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Growth Marketing

Growth Marketers are Modern Marketing Managers in 2021 – And That’s a Good Thing

June 18, 2021
March 13, 2021
Camille Trent

The term “growth marketing” has marketers rolling their eyes — and hiring managers hungry for their next great growth hire. Here is what it means, why it matters, and why you might need a growth marketer (or be one!).

Table of Contents

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, like reducing ad frequency and increasing creative variation, to win you new customers and maintain those you already have.

That’s what growth marketers can 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.  

What exactly is growth marketing?

Growth marketing is about (you guessed it!) growth. Specifically, growing whatever a business deems the key metrics in its funnel. 

That might mean click-through rate, monthly active users or revenue — growth marketers don’t confine themselves to top-of-funnel metrics. 

Driving revenue is particularly important according to Michael Griffith, a growth marketer with over 10 years’ experience in consumer tech and e-commerce.

“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,” Griffith told MarketerHire.

Ultimately, growth marketing is defined more by process than end results, though. In the immortal words of Miley Cyrus, “It's about the climb.”

A good growth marketer thinks big and tests small. They can envision anything — even Craigslist! — as a marketing channel, but they also run constant cheap, iterative tests to make sure their ideas can work. 

When DTC growth guru and investor Nik Sharma worked at Hint Water, for example, every major marketing push started with small, cheap tests — a growth marketing staple. If a small test got splashy results, the company invested more in the strategy.

This helped Hint Water avoid expensive missteps, and innovate effectively; the company helped pioneer influencer marketing as we know it today.

“Now everybody does it,” Sharma told MarketerHire. “But three years ago, nobody else was doing it and people thought it was kind of sketchy.”

That’s the power of growth marketing — it’s an approach that allows you to confidently invest in a new channel. You just test first. 

What is a growth marketer?

Similar to “marketing managers” of the past, growth marketers know enough about paid search, paid social, CRO, user experience, email marketing, content marketing, and SEO to be dangerous. They’re more focused on strategy than execution, though; you will likely need someone more specialized to 10x the plans a growth marketer puts in place.

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.

Growth marketers often have the T-shaped skillset shown below. They are well-versed in a ton of topics, which is helpful for the entire organization, and go deep mostly in acquisition marketing and conversion-rate optimization.

Growth marketing skills 2021
Source: GrowWithWard

What are other names for growth marketers?

Aside from "growth hacker" — an increasingly unpopular term — growth marketers are also sometimes referred to as:

  • Growth marketing managers
  • Demand generation marketers
  • Performance marketers
  • Digital marketing managers

Each of these roles are focused on growing users and revenue for a company, Jonathan Martinez, a growth marketing manager at Uber, told MarketerHire. 

However, Divisional founder Trevor Sookraj explained to MarketerHire that these terms aren’t all exact synonyms for “growth marketer.” They all mean subtly different things.

  • Performance marketers only work on paid channels, most often paid social (Facebook Ads) and SEM (AdWords). They typically don't work with email, content, or other channels — whereas growth marketers will test out any channel.
  • Marketing managers 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 are the closest to a growth marketer, says Sookraj. However, they typically focus more narrowly on top-of-funnel activity, like attracting leads and customers.

What do growth marketers do all day?

A typical day for Jordan Finger, growth marketer and CEO of Noal Partners, involves checking the dashboards for paid media accounts; tweaking spend, messaging, and creative; and summarizing the week in custom reports for clients. 

“Every day is a rinse and repeat,” says Finger. But even when the marketing campaigns stay the same, the results vary. “It’s a lot like day trading.” 

“It’s a lot like day trading.” 

Paid ad CPMs and effectiveness change constantly, what worked yesterday may not work today. 

Similar to stockbrokers, growth marketers stay on top of trends, like Apple’s iOS privacy update, and can communicate market nuances to clients. 

When should you hire a growth marketer? 

Growth marketers usually account for about a third of marketer hiring demand — in early-stage startups and fortune 500s — through MarketerHire.

Source: MarketerHire

They’re our most popular hires, because companies at all stages need more conversions, customers, and revenue.

What are the core responsibilities of a growth marketer?

The goal of growth marketing is relatively simple: improve 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,” 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.”
Source: MarketerHire

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

Those are just a few tactics growth marketing teams try when testing for the best possible outcome.

Growth marketing at startups.

Startups, for example, often struggle to determine which marketer they should hire first. A growth marketer is a good bet — especially if they already have strong brand guidelines in place. (Setting tone and voice, messaging, and value propositions is not typically something a growth marketer will do.)

“They 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,” Sookraj told MarketerHire. 

“[Growth marketers] are especially impactful at early-stage companies.”

But startups aren’t the only ones who see value in growth marketers. Enterprises should consider adding growth marketers as well, says Sookraj.

Growth marketing at the enterprise-level.

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 told MarketerHire. 

“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, giving a growth marketer ample resources to figure out what works and what doesn’t.

Here are a few signs you should hire a growth marketer:

1. You want to prioritize revenue. 

No one doesn’t like revenue. Sometimes, maximizing it means 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). 

More traditional marketers focus on top-of-funnel metrics, indicating brand awareness and leads — but as you can see, growth marketers go much deeper into the funnel, always keeping one eye on your bottom line.

Source: Brian Balfour

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, or optimizing those that already exist, you can expect a growth marketer to quickly scale your acquisition strategy.

“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,” explained Sookraj. 

With time and testing, a more efficient growth flywheel can emerge. Sometimes increasing month-over-month revenue growth within just five months. 

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 do this primarily 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 help put their strategies into play. 

4. You want to experiment and find new opportunities.

Growth marketers tend to experiment more than other marketers. In order to properly collect data on what works best, you need to try new channels and strategies, set performance goals, and see if you can hit them — then double down or move on to the next thing. 

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 open mind that past experiments might not work at a new company,” said Sookraj.

3 examples of successful growth marketing strategies

What does it look like when growth marketing works? Below, we rounded up three growth marketing examples. Though, keep in mind, these are not quick and easy "growth hacks." 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 a growth marketer with graphic design, copywriting and development, then your growth marketing efforts can pay off big.

Outer: Paid Ads

One thing inexperienced growth marketers don’t understand is ad campaign success doesn't always scale linearly. There’s a point of diminishing returns when you pour more money into the ad machine while running the same playbook. 

To avoid hitting it, Outer brought in a paid ads marketer. Their MarketerHire marketer 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. And their MarketerHire paid digital freelancer — who stayed on for a year — was integral to that win, said Corinne Crockett, VP of Marketing at Outer.

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 free storage space for the referee and the new user. 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, had done 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, too — and it took off. The in-product incentive drove product adoption for new and current users. The more people you referred, the more free space both parties would receive.

Source: Viral-Loops

The referral program drove massive 4,000% user growth over a 15-month period. From 2008 to 2009, 35% of the company’s daily signups came from its referral program, according to Forbes

Dropbox’s referral campaign is the ultimate case study in data-backed customer acquisition tactics — a.k.a. growth marketing. 

Newton: Email Marketing

In late 2015, Newton’s growth-minded email marketer, Karthik Suroju, used the results from a simple A/B test to boost email response rates by 156%. 

How?

Suroju ran a test of varied content types, and the plain text content drastically outperformed HTML content. Newton switched to plain text emails, and saw immediate results. Voila! Growth marketing!

What qualities make a successful growth marketer? 

It’s the combination of analytical ability and strategic thinking that makes growth marketers 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.”

That doesn’t make them superhuman, though. They have strengths and weaknesses, like every other marketing specialty. 

Growth marketers’ strengths and weaknesses.

Growth Marketer Strengths:

  • Conversion rate optimization across channels
  • Lowering customer acquisition cost (CAC) across channels
  • Deep generalist who sees the big picture and delegate accordingly
  • Planning, optimizing and scaling paid ads

Growth Marketer Weaknesses:

  • Brand and audience development 
  • Graphic design
  • Copywriting
  • Technical SEO
  • Content marketing  

The right disposition definitely comes in handy, though. To become a great growth marketer, it helps to be:

1. 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. Data-driven. 

Growth marketers understand performance data on a deep level, and they know the right metrics to consider in any situation.

These might include: 

  • CAC 
  • LTV 
  • Conversion rate
  • ROAS (return on ad spend)
  • Subscribe and unsubscribe rates
  • Content performance measurements like engagement and reach
  • Email and SMS open rates and click rates 
  • Customer retention rates and churn 

Not only do growth marketers know what data matters, when — they use data to inform their decisions around strategy, channel implementation, and optimization efforts.

3. Open to any channel.

On any given day, a growth marketer thinks about the funnel as a whole, rather than focusing on certain layers, as channel specialists might. 

“When hiring your first growth marketer, don't hire a specialist on one channel,” warns Jonathan Martinez, Growth Marketing Manager at Postmates. 

“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 life cycle marketing. 

A strong growth marketing professional can see the big picture, and look holistically at how each channel fits into a larger strategy, and that often involves working on multiple channels at the same time.

4. Focused on the customer. 

Whether your company identifies as B2B, B2C, e-commerce, or DTC, every organization is focused on their end customers, or at least claims to be. 

Because growth marketers are responsible for managing the entire funnel as a whole, the customer has to be top of mind. If they aren’t, brands risk wasting time, money and resources testing clearly doomed opportunities — like a Coachella-themed ad for AARP.

Growth marketers who work closely with brand and product marketers usually have the most success. Sales and product teams can also offer growth marketers valuable customer insights. 

Growth marketers help define a company’s customers, too. Whatever increases conversion and engagement should help a company narrow its target audience, and more efficiently sell to prospects. 

5. An engineer at heart.

A growth marketer’s efforts ultimately touch every aspect of a company, not just marketing.

In the words of growth marketer Ryan Holidays

“Growth [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 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.

6. A little impatient.

In this case, it’s a good thing. Growth marketers can, and should, focus on boosting conversions and engagement in the short-term.

It’s what they’re best at. Often, they don’t have experience with less transactional marketing strategies or disciplines, like PR or branding. They also don’t often have a ton of experience with slow-burn marketing disciplines, like SEO or organic social media. 

7. Innovative. 

Marketing is often most successful when it’s ahead of trends, and growth marketers understand that the 2.5% of innovators who adopt the right technology first reap the most rewards. 

This forward thinking means that it will often be your growth marketer encouraging you to test out newer channels like TikTok or Clubhouse. 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. 

Balance what you need and want for your brand with the realities of what growth markets can and cannot do well.

Three questions to ask yourself before hiring a growth marketer

There are a handful of key questions to think through before onboarding a growth marketer.

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 (even if they are interim). 

Once this work is done, a growth marketer can come in, look at the brand and personas, and figure out data-backed ways to better attract, engage and convert targets — all while staying 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 focused on data, not brand-building. It helps to have guidelines for them to follow when it comes to brand standards. 

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 they usually collaborate with graphic designers, copywriters and developers to execute those tests. 

As you think through bringing on a growth marketer, consider supporting budget for one, if not all three, of these roles, on a contractor or full-time basis. Together, these roles can make up a powerhouse growth team.

Do I have enough data or are you still searching for a baseline?

While growth marketers are fantastic hires for most brands, a lot of start-ups don’t really need a growth marketer just yet. This is because they might not have enough historical data for the growth marketer to make incremental, data-backed improvements.

“[I]t's important to give the [growth] marketer lots of context on your business,” Sookraj pointed out. “This will help them quickly realize what channels aren't worth exploring, how to frame experiments, and how to work with your team.”

Knowing growth marketers need existing data and defined marketing messages to pull from, it may be better to hire a paid search and paid social marketer to build up your data on paid digital, and then bring in a growth marketer to optimize the funnel, reduce CAC, and test out additional channels.

Predictions for growth marketing in 2021 and beyond

“My #1 prediction for growth marketing in 2021 is that we'll see the rapid advancement of incrementality testing as privacy becomes more and more of a concern. With iOS 14, CCPA and attribution getting increasingly hazy, we'll have to rely heavily on in-house incrementality tests to measure the effectiveness of channels.”

— Jonathan Martinez, Growth Marketing Manager, Postmates

“People will be online more than ever in 2021, likely our first full year of remote work. This means that while they will be easier to reach online, they will also be inundated with ads and content. My number one prediction is that brands will have to focus a lot more on testing channels, tracking metrics, and scaling up or down campaigns than ever before. The user journey — how someone discovers your product, signs up, and eventually purchases/converts — will be mapped out and tested by growth marketers more than simply throwing money at a given channel because it's in the budget, since it won't be as effective as before.”

— Trevor Sookraj, Founder of Divisional

“DTC brands will still be dependent on driving new customers through Facebook/Instagram but it will get more challenging to achieve the CPAs and ROAS. And the iOS 14 rollout will only make this more difficult. However, brands need to focus on what they have the most control over which is their ad content and onsite user experience. It will be very important to keep testing into ad content to discover what messaging resonates best with their audience.”

— Jordan Finger, CEO of Noal Partners

Conclusion

An investment in growth marketing is an investment in your entire business. 

Growth marketers put stock in the validity of your product or service, and find the best way to reach your desired audience — using data-backed insights, iterative testing, and statistical modeling. 

Put simply, they are master FSO (figure sh*t out) marketers who know how to get projects across the line, and put profit in your pocket.

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 stack, full-funnel marketing skill set, 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.

Courtney Grace contributed to this story.

Camille Trent
about the author

Camille Trent is the managing editor at MarketerHire. A copywriter and marketing nerd, she's passionate about helping freelancers and creatives recognize their value and get the knowledge they need to win long term. When she's not writing, she's hanging out with her pup and two favorite redheads. Or she's trying to coach the Portland Trail Blazers to victory from her couch.

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