The Dark Side of Growth Marketing

July 26, 2018

By Chris Franks

The Dark Side of Growth Marketing

As a growth marketing agency, CleverFunnel invests a lot of page space describing the benefits that growth marketing can have for companies. Is it a silver bullet? I mean, maybe, but there are plenty of other considerations. What also matters is the gun firing the aforementioned silver bullet, or the hand pulling the trigger of that gun.

At its heart, growth marketing is simply a framework to build a marketing strategy around, but as “growth” becomes more and more popular, you’ll find just about any old digital marketing agency claiming to be a growth agency, despite returning to the tired practices and strategies digital marketers have been relying on for decades.

The world is a dangerous place, especially when deciding who to trust your hard-earned marketing budget with, especially since any marketer with a flashy suit and a copy of The Lean Startup on his eReader can claim to be a growth marketer.

I’ll put this simply: while growth marketing is a solid framework to build an effective marketing strategy around, it is not without its own share of pitfalls. Marketers jumping headfirst into growth marketing have a tendency to make moxy-induced decisions that end up causing more harm than good. If you’re thinking about growth marketing, here’s some of the more common pitfalls to be mindful of.

Conflating Growth Hacking with Growth Marketing

Something I find very fascinating is the internet’s immense fascination with the term “hacking.” Perhaps this phrase is dying out, but there was a time where every single piece of shit listacle that Buzzfeed came out with was a collection of “hacks.” “Five Hacks to Level Up Your Career.” “5 Battery Hacks to Supercharge Your Life.” “5 Avocado Hacks to Spice Up Breakfast.” Excuse me, avocado hack? Dumbass, that’s called a recipe.

Do you remember when “growth hacking” was at the center of every conversation about marketing? Around 2007, any conversation with young and hip Bay Area marketers centered around the virtues of growth hacking nonstop, in-between nosefulls of cocaine. Truly, it was a high-energy, high-speed marketing strategy that mirrored the way most coastal startups developed: either we make it big in 2 months, or everyone is out on their ass.

The major problem with “Growth Hacking” lies in its longevity, or lack thereof. By design, a growth hack is not a scalable strategy that a growth-stage company can return to as they grow up. Sure, several companies got HUGE off of the principles of growth hacking – DropBox and AirBnB, for example – but their early wins simply gave them the runway to develop a longer-term strategy.

Following the Wrong Path

As a growth marketing agency, we move fast. As in, it’s not unusual for us to be testing creative and messaging on Monday, and deploying the winning copy in a marketing email by Friday. In order to exist as a growth agency, you have to be fast. You have to fail fast, you have to iterate fast, and you have to test fast. For many growth-stage companies, the clock is ticking. If you can’t deliver an MVP product and asses if there’s a product market fit, you risk total failure. On the flip side, if we can’t figure out how to position your product in the market ASAP, you are missing out on potential revenue, and setting yourself for some tough questions from investors and/or a tough spot for cash flow.

Wait, where am I going?

In order to move fast, a growth agency’s testing must be rigorous. There must be a method to the madness. But what happens when a growth marketer’s method is flawed? What happens when, in the hustle of finding the right answers, they follow the wrong thread? Did this piece of copy actually perform better, or is it simply what the client wants us to test?

Moving fast can also sometimes mean moving quickly in the wrong direction. How do you combat this? Now, this may sound cliche, but the answer is “Slow down.” Go back to the #1 goal you’re trying to solve with any marketing campaign and reevaluate the process to make sure you’re still tracking towards that. It’s easy for growth-stage companies to get shiny object syndrome and deviate from a plan or to “try” something new while losing sight of the main objective. Here are a few questions to ask yourself as you assess any and all marketing strategies:

  • How do you decide your winning strategy?
  • Is the method sound? Are you actually following any method?
  • If not, why not, and how can you standardize and justify any marketing decision?

Ivan, my friend and comrade here at CleverFunnel has a great saying. “There’s never enough time to do it right, but always enough time to do it over.”

Mo Data, Mo Problems

At the heart of growth marketing is the reliance on clear, actionable data. We make decisions based solely on what the numbers tell us, not on the hunches that we may have or anything else. It’s either, have the data to justify the strategy, or get out of my face with that shit.

This can sometimes lead to a phenomenon that I like to call “data paralysis.” Once you are actually paying attention to the data, rather than just throwing a bunch of dumb social media posts together and calling that marketing, it can be a bit overwhelming. How do you decide what is worth paying attention to, and what is noise?


While 100 data analysts will give you 100 different answers to the question of “What data is important,” start with the end in mind. What is the goal? What are we trying to learn? For example, if we are comparing two different pieces of ad copy on AdWords, what metric should we be paying attention to? Well, I care a lot about clicks here, but I mostly care about the percentage of people clicking, so it would seem likely that I would most likely prioritize CTR when comparing ads, right? Sort of. Starting with the goal in mind, I care the most about if these ads are leading people to convert. If an ad, for example, has a higher click-through rate, but a significantly lower conversion count, could it be that the ad that people are clicking on more is giving people false expectations about what they find on the landing page? Do I need to rewrite my ad, or reconsider my offer/design on the landing page?

So much data, so many questions.

We wouldn’t be a Growth Marketing Agency if we didn’t sincerely believe in the merits of the practice. Is it perfect? Nope. Will it work with every company? Definitely not. But to us, growth marketing, when implemented properly, can absolutely be beneficial for any company looking to actually grow. Keep an eye out for long-term strategy, develop and improve your method, and be thoughtful about your data. Sounds simple, right?