Chapter 13: Think Agile & Lean

The lean mindset will give you a systems view of things and eliminate waste while the agile mindset will make you execute in shorter cycles to deliver more value faster. Both of these are complementary mindsets and hence clubbed together as one.

With the lean mindset, we take a systems view of things and focus on eliminating waste from our growth marketing experiments, and with the agile mindset, we focus on delivering more value to our target audience faster by executing our marketing experiments in shorter cycles.

lean and agile marketing

How to build this mindset:

  • Start looking at everything as a system and find opportunities to eliminate waste to build the lean mindset.
  • Start ideating small implementations to deliver the most value in a shorter time to build an agile mindset.

Both of these are complementary mindsets and hence often clubbed together as one when we discuss the mindsets required for a growth marketer.

Now that you understand both lean and agile, and also the major difference between both these principles, let’s deep dive into more specific differences that’ll make it clear how you can apply these principles to your growth marketing experiments and process.

While the title of the post mentioned the ‘Differences between lean and agile’, I want you to think of these principles as best friends in how they can improve our campaigns. So, now we’re going to shift our way of thinking and see how they work together so well:

How lean and agile complement each other

  1. While lean focuses on the marketing process, agile also includes the end-user.
  2. Lean helps us reduce waste within our marketing system, agile helps us reduce uncertainty by testing delivery faster.
  3. Lean helps us cut costs of the system itself, and with agile, we can avoid costs by avoiding heavy budgets before testing the market.
  4. You can use lean to reduce waste in a campaign you’re already working on for a long time, while you should use agile to try new experiments you haven’t tested before.
  5. Lean focuses on improving the system as a whole and agile focuses on letting the target audience decide how the execution should progress.

Those are the key ways in which both principles differ. Now, since we’re growth marketers, we must get our hands dirty to really understand what’s happening here!

So let’s consider a real business situation and a growth marketing experiment and apply both lean and agile to this marketing experiment together.

Lean and Agile In A Real Marketing Example

You are a growth marketer. You’ve got a new client for growth consulting. Your client is a SaaS company that lets their customers invest in big real estate deals by investing very small amounts – like a Kickstarter for real estate.

Here’s what you do:

You ideate an experiment where you’d build a marketing funnel that’ll generate traffic via Facebook Ads to a landing page, register the leads to an automated email drip campaign explaining the real estate market and how micro-investing can get big property deals to anyone including college students, and then you will call them to sell them your investment plan.

How to apply ‘agile’ to this real marketing situation

You realize while you can set up the landing page pretty quickly by using a proven template that has worked for you before, but creating the 7 email drip sequence might take a long time.

So you decide to set up the ads and landing page, and the first 2 emailers of the sequence and test run it with a small budget of $10 on Facebook. Now, you will have data from 100 people if they really click through and sign up and open your first 2 emails.

And as they sign up, you can even start adding the next emails to your sequence before they get to the 2nd one as now you’ll have already tested the offer by delivering it to your audience faster.

Congratulations – You just applied agile principles to your growth marketing successfully. And you can do this for all your growth marketing experiments. I take the example of Ad funnels as most of you will understand it easily.

You can also start to see how agile in software development works and how we apply it to marketing in the above example.

How to apply ‘lean’ to this real marketing situation

Your agile marketing experiment was a success! You’re now getting a lot of leads from the email drip and your sales team is calling the leads. Like any sales funnel, a few people are interested in your offer out of all the calls, and this is what a funnel should be like.

However, your sales team is also your account management team and now, they have less time to call the actual customers. This means you add a few more people to the team to increase the call volume.

But wait! Then, you meet Mr. Lean!

So you “think lean” and come up with a better solution: You apply the soft sell and the hard sell within the email drip sequence that’s already going out to the leads. And you keep only the final follow up conversation for the call.

Since the audience is already engaged with your funnel, you set up rules to send the sales pitch to those you’ve opened your emails, you sit back and relax!

Congratulations – You just applied lean to eliminate waste, save resources, and cut costs in this campaign (system).

So that’s how you really apply agile and lean to your marketing and how both principles differ and also complement each other so well.

Chapter 12: Trust the Process

One common myth about growth is that it seems to be promoted as “all about the hacks”. There are often case studies published of startups achieving growth from one specific hack.

This presents a very distorted image of what’s really happening. Presenting growth case studies in this way might be good for click-throughs but hides the process the startup team has really followed to get there.

As we’ve already seen in Chapter 3, The process involves 4 stages:

  1. PHASE 1: Research Phase
  2. PHASE 2: Ideation Phase
  3. PHASE 3: Experimentation Phase
  4. PHASE 4: Integration Phase

This means, that to reach any level of growth, a startup team much:

  1. Gather a lot of data
  2. Target metrics that really matter
  3. Generate a lot of ideas to improve the metric
  4. Fail multiple times in the process of experimentation
  5. Deploy various tools and resources to implement the experiments
  6. Try out various marketing “hacks”, tools, workflows, to find what fits the process the best.
  7. Upgrade and change the hacks, tools, and workflows based on the evolution of the campaigns.

The only thing that doesn’t change when we move from one startup to another and look at all their growth studies is the PROCESS.

That’s the common factor among all startups.

Those who followed the process, knowingly or unknowingly, got the growth they wanted.

Morever, there are many examples of “one-hack-wonder startups” that got some success with an experiment and could never repeat the results in future due to lack of process.

Most growth marketers don’t have a solid process they follow – and I mean even the most experienced ones. I’ve spoken to many of them personally.

These are the same marketers who say “growth marketing hacks” are short-lived which is 100% BS and I can tell you that because I focus on growth marketing process integration.

So now that we’ve established the importance of the process, let’s learn to build this as a mindset.

How to build this mindset:

  • Start by finding systems that have transformed many people or businesses and have proven to work for them
  • Once you’re sure you have a blueprint, stop thinking about new input or even process improvements (initially) and just stick to the process. This can be applied to your personal life, health goals, and any other activity.
  • For example, If you’d like to lose weight or gain muscle, you already know the process. You don’t need more information about it. You just need to trust the process and follow the steps and you’ll definitely get the results you want.
  • This will start making you more “process-oriented” which will help you build and scale growth campaigns with ease.

Chapter 11: Focus on your north star

You might be a perfectionist or something who gets into fixing every small issue they find. Or you might just have too much on your plate, trying to improve many things at the same time. Neither of these approaches is ideal.

If you really want to get into the mindset of a growth marketer, you must be able to focus (without getting distracted by issues and vanity metrics) on a single most important metric, called the north star metric or the OMTM (the one metric that matters)

Each growth experiment you design should have one focus metric you’re trying to improve.

Remember to keep the focus on the most important metric of your experiment rather than trying to improve everything with a single experiment.

You can adopt this mindset in life by narrowing down to the key aspects of life itself.

Here’s how to build this mindset:

  • Start by really writing down all the metrics that are important to you in all aspects of your life
  • Example: Think about “What is the most important metric to measure the quality of my friendships?”
  • OR “What is the most important use of my time right now?”
  • OR “What would I work on today if I could only work one day this week?”
  • This will start making you more focused as you go through life as well as through our growth marketing experiments.

You can also narrow down further by thinking:

  • What is the main goal of the next 30 minutes I spend?
  • What is the main goal of today’s workout session?
  • If I can improve any one thing about my relationship or friendship this month, what would it be?
  • What is the one thing I can improve to be a better friend/son/daughter/husband/wife this month?

Focusing on one thing at a time gives the right kind of time and energy to it as it deserves. This is why it’s important to choose the right metric to focus on.

You can also notice how, in the above examples, I’ve limited the time duration of tracking the metric by adding “this month” etc. This is to give a time-bound experimentation to improve the metric.

Thinking in time-bound, experimental loops, will also help you develop the mindset of a growth marketer.

In this chapter, we will limit our discussion to the mindset-building questions.

We will discuss more on what the right metrics are to measure for different startups and businesses in the further chapters in this book that deal with the growth marketing funnel and the growth marketing metrics.

Chapter 10: Always be Experimenting

If there’s one thing you should be doing all the time as a growth marketer or to become a better growth marketer, it is to experiment.

Experiments lead to failures (and some successes), and in either case, a lot of learnings! The growth experiment loop is the growth marketer’s biggest teacher.

Also remember, from a mindset-building perspective, that everything is just an experiment. This includes anything you do in your personal life as well – and life itself.

It’s good to plan your growth marketing ideas well but don’t get entangled in the brainstorming and frameworks too much because everything is an experiment and you can stop an experiment whenever you think it’s not working.

How to build this mindset:

  • Start thinking of small things you try as experiments and then apply them to bigger things
  • Example: Think about “Should I experiment with this new way of eating?” OR “Let’s try this new workout as an experiment today” OR “Let’s cook something new as an experiment today”.
  • Eventually, you’ll realize all of life is nothing but an experiment and you can try things out you always wanted to.

When you have a process for experimentation, you can easily repeat what works and scale what works the best.

This is the entire essence of growth in life and business.

The reason why I include the word “ALWAYS” in the chapter title and this mental model is because many entreprenuers and marketers stop experimenting when:

  1. They find something that works
  2. They get emotional about a channel
  3. They try to use the same strategy that worked for them in the past everywhere
  4. They get lazy once a process in place is working
  5. They don’t think it’s required to experiment once a sales funnel is automated
  6. They think they’ve tried everything
  7. They’ve failed in all the past experiments

Unfortunately, the last 2 are more common than the first 5. Nonetheless, All of the above points are a trap to keep you away from success.

Remember: You are ALWAYS just one experiment away from taking the business to the next level.

This is true all the time. You are just one experiment away right now to completely transforming your business or startup.

It’s just about trying different things and finding those winner experiments that will help you get there.

And apply this to life as well.

Just like an entrepreneur or marketer may stop experimenting due to all the above reasons I’ve listed, a regular human would stop experimenting way earlier once they’ve accepted the standard path of life provided by their peers and society as theirs.

Instead, experimenting different ways to living life and then pick the one that works the best for you.

Always be experimenting.

Chapter 9: Always Doubt the Default

Doubting the default is the first step to be able to think outside of the most common and saturated set of channels and marketing methods.

It is also a way to think offbeat and be able to come up with new ideas – for channels, growth hacks, platforms, and tools – outside of the default set of ways to do marketing.

How to build this mindset:

Start doubting the default way you do anything.

Apply this to personal life as much as to work and marketing experiments.

For Example: Think about “While most startups look for funding, is it really the right path for me? or “Is marriage really the best option for everyone?” or “Do we really need to go to an office to be able to work?”.

Doubt the default but don’t necessarily go against it – until you have sufficient data.

Make your decisions based on data after you’ve tested alternative ways of doing things.

How this mindset helps in growth marketing:

You must have heard that “marketers ruin everything”.

Most popular channels become expensive – as more budgets start flowing into the same limited channels.

High budget campaigns saturate audiences – as the same audience sees enough of a campaign.

Digital entrepreneurs and marketers copy and steal – and the users mostly understand the same content or service and can even identify marketing campaigns sales strategies after becoming used to them.

Most importantly, the most popular routes are often NOT the lowest cost and fastest.

Just by talking the alternative path, you might reach the top faster and with lower budgets in terms of time, money, and resources.

This is exactly what doubting the default allows you to go: it allows you to find alternative paths to your goal metrics.

Rather than following the same marketing strategy all other marketers are following, you can explore a better way to achieving business goals.

Chapter 8: The Growth Marketing Mindset

In Unit 2, we explored the growth marketing process.

To put the growth marketing process in place, we need a growth team with the ‘right mindset’.

In this chapter, we will define what the growth marketing mindset comprises of.

And it’s not just one mindset.

A lot of blogs and books talk about the “growth mindset” which should not be confused with the mindset needed for “growth marketing” or the “growth marketing mindset”.

While the growth mindset itself is a great way of thinking – which lets you believe that you can change and be dynamic in your talents, skills, way of thinking, and so on rather than being “fixed” in most things since birth.

However, the growth marketing mindset requires much more than that.

In fact, it’s a whole new way of thinking which can be developed by incorporating the following 6 brain tattoos:

  1. Always Doubt the Default
  2. Everything is an Experiment
  3. Focus on your North Star
  4. Trust the process
  5. Think Lean and Agile
  6. Embrace the unconventional

In the next 6 chapters, we will go through each of the above in detail.

I will also give you some questions to ask yourself to help develop this way of thinking.

The best way of develop a new mindset is to apply it in different areas of your life.

That’s the good thing about developing mindsets over learning tools and hacks.

A single new mindset will improve multiple areas of your life.

While learning and exploring tools and hacks are important, they’re only stable buildings when the foundational mindset is solid.

So let’s deep dive into each mindset one by one.

See you in the next chapter!

Chapter 7: The Integration Phase of Growth Marketing

Once the execution phase is complete, we will have data and learnings to move to the next steps of the growth experiments.

The execution results will tell what what worked well and what didn’t.

What we’re looking for at this stage is to take things that worked together and ‘integrate’ them.

Integration can refer to:

  1. Integration of the experiment execution cycles within the business process
  2. Or Integration in terms of putting together a scaling process to repeat and get more results from the growth campaign further.

We will be going beyond the experiment blueprint and combining different ways to take the experiment forward. This is why I’ve called this stage ‘Integration’.

Integration, in general, is defined as the process of combining different elements in a more effective way.

The combination for us could be:

  1. Successful experiments + More manpower
  2. Successful experiments + More budgets
  3. Successful experiments + Scale with tech
  4. Successful experiments + Business processes

The exact steps in this phase would hence differ based on how we decide to Integrate the experiment. However, they would usually include the following:

  • Creating a blueprint system of the successful experiment
  • Assigning a team to study the blueprint
  • Deciding repetition frequency and budgets against ROI
  • Using tech to scale the components of the system that can be automated
  • Integrating the blueprint into your business process

Important points to note:

  • Integration includes the Scaling phase as a part of it and the new Integration phase has a scope much bigger than just scaling and automation.
  • Integration is the final stage of growth marketing.
  • Note that Analytics is not a separate phase in the process but a part of each phase. Analytics starts from Day 1 of growth marketing and continues until Integration and beyond.
  • Post Integration, you can go back to the idea bank (option 1) or go back to the research phase (option 2) if there have been major changes to the data collection.

Chapter 6: The Experimentation Phase of Growth Marketing

The next phase is the execution or experimentation phase.

The steps in the experimentation phase include:

  • Shortlisting ideas (from the Ideation phase we discussed in the previous chapter) and moving them to the experiments list
  • Defining the duration of each experiment test which will be the initial cycle of execution
  • Ranking the experiments in order of priority – usually using a framework like the ICE score to do this however, I have personally stopped using the ICE score
  • Decide a success score for each experiment that’ll help us decide if it’s successful or not
  • Execute the experiment initial cycle
  • Analyze the success score at the end of the test cycle

The Experimentation Phase is where all the hustle happens. At Mapplinks, I usually assign a team of 3 people for each execution cycle. We keep our execution cycles up to 45 days per growth marketing experiment. The team is put together based on the requirements of the experiment.

The team is also assigned so we have the right marketing, tech, copy, and analyst skills as needed. T-shaped marketers are selected based on the level of skill needed for the experiment.

The execution review happens daily and weekly.

Each week, we discuss how the OMTM is improving.

For example, here’s a screenshot from the weekly OMTM tracking for an influencer outreach campaign and the ratios we measure:

growth marketing experiment analytics
growth marketing experiment weekly analytics

During all the weekly review sessions, adjustments are made to the experiments to improve results and fine-tune the process.

It’s essential to review data often in this phase as the initial experiment cycle is the most important one to make future decisions.

As you have observed, Analytics is not a separate phase in Growth Marketing put a process that is put into practice in each phase of Growth Marketing.

In the next chapter, we will discuss the Integration Phase of Growth Marketing.

Chapter 5: The Ideation Phase of Growth Marketing

As briefly explained in Chapter 3, the steps in this ideation phase include:

  • Using the data from Phase 1 to list growth marketing ideas
  • Fetching ideas with past data available from my database of growth marketing ideas
  • Brainstorming the ideas internally and externally
  • Assigning supporting data points to each idea
  • Mapping each idea to the target growth metric

*Note that if you’re an experienced growth marketer, it’s very important to maintain a database of growth marketing ideas and to assign a score to them based on how they worked for you in the past.

Of course, the implementation will be different for new businesses or startups you work with but this will give you an idea over time how your ideas performed.

If you’re new or want to boost your growth marketing idea bank, you can get the 101 growth ideas ebook here.

Next, the supporting data points must be assigned to each idea as shown in my template below:

growth marketing ideation

As you can see in the ideation template, we have the following columns in this phase:

  1. IDEAS

The output of this phase is coming up with the first set of growth experiment ideas.

You can start with as many ideas as you like – I usually like to work with 10 ideas in the first cycle of Ideation.

The ideas are documented based on past data, channel personas, and marketing ideas.

Channel personas are characteristics of the potential new channels we can explore for growth marketing campaigns as we start thinking outside of the most popular channels.

Growth marketing is effective when we execute creative experiments on popular channels and it’s also effective when we execute regular experiments on offbeat channels.

The reasons for going beyond the popular channels are as follows:

  • The most popular channels are expensive and saturated
  • There are higher chances for successful growth hacking experiments in channels that are in the early-adopters stage
  • A channel’s effectiveness typically reduces over time
  • Offbeat and new channels are mostly cheaper than saturated ones, thus reducing investment and increasing the growth marketing ROI
  • Multiple micro-channels mapped with the Target Audience are better than a single macrochannel with no TA focus
  • It’s easier to target the right user segment with micro-channels VS paying for targeting on Facebook or other larger channels
  • A new or offbeat channel probably has loopholes that Growth Marketers can leverage compared to a mature channel

A few questions to help create the channel personas business are as follows:

  • Q1. What kind of problem would the channel solve for a similar target audience as yours?
  • Q2. What are the other interests of your target audience? Where do people with similar interests hang out online?
  • Q3. What are some of the other brands, products, or tools your audience follows on social media?
  • Q5. What are the new channels which have been trending on Google Play or the App Store for the past few weeks?
  • Q6. What are the new communities or networks on ProductHunt or BetaList?
  • Q7. Which platforms and marketplaces have recently received PR or funding?
  • Q8. Which tools or networks are review bloggers in my network also writing about?

Though this is not an exhaustive list, it’ll give you an understanding of how to come up with growth marketing experiments.

In the next chapter, we will discuss the EXPERIMENTATION phase of growth marketing.

Chapter 4: The Research Phase of Growth Marketing

As mentioned in Chapter 3,

The Research phase should give us:

  • Metrics to be focused on
  • Data from any past experiments executed on those metrics
  • Target audience and user personas
  • List of competitors with similar marketing audiences
  • Potential growth marketing channels

To understand the above, we need to go through the following steps:

  • Deep dive into the existing data to find valuable data points
  • Questionnaires with the startup founders and teams to dig for both qualitative and quantitative data
  • Collecting all the data along with observations in a growth marketing research template

The Research Phase usually starts with a questionnaire.

This is a pre-growth marketing phase that involves a questionnaire to be filled by the founder or business owner or key decision-maker.

Questions vary from business to business and are designed based on the first interaction with the business. They may be different for each business based on their requirements and where they’re currently at in their startup or business phase.

growth marketing questions

With time, experience, and lots and lots of DATA, your gut feeling guides you to ask the right questions to your clients which then leads you to the right growth experiments.

A “right” growth experiment, here, refers to one that helps you achieve the desired OMTM and is scalable either by automation or by integration. (More on this in the Integration phase chapter)

One key output of the research phase is that it gives us the OMTM we need to focus on and some clarity on what data based research can help us get there.

In Chapter 5, we will take a deeper look into the Ideation Phase of growth marketing.