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Growth Marketing, Demystified

By Leilani Yau

Recently, a group of EM Marketing consultants had the privilege of engaging with Adelyn Zhou about growth marketing. And really, Adelyn is one we should listen to — not only was she a founding member of successful startup Nextdoor’s growth team, but she was also named one of “50 People You Should Know in Growth.”

Adelyn Zhou
Adelyn Zhou

What Is Growth Marketing?

Adelyn defines “growth” as an intersection of multiple disciplines: data science, marketing, design, and product. It’s a relentless mindset in which you’re constantly optimizing and iterating, using a series of tests to see what efforts are driving the most success, efficiently and effectively.

Closer to direct marketing than brand, growth is analytics-driven. A growth marketer may have been known as customer acquisition or retention marketer in the past because the job description often uses the same skills. But now you’ll see more product/engineering support, as well as dedicated teams focused on growth.
What is Growth?

Who Gives “Growth Hacking” a Bad Name?

The term “growth hacking” has been embraced by startups with limited budgets, but it actually carries a negative connotation in the industry. A hacker is someone who is creative, thinks outside the box, and discovers new ways to solve problems. (See more of Adelyn’s thoughts about the role of a growth hacker in Wired.)

But there have been instances of unethical growth hacking tactics such as creating fake reviews for products, buying fake social media followers or spamming scraped email addresses. And hacking may be perceived by some companies as taking shortcuts rather than creating an in-depth, long-term strategy. So growth professionals favor calling themselves “growth marketers” to distance themselves from the term “hacking.”

What Are Some Classic Growth Examples?

Typically, growth marketers use paid advertising, SEO, sales, virality and of course, lots of A/B testing to drive an increase in their company’s core metrics. What’s fun is to look at other less traditional ways to grow, such as the following classic examples:

    • Dropbox offered 1G for you and 500MB for your friends if they signed up too. The smart part was that they personalized the messaging and asked to add your contacts based on what email you used to sign up for Dropbox.
        • Quick tip from Adelyn: Try not to give money away when doing referrals. You could end up with fraud and people gaming your system.
    • Nextdoor created a direct mail marketing program which allowed users to invite neighbors to join Nextdoor. Because neighbors didn’t know each other’s contact info, it was easier to reach them with offline channels. Users could print out flyers to post in their neighborhood or even send USPS mailed invitations to neighbors.
      • Quick tip from Adelyn: Be creative with how to reach your audience and consider “traditional” methods of reaching them even if you’re a digital company.
    • Airbnb leveraged Craigslist by directly contacting appealing listings to join Airbnb. Then, they reposted their Airbnb listings back on Craigslist.
        • Quick tip from Adelyn: Think about tapping into other large platforms your target audience is already using.
    • Fixed, unfortunately a now-defunct service that argued parking tickets for you and only charged if they won, had a brilliant growth strategy. They followed parking enforcement officers around town, then put a Fixed coupon on the car that received a ticket.
      • Quick tip from Adelyn: Never forget to track your marketing efforts. The person leaving Fixed coupons used the actual parking ticket numbers.
    • Lyft asked for referrals prominently in their email marketing. “Earn free rides” moved from the bottom to the top of emails to increase conversion rates.
      • Quick tip from Adelyn: To see what really works, A/B test parts of your emails, landing pages, button placements, incentives, etc.
  • Lugg maximized Yelp by acquiring 2,049 five-star reviews to boost its visibility.
      • Quick tip from Adelyn: Ask your customers if they enjoyed your service — if they think highly of you, then ask them to post a review on Yelp.

Where Can You Learn More about Growth Marketing?

Adelyn mentioned several growth marketing conferences to participate in:

Additionally, you can learn from Sean Ellis, the founder of and Brian Balfour of Reforge.

Have you managed growth marketing for a client or your company? Please share any successful campaigns, “hacks” or other tips in the comments!

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About Leilani Yau

Leilani Yau is a digital marketing consultant, specializing in content marketing and social media for small businesses and non-profits, and helps clients L.O.V.E. (Listen, Offer, Value, Engage) their target audiences online.

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