How to run a successful growth marketing experiment in 6 steps

This is the second in a series of articles exploring growth hacking tips and tricks, which is top-of-mind as I’m doing a mini-degree program in Growth Marketing from the CXL Institute. Read more: What is growth hacking?


The key to effective growth marketing is experimentation. It’s everything. Here’s what you need to know about running a growth marketing experiment.

Step 1: Define

The first step is to define your objective. This is essential. Your objective should be extremely focused on a single metric that you want to influence.

Your objective should be specific and precise.

For instance, an objective of “increasing awareness of our brand” is far too general. How would you measure success? If the objective is to broaden and imprecise, it becomes impossible to judge whether or not your experiment delivered results.

A better objective would be to identify the specific metric to focus on: newsletter sign-ups, email open rates, landing page conversions, completed sales made, top-of-the-funnel leads or demos scheduled.

Another option is to use “pirate metrics” to select a specific part of the funnel for this particular experiment to focus on. It’s AARR:

  • Acquisition: Tippy top of the funnel; it’s all awareness as a new person discovers your product service or website
  • Activation: You’ve captured attention and an acquired customer “activates” by taking an action.
  • Retention: Ongoing engagement as you nurture users so they return again to engage with your website or to consider your product
  • Referral: You’ve delivered an experience that’s worth sharing with friends
  • Revenue: Users purchase something or are otherwise monetized

At the end of the first step, you should have a clear focus: either a specific metric (ideal) or at least one part of the customer lifecycle

Step 2: Hypothesize

Next, you make a hypothesis. This is the time to leverage your expertise about the customer journey. You want to understand the customer’s needs at the specific touchpoint defined in Step 1.

The hypothesis should be framed like this:

Doing THIS [the experiment] will result in THAT [the predicted impact] because of these assumptions.

An example: Let’s say that you are focusing on increasing paid sign-ups from your main newsletter. Your hypothesis could be “Increasing sending more emails will result in more sign-ups because those getting more emails are more likely to buy.”

Your assumptions are actually one of the most important parts as it’s where you share your expertise. Make sure that your assumptions are from the user’s perspective! Your thorough understanding of the customer journey improves the accuracy of your assumptions. It’s all about putting the user at the center of your marketing, so that your marketing is more effective and get you better results.

Step 3: Set up the experiment

Even if unsuccessful at improving business outcomes, each growth marketing experiment offers learnings that can be used in future experiments. But you need to set your experiments up correctly so that these learnings are accurate and thus useful! The last thing you want is to have bad data influence your business decisions.

The three components of a proper experiment:

  1. Independent variable, or the thing that you’ll change to test its impact on the dependent variable.
  2. Dependent variable, or the thing being measured/tested.
  3. Control group, or the group that will be the baseline for comparison. Nothing changes for the control group.

Since the independent variable causes a change in the dependent variable, you want to be careful to Choose an independent variable that directly impacts the dependent variable, and doesn’t cause a bunch of other changes that you can’t measure. Precision is your friend!

Let’s continue the example above about increasing paid sign-ups from the newsletter. It doesn’t make sense to simply start increasing the number of emails sent out to everyone on the list. Since you have people who have been on the list for different lengths of time, you’ll never be able to truly know if sending more emails worked.

To set this experiment up correctly, you could segment your newsletter into two groups based on when they subscribed. You’ll take the older subscribers as the control group.

Another approach would be to focus only on the newest subscribers and split that group into two segments: A control group that gets the current email sequence and the other that receives the experimental sequence with more meals.

TIP: When experimenting on a part of the funnel or on a metric for the first time, start with a very basic A/B test. That’s because you need to deep in your understanding of how your experiments may change behavior. If you dive into a new area with an overly complex experiment, it will be difficult to analyze results.

Step 4: Implement

Noticed that implementation is towards the end of the process. Proper planning and set up are the bulk of this work!

When you implement the experiment, set an expiration. Whether it’s for a specific time frame or for a certain number of users, you need a clear endpoint. Do you want to move fast and do multiple experiments so avoid driving individual experiments out for too long. It’s better to set small

Step 5: Analyze

As you analyze the experiment, look not just at the success or failure of the experiment itself. Carefully observe anything unexpected that may reveal helpful insights about the customer journey, your customer’s mindset at this specific touchpoint, or anything else relevant.

At this step, you’ll evaluate the experiment impact on metrics:

  • Did it increase open rates?
  • Did it influence purchase frequency?
  • Were there more sign-ups?
  • Did it improve click through rates?

Your analysis can be simple: It answers the hypothesis. “Increasing the number of emails for new subscribers increased conversions to paid sign-ups by 5% when compared to the control group.”

Then it can go down another level: “

For successful experiments, you’ll then want to further optimize to squeeze the most value out of this particular path. Then, automate so that you can set it and forget it. In our example, you would replace the existing email sequence with the new sequence, which will then automatically send out more emails to your new subscribers without you having to do anything else.

As you stack one success on another, you build incremental value that compounds over time. That is the true power of growth: it’s not linear but exponential!

Step 6: Share

Sharing is caring! Take the time to share out your learnings with other groups in your company. By doing so, you not only raise the profile of the growth marketing effort but you also potentially gain advocates across the company. Show your work and build the continued case for investing in growth marketing.

Since growth marketing is a collaboration across departments, Take any opportunity you can to show value and build goodwill. You never know when you’re going to need some help — or when a specific insight proves valuable to another team’s work!


Look for the next article in this series next Monday. In the meantime, here’s why growth hacking isn’t brand marketing.

Why I started Ghost Works

As often happens when starting a new venture, the most common question from my network was around why I started Ghost Works. This makes sense, as we all love a good founder story.

So, as I write from the office in my converted garage in California, indulge me as I channel my best garage narrative and share the reasons why I started this business with you! It’s definitely not a Jobs/Wozniak kind of story, but at least I’m championing the faded art of the garage startup.

Writers and journalists aren’t paid enough — if at all

Throughout my life as a freelancer, the fear of not getting paid for work done has been a constant. Even with clients that had previously been reliable, there have been situations where I couldn’t even pay the rent because I had so many invoices outstanding.

In effect, I was extending credit with no interest to companies much larger than me. Having emergency funds is feasible, but once that’s depleted, all it takes is one unpaid invoice to cause financial stress.

It almost amounts to post-traumatic stress disorder, a feeling that you’ve contributed and provided value and yet are not being compensated for it as agreed.  You start getting nervous as the date an invoice is due approaches, wondering if you’ll get paid.

The resulting chaos — moving bills from one card to another, surfing the waves of due dates and the kindness of landlords — is something that you never want to go through once you’ve done it once. Yet, despite the desire to avoid the corrosive uncertainty, it’s massively complicated to budget with unpredictable cash flow.

This isn’t just an isolated problem: The most recent study of freelancer wage nonpayment found a pervasive issue that amounted to around 10% of the average freelancer’s wage. A count of outstanding invoices as reported by freelancers on the World’s Longest Invoice sits at over $4 million! And that’s just self-reported. The true scope of this issue is much larger. And as the freelance economy grows, the challenges to getting paid for work delivered will too. So for brands who employ freelancers, it’s more important than ever to mitigate risk in the freelance economy!

Ghost Works looks at the costs of non-payment in the freelance economy

Key insight: By deploying a business model with more revenue consistency, Ghost Works will attract better writers. This creates a virtuous cycle: better writers create better content, which keeps clients loyal and attracts new clients through word-of-mouth. Risk is mitigated on both sides, resulting in happier writers and clients.

Freelancer management is tedious

Given that most freelancers often struggle to get paid, they prioritize companies that pay quickly per the agreed-upon terms. This actually leads to a reputation of flakiness, as freelancers flock to clients they know will pay. This can lead to missed deadlines, and certain clients feeling like they’re not as high of a priority as others (even if they pay on time.)

Freelancers are also generally creators, not administrators. This can lead to hassles when it comes to billing, invoicing, and other questions clients might have.

Freelancer marketplaces have sprung up to help with this issue. But now these marketplaces have become unwieldy, requiring lots of effort on the client side to find the right writer. And then, of course, the platform that facilitates the relationship takes a large cut. The middleman’s cut then increases prices for everyone. To justify their cut, these platforms build bells and whistle, such as Freelancer Management Systems, which creates huge development overhead and higher costs for all customers.

An industry survey found two key hurdles when vetting freelancers: 44 percent of companies want help pre-screening talent, as they usually take days screening talent; and 47 percent struggle to evaluate talent to see if freelancers are accurately representing their expertise.

Another aspect of freelancer management, especially for B2B, is finding writers that are experts in a company’s given industry. When one reliable expert writer is not available, it can be difficult to find another with similar expertise. This means the company blog might miss the scheduled weekly entry. And we all know that once momentum fades, it’s hard to bring it back! This causes frustration and leads to the blog falling further down the priority list.

Key insight: By eliminating this time suck of managing the freelancer/client relationship, and by focusing on the content (rather than the platform), we’re able to offer our services at a highly competitive rate. We also increase the quality and consistency of the content, as brands don’t need to constantly search for writers that are experts in their industries.

‘The guilt quotient:’ Most brands want to blog better

Most corporate communicators, executives, and other communications professionals have some level of guilt about not publishing quality content more often.

Whether its the company blog, an internal department blog, or LinkedIn, there’s an understanding that publishing high-quality content matters. It can build trust in a company and expand the reach of a brand. It can increase sales and accelerate growth. It can also amplify authority and enhance the reputation of a company’s leadership in the marketplace. All worthwhile things, especially given the cost of a content marketing investment.

[Blogging better] is high on my priority list, but it’s never number one. It’s just not on the list of things that can kill my business tomorrow. But it’s something that I know we should do, and always feel like we need to do, but can never seem to find the time.

-Potential client, sharing her challenges with the company blog

But with the proliferation of channels, publishing great content on a consistent basis is overwhelming for most. I heard that time and time again with prospects. And the more I had these conversations, the more I realized that this was a massive painpoint across industries. There hasn’t been a silver bullet solution. Unprompted, colleagues shared this simple issue of prioritization when it came to the company blog or thought leadership: “We know we should do it but we don’t have the time.”

Key insight: Like many things in our lives, guilt can be a great motivator — most especially when a service or product presents itself that can eliminate the guilt by providing an affordable and reliable solution to the nagging problem. If Ghost Works can solve this problem reliably, at an affordable rate, we could have very long-term clients.

The solution: Ghost Works

When crafting our core value proposition, I was careful to balance what is essentially a two-sided marketplace.

I need the writers to be happy by both paying well and providing purpose. We need top writers working for us — after all, Ghost Works is ultimately a content play. I also need to make the price point attractive so that our clients can get started quickly, and stay with us for the long-term. Make it easy to get started and give no reasons to leave.

As a career freelancer myself, I felt that it was consistency that unites both sides of this equation.

While clients benefit from both the consistency of writing and the consistency of cost, writers benefit from both the consistency of pay and the consistency of work. Clients save time vetting and managing freelancers, and our writers save time vetting and managing clients. Both sides are relieved from the headaches of invoicing, billing by the hour, scope creep, and unexpected cost overages.

In order to make this work, I chose a new business model as the engine of our success. We offer blog management as a subscription service, giving everyone the clarity of financial consistency. Brands can budget effectively, and company cash flow is stable so our writers know that they are getting paid each month.

It’s this business model innovation that will either float this entire vision or sink it. And a business model isn’t always a sustainable competitive advantage. So we put the client at the center of everything we do, and then we move out from there. That’s why we offer our service without contracts and a ‘cancel anytime’ guarantee. Simple to start, easy to use, and effective long-term.

We’re on a mission to help brands blog better, and we can only do that if we are unabashedly client-centric. As long as our writing team is aligned and orbiting around each of our clients, we will most certainly achieve our mission!