What is growth marketing? A simple explanation

Sadly, Growth marketing gets a bad rep in many circles.

A lot of people prefer another term (which is essentially the same thing), growth hacking. And, of course, they bring over the negative connotation from the word hacking.

Truth is, whatever you call it, growth marketing or growth hacking is not an underhanded method of achieving growth.

It’s simply a marketing approach that’s focused strongly on results and is able to adapt quickly to double down on successes.

That’s the quick and dirty explanation, but if you want more detail, read on.

What is growth marketing?

Growth marketing refers to strategies and tactics specifically focused on acquiring and retaining users or customers to rapidly grow a business.

The overarching goal of growth marketing is to achieve rapid yet sustainable growth in a startup’s user base and revenue.

And it’s that revenue growth that’s key in effective growth marketing. We’re here as growth marketers to grow the company, not the useless metrics like impressions and likes.

How do we do that?

Well, we’re not using any sort of secret dark arts.

Good growth marketing combines the elements of traditional marketing you’re already aware of.

  • Copywriting
  • Advertising
  • Design
  • Product marketing
  • etc

However, the focus is usually a little different.

A lot of traditional marketing might run ads to raise awareness and become a known name in a space.

Growth marketing is focused on using those channels to drive real gains in revenue and user acquisition and retention.

The growth marketing approach is optimized for the digital age.

Growth marketers jump in and test different channels and approaches to generate the best gains There’s a rapid iteration of messaging and approach to find the highest impact strategy.

While traditional marketing uses a broad brush, growth marketing is highly targeted and metrics-driven.

Growth KPIs tend to focus on signups, activations, churn rate, lifetime value, channel ROI, and other direct customer metrics. The focus is on profitability of customers acquired, not just reach and impressions.

Early growth is critical for startups seeking VC funding and eventual acquisition or IPO. Or even just for the wonderful bootstrappers out there who are looking to create a profitable brand of their own.

Growth marketing strategies and tactics

There isn’t a specific, one-size fits all strategy or tactic that is “growth marketing”.

The best growth marketers will look at what the brand they’re working on requires, and then adapt their approach to their needs.

I’ve written about my own beliefs and approach which I’ve called the ACER system on this site.

Beacuse, while there’s not a one-size fits all approach, there are general frameworks and approaches that are often used in growth marketing. Common growth marketing strategies tend to include…

  • Viral loops – Getting customers to share/refer others
  • Paid ads – To quickly scale acquisition of new users
  • Community leveraging – Using another person’s community to spread the word of your offer
  • Quizzes and “gamification” – To increase engagement
  • Influencer and social marketing – To reach a better audience
  • Scarcity -To build desire and impulsive actions

These are a few, but not all, of the common tactics.

The focus, as mentioned before, with growth marketing is always on results that impact the business. So the above would be judged and then improved upon based on metrics like sales, lifetime-value, revenue etc.

On the product side, growth product managers identify and build viral product features. Social sharing, user invites, and other forms of organic viral loops create exponential distribution. Features like Instagram Stories or Snapchat’s Snapstreak drive rapid daily engagement.

To optimize their tactics, growth teams rely extensively on analytics and experimentation. They constantly test variations of acquisition campaigns, referral programs, onboarding flows, and other tactics.

By measuring incremental impact on target growth metrics, they double down on what works. This agile, data-informed approach is the hallmark of disciplined growth teams.

The key is to rapidly test and iterate tactics tied to overarching strategies.

Tactics should align to high-level growth funnels focused on new user acquisition, conversions, and retention. With this framework, growth marketers allow data to guide optimal allocation of resources.

Common growth marketing roles

Growth marketing requires specialized roles and cross-functional coordination unseen in traditional marketing departments.

Common roles include growth managers, growth marketers, growth product managers, and data analysts.

What is growth marketing team structure

Growth managers

Growth managers oversee the growth marketing strategy and team. They set growth targets and timelines and report on progress to executives. Growth managers ensure alignment across marketing, product, and engineering around growth initiatives.

Growth marketers

Growth marketers execute campaigns across channels like paid ads, email, and lifecycle messaging. They manage budgets and allocate resources to the most efficient sources of growth. Growth marketers are highly data-driven, using analytics to optimize conversions.

Growth product managers

Growth product managers identify and prioritize product features that drive viral growth. They may focus on social sharing, user invites, notifications, and other engagement-boosting features. Alignment with engineering is critical to build and iterate these features.

Data analysts

Data analysts provide the analytics fueling growth teams. They analyze customer journeys, cohort retention and funnel conversion rates. Growth analysts inform marketing and product decisions through rigorous reporting and experimentation.

Growth teams may operate as a standalone cross-functional unit or be integrated within broader marketing teams. Regardless of structure, seamless collaboration between growth marketers, product managers and engineers is essential. Business, marketing and technology priorities must align for sustainable growth.

The specialized roles and focus on alignment allows growth teams to maintain a relentless focus on driving growth metrics upwards and to the right.

As growth becomes increasingly critical in the digital age, dedicated growth teams have become indispensable for forward-thinking startups and enterprises alike.

The importance of growth for businesses

We all now that growth is important for any online brand.

If you’re not growing, you’re dying.

But what are the exact reasons a business might want to grow a growth marketing strategy?

Funding and Exits – For startups, demonstrating rapid growth in users and revenue is essential to securing rounds of venture capital funding. VCs want to see strong momentum before investing further. Rapid growth also increases the valuation of startups when they exit via acquisition or IPO.

Competitive Advantage – In the tech industry especially, the spoils go to early movers who reach scale first. Startups like Uber, Airbnb and Snapchat used growth hacking tactics to rapidly acquire market share ahead of rivals. Network effects create enormous barriers to entry. Growth delivers competitive advantage.

Scalability – Growth allows startups to efficiently scale revenue. Software and other digital products have high margins and low incremental costs per additional customer. Growth marketing provides the blueprint to fully leverage these economics and drive profits.

While growth is undeniably important, it must be sustainable long-term growth to generate lasting value.

Many startups have grown user bases rapidly only to see churn set in. Sustainable growth requires engaging and retaining customers, not just acquiring them.

If you just take a look at our Clubhouse analysis, you’ll see this kind of damaging growth cycle play out.

True growth marketing balances acquisition with activation, retention, and referral. Businesses must ensure customers derive ongoing value from their products. In a crowded market, delivering a great user experience is the surest path to sustainable scale.

For any modern startup, pursuing growth aggressively is table stakes. But pursuing growth sustainably and strategically is what builds an enduring company.

Growth marketers enable both by aligning marketing, product, engineering and analytics around the user lifecycle. For tech companies big and small, growth marketing represents the future.

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