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.

Where Does Social Media Fit into the Customer Journey?

Businesses know that they must have a presence on social media, but they don’t know how to use it. The wonderful thing about social media is that there are multiple platforms and countless ways to use them. It can also be overwhelming for some business owners who begin social media marketing without a plan.

To understand how to use social media marketing, you first have to understand how your customers think. We’ve posted a lot about this idea customer journey a lot in the past, but it is critical to your customers. The bottom line is that there are seven behaviors that all of your customers exhibit as they interact with your company: know, like, trust, try, buy, repeat, and refer. It is your job to guide them through those behaviors.

You can use social media to assist in guiding several of these behaviors, particularly know, like, trust, repeat and refer. If you go into your social media marketing campaign with the mindset of achieving these behaviors with customers and potential customers, social media suddenly becomes much clearer.

But each of these behaviors requires specific tactics to achieve. Here’s how to use social media to guide your customers through their journey.


Social media is incredibly helpful in first introducing your customers to your business or product. Being active on social media, especially Google+, and engaging with your local community can help your SEO ranks. Often, social media channels will show up high on any local search. Frequently use keywords for which you want to show up in searches, and you can improve your search engine rankings in those keywords.

In addition, social media advertising has become more robust and effective over the years. You can target potential customers based on interest, who they follow or like, even location getting your brand/product or service in front of more of your ideal clients.


Because social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook give businesses unlimited opportunities to interact with their fans, you have a chance to get them to like you and your business beyond your product. Be active and present in local social events, even cheer on local sports teams during big games. Enjoy the moment with your community, and your community will respond.


The longer a person is engaged and likes a business on social media, the more likely they are to trust that business. Share customer testimonials and ask your customers why they like and use your product, prospective customers can see what value your product provides.

In addition, if you use social media as a customer service tool, (I’ll explain how later) potential clients can see and know that they will be taken care of after they buy.


At Duct Tape Marketing, we know that if you hold a customer’s hand for 90 days, you’ve kept them for life. Maybe the customer doesn’t need as much hand-holding. You can interact with them using social media to increase brand loyalty. If they post something related to the use of your product, respond and reach out. They’ll feel important to your business and want to continue to work with you.


Finally, you can use social media to not only get your customers to refer your business, but share those referrals with other potential clients. Ask your customers to tweet with a photo using your product, or post a picture of the completed service on Facebook. If you share and retweet those referrals and endorsements, you can reach an even larger audience than the individual networks of your customers.

Social media platforms are powerful tools to help you market your business. Knowing which behaviors your customers exhibit, and how to tap into those behaviors on social media are critical to having a successful social media plan.

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

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