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Deep interviews with Sean Ellis and Andy Johns; a framework of how to think about growth hacking as miner or prospector based; the 7 characteristics of all top growth hackers.
This is really well done and a must-read IMO. I think it does a great job distinguishing between early-stage growth roles and late growth roles and what goes into each.
I agree that all growth professionals share a common set of characteristics that are manifest in different ways based on their team size and stage.
Be sure to read this article in its entirety (don't miss pages two and three!)
Took me some time to read through all three parts, because I kept stopping, rereading whole paragraphs, savoring the information, and sharing parts on LinkedIn and Twitter; permanent in my Evernote collection!
Hi all, I am the author of this post, and I specifically am interested in the feedback of the growthhacker.com community.
Here are some ideas for discussion:
* Do you think this miners and prospectors framework applies to you? What's missing from it? how can it be better?
* What characteristics of a growth hacker did I miss?
* How can prospectors and miners excel in their specific areas?
* Have you ever been involved with a transition from prospector growth hacker tactics to miner growth hacker tactics? what worked, and what didn't?
* What do you think about the emphasis on the word "awareness" for its own sake as the thing to avoid in early stage companies?
The bit that Sean talks about around Awareness was my favourite part of that article. I've seen sooooo much wasted money on untrackable awareness campaigns at early stage startups. The results are like throwing hundred dollar bills at a fan.
When sean mentioned the same issues as Andy, nearly verbatim it clicked for me too. We weren't for space reasons able to include another great framework Andy uses.
I love being able to explain this to prospective clients at my firm. often I'll get calls asking if I can do paid search and when I ask why they want to do it, almost always do I find out there's no way in hell they should be doing that right now.
This is awesome, Melinda!
* Re: Transition from prospector to miner -- Yes, a handful of times. It's a toss-up as to how it goes because my approach is more strategic and org-focused, than say on a specific role.
What I mean is this:
- Switching from prospector to miner often means switching people, but it doesn't have to. If you have the right systems and processes in place or in development, what you do (growth hacking) is not dependent on a person but your Customers and phase of your Business.
- Relying on a person (with or without a team of any size) to call the shots for strategy mostly works, but that person should be formulating strategy (and team helping out with tactics) based on what's happening. Testing assumptions is vital. If you're a prospector and you're doing something "because it's worked before" then that's a start but can be detrimental to actually achieving growth.
* Re: miners and prospectors -- I think that works great for a role-perspective, and you might even add a third role for your business (the mine itself) because as much as you need the right fit for role, you need fit for your business lifecycle, too (IMHO).
My 2 cents on this is that "growth hacking" (what you do, when, and how) is highly dependent on what stage/phase your business is in.
I've been working according to a similar framework for a while, and here's a summary of what I've got:
* When you’re in the Seed/Startup phase, you need Traction Marketing (A Growth Team often consisting of 1 or a few more + Growth Marketing strategies and tactics).
* When you’ve found Product/Market fit, you’re in the Growth / Build phase, and you need a full Growth Team + Marketing, while including more “traditional” marketing as you go; documentation of process, setting up systems, etc. is imperative here.
* Which will bleed into the Build / Established phase, for which you need Brand Response Marketing. This is where you combine “traditional” marketing with a dedicated Growth Team for continuous experimentation and testing.
* When you move into Expansion, you need another cycle of Growth Team + Marketing for the particular expansion.
* When you reach the Maintain / Maturity phase, you need Brand Corporate Marketing.
I tend to approach growth hacking from a context and process perspective, and then look to fit roles into that. Prospectors and Miners is a great, great way of looking at roles.
Thanks for sharing!
P.S: If you're curious, I can send you couple links with diagrams, workflows, etc to my blog that dives deeper into this. Here's a diagram that visually explains the above: http://samueljwoods.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/business-lifecycle-marketing-startup-growth-marketing-team-samueljwoodscom.jpg
Hi Sam, thank you for taking the time to read the entire article. Clocking in at 4,000 words, I know it's a commitment; and I don't take anyone's time for granted, especially in our line of work.
Sounds like are in agreement than what growth hacking is, is very stage dependent. One could probably extend this analogy of prospectors and miners further into the enterprise life cycle; my experience is that even in large scale operations it's still the same thinking; just that you tend to do more of both and there's more specialization. At that point of course advertising for awareness makes sense. (and now via circular logic we're back to a much debated point- that growth hacking IS marketing; it's just a different way to START marketing, especially in tech companies). Many of the existing MBA frameworks for marketing start to make more sense at the enterprise level. My observations are that growth hacking is simply a different cognitive approach to marketing that has its roots in tech startups for very practical reasons; yet has very wide ranging implications.
Case in point: one of my business school classmates is a non-profit executive for animal shelters. She read this same piece and said the application to her own line of work was nearly exact. Companies not in the tech space, of all sizes, can benefit from our line of thinking. It's a good way to start a business in ANY field.
An anecdote you all might find interesting....
At one point the venturebeat editor and i were discussing Sean's point about not hiring unicorns. she asked me, "well isn't that the same as being a team player?" (we were both looking for ways to cut this beast down) My take was no--that Sean's point about hiring a growth TEAM, even from the very beginning, is a critical point, especially if the company takes off and the work has to be done by a team, anyway. Unicorns are hard to find and can be a bottleneck, plus (and this didn't make it into the article) it creates a situation where "growth" is all on one person's head. In my experience that is what can make marketing a miserable role in a startup--you're responsible for growth but often don't have the people or money to do it. When things fail, you get the blame, when things succeed, it's all due to the product.
This is very different from hiring someone who is a team player, who understands how to work in teams. One is a characteristic of a person, one is a characteristic of a company's efforts. Sean's brilliant point that thinking about growth strategically--from the CEO level--and across teams, complimenting a CEO's cognitive style, sets a company up for the greatest chances of success stayed in the piece. To me, it's one of the more counterintuitive insights about growth hacking I've found in my research.
My hope is that this framework helps companies of all sizes; and marketers alike to start to think carefully about themselves and what types of roles they are best suited for. Poor fit in a marketing hire is the cause of a lot of heartache and at the startup level it's especially problematic given limited runways.
Eager to hear other thoughts. It's taken me a very long time to organize this framework in my head and with anything like this there's always a risk you've missed an angle or nuance.
Thanks again, Sam! I'll be sure to check your blog out.
@mjb_sf: "Many of the existing MBA frameworks for marketing start to make more sense at the enterprise level. My observations are that growth hacking is simply a different cognitive approach to marketing that has its roots in tech startups for very practical reasons; yet has very wide ranging implications"
This is +100 ;)
A cognitive approach and mental model that made everything (literally, everything) make sense to me is the Cynefin framework (developed by Dave Snowden).
I've taken it and slightly modified it for my own purposes and have developed a framework that's applied to growth hacking -- but it's basically this:
* It's a sense-making model, not categorization model where the framework precedes the data. But that doesn't work very well for early-stage/startup/seed company, because you won't notice subtleties that can make it or break it for you.
* For sense-making, the data precedes and emerges through a social process and patterns start to emerge. So, it's more about context, situational awareness and acting appropriately according to what domain you're in.
The 4 domains that help you figure out what to do are these:
For image, go here: http://www.collaborationforimpact.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/2011_cynefin-model-Ic1.png
Here's a short video that explains it very well: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N7oz366X0-8
* Obvious - replacing the previously used terminology Simple from early 2014 - in which the relationship between cause and effect is obvious to all, the approach is to Sense - Categorise - Respond and we can apply best practice.
* Complicated, in which the relationship between cause and effect requires analysis or some other form of investigation and/or the application of expert knowledge, the approach is to Sense - Analyze - Respond and we can apply good practice.
* Complex, in which the relationship between cause and effect can only be perceived in retrospect, but not in advance, the approach is to Probe - Sense - Respond and we can sense emergent practice.
* Chaotic, in which there is no relationship between cause and effect at systems level, the approach is to Act - Sense - Respond and we can discover novel practice.
Now: How does this apply to "growth hacking"? You execute on experiments in the Complicated and/or Complex domain, and occasionally in the Chaotic domain.
Once I started approaching marketing strategies for traction and growth with this in mind, it was tremendously helpful. It's helped me help others in deciding what to do, when, and how for growth marketing and team building.
Another strength is that it takes helps you navigate organizational learning and knowledge -- how to get it, how to use it, etc. Very, very helpful when creating "Playbooks" and processes.
As for building teams, I agree that it should happen from the beginning, even if all you're dong is defining roles, processes, etc. that, say, contractors execute on. How fast you can build depends on revenue and/or funding.
You can keep it lean (1 "growth hacker" + 1-3 contractors/specialists/team members) but only up to a certain point, when you're at that critical stage of shifting from traction to scaling for growth. Then you need an "actual" team.
Or, at least, that's what I've seen across clients for the past couple of years.
Wow Sam, I love this. Now it's my turn to read and digest. thanks for this!
This is a really great read and an interesting framework, Melinda. One thing I've noticed in transitioning from an early growth stage to operating at scale is that attitudes around failure shift considerably.
When engaged in prospector mode, it's important to identify a failed tactic quickly and move on to the next test right away - and you rack up a lot of failed tests before you land on a runaway hit. So quick read: did it work, yes? no? Next test.
In miner mode, failure is equally as important but often comes at a higher cost, so more time and effort is spent on dissecting why a particular approach works or doesn't work. You're also more likely to stick with a test longer because once you have a number of proven tactics you begin to encounter challenges around diminishing incremental gains and marketing attribution.
great nuance! do you think that affects the kind of people who are drawn to a particular style? How does that impact culture in your experience?
Yeah, you definitely get different personalities and even team roles for each style. Teams that relish a good deep dive are great at solving problems around scale; for instance you might find a data scientist involved with a team of miners, whereas those skills may not be as valuable early on. Culturally, if you're embracing failure as a feedback loop at an early stage, you place a lot of emphasis on trust and ownership when building the team. As the team expands, transparency and accountability become culturally important.
I think this is a must-read article for anyone in the growth profession. It shines a light on the different approaches that should be used at different stages in a company's lifecycle. I'm looking forward to a discussion around the questions Melinda posed in her comment once people get a chance to read the article.
@mjb_sf great job digging into some of the core differences in Andy Johns' @uclacademix approach and my approach to growth. I learn something from Andy every time he talks or writes and really never disagree with him. You cracked some of the key reasons why. One thing that is important to emphasize is that I don't think any pre-product market fit company should focus on growth (unless it's a network effect business). But early scale tends to be pretty different than scaling a later stage business.
@Sean: "One thing that is important to emphasize is that I don't think any pre-product market fit company should focus on growth (unless it's a network effect business). But early scale tends to be pretty different than scaling a later stage business."
Yeah, totally agree. Traction (or whatever word you want to use) would be the focus, and then focus on growth within channels, product, etc.
Growth is a multiplier and modulator. If you multiply with 0, you still get 0. If you modulate a flow of traction, you can grow it.
Sean, many thanks again for your time and support of my efforts.
Since I am a writer, words matter a LOT to me. I tend to obsess over them, and I'm so grateful to have had time and space to explore what I think via writing, for VB to give it an air, and for all of you to read it and discuss it.
Now onto the subject: Indeed: prospecting is not mining. It's about searching for the gold, not starting to dig it out as fast as possible.
One reason I think there is this confusion is that both Sean and Andy would call themselves growth people. But their day to day lives are very different, even though they share very similar characteristics (the seven I outlined in the article).
I've seen people with very limited experience in growth hacking spending time opining about the subject, even writing books! Some are VCs and have never done the day to day job. So the prevailing line of thinking I was seeing in my clients and previously in my employers was troubling. Perhaps that is why I struggled with the growth hacker label for a while, given that I saw all that complexity and suffered through a bad hire where the founder wanted one thing and I was another. I wanted to give a framework for founders and marketers to talk about this stuff and improve the chances of success for everyone.
I hope it gives a language for what can be a very murky conversation in startup hiring, which is, exactly WHAT kind of marketer are you?
a thought that just occurred to me. in some ways in the early days of a startup you prospect, you THINK you've hit a vein, you start to mine and discover that it's a shallow, thin vein. So a certain amount of overlap is required.
The nuances of the differences between the two are what I'm working on in my head, next; as well as the transition best practices My current hypothesis based only on my experience suggests that the transition contains a stint in "chaos"--one of the four quadrants I put in this piece. :)
This was a really great article. Thanks for taking the time to put this together @mjb_sf!
It was very valuable to learn what characteristics each type of growth hacker needs to know.
In Part 3 when you described how it's hard to "transition into Miner mode from Prospector mode". It reminded me of these two articles about this transition into the growth stage:
It's always awesome learning new things from our growth leaders. Thanks @Sean and @uclacademix for contributing to this piece.
thanks Faisal! I'll be sure to check these out.
@mjb_sf We already had a convo over twitter - rather I went on a singular rant but this is fantastic read. Thanks again for writing it :)
Very well done article. I especially appreciate the comparison and contrast between the two types of Growth Hacker.
Amazing, thanks for sharing this. Will bookmark for future reference :)
Well done! Thanks for sharing this
a fantastic and insightful post, great food for thought.
How do you submitted it after days from now?!
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