This is the first in a series of articles on the theme of growth hacking, which is top-of-mind as I'm doing a mini-degree program in Growth Hacking from the CXL Institute. To kick off the series, here are a few key points about what growth marketing is and what it isn't.
For me, as a brand marketer, it's helpful to contrast growth marketing with brand marketing. The comparison offers clarity around how growth marketing fits into the bigger picture of building a valuable, venerable brand.
I've always been a brand guy. In my decade-plus career as an entrepreneur and employee working in both startups and Fortune 500 companies, brand has always been top-of-mind. A great brand tells a story; it suggests a narrative and sets the parameters for how a customer feels about -- and engages with -- a company. A good brand stands for something, be it a heritage, a promise for the future, an aspiration or some other trait. A great brand stands the test of time by attracting passionate devotees.
Brand is also what makes marketing either easy or hard. It's a brand marketer's dream to have a good brand that translates seamlessly into creative marketing that attracts your target audiences effortlessly.
That's the objective of brand marketing: building awareness about a brand by doing traditional marketing campaigns. These campaigns are usually run over longer periods, have larger budgets and are "one to many." You build the campaign and invest time and money upfront. You put all of your chips on the table and then only see if the campaign worked after you've invested all those resources. It's risky and there are few guarantees.
That's because growth marketing, on the other hand, is a series of "educated guess" experiments in which you test a specific hypothesis. You take what you know about your customers and your channel-specific knowledge, and then run experiments. Growth also prioritizes personalization. The better you know your customers, the more accurately you can segment them and run specific experiments. See next point.
The key to growth is experimentation. The best growth marketers know that they know nothing. They work carefully to not let preconceived notions or other unproven assumptions affect how they run experiments. Instead, let the data speak for itself.
Each experiment starts with a hypothesis, which is backed by a central observation or datapoint that gives some indication that this hypothesis may be true. For instance, the hypothesis could be that offering a discount to unengaged email subscribers will re-engage them because our customers are motivated by discounts. You could test the hypothesis by sending emails to two segments of your list to see which message performs better: engagement via discount or engagement via an exclusive "value add" package/bundle offer. Then, see what works and use that knowledge to get better after every experiment. Improvements build on each other over time, with compound growth driven by experimentation.
Within a growth mindset, failures are to be celebrated. Not because there's some inherent value in failing; no, it's because failures teach us a lot about our customers and their preferences. About what works and what doesn't work. Every single experiment is thus valuable in growth marketing; the successful ones can be amplified and the failures can be mined for insights that can inform the next round of experiments.
Failure is simply another data point to use. And this data can also be shared with other teams within a company, improving knowledge and contributing momentum elsewhere in the company.
In fact, the cross-functional element is another defining feature of growth. Owing to the fact that growth marketing experiments often reach across teams, growth is a cross-functional pursuit. Since experiments may touch different areas of the company, growth marketing often requires collaboration across engineering, design, product (and yes, even brand marketing!).
My conclusion from the first part of this course on the foundations of growth hacking is that there's a place for both growth marketing and brand marketing. It's not like one replaces the other or that there's some sort of battle royale over who "owns" the brand.
The way I see it: brand marketing exists to establish/further entrench the brand in the minds and lives of both new and existing customers. There's also the public relations aspect of communicating what the brand stands for not just to prospects but also to the media, investors and others in the general public. Brand marketing is thus mostly a top of the funnel thing. It's also somewhat of a cudgel, less precise but can be a powerful tool for long-term business building.
Growth marketing combines data-driven experimentation with a customer-centric mindset to improve the user's experience one experiment at a time. Whether through personalizing a landing page, tweaking the homepage so it's easier to use, or getting the right message to the right customer at the right time, growth marketing improves business outcomes via a "test and learn" approach.
Growth marketing looks to leverage opportunities at every part of the funnel, driving growth in any way you can across the business. These "small wins" build on each other, compounding over time and thus dramatically influence how fast a business grows. It can be a very powerful tool that can be precisely wielded.
I'll be posting articles on the topic of growth marketing each week for the next few months. Keep an eye out for more!