Last updated 19 May, 2021.
“In growth marketing, marketing is an essential part of the entire customer lifecycle, even after you close a deal. We pay more attention to compounding growth rather than bouts of explosive growth, which leads to more sustainable revenue growth.”
The word "growth" is thrown around like a pizza topping 🍕 that you can add to anything these days. From product-led growth to Chief Growth Officers, if it doesn't have growth, then we're not having it 🙅🏽♀️ But what the heck is growth marketing?
In the latest Growth Hub Podcast episode, Edward Ford sat down with our very own Audrey Agahan, Content Marketing Strategist and Content & Brand Competence Lead at Advance B2B. Audrey shares our secret sauce – our own growth marketing formula that blends brand strategy with agile marketing operations, as well as:
💡 The difference between growth marketing and traditional marketing
💡 How growth marketing differs from growth hacking
💡 The sprint-based agile operating model we use to run growth marketing activities
💡 A framework to prioritize growth ideas and experiments
💡 How to use content marketing as a growth driver
💡 A client case study where we achieved over 100% YoY growth
💡 How to get started with growth marketing
... and that's just the tip of the iceberg 🧊 Listen to the full episode or read the transcript below for all of Audrey's juicy secrets.
Product Led Growth: How to Build a Product That Sells Itself, by Wes BushThe
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Edward: Welcome to another episode of the growth hub podcast, and it’s my pleasure to welcome Audrey Agahan to the show, who is Content Marketing Strategist at Advance B2B. So Audrey, thank you so much for joining us today here on The Growth Hub Podcast!
Now I’m really excited about this episode as growth marketing is a term we’re hearing more and more about these days, not just in B2B SaaS, but in marketing in general. So to kick things off let’s cut to the chase, what the heck is growth marketing?
Audrey: There are a lot of different definitions and approaches out there, but at Advance B2B, we’ve come up with our own growth marketing formula which has 2 key elements: brand and agile marketing operations.
And when I say brand it’s probably not what most people think. Brand is such a crucial aspect of growth but it’s often forgotten or put on the backburner. Brand isn’t about good advertising. It’s much more strategic than that. It’s about nailing your brand positioning, having a strong vision, listening to your ideal customers, and delivering the right product for them.
You know your brand is on the right track when the right-fit customers easily understand the value you’re providing, don’t try to haggle the price, and immediately start getting buy-in from the rest of their company. When you have a strong brand, you’ll have happier customers who stick.
The 2nd part of the growth marketing formula is agile marketing operations which is an experimentally driven way of working that is designed to establish the brand with existing customers, make them part of the brand, or to take the brand out there and get new customers. It’s always about having a clear vision of what the brand is, who it’s for, and equally as important who it IS NOT for.
And together, these two elements create a sustainable customer base and that equals growth.
Edward: So what is the difference between growth marketing and traditional marketing?
Audrey: In the past, marketing only focused on acquisition, especially a few years ago, when you think about how big content marketing was. It was about generating leads, any leads, pretty much just a numbers game.
At my previous in-house marketing roles at tech companies out in LA, I often made annual marketing plans, and this was very typical in traditional marketing. And when a plan was made sometime in October for the next year, that plan wasn’t very flexible since you were allocated your annual marketing budget based on that plan.
On top of that, the data was usually fragmented or non-existent, and not used strategically.
In growth marketing, marketing is an essential part of the entire customer lifecycle, even after you close a deal. We also pay more attention to compounding growth rather than bouts of explosive growth, which leads to more sustainable growth.
The most successful marketing teams align their KPIs with business goals, are customer-focused, work closely and align themselves with other teams like sales and product, and make their decisions based on data.
This just means instead of a yearly plan, marketing is agile, organized around data-driven findings, and is always being adjusted. At Advance B2B, we do this in monthly sprints.
Edward: Growth Hacking as a concept and methodology came along in around 2010, so what is the difference between growth marketing and growth hacking?
Audrey: These terms are often used interchangeably but they mean different things or at least the angles are different. Growth hacking is often driven by product and is more typical for early products, to ‘hack their growth’. While growth hacking often looks for quicker wins (and to get a product out there) growth marketing is about sustainable growth. Both are equally valid and depending on the situation, one could work better than the other.
I think most people know the iconic example of growth hacking when Dropbox offered 250MB of extra storage space to any user who invited a friend — if that friend created an account., which got signups to soar by 60% almost overnight. You don’t hear of those unicorns as often anymore, but more recently, the new Clubhouse audio app spread like wildfire through their exclusive invite-only model.
The term “hack” has its background from tech companies, that often have a product team but no marketing team. The product team came up with ideas on how to generate users, test product-market fit, and quickly iterate their product. Maybe that’s also why we talk about hacking, a term that has its roots in engineering.
Some people might think of growth hacking as a silver bullet for magical growth and revenue, but that just doesn’t exist. Not in growth marketing and not in growth hacking.
Edward: So how do you work and what does your growth marketing operating model look like?
Audrey: When we work with new clients, we typically have a strategy phase that’s around 1-2 months and then we move into the daily operations part which is done in monthly sprints. During the strategy phase, we’ll have a kick-off workshop where we deep dive into the company situation and define things like business goals, marketing goals, priorities, etc.
We’ll then have an Ideal Customer Profile workshop where we get to know their best customers and target audience from an internal stakeholder point of view. To validate this data, we’ll run our own customer interviews of their best customers, churned customers, and even prospects so we can get a deeper understanding of their customers, their pain points, and why they buy. This helps us to be truly customer-centric in everything from writing content that resonates to prioritizing the most impactful marketing activities.
After the customer interviews, we’ll close off the strategy phase by creating a growth marketing strategy plan that will act as a steering document for our monthly sprints, but this is a living document that will continuously transform as we learn more.
Once we move into our monthly sprints, we’ll create a hypothesis based on our learnings and suggest marketing tasks and experiments that have the most potential. At the end of each month, we’ll have a retrospective meeting with the client to go over the results of our work and see how we’ve done against our target KPIs and goals. From there we’ll decide what worked and what didn’t work. We’ll scale things and go big on the things that work.
Edward: How do you prioritize certain tasks or activities and decide what you’re going to work on?
Audrey: I like to use the PIE prioritization framework where we score each task on a scale of 1-10 based on potential, importance, and ease. I’ll score each task and I’ll also let the client score each task and take an average of the scores to help us get a PIE score. I also love using this type of scoring framework when I do a content audit and I need to figure out how to prioritize content optimizations.
Edward: As a content marketing strategist, how can you use content as a growth driver?
Audrey: While brand awareness and sentiment are often tough to measure, specific pieces of digital content are definitely measurable, especially with all of the tools available these days.
There are so many ways that content can be used as a growth driver, but I always start by looking at where the growth bottlenecks are. For example with SaaS companies, if customer churn is the issue, then I’ll look into things like nurturing sequences, creating delight stage content, and finding ways to distribute that content when and where it matters.
Another example is creating a pillar page, continuously optimizing it, and amplifying it through a distribution plan so that it slowly but surely starts ranking for the target keywords. This is something that can take a while to see the impact, but what you should remember here is that you can’t just create content and leave it. And more importantly, you have to create content that actually provides value to your ICP and make it more awesome or at least provide a different viewpoint than the top-ranking articles.
Edward: And how do you measure, analyze, and report performance?
Audrey: I first like to define my north star metric, which should align with business goals. Sometimes figuring out your most meaningful metric is the hardest part.
A typical example of this is when you focus on form fills for let’s say a gated piece of content, and spend all of your time reporting form fills, when there is more data beyond that — which of these form fills become customers, how much pipeline was generated, and how much of the ARR bookings are generated through marketing?
I can go on and on about this, but once the north star metric is defined, then I identify additional supporting metrics and set goals or targets, and make sure I have some benchmarks for what success looks like for that specific client’s situation
Since I work in monthly sprints, I analyze and report on metrics on a monthly basis, but I also like to have quarterly and annual check-ins to get a better understanding of performance at a higher and overall level.
In terms of where I extract the data, I use Google Analytics, Google Search Console, and an SEO tool like SEMrush or Ahrefs
Hubspot is my go-to CRM, so if a client has that then I try to build the reporting on a custom dashboard there to monitor performance for sales, website content, email campaigns, ad campaigns, and social campaigns. I also use tools like Databox and Sisense for gathering data and reporting.
Edward: You also worked with a company called Virta, which offers solutions to B2B companies to launch, grow, and operate their own commercial services in the EV charging ecosystem, and you helped them achieve 100% YoY revenue growth, which is incredible, so can you talk us through that growth marketing case, so what was the challenge?
Audrey: Oh yes, one of my favorite clients! We started our partnership in 2019 and Virta’s major challenges were identifying and getting a deeper understanding of their ICP which would help to narrow down their target audiences and understand where to focus because at the time they were trying to market to over 10 segments.
Another challenge was online visibility and growing their brand reputation and credibility. Lastly, they wanted to Increase inbound lead generation along with having a proper foundation and strategy for inbound lead gen
Edward: What did you do and how did you go about tackling the challenge?
Audrey: Earlier I mentioned our process of having various workshops during the strategy phase which included interviewing 7 of their ICP customers. Once we built that foundation these are some of the activities we focused on:
Since 2019, we’ve refreshed their website content and design twice to address the more narrowed down ICP that we helped to establish. We did a lot of CRO, especially with landing pages for lead gen. We started using SEO-driven topic clusters & pillar page framework for target audiences based on customer research to build brand awareness and online visibility.
We also planned full-funnel content to support ongoing lead generation with search-driven content (e-books, infographics, blog posts, case studies, etc) for each target segment
We ran paid advertising on Google, FB, LinkedIn, and Bing. Bing started off as an experiment, but it actually garnered some decent results and was super cheap compared to the other channels. There was much more, but these are the most impactful things we did
Edward: And what results did you get?
Audrey: When we compared 2019 to 2020 after a year of working together. Revenue generated increased by 159%. Revenue in the pipeline from online channels shot up by 118%. The number of customers increased by 119%. Website traffic after our first redesign increased by 111%. And for every €1 we invested in paid acquisition, it resulted in €11,2 generated in the pipeline.
And what we learned after our first year is that: The customer interviews we ran were extremely helpful in narrowing down the ICP, building the initial growth marketing strategy, and creating content that resonates with the target audiences. We started w/ over 10 segments & today focus on about 4, but the ICP work is still evolving.
Quality, evergreen content that’s continually optimized for SEO demonstrated that slow and steady wins the race and was a testament to compounding growth. We needed to continuously monitor and analyze website analytics and paid advertising efforts to see what things should be stopped, optimized, or amplified.
On the content side, for the Google Ads, I looked at the quality scores and landing page experience to see how I can improve our paid acquisition team’s already awesome work. We also started to get much more aligned with the Virta sales team (in addition to marketing) which is helping us focus our efforts on the audiences that make the most financial impact.
After the website redesign and launch, it took us a while to dig deeper into how the new user paths work and what aspects of the user experience could be optimized. We learned it’s really important to continuously monitor and analyze the performance of the new website, not only from the content and SEO perspective but also from a UX perspective. Lastly, everything is always a work in progress!
Edward: Where can people go to learn more about growth marketing?
Audrey: Of course this podcast! But our website www.advanceb2b.com has some pretty good blog and webinar content. And by good, I mean some pieces are ranking on the 1st pages of Google. We’ve got a great Growth Marketing 101 post, and my favorite piece is a step-by-step guide to better customer research in B2B SaaS.
We also recently started doing a “talk to a growth marketer” campaign where you can book a 15-minute call with one of our growth marketers, and not one of our salespeople. This is a casual talk to answer any questions you have about growth marketing, our services, your company, how you do your marketing, and whether it looks like we match or not.
This started off as a Valentine’s Day idea we had where you can do on a date with a growth marketer, and it garnered some good interest so it’s now morphed into a regular thing which we hope adds some value to our prospects before they get into any sales talks.
Edward: Awesome, this was super good and we could now move to our closing questions and our fast five challenge, so I will ask 5 questions and all you need to do is answer as quickly as possible - so are you ready:
Edward: What’s the one book you would recommend others to read?
Audrey: Ok, I have to cheat and share 2. Marketing-wise it would be Product Led Growth by your previous guest Wes Bush. This was a great crash course into PLG and had super actionable advice.
The other one is The Power of Vulnerability: Teachings on authenticity, connection, and courage. I know this isn’t a marketing or biz book, but honestly, this book transformed the way I looked at life and myself. It helped me to view vulnerability as a strength rather than a weakness and live a more authentic life. When I was an in-house marketer, leading marketing for tech companies back in LA, I often felt imposter syndrome trying to appear like I knew everything. But this book helped me realize that when we bring our most authentic selves to the workplace and aren’t afraid to say what we don’t know, then even more powerful work will emerge.
Edward: A SaaS company you love and why?
Audrey: I absolutely love the Klaus app even though I’ve never used the app. It’s a Conversation review and QA platform for support teams that I ran into because I interviewed their CEO for another client. They have really useful content, plus some really fun content like a Cocktails with Catitude cocktail recipe e-book, a coloring book for cool cats, and some Slack cat emojis. You’ll never forget their Cat mascot and who doesn’t love cats?
Edward: Your favorite place to learn about marketing online?
Audrey: The Ahrefs blog has been super helpful. Their blogging for business online course is absolute gold.
Edward: Most important growth metric?
Audrey: The answer you don’t want to hear, it depends on the client, but the one I follow most for B2B SaaS and subscription companies is churn because they depend on long-term customers to grow. When you can’t keep your churn under control, it’ll eat away at your revenue to the point where your business is unsustainable. And no matter how many new customers you’re able to acquire each month, if you can’t get them to stay, well then we have our infamous leaky bucket syndrome.
Edward: The best piece of advice for fellow marketers?
Audrey: It’s ok to not know something and to screw up every now and then. But just be hungry to learn and build a network of other awesome marketers, so that you’ll always have people to spar with. I’m lucky enough to work with all marketers and I’m growing every day because of it, but I know how lonely it can be when you’re a lone marketer.
Edward: Awesome. Well, Audrey, this was fantastic, and thank you so much for coming on the growth hub podcast!
Audrey: Thank you so much for having me!