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Digital marketing vs growth marketing

by Elsie Muñoz C.

The marketing world is full of buzzwords, and the new popular term is “growth marketing”. In many cases, people use it to replace digital marketing, because it sounds like more hype. But are they the same?

To make your decision easier, regarding what approach is the best for your organization, I will define these two terms and get a little deeper into which approach is better.


What is digital marketing?


First, let’s start defining what is marketing. According to the American Marketing Association (AMA) marketing is 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. (Approved 2017)

Digital marketing is all the technics and actions implemented to promote and commercialize a product or service using online mediums, such as websites, blogs, social media networks, messaging apps, video platforms, and so much more.

Marketing enables the interchange of value between different parties, these activities could be done in more traditional mediums such as billboards and printed media, or on the Internet.


Some of the most common marketing tactics implemented online are:

  • Email marketing
  • Social media marketing
  • Online advertising
  • Inbound marketing
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO)


What is growth marketing?


Growth marketing is a methodology that uses the base of the scientific method to help a business achieve determined goals, using different types of instruments, such as analysis, technology, and marketing.

In growth marketing, we divide the business into smaller pieces and focus the attention on improving the worst-performing piece of the business. Within that poorly performing piece, we will try to understand what is holding back a company’s growth and come up with new ideas to grow the business.


The term was coined in 2010 by Sean Ellis. He felt his job at a Silicon Valley startup differed from what traditional marketers did. Therefore he started using the term ‘growth hacker. If you want to learn more about the origin of growth marketing or growth hacking, you can read this article: What’s growth marketing, and how does it helps your business?



Digital marketing vs growth marketing


Growth marketing is broader than digital marketing. Growth marketing has a framework that helps the business focus on only measurable objectives, and all the initiatives the business does are towards that major goal. So here there is no space for vanity metrics, such as the number of followers or the reach of a social media post. Here what is important is that if the business is growing, gaining enough qualified leads to convert them into clients, if the investment in marketing is worth it, and the value generated is higher than the investment.

In growth, marketing decisions are made based on data. First, you need to understand where stands your business in terms of marketing. What you have done so far, what worked, what didn’t work, and why? Find out where are your bottlenecks in terms of the customer journey, the performance of your digital assets, your website, social media profiles, and more.


Then you need to research what the industry is doing to tackle these obstacles and look for best practices in other industries and the trends of the market. With that information, you can define your business objectives, and develop a marketing strategic plan, to accomplish this goal.


So far, this is more or less what a typical marketing agency does, and now comes the growth part. In the strategic marketing plan, we focus not on the marketing methodology, inbound or outbound, digital or not, we focus on what’s best for the business. We come up with strategies that help to achieve the objectives, if we find out that standing up in a corner giving away flyers, is the best marketing strategy for the business, that’s exactly what we are going to do.


Here is the tricky part, the strategic plan, it’s not proven yet. We believe this is the way to go, but we know that to make sure it is, we have to test it. There is no shortcut here. Why? Because circumstances change, the economy changes, and after a pandemic, you know the rest.


We are going to implement the marketing actions, through experiments, and validate this. After we gather all these data, then we can increase the budget for this campaign, and take other paths as the conclusions of these experiments lead to that.


These are a continuous process. We cannot be satisfied with that, we have to be permanently testing, in communication with the market, and monitoring the campaigns and trends. Because as I mentioned before, everything changes so fast that it is naïve to believe that the marketing tactics we validated 3-6 months ago will be performing well in the future.


And the winner is…


Growth marketing. With a digital marketing approach, you just implement tactics, there is no clear path or goal. So you can have some wins, but you are not going to grow as much as your business can, because you are not focusing all your energy on what matters.


In the case of the different marketing methodologies, we prefer to be agnostic. That means that we are not pro inbound marketing or outbound marketing, we prefer to select what’s best for the business, according to its objectives, resources, and growth.

The Author

Elsie Muñoz C.

I’m passionate about marketing. For 8 years I have been working on consultancy and training in digital marketing. I love sharing my experiences and learning with others. My specialty is the creation of comprehensive marketing strategies to help companies grow.


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