Marketing Vs Growth & Why The Distinction Matters

We tend to assume that that the primary motivation for marketing is to grow.

We also tend to assume that the best way to grow is through marketing.

In fact, marketing and growth are so closely aligned that at a strategic level we rarely even bother to distinguish between the two. This is a problem.

WPP have become the largest media company in the world by a strategy not of marketing and selling, but of purchasing. The same is true of IBM. Likewise, when the budget gym model turned the fitness industry on its head, companies grew not so much through their marketing and communications but rather by identifying viable sites. After all, the business model was proven – the only question was could they find the right locations?

Other businesses, particularly those with a highly engaged audience, may find that extending their product range is sufficient to achieve desired growth targets. While a B2B organisation may spearhead their growth strategy through an expansion of the sales function.

Of course, growth can come from marketing; Tinder ran events. Hotmail grew through a clever referral message added to email signatures. AirBnB grew through a referral program. Netflix via affiliate marketing. But the point is that while marketing is one way to grow, it is far from the only option. And it is not, in itself, a growth strategy.


Why does the distinction matter?

The reason it matters is focus. While marketing incorporates a broad array of channels and tactics, a growth strategy tends to come down to one thing (even if that one thing happens to fall within the marketing function). Or to put it another way; your business is far more likely to grow because it does one thing brilliantly than because it does twenty things well, so gaining clarity on that one thing could not be more critical.


Finding your North Star

Closely aligned to your growth strategy you’ll find your North Star. Your North Star is the company’s top performance metric and acts as your guiding light for strategic decision making. It should satisfy the following criteria:
– Be a strong indicator of present and future revenue
– Reflect the quality of the user journey
– Align to the company’s vision and values

For Farewill, their North Star was the % of people that left a personal message in their will. For Facebook it was the number of monthly active users. For a premium retail brand it may be lifetime customer value.

It’s no coincidence that the companies that successfully and consistently travel towards their North Star are the ones with a clear, focused strategy for doing so. Yes, all the other marketing stuff matters; a strong sense of brand will help shield you from galactic debris and smart channel tactics will ensure the mission is financially viable, but your growth strategy is your rocket-fuel. Without it, you’ll do well to ever leave orbit.


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