Sorry, Morgan Brown: Growth IS Marketing, Just Not The Way You Think

  • by , Featured Contributor, September 18, 2015
He wrote it back in June of 2014, but it only hit my newsfeed last week: a piece by co-founder Morgan Brown, attractively (as you’d expect) titled ”Ten Things I Learned Researching Ten of the World’s Fastest Growing Startups.”

It’s a good piece, and GrowthHackers is a good site, explicitly rejecting spam and other shady tactics. Lessons One and Two contain such worthwhile advice as, “Growth is nothing without the product” and “Growth is never ‘done.’”

At Lesson Three, however -- “Growth is not marketing. Marketing is not growth” -- I take exception. “One of the big takeaways with all of these companies,” says Brown, “is that none of them had a traditional marketing playbook. You won’t read about how they were masters of paid search or email marketing… Instead you’ll see that these companies had specific playbooks to drive growth — many that included marketing —but more often relied on the product for their biggest growth opportunities.” (Emphasis mine.)



It’s not that I don’t agree with the substance here. On its own, paid search will not cover for the sins of your product, and emails can’t save you if nobody’s interested in what you’re selling.

What I disagree with is the premise that obsessively crafting your product to bring the maximum amount of joy to each customer, slaving over details that can make it more user-friendly, frictionless and useful, is somehow not marketing.

In short, we have a fundamental disagreement over the definition of marketing.

The meaning as contextualized in Brown’s piece is consistent with the first result I got when I searched “marketing definition”: “the action or business of promoting and selling products or services, including market research and advertising.” It’s a definition that’s focused on sales, a definition that understands that, while you can’t polish a turd, you can roll it in glitter.

But that’s not my definition of marketing. Mine is closer to the definition offered by the American Marketing Association: “the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.”

The distinction is more than just semantics. You know that bad rap marketers sometimes get? The stereotype of the sleazy salesperson? That’s what you get when marketing only deals with the communication piece — if it starts, in other words, where the product ends.

When marketing is only about communicating, the team is thinking about how catchy they can make the tagline, how clever or sexy the 30-second spot. When marketing is only about communicating, its ambition is for the communication to be awesome, not the customer experience.

But that’s not what marketing should be about. Marketing is where the customer’s voice gets heard, and as a result it should of necessity include the processes of identifying your market; understanding them (sometimes, as with Henry Ford and Steve Jobs, better than they understand themselves); empathizing with them, with their problems, frustrations, and dreams; and ensuring that the product solves these, alleviates these, and helps them realizes these, respectively.

Which is kind of what Brown is saying, really: “It takes real growth teams across engineering, product, and yes, marketing, to design the growth programs that really move the needle. Contrast this approach to the massive paid ad budgets of companies like Groupon, which were ultimately unsustainable.”’s own About page quotes Michael Brenner, former vice president of marketing at SAP, who wrote in Forbes: “Growth hacking, my friends is marketing. The future of marketing. Or what marketing always should have been.”

That’s what Lesson Three should have been.

2 comments about "Sorry, Morgan Brown: Growth IS Marketing, Just Not The Way You Think ".
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  1. Doug Schumacher from Zuum, September 18, 2015 at 12:13 p.m.


    It's a nice distinction you make. Very much along the lines of Seth Godin and his purple cows, I'd say. 

    And with software-based companies, I'd say it's even more relevant, as the loop for integrating marketing ideas into product benefits travels a shorter loop. 

    Thanks for the article.


  2. Kaila Colbin from Boma Global, September 18, 2015 at 6:02 p.m.

    Thanks, Doug! Glad you liked it :)

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