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What is growth marketing?

Many marketers refer to themselves as “growth marketers”—but what does that term even mean? It’s an approach to attracting, engaging, and retaining customers that’s focused on relentless experimentation and an intense focus on the unique, changing motives and preferences of your customers. By building and delivering highly tailored, individualized messaging aligned to your customers needs, you’ll be able to optimize your organization’s growth rapidly through a multitude of channels, especially the ones that matter most to your customers. Let’s take a deeper look at what it means to be a growth marketer, and highlight some common opportunities where a growth marketing team can optimize the user experience.

What does growth marketing actually mean?

Traditional marketing often relies on the same tried-and-true techniques for reaching customers. Hold a sale, send out an email blast, run a Google Adwords campaign with the same 50 keywords. You might get some results, but returns are likely to diminish over time—you’re not changing your strategy to make your budget go farther, even as consumers’ interests change.

In contrast, growth marketers use growth hacking techniques to experiment with different channels and strategies frequently, optimizing their tests incrementally to determine how to best optimize their marketing spend. Growth hackers were keen to use a range of innovative experiments and constant analysis to increase their user base at lower costs as quickly as possible. The term itself was coined by entrepreneur Sean Ellis in 2010, when he was seeking an employee for a new marketing role. He wasn’t looking for a traditional marketer who would be concerned with factors such as cost-per-acquisition; his main focus was, how can I grow my user base as quickly as possible? This question was a central concern for SaaS startups, which needed to outpace their competitors or die.

Fast forward one decade, growth marketing has evolved past the “get-growth-quick” tactics of growth hacking. However, that doesn’t mean successful elements of its rise to success have been forgotten. Growth marketing continues leaning into its testing, experimentation, and expansion roots, and applies these principles to campaigns throughout the customer journey.

As marketing technology has advanced, so has the sophistication of the growth marketing field. Growth marketers are using A/B testing and multivariate testing to develop experiments around what content is seen and when by different user segments, and using the results to develop highly optimized strategies for each identified user segment, going down to the individual level.

Marketers can develop highly personalized campaigns that seamlessly reach users across multiple channels, enabling them to follow the users’ own behavioral cues to build customized strategies that will optimize growth.

Successful growth marketers don’t just grow a larger user base; they build a highly engaged audience that will help to reduce churn, as well as increase the lifetime value of each individual user. Building a highly personalized approach to marketing has been shown to cut acquisition costs in half, lift revenues by up to 15%, and increase the efficiency of marketing spend by 30%.

Looking further down the funnel, growth marketing generates greater rates of customer retention and satisfaction, as well. When you prioritize delivering valuable customer experiences, you’re no longer attempting to monetize your audience. Instead of pushing content geared toward conversions and revenue, you’re now seeking new ways to add valued information to each user’s evolving journey. Growth marketing focuses on customer relationship building and fostering loyalty; it’s a long-term strategy where authenticity and engagement creates advocacy and organically grows customer lifetime values.

Core components of a growth marketing strategy

A growth marketing strategy can be based around metrics including customer acquisition rates, conversion rates, customer retention rates, and customer lifetime value. Here are some of the leading tactics that today’s growth marketers use to attract, convert, create, and retain engaged customers. All of these tactics are used frequently in the e-commerce space, but can be useful for brick-and-mortar businesses, too.

A/B testing

A/B testing, or better yet, multivariate testing, is one of the core practices of a strong growth marketing strategy. A/B testing and multivariate can be used in a number of formats, including email marketing, landing pages, social media ads, and others. This involves deploying either an “A” and a “B” test, or a series of multiple tests, to understand which variation of your content (with customizations around graphics, copy, design, and other features) does a better job of engaging your audience and increasing your conversion rate. You can then optimize future marketing campaigns around that variation—continually iterating on your successes to enhance performance with every test. It’s important to remember that just because the “B” test proved most effective with one audience segment, “C” might work better with another: Don’t just send your A/B tests out in batches; focus on customized segments for each ones to understand what content resonates with that particular audience group, and then keep testing new variations to enhance performance.

Cross-channel marketing

Cross-channel marketing focuses on building a strategic channel plan to reach your customers, and can include email marketing, SMS messaging, push notifications, in-app messages, direct mail, and other channels, based on your audience’s preferences. When incorporating a cross-channel marketing plan into your growth marketing strategy, you need to focus on the individual user to understand their communication preferences, and then build your campaigns accordingly. A/B testing can help you first understand that a particular user responds to push message offers at a 60% higher rate than email marketing offers, for instance, so you can customize future campaigns to focus on push offers. It’s also valuable to build a holistic marketing plan that integrates multiple channels, so that you will be able to engage with your audience wherever they are, using contextual campaigns that help you understand their past behavior across each platform.

Customer lifecycle

A customer lifecycle is the journey your customers embark on as they learn about, interact with, buy or convert, and re-engage with your company. For simplification, there are three critical lifecycle stages that growth marketers focus on: activation, nurture, and reactivation. Each stage plays a specific role as a contributing factor to customer experience and is often marked by specific campaigns.

The activation stage is the initial stage of the lifecycle where companies seek to activate consumer attention and interest. Growth marketers target customers with welcome, onboarding, trials, and other introductory campaigns to build familiarity and credibility.

The nurture stage is where companies nurture and engage consumers to strengthen relationships. This stage typically accounts for the majority of cross-channel marketing customers receive from brands: sales, promotions, recent updates, newsletters, and more.

The final reactivation stage focuses on re-engagement. It’s this stage where companies reactivate customer engagement to drive retention and loyalty through campaigns like: post-purchase, abandonment, loyalty, or win backs.

No single stage outweighs another in terms of importance. Customers naturally progress through this lifecycle at their own speed, but growth marketers proactively accommodate their changing needs using an arsenal of need-specific campaigns.

Examples of growth marketing campaigns

Next, let’s take a look at a few types of growth marketing campaigns in action. Growth marketing strategies can be used effectively to support a range of goals, including incentivizing existing customers to participate in referral programs, engaging new customers, and top of funnel engagement, to name a few.

Loyalty

Customer retention ensure the customers you spent time and effort acquiring continue buying more of your products and services. Your customers have more choice than ever when it comes to deciding what to buy and who to buy it from, so brands must continually earn customer trust. Demonstrating to your customers that, yes, they are more than just a name and dollar sign inside your database can increase brand sentiment. Loyalty campaigns are a great way to keep your engaged customers coming back for more. For example, if your brand has a membership program, find ways to incentivize their experience as a nod to their patronage. Campaigns promoting offerings like exclusive access, sneak previews, or tiered status rewards validate ongoing loyalty to your brand. Taking cues from historical customer conversions and reinforcing those desirable behaviors with segmented loyalty campaigns can keep your brand near and dear to your customers’ hearts.

Referral programs

Marketers are constantly testing and optimizing offers to help attract new users through their most efficient source of advertising: existing customers. Nielsen found that 83% of consumers trust recommendations from friends and family more than any other source of advertising, so a strong referral can serve as powerful social proof for engaging new users. In order to test referral offers, consider segmenting audience groups and offering one type of incentive to one group, and another to the other group: The goal is to find the sweet spot where you’re maximizing referral conversions per dollars spent. Look to successful SaaS brands for examples of best-in-class referral programs: Dropbox, for instance, began offering a two-sided referral program, in which both the current user and the referred user received 500MB of storage space for free upon the referred user’s signup. The company was able to drastically reduce its ad spend to acquire new users, and increased overall signups by 60%.

Onboarding

Once a new customer has signed up for your product or website, you have an ideal opportunity to drive their engagement with your brand and collect more data that can help you build better experiences. Remember, you’re aiming to enhance the customer journey for your new users, so deploying a multi-channel onboarding sequence where they’re likely to engage with meaningful content can help. For example, your first message might be a simple “Welcome!” message, followed shortly after by a message asking users what types of products they’re most interested in. Another message might ask whether they prefer receiving notifications via email or mobile. You can then continue the sequence based on the user’s expressed preferences, and optimize the future offers you present to them to maximize their engagement.

Top of the funnel engagement

When you’re trying to attract new customers, pushing too hard for an immediate sale can be an instant turn-off. Instead, you want to build a long-term strategy that helps them gain familiarity with your brand so they can take that next step on their own terms. In this case, a strategy focused on content marketing can help your brand demonstrate thought leadership expertise and engage new customers who might want to buy from you in the future. Build out targeted buyer personas to understand who your prospects are, and develop content designed to appeal to each of them. Your call-to-actions can be to opt-in to your email newsletter, or get a free offer, such as an ebook or checklist. You can attract your target audience through organic social media channels as well as paid social ads and retargeting, using A/B testing to optimize your social sharing, ads, and content headlines to maximize engagements and form conversions.

Today, we have the tools and technologies to make every marketer a growth marketer. Your focus should be on continually testing and optimizing for higher engagement and a better customer experience, using strategies to attract customers based on highly personalized preferences. Make sure that, as you experiment with new strategies, you’re constantly collecting data as you go, so that you can build, test, and iterate along the way to continually enhance the customer journey.


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