The marketing world has gone through an epic evolution in recent decades. Technology has opened up a massive field of new opportunities. From social media to search engines, digital marketing has revolutionized how marketers reach consumers with their messages.
While this has had a positive effect in general, it has also caused a lot of confusion. Marketers use a smorgasbord of head-scratching new terms like content marketing, SEO, and growth hacking. Sometimes the puzzlement comes from something even more nuanced. One common question is how the popular concept of growth marketing differs from its traditional alternative.
If you’re curious about the difference between growth marketing vs marketing, here is a primer to help you separate the two (and see how superior growth-focused marketing can be for your business).
Are Growth Marketing and Marketing the Same?
Let’s start with the obvious question: are growth marketing and marketing two terms for the same thing? From a 10,000-foot view perspective, you could say yes. Both are a form of promotion that seeks to increase a business’s success and grow its bottom line.
But the similarities stop there.
As soon as you get down to the brass tacks of marketing strategies and tactics, it becomes clear that these two concepts are quite different ways to promote a brand. Let’s define each term and then consider their differences.
What Does Marketing Mean?
Marketing is a very broad term. On a purely dictionary level, the work refers to “the process or technique of promoting, selling, and distributing a product or service.”
The American Marketing Association maintains a more detailed, up-to-date definition that reads: “Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.” In other words, marketing focuses on the overall process of getting goods from companies to consumers.
At its heart, marketing has always had profits as its primary goal. It focuses on generating value for the customer in exchange for improving a business’s bottom line. Whether it’s promoting a startup brand at its inception or milking a cash cow company before its decline, marketing attempts to make the most of every product and service a company has to offer.
So, how does growth marketing differ from this broad, somewhat vague term? What is the difference between growth marketing and traditional marketing? As you might imagine, the key difference comes from the word “growth.”
What Does Growth Marketing Mean?
Growth marketing focuses on using agile, evidence-based decision-making throughout the marketing process. This flexible precision doesn’t focus on facilitating getting offerings to consumers but rather on prioritizing the customer journey — wherever that may be and whatever that may look like.
In fact, growth marketing is, at its core, an entirely customer-centric approach to marketing. From initial awareness and acquisition to retention and referrals, growth marketing optimizes every aspect of the customer experience.
Growth marketing utilizes platforms like Google Search Console to track data. It uses tools like AHrefs and SEMrush to improve SEO. It deploys A/B testing to compare marketing initiatives and choose the growth-oriented option with the most effective results. This creates highly satisfied customers by specifically answering their questions and providing targeted solutions.
As a quick note, be careful not to confuse growth marketing with growth hacking. Whereas growth marketing emphasizes the customer as a path to sustainable growth, growth hacking prioritizes the growth itself. This often comes at the expense of everything else, leading to dramatic but unsustainable short-term results.
How Do Growth Marketing and Marketing Strategies Differ?
Okay, so how does traditional marketing and growth marketing differ? The easiest way to see this is by looking at the focal points and end goals of each activity.
The term “marketing” refers to the general activity of moving goods and services from a business to its customers (focal point). You can do this in many different ways, but the end goal is always the same, to generate income and boost your bottom line (the end goal).
Growth marketing functions as a specific form of marketing, but it isn’t the same. A growth marketing strategy uses precise data and agility to put emphasis on the customer (the focal point) at every stage of their interactions with your company. Ideally, this improves the customer experience, leading to easier acquisition and greater retention — which is a fancy way of saying it leads to growth (the end goal).
Does that growth eventually equate to higher revenue? Of course. As with all marketing activity, profitability is the ultimate goal. But growth marketing doesn’t operate under the vague parameters of turning offerings into money, as is the case with marketing. It is precise, growth-oriented, data-driven, and customer-centric.
The Three Pillars of a Good Growth Strategy
To deliver on its promise of data-driven precision and agility, an effective growth marketer focuses on three key areas:
Let’s take a quick look at how each of these foundational pillars impacts a successful growth strategy.
Establishing Brand Credibility
For a brand to grow, consumers must see it as a legitimate solution to their problems. You may know that you have the answer to your target audience’s pain points. You may even be able to show them (check out the visibility section below for more on that aspect of growth marketing). But to truly unlock explosive growth from your marketing, you need to convince consumers that you are a trustworthy and credible option in the first place.
Digital PR is a great way to build credibility fast. This involves getting mentioned (both as a brand and via leaders within your company) in authoritative third-party publications. A brand mention on Forbes or Inc.com can go a long way in signaling to consumers and search engines alike that you have something to say and solutions worth paying attention to.
Building Brand Authority
Credibility and trustworthiness must coincide with a clear sense of authority. In other words, you can’t just get a few mentions on high-profile publications and call it a day. You need to back up these professional “tip of the hat” moments with strong, high-quality content.
The key here is quality. You don’t need to flood the internet with generic content. On the contrary, a content strategy can and should focus on a handful of targeted, well-developed articles. These should effectively address common customer pain points or search queries and can be all it takes to establish yourself as a thought leader within your industry.
The third piece of the growth marketing puzzle is visibility. As you generate mentions and back them up with quality content, you want to ensure that all of this marketing information gets in front of the right people.
This comes from search engine optimization or SEO. A good SEO strategy uses tools like keywords, link-building strategies, and technical SEO to clean up your content and make it easier for search engines to understand what it contains.
When done right, SEO should boost your search engine rankings and increase your traffic. At the same time, it should drive the right people to your content who can benefit from the solutions that it offers.
As a quick aside, it’s important not to confuse the online marketing aspects of growth marketing vs digital marketing itself. Growth marketing uses a mixture of digital marketing channels to build effective growth strategies that prioritize the customer. In contrast, digital marketing refers to internet-based marketing activities via channels like email, search engines, and social media, regardless of whether they’re part of a marketing strategy or not.
Credibility. Authority. Visibility. When you use growth marketing to combine these three foundational elements, it can unleash synergistic marketing results.
What Does Growth Marketing Look Like in Action?
While it may technically fall under the broader umbrella of marketing as a whole, growth marketing is a specific and unique form of marketing that stands on its own. It prioritizes the customer and uses an impeccable customer journey as a way to facilitate long-term, sustainable growth.
Consider growth marketing the equivalent of putting your company on a new fitness regimen. Eating healthier and getting consistent exercise require up-front and ongoing effort. They also take time to generate measurable results. Once they do, though, those results are much more sustainable than any crash diet or weight loss pill.
In the same way, growth marketing puts your marketing activity on the track toward real results. It unifies the disparate aspects of many marketing strategies into a single, focused, data-driven effort to attract and retain more customers.
Enough with the metaphors, though. Let’s consider a hypothetical example of what growth marketing actually looks like.
A Hypothetical Growth Marketing Campaign
Consider a mid-size company that is having trouble growing its customer base. It struggles to find new leads, and few customers remember to return for future purchases, even if they’re happy with their initial investment.
The CEO decides to outsource its marketing to a qualified third-party growth marketing agency like Relevance. The growth marketing agency meets with the client to understand their goals and growth objectives. Together, they create a growth strategy that incorporates all of the key benchmarks of growth marketing (credibility, authority, and visibility).
They build out a thoughtful content strategy that creates targeted, high-quality pieces of content, both for on-site and off-site purposes. Guest articles on high-domain sites like Forbes and Fast Company generate credibility across the industry. Informative LinkedIn posts and helpful on-site how-tos and thought leadership pieces establish authority.
Technical SEO audits ensure that all content is optimized for search engines, too. This increases SERP rankings and both the quantity and quality of traffic that the company’s website attracts.
The results aren’t immediate. Remember, this isn’t growth hacking. True growth takes time to gain momentum. Nevertheless, over time, this triple focus on credibility, authority, and visibility generates a scalable momentum that doesn’t just address one area of the marketing funnel. It keeps the entire customer journey optimized.
This leads to greater demand generation and easier customer acquisition. Once they make a purchase, patrons receive quality support and reminders to return for future purchases. This improved customer experience ultimately translates into sustainable growth and higher profitability.
Gabb Wireless: A Growth Marketing Case Study
Now that we’ve had a hypothetical, let’s consider a real-life example. One campaign we’ve had the honor of helping with is Gabb Wireless. The kids phone company already had an established product and clear vision: to improve kids phone safety and experience through a safe mobile device that was user-friendly for parents and kids alike.
Initially, Gabb came to us looking for some press mentions to establish credibility. However, over the course of a year, we developed a comprehensive growth marketing strategy that went much further than a single marketing tactic.
Over the course of the growth marketing campaign that followed, we secured 29 third-party mentions on high-profile sites like Entrepreneur and Harvard Business Review. The company’s founder, Stephen Dalby was positioned as an industry authority with visionary insights. This included promotion on LinkedIn and Twitter as well.
We also collaborated to build out Gabb’s on-site content. This used a hub and spoke strategy that focused on keywords and conversion rates and included dozens of interwoven blog posts and multiple guides.
The end result of this holistic approach to marketing for growth was a significant boost in search rankings and a 279% increase in MRR (monthly recurring revenue) within nine months. Again, timing with these things always varies from one case to the next, but the fact still stands. When you engage in growth marketing in a competent and comprehensive way, given time, it can lead to significant results.
Growth Marketing and Marketing: Similar But Not the Same
When you break it down, both growth marketing and traditional marketing are similar in nature, but they are also very different in their focus. Marketing is an umbrella term that applies to anyone attempting to move products and services from producers to consumers. It focuses on companies trying to boost their bottom line.
Growth marketing shifts to a consumer-centric approach to promotional activity. It emphasizes agility and data to make decisions geared toward both attracting and retaining customers.
While marketing is always important to consider in a business strategy, it is growth marketing, in particular, that has the potential to generate long-term scalability and profitability. It equips your business to invest in unlocking and sustaining its full potential, both now and for years to come.