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Show Me: What Does Good Growth Marketing Look Like In 2018?

Aidan HornsbyLast Updated: October 26, 2018
Show Me Asher Bell Curve

Flow helps teams get work done. In our “Show Me” series, we profile the people, companies and teams successfully building and marketing products right now.

When a marketer uses the term “growth hacking” these days, do you have any idea what they’re talking about? Because we don’t.

Does it mean staying lean? Being data-driven? What exactly does being “obsessed” with growth mean? What business isn’t obsessed with growth?

Talk to Bell Curve’s Asher King Abramson, however, and the clouds begin to part a bit.

“The only silver bullet is: test methodically,” King Abramson tells us. “If I were to try to sum everything up, it would be that.”

“You probably hear a lot of advice like, ‘There’s no silver bullet in marketing. You just have to try everything.’ [But] the way that you try things is super important.”

Bell Curve, the ‘growth marketing’ agency where King Abramson is partner, has helped dozens of clients find new customers, given talks about growth at Google and Y Combinator, and also literally wrote the book on growth marketing.

We asked King Abramson to walk us through what the firm has learned, what exactly good growth marketing is, and why marketers shouldn’t ignore Bing.

Lesson #1: Get as specific as you can

Ask King Abramson what the first step is to cracking a client’s marketing problem, and he’ll tell you it’s all about getting specific.

“We try to drive at, specifically: what’s the urgent moment that people feel when they would want to use our products?” says King Abramson.

As an example, he brings up a Bell Curve client who helped engineers find jobs that better matched their values and lifestyles.

“We asked ourselves, ‘What’s the urgent moment that an engineer would want to search for a job based on [say] work-life balance?’”

“Maybe they just quit their job because they were at a company that they were overworked at. And they have literally left the door of the office, and they’ve shut it behind them, and they have just left.”

King Abramson says thinking this specifically about their customer’s problems helped Bell Curve think of a novel way of reaching those engineers: look up lists of companies infamous for bad work cultures, find people who work at those companies on Linkedin, and target them with ads.

“Digging into those sorts of moments and getting as specific as we can about that urgent moment of pain, where they go, ‘I need a new job and I need a better one.’ That’s what we try to narrow in on, and that informs everything: from the ad copy that we write, to the way that we’ll actually target ads.”

Lesson #2: Focus on customer pain

“Engineers: Take a 20% pay cut to spend a day/week working with the sales team. I did,” tweeted King Abramson a few months ago.

“One of the most useful/highest-impact things I’ve done for my career.”

When we asked King Abramson what exactly about embedding himself in a sales team was so rewarding, he told us it had everything to do with better understanding customer pain.

“One thing that we do when we write ad copy at Bell Curve is come up with a giant list of value propositions—how your product is better than anything else that’s already out there.”

“Thinking through what people say on sales calls, how you dig at the problems that they’re facing, the pain that they’re feeling, and the implications of that pain—and the benefits that they get from solving the problem they have—I found was huge [for] coming up with these value props.”

King Abramson, who is an engineer by training, says he wasn’t always aware of how valuable it is to hear customers describe their problems in their own words. Spending time in a sales environment helped him realize just how crucial that can be for an effective marketing operation.

“Even just [hearing] the back and forth, kind of conversational style of sales calls as well. To the point where [now] sometimes when we write copy, I’ll actually get Julian (my partner) on the phone and we’ll talk through—as if it was a sales call with a real customer—and write down verbatim what we’re saying in those calls.”

Show Me Growth Balloons Huh

Lesson #3: Be exhaustive in your search for potential channels

To describe the way Bell Curve does marketing, King Abramson will sometimes invoke the idea of “minimium viable marketing” (MMV) a play on minimum viable product.

Once you’ve identified your customer’s pain points, King Abramson says the best way to find your MMV is to start brainstorming and testing marketing channels.

How does Bell Curve know which channels to test?

“We actually have a giant list of every channel known to man, with the minimum budget required to test that channel,” says King Abramson.

“That’s how we prioritize. We go, ‘alright, it’s going to be this expensive. This is the highest leverage one to test,’ and we pick off the top.”

King Abramson says thinking this thoroughly about potential channels can help marketers think about low-cost channels off the beaten path.

“So for example, Bing is not that easy to run ads on at scale because a lot more people use Google than Bing. But it’s relatively cheap to test—also because people don’t use Bing as much.”

Lesson #4: Don’t be afraid to do sales

Many companies might get to this point—do a bit of research into customer pain and try out some marketing channels—and still feel stuck. What then?

To illustrate what troubleshooting looks like at Bell Curve, King Abramson brings up the case of former client Vanhawks, a manufacturer of high-end, high-tech, expensive bikes.

“We tried everything for them: nothing was working. Ads weren’t working on a whole bunch of different channels. We tried so many,” remember King Abramson.

“What ended up working for them [eventually] was a combination of a type of ad on Facebook called a ‘lead gen’ ad, where people fill out their information directly on the ad on Facebook.”

“We then took that ad [and] paired that with a Task Rabbit who delivered a bike to their office in person for them to do a demo ride. And that ended up being what drove growth for them.”

How did Bell Curve realize that it needed to physically deliver bikes to peoples’ doorsteps before customers would start buying them?

“We saw that a lot of people were clicking through the ad, getting to the landing page and then not doing anything from there. And we were going, ‘Okay, this is an indication that we need to build trust somehow.’”

“So we tried to brainstorm relatively low cost ways of turning it more into a sales funnel.”

The Van Hawks story is an extreme example, but it gets to King Abramson’s point: when things aren’t working and customer trust is on the line, marketers shouldn’t be afraid to get more sales-y.

“I mean sometimes it’s not that crazy, right? We’ve had other companies where the CEO gets on the phone with [the customer] for 15 minutes off a lead gen ad and that ends up being what works.”

“That lends itself much better for B2B SaaS companies.”

Lesson #5: Don’t count your chickens before the customer literally submits their credit card information

But what happens if multiple channels are working? What’s the ultimate test of a successful marketing channel then?

Is it more ad clicks? Increased engagement? More newsletter signups?

“So when you boil it all down, it comes down to whether people actually purchase or not—as in, they enter their credit card information and press submit at some point,” says King Abramson.

“And you have not validated your product—nor that it will grow—until people actually pay.”

King Abramson says there are some creative ways to do the ‘credit card test,’ even before you have a product ready to sell.

“One example would be: you set up a Shopify site that takes credit cards but automatically rejects the credit card after you you take the credit card. That’s how some startups will test their minimum viable marketing strategy.”

In a world where marketers have too many variables thrown at them—email signups, clicks, app installs, engagement, etc.—focusing on this final outcome can be a great way to refocus and cut through the noise.

“Otherwise you’re testing the wrong things, right? You’re paying money for people to install your app without actually buying. You’re testing that they’ll sign up for your newsletter.”

Experiment Money 1

King Abramson runs another one of Bell Curve’s experiments.

Lesson #6: Know your limit and spend within it

But what about channels that don’t work? How does Bell Curve decide exactly when it’s time to give up on an experiment? King Abramson says the agency has a formula ready:

“Take the cost of the product itself, and back out from the margins that you have to how much you could reliably make per item that you sell.”

“From that, you give yourself a little bit of an extra buffer that says, ‘Okay, if I can improve conversion on my website or if I can fix up and optimize, how much would I reasonably be willing to pay so that I break even so that I’m not spending more than I make?’”

Lesson #7: Look for ‘perfect audiences’

A lot of King Abramson’s advice has to do with solving problems, troubleshooting, and trying to figure out what to do when things aren’t going well.

But what about when things are going well? What does the best-case scenario look like for a high functioning growth marketing strategy?

“We had a client that had a WordPress plugin that you could drop on your website which let people subscribe to your newsletter super easily. That was the product,” King Abramson recalls.

“[And] if you looked at every competing WordPress plugin out there, they were just horrible quality. They were hard to use, design was poor, and there weren’t many ways to customize.”

King Abramson says the agency tried to dig as deeply and specifically as it could into who was using competing apps, and who could potentially switch to their client’s app. That gave them an idea:

“We found a way to scrape the html of every WordPress blog looking for indicators that they were using one of these competing plugins.”

“We then cross-referenced that using Clearbit and WhoIs data to figure out who the blog owner was and what their email address was. Then we sent them a template email that said, ‘Hey, I saw you were using competitor X. We’re better for Y and Z reasons. You should use us,’ basically.”

“That drove an absurd number of sales in a couple months for them, and that was one of our biggest wins.”

King Abramson refers to this kind of perfect customer-product matchmaking as finding a “perfect audience” for a product, and the term gets to the core of what Bell Curve is trying to do: find customers for their clients as precisely and efficiently as possible.

“When I talk about ‘perfect audience,’ it’s really digging into who is feeling the pain, and most urgently, if we can.”