June 7, 2023

What is Growth Marketing? How to grow your startup or indie project without a crystal ball

Michel Gagnon
Michel Gagnon
CEO of Stun&Awe

Many startup founders, indie hackers, or young marketing professionals struggle to with marketing. Even if they have a good product, they end up with discouraging sales, and then they spiral into a litany of complaints:

"Is entrepreneurship really for me?"

"Do I have what it takes to succeed in business?"

"Why did I even think I could make it?"

If that's your case, don't worry, you're not alone. But I got a solution that will drastically change how you approach marketing.

Instead of hoping you were some sort of Don Draper able to read people's mind, there's a much more accessible approach that does not require electroshock therapy.

In this post, I’ll teach you what is growth marketing and how you can use it to build an audience, increase your sales, and reduce churn without needing to hire an expensive agency.

I'm going to break down the core elements of growth marketing, give you some hints as to where things might be going in the future, and share concrete examples of companies who used growth marketing to drive growth. 

So, strap on your thinking caps and get ready to turn those marketing frowns upside down!

Four critical elements of growth marketing

There’s an easy way to understand what is growth marketing: see how it differs from traditional marketing. There's no need to write a Ph.D. thesis on this. 

There are four core tenets that you need to understand.

Growth marketing focuses on the entire funnel

Traditional marketing covers the top of the funnel. Marketing teams have historically worked on public relations initiatives and extensive advertising campaigns to increase brand awareness and generate leads.

Growth marketing covers the entire funnel or what we call the Pirate metrics (AARRR): 

  • Awareness
  • Acquisition
  • Activation
  • Retention
  • Revenue
  • Referral

Instead of bringing as many people as possible to the top of the funnel without much thought about what happens next, you start tracking the entire customer journey.

What does this mean for your marketing efforts? You need to start thinking about the entire customer journey and how you can influence people at every step. You’re not just focused on generating leads anymore but also on helping them become customers.

Here are a few examples.

  • If your ad campaign overpromises, you risk having a high churn rate. With a growth marketing approach, you'll make sure your ad copy reflects what your product delivers.
  • Instead of just focusing your marketing efforts on lead generation, you will develop an email sequence to make the onboarding as smooth as possible and address issues newly activated customers could face.

Growth marketing is a team sport

If you thought growth marketing was just for the marketing department, think again. It's a collaborative effort that brings together multiple disciplines and departments, such as marketing, product, engineering, and, let's not forget – data analytics and data science.

I know what some of you may be thinking. "Michel, I'm a team of one." or "We are a nimble team, not a multinational with departments!"

That's ok, but you'll need to expand your knowledge and skills to see the big picture and implement growth marketing strategies.

If you haven't done so already, read our article explaining what is a T-shaped marketer and why you should become one.

Growth marketing demands a growth mindset

Growth marketing won't work if you do not have the right mindset. It's all about being data-driven, customer-focused, and process-oriented.

Sean Ellis, the godfather of growth marketing, once said growth hacking is "experiment-driven marketing."

It's not reading the stars or the tarot cards. It's not gambling. It's not speculating.

Experimentation is the name of the game. That means failures are no longer failures. They're insights.

You've got to think on your feet, test frequently, and be ready to pivot based on data. It's not about launching the perfect campaign; it's about learning, iterating, and improving.

Growth marketing is fueled by data

Say goodbye to guesswork. Growth marketing is all about using data to uncover opportunities and areas for improvement. By analyzing the numbers, you can brainstorm and prioritize ideas for experiments that will move the needle.

The process is simple: test, analyze, iterate, and repeat. Keeping up this data-driven cycle will help you stay agile and ahead of the competition.

Most importantly, you'll stop agonizing over useless questions like: "Should I do this or try that marketing tactic?" or "What's the best marketing strategy this year?"

Now that we've covered the four key elements of growth marketing, let's dive into its future and how to implement it in your business. 

The future of growth marketing in 2023

So what’s next? How do you ensure you aren’t following outdated advice, which will only give you a nice view of the finish line as your competitors triumphantly cross?

Here’s a look at what is next down the pipe in the world of growth marketing. 

Predicted trends and developments

Growth marketing will only get bigger and better. Expect more personalization, AI-driven insights, and automation in the mix. Since it's a data-driven approach,

Technology and data will shape strategy

Technology and data are the dynamic duo powering growth marketing. As we move forward, expect to see an increased reliance on advanced analytics, AI, and machine learning to make data-driven decisions and automate processes.

You should leverage data to make the customer journey as smooth as possible.

You could use Zapier to create automated client onboarding flows to reduce the typical back and forth. Connect a Typeform to gather the client's initial needs and expectations, Calendly to schedule the kickoff call, and set up a Notion client space with all the relevant documents. Adapt your marketing messages at each touchpoint.

If you spend time enhancing your customer experience, you'll increase your chances of success. Feathery is another great tool that you can leverage to personalize your customers' experience.

The future of growth marketing will also see a stronger emphasis on privacy and ethical data usage. Balancing data-driven strategies with responsible data handling will help you gain the trust and loyalty of your customers.

Increased focus on agile campaigns

Change is the only constant, especially in the digital world. Growth marketing in 2023 and beyond will emphasize adaptability and resilience. That means that you should be able to shift gears quickly to capture new opportunities.

Instead of taking weeks planning a marketing campaign, think instead of fast-paced, data-driven messaging that can be easily tweaked and optimized on the fly. You don't need to go on an Ayahuasca retreat to design your next campaign.

Instead, launch, analyze, and iterate. If you run an ad campaign, adjust your creative or messaging based on the performance and feedback you get from people who see the ads. Some will like it, engage with it, comment, and share. You can use these data points to tweak your campaign while you run it.

Embrace this approach, and you'll be ready to tackle whatever the market throws at you.

Visual storytelling takes center stage

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but today, a video might just be worth a million. Get ready for video and visual storytelling to play a crucial role in growth marketing strategies.

From short-form content on platforms like TikTok and Instagram to long-form videos on YouTube, video can help you connect with your audience on a deeper level.

While animated explainer videos were all the rage a few years back, people now want to know who they're dealing with. It's easier to trust someone you see and hear than just someone you read about.

Video is also an ideal way to showcase your product or service in action, which can go a long way toward building trust with your audience. This can help you stand out from the competition and build credibility as an expert in your field.

Engaging, authentic, and shareable visual stories will dominate the growth marketing landscape, driving brand awareness and customer loyalty.

Case Studies and Examples

If you're still unsure about growth marketing, let’s look at two examples that grew their business by working on the entire funnel.

Slack: Revolutionizing Team Communication

Slack, the innovative team communication platform, is a prime example of growth marketing in action. The company focused on creating a seamless user experience, followed by strategic word-of-mouth marketing to drive growth. 

They encouraged existing users to invite their colleagues, creating a viral loop that helped the platform grow exponentially.

Slack also leveraged data-driven insights to optimize its onboarding process and user retention. Analyzing user behavior identified vital actions that led to long-term engagement (such as integrating third-party apps) and provided information to nudge new users in the right direction. A great example of product-led growth.

As a result, Slack skyrocketed from a small startup to a multi-billion-dollar company with millions of daily active users.

Airbnb: Disrupting the Hospitality Industry

Innovative growth marketing strategies drove Airbnb's meteoric rise to success. One of their early tactics involved targeting users of Craigslist, a popular online classifieds platform at the time. 

They created a seamless cross-posting feature that allowed Airbnb hosts to easily share their listings on Craigslist, tapping into a massive user base.

Furthermore, Airbnb focused heavily on creating a visually appealing platform with high-quality images and user-friendly design. They even offered hosts free professional photography services, ensuring their listings stood out from the competition.

This attention to detail created a positive user experience, encouraging repeat bookings and referrals, which led to more data that could inform their next move.

Final thoughts

Phew! We've explored the ins and outs of growth marketing, from its essential elements to future trends and how other companies successfully leveraged it. Now, it's time to put all that newfound knowledge into action and start making waves in the marketing world.

Remember, growth marketing is not a shiny new tactic. It's a mindset and methodology. Get into the right mindset, assemble your dream team, and adopt a data-driven strategy.

Don't just sit there – experiment, learn, and grow like never before. And most importantly, have a blast doing it. Your business (and your customers) will thank you.

If you want to flatten your learning curve, sign up for our growth marketing course today! We’ll show you how to:

📈 Generate more revenues using Pirate Metrics

🔍 Analyze and optimize your marketing funnels

𝌭 Generate and prioritize growth ideas using the ICE model

🎯 Build a solid plan to win and keep more customers with a variety of growth strategies

🧪 Develop a growth mindset that doesn’t involve tricking people into buying