How to create a best-in-class growth marketing strategy
We are currently experiencing some of the most serious challenges in a generation, a slowing global economy, rising inflation, geopolitical uncertainty and energy insecurity. The ad-heavy playbooks that many companies have been using for the last decade have changed. Marketing teams are being forced to adapt in favour of more profitable, more efficient growth.
At the same time, covid has accelerated changes in the way people research and buy products and services today such that marketing is fast-becoming the main revenue driver for most companies. This is counter to a lot of traditional marketing DNA where “marketing” was limited to activities like brand, sales enablement, events, PR, communication and product marketing. Marketing teams today should be a strategic growth lever for most businesses with marketing activities connected to revenue.
Marketing teams are being asked to do more with less. Which marketing programme should be cut? How can we reduce ad spend in favour of more efficient growth?
Lots of people are turning to growth marketing as the solution but what is exactly is growth marketing, and how to you build a best-in-class growth marketing strategy?
What is growth marketing strategy?
Clearly, your strategy is unique to you, your team, your business and your goals. There is no wrong or right way way to approach a growth marketing strategy, however there are some principles and best practises which, in our experience, are critical.
We’ll cover these below:
- Process discipline
- Aligned to revenue
- Prioritise for impact
- Process oriented
- Impact focused
- Low on tech, high on strategy. Not bloated tech stack and people stack
Ultimately a growth marketing strategy needs to be a healthy mix of testing new things, scaling what works, and optimising what’s already working.
Ideas are your fuel, experiments are your engine. A successful marketing function needs to produce great fuel and craft a well-running engine.Emily Kramer, MKT1
Growth marketing strategy & process discipline
Look inside many functions within a business – sales, finance, research & development, IT – there is often a process discipline that often doesn’t exist in traditional marketing teams.
Historically this hasn’t existed within marketing teams. There are no quick wins or silver bullets when it comes to growth. Adopting new tactics and technology isn’t the answer. Successful teams have a discipline and rigour to every aspect of the marketing oraganisation.
You need process discipline around your marketing system, such as:
- Go-to-market strategy
- Team and hiring
- Technology & data
- Experiment design and execution
Email is not a business system and is definitely not a way to manage a marketing team. See our marketing project management software review for more information.
Growth strategy & alignment to revenue
Every marketing function should contribute to revenue. You should be able to connect marketing activities to revenue (closed won, and customer lifetime value). Not doing this dilutes the value marketing should play in the organisation and causes a mismatch between marketing leadership and other C-level executives which can erode trust with the marketing organisation as a whole.
“Position marketing as a strategic growth lever for the company. Know the math for how $1 invested in marketing yields a multiplier for the company in revenue.Sarah Franklin, CMO at Salesforce
In most B2B organisations, marketing should be positioned as part of the core revenue engine, alongside sales.
This is largely comes down to activity measurement and getting closer to revenue with core marketing metrics and KPIs. C-level execs are not interested in keyword rankings, traffic, new blog posts, form submissions and social shares. Marketing needs to be reporting on metrics that impact the business, such as leads, sales pipeline and opportunities.
The need for ruthless prioritisation
No good marketing team will ever be short of ideas. Most companies are great coming up with ideas but have an incredibly inefficient engine for prioritising and testing them. This lack of process and prioritisation often results in working on the wrong marketing activities. A new shiny object or water cooler conversation with an executive consumes can easily consume an individual or small team for a whole month yet deliver very little. Do this 12 times, and a whole year will have passed.
What separates the good from the great is knowing where to focus in that sea of ideas. Thus being aligned to revenue (above) requires ruthless prioritisation and a focus on only those activities that are most likely to lead to tangible growth for the business. This is a significant mindset shift from the busywork that occupies the resources of many marketing teams.
Every has opinions and ideas, and all experience creates bias. Use a prioritisation framework such as ICE or RICE as a forcing function to make the right decisions and allow you to say no. If a new idea falls below a certain score and threshold, move it out of the way in order to declutter your workspace.
Prioritisation is the answer to knowing what to do, and more importantly, what not to do. Focus on the things that have the potential to drive step-change growth. We have seen a single successful high-impact experiment increase a KPI by more than all other the experiments combined that were run in that year. Do what’s important, not what’s urgent. Your goal is to find the areas where can you get the most leverage from what you have. When can small inputs result in outsized results?
The goal is not to find a winning metric, it’s to learn. If we want to learn, we have to predict things up front, getting trustworthy data from an A/B test, and analysing the data objectively by assuming you’re wrong and concluding there is an effect only when changes are statistically significant. The key thing is to remember that simply A/B testing or using data will not in itself improve our decision making, running trustworthy experiments is key.
“Only once you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter.”Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown
Here are 3 questions to help you prioritise your most impactful work:
- If this works, how big could it be?
- What are the riskiest assumptions behind this idea?
- What’s the quickest way we can test those assumptions?
Think of your marketing team as portfolio management, constantly placing strategic bets. How do you balance your portfolio in a way that is likely to deliver the best return.
Focus is arguably the single biggest lever in your growth marketing strategy. Constant shuffling priorities stalls progress, frustrates teams and creates an environment of uncertainty.
Clear go-to-market strategy
“Our 2023 marketing strategy is to invest in Twitter organic, Linkedin paid ads, content marketing, SEO and email”.
This isn’t a marketing strategy, this is a list of random tactics and channels (also known as “spray and pray”). We’re written previously about the importance of creating marketing strategy not a marketing plan. Where a lack of strategy is most evident is in companies that have little or no channel discipline.
Omni-channel marketing is a terrible idea in general, largely peddled by consulting firms, and is not a growth marketing strategy. Why would you diversify to something unproven when you haven’t taken full advantage of something that is already working?
Whilst the number of acquisition channels often varies with company size, in our experience startups and small businesses should focus on a single workhorse channel. Larger enterprise companies should have a maximum of 3 core workhorse acquisition channels depending on the size of the team. The challenge is that most marketing channels take time to work to their full potential. People who jump from one initiative to the next miss out on the really good results because they stop investing too soon
There are a finite number of ways you can grow your company. Silicon Valley growth veteran Andrew Chen asserts that there are really only 4 (maybe 5) ways to scale growth really big – paid acquisition, virality, SEO, sales and (sometimes, but rarely) a big partnership.
“Think of distribution channels as pokemon characters. They each have a set of rules and a list of superpowers. You can’t change how that distribution channel behaves, the rules, or its superpowers. Instead, find the distribution channels you can enslave with your product’s attributes, your team’s execution, or finding a blue ocean to grow within.”
Your marketing strategy involves trade-offs, if you’re not talking about trade offs it’s probably not a strategy. Which distribution channel are you betting on?
A growth marketing strategy is a customer centric strategy
Understanding customers and representing the customers voice within your organisation is perhaps the most important job of a marketing team. The antithesis to the HiPPO marketing approach of “just listen to your manager” is customer development and “just listen to the customer.”
Deeply understanding your customer and your audience is the fuel to growth marketing and experimentation teams. Focusing on insights over execution will help your team understand:
- Which opportunities should be prioritised
- The potential impact on new ideas and opportunities
- How should we organise and structure our product portfolio
- What would be the most useful piece of content to create
- Which of the proposed ad messaging is most likely to resonate
Every on your team and in your company has opinions and bias, so a growth marketing strategy should include always-on user or customer research, often called “voice of customer”.
Being customer centric is about looking at marketing activities through the lens of the customer, not the lens of the business. Reducing focus on typical marketing metrics like MQLs, SQLs, pirate metric and the customer journey, and instead focusing on the emotional journey and value to the customer.
Customer-led growth, or customer-driven growth ensures the organisation continues thinks from the customer perspective – how does this add value to the customer, rather than how does this add value to the business.
|Business centric||Customer centric|
|Traffic, leads, MQLs & SQLs||Measuring customer value|
|The customer journey||The emotional journey of the customer|
|Business solutions||Customer problems|
|Marketing activity output||Marketing activity impact|
It is very easy to forget what it’s like to be a customer, and what it’s like to experience your website/product/app for the first time. You need to escape your own bias and assumptions, and the bias and assumptions of your team, colleagues and company. Focus on discovering and understanding customer problems and use experimentation to find solutions. Let customers kill ideas, not opinion.
Jobs to be done is an excellent framework to start this approach. Whilst interviews are ideal, many teams start with running always-on surveys to people that have recently become new customers (in the last 3 to 6 months). In a world where data privacy is hot on the agenda, zero-party data collected directly from your audience is exactly the kind of qualitative data you should using to your advantage.
Specifically, you’ll want to ask customer questions such as:
- What life was like for you before you started using our product?
- What happened that made you realise “this isn’t working, I need something else”?
- What was your desired outcome?
- What were your must-haves / deal breakers?
- What did you do next, and next, and next … until you found us? (where did you go? who or what influenced your decisions?)
- What value did you see or experience that convinced you to pay for our solution?
- What led you to choose us over all the other options?
- What are you able to do now that you weren’t able to do before? How have you/your team evolved and grown since using our solution?
Rapid experimentation often provides lots of good data, but should be paired with qualitative customer research to understand the “why” behind the data. Data from Conversion.com also shows that a/b tests backed by qualitative research achieve better results in ab tests (in the dataset, experiments backed by evidence were winners 44.5% more often than those without it).
Data-informed decisions in a growth marketing strategy
A good growth marketing strategy uses data to guard against opinions, feelings, emotions and bias. With a combination of both quantitative and qualitative data growth teams can bring together the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ in order to make more informed decisions.
Despite the online debate around brand marketing versus growth and performance marketing, data can still be used to inform brand marketing decisions. Brand experiments shouldn’t be measured on conversions but do need to receive impressions.
Data can informed all aspects of growth marketing, including:
- Idea prioritisation and choosing what to work on
- Understanding at the programme level, which are your best customer acquisition channels and programmes?
- Understanding what is and isn’t working at the individual experiment level
- Building a predictive growth model
In order to build a well-informed growth marketing strategy you will need to answer questions such as:
- Do you have an understanding of qualified pipeline and revenue (closed won) for each of your marketings channels and programmes?
- Do you have visibility of spend or CAC (customer acquisition cost) for each of your marketing channels and programmes?
A number of additional questions are in our marketing audit article.
Notice we chose “data-informed” not data-driven or data-obsessed. Data is primarily a means to gaining insights into user behaviour and preferences, but it is not the only means. Marketers must also recognise and guard against the biases that can lead us to interpret data poorly. Confirmation bias, for example, shows that as humans we have a tendency to focus on data that confirms our hypotheses whilst over-looking data that could oppose them. You will never have perfect data so must get comfortable making bets without all the data.
Reducing uncertainty through experimentation
Many marketing teams operate in a haphazard way, flinging ideas and tactics around like spaghetti trying to see what will stick with no overarching plan – another blog post, another feature announcement, another ad campaign. This is no way to generate long-term growth in a predictable, reliable way. In fact, it actively prevents it.
The combination of your business, your product and your customers is (or at least should be) unique. What worked for someone else, at another company, with a different target audience isn’t automatically going to work for you. Applying most marketing advice and tactics found online often leads to more chaos, more spaghetti on the wall.
The real problem is you don’t have a growth marketing strategy, you’re guessing. A good growth marketing strategy coupled with regular experimentation helps reduce this uncertainty in order that teams can work in a more structured and informed manner. Experimentation provides marketers an opportunity to challenge assumptions and reduces battles of opinions in favour of empirical evaluation.
Empirical Evaluation: An evaluation method in which results are derived by observation or experiment instead of theory.https://www.igi-global.com/dictionary/empirical-evaluation/9741
A framework for experimentation enables teams to maturity from “I’ve got an idea!” to “I’ve got an idea, this is my hypothesis and my expected ROI”. Know the rough destination and paving the path along the way.
Continuous research & development (R&D) in growth marketing
Big bets based based on big assumptions is a terrible way to run a modern marketing team. Modern teams and growth strategies are built on the idea of being able to validation or invalidate ideas over a short period of time.
All new marketing programs require optimisation before they can be profitable. But the reality is that most programs never actually reach profitability. That’s fine, as long as you have a defined process for how you launch, monitor, optimise, and cut programs when necessary.
Use experimentation (lean, agile or growth marketing) in order to support the rapid generation and testing of ideas, along with rigorous and consistent metrics for evaluation. Iterate on experiments quickly based on your learnings and avoid scaling and integrating into the wider business until they are proven.
All marketing activities follow a curve of growth – you find something that works, over time things change (the channel gets overcrowded, buyer behaviour changes, something new takes off) and the effectiveness of that channel starts to flatten out. Andrew Chen famously described this as the law of shitty clickthroughs.
Regardless of the size of your growth marketing team, you always need to be looking out for the next thing, exploring new channels and programmes. This may be testing a completely new channel, or testing a new innovation within an existing channel. The “but this is how we’ve always done things” argument is a dangerous assumption to make in a fast-moving world. The incentivise to keep things as stable as possible can be alluring in the perception of removing risk, but in fact often increases risk as the marketing strategy stagnates through a lack of innovation.
Adam Grenier calls this the “exploring emerging channels framework” which has 3 core ingredients
- Strengths of the channel. what channel does (strengths of the medium eg Spotify and Clubhouse). What are the strengths of the channel are more important than if channel is hot.
- DNA of the channel – where are they in their trajectory? Have to accept if very early but disappear and probably won’t be a repeatable thing. Also think about what is the monetisation strategy of the channel? Are you aligned
- Own company DNA – risk profile. Do you have appetite to be a first mover? be on dodgy sites, not get refunds etc. Also your channel mix – find some kind of volume and scale on a more stable/basic channel first before going for something more risky. Get fish around first and do more risky exploration after that
Consider the typical length of time between a customers first impression or exposure to your brand and the revenue event (e.g. PO raised). The longer this funnel, the longer the time between the initial impression and the revenue event itself the more opportunity there typically is for experimentation and iteration. The longer the funnel the more opportunities there are for optimisation, and equally the more points there are for failure.
Building repeatable & compounding growth marketing assets
The goal of your growth marketing strategy should be to build repeatable processes that can be continuously tweaked and improved to get compounded results over time. This can apply both to brand activities as much as direct response activities, reduce the one-off singular action in favour of consistent ongoing investments.
Build marketing assets that deliver value and pay dividends in perpetuity. One-off marketing programs and initiatives require repeated effort to just sustain let alone scale hence should be avoided at all costs. Let’s run a campaign? No. Let’s send an email to people that interacting with us in the last 6 months but haven’t taken any further action? No. If you’re going to do it once, don’t do it. Not a single successful company is successful because of a single campaign, single tactic, channel, webinar, email, post.
“a bunch of smaller things joining together to form a giant that can function as more than the sum of its parts—is called emergence.“Tim Urban https://waitbutwhy.com/2019/08/giants.html
A great way to visualise and understand the power of compounding is through the wheat and chessboard problem.
If a chessboard were to have wheat placed upon each square such that one grain were placed on the first square, two on the second, four on the third, and so on (doubling the number of grains on each subsequent square), how many grains of wheat would be on the chessboard at the finish?
The answer is 18,446,744,073,709,551,615 (eighteen quintillion, four hundred forty-six quadrillion, seven hundred forty-four trillion, seventy-three billion, seven hundred nine million, five hundred fifty-one thousand, six hundred and fifteen.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wheat_and_chessboard_problem
Your goal as a growth marketer is to build assets, living breathing marketing assets, not fossils. Think about how to build repeatability and scalability into everything you do. Even seemingly one-off programmes (such as events, and brand) can be turned into repeatable programmes. Consistent, repeatable output is the secret to all growth metrics. Treat everything as a growth loop.
Ensure your growth marketing strategy creates linked investments
Many marketing leaders invest in multiple programmes and channels, such as content, SEO and paid media, but treat them as separate, unlinked investments. Rather than viewing these channels as separate activities, successful growth businesses treat these as linked investments that can build momentum around an idea or asset.
For example, if you have a high quality piece of research to share from first party data, you may decide to:
- Use retargeting audiences to get the content in front of potential customers on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook
- Post the content or asset to your company social channels
- Request employees repost the content from the company social channels on their own profiles
- Continue with SEO optimisation to ensure new content or asset continues to move up the search rankings and gain traffic
- Build retargeting audiences mixed with non-converters and feed these back into your ad platforms
Growth accelerates when you are able to link compounding marketing activities over time.
Optimise for speed
Inherent in an experiment-driven approach to marketing and growth is optimising for speed. With technology day marketing teams need to be shipping work and launching new programmes in days and weeks, not months. Nobody wants to wait 3 month to see the results of a campaign. Change happens when people see action, think action the box in order to get action fast.
“Really the only winning strategy is speed, how fast you are innovating and staying ahead of the game. Faster always wins.”Jaleh Rezae, CEO, Mutiny
An immutable law of speed in execution is focus. The only way to achieve fast execution is to focus. I can’t divide my attention. You can’t either, Mr. Proud Multitasker. And the less concentrated your energies, the more total time a task or project will require.
For one, context switching slows everything down. The more times you have to circle back to something, the more time you’ll spend figuring out where you left off. Ruthless prioritisstion (above) and saying no to as much as possible, is the greatest obstacle to progress in any single project.
You don’t want to be afraid of experimentation, but you want to hedge your success across a wide number of smaller bets. Give every program a 3 month timeline to prove their effectiveness before getting more funding to continue to optimise and cut programs that don’t hit that target.
Make lots of inexpensive bets. Cut them if there’s no line of sight to profitability after 3 months. Fund those that are working and continue to optimise until they’re profitable.
If experiments what we use to test our assumptions and gather customer feedback, then the more experiments we run, the faster and the more we learn. This feedback loop, between idea and learning is critical. The faster the feedback loop, the quicker the path to success.
The quicker your feedback loops on what works and doesn’t, the quicker your path to success.kieranflanagan.io
A continuous learning culture
The goal of marketing experimentation isn’t a winning test, but rather learning and additional understanding. Experiments do not fail, rather, hypotheses are proven wrong and these incorrect hypotheses should be embraced as learning opportunities.
These learnings are the fuel to delivering value to customers and impact to your business. Focus on the learnings and the impact will follow.
Every inventor and artist has a body of work that doesn’t “work”, that nobody remembers but that was required to hone their craft. It doesn’t matter. People remember the hits.
In order to optimise this learning culture you should:
- Create a database of learning. This central repository should contain all experiment learnings and be easily searchable by anyone in your team.
- Social learnings with your team and stakeholders as an important part of experimentation is arhing your learnings so that other parts of the organisation can use them to deliver outcomes
In order to create a rich set of learnings, when completing an experiment ask questions such as:
- Was the implementation or execution of the hypothesis flawed in any way?
- Are metrics moving together as you expect? Are upstream metrics supporting downstream metric movement?
- Am I testing bold enough hypotheses? Don’t get caught in local maxima optimisation. Keep pushing.
More ideas = more experiments = more data and learnings.
Full funnel consideration
There are typically three ways to grow a business:
- Get more new customers
- Get them to pay more on average
- Get them to come back more often
A growth marketing strategy should consider the entire customer journey and consider not just customer acquisition but post acquisition, retention and expansion as well. Inline with being customer centric (above) understand how you are delivering and measuring value at every step of the journey.
The role of growth marketing should not be limited to top of funnel. They also need to influence conversion throughout the funnel.
If people are generating awareness through people reading our top-of-funnel content, are you actively trying to take some action in order to deepen the relationship, such as asking them to join a newsletter? Once they have taken an initial action, such as the newsletter signup, is there a path to them trying the product? After a trial or demo, what is the path to them then becoming a customer? For existing customers, is there a path to help them to refer others?
Growth is about understanding this full picture of customers.
B2B marketing teams drive growth and efficiency throughout the entire funnel, from building brand awareness to driving new and expansion revenue and creating product and brand champions. B2B marketing teams achieve this by creating value-add “fuel” and building an effective growth “engine” specific to your audience, market, and product.https://mkt1.substack.com/p/4-ways-marketing-is-different-from