This is a guest post from Jaren Nichols, Chief Operating Officer at ZipBooks, online accounting software for small businesses. Jaren was previously a Product Manager at Google and holds an MBA from Harvard Business School.
Growth and marketing work together, but are not the same. Especially with the popularity of “growth hacking,” there has been some confusion about how marketing and growth strategies work. The truth is, growth and marketing are different, but they are working towards the same goal.
Moving through the Funnel
Consider the marketing funnel.
In order for someone to discover your product, you need to create awareness. No one will be able to make a purchase from you, if they do not know you exist.
Your initial marketing techniques make it easier for a prospect to find you and start their journey through the funnel. However, the very shape of the funnel implies that not everyone who takes the bait will make it all the way down to the narrow stem.
We all know that not everyone who hears about you will become a customer. But, if they have heard of you, then inbound marketing has done its job.
Of course, the work of marketing is not finished yet.
Aside from inbound marketing, there are important tools like content marketing and product demos that help persuade your potential customer to purchase. But here in the middle of the funnel, growth serves a better purpose.
Narrowing your Vision
Marketers and growth marketers have a different focus. Growth “hackers” don’t replace marketers, they just play separate roles at separate points in the purchasing process.
As explained, the job of the marketer is to bring awareness to as many people as possible. This is how you get the word out—marketing sees everyone.
Growth, on the other hand, doesn’t see everyone. Growth only cares about the people who are already in the funnel moving towards a purchase.
This is one of the key differences between marketing and growth. Marketing has broader vision, while growth is more narrow.
Monitoring growth—and using these tests and feedback to inform product improvement—is how you improve marketing strategies and help your potential customer move further into consideration and closer to loyalty.
Growth is all about tracking tiny differences in customer engagement and product satisfaction—and then doing something about it.
In the growth stage of marketing, A/B testing and technical experimentation are key. Compare web page formats, test ad copy, vary your welcome email and then track consumer response. A 1-2% difference in customer engagement should matter to you. Take advantage of any positive increase and implement those changes immediately.
Growth transforms your business using unconventional marketing strategies and out-of-the-box marketing experiments. Most of the time, you are inventing these strategies for yourself. While you can google “growth hacking strategies,” you are more likely to find the returns you’re looking for when you take a risk. Know that sometimes this risk-taking will fail or will only work for a short amount of time.
This kind of risk-taking & adjustment-making is what distinguishes growth from marketing. Both marketing and growth care about conversion, but growth is willing to do a lot of trial-and-error to make those conversions happen.
Specifically when looking at inbound marketing and growth hacking (the two variants of each category that tend to be the most confused and interchanged), we see differences in time frame.
Inbound marketing strategies take time to establish and see returns in the long-term. Growth hacking, on the other hand, implements quick, short-term strategies that will bring returns in the immediate future.
The trial-and-error strategies you’ve employed should be tracked and changed quickly. Try a new, improved, innovative strategy each time—keeping what works and quickly ditching what doesn’t.
Growth keeps moving forward at lightning speed, evaluating errors and moving to alternate ideas. Marketing is slow-and-steady, but still does it’s job.
Growth is a sprint, while marketing is a marathon.
Growth Aids Startups
Another difference between growth and marketing is that they don’t always apply to the same businesses. For example, early in the life of a startup, the broad focus of a traditional marketer may not be useful. Since the thing startups care most about is growth, a marketer may not be necessary.
As a startup, our company depends on growth strategies, more than we depend on marketing. We do still have marketing strategies in place.
Most recently, we sent out a survey on recent tax cuts and used the results to create a blog post that increased general awareness for our brand. While this kind of marketing still works, we have employed more hyper-focused strategies in order to improve growth.
One example of a growth strategy we’ve employed is an A/B test at the bottom of the funnel — the step just before conversion to a paid plan for our software. The test we ran helped us determine whether it was more effective to ask a user for their credit card before or after they a 30-day free trial.
As a quick aside — there’s lots of free advice out there on this exact question, but remember that your product, like ours, is unique. Even if you find statistics that point you one way or the other, that type of science has its limitations — as useful as averages are, they don’t represent your unique product and circumstance.
We divided up traffic randomly, requiring some people to add their credit card before the free trial and some people to add it afterwards.
We ran the experiment for about two months, making sure that we saw the entire journey a couple times through, and using statistical analysis software (MixPanel and Google Optimize, in this case) to help us determine at what point our results were statistically significant.
Remember to expect and build in the cost of some technical challenges when you run your own experiments — for example, to truly divide traffic we had to present a different experience across both our marketing website and inside our app (each of which run on different tech stacks on different servers), and that experience had to be consistent based on if the user saw the A or B version.
That took some fairly sophisticated technical setup, but was worth it to know that we were gathering truly valuable data.
It turned out, that for us, getting the credit card information after the trial actually had higher conversion overall.
Again, remember, that was the result for us! In order to know what works for your product, in your market, you’ll need to run your own experiments.
Better Product = Better Growth
One thing that marketing and growth have in common is that they both depend on a quality product to succeed. There is no way to hack growth for a bad product.
To improve quickly, you should invite feedback from the minute you start production and then, implement those changes right away. Create something unique, intelligent and powerful—growth will happen and marketing will succeed.
Remember, marketing and growth should be working hand-in-hand to your benefit. They are different, but when used well, they build on each other. Marketing is the foundation, and growth allows you to get the most out of it.
Written by Cheryl A Clarke Chief Happiness Officer & Director Of Ginger Marketing (unless stated otherwise)