Ampersand painted on a wall with a popcorn machine in front
PHOTO: Mark Wieder

I’m often asked if I am a growth marketer, and people are surprised when I say I am not. Many companies use growth as their guiding light, meaning every function, including marketing, is geared toward growth. I get that. Growth is a strong organizing focus, and marketing should 100% be driving growth when that is the primary company goal.

So, if I’m not a growth marketer, what am I?

Why I'm Not a Growth Marketer

Like many of my peers, I am a strategic marketer. We work to understand the needs of the company at a specific point in time and then flex our skills to organize and develop our teams to meet those needs. If growth is the goal, we will organize and develop our teams to drive growth. However, unless we’re only talking about early stage startups, growth is rarely the only and not even always the most critical goal a company is striving to achieve. Sometimes in addition to growth, companies need to focus on retention, average revenue per user, profitability, or a myriad of other possible goals.

A Board of Directors is unlikely to hire a CEO only focused on growth because once that (often early stage) growth is achieved, that CEO may quickly find herself outside the realm of her experience. Hiring a marketer focused solely on growth would suffer the same consequences. If growth is the marketer’s only tool in his toolbox, every challenge at the company would become a nail to be hammered.

And yet, because growth is so coveted by most companies, it’s become en vogue to define oneself as a growth marketer and (for companies) to seek to hire those who define themselves as growth marketers. Not only is this a potentially harmful way to define the marketing needs of a company due to the possibility of numerous missed opportunities, but it’s also a narrow and limited way to describe the breadth of skills and experience typically required to rise to marketing leadership.

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Marketing Is Not Sales

I believe marketing is often misunderstood, which contributes to the desire to over-simplify marketing as “growth.” One distortion that I’ve seen across many different types of companies is the tendency to conflate marketing with sales. Some ultimately assume that marketing, like sales, is defined predominantly by the completed conversion (or sale) which leads to revenue growth and/or growth in number of customers. This view fails to consider the evolution in how customers make purchasing decisions in a digital-first world, and the responsibility of marketing to deeply understand and motivate the customer. This begins at the earliest stage with awareness of their need, all the way through the proverbial “funnel,” passed the conversion event, and to the moment of delight when that customer is retained and becomes a loyal brand advocate.

In the distant past, the customer journey may have been more linear. But for some time now, customers have had an abundance of additional, easily accessible information that has increased the complexity and sophistication of the buyer’s journey. The savvy marketer doesn’t try to unravel the buyer’s journey and force a linear buying process. Instead, we meet the buyer where they’re at, aiding them along every twist and turn with content to deepen their understanding of our product’s value. This way, ultimately, the customer knows that upon purchase, they have made the most informed decision possible. They are at ease — and hopefully even delighted — with their purchase decision. 

This deep understanding of the customer and the complex choreography of the marketing relationship to drive growth is only one aspect of marketing responsibility. A strategic versus tactical approach is what makes this dance a more powerful driver to achieve company goals versus only marketing KPIs. For example, if the company goal is profitability, the marketer is segmenting for the highest LTV/CAC and targeting those customers. If the goal is retention, the marketer is segmenting for those most likely to retain and targeting those customers while also developing different types of customer marketing programs to help drive higher retention. The person leading this team helping drive achievement of company goals is a growth marketer ... and more.

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Build a Toolkit Worthy of Your Customer

Most marketers start their careers as generalists in coordinator roles, then move on to more specialized roles, and then, often as they take that step into marketing leadership, they move back into more generalist roles. It’s those years spent in roles that specialize in different types of marketing functions — acquisition versus retention versus brand, for example — as well as in different marketing channels that build strong, multifaceted marketing leaders with a breadth of skills and experience.

Strong marketing leadership lies in understanding how to flex this more complex toolkit strategically to produce marketing programs to drive success across a broad spectrum of company goals. Growth becomes a critical skill set you bring to a marketing leadership role versus the whole toolkit and thus is an integral aspect of your marketing credentials, but should not define all that you are as a marketer.