There might never be a failsafe roadmap to sustainable growth. But in more than 20 years of working within and coaching start-ups, including as start-up growth consultant and being part of advisory boards, I’ve helped many founders and CEOs find a roadmap to their own sustainable growth. Hiring is never easy, and too often I see founders put all marketing into the same bucket which creates its own set of challenges.
To better shape this role it is first important to understand the differences between marketing and growth marketing. Marketing in the traditional sense is concerned with the top of the funnel. These methods might still prove effective at getting a message out there, but do not provide a comprehensive profitable growth strategy. Growth marketing looks at the entire customer lifecycle, leverages customer insights and works across the full funnel from acquisition to activation and retention. The primary objective of growth marketing is to improve conversion metrics and engagement throughout the full funnel.
Source: Brian Balfour
Now that we have this important distinction called out, let’s explore where the idea of a growth team came from, the role of a growth marketer, and some of the key considerations to keep in mind when beginning to create these roles in your own company.
The Inception of the Growth Team
In recent years, the idea of hiring a growth marketer within a start-up has become increasingly popular. Originally, the growth model was born at Facebook, where the social media giant created a growth team made up of engineers, product managers, designers, data scientists and marketers who all participated in the decisions made around strategy, tactics, experimentation, and priorities to grow, engage and retain the user base. It covered a cross-section of the company, connecting engineers with business operators and user experience teams. Independence played a key part in this growth entity, as the growth team were empowered and trusted to follow their hypotheses, and given the space to experiment with and test different solutions. This led to increased innovation and agility, giving the team more opportunity to take risks, analyse the results and optimise effectively.
However, for start-ups and smaller companies, the creation of a whole growth team may be challenging due to an initial lack of capital and investment. It may be the case that start-ups decide to hire a single growth marketer whilst they are at the early stages of maturity to work cross-functionally, without assigning a separate growth squad.
The Role of the Growth Marketer
Growth marketing is a very broad role. It applies data-driven, experiment-driven tactics across the AAARRR funnel.. The primary objective of the growth marketer is to improve conversion metrics and engagement throughout the full AAARRR funnel, prioritising what would have the most impact at each stage of the business.
A growth marketer builds the growth marketing blueprint through experimentation and optimisation across the customer and product lifecycle. The precise required skill set of a growth marketer depends on the maturity of the business.
In the early stages, start-ups will be focused on achieving product market fit: having identified a problem or a gap in the market, and developed a solution that might be attractive to the relevant audience, it is now looking to prove that hypothesis. This happens by delivering a so-called AHA! moment, which is defined as the moment a user realises the value of a product and continues using it. In funnel terms, that happens in the activation stage which is when you get users to use the product, whereas proof of product market fit is in the retention stage of the funnel.
Source: Brian Balfour
At this early stage, the specialised skills to look for in a growth marketer might be proficiency in market analysis, customer insights or digital optimisation. Here, collaboration with other departments such as product and design is key. Growth marketers could help inform and optimise product development and ensure customer centricity.
When a start-up finds a product market fit, it starts focusing on driving awareness and scaling its acquisition, now that it is reassured it does not have a leaky bucket and retains its users at a good rate. Growth marketers need to develop scalable customer acquisition skills, channel and media experience. The marketer will use data to monitor revenue performance and present recommendations and improvements for engagement campaigns.
While some parts of a growth marketer’s job and ways of working will remain consistent whatever organisation they’re in, the maturity of a business and the specific requirements of the position mean that the role will vary substantially.
Growth marketers are said to be T shaped in their skills. That means growth marketers are generalists on the below topics which are helpful across the entire organisation, but go deep in acquisition marketing which is conversion rate focused.
Source: Marketer Hire
When designing the role of a growth marketer, you need to think about exactly what you need them to accomplish and create the job accordingly. When hiring it is important to define what areas of the funnel are must-have experience, and which others can be learned on the job.
Do Not Expect Your Growth Marketer To Do The Job Of A Team
The growth team model has proven to be successful for many organisations such as Uber, Dropbox and Pinterest. However, as this is not always possible for a start-up, expecting a single growth marketer to undertake the work that an entire growth team would must be exercised with a lot of caution, a prioritisation framework and a good deal of planning. You should think about building a structure around them, and provide them with some engineering, product design resources to make it work. Ensure realistic expectations are set, think carefully about what the initial priorities are within your business and seek a specialised marketer that will help with these. As businesses move into the next round of funding, there will be more room for hiring additional people to join the growth marketer and form a fully functioning growth team that touches all areas of your business.
Growth marketing teams are successful because they have independence and prioritise effectively – while allowing room for risk and experimentation – but companies must have the resources to feasibly create a whole team. For start-ups and early stage scale-ups, condensing this team into a single growth marketer is a more viable alternative. However, it is impossible to expect one person to have full expertise in every area of the growth model. When hiring a growth marketer, it is important that businesses think about and prioritise candidates whose expertise line up with their number one priority in the growing of the business. The AAARRR framework provides a useful template for determining at which stage of the start-up cycle they are, and what kind of candidate would suit them best.
Though it’s unarguably tough at the outset, the things I love most about the start-up ecosystem are the innovative ways of thinking and the celebration of failure in the name of learning. With this in mind, I’ve begun to think about compiling the most successful practices of growth marketing and will explore this further in a future article.
— Maya Moufarek