Advertising Toothpaste vs Growth Hacking Web Services

A fundamental debate is happening on the future of marketing with every few years a new medium coming up. There is a constant shift in channels used by consumers and adapt new tools to reach them and for some reason come up with a new term every few years. Think Search Marketers, Social Media Marketers, Digital Marketers, Mobile Marketers, Content Marketers and now Growth Hackers. On the other hand, the products that are being launched by businesses are changing, but not really as fast as the mediums in which they can be launched. This raises a question whether these new titles on business cards and LinkedIn profiles highlight a new business need or just a renewed skill and toolset of the marketing professional.

Sean Ellis coined the term growth hacking in 2010 to address a new breed of unknown and unnamed hybrid marketer-coder who bring products to market with and build a sustainable client growth for the business. On the other hand, Gutenberg developed the metal movable type back in 1450 which eventually lead to mass-production of flyers and brochures thereby creating a new medium through which marketers could inform consumers about new products. For the first time in human history one could combine his writing skills with a distribution method that would help them inform and convince millions with little effort. While there might have been a discussion on this, we really don’t recall anybody from history being called Movable Type Marketers. Exactly 565 years later we are having the same discussion, because groups of people are combining digital marketing skills with data and coding skill into a package so unique, so brilliant that we need a new name for this.

But what does a marketing team for a high growth company actually do (read growth hackers)? They develop referral programs, optimise sites for search engines, run email marketing automation programs, develop API integrations which give consumers and other businesses the tools and motivation to drive the growth of the company.

An established brands’ marketing team focuses on keeping or changing brand recognition, preference and consumer behavior. None of these are constants as consumers forget, competitors launch new products and the environment keeps changing similarly to what a startup is witnessing.

In essence, both specialists are trying to convince people change their behaviour, and in both cases forcing new habits to consumers will require an investment. Whether that budget is allocated to advertising, hiring new team members to manage social media, developing new features, marketing or something is irrelevant.

What are you asking the consumer?

So what does marketing need to accomplish in general? The bare minimum marketing program for any product and service would be to highlight benefits while decreasing the cost of the change. If we look at the general picture what we’re asking is either a small or large change in behavior in exchange for some benefits gained.

Growth hacking by Product innovation typeChanging your toothpaste or your cereal brand takes very little effort, but making that change barely betters our lives in. Any brand extension, a new me too products are all examples of the useless category.

Some products will have failed even before they have been launched. Electric knives, Colgates’ line of food called Kitchen Entrees, bottled water for pets (ThirstyDog!) might have seemed like a good idea at the time of their inception, but it’s apparent that the degree of change in consumer behavior (e.g. going out to buy a bottle of water instead of using the tap) far outweigh the benefits gained by doing so (being sure that don’t kill your pets with tap water).

Products and services in the future category take years to adopt, but also result in a significant difference in benefits. Adaptation of the cellphone enabled us to communicate across geography like never before with human being in possession of the same technology. But reaching that network effect took years.

The unicorns (and yes, this term is overused) however demand minimal change from us. Basically we need to just choose one product over the other in order to enjoy a giant leap in getting more out of it. Google is a prime example here, which was by far not the first search engine, but a significantly better one. Changing required nothing else than just in a new address.

So what are you selling? Is it the Facebook 2, pet water, holographic video, nut flavored crackers? While any business can be considered a start-up, there is a huge difference on how we approach marketing here.  Come here growth hacker and let us take a look at how we could launch these products. What? You wouldn’t want to launch nut flavored crackers? People are not using referral forms to buy into holographic video? Can’t produce an API for bottled water? Tough cookie.

Who is a marketing professional?

Marketing has been defined as management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably (Chartered Institute of Marketing, 1976).  A professional by definition is somebody participating for livelihood in an activity or field of endeavor often engaged in by amateurs. So a marketing professional should be considered as someone who identifies, anticipates and satisfies customer requirement profitably for a living with a skillset developed over years of practice and/or academic preparation.

But can your average marketing professional actually do what start-up marketing teams do? There is a significant digital skill gap on the marketplace with about 55% of UK marketers struggling with using data to optimize campaigns and 32% with basic usage of marketing technology (E-Consultancy 2015 Marketing Painpoints). Tough cookie again. Not really, not by a longshot. Not possessing a digital skillset puts many marketing professionals out of the startup marketing game of identifying or satisfying customer requirements.

Most startup teams are growth marketers are very technology oriented and growth hackers born out of engineering don’t really possess basic marketing skills. These skills should not be confused with the knowledge you gain by being a consumer yourself, but the skills of carrying meaningful research, discovering consumer insights and creating and delivering persuasive messaging. If you can’t explain why you bought that iPhone 6, why you really-really want that Oculus Rift besides it being “cool” or what is the core trend behind hipster coffee shops, then there is a chance you lack the knowledge and skills a marketing professional might have.

Its hard to calling anybody who doesn’t know anything about marketing a “growth hacker” same as I would object to calling anybody a “marketing professional” if they know nothing about digital marketing. So why don’t we call growth hacking a set of techniques employed by both the professionals and the amateurs alike with the degree of success depending on the type of innovation marketed.

Is Content Marketing for Obsolete Brands?

Your product was the the next big thing to hit the store shelves, it still is the greatest thing ever and quite possibly the last thing consumers ever need to buy to reach the shopping nirvana. Every ad you publish shows all those happy consumers enjoying the product and creating meaning in their their lives by just adding your brand to it.

But sales numbers are decreasing, consumers not really responding to ads any more and it must be all because the agency doing your marketing is not really that brilliant. Should replace that marketing manager also as you obviously don’t reach your core audience with a strong enough message or they’ve chosen the wrong strategy. But wait, before you go on that route, you probably read somewhere that every business is apparently a publishing business nowadays.  At least that’s what most marketing conferences, consultants and agencies keep telling business owners. Create content or become obsolete.

Havas Media carries out a Meaningful Brands annual global survey with 60 000 respondents, which seems complex, but at the core of it comes down to a very simple question for the respondents – Would you care if the brand disappeared tomorrow? – asked across both developing and mature markets, young and old, rich and poor and the happy and not so happy nations.  Havas includes brands which make at least some effort to reach a wider audience making the results even more interesting. Year after year, about 70% of the brands currently advertised are meaningless to most. In reality consumers don’t really care if they wake up tomorrow and there is no Pepsi, Coca-Cola or Sony around. There are still smiles without Coke and ways to be entertained without Sony around.

A total of $600 Billion (eMarketer) is spent on the global advertising market creating that meaning out of which $420 Billion is not really creating any. In comparison $100 billion was spent on curing cancer in 2014 (imsHealth). As a brand owner, one would love to know the WHY behind this. If brands and businesses keep operating, but fail to resonate with the customer in any way, then what needs to change?  And how do we change that?

Content Marketing. Yes! Yes! Yes! If our core business itself fails to create meaning for human beings, why don’t we create a side business or a separate unit for creating meaning to it. If we can no longer get people to buy a sugary drink, then why don’t we package it with music (see Pepsi). If our core product is really just a mortgage, why don’t we help people find homes with content? And if our core product is an energy drink….

From one outdated brand and product to another, we see the same thing happening – core product worthless, but let’s create that customer value by adding content. Not only will content marketing help us become relevant, more engaging and more hip, it will probably lower cholesterol and help us keep in shape during all that also.  When in the beginning of the 60s, the age of Mad Men, marketers started adding emotion to meaningless every day products to stand out; today we package it with even more worlds addressing any possible use case scenario in any possible touchpoint.

Here’s a thought: how about we focus on what is actually creating value, and try to capture that value instead of building content on outdated products and business models. So what would this mean in practice for the established brands?  All of them face some form of disruption (for lack of a better word):

  • Red Bull: The business of energy drinks. Replaced by mainly by sleep or any other sugary drink
  • Adobe: The business of making things look pretty. Replaced by templates and photo banks
  • Dell: The business of building enterprise and consumer devices. Replaced by cloud services and better design.

So going out of business or going to publishing? Some brands are actually launching their own film production houses (Red Bull Media House, licensing business) other facing disruption their own journals (Dell Tech Page One, subscription future?), Adobe ( These journals exist for the mere fact that the core business itself is no longer meaningful for the consumer, nor will it most likely become meaningful in the foreseeable future.

The start-ups entering the field have a huge advantage over the incumbents. By not having a staff of 15 000 people one can truly focus on why human beings use these technologies and find more elegant solutions to those problems. Let’s take Adobe for example. In order for one to produce a great piece of advertising, a website, a video or any other content one needs at least three things: skills, knowledge and tools. So how does content fit into this? Apparently perfectly. Let’s look at Adobe from this perspective from a customer story.

The segment:Marketing Manager
The pain:Producing weekly reports

The story: Chris is 35; he’s been born a few years too late to be considered the Y generation (digital native). He got an MBA from a reputable school and now workings as a CMO in a fashion business based in NYC. Every week he needs to present results the board of the small company and needs a quick and efficient solution for this. He has Google Analytics running on her website, but relies on the agency skills to use it and his knowledge of digital is fading every day.

The fear: Being replaced by more digital savvy people

It’s pretty apparent, that in his case, Adobe content gate will help him stay competitive on knowledge (free), Adobe Analytics on tools ($5000 USD/month), but he still lacks the analytical and technical skills to use the software. however addresses that gap perfectly, by just paying $19.95 a month and spending a few hours of watching videos and trying them out on his software.

Let’s take another random example

The segment: Future Working Mom
The pain: Image processing workflow

The story: Once Jennifer (28) became pregnant, they instantly bought a new DSLR camera to capture the important life moments following. She managed to become acquainted with the camera during her time at home, but the pictures never looked as quite as impressive as she feels about her son. But she feels she needs to keep capturing every moment as her child is growing and she will soon be replaced by a nanny.

The fear: Missing out on her child growing up

Jennifer can get the tools from Canon ($450 camera) and Adobe by just signing up for the creative cloud $11.99 Photography edition getting the latest Lightroom and Photoshop. She can even sign up for for the skills, but still lacks the knowledge of photography, which could be obtained by participating in some photography classes in a nearby studio (~$300)

In the case of the marketing manager, no single component in this value chain will address the actual fear that he has. While Adobe is producing content (e.g. building a world of knowledge around their products) it is still a desperate attempt to become relevant for the Chris. His true fear could be addressed by a small start-up who provides a very simple and intuitive proprietary dashboarding platform for a small monthly fee (e.g. MixPanel). Jennifer’s true fears of missing out could be addressed by a centrally used private web service diary with photo and video storage capability used by every nanny and family member (e.g. BalloonBalloon). Both of these would make any content or products produced by Adobe irrelevant for both segments.

Meaningful businesses start from exactly that, by providing a product that adds value to our daily lives. The advertising and brand content we create around it will support it, but never replace it. Yellow pages was once a great piece of content to support the landline calling business. Please try focus on building more relevant products not content. If you do need content marketing to sell your products, you’re obsolete already.

Where technology and marketing meets useless