Brian Balfour, former VP Growth at Hubspot, sounds a lot like a product manager when he talks about growth marketing:
“We must be aware of and accept of the constancy of change, integrate it into our culture and empower our teams to always be adapting. If we don’t, our product’s growth will inevitably stall at some point in time.”
Accepting inevitable change? Developing team culture around it? Preparing for the unknown? That’s product management talk.
But these days, it’s also growth talk. It makes perfect sense that Balfour’s sustainable growth principles run parallel to product management principles. After all, product teams and growth teams are closely aligned to the same outcomes, whether it’s user acquisition, reducing churn or building out partnerships.
So when it comes to planning a growth marketing roadmap, it’s helpful to look at and borrow from the way product teams work.
In this piece, we’ll show you how to build a growth roadmap using a popular approach called theme-based roadmapping . Theme-based roadmaps are an ideal way to communicate your big picture strategy: How do we plan to grow? How do we plan to scale? What are our biggest drivers of growth now and in the future?
With a theme-based roadmap, you can translate those questions into a set of tangible priorities that you expect will help you meet your goals, just like a product team does.
The beauty of it is that you can start planning, but you don’t have to have all the answers today.
What Is A Growth Marketing Roadmap?
A growth roadmap is a document that helps you communicate your growth strategy over time.
When you take the theme-based approach to roadmapping, you lay out your growth into three buckets (or time horizons): Current, Near Term and Future.
The higher up a priority is on your list, the more detailed the plan. The further out it is into the future, the more nebulous those ideas are.
Theme-based roadmapping is designed to give you freedom to put big ideas on the marketing roadmap and the flexibility to define how you solve them later.
That gives you the space to address the following “big questions” in clear terms that are accessible to everyone you work with:
- What are our desired outcomes?
- How do we plan to meet them?
- How can we prioritize these initiatives for maximum impact?
This template helps you establish goals to help you then prioritize the right experiments, A/B tests and marketing tactics to help you meet them – and it’s what we’ll teach you to assemble in this piece.
Let’s look at the steps to putting together a growth marketing roadmap!
Defining Your Product Vision
Do you have a product vision yet? A high-level product vision is a statement of purpose and will guide all your other strategic decisions.
As our Head of Growth Nandini Jammi has said before, a solid product vision is ambitious, timeless and inimitable.
Look at Elon Musk’s product vision for Tesla, for example. It ticks off all those boxes.
(You can find some more excellent examples of product and company vision here.)
Your product vision is the anchor for the rest of your growth planning, so don’t skimp on this important step! If you don’t have a product vision in place yet, use this product vision template to help you write one.
Step 1: Define your “north star” growth metric & KPIs
How do you plan to measure success?
Once you have a product vision, sit down and decide how you’re going to know you’re actually growing.
Growth metrics are not one-size-fits-all. The definition of growth varies from product to product and company to company.
This is why it’s important for you to define your north star metric.
What is your “north star” growth metric?
Your “north star” metric represents the moment that your user or customer gets authentic value out of your product.
This could vary depending on your business model.
For Slack, it’s the number of messages sent. Once a team has collectively sent 1500 messages, they’re way more likely to use Slack every day doing forward. Airbnb’s north star metric is the number of nights booked.
If you’re running a food delivery app, then your north star metric might be “# of orders placed.”
For example, the growth team at Square had to dig deeper into their own data before they found their growth metric.
On the merchant side, they knew that number of transactions was an important metric to think about.
They also noticed that once merchants reached a certain number of transactions, merchant churn dropped drastically. It was this insight that then led to their decision around growth to focus on that one metric.
Stripe’s growth team also went through a similar phase of research before settling on their “north star” metric.
For example, if they defined growth as “Average Number of Transactions” that number would be 0:
“It’s so easy to set up a Stripe account that there are a lot of people who simply set up an account just to look around at the product. Perhaps they’re happy with what they see, but they’re not actually handling any online transactions so they don’t need the service.”
This leads to an extremely skewed distribution for this one metric, but in no way indicates anything about the health of the business, the retention of users, the value of new users, etc.
If you’re looking for help uncovering your ‘north star’ metric, Thoughtbot has a helpful resource here.
Which KPIs (objectives) will help you reach your ‘north star’ metric?
Now that you know what the most important metric for your business is, what KPIs will help you deliver that goal?
Here are a few KPIs that likely apply to your business (although you’re certainly not limited to these!):
For more ideas and inspiration, see Andrew Chen’s post on scaling user growth.
Every decision you make from this point on will be focused around your north star metric and these KPIs.
Step 2: Define your high-level growth strategy with themes
If you’re like most growth marketers, you have a long backlog of ideas you want to push out for testing as soon as possible – content ideas, product ideas, A/B tests, etc.
But prioritizing hundreds of ideas isn’t an effective way to plan your work. The better way to handle your backlog is to cluster various ideas that revolve around solving the problem or initiative into themes.
You can see how the following three ideas fit nicely under a single theme:
This eliminates a lot of redundant decision-making.
Instead of deciding how you will prioritize hundreds of ideas individually, you’re whittling it down your work down to prioritizing a handful of themes.
Here are examples of themes that might go with building a strategic roadmap:
- Check-ins with inactive users
- Registration flow
- Improve social media presence
In the next step, you’ll form your growth marketing roadmap by putting these together like Legos.
Step 3: Prioritize Building A Strategic Roadmap
Your roadmap will always be a two-step cycle: setting priorities and adjusting the plans based on your results.
It’s the way agile product management teams plan their releases – and the same process can help you plan your growth roadmap.
Sort out priorities into current, near-term and future
What do you want to solve right away? What are high-impact initiatives that can wait? What is actually feasible now versus later?
That’s all clearly communicated on a growth marketing roadmap, which looks like this when it’s finally put together:
Think of this as a “working” plan. These are your priorities and ideas you’ll be tackling first based on what you know now.
Analyze results and make adjustments
As you start implementing the ideas on building a strategic roadmap, you’ll need to assess whether these are helping you meet your goals.
If they’re not, maybe it’s time to switch out tactics. Maybe you’re focusing on the wrong theme entirely. Maybe it’s time to move up another priority.
These are tough questions to answer but your north star metrics and your KPIs should help guide you in every decision you make.
- Double down on tactics that are working
- Re-examine roadmap strategy (are you working on the right thing?)
- Switch out tactics that aren’t working
You can modify your marketing roadmap as the results of your tests and experiments come back or as your product strategy pivots.
Remember, you have the flexibility to change the plan whenever you need to.
Real-Life Example: Growth Roadmapping In The Wild
Here’s a real-life example of how Andrew Anderson clusters a combination of high effort and low effort tests into “focus areas” at his conversion rate optimization (CRO) consultancy.
His team maintains a backlog in three buckets, so they can pull from each based on the resources available and time.
- Larger tests
- Medium tests
- Small tests (“just run it” type tests)
This allows him the flexibility to push a variety of tests out to development based on resources they have available and what’s actually working.
This process – which is pretty agile – helps his team maintain a constant flow between testing, reviewing and moving new tests down the pipeline. He says:
“We might have 10-11 sites we test on, we have 3-4 pages per site that we can test on population-wise, and we have a backlog of all three types of tests. We have our design/copy resources always working on tests with a slotted approach (we use a kanban board in JIRA).”
“Our dev resources then work on whatever makes the most sense based on what is waiting on them from the creative side. We often have 5-6 tests that wait on development, but this way we maximize all resources.”
This way, his team doesn’t have to deal with downtime. If one initiative goes really well, they can justify prioritizing other similar initiatives.
A constant review process like this enables you to continually ask yourself the questions and adjust your roadmap accordingly.
Balance Your Testing Roadmap and the Growth Marketing Roadmap
When you’re plotting for growth, it’s the growth roadmap that helps you maintain the bridge between strategic and tactical testing.
It keeps you on course if that’s where you need to be, but it also gives you the flexibility to change course if that’s what your testing uncovers.
Interested in seeing a growth map in action? Here’s an example created for NimbleApartments.com:
If there’s anything you can be sure of in the increasingly fast-paced, agile marketplace, it’s that change will happen.
The winners will be those with a plan.
Now go out there and grow all the things.