An introduction to growth marketing

Over the past decade, marketing teams have been looking curiously at the startup community and their wild growth hacking success stories. Companies like Airbnb, Spotify and Dropbox witnessed exponential growth through unconventional marketing tactics. The truth is, growth marketing can help every company grow. Even yours.

Growth marketing isn’t so much about specific tactics as it is about a mindset of rapid experimentation and adaptability.

Growth marketer in action

What is growth marketing?

Our growth marketing expert hacked together a comprehensive definition:
“Growth marketing is the practice of using a creative, technical and data-driven skillset to optimize the full customer journey based on rapid experimentation in order to grow a business as fast and cost-efficient as possible.”

In its essence, growth marketing comes down to the combination of three elements: creativity, experimentation and speed. The goal is to grow your business through optimizing your marketing funnel every step of the way.

It’s this rapid experimentation that made companies like Uber and Amazon so successful. It’s a known fact that Uber has at least one thousand experiments up and running at all time. Furthermore, it was Amazon founder Jeff Bezos who famously said that: "being slow will kill your company".

The growth marketing mindset

There are no concrete tactics you can implement that will make you a growth marketer overnight. Rather, it’s all about having the right mindset and improving your marketing continuously.

The growth marketing mindset is simply wanting to continuously learn more about your audience and improve your marketing efforts. As a growth marketer, you are never done. There is no such thing as perfection, but there sure is improvement. You want to get things done, be creative and dare to iterate on ideas that work.

The difference between growth marketing and traditional marketing

You might be wondering what’s so different about growth marketing compared to traditional marketing. For that, we have to take a look at your marketing funnel:

Pirate funnel traditional marketing versus growth marketing

Traditional marketing teams tend to focus on the first part of the process; generate awareness and acquire new customers. A growth marketer or a growth team looks beyond those two steps. They look at how the initial experience of a new customer goes, try to upsell or cross-sell services, makes sure customers stick with you, and aim for a referral in the end.

This last step becomes especially clear when you analyze the growth marketing tactic utilized by Sean Ellis at Dropbox. Through referral, they give you more digital storage space for free. Every user can take advantage of this system, which made the tactic snowball into exponential growth for the online storage provider.

The skillset you need for growth marketing

For good growth marketing, you will have to bring together a selection of skills that go hand-in-hand.

skills of a growth marketer

Basically you need to be able to interpret data and analytics, be able to come up with the ideas and concepts that will help improve where needed and have the technical knowledge to implement this.

A typical growth team would look like this:

But of course, every business has different needs. It’s ultimately up to you to see what skills you need to perform the experiments you want to run.

Growth marketer versus growth team

You might have seen the term growth marketer or growth hacker pop up on job boards and platforms like LinkedIn. These profiles typically are multifaceted and versatile. A growth marketer is basically a jack of all trades that is knowledgeable about data, marketing and technology.

While growth marketers tend to be effective, we advise you to work with a growth team. Since all three required disciplines require a certain level of expertise, it’s hard to reach full efficiency with just one person.

Don’t make your growth team too big, though. A good rule of thumb is that you should be able to feed the entire team with at most two large pizza’s. That’s about two to four people. With any bigger team, efficiency and productivity will likely drop.

Five steps of growth marketing

You can break down the growth marketing process into five steps:

the growth marketing process in steps

Across the funnel we talked about earlier, you should be able to identify key performance indicators (KPI’s) to measure in every step. By looking at these numbers, you can find out where you should start experimenting. In a second step, you can brainstorm possible ways of how you can improve the metrics. Prioritize the best ideas and start implementing the experiments.

Chances are great your experiments will fail. Don’t despair, because that’s the point of rapid experimentation. Pinpoint what does and does not work, then double down on your successes.

The most important part about growth marketing

The key thing about growth marketing is that you do things, opposed to only thinking and theorizing about it. Just get started, be creative and get things done.

Understand that experimentation isn’t about finding that one thing that works. That’s the traditional way of looking at things. Experimentation is about finding one way that works out of the many possibilities. This comparison probably says it best:

traditional culture versus experimentational culture growth marketing

To start focusing on experimentation, you need a culture of initiative. We know this doesn’t come overnight. It’s a matter of perspective within your organization, and perspectives don’t shift right away. So give this some time.

How growth marketing can save you money

It’s a well-known marketing truth: there’s always a tight budget to do anything. Especially after a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, marketing budgets are restricted. A lot of experimentation might sound cost-intensive and something you should save for better days. But actually, the opposite is true. Growth marketing can help you save money.

It’s essential to be fast and cost-effective in growth marketing (it’s part of our definition, remember?), so growth teams absolutely have to work with minimum viable products (MVP’s).

A MVP basically is the smallest and cheapest way of having the thing you want. We encourage you to think big and then slim that idea down to a workable minimum.

The best example of how a MVP works might be the way Richard Branson once started Virgin Airlines. Branson basically started the famous airline by convincing passengers of cancelled flights to lease an airplane and split the costs. It’s the perfect MVP for a full blown international airline.

The growth marketing mindset is simply wanting to continuously learn more about your audience and improve your marketing efforts

Have courage and start now

If you take away anything with you from this blog, let it be this: you just have to get started. Growth marketing is about small and fast experiments you can set up right away. So do that. Take a hard look at your marketing funnel, discover where you can improve and get creative. You won’t regret it!

Looking for a growth team?

As a full service digital agency, The Reference offers all skills and expertise to help you with your growth marketing needs. Feel free to get in touch and discover what we can do for you.


Text written by Lazlo Cootmans, based on the webinar by Stein Peeters.

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