Growth Marketing vs. Traditional Marketing: What’s the Difference?

What has your marketing agency done for you lately? Seriously. What have they done to push your SaaS or tech startup’s growth metrics up and to the right? 

Growth is your most important metric, yet you may be making a common mistake we often see: using a traditional marketing approach and traditional marketing agencies in a situation that requires anything but a traditional view. 

If you’re disappointed with the lack of results, it’s time for a new viewpoint, not doubling down on what’s gotten you here. Doing what you’ve already done to hopefully grow more isn’t a scalable strategy.


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Your marketing agency will probably tell you that more PPC, SEO,  or content is the right path. They just need more budget to provide more ads, do more SEO work, and produce more content.

Growth teams are different. 

Their focus is on the key metric — growth — not the channel. All that matters are results that drive growth forward, regardless of tactics or budget. SaaS and tech startups launch a minimum viable product and improve it over time. Growth teams approach marketing and growth in the same way.

So, again: what has your marketing agency done for you lately? If it’s been all impressions and clicks and no leads and conversions, you need to ask yourself another question: “Is a growth team the right move for me?” 

We’re biased, but here are a few reasons why we believe the answer to that question is “yes.”

A Single Focus on Growth vs. A Broader Company Focus

If you own a luxury European sports car, you can’t take it to just any auto repair shop for maintenance. You either go to the dealership or find someone who specializes in repairing that type of vehicle. 

Bootstrapped, seed-stage, and scaling SaaS and tech startups require a similarly special touch. They require a team that is experienced in the unique pressures and limitations of early-stage companies. And they need a partner that positively impacts growth quickly.

6 Criteria Differentiating Growth Teams vs. Traditional Marketing Teams

This isn’t to say that traditional marketing teams are worthless. They have their unique skill sets and situations where they are a great choice. Let’s compare growth teams and traditional marketing teams in the context of seven key criteria.


Growth Team

Traditional Marketing Team

Area(s) of focus

Solely on growth.

Overall marketing for a company, its brand, and its products.

Ideal business partners

Bootstrapped/seed stage SaaS and tech startups trying to grow their user base for their new product/service

Established companies, typically larger ones that have established products they want to sell more of. 

6 Levers of Growth focus

AAARRR - a holistic approach to attain profitable customer acquisition.

Awareness and acquisition only; revenue, retainment, referral programs, etc. are on someone else’s plate.

Types of activities

Run experiments across product, marketing, and sales to see what will positively impact key growth metrics, looking for successes that compound over time.

Larger awareness plays to sell more of clients’ products and build clients’ brands to large audiences; typically one and done. 

Budget & speed

Flexible budget, very agile

Larger budgets, less agile

How decisions are made

Strategy and data-driven

Campaign and tactic-driven


Where Traditional Marketing Teams Focus their Time and Effort

If you’ve seen Mad Men, then you’re familiar with a traditional marketing team. Yes, digital marketing tactics updated the rules from 1960s Madison Avenue. But the approach is still the same. 

Traditional marketing focuses on maximizing awareness and winning attention through the best creative. It’s all about the copy, the tagline, and the creative idea. That’s why they naturally gravitate to awareness and acquisition activities.

Because of this focus, they measure vanity metrics like views and impressions. But as Chris Savage from Wistia once tweeted, said, “The number of impressions does not equal the number of people impressed.”


Traditional marketing teams aim to get more people to notice their clients and drive as many leads as possible. They run brand building plays like buying ads in industry publications, sponsoring events, sponsoring industry newsletters, buying booth space at tradeshows, cold emailing event attendee lists, and social media ads.

What do you notice about these tactics? They don’t compound on one another. For example, let’s say you sponsor a newsletter that goes to 5,000 industry contacts. You may get a few clicks through to your website or a specific landing page. But after the initial sponsorship, it’s over... until you hand over more of your marketing budget to reach the same 5,000 people again.

These are classic “marketing funnel” moves. In order to drive the sales engine, you have to spend money to dump a bunch of new “leads” (which at this point are just contacts) into the top of the funnel and hope you can nurture and eventually convert them to paying customers. Each time you need more sales, you have to make another investment to start the process all over again.

Startups don’t have the resources or time to operate like this. It’s inefficient and won’t scale sustainably. Customer acquisition has to be profitable, which is why growth teams work in a very different way.

Where Growth Teams Focus Their Time and Effort

Growth teams have one focus and one focus only: growth. 

This singular focus means you find most growth teams working with young, seed-stage, or bootstrapped startups in B2B SaaS or technology. Growth is THE metric for these businesses. 

But with generally smaller budgets, growth and customer acquisition has to be done as efficiently as possible. And since paying customers aren’t typically profitable for at least three months (if not longer), high churn is a death sentence.

This is why growth teams focus on all six levers of growth. This holistic approach orients growth teams and their clients toward growth on all fronts:

  • Awareness - get more attention and more traffic to your website and landing pages
  • Acquisition - get more leads of a higher quality
  • Activation - nurture leads and provide them enough value that they “raise their hand” and request a demo, a quote, or take whatever step gets them into your sales pipeline
  • Revenue - convert your leads to paying customers efficiently
  • Retention - continually delight customers; provide a great enough experience that upsells, cross-sells, and resells are natural, not forced.
  • Referral - use your current customers to reinforce the other five levers through case studies, testimonials, or a formal referral program. 

For growth teams, it’s not simply about acquiring more customers for their clients. It’s about working with a client to optimize the six levers of growth so they achieve profitable customer acquisition.

Growth teams are experimental and are more like scientists than marketers. They form a hypothesis about what might work and test it. If it doesn’t succeed, they dig in, form another hypothesis, and experiment again. They use the data from these experiments to inform their actions in the name of growth. 

Growth teams work with any size budget. The benefit of a growth team is that they're not restricted to a single means of marketing, so they're able to more creatively spend budgets. This approach forces growth teams to look at activities and tactics that can compound on one another over time and optimize across all six levers of growth without needing to spend boatloads of money to do so. 

Finally, growth teams only succeed if their clients grow. Their B2B SaaS and tech startup client base can’t hang on for 9, 12, 15 months without growth. 

That’s why growth teams are less like an outside marketing agency and more like an extension of your team. They face the same existential stakes as their clients.

Traditional and Specialized Marketing Teams are Flawed

They’ll always see more of their offering as the solution to the problem because it’s what they can influence.

Facebook posts lacking engagement? A social media marketing agency will recommend posting more frequently.

PPC ads not performing? Your PPC agency will probably recommend doubling your budget.

SEO content not ranking? We just need to create more, says your SEO agency.

But growth isn’t an output of doing more things; growth results from doing the right and doing them better. If real, sustainable, up-and-to-the-right growth only required more content and larger budgets, then everyone would do it.

The key: growth teams are focused only on growth

The holistic approach of a growth team is solution-agnostic. All the tools in the toolbelt are available to use, including new tools discovered through experimentation. It’s not about what works, but if it works in diving growth.

Are the client’s sales cycles getting shorter? Are their marketing investments performing better? Are they retaining more customers? This is what a growth team looks at. Which tactic gets the glory doesn’t matter.

The only thing that does is if the client is achieving growth through profitable customer acquisition.

A True Growth Partner Understands Your Entire Business

When it comes to growth marketing vs. traditional marketing for SaaS and tech startups, the differences are clear.

The stakes are too high for seed-stage and bootstrapped SaaS and tech startups to wait for long-term brand plays to plan out. Their continued existence depends on growing their paying customer base as quickly and profitably as possible.

That’s why growth teams are the best choice for young SaaS and tech startups and scaleups. 

Growth is all that matters. We understand that, which is why we act as your outsourced growth team, not an agency. 

To better understand how we operate, check out our Growth Playbook. It gives you a peek behind the curtain and shows the framework we use to 10X our clients’ growth in 36 months.

About Lean Labs

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