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80+ Growth Marketing Lessons from the Top Industry Leaders

Over the last 8 years, I’ve worked with hundreds of marketers, startup founders, growth and sales hackers, and corporate digital executives. And from big conferences and hands-on workshops, to webinars and intimate cocktail mixers, I’ve noticed they’re all starting to talk about the same thing – growth marketing. Which is why this year, I promised myself something. […]

Over the last 8 years, I’ve worked with hundreds of marketers, startup founders, growth and sales hackers, and corporate digital executives.

And from big conferences and hands-on workshops, to webinars and intimate cocktail mixers, I’ve noticed they’re all starting to talk about the same thing – growth marketing.

Which is why this year, I promised myself something. I made a resolution. I reached out once again to all the industry movers and shakers I could and asked for their growth marketing secrets – the tactics that just worked.

Because whether you’re a startup building a foundation to attract (more) funding, or an enterprise creating a platform for innovation, you really need to learn how to grow. From Silicon Valley dorms to New York City boardrooms, digital marketing teams are becoming growth marketing teams.

And it’s no surprise.

Growth marketing isn’t just a start-up thing. Growth marketing is a marketing thing.


And like with most business sea changes, you’re either onboard or you’re overboard. It’s just a matter of time.

Hiten Shah, who spoke at the previous growth marketing events, said it best:

“If you are doing marketing and you are not aligned with the growth in your company, then you are probably not doing your job”

That said, even though we’re still in the (relatively) early stages of the growth marketing revolution, we can still make sense of it.

First, sales plays a large role in growth. Marketing, like any business unit, shouldn’t exist in a silo. If you don’t connect your marketing and sales teams, you’re not going to move the needle as far – or as fast – as you could be. Sales, product, data science, and technical tools will be a critical part of your growth strategy.

Second, most of the information out there on growth marketing is surprisingly easy to organize. The top strategies, tactics, and tips fit nicely into 3 categories: brand, process, and customer.

And today, I’m going to talk about those categories and the growth marketing secrets in them.

Let’s get started.

I. Brand

Whether it’s your personal brand, your company’s reputation, or your product’s image, it all starts with how people see you – including whether or not they can trust you.

Simply put, most startups focus too much on building a great product and too little on building a great brand. They might have the best product out there – they might even invent a new product category altogether – but they’ll never cash in if they can’t get people to take their cash out.

Unsurprisingly, many of the growth marketing lessons I learned revolved around branding. Some of the best ones are:

#1 Brand is Product     

Laura Busche

“Branding is something that starts when your first product launches. Your brand and product don’t compete. Your brand is your product.”


Laura Busche, Brand Content Strategist, Autodesk

#2 Focus on Creating a Great Brand

“Even from the beginning of starting your company. A brand that people know, like, trust and respect, natural growth will come. It’s what of the best growth hacks we use with Foundr, and yields the greatest return.”

Nathan Chan, CEO, Foundr 

#3 Establish your Expertise

ben parr quote

“In the modern era of marketing, the expert is king.

An Emory University study showed that we pay more attention to experts, especially during critical decisions involving money. Use Medium, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other content tools to write about your industry and build up a following and a reputation of expertise in your field.”

Ben Parr, AuthorCaptivology

#4 Protect Your Brand’s Reputation 

“You can have the best campaign idea, fabulous content, and great timing, but it won’t matter if you’re not protecting your clients’ data. It’s time to take cyber security seriously and realize that data breaches negatively impact your brand’s reputation; they are the opposite of “growth.” Secure passwords and two factor authentication are no longer enough; you need a brand reputation management tool or service.”

Natascha Thomson, CEO, MarketingXLerator   

#5 Amplify Your Brand Awareness with Social Advertising     

“Are you systematically tracking all the good things people say about you and your brand? You can amplify those words to your target audiences on Facebook, Google, and other networks for only a dollar a day.

Nothing has more credibility than what others say about you. So shift your content marketing towards generating rave reviews instead of creating “advertising” content. Let your community of fans and customers do the work for you.”

Dennis Yu, CTO, Blitz Metrics

#6 The Foundation for Growth is Excellence

“Quality service, quality product, and fair prices. That combination will always attract people. But more than that, it will inspire them to pass your name along to their friends, too.

On Facebook, in person – everywhere. People love to tell their friends about great deals from quality businesses. And in today’s world of instant reviews and “search-about-you-first” consumer behavior, it’s critical that your entire footprint says quality. No one marketing tactic will build your business. no one product will solve your revenue issues. In the long run – and business is always a long game – quality wins.”

Duane Forrester VP, Organic Search Operations, Bruce Clay, Inc.

#7 Build Relationships that Build Your Business

“Identify an area where developing new skills will make a significant impact on your business. Then identify a small group of accomplished people with these skills and build relationships with them.

For instance, I finally became a book author and now believe I need to master promotional strategies to get it sold and read, so I’m working on connecting with non-fiction authors and book marketers who know the turf. When they’re carefully chosen and cultivated, new relationships are rewarding beyond measure.”

Barry Feldman, Feldman Creative

#8 Invest in Your Social Capital, Not Your Social Media 

Brian Solis

We often misinterpret the true value of social media.

It is not about “likes,” comments, or money. It is all about relationships and people. It is not about business-to-consumer; it is not about business-to-business. It is people-to-people and how you make them feel.

Brian Solis, Principal Analyst, Altimeter Group  

#9 Promote Others

“Promoting others is one of the fastest paths for growth for a startup. By promoting others, you’re giving them a reason to promote you – making the growth rate exponential. One way is to show how others have used your product to their benefit, which teaches people how to use your product and markets it at the same time.”

Shira Abel, CEO, Hunter & Bard

#10 Find Your Story    

“Find your story. Studies show that 63% of people remember stories and only 5% of people remember facts. When you want to educate or inspire your customer, give them a story – a pointed story that evokes an emotion (joy, fear, inspiration, etc.) that supports your call to action.”

Olivia June, Co-Founder, VINA

#11 Leverage Your Passions

“You cannot avoid the social interaction of networking – especially in the Bay Area. Whether it’s going out to dinner with friends, running into an old acquaintance from college, seeing a co-worker outside of the office, or being introduced to a new connection, this city is an open arena for social networking, which makes it great.

My advice is to not only attend networking events, but find some fun, exciting and interesting things to do – join clubs, groups, teams, or whatever it may be – and get involved with others who share similar interests. In essence, leverage your passions. In doing so, you directly leverage your networking.”

Braydan Young,  Account Executive, Gild

#12 Don’t Sell to Reporters; Share Relevant Information Instead

“Good PR isn’t about selling a reporter to write about you. It’s about relationships and being a part of the conversation. Load all the keywords about your industry and company into Google Alerts, then respond directly to the reporters when it’s relevant to them. Share your knowledge with them – when the time is right.”

Julia Wells, Founder and Managing Director, CoveredCo

#13 Get Featured Everywhere You Can

“You’re an expert on your product, so tell everyone about it. Ask to be featured in publications and at conferences. You’ll be surprised at how many people say yes. The key is to get in front of as many interested eyes as possible, and optimize the buyer funnel to a conversion. Special attention should be paid to audience, non-scalable activities and big picture analysis.”

Clayton Wood, Founder & CEO, Identity Labs

#14 Leverage the Passion of Existing Users

“The source of organic growth is always the passion of existing users. Passion can be measured – it may be they actively promote you, it may mean they act as a case study, it may mean they get a tattoo of your logo on their arm. If you can rapidly learn which metrics tell you why your customers become passionate about you, you’ll have a great shot at rapid growth.”

Jeremiah Gardner, Author of The Lean Brand, Principal, Moves The Needle

#15 Grow your reach

“Content marketers typically find it’s difficult to get traction in the early going with their blogs. The key to growing your audience is to deliver your content via the publications they already read.

Make guest blogging a priority. Carefully select the blogs that reach your target audience. Connect with editors. Pitch them with killer ideas and well-written emails that demonstrate you understand their content marketing mission and have the writing chops to provide them a remarkable post.

Then, deliver a truly amazing article bound to appeal to their readers, increase interest in your blog, and open the door to returning to guest post again.”

Barry Feldman, Feldman Creative

II. Process

Even a strong brand – along with a great product – isn’t enough. We’ve seen more than a few big brands and promising startups vanish because they couldn’t scale, manage their growth, or innovate when the time came.

And as most growth veterans would tell you – tactics and strategies are great, but they don’t lead to sustainable growth alone. They provide quick bursts of traffic – that’s what they’re for.

What you want is retention. Retention is king. And that’s why you should focus on building sustainable processes to attract, convert, and retain customers.

Some ideas for doing that are: 

#16 Market to Influencers 

brant cooper quote

“Group your potential customers around the problem you’re solving and determine the depth of problem. Next, figure out who influences the members of that group within the problem’s context and where they “hang out” together.

Whether you’re doing customer development or trying to scale, leverage the relevant influencers and focus your marketing on where they are.”  

Brant Cooper, NYT Bestselling Author, Keynote Speaker; Founder, Moves the Needle   

#17 Think Global, Act Local

When you consider opening your service or product to international markets, think locally. Marketing is different from one culture to another. Google is far from being the top search engine in Russia, and Facebook isn’t even available in China. Your search, social, and content marketing strategies need to be unique for every new market you enter. Thinking locally is the first step to becoming a global brand.

Anji Ismail, CEO & Co-Founder, 

#18 Measure Engagement and Influence

When you go after bigger accounts, you can’t measure your marketing’s impact with just leads and opportunities. The larger the deal, the less you should think about measuring “marketing sourced pipeline” and the more you need to look at metrics like account engagement, revenue influence, and improved sales effectiveness.”

Jon Miller, CEO and Co-Founder, Engagio 

#19 Try. Fail. Learn.

“Don’t be afraid to fail. The only true failure for a lean startup is not trying new things. Nobody gets it right the first time – even if they say they did. Try. Fail. Learn. Repeat. But do it fast! That’s the lean approach.”

Martyn Crew, Founder and CEO, Bootstrap Marketing   

#20 Use Link Retargeting to Increase Social Media ROI

“One problem of social media is that once a post is shared, it is difficult to send more posting on the same subject as it would be spammy.

Link retargeting allows you to show your banner ads to anyone engaging with the posting. Link retargeting (you can google the term to find the top providers) is a short link service like that tags the browser of anyone that clicks on the short link. The banner ads network recognizes the tag and displays banner ads that were previously uploaded in the link retargeting service.”

Serge Salager, CEO, Retargetlinks  

#21 Don’t Write Big Sales Playbooks.

“You absolutely need aggressive sales development – do multiple touches by email and phone for both inbound and outbound leads. But don’t write up big sales playbooks, because no one reads them. Sales development solutions are affordable for small teams and you’ll get more touches per representative (and thus more conversions) per week with them.

And best of all, you won’t waste your time writing something nobody will read!”

Nilay Patel, Co-Founder & CEO, Selligy   

#22 Embrace Social Selling 

jill rowley quote

“Use social networks like LinkedIn and Twitter to find and be found.  

The modern buyer is digitally driven, socially connected, mobile, and empowered.  Social media is an additional channel for building relationships that drive revenue.  

Furthermore, you can use social media to shine the spotlight on your best salespeople – your customer advocates. Your employees need to look as good online as they do offline, so have them optimize their social profiles to attract customers.  If you suck offline; you’ll suck more online. #Don’tSuck.”

Jill Rowley, Keynote Speaker, Social Selling Evangelist, Startup Advisor, Investor   

#23 Drill Smarter

“Selling a startup’s product is like prospecting for oil. And it is tempting, when you see oil seep into the first well you dig, to just keep drilling. But that’s dangerous. To scale, you need to tap a gusher. That first taste of oil – like a great customer call, for example – can keep you from moving on to where you should really be drilling.”

Ryan Nichols, CEO, Tylr Mobile (ex-Appirio)  

#24 Create Your Moment of Truth and Make It Count

“Create a reason for why a customer just has to hear you out, something so compelling, that stokes their curiosity so much, they can’t help themselves but meet with you. Then you have a single moment of truth to convince your prospective buyer you can really improve the way they do something.

The key to this moment of truth is to have a well-honed and repeatable way of showcasing the value of your product or solution – including product demos, ROI stories, passionate quotes, and statistics. The more you deliver this personalized story consistently, the better you will get at it –  and the more business you will close.

Focus on making these moments of truth count.”

Jim Benton, Co-Founder & Chief Business Officer, ClearSlide, Inc.  

#25 Find Compatible Sales Talent

Engineers do a great job of creating startups with strong initial traction. But too often they don’t understand that a “one-sized-fits-all” approach to sales just doesn’t work. They make the mistake of hiring “seasoned and experienced sales veterans” from traditional and established tech companies, which is usually too much too soon and results in bad outcomes and lost time.

Founders should consult with sales veterans that understand the startup landscape and can recommend near, middle, and long-term sales plans and strategies for a fixed fee or company stock tied to specific deliverables and milestones. Just because a sales strategy worked at Oracle or Salesforce doesn’t mean it will work at your startup.

Dwight Foster, Vice President of Channel Sales and Business Development, Insightly

#26 Go Niche

“Startups need to master niche media. There are thousands of journalists and bloggers covering every aspect of technology, but only a handful matter to your audience and to your business.

Use hashtags on social media to identify the keywords your audience users to share their hopes and frustrations. Then look for publications and journalists who use these industry-specific words in their stories.

These are the niche media outlets you have to target, because they’re the ones your customers and prospects go to for relevant, actionable information.”

Chikodi Chima, Growth Expert and Founder, Moonshot   

#26 Align Your Paid Search and Social Advertising Campaigns

Organize your strategy into 4 components to help analyze and optimize everything. Paid search and social media advertising can be extremely competitive. And don’t forget to monitor competitive keywords, ads, and landing pages.”

Jamie Smith, CEO, Strategy Analyzer  | VP of Growth, iSpionage 

#27 Develop a Video Marketing Strategy

Leverage video marketing to promote your startup company or product.

YouTube is the second most popular search engine in the world and videos can even rank on Google’s first page. If you’re not sure what to make your video about, try a video business card, client testimonial, or “how-to” instructions on the best uses of your product or service. Then promote your video on all of your social media accounts – from Facebook to Instagram – to share your video with the word.”

James Hickey, President, JMH Marketing Group  

#28 Focus and Clarity 


When thinking about business opportunities, cultivate an objective, impartial mindset that takes everything – from business factors to personal ones – into consideration.

We’ll call this mindset “clarity.” From there, you can figure out what the right opportunity for you is and push toward it, adjusting and optimizing as necessary to realize it. We’ll call that push “focus.” First clarity, then focus. Because without clarity, you’ll likely to go a long way in the wrong direction.” 

Aaron Kahlow, Founder and CEO, Mindful Living Institute   

#28 Sales is the Art of the Next Steps

The best way to keep your sales moving forward is to always have a clear action for your prospect to take next. When there’s no clear next step, the sale stalls or falls apart. But when they know exactly what to do next, you’ll get to a decision quickly and count the win or move on to find the next opportunity.”

Liston Witherill, Chief Builder, Good Funnel 

#29 Engagement is More Important than Growth

nir eyal quote 

“Growth without engagement is a leaky bucket.

You have to retain users to grow sustainably. To do that, make sure you’ve built a product that keeps people coming back. An engaged user is less likely to churn and more likely to share your products with others, so make sure you build a sticky product first.”

Nir Eyal, author of “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products”


#30 Before Growth Focus on Fundamentals

Like conversion rate optimization before it, growth hacking case studies can sometimes blind practitioners to the fundamentals of growth by focusing too much attention on tricks and shortcuts.

Airbnb’s famous Craigslist hack would never have worked if Airbnb was not fundamentally a novel service that offered a real advantage over traditional lodging. Undifferentiated Product + Growth Hack = slow growth. Innovative Product + Growth Hack = viral growth. Don’t skip step one.

Forrest Dombrow, President, Solve Sales  

#31 Growth Doesn’t Come Quickly

“People often read the headlines on large publications and assume that growth happens quickly. That’s far from the truth. Growth is consistent actions that add up over time. It’s all about playing the long game and being patient.

Take content marketing for example: that’s typically a 12-18 month journey to start seeing results. Most people can’t stomach that long of a wait. Those that can end up reaping the rewards.”

Eric Siu, CEO, Single Grain

#32 Leverage Other People’s Newsletters

Every industry has a few luminaries and many more popular bloggers and other influencers, all of whom have regular newsletters that reach many thousands of readers. Leveraging their newsletter’s reach gets the word out about your product to a very engaged audience. Offering an something special for the newsletter is incentive to both the sender and reader and can drive some serious growth.

Dean Levitt, Chief Of Culture, Mad Mimi, LLC

#33 Apply Keyword Research Fundamentals

Apply keyword research fundamentals (SEO and paid search) to your content marketing calendar, but don’t forget to consider your sitemap, hierarchy, and navigation elements (what your site looks like), and make sure you have the right words represented on your pages where people are likely to click, with a mix of high volume + high affinity to your qualified audience.

Chris Boggs, Founder, Web Traffic Advisors 

#34 It’s Never One Hack that Makes You Grow

dan mcgaw quote

“Everyone is looking for that one-time fix, you know, the lose 10lbs in one day diet.

In growth we get caught up in catchy blog titles about how some shocking tactic increased metrics in hoards. What we forget to ask yourself is how many other hacks combined with that hack actually grew the business? Yeah, we all have a hack to help us get traffic, revenue or emails, but it takes all those hacks combined and in sequence to create growth.”

Dan McGaw, CMO, Effin Amazing

#35 Focus on a Notification Strategy

“I think a lot of people are sometimes a bit lost when it comes to email/push strategy, since each new email or push notification can be treated like a blank canvas.

However, the principle I’ve found most helpful for focusing email/push efforts is making sure every emails and notifications is an extension of your product’s core user value and directly ties into the product’s mission. If your emails are closely tied to the product’s core value, then you can be confident that users of your product will find them engaging.”

John Egan, Growth, Pinterest

#36 Double Down on Your Best Traction Channels

“Experiment with everything under the sun, but reserve the full force of your resources for traction channels that have been proven to work and scale.

Leverage what’s already working by producing similar content, finding similar audiences, or expanding the size of your sales team once you’ve found initial success. Nothing can grow a business faster than doubling down on proven processes.”

Ali Tajseksander, Founder, Wishpond

#37 Leverage Psychology in all of Your Marketing

justin mares quote

“Incorporate psychological triggers like scarcity (time-based discounts), social proof (via tools like Fomo) and gamification elements (number of followers, your place in a “waiting” beta line, etc.) to encourage users to take action!”

Justin Mares, Co-Author, Traction

#38 Build a Mathematical Model for Your Business

“Find out all the factors that can leverage growth. Begin with the end in mind. If you can find out all the factors that can generate growth for your business, which ones would be?

Then play with those in an excel sheet, so that you link them all with the end goal: revenue or profit. If you increase them with 10%, which one of them would generate the highest growth?

After that, brainstorm on strategic ideas, prioritize the actions based on the potential, resources and time to impact and make it happen!

It starts with a solid business model, continues with a great team and ends with an outstanding execution.”

Valentin Radu, CEO, OmniConvert

#39 Open the Funnel

Don’t underestimate Bing. It doesn’t take much time to get started with Bing Webmaster Tools and they actually have some decent features like their “Crawl Control” tool and “Search Keywords” report. Take a an hour out of your day to get familiar and you’ll be surprised by how little it takes to get your Bing rankings up.

Brendan Baker, Sr. SEO Manager, Eventbrite

#40 Stop Doing All the Things!!

zack onisko quote

“You’re most likely doing too much, investing in too many tactics and not doing any of them well. There’s only so many hours in the day. Focus on your biggest, best ideas!”

People tend to cross off the easier to finish ideas off their to-do list instead of tackling the most important, impactful things. If there was ever any ‘silver bullet’ with growth it is prioritization.

Make a list of all your ideas for growth, score each idea on time to build/execute, number of people needed to execute and estimated impact to the business. Summing and stack ranking these scores will give you a rough direction of where you should be focusing your energy.”

Zack Onisko, VP Growth, Hired

#41 Pick ONE Specific Goal for the Year, and Base all Your Judgments on That.

“For example, in 2015 I decided I wanted a bigger email list, and the entire year was based around growing it. By Dec. 31st of that year we hit the goal. However if you spread out a million different goals, you’ll rarely hit them all!”

Neville Medhora,

#42 Growth is a Mindset.

“Set time aside to vision your future and grow into it.”

Alice Heiman, Business Consultant, Alice Heiman LLC.

#43 Virality is Not Just About Incentives and Referral Programs

“Two levers that you can pull to get your users to share your product are ego and emotion. Users like to share things that appeal to their self-image – so allowing them to create images, lists, recommendations in your product will make it more likely for them to share. Additionally, emotions drive engagement, clicks and virality.

High arousing emotions like surprise or anger are more likely to drive clicks and positive emotions drive more shares than negative ones.”

Mada Seghete, Founder, Branch

#44 Follow the 60/30/10 Rule

dennis yu quote

“Spend 60% of your time developing people, 30% on building process, and only 10% on buying or building software.

Your growth marketing challenges are solved mainly by people and process, no matter how shiny that software is. There is more funding for carbonated sugar water than there is for promoting a healthy lifestyle, so don’t fall for the market bias towards tools.

Any extra dollar you have, invest it in building a great team. Automation is powerful and important, but still nascent. Growth hacking is through clever things your people do at scale, not through licensing someone else’s software. Do the hard things first.”

Dennis Yu, Co-Founder, BlitzMetrics

#45 There’s a Case for Evergreen Content

“At Intercom we’re big believers in “evergreen content.” What is evergreen content? A bit like a Swiss watch, evergreen content is content that addresses timeless themes. Here’s a good example we published last year: Martin, one of our support engineers, did an internal presentation on how to file a good bug.

We said, “If we turn that into a blog post, it’s not specific to Intercom. It’s not specific to a tool. It simply explains what you – if you’re an engineer, support engineer, a support agent or anyone in the company that comes across a bug in your product – should include in that bug report so that it’s useful to people that want to fix it.”

That post generated plenty of traffic when it was published. It still generated traffic six months later, and it continues to do so 18 months later because it’s timeless.

Matt Hodges, Sr. Director Marketing, Intercom

#46 Belt AND Suspenders: You Need More Than One Way To Track Your Marketing

“If you are buying advertising or using PR, email, social media, or inbound marketing to grow your business, you can’t rely on Google Analytics to get your attribution metrics right.

For example, Facebook’s mobile app wipes out GA’s basic tracking, and some small sites may not be properly categorized by Google Analytics.

To solve this, use GA UTM Codes on all urls you use for advertising or promoting your business. It’s as simple as using Google’s URL Builder. Keep track of your URLs in a Google Doc so you can easily replicate across campaigns and remember what you did when interpreting your results!”

Melinda Byerley, Founder, TimeShareCMO

#47 Best advice on pricing: Price honestly

“When I started my agency, I made the classic ego mistake of trying to price as highly as possible, with little previous reputation for good client work. This meant I got a whole heap of unanswered emails once the price was asked (as an aside: Never, ever, tell the client by email your price for anything over £999, get them on a call).

Then I started to honestly work out what my time was worth, what it would cost me in assets or staff time, and started to ask for that. Clients were happy and I was off to the races. I’ve said before how I believe that, if you’re a freelancer, pricing low is a good starting point- you get confident asking for money (which isn’t natural), get clients quicker (and thus referrals to more clients), and everything, from talking to your parents to investors to potential employees flows smoother once there’s some cash coming in.

If you feel you’ve changed too little, that’s fine too. Charge new customers the higher price, while the old customers get to keep the early bird discount. It’s very easy to raise prices over time- It’s very hard when you’re looking at a big fat zero on day one to get that first sale if you’re charging too much.”

Vincent Dignan, Founder, Magnific

#48 Make Referrals Easy to Remember & Fun to Share 

“You can do this by personalizing with the referrer’s name. Use referral personalization in:

  • the referral code
  • in the destination link / URL
  • on landing page”

Susan Su, Venture Partner, 500 Startups

#49 Forget Content for Content’s Sake

“Answer questions & solve problems and be guaranteed there will always be a hungry audience looking for what you are creating.”

Aaron Agius, Founder, Louder Online

#50 Be Super Stingy With Your Time and Focus

“In the early stages of a growth strategy, it can be enticing to test multiple ideas and spread your attention across multiple initiatives. However, to max out any channel, it will require your full attention, energy and time.

Be strict with yourself and stay laser-focused on the channels that are growing both your user-base and revenue. The channels that are already performing well are your best opportunities for fast growth, early on so give them all your time.”

Dean Levitt, Founder, Teacup Analytics

#51 Build to Wow

“If your product does not cause users to say wow, growth will lag. The magic needs to be in your product, not just in the growth hack.

To find your wow, map out the current context in your space. What’s the norm? Then remove features, add features, combine features or just do the opposite. Contextual novelty is the beginning of innovation and customer-centered innovation leads to growth.”

Forrest Dombrow, Founder, Solve Sales

#52 Use Your Resources

“You can learn a tremendous amount from other startups, but true growth will only come when you begin taking advantage of the resources that you actually possess (not others).

How many employees do you have? How much capital do you have? What marketing expertise do you bring to the table. What is unique about your customers? What is awesome about your product? What secret do you know? Learn from others, then chart your own path!”

Bronson Taylor, CEO, Growth Geeks

#53 Focus on Delivering the Absolute Best Content for Content Marketing

“When I started ConversionXL, 99% of marketers were writing superificial 500-word articles. I chose to go above and beyond and started producing 2000-3000 word long-form articles that were full of examples, every claim backed up with a link, research-based. And I got 100k monthly readers for the blog before 1 year of blogging.

Now – writing that quality content is the barrier of entry. We’ve elevated our game and are now conducting original UX research, and publishing that on the blog – establishing our blog firmer as the leader.

Always aim to be the absolute best. Elevate your game.”

Peep Laja, Founder, ConversionXL

#54 Cultivate your Community of Advocates

“Everyone is so focused on getting featured on that product discovery site, news network, and finding that silver bullet hack for that quick shot of instant growth. They fail to do the hard work of cultivating a loyal community of fans, customers, and users to be powerful authentic advocates.

Building community advocacy around your brand, product, audience, or cause is the tip of the organic acquisition growth spear and the only true, timeless growth hack. Sharpen this spear by creating an amazing advocacy experience that is easy, engaging, fun, and rewarding.”

Joe Sanchis, Founder, Queue

#55 Try Traditional Marketing Channels

adelyn zhou quote

“Try channels like direct mail, TV and outdoor– they’re still around because they work.”

Adelyn Zhou, Founder, Alight Labs

#56 Keep Track of Your “First Major Win-State” 

Yu-kai Chou Bio Headshot

“In designing your campaigns, you must keep track of your “First Major Win-State” – the first point where users say, “This is awesome!”

Once you identify that point, count how many minutes it takes for a user to reach it, because every second before that is a drop-out. And don’t forget to ask your users to tell their friends about you and rate their experience – right after your “First Major Win-State” victory.”  

Yu-Kai Chou, Pioneer and International Keynote Speaker on Gamification  

#57 Grow the Right Audience

Growth is about more than just acquiring users. It’s about acquiring the right users – the ones who will engage and convert and generate revenue for years to come. If you want to find more of the right kind of users, try talking to your best customers right now.

Ask them where they heard about your product, what they expected from it when they started, and what they’re getting out of it. Then use that information to find better channels and the right messaging to attract more people like them.”

Laura Klein, Principal, Users Know & Author of UX for Lean Startups  

#58 Act on Your Analytics

“In the pursuit of growth, one of the most important analytical capabilities you must have in your startup is the power to segment users by the actions they have or have not performed in the product. The ability to act on user behavior data can have an absolutely transformational impact on your growth trajectory.”

Jack Mardack, Head of Growth, Chartcube

#59 You Can’t Optimize Your (Email) Messaging Without Empathy and Focus.

“Even the strongest value propositions won’t work if you aren’t considerate and thoughtful about who your intended audience is.

Sales and marketing efforts always need to focus on a specific audience. Likewise, make sure your messaging is also tightly focused–don’t try to do too many things at once, especially with regards to email. Keeping each email focused on a single benefit/concept makes it more persuasive, and will convert better.”  

Heather R Morgan, Copywriter & CEO, SalesFolk

III. Customer

And finally, we come to the customer. The person you’re selling to. The one who’s going to use your product – and love it or hate it. The one who ultimately determines whether your business makes it or doesn’t. 

It’s not hard to see that we should take the customer into consideration. But sometimes we could use a little help on how to get it right.

Here are a few tips:

#60 Focus on Solving Your Customer’s Problems


“Stop thinking about your business.

The absolute focus must be on problems that your potential customers already  have, and how you might help them solve them. The are not looking for your features or “solution” – they are trying to avoid or minimize a specific pain.”

Tim Ash, CEO, SiteTuners, bestselling author of “Landing Page Optimization, Chair of Conversion Conference”

#61 Know Your Customer – Intimately

“Before you think about funnel optimization, A/B testing or distribution, take the time to know your customer – intimately. Find them, talk to them, be where they are. By truly understanding their feelings, behaviors and attitudes, you can build better products and tell a story that will resonate with them.”

Hana Abaza, VP Marketing, Uberflip

#62 Find Early Adopters and Turn Them Into Brand Evangelists

When building out your initial user base, find people who are interested in your product or service and connect with them. How do you do that?

Find people who commented on related articles, tweeted or retweeted about the topic, shared a post on Facebook or Instagram, etc. Then follow up with them on their platform of choice and engage them. These people have demonstrated interest in your product/service and can become your first adopters, evangelists, or VIPs (if they are press or influencers).”  

Adelyn Zhou, Founder and CEO, Alight Labs 

#63 Become a Tribe Leader

Derric Haynie Play Your Business Like a Poker Player Interview

Turning your audience, or email list, into a tribe – a community united around a central topic – will build your brand better than any marketing strategy you could set forth.

Let people join together to talk about a problem or solution, and you will learn their biggest challenges, their objections, how they speak about the solution, and, most importantly, how to better serve them. ROI, NPS, referral rates, LTV will all go up, while CAC drops. There’s nothing more powerful to your business than leading your community.”

Derric Haynie, CEO, SplashOPM 

#64 Know Your Buyer

The company that understands their buyers best will earn their business and their loyalty. Growing your business in 2016 isn’t about being the loudest brand on every channel possible, but about using sales and marketing to demonstrate that you know your buyer better than the competition (and that you’ve got the product and experience to match).

Katie Martell, Co-Founder and CMO, Cintell

#65 Ask Your Users How They Learned About You

At Bunny Inc., we directly ask every user how they learned about us and we leave the answer field open-ended (no bullet points). This helps us discover new channels for customer acquisition and to understand which acquisition channels are performing the best.”

Jun Loayza, Chief Growth Officer, Bunny Inc.

#66 Find Real Data About Your Audience and Speak to Them Like You Know Them.

“Don’t be afraid to be different – it’s the only way they’ll remember you.”

Liston Witherill, Copywriter and Funnel Maker, Good Funnel

#67 Create Content that Provides Value

“The best sales and marketing content always centers around adding value to prospective customers.”

Heather R. Morgan, Copywriter & CEO, SalesFolk

#68 Customer Data and User Attributes are the Key to Personalization

“Personalization in your customer’s success experience is the secret sauce of retention.”

Tammy Camp, Partner, 500 Startups

#69 Viral Growth

When thinking of viral growth, don’t fall for the trap of thinking that this simply means getting lots of shares on social media. This is simply one of 12 types of viral marketing that you can build deep into the bones of your product to help recruit your loyal users to recruit even more loyal users for you.

Things like making your product embeddable, inviting friends or colleagues to collaborate on a project using your product, or anything else that adds value to the user for inviting others can skyrocket your growth.

Travis Steffen, Head of Growth, AutoLotto, Inc

#70 Lower Friction to Increase Growth  


“It doesn’t matter how much money you spend on marketing; the secret weapon people don’t think about is how long it takes to sign up for a service.

The less take it takes, the higher the growth.”   

 Michelle Zatlyn, Co-Founder and CEO, Cloudflare

#71 Address Users’ Objections

“Ask users who say they would not buy your product what their objections are during moderated user testing. Dispel, or at least address, those objections explicitly in your home page or landing page copy. Watch conversions increase dramatically.”

George Revutsky, Founder, ROIworks Digital / Chief Merketing Officer, Soothe 

#72 Learn What Your Customers Love and Hate

Building a demand for your product can take time. To speed this up, start right now to build thought leadership content (blog posts, white papers, etc.) and network with experts in your industry to learn what customers love and hate in your business niche. Most importantly, make sure everyone knows who you are.”

Michelle Regner, CEO and Co-Founder,  

#73 Keep it Simple

At the core, marketing is not that complicated. We are the bridge between the audience and the brand. What makes it complicated is that we get in our own way and we want to talk about ourselves.

Marketing gets really simple when you understand what you can bring that your audience really wants. If you live through that lens, 50% of your problems go away right then and there.

Todd Wilms, VP Corporate Marketing, VERISIGN

#74 Build Organic Growth First

There will always be dozens of email marketing and other software vendors trying to get your business as you grow. Before you go and burn $12k or $24k signing up for a 1-year contract with them, be sure that you know how to grow your SaaS company by 5-7% week-over-week organically. Until you reach that point, it could be detrimental to your company to spend this budget.”

Adam Metz, VP, TerrAvion

#75 Measure the Product Fit First, Then Focus on Growth

Ask your users a question: “How would you feel, if you could no longer use product or service?” If you get to 40% percent of “very disappointed” responses, you have a marketable product. After this is done, you have to understand why it is a must-have product for your customers to be able to create a machine to deliver that value

Sean Ellis, Founder and CEO,  / Product and Growth Advisor, KISSmetrics 

#76 Growth Is All About Word of Mouth  


“At the end of the day, growth is all about word of mouth.

People tell their friends about your product after they have a great experience using it. Before you invest in testing your viral funnels, digging into your SEO strategy and spending precious dollars on marketing campaigns, make sure that you have a product that delights your user.” 

Zack Onisko, VP, Hired, Inc.

#77 Never Stop Learning from Your Users

“Find the intersection between quantitative and qualitative data and take action by testing your hypothesis constantly!”

Laura Moreno, Lead Product Manager, Chegg.

#78 Focus on Value First

“In the stress of the day to day it’s easy to forget the real reason anyone is willing to pay attention to you in the first place – value. Whether or not you can solve a real problem for a real customer is tantamount to achieving any real, tangible growth. Focus on the value you create first, then worry about optimizing the rest.”

Jeremiah Gardner, Author of The Lean Brand, Principal, Moves The Needle

#79 Build Relationships

“Be different by focusing on acquiring great relationships first, not paying customers.”

With every startup, it’s relationships that drive companies to be successful. I’d take 10 great relationships over 5 paying customers any day of the week. Great relationships may not pay for your product or service right away, but they’ll tell others about it.

Great relationships won’t leave you when your product breaks. They’ll be there for product feedback, when you need that intro, or when you need help making a big company announcement.

If you need a starting point, find some great influencers, and don’t ask them to buy your product, ask them to be your friend.”

Ryan O’Hara, VP Growth, LeadIQ

#80 Step Into Your Prospect’s Shoes and Look Out from Their Eyes

“It’s only then you can craft your message to resonate and turn them into buyers.”

Mike Kamo, Partner, Neil

#81 Never Stop Listening

“Always talk to one audience at a time and never stop listening.”

Alexandra Mack, Head of Marketing, Crunchbase

IV. Wrapping Up

Though all these strategies and tactics will do great things for your growth – and don’t forget who told you about them! – it won’t be enough. Nothing will, sadly.

Unless you want your company to reach a certain point and then stop. Just stand still. Stagnate. Lose out to a hungry young competitor.

No, you have to keep growing. Keep moving. Growth marketing – like regular marketing, or sales, or accounting – is never really over. It’s a way of life.

But then again, that’s a good thing. It gives you something to keep working on. It gives you a job, too. One that can’t be automated.

However, it does require you to stay current on what’s happening in the industry, because growth hacks that work now may not work tomorrow, and new opportunities pop up all the time.

Be sure to follow marketing blogs, attend conferences, and catch cocktail mixers and webinars when you can. In fact, there’s a Growth Marketing Conference 2019 coming up soon you might like to look into.

But whatever you do, whatever resources you use, you have to keep learning. And don’t worry – you won’t be alone. I’ll be there right with you.

And all your competitors will be too.

Interested to speak at the Growth Marketing Conference next year?  Read this and if you think you’d be a good fit, email vasil @

Lower Your Marketing Debt or Die

  Marketing Debt happens when startup marketing departments are underfunded and understaffed. Just like Technical Debt, marketing debt means that a lot of shortcuts were taken that will eventually undermine the health of the organization. In the case of marketing debt, there will come a time when sales start to flounder because Marketing hasn’t had […]

Marketing Debt happens when startup marketing departments are underfunded and understaffed.

Just like Technical Debt, marketing debt means that a lot of shortcuts were taken that will eventually undermine the health of the organization. In the case of marketing debt, there will come a time when sales start to flounder because Marketing hasn’t had the time or ability to create a scalable, repeatable lead gen model via multiple, holistic channels.

This results in Sales not getting what they need to get their job done.

There are a lot of reasons why you should care about marketing debt.

Remember The Startup Curve?

Startup Curve

Marketing debt accumulates through the Trough of Sorrow all the way through the Wiggles of False Hope. Marketing debt is part of the reason why these crashes and wiggles happen, and lowering your debt is one of your biggest obstacles to get over into the Promise Land.

Most companies start to focus on alleviating their marketing debt after they have raised their A Round. Until then the focus and budget has been on sales, because without sales they wouldn’t have reached their A Round, but without solving marketing debt, the company will not reach its B Round.

Now that you’ve determined that you have marketing debt, or you haven’t, which in that case there are plenty other articles you could be reading right now, how do you start to lower your marketing debt?


The Marketing Audit

What are you doing now and what do you need to be doing? Determining this has a lot to do with your sale amount and your funnel. It makes no sense for a product that is $10 a month to have SDRs, Inside Sales, and AEs. For the purposes of this post, we’re going to focus on companies that sell to mid-size companies up to enterprise and have an average sale over $50k.


How Strong is Your Brand?

“Strong brands have been shown to be effective strategies for achieving sustainable profits and returns. Furthermore, strong brands also demonstrably enhance shareholder wealth via higher firm stock [prices].GfK MIR

People see you before they can read your message or hear what you have to say. Are you claiming to be the BMW of XYZ for the enterprise but you look like a Yugo?


Branding is critical for companies that sell to enterprise. Having a strong, consistent, well-designed brand makes leads easier to get and deals easier to close because people trust that you if you care enough to pay attention to your brand, you’ll take care of theirs as well. Also, in today’s world of hyper-commoditization in SaaS, design is one thing that isn’t easy to copy. In addition, people have the automatic assumption that we are what we look like thanks to the

Also, in today’s world of hyper-commoditization in SaaS, design is one thing that isn’t easy to copy. In addition, people have the automatic assumption that we are what we look like thanks to the Consistency Principle Heuristic. That applies to companies as well. Poor design makes you look untrustworthy. We all judge books by their cover, at least in the beginning. Why add friction?

Poor design makes you look untrustworthy. We all judge books by their cover, at least in the beginning. Why add friction?

We all judge books by their cover, at least in the beginning. Why add friction?

This means enterprise deals have a stronger emotional component than most other sales. Someone’s job could be on the line if they choose the wrong option or the implementation doesn’t go smoothly. No one wants to be the one with their head on the line. That’s why, according to

No one wants to be the one with their head on the line. That’s why, according to CEB’s research on the Consensus Sale, there are now an average 5.4 decision makers that need to sign-off on every enterprise deal. In addition,

In addition, Circle Research has found that only 39% of B2B companies actually have a strong brand – which means your company has an opportunity to win over your competition by creating a strong brand.

Of course, “brand” is far more than just a logo and a consistent look and feel.

According to Circle Research, “A strong brand – we call it an Alpha Brand – has seven key features:

  1. It is prominent, understood and inspires affinity
  2. It is based around a single clear anchoring idea
  3. It is perceived to provide a better solution
  4. It appeals to the emotional as well as the rational
  5. It recognizes ‘one size fits all’ doesn’t work
  6. It is built to have multi-dimensional appeal to all stakeholders
  7. It is true to its word”



“To find a unique position, you must ignore conventional logic. Conventional logic says you find your concept inside yourself or inside the product.

Not true. What you must do is look inside the prospect’s mind.” Positioning, by Al Ries and Jack Trout

Get your team together and ask them (and yourself) the following questions:

  1. Who are we as an organization?
  2. Why do we exist?
  3. What do we do?
  4. Who do we serve?
  5. What would success of [Company] look like to you?
  6. What’s the good news?
  7. What’s the “not so good” news?
  8. What do we need to keep in mind?
  9. What are our goals?
  10. What is our offer?

Most importantly – be honest with yourselves and with everyone else in the room. These aren’t easy questions, but you won’t be able to create a strong position without answering them fully and honestly.

Keep in mind, you don’t own your brand reputation. Your customer does. All you can do is manage it. Does your organization on the inside reflect who you claim to be to the world?

If you’ve never worked on positioning before, and even if you have, Simon Sinek gives an amazing explanation on the power of positioning in his TED talk “Start With Why.”



How clear is your message? Can someone understand what your company does from first glance at your website? Can you explain what you do in a 1-minute elevator pitch? What about 30 seconds?

How do you explain what you do and why you do it? What tone does your messaging have? Humanistic? Funny? Technical?

“…to introduce a new product category [you] must carry in a new ladder. This, too, is difficult, especially if the new category is not positioned against the old one. The mind has no room for what’s new and different unless it’s related to the old.

… it’s often better to tell the prospect what the product is not, rather than what it is.” – Positioning, by Al Ries and Jack Trout

Does your message reflect how you look? How you act? Are you keeping the promise of your words?

Mailchimp takes this so seriously their Voice and Tone guide is public for anyone to review.

Buffer is known for its transparency in all decisions. This is reflected in their message, their blog posts, and their actions. Buffer doesn’t just say they believe in something, they follow through with it – and they are rewarded in turn with brand loyalty from those who think like them. Their brand is strong.

The Funnel Audit

If your average sale is above $50k a year then in all likely you have, or will have, SDRs, Inside Sales, AEs, and Customer Success:

  • Sales Development Reps – Builds the lists and does the initial outreach
  • Inside Sales – BANT qualifies
  • AEs – Closes deals and manages accounts
  • Customer Success – Helps with onboarding and overall success of your customer using your product, and can help upsell


Customer Experience

Let’s look at some of the ways to fill the lead gen funnel:

Outbound  Events  Advertising   Inbound  Earned Media  Referral
e.g. Building lists, cold email workflows, cold calling, ABM e.g. Conferences, trade shows, CABs, PACs, hosted evenings – your own or going to others  e.g. SEM, Facebook, industry publications, ads in newsletters, print, billboards, paid article placement e.g. SEO, blogging, guest blogging, Twitter BOTs to landing pages, giving away Case Studies, White Papers, and datasheets, webinars, etc.  e.g. Press write ups, reviews, industry pundit and analyst outreach e.g. Partner programs and incentives for customers (plus all of the materials listed in Inbound)

Let’s look at these in terms of the Stages of the Funnel (see above):


Building Awareness

Think about how we buy. We don’t purchase something the very second we hear about it the first time. We need to hear about it several times, dozens, even hundreds – before we reach a minimum trust rate where we will even consider purchasing it.

That also holds true for B2B sales, because while we might be selling to businesses, those businesses are filled with humans.

So how do we build awareness?

This is where PR is your best friend.

I’ve heard plenty of companies say that they don’t see any ROI from PR. There’s a reason for that. People see your name in an article and they don’t necessarily go directly to your site and buy. What they do subconsciously is have a mental checkmark by your name that says, “Social proof – this place is good enough to be mentioned in publication XYZ.”

And then they look for other cues to show that your company is worthy of their attention.

That’s the strength of PR, getting in front of a lot of eyes and growing your mindshare to your target market by going after the right publications. After you have shown up in enough articles, ads, friends posts, events, etc they are ready for your outreach.

Outbound marketing helps bring them to your website.

I don’t recommend buying lists, but I’m all for researching and building them. There are several companies that you can use for business intelligence if you have the budget, and if you don’t there’s always LinkedIn and Email Hunter. Targeted lists do better than wide lists in terms of results.

Targeted also means targeted content, which has a higher response rate as it is aimed at the reader and is more likely to build engagement.

If you’re going after top tier enterprises, then Account Based Marketing (ABM) is the way to go. Also outbound, ABM requires a collaboration of marketing and sales at a level these two departments typically don’t do. Marketing controls the message and delivers the materials, and Sales controls the delivery.

Each team gets to focus on what they do best and together they land the large deals. There are companies out there that help do ABM at scale – Demandbase (ABM for ads) and Folloze (ABM for enterprises that do complex enterprise sales using direct outreach) are two of the leaders in this realm.


Consideration Stage

Your website, blog, and available materials such as webinars, white papers, case studies and datasheets all come in to play here. Consideration means that the prospect knows that they have a problem, and they are considering companies that solve their problem. It does not mean that they are considering your company at this stage. SEO is critical here.

Your message being on point is crucial as well. If you can’t be found in a search, or if your message doesn’t resonate within the first 8 seconds on your website – you do not exist.

How do you do what you do better than your competitors? Positioning comes into play here. Brand matters. Transparency of information and thought leadership help as well.

Who are your Partners? Partner marketing brings with it a level of trust that many other types of outreach do not. Your prospect is already spending money, or considering spending money, with your Partner.

Bringing you on with them can lower your own sales cycle time and get you from the consideration stage to the decision stage.

We Develop Mindshare


Prospects Decision Making

You’re now on the shortlist – how are you maintaining interest while arming your evangelist inside of the organization?

Do you have a repository of helpful content that enables them to educate others so they can bring your business in? At this point, it’s all about what you can do for the prospecting account.

You are the enabler, but the real salesperson is inside the company you’re selling to.



You’ve gotten the account.

You might think this is the end, but it’s actually the beginning. If you’re a SaaS company you need to keep that account, and most likely you’re looking to upsell. How you onboard, the first actual experiences your customer has with your service and team, these actions need to be spot on.

Mistakes can happen (and they will, trust me) but your team need to find them, own up to them, and fix them. You Customer Success team is the most important part of this process – giving them everything they need to be successful is how you will win.

Making sure that your brand holds up to the promise you make is how category leaders are made.


Final Thoughts

Lowering your marketing debt and building your brand isn’t simple, but it’s the differentiator that all unicorns and other strong companies have in common.

In the beginning, spending your time and money on sales makes sense – but there comes a time in your growth where that isn’t enough, when your marketing debt is too high. That’s when it’s time to take a step back and reevaluate your marketing channels to build a scalable, repeatable lead generation model.

That starts with making sure your positioning is on point, and then builds out to message, design, channels, methods of engagement, and materials.

You don’t become a category leader without going through this process.

Have any ideas, comments or questions on this topic? Tweet me at @shiraabel. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

B2B Startups Need Brands Too: How To Prototype Yours

You Already Have A Brand. What Is It? First, let’s get one thing out of the way: great brands all start with great products.   A great product solves a real problem for your customers, who must love your solution enough to pay you for it. B2B startups, in particular, are laser-focused-as they should be- on […]

You Already Have A Brand. What Is It?

First, let’s get one thing out of the way: great brands all start with great products.  

A great product solves a real problem for your customers, who must love your solution enough to pay you for it. B2B startups, in particular, are laser-focused-as they should be- on creating products that solve problems.  

Now, let’s talk about why your B2B startup should work on its brand strategy, too. While you have been busy building your product, pitching investors, hiring people, and selling to customers, your company’s essence has coalesced into a brand.

But is it the brand that will serve you best down the road? Is your brand in conflict with your product, costing you leads? There’s no way to answer those questions if you don’t know what your brand is, today.


Why Should A B2B Startup Care About Brand?

Successful brands have consistent messaging. But as more and more people get involved with your company, more and more ideas and interpretations will be infused into your brand.

As your company grows, you will need to delegate work to people that you cannot supervise, and you need to know that the message will reflect what you and your team have worked so hard to build.

For example, one day you will ask a marketer to improve your messaging, sales materials, advertising, or PR. How can they write new messaging for you if they don’t know what your brand is, or what you stand for? You will need to do the work, either now or later.

But doing it now, when there are fewer stakeholders, will make it easier down the road and improve the likelihood that your company’s communications are consistent enough to start building a brand that will serve your company well in the marketplace.


Prototyping Your B2B Startup Brand

You don’t need an expensive agency or weeks in a conference room with PowerPoint to do this. All you need is a few hours, whether over a weekend or slowly over a few weeks, of focus and commitment to putting a stake in the ground with your brand, the way you did with v1 of your product. And just like your product, you can prototype and rapidly evolve your brand.


Step One: Look into a Mirror and Define Your Current Brand.

Take a day or two and write down what you think your brand is.

That is not the same as describing your product since the latter is only a part of the former. There are numerous free frameworks and documents out there to help you do this, but start by asking yourself questions like these:

  • A brand is a promise. What are we promising? What do we stand for?
  • Are we delivering on that promise in the eyes of our customers now? If not, are we delivering on a different promise? How are we measuring that, if at all?
  • Who are our customers now, and in the next 12-18 months? Are they the same? If not, how are they different?
  • Because of what our product does, what do our customers receive? (tangible and intangible benefits). These may differ by customer segment.
  • How are we truly different from anyone else in this space?
  • Why should customers/employees/investors believe us? (proof points)



You can prototype your brand just like you do your product.

For now, this is just for you. It’s a writing prompt, to try and put what you already think and feel into words. Now it’s time for a 360-degree review.

Ask your co-founders to do the same, independently and in writing, if you can. Then ask your customers, your prospects, your employees, your investors, and your board. Ask investors who turned you down. Try to collect as many points of view as possible.

Consultants can be helpful facilitators because even great marketers can lose objectivity once they are in the founder/CEO role. Be sure that any consultant you hire does not push their vision, but works to uncover what you believe to be true.


Step Two:  What Brand Do You Want? Building the Brand’s Requirements.

Depending on how early-stage your company is, you may be surprised by what you find. This process will uncover hidden assumptions and different perceptions that may challenge you.

That’s a good thing.

Take some time to process it all, and determine where you want to go.  Then you can combine the answers into a cohesive whole in one document. Again, if you are unable to be objective, a consultant can help you through several revisions.

Your co-founders and company leadership need to come to a consensus on this before you go further. Take the time to do this, and it will ensure that when you go to implement it, the message will be communicated clearly and consistently.

This is no different than building a “product requirements” document.


Step Three: Implement. Possibly Pivot.

Once you have a full picture of what you stand for, you can start evaluating your company against this brand standard.

Does your product need to shift direction? What about your pricing? Most certainly your advertising messaging will need to change.

Maybe you’ll find (as one B2B company we know did) that your billing team needs to be more responsive, or that your sales folks need coaching. The messaging on your website may need to evolve, or maybe you sell a tool for risk management to conservative gatekeepers, but your visual design is all about fluidity and change, creating a mismatch of promise and need.

The best news is that you can A/B test any and all of your hypotheses on your website or in your advertising.



You Know How To Do This

One way to make your brand concrete and scalable is to write a messaging document, which is simply your brand essence made tangible into exact words you want people to use when talking about your company and your products.

If a brand is about feelings, messaging is the concrete expression of those feelings. If you’re not a natural writer, a consultant can help.

You’ll want to think through short, medium, and long messaging, your proof points, the tone of voice, and style, which may vary depending on the audience.

That way you have a standard for everyone to measure communications against.

Make a list of what needs to change, then get to it. This is a great use of a hackathon in a slower period. Do all the planning and prep work in advance, then gather everyone for a concentrated period to pay down your “brand debt” the way you pay down technical debt.


Step Four: Iterate.

You are a startup. Everything is changing, and so should your brand.

If you treat this exercise as a prototype, you’ll get it done faster. Work with it for a few months, and have it evolve as your company grows. Don’t get anchored on it just because you spend this time and energy. Just like v1 of your product, your brand will change to meet the needs of your company and customers.

Pro tip: Schedule a “brand review” for a year from now. It will be so much easier since you’ll be iterating and not generating from scratch.


You Have A Brand. Make It Work For You.

As a startup founder, you are responsible for your brand. Right now, it exists, even without your attention. Put just a few hours of time into this exercise, and you can leverage your brand for the next phase of your growth.

On top of everything else you face as a founder, understanding and managing your brand might feel overwhelming. Take a minute to remember that you have done the hardest part already – creating a product someone wants. You probably have a huge backlog of product changes too.

Just like with your product, you can always allocate some story points in every sprint to touch a piece of your brand.

The point is not to think of your brand as an accident, but to manage it the way you manage your product and cash flow – with clear intent and vision.

I’ll be speaking about B2B Content Marketing at the Growth Marketing Conference on December 8, 2016, San Jose. I look forward to seeing you there!

Lean Innovation

3 Must-Have Lean Innovation Skills for Growth Marketers  By: Jeremiah Gardner (@JeremiahGardner) Growth is hard. From those of us starting from zero… To those with a flourishing audience. From a startup in a co-working space or an enterprise marketing team in global HQ… From the greenest novice to the battle-tested veteran… Growth is hard. And […]

3 Must-Have Lean Innovation Skills for Growth Marketers 

By: Jeremiah Gardner (@JeremiahGardner)

Growth is hard.

From those of us starting from zero…

To those with a flourishing audience.

From a startup in a co-working space or an enterprise marketing team in global HQ…

From the greenest novice to the battle-tested veteran… Growth is hard.

And that’s because marketing has forever changed.

What used to be a simple one-way broadcast has turned into a continuous, asynchronous, amalgamous, voluminous, raucous conversation.

The end of the Industrial Age has shifted power to the consumer. And as a result, marketers are overwhelmed daily with the challenge of just keeping up with their audience, much less growing it.

Luckily, Lean Innovation can help.

Lean innovation sits at the crossroads between the inspiration of design thinking and the rigor of lean startup. It’s been successfully used by thousands of startups and is at the forefront of the transformation of many large corporations.

By mapping these three essential Lean Innovation skills to the practice of growth marketing, marketing teams can move faster, act bolder, and jumpstart their growth.


1. Get In Front of Customers

Get in front of customers - lean innovation

The first step in putting Lean Innovation to work in your growth marketing is simple – get in front of your customers and start having meaningful conversations with them.

You need to heat it straight from the customers mouth.

This requires you to listen, not to talk. To learn, not sell. To understand, not be understood.

The answers always lie with your customers, not within the walls of your office.

Learning to see your growth efforts through the eyes of your customer is a critical skill every growth marketer should possess. Gaining direct insights from your audience gives you a huge advantage over your competition.

The most successful Lean Innovation practitioners, from startups to the enterprise, don’t just talk about being customer-centric; they live it. They go beyond personas, customer journey maps, and big-data-demographics and instead try to walk a mile in their customer’s shoes.

There is no more powerful tool in your marketing toolbox than a cup of coffee with a customer.

To gain empathy it takes both practice and courage. The most important step in your customer development is simply getting started.

Schedule a chat. Go to a meetup group. Head out on a “customer safari.” No matter how you do it, if you want to grow, you must be in direct contact with your customers to learn from them as much as you can.


2. Experiment

Experiment - Lean innovation

Bet small, win big…

The infamous landing page, Mechanical Turk, Judo-Imposter, Dry Wallet, crowdfunding, paper prototypes, mock-apps and the list goes on… It’s likely by now you may be familiar with at least one (if not all) of these shorthand expressions for experiments. Although the idea of experimentation is simple, putting it into practice is not.

Experimentation is both a skill and a mindset.

The engine of Lean Innovation is rapid experimentation. Many product teams have nailed the art of experimentation and are able to produce evidence from their experiments to guide their development forward. Products developed using rapid experimentation are markedly better than their counterparts.

But over on the marketing side of the house, many of us are still stuck thinking that A/B split testing subject lines and running focus groups are the extent of experimentation. Doh!

As technology continues to transform our world, new channels arrive daily in droves, old channels evolve, and customer expectations rise; the opportunity to put the skill of rapid experimentation to work in our marketing efforts has never been bigger.

Your job is to experiment!

Run a meetup to test your customer assumptions. Use a Dry Wallet experiment to test your go-to-market pricing structure. Refine your social ads with prototypes in two-week sprints. Launch a series of crowdfunding experiments to test new product positioning.

Truly, there is no right way to experiment. The goal of any experiment is to learn as much as you possibly can as fast as you possibly can learn it. The key is to define the customer behavior you’re trying to illicit along with the key metrics that will tell you whether or not you’re efforts produce actionable data.

This is where the terms minimal and viable come into play. What is the very minimal tactic, creative, prototype, etc. you can put in front of a customer to produce a viable behavioral response? Are you trying to get a customer to click? Purchase? Act as a referral? Watch the video? Walk through the door? Share on Twitter? Why would they behave that way? Is this tactic working? Are people responding to it? Why?

When you’re able to combine an experiment-first mindset with the skill to execute purposeful experiments, you’ll begin to see the results.


3. Flip Evidence Into Action

Flip Evidence Into Action - Lean Innovation

Using Lean Innovation techniques, growth marketing teams can engage a small group of their existing customers in new ways to produce evidence to propel their growth.

The ability to turn evidence into action is key.

The result of great customer development and well-designed rapid experimentation is evidence. Evidence is the combination of the raw data you’ve generated plus the insights about why the customer behaved in the way they did.

Tying customer insights to data is vital to producing results in your growth marketing efforts. A Must Have Score, Viral Coefficient, Daily Net Change, or activity heatmap are almost useless without the insights about why the customer is exhibiting that behavior.

Your NPS score may be 72, but if you don’t know why those customers have become promoters, you won’t be able to turn that score into action.

The goal in applying Lean Innovation to your growth marketing is to build a case over time. Using multiple rounds of customer empathy and continuous rapid experiments will create the level of evidence you need to prove the ______ (tactic, marketing product, strategy, etc) should be used.

If you’ve proven it’s effective, execute. If you still don’t know, experiment.

Growth marketing teams successfully using Lean Innovation have chosen to prioritize building their team’s skills to move fast, iterate quickly and act boldly in their marketing efforts.

When you spend the majority of your marketing efforts behind a desk planning out quarterly strategies, you’re essentially taking a big bet that your strategy will be right. Instead, bet small. Use constant Lean Innovation to test the most critical assumptions in your growth marketing efforts to advance your progress.


Three Questions You Need to Answer

1. How are you using customer empathy to inform your growth?

2. Which “big bets” are you making that could benefit from the rigor of rapid experimentation?

3. What is the threshold for evidence you’ve set in your growth marketing efforts?

When you answer those questions you will be primed for massive growth…

So what do you think? Are these the tactics you use in your business? Is there a customer development strategy you use that’s been working recently?