Fractional Marketing: A Game-Changer For Business Growth

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A business leader’s primary responsibility is to grow a company. Yet, doing so is more difficult and more expensive than ever. There are more competitors. The cost of paid acquisition has gone up. Revenue attribution on paid acquisition has become convoluted. The number of possible marketing channels has exploded. And, with AI tools, standing out within endless content flooding the brains of our target customers is an increasing challenge.

But, in today’s market, the formula for growth remains the same as at any point in history - work with great people, give them clear goals, and provide regular accountability. Working with fractional marketers is the best way of doing this in today’s market and is why companies from small startups to Fortune 500 companies are changing the way they think about staffing for their marketing teams 

What Is Fractional Marketing? 

Fractional marketing is the practice of hiring external marketing experts on a part-time basis to access specialized marketing skills without the costs associated with hiring full-time marketing staff.

Since fractional marketing professionals usually focus on specific marketing functions, this modular approach allows for more flexibility and enables the business to access a broad range of expertise to achieve its specific growth objectives.

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How Marketing Has Changed

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Marketing has changed dramatically in the last few years and will continue to change even more rapidly in the years to come. There are challenges and opportunities from these changes.

  • There Are More Channels Than Ever: At one point in history, there was just word-of-mouth marketing. One person would tell another person (or many people). This marketing was basic but powerful. But, over time, more and more marketing channels started to evolve. There was print advertising where you could speak to a large audience with a single ad. Then radio came along, then TV, etc… With the rise of “digital marketing”, the marketing landscape changed. Digital ads were trackable, and analytics started to become more powerful. But, over the last few years, the number of marketing channels has exploded. There are simply too many channels for any marketing person to know and be an expert at–email marketing, paid search, organic social, paid social, programmatic, affiliate, influencer, and the list goes on…
  • More Advanced & Granular Analytics:  As marketing has evolved, the technology to understand and track this marketing has become far better. While privacy concerns have created new challenges for a marketer, the level of analytics we have to understand our marketing efforts is incredibly powerful. The level of granular data we can track, organize, and analyze is unbelievable. G2 lists over 335 Marketing Analytics platforms, and that is only part of the analytics universe.   
  • Marketing Is More Scientific: Given the rise of stronger analytics and more tools to understand the behavior of potential and current customers, the role of a marketer has become more scientific. While the art of marketing is still vital, the science of marketing has become essential. A marketer now needs to understand how to track her marketing efforts. She needs to be able to analyze that data. She needs to determine what’s working and what’s not working, and she needs to be able to make those insights actionable. Making decisions based on numbers is now more important and more possible than ever. 
“The modern marketer is an experimenter, a lover of data, a content creator, a justifier of ROI.” - Kim Walsh
  • Success (Or, Lack thereof) Is Easier To Track:  The good and bad news for marketers is that marketing success is easier to track than ever. This is great news for marketers who know how to use the various channels and tools to grow a business. They are high in demand, can pay for themselves through the growth they drive, and have increased flexibility and opportunities. However, this is not good for marketers who don’t know how to use the various channels and tools effectively to drive growth. 

The Rise Of Specialists Over Generalists In Marketing

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When the term “Digital Marketing” first came out, it was a catch-all term. A Director of Digital Marketing could oversee digital marketing because there were only a couple of marketing channels. The same is true of the term “Marketing Director” or “Marketing Manager” or a whole host of other marketing roles. These are generalist roles where the idea of the role is for that person to be able to just “market”. In other words, I’ll hire a “Marketing Manager” that knows how to market my company and grow it. And, while this worked okay when there were a small number of marketing channels, this just is not feasible in today’s market.  

A marketer that knows how to drive leads on LinkedIn, most likely, doesn’t know how to do Influencer Marketing. A marketer that knows how to do SEO, most likely, doesn’t know how to do email marketing. A marketer that knows how to Paid Google Ads, most likely, doesn’t know how to create video content for social. Etc…

The rise of marketing specialists has been rapid, and many companies still don’t understand that. Hiring somebody and expecting them to be able to be successful across a host of marketing channels is not just unreasonable, it also is a sure-fire way to waste money and time.  

For companies to grow today, they have to recognize that to grow, they have to choose the markets and channels they are looking to grow in and hire specialists over generalists. Hiring fractional growth marketers is a great way to do this.    

How Working Has Changed

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During the pandemic, we all started working remotely. And, while many companies are now requiring their employees to come back to the office at least a couple days per week, many companies still embrace remote working environments. This means that companies now, more than ever, have distributed teams and have gotten good at working with distributed and remote teams rather than just knowing how to manage teams that come into the office every day. With the rise of remote work, the increase in the number of tools available to make this work productive has been large too.  

This means that many companies can now hire the best person for the job, even those with MBA degrees, rather than just the best person near their office for the job. They can build marketing teams as team extensions, with specialists and skilled individuals from all over the world contributing their expertise. This has transformed the way to build all teams, and this is especially true for building marketing teams.  

Why The Best Marketers Are Now Working As Fractional Marketing Experts

Even prior to the pandemic, the best marketers were pushing to work remotely and work for multiple companies. In fact, Growth Collective was formed prior to the pandemic to help some of the best marketers in Silicon Valley transition into working on a fractional basis. The pandemic just accelerated this move.  

The best marketers like to drive results and they understand that they can do that for multiple companies. They also don’t want to have to hassle with too many meetings or too much wasted time on commutes or other activities that keep them from being able to drive growth.  

Additionally, with the huge number of layoffs by large tech companies in 2022 and 2023, some of the best marketers have become disenchanted with the traditional work construct. Therefore, many of the best marketers have chosen to not go find another full-time job. Instead, they have focused their energies on becoming a fractional marketer for multiple companies. They get to choose the work they enjoy doing, they get to do the work from where it makes sense for them, and they get rewarded for the results they drive.   

The Rise Of The Fractional CMO

The first place where we have seen the rise of the fractional marketer is in the trend of companies hiring a Fractional CMO. This is part of a larger fractional trend in which companies have been hiring fractional CFOs, fractional COOs, fractional CTOs, and even fractional CEOs. Fractional CMOs are in great demand because they can come in, create the strategy and vision for the marketing efforts, and put those efforts in motion. While CMOs can be considered generalists, they can also be considered specialists in the area of marketing strategy. With extensive experience, they can save time and money for the companies they are working for because they already have a good sense of what works and what doesn’t. They are able to make an immediate impact, and they provide leadership of the marketing function at a lower price.

Fractional CMOs are: 

  • Experts in marketing strategy
  • Seasoned professionals with real-world experience
  • Able to hit the ground running and make an impact fast    

The Fractional Marketing Stack

While the role of Fractional CMO has risen, an even bigger trend is companies that are engaging a “fractional marketing stack”. This may mean a full-time CMO with multiple fractional marketing experts across multiple verticals. Or, it could mean a Fractional CMO plus multiple fractional marketing experts. A fractional marketing team for a fast-growing startup might look something like:

Fractional CMO (25 hours per week) + Fractional Email marketer (15 hours per week) + Fractional Paid Search expert (15 hours per week) + Fractional Organic Search expert (15 hours per week) + Fractional Content Marketing expert (20 hours per week).  

A Fractional marketing team like the above gives a company greater expertise in a more flexible manner for a lower price. For example, most companies can’t afford to hire an email marketing agency for $8,000 per month but they can afford a fractional email marketing expert that has more experience than the people doing the work at an agency without the markup. Therefore, this expert might only cost $4,000 and drive better results.  

The same is true for the rest of the fractional marketing stack. 

The Benefits Of Having A Fractional Marketing Team

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As we have said, there is a fast-growing trend of companies hiring fractional marketing teams rather than hiring full-time marketing teams. Companies that are seeing the success of having a fractional marketing team rather than a full-time team are reporting that they are seeing:

  • Lower Costs: The cost of hiring fractional marketing teams is lower. This is because these expert teams can do more in less time but also because there aren’t the costs of full-time benefits as well as the cost of equipment and office space of full-time employees. Hiring full-time employees has a lot of hidden costs. The costs for hiring (recruiters, vetting, checking references, etc…) are very high. The additional costs on top of salaries are also very high (insurance, benefits, computer equipment, office space, etc…). But, along with all of that is less flexibility. The reality is that most specialists can complete a task in 15 hours per week vs that same task taking a generalist 40 hours plus. The specialist knows the right tools to use, has more experience, and is more focused. 
  • Greater Productivity: Companies that work with fractional marketing teams create very clear goals. Whereas a company that hires a full-time generalist marketer might create general goals, those that hire fractional marketers create very specific goals for each specialist. For example, when a company hires a fractional Paid Search expert, they may set the goal of a minimum of 3x ROAS. This means that there is no fluff around endless meetings or work that doesn’t achieve this goal. Instead, marketers just focus on activities that drive to that goal.  
  • Greater Flexibility: If an employee is not working out or the economy shifts or funding dries up, it’s difficult to move on from employees. But, with a fractional marketer, if the person isn’t performing you can simply end the contract. You can scale up and down people as you are able to afford them.  
  • Hire Best-In-Class Experts In Each Marketing Channel: It’s better to hire experts across each marketing channel than to hire a generalist who might be okay at each one. And, the difference in hiring an expert in paid search vs a generalist who has “done some paid search” is almost always the difference between getting ROI and not.
  • Faster Impact: Fractional marketers are used to going into a company and immediately making an impact. There is limited onboarding time, no long corporate meetings they have to sit through and now fluff. They know how to go in and immediately make an impact.

How To Hire A Fractional Marketing Team

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You have a number of options if you’re looking for fractional marketing services.  

Recruiting Agencies

Because of the rise of fractional marketing hires, recruiting firms have added fractional marketing hiring to their activities. This can be a good option but also can be expensive as many of these agencies charge a large amount to the client for finding these fractional individuals.  

Websites That Match You To Freelancers Or Fractional Marketers But Still Act Like Agencies

There are websites that will match you to fractional marketers, but these typically still act like agencies. While they don’t charge you an up-front fee, they will keep a large percentage of the money paid (often 50% or more). While this can be an option, the best fractional marketers don’t like to work with these companies because they lose too much of the money they are earning.  

Generalist Freelance Platforms

There are freelancer platforms out there as well. You can certainly use these, but it takes a lot of wading through of profiles to find fractional marketing experts. These platforms are usually generalist platforms across a large range of skills. And, they also typically have freelancers that are more used to doing project or hourly work. Finally, while you can certainly find some freelancers that have experience working with and for large companies and high-growth startups, many on these platforms make a living from working with very small companies.

Premium Fractional Marketing Marketplaces

Just like there are companies like “TopTal” for fractional engineering talent, there are marketplaces for fractional marketing talent. Growth Collective, founded by former Google employees, is one of the most widely known and respected premium fractional marketing marketplaces. 

Determining What Fractional Marketers To Hire For Your Growth

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Step One: Determine Who Is Going to Lead Your Marketing Efforts.

For some companies, this may be easy to answer. You may already have a CMO in place. Or, if you are a small enough company, your founder or CEO may lead the marketing activities without an official CMO. At larger companies, this may be a CMO that is full-time or you may have already hired a Fractional CMO. But, the first question is to determine who is going to lead the overall marketing efforts. Questions to start with:

  • Do you already have a CMO (or marketing leader) in place? 
  • If you do not have a CMO in place, is there somebody within the organization that can lead the marketing activities or do you need to bring somebody else in?  
  • If it’s the latter, is it better to bring on a full-time CMO or should you hire one using one of the fractional CMO services available to you?  

Step Two: Define Your Goals

The second step is to clearly define your goals. It’s best if you have revenue growth plans in place. Are you a young company and you are trying to grow 2% per month because you have a very small base? Or, are you a more mature company that is looking to grow 5% over the course of the year. The important pieces are to define your growth targets and your time horizon. 

Step Three: Determine Tactics

If you are looking to grow, you need to determine the tactics you are going to test to drive that growth. Most companies start with trying to figure out how to drive their top of funnel (i.e. traffic to their website). But, it can also be easier to improve conversions or get your customers to spend more money with you. Be clear on the tactics you are going to use. For example, if you are going to try to increase conversions, you might need a Conversion Rate Optimization person and/or an email marketer. That’s much different than if you are trying to improve top of funnel.  

Step Four: Decide The Channels You Are Going To Test

Now that you have determined your goals and your tactics, you now need to define which channels you are going to test to achieve those goals usings those tactics. For example, if your goal is top of funnel, you can’t test every channel. So, which channels do you start with? One good place to start is to look at competitors. If they are having success in paid acquisition and there is still a lot of room for you to compete there, maybe that’s a good place. However, if they can always spend way more than you can on Google, maybe you need to look at another channel. You can also look at overall ROI benchmarks and look at different channels and how they are performing for your industry or vertical. For example, do you want to try social media marketing? If so, which platform is best for you? If you are B2B, TikTok might not work (though we have seen it do well for B2B companies) for you but maybe LinkedIn will work well.  

Step Five: Create Specific Goals For That Channel

You then need to create very specific goals for that channel so you can define success (or lack of) for each channel you need to find fractional marketing help. For example, let’s say you want to test LinkedIn marketing for leads. Well, how much do you need to be able to buy a quality lead on LinkedIn to make your economics work? Define that before you start hiring a fractional marketing expert that knows LinkedIn. If your target lead amount is reasonable, you can now go find a fractional marketing expert for LinkedIn that can hit that number.

Step Six: Define Level Of Marketer You Need

Do you need somebody to just manage and optimize the channel you are working on? If so, you might not need an executive-level person. But, if you need somebody to set up the channel, do all the testing, optimize it all, etc…you might need an executive that can scale it up.  

Step Seven: Determine How Many Hours You Need The Fractional Marketer

To make a channel work for your business, you need somebody who is going to put in enough hours each week to analyze performance and optimize. In the beginning, this is often 10-20 hours per week. And, then, over time when that channel is set up and running, it might take 5-10 hours to optimize continually.  

Step Eight: Determine Your Budget

How much does a fractional CMO cost? The rates of a fractional CMO typically range from $200 to $300 per hour. At Growth Collective, you also get the option to enter into flat fee or retainer agreements for flexibility.

Step Nine: Hire

You are now ready to hire. Again, there are multiple ways to find fractional marking experts. Growth Collective is one great way to do this - we have experts across most marketing channels, all of our experts are fully vetted, and our experts have worked across a variety of industries and for some of the most well-known startups and large corporations. You can create a role here (it’s free to create a role and get matched to experts).  

Some Examples Of Fractional Marketing Use Cases

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Hiring A Fractional CMO To Overcome Unknowns In The Economy

The global economy has seen its fair share of ups and downs in recent years. Economic uncertainties, market fluctuations, and unexpected crises can all impact a company's ability to hire and maintain full-time staff. This is where fractional growth marketers shine. They offer a solution that provides companies with access to top-tier marketing talent without the long-term commitment and financial burden of a full-time hire.

Example: Imagine a tech startup faced with economic uncertainty due to a sudden market downturn. Hiring a full-time Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) at this stage would be a substantial financial risk. Instead, they opt to work with a fractional CMO who can provide expert guidance and strategy on demand, helping the startup weather the storm without committing to a full-time salary and benefits package.

Hiring Fractional Marketers To Help With Seasonality

One of the most significant advantages of hiring fractional growth marketers is the flexibility they bring to the table. Marketing needs can fluctuate dramatically throughout the year, and having a full-time team can often lead to underutilization or overextension of resources. Fractional growth marketers can step in when needed, ensuring that your marketing efforts align with your business goals without the constraints of a full-time staff.

Example: Consider an e-commerce company preparing for its busiest season during the holidays. By hiring a fractional email marketing expert, the company can scale up its email campaigns during peak times and scale down during quieter periods, optimizing resource allocation and ROI.

Hiring Fractional Marketers To Help With Product Launches

Cost-effectiveness is a crucial factor when evaluating marketing strategies. Full-time marketers come with fixed salaries, benefits, and overhead costs that can strain a company's budget. Fractional growth marketers, on the other hand, operate on a project or hourly basis, allowing you to pay for exactly what you need when you need it. This cost-effective approach can free up resources for other critical aspects of your business.

Example: A medium-sized B2B company with a limited marketing budget decides to launch a new product. Instead of hiring a full-time product marketing manager, they choose a fractional GTM marketer who specializes in product launches. This decision not only saves them money but also ensures that they get an expert who has a track record of successful product launches.

Testing New Marketing Channels

Marketing is a multifaceted discipline with various subfields such as SEO, content marketing, social media management, and data analytics. Fractional growth marketers often come with niche expertise in specific areas. When you hire a fractional marketer, you're not limited to the skills of one individual; you gain access to a network of specialized talent.

Example: A boutique fashion brand wants to improve its online presence and reach a wider audience through SEO and content marketing. Instead of hiring one full-time marketer who may not have both skills, they work with a fractional growth marketing expert in SEO and a fractional growth marketing expert in content marketing. 

Recently Funded Startup That Needs To Prove Things Quickly

Bringing a new full-time marketer into your organization involves a significant learning curve and potential risks if the hire doesn't work out as expected. Fractional growth marketers can hit the ground running. They often have extensive experience working with different companies and industries, allowing them to adapt quickly to your specific needs and objectives.

Example: A software-as-a-service (SaaS) startup just raised funding to last 18 months. They can’t waste six months hiring, so they need to bring somebody on that can make an immediate impact. They engage a fractional growth marketer who has previously worked with SaaS companies. The marketer leverages their existing knowledge to devise a tailored marketing strategy that yields immediate results, minimizing the time and risk associated with traditional hiring.

Your Use Case

There are so many more use cases that could benefit from a fractional marketing expert vs a full-time individual. What’s your use case and how can the team at Growth Collective help? Create a role and we can send you expert matches right away or schedule a call to speak with one of our team members.  

Dan Minahan
Former company
About Author
Dan Minahan, CEO of Growth Collective
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