A discussion with our CMO Noémie Benoit about the impact growth hacking has on startups and on marketing departments. Will there still be classical marketing in the future? Which will be the next growth hacking masterpiece? And are you daring and number obsessed enough to become a growth hacker?

But before we dive right into the interview, let’s get one thing straight once and for all:

Growth hacking and marketing are NOT one and the same.

Even though they have the same intention, wanting to achieve organizational growth and success, growth hacking focuses solely on the product or service. Always pursuing the question of how the product can be improved to be more successful. It is a process, which accompanies the product as long as it is out there. While marketing doesn’t touch the product itself, it takes it for what it is and promotes it.

The term growth hacking was first coined by Sean Ellis in 2010 and is tightly connected with the startup world. As most startups do not have a big budget to afford expensive marketing campaigns, they must explore other ways to grow. “To explore” is a keyword when it comes to growth hacking. There is no blueprint for growth hacking as products, services, and companies are unique. What works for one might not work for another. It is about trial and error, about quickly reacting to feedback and being in constant conversation with the consumers of your product.

Even though the term comes from the startup world, it does not mean that growth hacking techniques can only be applied by startups. In his article on growth hacking Neil Patel gives a great example of Mc Donald’s in the fifties, placing restaurants at every interstate highway exit. Since they understood early on that highways would gain importance, they placed themselves where their customers would be. This example demonstrates that even before the computer and a long time before the phenomena of startups and digitalisation, growth hacking methods were applied.

But it has only been in the last two decades, that companies such as Airbnb, Uber, Dropbox, Instagram and YouTube took growth hacking to the next level. Creating multi-million dollar enterprises through creative and very product-tailored growth methods.

Take YouTube, for example, the embedded code on YouTube videos was a growth hacking master piece. Publishing, sharing and watching a video online is such a no-brainer today, that only a few of us remember how complicated it was before the Youtube-era to integrate videos in your blog, website, etc. The embedded code made integrating videos simple, fun and used by everyone. What started out as a test trial, initiated a revolution.

Interview with Noémie Benoit, Chief Marketing Officer at Prompto:

1) What kind of mindset does a growth hacker need?

  • Obsession – you need to be obsessed to find the perfect product-to-market fit. And you need to be obsessed with the customer, you want to know all about him in order to optimise your product.
  • Perseverance – trial and error is part of the deal. If you fail, don’t gloom, but learn from it and take on the next experiment. Marketing tactics sometimes take months to give results. But a growth hacker doesn’t have months to validate the product and discover the levers.
  • Open-Minded– You act in a fast-paced, insecure environment. You need to be fast, need to create hacks, try out new things and test like crazy. Speed and agility are essential elements.
  • Critical – you need to be questioning everything including yourself and your product. Never be content with the status quo, but always look for improvement. Always push for more and never stop growing.

2) What is the role of a growth hacker? 

  • To make sure that every piece is moving in the right direction. The focus has to be not only on one department but on the bigger picture. There is a kind of 360° vision needed. A growth hacker has to understand the product, the development of the product, the sales, the marketing, the finance and more. It’s counterproductive to have departments not being aligned or having different speeds or different mindsets. You build one vehicle with everyone.
  • To always keep an eye on the numbers. Growth hacking is analytics-driven, scalability is key. Because if a business is scalable, it can grow or/and is financially sustainable! Even if you are using your intuition more than 50% of the time, numbers are the indication that your assumptions are right.

3) You run marketing with a growth hacking methodology, what does it mean?

I chose indeed to bring the dimension of growth hacking to marketing. That means, that in our team we have an experimental mindset. Everything is run as an experiment with measurable targets to be reached and evaluated. I don’t want to pay a lot for something, which has no proof of working or relevance. I don’t want to risk the budget. We make assumptions, we test, we validate. It is a constant “thinking experiment”. It’s rules being: be creative, be curious, ask constantly questions, use both marketing tactics short-term and long-term as well as out-of-the-box experiments.

I went this path, because more traditional marketing tactics work best with more budget. They are more suited for a later stage. The stage we are in, which is an early one, you still need to validate a lot. You should lay the groundwork for these strategies, but until you reach a certain size, you need to find other ways to grow.

4) Any specific tool you are working with?

We work with growth canvas. It helps us to structure our approach. You can run thousands of experiments but you need to prioritise and understand how you move your leads from awareness (knowing your brand) to revenue (having someone paying for your product) and referral about it. The steps it leads you through are: Awareness, Acquisition, Activation, Retention, Revenue, Referral. Furthermore, you can structure e.g. your tactics & experiments per persona. It makes it almost impossible to miss a step.

We also define Metrics and set KPIs per column to see how experiments intervene on these metrics. The ultimate goal is to find out how metrics influence each other all the way through the funnel.

5) Growth hacking is very precise in regards to persona and metrics. How do you tackle that? 

  • Tailor your experiments: We craft messages which are tailored to a very specific audience. Visuals, as well as text, must be relevant and appealing for your target person (and not his wife for example). Experiments need to be specific, don’t target everybody. Run experiments per persona in order to compare. In marketing it’s the same structure, if you run a brand awareness campaign your KPI is different (eg number of unique visitors) than as if you run a lead generation campaign (eg number of leads or downloads). Every experiment follows a similar logic. Precision & analytics go together.
  • Metrics/conversions obsessed: Becoming obsessed with conversion definitely helps, if you are working in a field such as marketing. It is a good supplement to the creative part of it. You hesitate between two messages for an audience or between visuals? Bam: A/B testing experiment. You are not sure about the relevance of a type of customer? Bam: Put an experiment in place to trigger their buyer interest. Maybe you can even call that scientific marketing?!
  • Hand in hand with the sales team: We do marketing with the SaaS sales funnel in mind. Marketing is at the very beginning of the spine. You could basically say that the marketing pipe is the first part of the sales pipeline. Generating Marketing Qualified Leads is intrinsically linked to the bigger sales strategy picture. Go back and forth between sales feedback and marketing feedback and juggle between both. Marketing and sales are one.

6) Above you described how growth hacking can be seen as the backbone of a company and explained that it is a cross-team action. Can you explain a bit more how you apply that at Prompto?

Sure. The two most important tools for us were the use of growth canvas as well as our bi-weekly growth meetings. Let me elaborate:

  • By using growth canvas the customer funnel becomes clear to the different teams and different departments can align on the different components. For example, if there are blocking points in the customer funnel, we analyse to which departments they belong. Then you link the specific activity of a department to the full picture. Or another example, if other teams take a look at the multitude of Awareness experiments which we are doing at the marketing team, it doesn’t make sense to them. Only if they see the full canvas and get the bigger picture it starts to make sense. Even to such an extent that they start questioning our experiments. This leads to a real and healthy discussion between teams. We can prioritise all together and talk about metrics that make sense in order to grow.
  • Bi-weekly Prompto growth meeting: At this meeting, growth is the focus. We use a Kanban board for logging projects (could be a feature, an administrative change, a partnership, a marketing experiment, an important hire, etc): Next up/In prep/In progress/Internal Validation/Market validation. The structure of our meeting is also inspired by holacracy: you want to add a point to the agenda? Write it in two words. Then, describe the content and your proposition. Be proactive instead of addressing a problem and asking others to solve it. This meetup makes sure we keep a helicopter view and confront our teams’ weekly activity to the final goal: growth. The weekly growth KPIs of Prompto serve as the basis for the meeting: Recurring business, #MQLS, #SQLS, NPS, etc.

Our cross-team growth hacking approach definitely made people connect more and deeper. It brought a more collaborative mindset to the company and even some projects and experiments with cross-team members. For me, as a long-time professional in different startups, it is not the first time that I witness the growth hacking mindset becoming an important tool within the company for growth and communication.

Thank you Noémie for taking your time and for shedding light on the entire marketing vs. growth hacking discussion. Although they are not one and the same, after talking to you it feels like they complement each other perfectly. The right mix and timing is the key to success. Let’s keep our communication going and let’s see if in the long run marketing will transform into a method closer related to growth hacking.

To follow our discussions and to learn more from Noémie in regards to Growth Hacking, startup culture and marketing follow us on LinkedIn and Facebook.

All the best, Karolin on behalf of the entire Prompto-team.