The term “growth marketing” or in some quarters “growth hacking” may not have a universally agreed upon definition, but its adherents adamantly believe that it works.
On December 3, at the Growth Marketing Conference, in San Francisco’s Hotel Kabuki, the day’s opening panel session, “The Future of Growth Marketing: Tools, Strategies and Tactics” brought together four leading marketers to discuss their beliefs in the emerging discipline.
[Read our previous coverage of the Conference via this session recap on content marketing]
The panel was comprised of Dinesh Thiru, vice president of marketing, Udemy; Zack Onisko, head of growth and marketing, Marketplaces, Autodesk; Dan Olsen, lean startup and product management consultant, Olsen Solutions; and Annie Lee, content marketing lead, Pinterest.
Growth vs. revenue
For a B2B company, a question that often comes up looks at achieving growth vs. hitting revenue targets. For Pinterest, the popular social bookmarking network for B2C and B2B marketers, user and content growth still rank above revenue generation, likely due to its pre-IPO status.
“There was not much curated content early on,” Pinterest’s Lee said. “But we’re scaling now.”
At Pinterest, the focus is on building relationships, according to Lee. This runs counter to the trend of discounting user acquisition, she said.
“You have to know the difference between the value of acquisition and retention,” Lee said.
The way Onisko looks at it, revenue is not a destination but a journey. After acquiring his startup design content platform Creative Market, Autodesk formed the Marketplaces unit that Onisko still leads. After the acquisition, revenue grew 20 times, according to Onisko.
“You have to do bigger, better things to hit revenue goals,” Onisko said. “If you only focus on the top of the funnel (acquiring users), you won’t succeed. Monetize customers by bringing them back (further down the funnel).”
And marketing teams need adapt to circumstances as growth stalls or objectives change. Recounting the situation three years ago, Thiru said that Udemy, an online learning marketplace, still needed to achieve product market fit. In response to that need, Udemy had to shift its growth goal to the number of new students that were being acquired each month.
“Marketing helps achieve growth,” Thiru said.
Product market fit was a recurring theme on the panel. Before growth can occur, the product has to be right for the market, according to the panel.
“You must have product market fit before pouring on the marketing gasoline,” Olsen said. “Get your retention rule tracking in place first.”
Skillsets needed for growth marketing
Further into the session, the topic turned to what skillsets marketers need to succeed in growth marketing. In this fast-moving field, the requirements for growth could have changed from 2014 vs. 2015, per the question put to the panel.
But not everyone bought into that premise. Disagreeing with the proposition as presented, Onisko countered that the key skill is to be able to continue to learn.
“For 10 years, people have realized that the (ability) to learn is where you should focus,” Thiru added.
Although, once on board, Udemy pushes for marketing to be more technical, according to Thiru. For example, Thiru learned SQL to be closer to the data. As a result, three-quarters of Udemy marketers now know SQL.
As a product management consultant, Olsen has seen this trend toward more technical skill requirements throughout B2B marketing. For example, marketers should know basic statistics and even user experience (UX) design, according to Olsen.
Finding your favorite channels
To pursue growth, marketers have to pick and choose their most trusted channels. Often, marketers need to leverage their customers directly to create a channel to growth.
“For Pinterest, community management forged (the channel) to growth early on,” Lee said.
Meanwhile, an old, steady tool for growth was preferred by Thiru in word of mouth for 2015 and into 2016. For big companies he cited advertising as his second favorite channel at the top of the funnel. But he counseled marketers to be careful with paid acquisition, saying it took Udemy three to four years to make paid work.
Also at the top of the funnel, Onisko made the case that partnership and customer referrals had importance. However, B2B marketers should not circumscribe themselves from pursuing alternatives, as they should diversify their efforts to see what works for them, according to Onisko.
Closing out this portion of the panel, Olsen pointed out that as old as the channel is, email is still very effective in retaining customers. And Lee advocates marketers look at the mobile web as a channel outside North America. In the rest of the world, it’s not all about mobile apps, according to Lee.
Whose responsibility is growth?
To conclude this session, the panel considered who should take responsibility for growth.
Company founders need to be responsible for growth early on after finding product market fit, according to Onisko, while Thiru considered early growth in the zone for generalists.
At Pinterest, staff debated whether they should even have a growth team, according to Lee. “Everyone at Pinterest feels responsible for growth,” she said.
The panel seemed to agree that growth should be everyone’s main goal.
So will your B2B company act on that advice?
Photo via Derek Handova
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