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Choosing Marketing, Entrepreneurship, On the job Skills, Relationships

Growth Hacking: Perspectives of a Reformed Corporate Marketer

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Shortly, I will provide a brief intro, and then I will lay out the objectives of this article. There are several. For now, I want to be clear and upfront to one of the core audiences I am addressing:

If you are still learning the process of growth hacking, and find yourself reading yet another post with tips, tricks and trends in growth hacking…and then find yourself thinking something along the lines of “Great! Now what exactly do I do now??”, this post is especially for you.

Oh, and if the length of this post looks daunting, the condensed (but less robust) post can be found here, in my linkedIn profile

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My corporate marketing career ended (suspended?) as 2012 came to a close.  Since then my work universe has been a delicious collage of small companies and startups. On a weekly basis I encounter smart, dedicated and passionate people with whom I can exchange ideas and fantasize about what the business landscape might look like tomorrow or in the coming decade. The people I have met possess a wide range of expertise, vision and leadership traits, while all in my estimation have material value to contribute to the business community.

Through my journey, a few things have struck me. First, while I see each person as an individual, I have found myself sectioned off by some and labeled as ‘corporate’. I suppose I can’t dispute that; after all, my resume does have a number of corporate logos on it. But the connotation of that label is one that seems to live at the opposite spectrum to that of growth hacking in the world of business building. Interesting. Second, as I have traded ideas and shared experiences with emerging entrepreneurs, I have found themes that keep occurring the conversation; gaps in business thinking that regularly present themselves and I help fill.

Over the past 18 months or so I have studied this growth hacking phenomenon more deliberately, and I have arrived at several conclusions that I will explain in this post. My objectives are highly ambitious, but that’s how I roll. In this article, I plan to accomplish the following:

  1. Bring some order to the chaos. It’s what I tend to be known for. We have an endless and mounting pile of articles and nuggets of wisdom. It’s time to stop adding to the pile and provide a more static framework for how to go about what we’re all (yes, ALL of us) trying to do – cause growth.
  2. Acknowledge and celebrate the differences between growth hacking and traditional marketing. Both are still evolving, with the end point being a hybrid of what each other already knows and does, if you ask me.
  3. Conclude that growth hackers and (traditional) marketers can benefit from each other’s expertise. The entrepreneurs and companies that see the merits of the diverse backgrounds and perspectives can progress more rapidly.

Yup, tall order. I’m up for the challenge so let’s get to it. I’ll cut this post into sections, so you can be selective about what information you wish to consume in this rather lengthy post.

SECTION I: FRAMEWORKS

Image #1: THE framework for growth.

I’m being a bit bookish here but there’s a time and a place.  I feel I can only make sense of the tangled process of driving growth through the use of imagery.  Words get tiring on their own.

I first want to be clear that when I think of growth I think of real, monetization growth such as the way it is discussed in this video. This is the type of growth that sustains your business versus the growth that is experienced in an individual metric (e.g. site visits or registrations which are described as topline growth); this more surface growth is more of a means to an end and pursued against different objectives…such as to attract VCs.

Next, I want to align perspectives on what marketing is and how growth is caused. Although I tend to be averse to characterizing an entire group using a single phrase, I will grab onto the succinct definition of a growth hacker as presented here; essentially marketer + coder. I’m buying it. What my research and experiences have taught me, though, is that there is not a uniform perspective on what precisely marketing is. All too often, I see marketing expressed in the context to outbound promotion; the trained and more traditional marketer understands it to be so much more, as you’re about to see. And thus I begin to see the emerging gap in perspectives between the two worlds.

This gap also contributes to that slightly empty or lost feeling you get if you read yet another article on growth hacking pointers. Knowing how to deploy them relies on strong execution of a complete growth model. Said another way, companies large and small will be most successful if they are built with robust use of distinct and connected blocks such as how they are presented here:

Marketing pyramid

Each step unto itself is a business-building component, while no step is completely unimportant. As noted at the bottom of the pyramid, each block as well as the whole must be characterized by clarity and must be consistent with the others.  Mostly importantly, the way you approach each step must reflect the needs and state of mind of the consumer (relevance). Failure to be clear, consistent and relevant can often undo the great strides you make with your product or service.

Most importantly, consider that ROI for any campaign is generated by the sum total of all elements of the growth model and the extent to which they are executed well. Consequently, if a campaign result is poor, you must determine where you have failed by reviewing the strength of each of these components. It’s not a simple process and only the more experienced growth hackers or marketers have the expertise.

Most of the terminology in this graphic should be familiar. In case it isn’t, I will highlight some, explain why they are important, and provide some examples. All of this is provided in Section IV of this post.

I’ll also go as far to say that components closer to the bottom of the pyramid have the greatest influence on monetized, sustainable growth as compared to the elements near the top.  These components tend to be more permanent in nature and leave more lasting impressions than, say, an outbound email campaign which is more transient in design and execution.

This complete picture is required to navigate your way through growth hacking challenges. As a simple example, just yesterday I had coffee with a young entrepreneur who launched an e-commerce site and was struggling to build traffic. The question comes the way it often does: “what can I do to get a LOT more visitors to my site?” You just know he’s looking for a simple tactic, but it doesn’t work that way. I started by making the point that he either has to have a clear, unique and powerful proposition or he has to break through the clutter by promoting the heck out of the site.  He told me he tried google adwords and only got one sale for every 300 click-thru site visits.  His takeaway was that google adwords didn’t work.  Can’t tell you how many people draw such an off-track conclusion. So I whipped out my pyramid (theoretically) and we went through his business, focusing mainly on the product, how he was communicating it and the consumer relevancy. We found many inconsistencies which served to only confuse the consumer. We also discovered that the way he chose to differentiate his product was likely not relevant as well. Differentiation without relevancy is almost immaterial. We emerged from the discussion with multiple theories about why 299 people out of 300 bounced. He is now making changes to his site, seeking some consumer validation and then will revisit adwords with the right building blocks in place and an upgraded communication strategy.

The point I have to make repeatedly to people I counsel is that tactics unto themselves don’t drive your business; your approach to these tactics – leveraging all building blocks – does. Ideas and insights the fuel your approach are also key. So, be careful about the conclusions you make about the extent to which any given tactic works.

The blog post that helped me fully understand that the traditional marketing and growth hacking worlds are unnecessarily distanced is this one on growth hacking trends.  And, I have seen many more like it. First off, I almost spit out my coffee when I read about this newfangled thing called branding as a trend. Branding is a core growth hacking tactic that is as essential as any ad campaign…and probably moreso. It’s not a trend, and sadly few take it seriously. I had lunch last week with a colleague who supports companies of all sizes with her marketing agency. She had the CEO of a startup call her asking for a company logo “…and can I get it next week?” Very little supporting information. She refused. I can’t tell you how alarming such a question is to a trained marketer.

That same article points to additional ‘trends’ that suggest focusing more on the product and the consumer. Again, these are not trends; they are essentials to causing meaningful growth.

Based on what I’ve been reading, growth hacking currently lives only in select levels of the pyramid; mostly at the top but is dabbling in others. Corporate marketers embrace the whole thing. The expertise of making the components seamlessly work together is the product of experience and training. These ‘trends’ you see in growth hacking is simply the gradual process of grasping and attaching importance to all of these steps, as well as the clarity/consistency/relevancy paradigm.

Image #2: The Consumer Buying Process

The other essential framework is the consumer buying process, which is this:

buying process

A few key notes here:

  • When talking to a consumers you have to be hyper-conscious of their mindset, relative to their decision to transact. Based on those assumptions, be clear and single-minded on your objectives to the extent you can. If they are not aware of your product, focus first on making them aware and help them truly understand who and what you are.  If you feel there is good awareness, focus on selling and conversion. Be aware of what you’re trying to accomplish and focus on it. If you try to boil the ocean as they say with your outbound communication you will confuse and turn off your consumer
  • Advocacy – which takes the form of word-of-mouth and viral phenomena – usually happens once the consumers have gone through the entire experience of your product and their own decision process. Trusting a consumer to champion your product in the early stages of interaction is a senseless expectation. So, think of social media initiatives in the context of driving awareness versus creating word of mouth. I run into this time after time with indie filmmakers. They want to get people ‘talking about their film’ before it opens.  I tell them that 80% of word of mouth activity for movies happens after the movie is released; it’s not until consumers experience the product in full that they will talk about it to others. This is a surprisingly tough concept to grasp when you are so close to your product. That stage usually doesn’t kick in until you deepen a relationship and nail the entire pyramid. Only a (seriously) disruptive WOW factor can overcome what is otherwise a default consumer behavior.

You can still make a campaign unto itself go viral although that doesn’t guarantee advocacy for your product or service. Articles such as this give you some tips on how incite word of mouth. Where it falls a little short is in the area of consumer relevancy. They got most of the way there by mining volumes of socialized content to see what is most popular in terms of topics. What they missed was trying to understand which topics have a strong ‘passion factor’ as I call it; it’s something that’s real tough to measure so you need to have a strong gut for what can stimulate talk value. Note the themes in Step 2 of the post on viral ideas. Some good stuff here which has been captured by online measurement. I can tell you though that you can get a rise out of people if you share themes of animals, babies, freedom of speech and police brutality. You can’t just muscle your way to viral activity; you need strong emotional understanding of your consumer.

So these are my two pictures. They look a little ‘Marketing 101’ but they absolutely apply. I’m brash enough to contend that I can reconcile almost any growth hacking article back to one of these business frameworks to bring more clarity to what you are reading. Within these graphics lie the questions to pose when considering next steps. We corporate marketers – we’re good that way in how we help!

SECTION II – GROWTH HACKERS VS. MARKETERS

I cringe a bit as I approach this section because I really dislike stereotyping. I think we all have spritzes of a bit of everything inside of us. Still, there are definitely some truths to all those stereotypes, and I’m happy to acknowledge them. More importantly, though, I’d like to leave you feeling that we’re not all that different.

We are actually trying to do the same thing…only in a different way.

Contrary to what you might read in articles such as this, we are all pursuing monetized growth. I’ll avoid the temptation to get all defensive about assertions that marketers are just fidgeting but growth hackers are the ones really pushing for a result. (The temptation is there, though…grrrrrr) The intent is the same; the differences lie in the business setting and the biases we have toward the approach.

Corporate marketers are usually working in mature categories where consumers have awareness of most of the competing brands, not to mention long standing habits and fully formed opinions. The process to pull even one new consumer over to them is a painful one, especially when the consumer dislikes you! Changing their minds (and behaviors) requires a deep personal connection and carefully worded message delivery. Without it, you have no chance. The hill is much steeper.  In the world of growth hacking, it’s more of a numbers game. Cost effective outreach and A/B test your way to success.  If you don’t make an impression on customer A, then try again with customer B.

Working from a small base, the growth hacker has potential for orders of magnitude growth that the marketer just doesn’t have. And, a marketer may generate 2% growth but that may be 250,000 more customers. I don’t know about you but that’s something in my books…and is the product of energy and expertise.

The consequences of failure.

Growth hacking gurus preach failure…and learning from it. I fully subscribe. Mind you, when you only have 1,000 customers and little brand equity, the consequences of failure are low.  However, once you have a wide consumer base and significant value of your company built by branding alone (see last section), you have lots to lose.  Rampant A/B testing of communication strategies becomes irresponsible because you can confuse your consumer about your brand, distance them and consequently erode your value. The strategy then becomes to A/B test in controlled research environments which is the practice of brand marketers. It still happens but in a much different way that is not obvious to the outside world for strategic reasons. The message to the growth hacker is that you have to transition testing styles once you scale up.

Traditional marketers also embrace one truth about consumers: they’ll usually try or consider you only once. Each customer you blow it with by how you talk to or serve them is a customer that’s lost for good. This is less of an issue when you have an ocean of consumers to go after like startups do. The bigger you are, though, the fewer the fish in the ocean and the higher the stakes of each interaction. Conservatism and marketing prudence is not so much a function of the person driving the business, but rather empirical consequences of failure.

Growth hacking has not cornered the market on innovation.

Corporate marketers sadly do not regularly get the chance to work on products with distinct and meaningful product differentiation. (Laundry soap. Bleh.). So, they have to work all other aspects of the pyramid to essentially create a differentiated product, and convince the consumer it’s not only different but better, along some dimension that’s valued. If you think that doesn’t take creativity, try it someday. Take your product down a whole new path, but oh, yeah, don’t forget to not alienate the piles of consumers who have been loyal to you and what you currently are. Much easier to take creative risks to grow your business when you don’t have an existing base of consumers to serve and sustain.

I do think that corporations suck the passion out of the people who do have creative instinct. This article is outstanding in how it explains why corporations want solutions that are in fact inside the box. I have also written on the subject, citing how I would transform a company’s culture to unleash creativity. (Incidentally, if you subscribe as I do to the notion that growth hacking is more than just marketing, the post is a great starting point on where else to innovate)

My point – an ongoing theme – is this: the right kinds of skills for growth hacking can be found in the unlikeliest of places. The vectors that cause the appearance of a lack of creativity are just as much the function of the environment as they are the people themselves. Careful about confusing the two if you’re tempted to pass judgment based on the background of an applicant.

We are all passionate and obsessive…except about different things.

Growth hackers tend to be obsessed with technical things – data and technology. Stands to reason since technical platforms often form the core of the product. Traditional marketers cause growth by obsessing about the consumer, which is a tricky constituent who presents reams of both quantitative and qualitative data based on how they behave and think. Your target market operates as much on emotion as it does logic. And, well, it’s real tough to codify emotion.

I don’t want any readers to take away that one approach is better than the other. Frankly, I wish there was more cross pollination of thinking. Also, importantly, both sides have traps. For example, tech marketers understand that consumers don’t always know what they want — or are at least challenged to articulate it. So, by developing a killer product or service, you could, in effect create a consumer need. There is an innate danger in listening to the consumer too closely.

Still, while hackers consume themselves over the ‘what’, marketers focus on the ‘why’ as they try to get to the very human substance that belies the behavior. Along the same lines, while marketers are reasonably competent with data, the instinct is to obsess less with raw data and instead pursue the insight behind the data – that ‘aha’ moment that informs the business plan. I will offer that neither hackers nor marketers are poster children for expertise in turning data into insight. If you find that skill set in anyone, I suggest you jump on it and stretch yourself to acquire or retain that employee; you’d almost have a competitive advantage.

I’d like to see more growth hackers recognize the importance of the consumer overtly. This is a great video presentation on shaping the future CMO in an environment of growth.  I buy much of what is presented here but I’d like to point to the 3:45 mark where the 3 key growth skills are laid out. Although I realize this is a discussion of ‘skill’, I’m disappointed to find only tangential acknowledgement of the consumer. To me, strong grasp of consumer behavior and the psychology thereof is essential; without it, you artificially suppress conversion and engagement rates. And, heck, without that talent you will be challenged to drive your business once you have exposed your proposition to most of your target.

Meanwhile, larger companies are quite slow to adapt a more data-driven mindset to explain consumer behavior; there is much more data out there than what is currently being exploited. Most big companies dedicate no resources to mining site traffic data or pursuing contemporary marketing models such as location-based marketing. Thankfully, I am seeing at least some evidence that growth hacking is embracing the consumer. There is a related point made in this outstanding article with insights that include focusing energy in areas that don’t scale up. We’re talking about finding ways to get richer consumer insight based on 1:1 interaction. I completely support.

I myself had quite an unsatisfying experience with a promising start up here in Toronto that smartly began holding open houses at its office to help the most engaged consumers sample the service. The product is expensive and they focused on fewer/bigger customers which made the open house an even more perfect idea.  I signed up and was invited. I could outline my experience in mind-numbing detail but let me say this. The event was not as advertised in the invitation and I was unsuccessful in getting my questions answered or speaking to a company representative. Even though I was in a room of only about 35 people, I had no way to identify employees or determine what steps to take. Even just standing there alone looking confused didn’t help me get approached.

The evening ended with me bumping in to someone I knew. We stood and talked ironically about how some of the competitors could provide the services I was looking for. I now direct people to those competitors. I wasn’t offended – I sort of laughed in bewilderment over my experience – but took away the realization that growth hacking has a ways to go to become consumer-oriented at the DNA level.

Incidentally, I followed up the next day with a thankful email about the event and pointed out that I still had unanswered questions…along with some feedback on simple ways to augment the event and achieve their objectives. Never heard back *sigh*

Marketers are non-technical.

This is actually true; tough to find among the corporate crowd for sure. I was recently discussing some digital marketing models at dinner with a close friend who is a junior marketing executive at a well-known CPG company. She politely cut me off because she didn’t have the knowledge or interest to follow along. Then she tells me a story about how she was meeting with a digital agency and asked them “if they had robots or machines who could take care of this” as her way of probing for a technical solution. Ummmm, yikes? Stereotypes live. I guess many of us don’t really get it, after all.

What you will come across, though, are people like me (yes, shameless self-promotion; I get one of these per article, ok?) who have a passion for new media models and are adept at translating business issues and requirements to a technical crowd. You don’t need to be able to code yourself, but rather bridge communication between technical and non-technical groups. Goes without saying that this includes being able to speak in business terms if you are mostly a techie. As stated, this skillset is not in abundance, but it’s definitely out there. And, I’ll agree, is a necessity for a marketer to work in a tech enviro.

SECTION III – WHY WE NEED EACH OTHER

Hopefully you’ve seen thus far that there’s a real yin and yang potential for the growth hacker-marketer relationship. Growth hackers can scale up prudently, have developed testing skills and superior technical knowhow. They can benefit from a more complete strategic approach and consumer understanding of the corporate marketer.  There are a few other hidden benefits as well.

The Benefit of Experience with Big Budgets

(We also work with little ones, btw.)

My last product management gig was running Pepcid. Gotta love drug companies.  My marketing budget was $60M. Good times. Here’s what it did for me: it allowed me to play with every tool in the tool box. A lot. There was literally not one aspect of marketing that I was not able to develop. Many of my initiatives were of test and learn variety so budgets were small in those areas and there was very much a petrie dish mentality. But that $60M was a well-spent investment in my skills; skills which can be scaled or translated into almost any environment. Skills that are hard to develop without the number of activations and analysis afforded by that kind of money. In growth hacker terms, I have A/B tested my marketing skillset to a refined level thanks to my background.

Note also that corporations manage their portfolios. They over invest in some businesses and under invest in others. If you spend long enough in CPG as I did you get mandates to transform your business with fifty bucks. Don’t think for a second we don’t know how to value a dollar…and feel the pressure to deliver with it!

Leadership

Inevitably, a successful young company will scale up. When that happens, many other phenomena appear. You start to take on some stripes of a corporation with structure and processes. Corporate types understand the end point and can help you there. But more importantly, the best of us bring leadership skills having been developed though experience, training and exposure to great leaders. These skills are varied and likely pull from this list that I shared last year. While startups will definitely want to retain an energetic and productive feel, it can only benefit from some additional experience at motivating and inspiring a bigger group. As with many aspects of managing growth, hackers and marketers would pay vital roles in balancing each other out to net out in a comfortable step change as you achieve scale.

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As we embark on becoming a growth hacker or seek to hire one, it’s important to keep growth hacking in perspective. The skill has much to do with how to manage a business through a very distinct phase of the business lifecycle: growth! The lifecycle is not a new concept; it’s been around for ages.lifecycle of business

Two things have changed materially, though. First we have modernized the processes and skills for how to manage through the growth phase by sensibly integrating data, testing and technology. Second, we are now cycling through the life cycle much more quickly. Technology is to accept blame (or credit!) for this.

That last point raises a vital one for growth hackers. Because businesses are now maturing more quickly, you have to be prepared to jump ship on the regular if this is the only phase you wish to play in. For companies looking to hire and maintain continuity of workforce, I recommend you pursue candidates who have a broad range of skills to adapt their business and marketing approaches for when the company inevitably scales up. Hopefully this article has provided some insight on how exactly the environment and required skill sets evolve as the company does. That’s why I have taken the approach in this piece of connecting growth hacking and traditional marketing versus considering them as something distinct.

The tools for growth hacking do not rest within a magical box for which we are all looking for the key. Generating growth with success is rather a complex and complete exercise in serving your consumer better than others and in ways that matter. Growth hacking will evolve just like SEO has (thanks to google’s ever-changing algorithms); what was once a system you could game has now become a reward for acumen and authenticity.

Growth hackers and corporate marketers are cut from some of the same cloth. We all strive entrepreneur_corporatepassionately to achieve growth with the resources we have and the innovation we can muster. Our markets, environments, opportunities and challenges are different, so our growth patterns are different.  We develop our disciplines through varying combinations of trial, mentoring and training.

There’s no denying that our distinct backgrounds and experiences foster unique specialties in how we approach and cause growth. This has led us to believe we are just different people who should remain in our separate domains. I feel quite differently. I believe that what we bring to business are abilities that complement each other well and take prominence at different growth stages.

Growth hacking has come so far, yet the current ‘trends’ point to the precise activities upon which the traditional marketer has built careers. We need each other and there is a palpable inertia that is beginning to draw us closer. I’m counting on us seeing the value of working together more; and if we do, we’ll accomplish even greater things.

SECTION IV: FRAMEWORKS – EXPANDED, EXAMPLES

 Marketing pyramid

 Growth Framework

 

Growth hacking insights require additional context and explanation to make them completely useful. Below are some additional thoughts on each component.

Product

What you are.

In this freebie article on 100+ growth hacks, there are a lot of gems, although they are dangerous if taken at face value. Take slide 13: “Superior sales and distribution by itself can create a monopoly even with no product differentiation. The converse is not true.” Folks, that’s a mouthful and requires much more discussion than what I can provide here. Still, I’ll provide a few thoughts. If you do not understand the conditions under which that statement is true, you could land yourself in big trouble. Sales, marketing and distribution matter more for low-involvement products (if you’re not sure what that means, dial up a corporate marketer or simply read on). Beer is low involvement.  Consumers don’t care much about product performance (if they did the whole world would drink craft beers instead of Budweiser) and they don’t deliberate about their purchase too deeply. More importantly, the purchase criteria are emotional rather than physical. For that reason, the communication strategy matters much more than the product. You can dominate without product differentiation for sure.

Cars are high involvement. Consumers research and test the product a LOT before buying. Great marketing and sales can entice the consumer to test drive, however (price and) product performance seal the deal. Those items range from acceleration, aesthetics, comfort and even where the cup holders are placed.  Sales and distribution cannot overcome a lack of differentiation from other automobiles.

And as for the converse, let’s go with movies. Movies are differentiated products. And trust me, having marketed in the blockbuster movie business for years I can tell you it doesn’t take much marketing innovation. Make a trailer, place it on all movie review sites, have the cast go on talk shows, buy some advertising and you’re done Same drill each time to get a little level of awareness. All marketing activity shuts off after opening weekend when people sample the product. The quality of the product and the resulting unaided consumer word of mouth do all the heavy lifting to drive sales.  Similarly, you can market the heck out of a film in innovative ways (take the provocative Nymphomaniac from 2014) yet if the product fails to deliver along the dimensions that the consumer cares about (mostly entertainment value!), you’re done. Failure.

Having said all that, several slides later in that post – slide 21 – the quote is “Nothing matters more than product-market fit”. So, be careful about to what extent you embrace each sound byte. If you read enough you’ll find a contradictory sound byte for each one you read. As a skilled marketer, you have to take these tips with a grain of salt and defer to your expertise to manage through them. Your journey as mentioned previously is about ‘why’ just as much as ‘what’.

Positioning

What consumers think you are after hearing about you or encountering you.

Positioning is usually expressed in a succinct statement and is the important 5th P of marketing that few recognize. Product and positioning work well together when there is consistency among consumers in what they think you are and if you deliver on a competitive advantage that matters.  For example when people hear ‘Walmart’ they think something along the lines of ‘low prices / wide selection’. This positioning only survives if they are what they say they are

Branding

The way you convey your product positioning.

Branding is about the voice you use to establish relevancy and a connection with the consumer. The core elements are name, imagery, tag line, tone, color. All of these elements must be rationalized in the context of the consumer and product and come together to make a clear statement.

I continue to hear stories that make me wonder to what extent entrepreneurs take branding and positioning seriously on a consistent basis.  Earlier in this post I shared a story about a startup needing a quick logo.  Here’s another example about how branding ties to the broader proposition.

I’m about to embark on a consulting project for a small business called The Designing Guys (I have adjusted the name of the company to protect the innocent, but the theme is quite comparable). This company designs offices for technical labs and large corporations. Its customers are large, serious and many have rigid technical specifications.  Credibility in this line of work is critical. The company has been in business for five years, has a good product, but is not growing at the desired rate. Rates of conversion are sub par. I am to overhaul all elements of their web site and create a program of outbound communication to generate leads.

I have immediately identified a huge stumbling block that could undo any work done on landing page optimization and outbound programming – the company name. “Guys”. Sets a casual tone for a company that has a serious client base. I cannot change the name of the company, so I have much to consider as I move forward to overcome the product / branding / customer misalignment. I will need to dedicate energy and space in the communication plan specifically to rewire perceptions of the company caused by their brand. Yes, the issue is that big.

I can pull from various experiences and provide lengthy examples but I’ll leave it at this. Know what you are. Be something that matters (a lot!) to the consumer in a way that is complete and unlike all of your competitors. Say what you are with clarity and in a way your consumer wants to hear. Circle back and make double sure you are what you say you are. It’s a continuous loop that you need to take to ensure something doesn’t end up out of whack.

A strong brand, built through consistency, clarity and relevancy, will eventually bring value to a company on the balance sheet. It can also create sales unto itself while overcoming a lack of relevant product differentiation. Make branding a serious exercise.

User Experience

Let me circle back and capture this one. As a default, consumers value simplicity. The harder you make them work, the less interested they will become. I think we all know that.

UX becomes even more important if you are creating a competitive advantage out of the experience and linking it to your branding or positioning. If you want to assert such superlatives for your site such as:

  • “The simplest way to….”
  • “The widest selection of….”
  • “Your one-stop source for all….”
  • “The quickest way to….”

Your site will need to BE that.  You are making UX a core part of your proposition. As soon as a consumer senses you aren’t what you say you are (100%) they are likely to bounce. Startups make this sort of mistake often, asserting claims in outbound communication that they can’t backup with UX. It’s fine to rationalize the need to spend on driving traffic over improving product but imperfect UX will suppress metrics and prevent you from building a valuable brand.

Communication Strategy

buying processMore than any other step, the communication strategy recognizes the consumer process of engaging and transacting.

Once the product-positioning-branding elements are aligned, you should feel free to scale up with confidence. To optimize success rates, the skilled marketer deploys a rather bookish process of creating a communication strategy for the brand overall and/or for individual campaigns. Through data, insight or sheer hypothesis a grid is created that answers the following questions for each outbound tactic:

  • Target consumer – demo
  • Target consumer – usage state; consider not only problems to solve but emotional state if relevant
  • Consumer’s current relationship with brand (e.g. unaware, aware but not interested, aware but has misperceptions, etc)
  • Desired outcome (e.g. awareness, brand understanding, purchase interest, etc); note that it’s a tall order to go from zero awareness to purchase in one shot although it is possible
  • Message that would influence the outcome of advancing the consumer to the next stage of engagement (e.g. information, tone)
    • What is the primary and secondary succinct message? Note that consumers rarely take away more than one key message, depending on the richness of the media. For the sake of clarity, always assume less is more
  • Message media (e.g. words, pictures, video, etc); this in part a function of message complexity, with a goal of delivering simplicity and clarity to customer
  • Message environment; this is the most cost effective channel to reach target consumer with desired message given the optimal format/media (e.g. social media, email blast, etc)

Marketers carefully develop answers for the individual elements of the communication platform. Each step in thinking builds on the one before and will go a long way to delivering results if the whole synchs up perfectly.

I’m making myself crazy looking for a great growth hacking article on PR agencies who are right for growth hackers. The #1 agency made one simple point that I’ll never forget: it’s hardly about tactics; PR is all about helping a company get its message right. We train them to learn about how to talk about the product to the media and to consumers. If you get that right, the rest is easy…and rather routine.

I love it.

Outbound Marketing

This is where both big brand and start up marketers excel. Corporate marketers A/B test communication on the regular but not to the extent of growth hackers for reasons I have already explained.

The big insight here is that if you dedicate energy to each growth-inducing step and do it with success, the process of outbound marketing and promotion becomes quite simple. The PR agency perspective in the previous section makes a similar point.  The biggest decisions are usually about scope and selecting a cost effective channel.

I have often said that the role of (outbound) marketing is to fulfill the destiny of the product. If you’re able to embrace this uncommon perspective, you’ll move your business forward with good sense.

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