Growth marketing (or growth hacking) for international companies

Competing and being successful in the international business landscape is not easy. Every year the competition grows, while marketing trends and customer preferences keep changing. How do you stand out from the competition? How do you make sure that you spend your marketing budget in a way that enables your company’s success?

Growth marketing (also often referred to as growth hacking) is the answer to this important question. It is a popular method combining online marketing and lean startup principles. Growth marketing is like marketing 2.0, optimised for and adjusted to the needs and speed of the modern digital and tech-driven age.

What is growth marketing? How does it differ from traditional marketing strategies? And how do you design, implement and execute a successful growth marketing strategy? Read all about it in this “Ultimate guide to growth marketing for international companies”!

What is growth marketing?

Before we delve deeper, we have to define what growth marketing actually entails. Everybody wants to be a growth hacker these days, but not every marketeer or company properly understands the key elements and scope of the term. 

The term “growth hacker” was coined by entrepreneur and startup advisor Sean Ellis in 2010. In time, many marketing experts started to prefer and use the more favourable term “growth marketeer” to illustrate that growth marketing is not a set of tips and tricks, but rather a systematic approach to finding opportunities for sustainable commercial growth. Growth marketing can be seen as a subfield of marketing specifically aimed at achieving rapid growth. The method is both a process as well as a broad and varied set of generic and specific cross-disciplinary skills. Growth marketing builds on existing and traditional marketing tactics, but it adds extra layers to the process. 

Examples of commonly growth marketing tactics are:

  • A/B testing to improve customer journeys and test various marketing strategies alongside each other.
  • Creating and posting value-additive content, such as inspiring or informative blog articles, podcasts, infographics, whitepapers and vlogs. 
  • Data-driven marketing campaigns. These allow you to personalise ads and product suggestions and tailor them to the needs and preferences of your potential customers.
  • SEO and SEA optimisation (search word analysis, strategically using important keywords on your website and in your content streams) to improve your company’s visibility on the internet.
  • Technical analysis of all the aspects that build the user’s experience.  

The insights gained from the aforementioned tactics are quickly implemented in order to achieve robust and sustainable growth. You could say that growth marketing breaks down the walls between data analysis, coding and conventional marketing. Growth marketing has a more experimental, data-driven and innovative character than most traditional marketing methods and strategies. 

It aims to add value to the entire marketing funnel (traditional marketing usually focuses on attracting traffic to the top of your sales funnel) by attracting users, engaging potential customers, retaining them and, in time,  turning them into loyal advocates for your brand, services and products. While the exact methods vary from company to company and from one industry to the next, the common denominator is always growth.

The main goals of growth marketing

The concept of growth marketing is geared towards achieving a number of important commercial goals. Let’s take a closer look at them.

Boosting traffic

Boosting traffic numbers is an important element and goal of growth marketing. This can be done in a variety of ways. To improve organic traffic numbers, growth marketing focuses on all the things that will give you a higher ranking in the important search engines (mainly Google, but  to a somewhat lesser degree, Yahoo! and Bing). Sharing quality content, link building and thorough keyword research are ways to achieve this. 

Growth marketing also pays attention to paid traffic. This consists of the users who discover your site or online store via your advertising channels. Another source of traffic worth considering is referral traffic (social media traffic, people who  find you via other sites linking to your content).

Getting leads and increasing conversion rates

Once you have built a steady stream of traffic, growth hacking should be all about getting leads and improving conversion rates. After all, hordes of (new) visitors don’t mean a lot if you aren’t able to convert them into leads and new users. The key to lead generation and conversion rate optimisation? Eliminate drop-offs and bounce ratios and improve landing page conversion rates, but also produce quality content that people actually want to read.

Retaining customers

Retaining customers is another major goal of growth marketing. You can do this by reducing churn (users who sign up for your service but eventually stop using it), increasing the average order value, and boosting the lifetime value of your customers.

Building a strong and recognisable brand

The ultimate goal and desired end result of growth marketing? Turning your company into a trusted, reliable and sought-after brand that is synonymous with quality in your particular industry or market niche. 

The growth marketing process: a step-by-step guide

Although the exact shape that growth marketing takes can vary per industry, organisation or even product or service, it is a step-by-step process that follows a certain methodology. Time to dissect the growth marketing process.

Step 1: Finding the right product-market or service-market fit

A fast-paced commercial growth process is only realisable if you find the right match between your product or service and the market. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to invest heaps of money and many hours of manpower in growth marketing if you’re unsure whether people are interested in your product or service. Delivering the right product or service to the right market and building a sizable audience should be the first concerns of a growth marketing team. 

This means figuring out who your (possible) customers are, understanding their needs, and building a fantastic product or developing a service that will transform these early adopters into your first ambassadors. There are several ways to find the ideal product-market fit. Questionnaires, market research, and the Brian Balfour Trifecta Approach are a couple of examples. Also realise that marketing is partially location- and culture-specific. A tone of voice and theme that works in Europe and the United States might not land that well in Japan or China. 

Step 2: Implementing the growth marketing process in your organisation

You have found the right product-market fit and know the growth potential is there. Now you need everyone to climb aboard the growth marketing train. Growth marketing can only be successful if the method, necessary skills and mentality are embedded in your company’s DNA. 

There are several tools and methods that make growth marketing implementation a lot easier. These are:

  • The business model canvas. This is a visual chart consisting of elements that describe a company’s or product’s value proposition, infrastructure, customers, and finances. It can help you onboard new people and give employees a basic understanding of your growth marketing strategy.
  • The value proposition canvas is usually integrated in the business model canvas and digs a little deeper. The value proposition canvas profiles your (potential) customer and shows you how to shape a product or service to the customer’s desires and needs.
  • Personas are fictional individuals modelled after your real-life target audience. They can grant you quick insights into the profile, desires, hobbies, demographics and buying preferences of your potential customers in the real world. The objective of creating personas? Put yourself in your customers’ shoes, try to make a mental representation of their way of thinking and behaving, and find a solution to their problems. Doing this makes it much easier to sell your products because you’ll know what your target audience is looking for.
  • The pirate funnel is a helpful customer-lifecycle framework invented by Dave McClure. You can use it to map out and optimise your marketing funnel. The pirate funnel focuses on the precise actions that customers take in their buying journey. It also looks at the flexibility of the funnel (the order of the funnel often depends on the business or product type) and funnel segmentation.
  • The one metric that matters (OMTM) is your main priority, the one metric you focus on above everything else. Defining an OMTM makes it easier to design and carry out meaningful growth marketing experiments. 

Step 3: Set up your growth experiments (The GROWS process)

Now that you have gotten to know your target audience and core metrics, and have prepared your organisation for the growth hacking process, it’s time to start experimenting. Growth marketing experiments usually follow the GROWS structure.

Gather ideas (G)

Every good experiment starts with a luminous idea. The first phase of the GROWS process is all about gathering ideas. Observe the market, do quantitative (analytics, heatmaps) and qualitative (surveys, customer feedback, usability testing) research to peek inside your customers’ minds, and design useful tests and experiments. You can rank ideas with PIE prioritisation factors: potential of success, impact if successful, and ease/cost.  

Rank ideas (R)

You should now have an impressive list or backlog of ideas. Great! But before you bring ideas to the table in your “sprint meetings”, you should score ideas to explore their feasibility. Special project management software, several models, and industry benchmarks can ease up this process by providing the right frameworks. It is often wise to start with “low-hanging fruits” (optimisation ideas that are easy to carry out) and move on to the more complex high-impact ideas (which usually require more work) at a later stage. 

Outline experiments (O)

Have you successfully identified a couple of ideas that you want to translate into specific experiments during your sprint meeting? The next step is organising your team to properly design the experiments. Focus on “quick and dirty” experiments rather than perfect and complex ones. The first concern is to find out if an experiment works. If so, you can always perfect it along the way. 

Also be sure to design a proper role-based collaboration system that allows your growth marketing team(s) to achieve the best possible results. A process-driven growth lead, a fast and knowledgeable developer, a creative UI/UX designer, and a skilled data analyst are all important players in a dedicated growth marketing team.

Work, work, work (W)

After you have finished the design of your experiment(s), it’s time to get to work. Efficiency is key in this phase of the growth marketing process. Be sure to do the 20% of the work that produces 80% of the results. Automation can help you achieve this and allows you to work smarter instead of harder. Agile and Scrum are frameworks that support the smart and flexible processes that match perfectly with the experimental, data-driven and evidence-based nature of growth marketing.

Try to test one thing at a time. The more variables you have in one experiment, the less meaningful your results will be. For example, if you test one landing page design against a completely different landing page without any experiments in between, your results won’t tell you much about what actually worked in that experiment.

Study the outcome (S)

Always properly analyse the outcomes of an experiment. After you have tried one or more solutions, it’s time to see if they deliver the desired and expected results. Does your conversion rate improve if you give people a free download or trial of your product? Do people spend more time on your website after you have sent them daily educational emails? And has rearranging certain landing pages and buttons on your website reduced bounce percentages? You can use growth experiment cards or BI tools to track down and visualise if an experiment was a failure or a huge success.

Make sure to always follow up on the outcome of an experiment. Was the experiment a dud? Then put your second-best experiment idea to the test. If your first go was successful, make sure that the new insight is being adopted in your business. Let the development team implement the full improvement, then spread the knowledge of what works to all of your colleagues! Sharing and systemising your learning is essential for growth marketing success. Sharing information internally is a great way to both encourage transparency and generate feedback, allowing you to build upon a long and rock-solid history of experimentation. 

Also realise that the GROWS process has a continuous nature. This means that you have to keep repeating it to achieve maximum success, since every experiment will uncover new bottlenecks and potential for improvement. 

The essential traits of a growth marketing mindset

Building a growth marketing culture requires a certain mindset. What are the necessary traits that a growth marketer has to possess if he/she wants to make the most out of this marketing strategy?

A data-driven approach to marketing

A good growth marketer doesn’t rely on instinct and gut feelings. His/her decisions are mainly based on experimental data and evidence-based research. He/she knows that using data improves effectiveness. A growth hacker also knows how to deal with concepts, techniques and tracking tools, such as Google Analytics, Hotjar, conversion rate optimisation, marketing AI and web scraping. 

Always looking for improvement

Growth marketers know that there are always new bottlenecks and problems to tackle if you want to achieve maximum growth and stay ahead of the competition. He/she realises that growth hacking is a continuous and pretty much never-ending process. On a personal level, growth hackers have to display a high level of “learnability”. Google and books are their best friends when they don’t know the answer to a question. They are also willing to learn about new things that happen in the market all the time.

A broad skill set

A growth hacker should possess a broad skill set. Knowledge of data management is a necessary asset since data analysis is essential for finding problems and identifying possible solutions. A growth hacker also needs creativity and the technical skills (handling, analysing and presenting data, programming) required to implement theoretical solutions in the real world of business and digital marketing.

Long-term focus

Traditional marketers are often predominantly occupied with current and day-to-day marketing and branding efforts. A growth marketer has a stronger focus on next-growth opportunities. This means that he/she uses the entire funnel, whereas the efforts of traditional marketers are mostly aimed at awareness and acquisition. 


A growth hacker is involved in the product or service he/she promotes, especially because he/she also has to pay attention to the retention of active customers.

The benefits of growth marketing

Growth marketing done well has several short-term and long-term business benefits. Let’s take a look at the most important ones.

You learn to understand your audience

Growth marketing helps you to understand your audience and allows you to reach the people who matter most from your specific business perspective. The more you know about your audience, the better you can serve them with the right information, tailor-made offers and product suggestions, and interesting and enticing content.

You build your brand

Growth hacking isn’t about getting the biggest number of prospects into your funnel at record speed. Instead, it focuses on steadily increasing the reach of your brand. Once consistent testing, thorough data research and the continuous building on success from the past have cemented your brand identity, word-of-mouth marketing kicks in. In this stage of the growth journey, your brand often builds itself. 

Your SEO snowballs

In the SEO department, good growth hacking creates a snowball effect. Continuous efforts and research greatly improve your SEO rankings and will, over time, make your content, products, services and digital channels algorithm-friendly. 

You can enhance existing campaigns

Growth marketing allows you to take full advantage of the leads acquired from your existing campaigns by following them on the social media platforms or exploring new ways of gathering additional information on their buying habits.

You can attract new customers

Growth hacking can bring different types of profiles together. This often leads to new and innovative solutions that allow you to reach new target audiences. If you play the growth game well, these will eventually become new customers. 

Classic examples of growth hacking

Many well-known companies and innovative startups have been hugely successful in developing and implementing growth marketing strategies. Time to look at a couple of inspiring examples.

  • Dropbox

Dropbox significantly expanded its customer base by using a referral programme that allowed customers to operate as acquisition channels. The cloud-based file hosting service offered users 250 MB of extra storage space for every friend they brought in as a new user. Participants could easily invite friends via Facebook or Twitter, or import email contacts to send them an automatic invitation. 

  • Hotmail

Hotmail was the world’s first free email provider. At the bottom of all the emails from its users, Hotmail added the phrase “P.s. I love you” with a link to its own website. The moment recipients visited the website and saw that Hotmail was free, most of them immediately switched to the service.

  • Airbnb

Airbnb, which is currently the biggest global online marketplace for lodging, vacation rentals, homestays and tourism activities, used Craigslist in its early years. Back then, Craigslist was the number one forum for renting a (holiday) home. Airbnb began to place its own offers on Craigslist with a link to its own platform for potential tenants who sought additional information. This way, the company managed to attract its launching customers from Craigslist but also kept people interested in Airbnb.

Achieve continuous international growth, too!

At first glance, achieving growth can appear to be a daunting task. You might think that building and scaling a product or service from scratch requires the help of huge teams and expensive marketing gurus. This guide proves the opposite: with the right approach and dedication, growth marketing provides excellent branding opportunities for virtually every company.

Silkdrive supports corporates, scaleups and startups to expand internationally through means of localised digital growth marketing. We support European companies that want to expand in the fast-growing markets in Asia (China, Japan) and vice versa. Do you want to achieve continuous growth? And could you use the services of a partner that helps you develop and implement localised growth marketing strategies? Then don’t hesitate to contact us!