Forget Marketing: Focus on Growth Instead

There's no denying the importance of marketing. As an online marketer, it's at the core of my business.
05/18/2016 06:26 pm ET Updated May 19, 2017

There's no denying the importance of marketing. As an online marketer, it's at the core of my business.

However, running a successful business requires much more than just marketing. Marketing serves a greater purpose. Marketing is not the end game in business.

It's not that marketing isn't important. Instead, it's that marketing shouldn't be your focus. Marketing is just one component of your overall growth strategy, which is what your business should be focusing on.

Marketing and Growth Are Inextricably Linked

It's important not to totally separate growth and marketing, however, The two are linked, as I'll show in this example from Uber.

The taxi industry makes $10 billion in revenue every year. With so many taxis available in every city, you would have to be crazy to think you can compete. Yet Uber managed to grow into a nearly $50 billion company in the course of only seven years.

Uber didn't grow this large by purchasing expensive billboards, radio spots, and television commercials. This type of marketing strategy would probably have doomed the company. Consumer demand would have outpaced available supply, and the brand's reputation may have suffered.

SEO strategies would have had limited effect as well. Even today if you were to perform a Google search for the term "taxi," the only place you're going to see Uber show up is in the news.

Instead, Uber focused on scaling its simple app into new markets by first hiring an Operations Manager. Then they approached black car services, offering a way for drivers to earn extra money in their idle time. Only once an infrastructure was built would the company consider marketing to consumers, and even this was done quite cheaply.

At this point, Uber already receives a significant amount of media attention in any given market, as the company's ride-sharing business model always attracts political opposition. By undercutting local taxi companies, existing businesses debate the legality of Uber's services, which attracts media coverage.

By the time Uber has to actually market, all it really has to do is announce the city it's opening in, hold a few events to raise awareness, and keep hiring drivers. Focusing on growth becomes its own marketing strategy when executed correctly.

As of April 2016, Uber operates in 404 cities in 60 countries and you'll rarely see or hear a commercial for the brand. This strategy is known as growth hacking.

Is it marketing? Sure, but it's marketing with a new perspective and a fresh angle.

Growth Hacking Replaces Marketing

Growth hacking is a relatively new term that describes people whose only focus is growth. Growing a customer base is important and is increasingly difficult in a crowded marketplace. Whereas marketers worry about conversion rates, budgets, and a host of other metrics, growth hackers have but one metric: growth.

While marketing metrics are important for large, established companies like Starbucks or Facebook, startups don't need to concern themselves with this. Startups live or die by their growth.

Investors look at growth. When a startup experiences losses or flatline, it's a sign that company is a risky investment. If you're pitching to investors, you want your growth charts to be pointing up to show your company is likely to increase revenue.

Growth also attracts media attention. Every brand wants to be mentioned in the media - it's free advertising. Raising media awareness puts your brand in front of a large pool of people, increasing the likelihood they'll become customers.

Since startups often have limited resources available, a focus on growth hacking is preferable to marketing. But the question remains - how do you implement growth hacking in your business?

5 Simple Growth Hack Strategies

In the interest of brevity, I'll provide a few quick tips. If you're interested in learning more, check out the definitive guide to growth hacking.

1. Create Value - A product or service that resolves a real problem is more likely to attract customers. Services like Uber and AirBnB succeeded because they relieved consumer pain points. Do your research and make market testing a priority before pouring money into development.

2. Solicit Customer Referrals - There's no better advocate of your brand than your customers. These are the people who will write positive review, tell their friends, and help grow your company. Dropbox and PayPal succeeded because they incentivized customers to refer friends to the service. Offer discounts, free products, or other incentives to motivate your existing customers to refer new customers.

3. Analyze the Data - You can't please all the people all the time. Snapchat is mostly used by teenagers who want to keep their conversations private from parents and school administrators. Understanding your user base allows you to focus marketing efforts on specific demographics to maximize your ROI.

4. Refine Your Product - Nobody's perfect, and it's crucial to understand what features can add value to your customers. Twitter discovered users who follow at least 30 people are more likely to use the service perpetually. Since that discovery, the company implemented features to import contacts and suggest people to follow. Listen to your customers and tweak your product to keep them happy.

5. Go Viral - The Internet loves great visual content. From memes to YouTube videos, innovative visual content can quickly grab the attention of the masses. Dollar Shave Club built an online following through innovative YouTube commercials that cost far less than traditional television commercials.

Conclusion

Although marketing is essential for any business, startups looking to compete with these titans of industry need to take more innovative steps.

They need to focus on growth. Specifically, startups should leverage their resources towards growth hacking.

Growth hacking is becoming popular for a reason. By focusing on growing your business instead of just "marketing," you're setting up your business for true long term success.

What growth strategies have been successful for your business?