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How to start experimenting with growth marketing: An overview of the G.R.O.W.S. process

In this article, we’ll introduce you to growth marketing as a driving force for regenerative growth in social impact startups. We’ll look at how the G.R.O.W.S. process can save you precious time and resources, while helping to grow your startup effectively.

We break down what growth marketing is and each step of the G.R.O.W.S. process. We’ll give practical examples at each stage to help you optimise your growth for maximum social impact.

We’ve even included our free Growth Experiment Planning Tool at the end of the article, so you can start running your own experiments.

What we’ll cover

  • What is growth marketing?
  • Traditional marketing VS Growth marketing
  • The 70/30 Experimentation Rule
  • Experimenting with growth marketing
  • How Lean Startup methodology inspired Growth Marketing
  • The G.R.O.W.S. process
  • Getting Started with Growth Marketing

Growth Marketing Experimentation Glossary

Before we dive right into what growth marketing is, let’s get a quick rundown of some key terms that’ll pop up in this article:

  • Experiment – Testing out different marketing techniques, product features & brand messages in a rapid, data-driven manner, to identify which ones are the most effective at driving user growth and impact.
  • Growth Cycle – The lifetime of the G.R.O.W.S. process from start to finish (steps 1-5).
  • Growth Lead – A dedicated team member that makes growth the central focus for everyone in your startup, they are responsible for embedding the process into your team and running experiments.
  • Growth Lever – The immediate improvements and processes you can implement to drive growth for your startup – these are quick wins for your business that have the most impact.
  • Hypothesis – The testable solution to improve your startup’s growth by focusing on improving one key area of your business. 
  • Iterative – The process of running multiple experiments where the results from the previous experiment inform the starting point for the next one.

What is Growth Marketing?

Growth Marketing is the process of running a series of experiments and implementing processes over a short period of time. It aims at growing your company’s reach and revenue through cost-effective, creative strategies. 

By approaching your marketing strategy as a series of experiments with a quick turnaround, social impact startups can discover the best methods for optimising their growth without being cost and resource intensive. 

And Growth marketing is about approaching your growth with a curious mindset, with the focus on one key area where your business can improve, then testing this assumption in the shortest time possible. 

We’ve touched on it here, but let’s now look at what sets growth marketing apart from traditional methods.

Traditional Marketing VS Growth Marketing

We’ll start here with an offbeat similarity between traditional and growth marketing. They’re both about assumptions. Marketers need to make assumptions about how potential customers will respond to their value proposition and product, that’s kind of the whole idea behind a marketing strategy.

But, the main difference here is what we do with these assumptions. Traditional marketers sometimes run the risk of basing their entire strategy on assumptions they’ve made and put this into a lengthy, expensive campaign. In these cases, they are essentially trying to predict the outcome of a constantly shifting market. 

So is this the best option for a newly formed social startup looking to increase their reach and steadily grow their business?

Of course not. Most startups need to focus on staying afloat, let alone run an expensive campaign that may not yield the results they assumed. The time and energy of such campaigns just isn’t worth the potential growth your business could see.

This is where growth marketing comes in. Like we’ve mentioned, growth marketing is the iterative process of running a series of rapid experiments and measuring their success over a short period of time. 

By doing so, your startup can effectively test your hypothesis and measure outcomes far quicker and adapt to a changing market. And the benefit here for early startups is growth marketing is designed to be fast, efficient and cost effective. 

So by beginning to experiment with growth marketing, social impact startups can have a faster time to market, a higher return on investment and the capacity to scale marketing activity that yields positive results quickly when compared to traditional marketing methods.

We’ve only scratched the surface of growth marketing here but if you’re feeling extra curious, we delve deeper into ethical marketing and social impact in Ethical Growth Marketing 101.

So you’re interested in experimenting with growth marketing? Great! But how do you decide how much time to spend on this and maximise your growth potential?

The 70/30 Experimentation Rule

The main blocker for early startups and novice growth marketers is the thought that running experiments will be too costly and time consuming. Luckily we already know that isn’t the case. 

But you can’t base your entire growth strategy on experimentation alone. That’s why it’s really important to follow the 70/30 rule when it comes to experimentation. 

When planning your growth strategy, you’re aiming to identify the main growth levers you can pull to gain early traction and quick wins for your growth.

70% of your time, resource and budget investment should focus on pulling the 1 or 2 growth levers we’ve identified at the growth strategy stage. 

By doing so, we can focus on driving early traction that creates runaway momentum and motivation for your team.

Spend the remaining 30% on embedding the growth marketing mindset and experimentation process into your startup. 

This is where we begin running rapid experiments across product, brand, sales and marketing to create a roadmap to diversify our growth levers. It’s all about optimising your growth here, as we’re mitigating the risk of our early growth levers reaching saturation point. 

By taking the time to embed the growth marketing process into your startup, you’ll instil an innovation mindset that unlocks the next big growth lever towards and beyond product-market fit. 

Particularly in the early days of a startup, this laser focus is critical in coordinating limited budgets, resources and stakeholders to focus on what matters the most.

Now that we’ve got an idea of how much time we should devote to experimentation, let’s see what that looks like in growth marketing.

Experimenting with Growth Marketing

It might seem daunting but the real success in growth marketing comes from following the process over results. 

When beginning to experiment with growth marketing, it’s important to remember that you’ll be running consecutive experiments over short periods of time. 

So, if your first, second, or even seventh experiment doesn’t yield the results you expect, that’s totally fine – it’s part of the process.

According to Grow with Ward for first time growth marketers (or growth hackers as they put it) having 1 in every 10 experiments succeed is considered a great result. For seasoned growth marketers, this can increase to 1 in 3 experiments

We’ve thrown the word around a few times now, but what is experimenting with growth marketing? 

Let’s say you’ve noticed that the open rate on your newsletter has steadily dropped over the past 3 months. You’ve highlighted the issue and decide to A/B test the next newsletter using a different subject line. 

The following month you find that Subject line B increased your open rate 30%. Using the data collected from the A/B test, you now know how to effectively increase your engagement with your community and reach a wider audience. Congratulations! You’ve just run a successful experiment. 

Of course, that doesn’t mean your newsletter is now perfect, you might then realise you’re losing engagement and subscribers once they’ve clicked through. So it’s back to the drawing board for another hypothesis and experiment. 

This is the essence of growth marketing. You consider one key pain point in your business that you can improve. Then, look at what action you can take in the shortest amount of time, using the least resources and within your team’s capabilities to tackle this issue.

Before we get into the process behind how you actually run growth experiments, it’s important to consider where the idea of growth marketing came from in the first place.

How Lean Startup methodology inspired Growth Marketing

It’s no surprise that growth marketing is a great fit for scaling growth for startups. The base principles are inspired by lean startup methodology, as set out by Eric Reis. The lean startup is the most fundamental framework that has taken over the startup world over the last decade.

The principles of Build, Measure, Learn are the core of lean startup. Taking an iterative approach to your ideas, being open to testing your hypothesis and knowing when to pivot is crucial to your startup’s success.

And it’s now adopted in the marketing world and, more specifically, in growth marketing channels. The method at the centre of growth marketing is the G.R.O.W.S. process.

The G.R.O.W.S. process

Adopted from the GrowthTribe, the G.R.O.W.S. process is the core process that every growth marketer or team needs to adopt, over anything else. Developing from the lean startup model, it’s the blueprint used to efficiently optimise your startup’s growth.

And the process is set out in simple 6 simple steps; 

  1. Gather Ideas 
  2. Rank Ideas
  3. Outline Experiments
  4. Work, Work, Work 
  5. Study Data (see where we get G.R.O.W.S.)
  6. Repeat

Like we’ve mentioned, the important thing isn’t to spend weeks pouring resources into a lengthy campaign. It’s about giving yourself over to the process and continuously coming up with new hypotheses, testing them out and determining what works and what doesn’t. 

Typically, the entire process should last anywhere between 2 weeks and up to 2 months. But we’ll get to that later.

The key here is embedding the G.R.O.W.S. process into everything your startup does. Your priority is following this process of generating fresh ideas, continuously analysing the data and learning from the results. 

In doing so, you’ll gain a far better understanding of how to optimise your strategy for growth, without wasting resources.

So what makes the process so important to social impact startups?

While following this process, it’s essential for growth marketers to have a central metric to optimise for.

We can see here that in the centre of the iterative process, we have social impact. This is particularly important for you Changemakers. Since the ultimate goal of your startup is creating maximum impact in balance with profitability. 

Channelling social impact at the centre of this, then, ensures that your growth is always built around the key purpose of your business and help to push our society towards a regenerative economy. 

Now that we’ve got an overview of the process, let’s look at each step in more detail.

1. Gather Ideas

The first step of the process is to gather ideas. This is where you’ll sit down and consider one specific pain point where you see an opportunity for growth and generate ideas to tackle this. 

We’re really wanting to consider what specific value we’re offering to potential customers or partners, at a specific part of the funnel. Then, we want to look at how we are planning to communicate this to them. 

 It may seem obvious but a pivotal step is to gather your team and allow everyone to give their input in the planning process. 

It’s important here to have a diverse range of opinions in the session. In our 10 Step Masterclass to achieve growth in 2023, our co-founder Moh suggests: 

“The Gathering ideas stage usually consists of a 2 to 3 hour meeting including multiple team members that are cross departmental…you as a Growth Lead have the responsibility to choose the best people who can show a fair representation of your diverse team and mindsets that could feed into growth ideas and hypotheses.”

So It’s useful here to use a collaborative tool for brainstorming. At Zebra, we use Miro Boards as a great way of getting everyone in the team involved. And the added bonus is having all of your ideas collected in a single board that’s accessible for everyone. 

Useful tip: Using a Miro Board is a great way of gathering your ideas. We’d also suggest keeping notes throughout the session and finalising this in a report to make the next step easier!

You don’t want to spend too long gathering ideas. Choice is good, but don’t get bogged down on the small stuff! We’d recommend this step taking 1 – 2 days, including your meeting and follow up report.

2. Rank Ideas

So you’ve found the focus for your experiment and had an insightful brainstorming session with your team and an abundance of great ideas to build your growth?

Fantastic! You’re now ready to take those ideas and rank those ideas.

So how do you know a good idea from a bad one? Just kidding, there’s no bad ideas. But there are ideas that can be easily achieved and have a big impact on your growth. 

To rank ideas, we Zebras recommend using the I.C.E. matrix (Yep, it’s another acronym). The I.C.E. matrix consists of Impact, Confidence and Ease. 

The I.C.E. matrix is a way to weigh the different hypotheses you’ve gathered. You do this by measuring the impact it could have on your growth against a potential ease level and the ‘confidence’ of your team. 

Let’s take a quick look at each of these.

Not to be confused with the social impact you’re trying to achieve, the Impact you’re measuring is on the growth of your business. There’s no use in focusing on something that will bring little results. Remember, we’re optimising for the most efficient growth in the shortest amount of time – think big!

What we mean by Confidence is does your team really believe that this idea will have a strong impact on your growth. Or rather, do you truly have the confidence that this idea will work?

While Ease is where you ask yourself how complex is the idea and if you can achieve (or prove) it within the short timeframe.

When using the I.C.E. matrix, it’s important to remember the 20-80 rule. You want to put in 20% effort to achieve 80% output. We look at this in more detail in our previous article.

You’ll want to have a similar meeting as when gathering ideas and once you’ve settled on the best hypothesis to test, you’re ready for the next step.

3. Outline Experiments

Now that you’ve got a shiny new hypothesis and you’re itching to test it out, we need to outline the experiment. This is another key stage, particularly for the Growth Lead. 

For this stage, you’ll need to clearly outline what the purpose of your experiment is. It’s best to do this in a 1 – 2 page report. The key things to note here are:

  • The purpose of the experiment.
  • What is the timeline of the experiment?
  • What are the outcomes?
  • What is the main metric you’re measuring for validation/non validation?

This stage not only solidifies your idea but it should inform the implementation stage. 

It’s important here to go into detail of what you expect through the experiment and clearly communicate this. This way, every team member involved has an easy understanding of how the experiment will run.

We know we’re laying it on thick here. But, particularly for new growth marketers, having a strong reference point throughout your early (and future) experiments will keep you on the right track and having your experiment running smoothly.

Along with the previous 2 steps, we’d suggest spending no more than 1 week planning. But make sure not to rush through the steps and only proceed to testing your hypothesis once everyone has a clear understanding of your outline.

Just last week we outlined 3 experiments for one of our clients and our Senior Growth Marketer, Patrick, sent a Loom video detailing the outlines to all team members involved in the project. Loom’s another handy tool for growth marketers that ensures your team is aligned even when working across departments at a busy startup.

Now, let’s get to work!

4. Work, Work, Work

This is the step we’ve all been waiting for. It’s now time to run your experiment and test your hypothesis. 

The reason why there’s three works is that it signifies the pace you’ll be working at. This is the lengthiest step but it’s where working fast creates results.

Moh discusses this further at our 10 Step Masterclass to achieve growth in 2023:

“This is where speed matters in growth marketing. It’s about asking yourself how can we execute as fast as possible and gather the minimum amount of data in the shortest time to validate or invalidate our hypothesis…In all the other stages of the process you want to zoom out and take your time. But within step 4, you want to try to execute as fast as possible.”

So having a strong outline for reference, you’re really wanting to put a focus on working quickly to gather the minimum amount of data. 

Of course, we’re not saying you want as little data as possible. Rather, you’re gathering as much data as needed to prove (or disprove) your hypothesis within the time limit of the experiment. 

Depending on the experiment, this step should last between 1 – 3 weeks. For first time growth marketers, you wouldn’t want to take longer than. The important thing when starting out is that you’re embedding the G.R.O.W.S. process into your way of working and learning how to use the process to achieve maximum growth.

It’s also important during this stage to focus on the work, but of course you’ll be wanting to meet regularly to review the progress of the experiment. 

We’d recommend a weekly meeting per experiment you’re running. This ensures all team members involved are aligned and you’re keeping on schedule as set out in your outline from step 3. There’s also the added benefit that you might already be able to find some insights that’ll inform the next step of the process. 

If you want to learn more about how you can achieve your growth goals this year, why not sign-up to our 2-part Masterclass running at the end of February.

5. Study Data

Congratulations, you’ve now run your first experiment! The hard part’s over and it’s time to look at your results. 

Studying data is crucial to growth marketing – how else are you going to validate your experiments?

This is a more straightforward (but pivotal) step. Here, you’ll analyse the data that you’ve measured over the length of the experiment in step 4. What we’re really doing here is finding out if your hypothesis is proven.

Remember – if you find the results invalidate your hypothesis, that’s totally normal! The focus is on studying the data to gather insights and key learnings that will inform your next growth cycle or experiment. 

The important thing here is remaining curious and open to understanding the results. If the results aren’t what you expected – why? What could you do differently? What have you learned about your target segment? Or have you discovered something in your value proposition that isn’t being communicated? 

These questions aren’t exhaustive, of course. They’re just a way to get you to start thinking about how growth marketing uses data to continuously improve how you manage your growth. 

As a Growth Lead, it’s your job to collect these results and share them with your team. Collaboration is key here, again (notice a theme here?). 

For the final week of the cycle, we’d recommend taking time to collate the results and have a retrospective meeting with everyone involved in the experiment. This allows you to consider what worked, reflect on your insights and plan how these results will inform your next cycle.

6. Repeat

We’re sure you know where we’re going with this but it felt rude to leave the final step of the G.R.O.W.S process out. The last step in the growth cycle is to do it all over again. 

Of course, you’re not just starting from scratch, you’re now armed with solid data from the previous cycle and have a clearer understanding of the next logical steps for future experiments.

For the entire cycle (steps 1 – 5) of the G.R.O.W.S. process, the total time spent is really dependent on the size of your team and the maturity of you adopting growth marketing. Usually, this spans from between 1 – 2 months per cycle period. 

And you can, of course, run multiple experiments at the same time. But for first time growth marketers, we’d highly recommend beginning with just 1 experiment at a time. 

This will really help embed the process into your startup, whilst shifting the mindset of your team. And, in time, this will allow for greater results.

Growth Marketing & the G.R.O.W.S. Process Recap

So let’s do a quick recap of what we’ve discussed in this article:

  • Growth Marketing is the process of running a series of experiments and implementing processes over a short period of time
  • Growth marketing can offer a faster time to market, a higher ROI and isn’t as cost or resource intensive as traditional marketing
  • You want to focus 70% of your time resource & budget on pulling the growth levers that gain traction for your startup and 30% embedding the growth marketing mindset and experimenting
  • Lean Startup methodology of Build, Measure, Learn inspired growth marketing
  • Growth marketers use the G.R.O.W.S. process to optimise their growth
  • The 6 steps to the G.R.O.W.S. process are Gather Ideas, Rank Ideas, Outline Experiments, Work x3, Study data
  • A full cycle of the process should last between 1 – 2 months
  • First time growth marketers should run 1 experiment at a time
  • Proving 1 in every 10 experiments when starting out is a success
  • Focus on one key area to improve, don’t just look for maximum results
  • Collaboration is key to the success of experiments and including teams from across departments generate better hypothesis
  • Embedding the process into your startup and adopting a curious mindset will allow you to optimise your growth towards maximum social impact

Getting Started with Growth Marketing

Now that you’re clear on what growth marketing is and we’ve talked you through the G.R.O.W.S. process, let’s see how you can get started. 

It doesn’t matter if you’re a solo impact founder or a growing team of Changemakers. You can start experimenting with growth marketing right away! 

Of course, the first step is to introduce the idea of growth marketing to your team and familiarise them with the concept (this article should come in handy!). 

If you’re wanting to expand your own understanding, we’d recommend doing some further research and Grow with Ward gives some great insights into the subject.

Then, it’s important to appoint your Growth Lead, if you don’t already have one. They are responsible for running the experiments, leading ideation sessions and ensuring your team is aligned throughout the projects. Plus they’ll keep track of your progress and results. 

When your team is inspired and ready to get experimenting, we recommend making sure you have the right tools for the job. We’ve already mentioned some of our favourites for the different steps of the process. 

We know that getting started is the most daunting part of the process. That’s why we’ve also created our free Growth Experiment Planning Tool

This includes everything you need to start mapping out your own experiments. You’ll receive:

  • Hypothesis Planner and ICE Scoring Template
  • Experiment Tracker Template
  • Ideation Miro Board Template

And that’s it! You’re now ready to start optimising your growth for maximum social impact with growth marketing.

Ready to experiment with growth marketing but don’t know where to start? We’d love to collaborate! Get in touch to discuss your startup’s growth today.