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‘Growth marketing’ has become a self-reflexive trope.

‘Growth marketing’ has become a self-reflexive trope.

The term ‘growth marketing’ has essentially gone meta. A form of business theatre that is, in many ways, no longer connected to its original intent.

Of course, when was marketing not supposed to be about growth? Was marketing invented to drive contraction? To help reduce opportunities for businesses?

As pressure increased to show growth for investors, ‘growth marketing’ became the buzzword that everyone latched onto. The idea of creating an ROI mechanism for marketing. Yes, please!

It’s since found its way into reporting decks and job titles around the world. Everybody’s selling a growth story. It’s the new career gold rush.


All that glitters…

I genuinely believe in the concept of growth marketing. Because, like many, I’ve witnessed far too much investment with little ultimate accountability.

I started hearing clients say, beginning around 2005: “We’re spendings tons of money and I’m challenged to show what it’s doing for the business.” The move into digital sent budgets and spending sprees aimed in wildly new, different, fragmented directions.

The table was being set for finding a new way to tie it all together. The concept of defining marketing as a measurable growth driver scratched a big itch. And why shouldn’t it? It sounds prudent. Practical. Valuable.

The challenge with growth marketing is that the substance lies well under the surface.

When I say that I believe in growth marketing, it means understanding what is influencing revenue and making better decisions based on that knowledge. I believe in growth marketing when it means creating measurable touchpoints with logical next steps through personalized content (not massive amounts of content trying to say everything to everyone). I believe in growth marketing when it’s hooked into a collaborative sales process.

But the truth is that marketing is not the only thing that drives growth. In theory, one might argue that we shouldn’t talk about ‘growth marketing’ if we’re not willing to talk about ‘growth sales,’ ‘growth products’ and ‘growth service.’ Having KPIs for each that tie back to how they protect or earn business.

A giant organizational ‘growth’ dashboard to end all dashboards.

Regardless – and despite current trends in nomenclature – most marketing is not actually growth marketing. Especially marketing that plays up the funnel and relies on vanity metrics. It’s traditional marketing.

Not hitting targets? Dump a massive amount of money in a paid awareness campaign, and find metrics to support the narrative of the longer-term efficacy of that investment. Influencing conversations, proving that people saw the logo. Shock and awe. Bots be damned. It looks impressive, so it must be. Right?


House of growth.

Teladoc, which owns BetterHelp (an online SaaS therapy platform) has seen its stock crater. They’ve been selling a growth story to investors and doing it by paying massive amounts of money in paid media exposure (podcasts, paid ads, syndication). They reported a whopping $41.59 per share loss (vs an expected 60 cent loss). Why? The cost of acquisition has been astronomical.

Massive investment in demand gen to support a growth narrative is risky business. It’s purpose-built by the people who want to take and spend your money to be able to abdicate responsibility as to whether it actually worked. If it becomes unavoidable not to accept that this top of funnel (even pre-funnel) investment didn’t actually do anything for results, the crown of responsibility can be placed elsewhere.

Paying a premium to drive general awareness is one thing. Reaching people with the right intent, at the right time, with the right message – of whom a measurably good amount actually convert into MQL/SQLs is another matter entirely – and that’s growth marketing.


From semantics to impact.

If you are a massive, incumbent entity with money to burn then you can literally do it all. Go nuts. Be everywhere. Be known. Own the conversation. But that’s not most companies these days, save the goliaths. And even those are being held to new standards by large investor groups.

Should marketing be all about conversion? Of course not. Building brand and growing awareness require investment, patience and effort. But we’re also moving past the era of burning significant cash on things that can’t be quantified. So it’s arguable what percentage of budget should be allocated towards it. The traditional approach weighs heavily towards the less quantifiable side where the efficacy of the investment can’t be easily proven or disproven.

So we have to decide how we’re going to measure success, and then call it what it actually is.

I say either we retire the redundant phrase ‘growth marketing’ and just call it ‘marketing,’ or – we keep it and mandate the use of the terms ‘growth sales,’ ‘growth products’ and ‘growth service,’ bundling them into a unified RevOps reporting matrix with clear KPIs — eliminating vanity metrics altogether and investing core time and resources on mid-funnel and below where legitimate potential for qualified intent is at play.