How to Become a Growth Marketer
Growth marketing is one of the fastest-growing subsets of the marketing profession, both in terms of size and in terms of influence. Since Sean Ellis first started using the term growth hacking in 2010, growth marketing has expanded rapidly and is now seen by many as a completely separate career to the the rest of the marketing world.
It does have many attractive qualities for talented young marketers. It’s fast moving, which is natural considering its close association with the world of startups. It’s very data focused, and involves product-development as well as demand generation. It can also offer fast career progression for talented people, without as many hoops and hurdles as more traditional marketing departments.
But what is it? And how do you become a growth marketer?
What is a growth marketer?
Growth marketing involves the constant process of running data-led experiments in order to grow and engage the customer base of an organisation. A growth marketer is someone who works on improving one or both of these core metrics for a business:
-Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC). A growth marketer will use demand generation and brand awareness techniques, as well as product improvements, to try to acquire customers, at scale, at a sustainable CAC. They will try to lower CAC as far as they can without compromising on the quality of customers/leads.
-Lifetime customer value (LTV). A growth marketer will try to improve re-order or referral rates so that the average client, or customer, has a higher monetary value. The higher LTV is, the more profitable the business should be (and the higher CAC it can pay.)
You can have specialisms within growth marketing. Some growth marketers may be more focused on acquisition, others on areas further down the funnel such as retention or referral. But generally they will be working on improving one of those two key metrics. The interaction between CAC and LTV is usually the most important variable in the world of growth marketing. We’ve written more about what growth marketing is here.
Is growth marketing the same as digital marketing?
Growth marketing and digital marketing certainly encompass a lot of the same skills. A large proportion of the marketing channels used by growth marketers, such as Meta and LinkedIn Ads, or programmatic display, or email marketing, would fall under the ‘digital marketing’ umbrella.
However, growth marketing and digital marketing are not the same discipline. In fact, it would be more accurate to say that digital marketing is a subsect of the growth marketing function in many organisations, because growth marketing could include both digital acquisition roles and product improvement roles.
It’s important to say that both of these are broad terms, though. Digital marketing could include many different specialisms (for example – a Google PPC expert, or an SEO expert) just as growth marketing could. Most high performing digital marketers focus their skills on one or two channels, rather than all of digital marketing, because specialists usually outperform generalists in the field.
What makes a good growth marketer?
The specific skills of growth marketing can usually be learned on the job. What differentiates a good growth marketer from a bad one usually comes down to mindset. There are three core parts of this mindset:
Relentless, vigorous experimentation. A good growth marketer will always be trying to unearth new opportunities to run experiments across the entire marketing and product development function. They will think creatively, identifying things that can be improved and designing experiments to test their hypotheses. It requires someone to be fast-reacting, analytical and open-minded. They’ll have a well thought-out growth framework for the experiments they run. They’ll also know how to properly interpret the results of those experience and avoid false negatives.
Appreciation of data. You don’t necessarily have to be comfortable running complex data analysis; a growth marketer isn’t a data scientist (although it’s useful to have a data scientist in the team). But you do need to be able to understand the main marketing and product analytics tools, be able to read trends and spot insights, and understand the possibilities and limits of digital attribution. These skills will help you design appropriate experiments and interpret the results so your marketing campaigns are measurable.
Going beyond acquisition. A good growth marketer won’t limit themselves to the acquisition of new customers. They’ll do full funnel analysis and try to understand the waterfall effect. Where are customers dropping off? How can their spend or engagement be improved? What can we learn about our targeting choices from drop-off rates? From ads, to onboarding processes, to referral schemes – a good growth marketing looks at all of it and tries to make improvements.
What skills do you need to be a successful growth marketer?
As well as the above mindsets, there are more specific core skills that can make a growth marketer stand out. Generally speaking, if you’re new to the career, you can learn these on the job. But it’s good to familiarise yourself with them as much as possible:
1) Marketing strategy basics. A good growth marketer will understand the fundamentals of marketing strategy – customer research and segmentation, positioning, strategic decision making and channel selection. There are many books and courses that teach the theory of marketing strategy that you can read. It’s important to remember: strategy comes before tactics. Changing the format of your digital ads (tactic) won’t help you overcome poor audience understanding and positioning (strategy).
2) Digital marketing channel execution. A good growth marketer should have a strong understanding of the main digital marketing channels including PPC, social media ads, SEO and programmatic display. You don’t necessarily need to be an expert in each of these fields (usually people specialise) but having a strong overall understanding is extremely useful.
3) Communication. You should be confident at putting together and delivering presentations, in order to justify your decision making and report on the results of experiments. This is something that can come with time – but you can also practice it yourself.
4) Project management. A growth marketer needs to be organised and able to keep many different plates spinning. You should be able to keep a project to deadlines and manage stakeholders and suppliers. You can improve your project management simply by being diligent and organised.
5) Leadership. Ultimately, a growth marketer needs to be able to bring other people along with them. They need to convince them that their ideas for experiments are good, and motivate people to execute the experiments effectively. A lot of leadership skills develop with time and experience, but it’s important to also actively work on them. Be self reflective and think to yourself – how can I get more out of myself and my team?
There are many other skills involved in being a successful growth marketer. But work on these 5 and you’ll be well on your way.
Is growth marketing a good career?
Growth marketing can be a great career. You can learn new skills quickly, work with loads of different businesses in lots of different sectors, work either agency or client side, and meet incredible people with incredible visions for their businesses.
The remuneration can be good (although perhaps not as good as data or engineering roles) and can improve quickly as you progress. With many roles, there is the opportunity to earn equity or stock options in the business – so if it takes off, you benefit along with the founders.
If you’re naturally creative, curious and interested in data, growth marketing could be the right career for you. As a bonus, it often comes with hybrid or remote working opportunities these days which can be a huge difference maker.
How do you break into growth marketing?
There’s no one-size-fits-all way to break into growth marketing. With flat management structures fairly common, there isn’t always a clear and obvious progression of job titles from junior to senior.
Equally, there isn’t a strict set of academic requirements (although a University/College degree is usually preferred).
You should research some interesting startups and scaleups, and look at what they are hiring for in the growth or marketing department. To help your application stand out, you should:
1) Read up on the fundamentals. Read Sean Ellis’s books, and books like Traction by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares. Read more general marketing theory books like How Brands Grow by Bryon Sharp, and read a lot of blogs.
2) Personalise your application to the company you are applying to – refer to specifics about their marketing or product that you like. Maybe even prepare some suggestions for growth experiments they could run based on what you can see!
3) Read up on examples of growth marketing (like Monzo, Airbnb or Dropbox) and prepare yourself to be able to talk about what you liked about their approaches.
Do all that, and learn the skill we’ve talked about, and you’ll be in a great position to not just break into but thrive in a growth marketing career.
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