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Growth Marketing, Defined

Get the buzz on this not-so-basic marketing approach focused on growth

Tree stump rings

Growth marketing is a full-system approach to marketing that looks beyond paid traffic to get to the bottom of what’s working for your business and what’s not. Sometimes that might mean focusing more on paid traffic, but more often than not, a growth marketing framework challenges businesses to consider how to optimize their funnel through targeted testing.

🌰  In a nutshell, growth marketing is:

  • Data-driven
  • Iterative
  • Scalable 
  • Full-funnel

Table of Contents


The Buzz About Growth Marketing

From Growth Hacking to Growth Marketing

Where Does Growth Marketing Apply?

Growth Marketing vs Traditional Marketing

Growth marketers care about short-term results but they are always looking for ways to add value to the long-term success of a business.

Topic One

The Buzz About Growth Marketing

As marketers (and humans), we’re prone to using buzzwords that don’t always seem to mean anything. Raise your hand if you’ve been guilty of this. 🙋‍♀️

“Growth marketing” is pretty buzzword-y, wouldn’t you agree? It seems like any kind of marketing could, in some way or another, be categorized as “growth marketing” since the point or marketing is growth.

Well, growth marketing stands out because of its—you guessed it—focus on growth, not just short-term popularity, revenue, clicks, and other KPIs. Growth marketing is a process-oriented full funnel approach to marketing that considers the whole system.

Growth Marketing Toolbox

You can think of growth marketing as marketing with a big tool box that can address all kinds of challenges. A growth marketer is like a handyman (or woman) for your marketing processes.

Or, as one of our own put it:

“Choosing a growth marketer is like the difference between hiring someone who just changes your oil vs. someone who can pinpoint what’s wrong with your car, fix it, and find ways to increase its performance.”


So what’s in a growth marketing toolbox?

  • The ability to find opportunity areas that could be improved upon through testing.
  • Developing and implementing experiments to optimize processes.
  • Analyzing results and hypothesizing improvements. 
  • Iterations on tests with positive results.

And growth marketers are able to use these tools across channels! If you haven’t thanked a growth marketer today, you might want to send them a basket of cookies or something. They’re hungry from all that work!

Toolbox on white background

Topic Two

From Growth Hacking to Growth Marketing


This approach considers that traditional marketing isn’t the only way to get and retain customers. The product is as important as the marketing for encouraging growth.

For the most part, growth marketing grew out of the “growth hacking” practices made popular by lean startups that didn’t have the same resources to put behind traditional marketing. Growth hacking was coined in 2010 to describe ideal marketers for scaling startups—equal parts entrepreneurial thinker, creative, and scientifically-minded. 

Over time, “hacking” and so-called traditional marketing converged to create the growth marketing we know and love today. 

In a series from 2012, TechCrunch identified 5 ways that growth hacking changed marketing to be more growth-oriented:

1. Budgets come second, not first.

A predetermined budget doesn’t allow for flexibility in spending. A growth mindset in marketing requires flexibility to experiment, test, and innovate. That means not relying on arbitrary projections of what channels could bring in customers to create a budget, but spending (or not) on the channels that are getting results. 

2. “Going viral” isn’t random, it’s expected.

Typically “going viral” is unpredictable and random. Growth hacking would seek to break down virality and iterate on the success to optimize and recreate it. Rather than crossing their fingers for a big hit, growth hackers put a science to helping products “go viral.” 

3. You must rethink normal marketing channels.

Similar to the approach to marketing budgets, a growth hacker approach to using marketing channels relies on thinking outside the box. Rather than sticking to popular channels like Facebook and Instagram, a growth marketer explores off the beaten path channels to see where they can get the most bang for their buck.

4. Optimize to the nth degree.

Growth hackers have a habit of toeing the line of “going overboard.” Because they are on a shoestring budget (that’s not really a budget) and interested in “hacking” acceleration my (almost) any means possible, their approaches can be unpredictable. For example, a growth hacker might rely on harvesting data that for some customers could be considered too invasive. 

5. Marketing can be holistic.

This approach considers that traditional marketing isn’t the only way to get and retain customers. The product is as important as the marketing for encouraging growth. 


Now, this isn’t to say that growth hacking is the same as growth marketing, but that growth hacking strategies have helped shape what we now call “growth marketing.” In the next section we’ll talk a little bit more about traditional marketing vs. growth marketing.

Topic Four

Where Does Growth Marketing Apply?

Is Growth Marketing Only for Startups?

The short answer is: no!

The longer answer is: heck no!

You get the point. Growth marketing is agile, data-driven, and forward thinking. Even though this approach did grow out of the growth hacking strategies often found in startups, growth marketing is for everyone!

A long, long time ago (well, 13 years ago) start up genius David McClure introduced the world to pirate metrics. Pirate metrics, or AARRR, is a 5 step model for creating a customer lifecycle that increases conversions without breaking the bank. This model instructs businesses to focus on conversion metrics in these categories:

  1. Acquisition
  2. Activation
  3. Retention
  4. Referral
  5. Revenue 

And since then, a sixth step has come into play at the top: awareness.

Though initially introduced in the context of lean startups, this framework applies to business across the board. 

Incorporating Growth Marketing Into Your Processes

By now, you probably understand that because growth marketing is a full system approach to marketing, it applies to pretty much anything to do with your sales funnel. So the question at the top of this section is a little bit of a trap.

Let’s rethink it. The question isn’t so much “where does growth marketing apply?” but rather “how does growth marketing apply?” Here are just a few examples:

    • Content → Using SEO and SEM strategies to reach customers and provide them with valuable information that drives measurable results.
    • Email marketing → Building lists with quality leads (high intent purchasers) and using email flows to push them to purchase. 
    • SEO → Increase organic traffic with targeted keywords and deep diving into search intent and long-tail keywords to optimize your website for search engines.
    • Testing → Conversion rate optimization of your website by finding opportunities to test strategies that can increase conversions. 
    • Social Media → Utilize examples of social proof to address objections up front and generate ideas for ad creative based on what customers are talking about.

Growth marketing can be applied to your marketing strategies in so many ways. Just remember, the basis of growth marketing is using testing and data to influence marketing strategies (not the other way around. In simple terms, to apply growth marketing you need to:

  • Observe, ask questions, and test hypotheses;
  • Iterate on the good stuff, throw out the rest;
  • Don’t lollygag! 

Topic Three

Growth Marketing vs Traditional Marketing



We’ve thrown around the term “traditional marketing” quite a bit already, so you might be wondering what we mean by that.

Truthfully, the words “traditional marketing” bring to mind a Mad Men-esque agency full of cigarette smoke, scotch, and wool suits. That’s not exactly what we’re talking about here. But when we do talk about traditional marketing we are referring to a “stuffier” type of marketing than growth marketing. 

You see, like we discussed in the earlier sections, growth approaches to marketing don’t rely on best practices or rules of thumb, whereas traditional marketing was built on those ideas. Growth marketing is, in a word, flexible.

Take a look at the sales funnel at the top of the section. Traditional marketing typically deals with the top of the funnel—bringing in awareness and interest. 

Growth marketing, in contrast, takes each piece of the funnel into consideration as a means to bring in leads and drive conversions. That’s what we mean when we say growth marketing is a full funnel approach to marketing.

🔬 Growth Marketers as Scientists

Growth marketers are part scientist, part creative genius, part psychologist. They apply the scientific method to marketing to create strategies that are as data-driven as they are idea-driven. 

By applying the scientific method to marketing, growth marketers apply specific tests based on research and observations that led them to come up with a hypothesis. In case you need a little reminder of the scientific method, here’s an illustration explaining the steps.

scientific method

Image Credit: ThoughtCo. 

So growth marketing relies on this structured, repeatable process to come up with hypotheses, discover results, come up with conclusions, and iterate on what they find out. Pretty cool, right? That’s what makes growth marketers part scientists—they don’t just rely on style, they believe in results-driven substance.

🎨 Growth Marketers as Creative Geniuses

Creative geniuses might be a bit of a hyperbole, but it is true that good growth marketers must have an eye for good ad creative, as well as creative approaches to “the usual” marketing channels.

Let’s look at a real life application of growth marketing approaches from Dropbox, the file hosting service.

Dropbox used a robust referral program to grow from 100,000 to 4,000,000 users in 15 months. Relying on referrals rather than other avenues for customer acquisition, such as PPC, allowing Dropbox to avoid the typical high costs of ad spend. The money they didn’t have to spend on advertising could be used to improve the product, which in turn brought in more users and kept the existing users. 

referral-dropboxImage Credit: Referral Candy

By embedding this referral program into the core of their product onboarding process and creating a referral “loop” to encourage referred users to refer other customers, Dropbox built a growth marketing strategy that was scalable, low cost, and effective. 

💭 Growth Marketers as Psychologists

Growth marketing doesn’t have to mean a huge overhaul of a website or building new creative assets from scratch. It could be as simple as changing the text of a CTA or utilizing different colors on a landing page to evoke an emotional response. This is where the psychology of growth marketing comes into play.

Being able to observe data and make educated guesses about what drives a customer to click or purchase requires at least some curiosity about the “why” behind the customer’s thought process. 

💻 What makes us click? Human photos can help boost conversions (when used correctly). →

Ultimately, testing will give you the data about what works. But being able to dive deeper into the buyer’s journey and customer mindset helps growth marketers come up with better hypotheses. 

Growth marketing utilizes psychology in such strategies as:

  • Emotional marketing
  • CTAs
  • Social proof
  • Email subject lines
  • Unique value propositions
  • Keyword research