successful Growth Marketing Campaigns
The following examples are of growth marketing gone right as a variety of companies. Keep in mind, most growth marketers that see this amount of success and growth aren’t working on their own. They are part of more integrated teams.
That said, if you have historical data, strong brand guidelines, and the budget to support the growth marketer with graphic design, copywriting and development, then you are in a good position to bring on a growth marketer and see incredible results.
Dropbox: Product Marketing
You probably use it on the daily to store files for your team or organization, but did you know about Dropbox’s massive 4000% user growth over a 15-month period?
You read that right.
Where so many referral programs only benefit the referrer, Dropbox’s two-sided referral program ensured that the referee was equally compensated, as both parties earned free space upgrades for their organizations.
The more people you referred, the more free space you’d receive. You could also easily check in on the status of your personal benefits with a super user-friendly interface.
This is a case of growth marketing we’d swipe right for, because Tinder truly keeps the user top of mind in everything they do.
By taking themselves less seriously (think gamification of their app, thoughtful influencer partnerships, and messaging around inclusivity), the brand continues to reinvent app-based dating for their 57 million worldwide users.
Despite an end goal of creating sustaining relationships, their 2018 campaign “Single, Not Sorry” actually celebrated pervasive singleness, where competitors pushed messaging against the single swiper.
Newton: Email Marketing
Growth marketing isn’t always frills and thrills. In the case with Newton, it was a matter of a simple A/B test that helped email marketer Karthik Suroju scale email response rates by 156%.
Easy: He switched the content of the branded emails from HTML-based to plain text after discerning what exactly subscribers were looking for.
Suroju ran a test of varied content types, and the plain text versions drastically overperformed. They adapted and saw immediate results. Voila! Growth marketing!
KnudgeMe: Social Media
The self-learning program, KnudgeMe, teaches non-native English speakers ways to expand their vocabulary. Not only have they scaled the language learning process, they also managed to scale their usership 10x in a matter of six months using social media.
What was so different about their approach?
As any good growth marketer will tell you (especially if they’ve honed their craft for years like, say, an expert marketer), it’s important to determine your goals and the metrics worth measuring to get there.
They cut through the clutter of irrelevant data and focused on the few key points they needed to meet their goals, leveraged customer feedback to their benefit, and tested like crazy until they found the formula that worked — growth marketing to a T.
Making an investment in growth marketing is making an investment in your entire business.
It puts stock in the validity of your product, good, or service, and finds the best way to reach your desired audience - using data-backed insights, iterative testing, and statistical modeling.
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. This is because growth marketers are naturally curious, are deep generalists as a result, and bear a lot of resemblance to the all-star players of traditional marketers of the past.
If a single hire can accomplish all of that, what are you waiting for? We have expert growth marketers in our network who are ready to partner with you and create lasting impact.