The Difference Between Marketing and Growth

marketing and growth

I find that the word marketing is burdened with a tremendous volume of confusion.

For some, marketing is branding, while others view marketing merely as sales or growth. Still others simply lump anything that has to do with getting and keeping customers into one big marketing bucket.

Adding to the confusion is the current emphasis on the word growth and its leaner cousin – growth hacking.

I don’t guess it really matters that everyone agree on the definition of marketing, but I do think it’s important that you understand the difference between marketing and growth and the important role each plays in building a business.

What is marketing?

One way to look at the term marketing is to say that it is everything a business does to get an ideal customer to know, like and trust them.

Still, that’s a pretty broad swath, but note that it’s not really about growth or even lead generation just yet.

To me marketing is how you define your ideal customer, how you position your business in a way that either makes competition irrelevant or changes the context in which your business is viewed by your market, and finally, the intentional aspects of how you guide your prospects and customers on the journey they want to take. (You might want to read more about the customer journey here.)

These foundational elements are essential if growth is to follow. Sure, you can sell some stuff to anyone that you can attract or growth hack your way to some new followers, but long term momentum only comes about when you build a strong marketing foundation and strategy first.

That’s not to say that this foundation won’t experience evolution and change as you grow and discover new opportunities, but without it you will be slave to the new idea or hack of the week, and that’s a recipe for spinning your wheels.

What is growth?

Growth, on the other hand, is the process by which you discover which channels allow you to attract and convert the largest amount of customers at the highest amount of profit.

From there you simply use the process to find, test and analyze more and better ways to profitably attract and retain additional clients. (You might want to read more about growth channels here.)

Of course, a great deal of what goes on in your growth system is dictated by the stage your business currently resides.

The stages of business growth

In my view, there are three stages – traction, expansion, and optimization.

In the traction stage, you’re still trying to find that perfect match of ideal customer and market message. Your product or service is likely evolving.

Traction growth is all about getting some customers and building your growth process by trying lots of new things in hopes of landing on a couple core channels that produce initial hold.

In this phase you can test some pretty crazy assumptions, because, while you don’t want to remain all over the map, you don’t want to rule out channels just because no one else in your industry is using them.

In the expansion stage, you’ve found some things that work. Your value proposition is getting easier to explain, and a few chosen channels are producing results.

Expansion is all about sustainability and increased growth rate. It’s about retaining customers and finding ways to leverage relationships to do more.

In this phase, you still keep testing channels but you focus on finding new channels that support successful channels. For example, if sales is a potent channel you might look to ways to use public speaking or content marketing to build the authority and reach of your sales people rather than simply testing new channels.

In the optimization stage, you are focused on doing more, of course, but also on doing so more profitably.

You’ve developed market leader status, and people expect to pay a premium to get what you have to offer. You are poised to profitably add new streams of revenue and new ways to serve existing customers.

In this stage, you are looking to test lots of small things. You A/B test everything with a constant eye on getting a one or two percent lift in your best channels and campaigns.

Marketing and growth go hand in hand but make no mistake you cannot effectively have one without the other.

The difference between marketing and growth and the relative importance of both is so great, many firms should have leadership positions designated for each role.

Build your marketing foundation on firm ground and then build your growth system on top of your ever-expanding business.

The #1 Key to Killer Promotions


Promotions are everywhere. It seems like whatever you or your business needs, you can find a promotion to receive it. Free this, half-off that, limited-time offers are everywhere. They’re so prevalent that many business owners feel pressured to hold a promotion or event to be competitive.

But having a promotion just for the sake of it is pointless. You’ll end up being disappointed with the results.

The #1 key to having a successful promotion is simple – have a goal in mind. Much like the Duct Tape Marketing philosophy of strategy before tactics, you must have a strategy or a goal for every promotion you execute.

What Do You Hope To Achieve?

You must have a goal in mind for every promotion. This can be something as simple as generating more leads or getting more names on your email list. It can be more complex like trying to move inventory to make room for more shipments, or drawing more people into your store.

For example, try offering a free eBook in exchange for email addresses. Those addresses are valuable because you can use them to promote your other paid services and products, and these customers have already shown interest in your product and your expertise.

If your goal is simply to move inventory, a cost reduction may be in order, but with proper promotion this can also help draw new customers in. You see this all the time with car dealerships as they try to move last year’s cars to make room on the lot for newer models

Analyze The Cost

Every promotion has a cost. There are four types of promotional costs:

  1. Potential revenue – sales, cost reductions, etc.
  2. Time – promotional content such as eBooks or other valuable content that takes time to create
  3. Purchases – gifts or prizes, the cost of which comes out of your pocket
  4. Reciprocity – gifts or prizes provided by strategic partners that will need to be reciprocated. You’ll want to consider what you’re offering them in return.

Be sure to analyze all of the potential costs of a promotion before executing. You want to weigh the costs with the value of what you are getting in return. Price promotions work because they result directly into sales, so the loss of revenue is worth it. The car dealership above gets the added benefit of making room for new products.

Have a Way to Measure Results

The final consideration you must make before beginning a promotion is simple: you must install a way to measure results. Cost promotions are easier than most, just set a goal of how many products you want to sell. Others can be trickier, especially if you just want to get customers in the door.

I’d suggest having a plan for tracking your promotion, whether it be simply asking a customer “How did you hear about us?” at the point of sale or using special promo codes or coupons based on the outlet customers may find them. At the very least, be sure to track your sales or lead numbers prior to the promotion so you can compare to your numbers during the event.

You must be able to evaluate whether or not your promotion is worth it or not after the fact. 

Promotions are important for any business, but you must have a strategy before giving something away. This is the #1 factor to your promotion’s success.

Alex-Boyer-Photo-150x150-e1420769709443Alex Boyer is a Community Manager and Content Ninja for Duct Tape Marketing. You can connect with him on Twitter @AlexBoyerKC

Weekend Favs August Twenty Nine

My weekend blog post routine includes posting links to a handful of tools or great content I ran across during the week. I don't go into depth about the finds, but encourage you check them out if they sound interesting. The photo in the post is a Continue Reading

The Secret Sauce for Optimizing Your FAQ Page

Having the human touch is a no brainer for companies that are starting out.  It’s undeniable that, cost aside, companies would much rather have sales people closing deals in addition to their support team personally answering every inquiry and Continue Reading

Why Smart Technology Use is the Key to Better Customer Marketing Data

If you haven’t already heard, 2015 is the year big data became a ubiquitous business necessity. Whether used for operational efficiencies or customer information, the benefits of big data are limitless. For manufacturers, data from warranty Continue Reading

Selling on LinkedIn: What Goes Wrong?

Marketing Podcast with Mike Montague Despite the awesome power of LinkedIn for B2B lead mining I see very few people using it well. Because so many people simply spam folks a lot of people have actually started to ignore LinkedIn as a lead Continue Reading

The Single Most Potent Marketing Tactic of All

I get asked a simple, pointed question just about everywhere I go. What’s the number one thing I can do to grow my business right now. Yep, everyone wants one tactic they can employ to massively grow their business. I do have an answer, of Continue Reading

How to Improve Your Writing

Some people are natural writers. Most of us are not. Writing can be a struggle, and that struggle may prevent some business owners from creating the content that they need to successfully promote their businesses. Everyone has at some point stared Continue Reading