Why Growth Marketing Means Everything - And Nothing

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The following was previously published in MediaPost's Marketing Insider:

If you’ve been anywhere near marketing or Silicon Valley or any of the metropolitan start-up hubs around the country in the past few years, you certainly cannot have escaped hearing the term “growth marketing” at least a few, or maybe even a thousand times.

Even the trade organization Association of National Advertisers has embraced growth marketing, adopting the tagline "We're All In On Driving Growth" and starting a CMO Masters Circle initiative called the CMO Growth Council.

I’ll offer an example. I was recently contacted by a start-up that is a centralized production platform environment for development, monitoring and deployment by data science teams. Do they need to grow? Of course. However, they brought up the potential need for growth marketing.

Now, hold on a second. Their customers are large enterprise businesses/Fortune 500s and their decision-makers: CIOs, CDOs and CTOs. So, obviously a very small universe of potential targets.

Steering them toward “growth marketing” in the way that most people think about it -- Google AdWords, search, social, display campaigns -- would be a total waste of their finite resources.

So why this persistent buzz around growth marketing from every corner of the marketing world? To find out, I recently ran a quick seven-question survey on the topic and received enough responses to make the results more or less statistically significant.

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A few survey highlights to start:

1) Growth marketing is not going away any time soon – roughly 50% of respondents said it was a useful marketing discipline, with only 30% citing it as “simply a trendy term-of-the-moment” and 10% calling it “the future of digital marketing.”

2) Further, it’s gaining traction – brands, agencies and start-ups are employing growth marketing strategies 55% of the time, with only 5% stating they never use it.

3) It’s gaining traction, part 2 – 42.9% said they have added growth marketing to their mix, 7.1% said it has replaced less important tactics and 21.4% said it’s all they’re focused on. Only 28.6% said it’s had zero impact on marketing choices.

4) The spending is there – a full 90% of respondents claimed that growth marketing was between 1%-75% of their overall marketing budget.

Of course, when you allow people to draw outside the lines and offer their true opinions (versus simply answering multiple choice questions) is when you get to the real heart of the matter.

Despite many marketers using growth marketing many still recognized that in some ways it’s merely a rehash. In fact, several in this survey blatantly called it simply another name for demand generation, lead generation or performance marketing. In a lot of ways, they’re not wrong.

Soliciting comments also yielded a lot of honest opinions about what’s unfortunately really happening. One respondent wrote, "This seems to be the buzzword and what's replacing the skills of a CMO… (I) see ‘growth marketing’ touted all the time with Silicon Valley start-ups – anything to get those numbers fast and up to the right for investors and slideshows.” Ouch. Another said, “it's all anyone wants these days, measurable, quick results,” while another offered bluntly, “too many startups are OVER relying on it.”

So, what can be gleaned from these insights? I’m going with my initial premise – growth marketing is simultaneously everything and nothing. While it may seem like growth marketing is taking over the marketing universe, at the same time, it can be a bit of a false promise.

I like the way one respondent summed it up:  “Growth marketing is not new at all. The trend is actually to balance brand and growth. Many startups only use growth tactics, which leaves them without a brand.” Wise words.

Scott Lahde
Former company
About Author
Scott Lahde is an accomplished marketing and communications professional with 20 years experience across consumer technology, media, publishing and advertising. He has a proven track record of successfully selecting, directing and executing a full range of marketing and communications functions, for companies private, public, pre- and post-IPO. Scott is currently Principal of ConduitWorks, a marketing consultancy for emerging companies. He engages with companies to help them develop marketing strategy, navigate challenges, find synergies, broker connections and create innovative solutions, to nurture and elevate their brands, products, services and reputations, and in turn, rapidly grow their businesses. Previously, Scott led global marketing for digital video advertising start-up YuMe (before, during and after its 2013 IPO) and held senior posts with Yahoo! in brand marketing, executive and corporate communications.
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