Growth Marketing vs. Digital Marketing: Which Delivers ROI?

Are you looking to invest in marketing but unsure which methodology will deliver the best return on investment (ROI)? You're not alone.

Growth marketing and digital marketing are two terms often used interchangeably. However, there is a big difference between the two approaches. 

Growth marketing is a data-driven approach that focuses on acquiring and retaining customers. 

Digital marketing, on the other hand, is a more traditional marketing approach that focuses on raising awareness and generating leads. 

So, which one delivers the best ROI? The answer depends on your business goals. If your goal is to grow your customer base, then growth marketing might be the way to go. If you're more interested in generating leads regardless of their quality, then digital marketing might be more effective.

In this article, we’ll explore the differences and benefits of growth marketing and digital marketing so you can decide which strategy will drive growth and work best for your business.


Get The Growth Marketing Playbook.

Learn to plan, budget, and accelerate growth with our exclusive video series. You’ll discover:

  • The 5 phases of profitable growth
  • 12 core assets all high-growth companies have
  • Difference between mediocre marketing and meteoric campaigns


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

Digital marketing uses digital channels and tactics at the top of the funnel to increase awareness, traffic, and leads. Growth marketing does the same but considers the whole funnel to bring in qualified leads and turn customers into fans consistently.

Where digital marketing is a set of tactics, think of growth marketing as a methodology always moving towards the north star metric: Growth. Adopting a growth marketing mindset, and using a data-driven approach to experiment is central to growth marketing, rather than simply applying the best marketing strategies and hoping for the best results.

That’s not to say that digital marketing doesn’t have its place. And remember that growth marketing uses some of the same tactics; it just does things differently.

Let’s get into what Growth marketing is, what digital marketing is, and which approach might be best for your business.

What is Digital Marketing

Digital marketing is any form of online marketing. With internet usage constantly increasing, you have to meet your customers where they are. You need to be in the right place, at the right time. Oh, and you must provide a personalized experience to every customer you communicate with.

Easy, right?

No. But digital marketing tools are always evolving and give marketers the tools they need to reach potential customers. Here are a few popular types of digital marketing.


Email marketing

You can use email marketing software to communicate with your audience, leads, and customers. Use email to promote content and events, newsletters, webinar invites, or daily emails to keep in touch with your audience.

An email marketing campaign might involve customer engagement, onboarding sequences, follow-up emails after a lead downloads a lead magnet, or an educational series.


PPC (pay-per-click) Advertising

PPC is a way of driving traffic to your website by paying a publisher every time someone clicks on your ad. Think Google Ads. If you want to get to the top of Google’s search engine results page, you can for a price.

You can also use other channels such as Facebook Advertising, Twitter Ads, and sponsored messages on Linkedin.


Content Marketing

Content marketing is evergreen. Unlike PPC (pay-per-click) advertising, where you constantly pump money in, but traffic stops when you stop paying, content continues to drive leads as long as your potential customers can find it.

You’ll need a solid strategy if you want to pull off a successful content marketing campaign. And a mix of blog posts, ebooks, whitepapers, infographics, and visual content is a great play.


Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

It’s not enough to produce content. You need to optimize it. SEO is the process of optimizing content so that your pages appear at the top of search engine results pages for specific keywords.

Drive traffic to your site by speaking to your customer's problems and providing solutions. PPC has its place, but organic traffic earned through SEO and helpful content is a game-changer for long-term ROI.


Social Media

It’s not enough to be active on social media channels. You need to be in the right places at the right times to reach your audience.

Don’t just set up accounts on every platform. Go all-in on the platforms where your audience spends its time. Create entertaining and informative content your audience wants to share with peers.


Marketing Automation

You can use software to automate your basic marketing operations. Some tasks are repetitive and take up valuable time and resources.

You might decide it’s easier to automate email newsletters to segments of your customer base. You can schedule social media posts to save time and focus on strategy. You can nurture leads with emails and content based on specific actions and automate your onboarding process.


What is Growth Marketing

Growth marketing is a data-driven, full-funnel approach to marketing. The focus is solely on driving growth in your business. Growth is the north star metric. How many more times can I say ‘growth’? A lot more! Any business wants and needs to grow in order to find success.

Growth marketing uses the same tactics as digital marketing with a considerable caveat. Digital marketing is a set of tactics, but growth marketing is a methodology. It’s a way of marketing.

Growth marketing teams use planned strategies to grow your company according to a set of SMART goals, objectives, and KPIs. It’s experimental by nature, and growth marketers consistently track data, analyze their strategies, and, depending on results, double down or pivot.


5 Differences Between Digital Marketing and Growth Marketing



Growth Marketing

Digital Marketing


Solely on the North Star metric: Growth.

Focuses on the entire funnel.

Focuses on the top of the funnel: brand awareness and lead generation.

Popular plays

Run experiments across multiple channels in sprints. Collect data, analyze results, and look for compounding success.

Collaborate with sales and customer success teams to provide an end-to-end experience for customers.

Run advertising to build awareness, and generate leads. Once leads are generated, they’re handed off to sales.


Flexible budget, very agile.

Larger budgets for paid campaigns, less agile.


Look at the entire customer journey and strategize to affect all 6 Levers of Growth.

Generate awareness and convert leads.


Data-driven to shape strategies.

Campaign and tactic-driven.


Is Digital Marketing a Good Play for Return on Investment (ROI)?

There are a few significant benefits of digital marketing:

    1. It’s cost-effective. You can decide where to spend your money, whether on PPC advertising or paying someone to create high-converting Instagram content.
    2. Specific or broad reach. With PPC and social media advertising, you can decide whether you want to reach a broad audience or be more specific. You might show social media ads to a particular audience based on demographics, age, and interests, or you could place ads in large groups.
    3. Drive traffic to your website. With digital analytics software, you can track your website traffic. How many people visit your site? Where do they come from? What device do they use? This lets you know where you should prioritize your digital marketing efforts.
    4. Targeted lead conversion. With specific reach and more qualified leads, it’s easier to convert leads because they’re more likely to want to do business with you.


But when it comes to ROI, it’s not the best long-term play. Sure, you generate leads and hand them off to sales to convert, which frees up time and budget for more campaigns. But budgets are usually high and campaign-driven, so it’s continuous spending.

You’ll often see ROI from campaigns, but is it the right ROI? For example, you might drive lots of traffic to your site, but is it the right traffic? Are leads qualified? Is your message getting to the right people?

You don’t really see ROI through the buyer journey and beyond because it’s not measured and data-driven.


Is Growth Marketing a Good Play for ROI?

The significant benefits of growth marketing:

    1. It’s buyer persona-focused. You’re always putting your best foot forward and aiming to reach the people your product or service helps the most. You know leads are qualified.
    2. You can continually optimize your efforts. Instead of being campaign-focused and plowing money into campaigns that may or may not work, you can enhance existing campaigns or pivot without risk when change is needed. You know where to attribute leads, and you can track conversions and conversion rates for an overall picture of your marketing efforts.
    3. It’s scalable; it grows with you. Small budget? Need some small wins to get the ball rolling? You don’t need a big budget to start marketing to your ideal audience. Conduct keyword research and create content. You can think about spending big once you start growing organically.
    4. Your customers become your best marketers. Instead of just handing leads off to sales, you can continually market to your current customers and delight them in the process. If your customers love you and feel like they’re a part of your journey, they become raving fans.

Regarding ROI, growth marketing affects all 6 Levers of Growth.Where digital marketing focuses on Awareness and Acquisition, Growth Marketing affects Awareness, Acquisition, Activation, Revenue, Retention, and Referral. This is crucial because you can track and measure ROI across the customer lifecycle and use data to inform marketing decisions.

You can start with a small budget and aim for compounding success instead of burning through an advertising budget.

Finally, it costs less to sell to your current customers than to acquire new ones. Referrals are a big part of growth marketing. The bottom of the funnel feeds the top of the funnel, and your company can continue to grow.


Growth Marketing vs. Digital Marketing: Which is the Best Approach for Your Business?

When it comes to growth marketing vs digital marketing, your goals determine which is best for your business.

If your focus is to drive awareness and generate leads, and you have a large budget for paid advertising? Digital marketing might be a good play.

If your focus is growth and a desire to delight your customers and see a fantastic ROI? Growth marketing is the way forward.

Work with a growth partner who thinks deserving brands should achieve rapid yet consistent growth. Lean Labs is an outsourced growth team that understands your need to grow quickly and profitably instead of sinking money into long-term brand awareness plays.

If you want to understand how we operate and want to 10x your growth? Check out our Growth Playbook.

About Lean Labs

The only outsourced growth team with a track record of 10X growth for SaaS & Tech co's. 🚀

Discover the Hidden Strategies We Use to 10X Our Clients Growth in 36 Months!

The Growth Playbook is a FREE guide to planning, budgeting and accelerating your company’s growth.


Find out exactly what we'd do if we were in your shoes.