What the Hell is Growth?

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A consumer-brand relationship doesn’t stop with the first purchase. Growth marketing focuses on building, maintaining, and growing the brand’s customer relationship. It’s a holistic and cross-disciplinary process designed to enable an organisation to achieve its North Star goal through experimentation across an entire customer journey. 

Growth marketing began with startups. Did you know Slack grew from 0 to 10 million daily active users in just five years? In the past few years, startups like Instagram, Slack and Brex have shown breakthrough growth, commanding billions in revenue. I believe this is due to the iterative lean process that startups apply to growth: making decisions, attaining data and taking action faster.  

As opposed to conventional marketing, which looks at the processes of awareness and acquisition, good growth marketing focuses on the customer’s entire relationship with the brand: how they’ve experienced the brand’s value throughout their relationship with it. 

A great business plan involves strategic short-term and long-term goals. How does growth marketing work? The steps are simple. First, the company wants to grow fast. Second, they will validate and invalidate assumptions. Third, different tests will be performed to gather data. The next step is to monitor and gather more data, insights, and actions. Lastly, the company can achieve faster growth by eliminating marketing efforts that are not performing well and focusing on those that do.



The process is an ongoing activity, not a linear, finite thing. Company growth must be continuous and adaptive to changes. The company must understand that there will always be new trends and strategies. An ideal marketing plan is flexible as it understands the essence of the process.


Brainstorming is the centrepiece of experimentation. Develop an idea, write it down, conduct a test, and review the results. There is no one size fits all. Results may vary in the industry, target audience, budget, and many more areas. Experimentation allows the company to understand the right channels, audience, and strategies


A holistic approach is a concept that every part of your business is connected and requires multiple elements to work together. Everything is intrinsically linked, and you need everything to grow a company. 

The company’s branding, marketing strategies, and data testing must be properly planned to synchronise. An example I like to use is that of a car. All car parts are essential: steering, suspension, engine etc., but it’s only when all of the parts work together that the car can go from a to b. The same principle applies to growth marketing. 


The main benefit of a cross-disciplinary approach is that it enables everyone to use their unique skills to help contribute to the overall goal aiming to be solved. Whether you’re the CEO, product manager or in accounts, it’s everyone’s responsibility to help find a repeatable and scalable business model. Leadership must communicate the importance of this responsibility and how each person contributes to that bigger goal. This growth marketing element understands the value of teamwork and how it can drive growth in the business quicker and more efficiently.


Are you also wondering about the point of data? Well, data is not part of marketing: data is marketing. It’s what we aim to gather through marketing and any information that arises from touchpoints between customers and the brand. 

Data is broad and all-encompassing. Some data is about how people visit your website, some are about the types of people on your customer list, and some data are about how people interact on other platforms. By tracking data, it can help us understand our customers and our brand. We can learn the attribution (how people discover us), behaviour (what the users do once they visit/ how they interact with us), and goals (are we achieving our goals?).

Data by itself is useless. It’s what we do with that data that makes it valuable. Data can be used to make assumptions from which we can develop insights. Once we have insights, we can take action – generally make higher quality, faster, more accurate decisions to improve how we interact with our customers. For example, data could show that 80% of our client base is under 30. This insight allows us to target a client’s ads to that age group and be more likely to drive traffic to their website, resulting in more conversions and sales.


To make data-driven decisions, we need to understand the difference between Metrics and KPI. A Metric is a defined, fixed, and usually quantifiable indicator of something. A KPI or Key Performance Indicator is a measurable value that demonstrates how effectively a company achieves its key business objectives. For example, metrics can be website visits, emails sent, ads clicked etc.; whereas KPIs are data such as click-through-rate (CTR), open email rate, and monthly page growth.

Another thing to note is that not all data are equal. More numbers do not necessarily mean better results; some are vanity metrics, any metric that ‘feels good’ but you can’t make commercial decisions from, that are not easily attributable to commercial objectives or business growth. Some examples of less attributable and more attributable metrics are: 

  • Less attributable metrics: website hits, social media followers, impressions, clicks. 
  • More attributable metrics: paying users, retention, signups.

More about KPI

Key Performance Indicators or KPIs are measurable values that allow a company to understand progress toward a particular goal or objective. They can be used in all parts of a business, not just in marketing. Some common examples are:

  • Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) How much does it cost to obtain one customer?
  • Lifetime Value of a Customer (LTV) How much money a customer will spend in their lifetime with a company?
  • Return on Investment (ROI) How much money a company makes on a marketing investment such as an ad campaign?

North Star Metric

North Star Metric is a leading indicator that seeks to identify whether customers are using the core value of a product. In addition, the North Star Metric gives direction to your company’s long-term and short-term growth. 

It can be a daunting task to identify and define something this valuable. Usually, a company will have one or maybe two North Star Metrics. The goal is to look at that metric and assess the business’s success. With every other KPI and metric, you have to look at it in context and in relation to other metrics to understand its value of it. The goal of this metric is that if this number changes up or down depending on the metric, we can say we’re hitting the primary objective we want for our business. These KPIs and Metrics can be used to define your goals. Take this example based on Netflix.

Pirate Metrics

Pirate Metrics framework (named by its creator Dave McClure because the anagram of the title is ‘Aaarrr’!) is a set of five user-behaviour metrics that a business focusing on growth marketing should track. It’s a funnel to categorise where people are in the user journey. 

  • Awareness     When your customer first discovers your brand. This could be an ad or website that someone sees, or through word of mouth. 
  • Acquisition    When your customer first engages with your brand by clicking on an ad, for example, or visiting a website. 
  • Activation      When your customer first takes action with your brand.
  • Revenue         When your customer first pays for a product or service.
  • Retention       When your customer makes a repeat purchase or becomes a long-term, high-value customer. 
  • Referral          When your customer recommends your brand to someone else.

A helpful way to explain Pirate Metrics is to compare it with older marketing models. 

Conventual linear marketing looks at what is known as the top of the funnel: the processes of awareness and acquisition. Good growth marketing looks at the entire relationship of the customer and the brand. 

To show how we apply Pirate Metrics, I created the example in the picture below of a fictional company. This shows how we assign metrics and KPIs to understand how people progress from each stage. As you can see, it’s almost more important to look at the percentage change than at the absolute metrics. For example, if we just saw that 10,000 people hit the activation stage and didn’t see any of the other metrics, it would look like a fantastic result, but when we consider that that number is out of 1 million people, it is actually a poor outcome. 

The next step would be to look at any stages where growth is significantly lower or higher than we might expect and take action accordingly. 


To achieve growth, we need a growth marketing planning process. This framework helps us understand our customers to maximise our performance. A business must have customer research, a strategic messaging map, a brainstorming file, and a growth plan.

Customer Research

To build a robust consumer-brand relationship, the brand must fully understand its customers: demographics, interests, and persona. 

It can be extremely helpful to create a customer persona to assemble all of your research and contextualise it. This user data can be based on phone calls, research or assumptions. It allows us to think about our customers, the problems they face and how our product solves them so that we can create more defined ad campaigns, copy and creative and essentially be more customer driven. I recommend you have your customer persona displayed on your wall and think of it as a living, breathing, evolving document that should develop as you gain a better understanding of your customer. 

Messaging and a Strategic Messaging Map

One of the most common mistakes is messaging. Most startup founders find it easy to articulate the unique value of their product or brand when talking one to one with others at a networking event, but it can be much harder to write this down. Sometimes a product can have a variety of audiences, so it’s a good idea to carefully consider the language we use to speak to specific audiences and communicate a company’s value proposition. 

A strategic messaging map can help your brand understand and focus its positioning, target customer and value messaging – how it will solve the problem that your clients have. 

Brainstorming File

One could think of a multi-million dollar idea while simply eating, walking or chatting with a colleague. Creating a brainstorming file enables the brand to strategise and experiment based on the ideas and data collected.

Growth Plan

A growth plan, in the form of a spreadsheet containing all of your campaigns, tasks and ideas, allows you to see the tasks ahead of you. It allows you to prioritise and execute and experiment with what works and what doesn’t, as well as analyse missed and possible opportunities that the company could maximise and scale.

Business growth must be repeatable, scaleable, and predictable. Our agency, We Scale Startups, has always been passionate about helping ambitious startups hack growth. 


Growth marketing may look confusing and challenging at first, but once you get the hang of it, you will learn how important it is in all businesses, not just startups. Working with expert growth marketers is the key to getting a grasp of what exactly your business needs. Growth marketing is fun if it is done correctly.

Contact us for a free clarity call if you are interested in consulting an expert growth marketer. 

“What the Hell is Growth Marketing?” – By Daniel Johnson

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