I studied history, religion, and language in college. With the ultimate goal of becoming a writer, I wanted to build skills like communication, research, and a wide context of knowledge.
Marketing was nowhere on my radar.
Fast forward a few years and suddenly, marketing is all I can think about. As a self-published author, no one was waiting for my latest book release. There were no magazine ads promoting my new hardcover, no interviews lined up where I could share teasers from the text.
Just me and my words and silence. Why? Because a great product, without marketing, might as well not exist.
250,000+ book sales later, I can now say that I know a few things about marketing. But even more so, I understand what I don't know.
3 types of marketing
I recently dove into Elad Gil's High Growth Handbook.
The book is a compilation of his experiences from multiple decades working in and around the world's most successful startups, coupled with interviews from the professionals who ran them.
The first thing Gil does in Chapter 6: Marketing and PR is to offer a series of definitions to help distinguish between the different types of marketing that exist, and why they differ.
The three types of marketing the author lists are growth, product, and brand.
- Growth marketing aims to get people to discover and pay for your product.
- Product marketing helps people use, trust, and improve what you've made.
- Brand marketing increases the awareness of your story and offer in the world.
Now, it doesn't take much examination to see how these distinct areas blend together. Brand marketing helps feed the funnels for growth marketing, which moves people into product marketing resources as they research their potential purchase.
The audience and goal for each discipline are different. It's one thing to get viral attention for a brand, but another to turn those eyeballs into revenue — and then another to transform those customers into brand ambassadors by helping them succeed with your product.
Every step matters, but in different ways and for different reasons.
|Interested users, know more about company
|Target users, know something about company
|Anyone, know little to nothing about company
|Help people use and trust product
|Help people see value in and purchase offer
|Help people discover and trust company
|customer testimonials, knowledge base, interviews, competitor analysis, case studies
|online ads, email lists, SEO and content, social media, funnel optimization
|awareness, design, logos, storytelling, mass media
How to order your marketing
The order of your marketing, meaning the sequence of types you invest in, will be determined by the business you're in.
Brand marketing is going to matter more for certain consumer goods, where reach and story lead to better outcomes than analytics and tutorials.
For the majority of digital-first organizations (SaaS, online communities, course creators, etc.), the best order is the following:
- Product marketing
- Growth marketing
- Brand marketing
Why this order?
Because it enables you to reverse engineer your funnel. At the bottom of the funnel, the closest a customer will get to purchasing (and what they'll rely on once they've purchased) are the product assets.
These will help them trust your product and use it successfully. Start by making sure your knowledge base is complete and easy to navigate. If you're a solo creator, include clear directions for people who purchase your products; record a video of you using it; highlight other successful users (testimonials, community leaders, etc.).
Once those items are in place, then you can move up a rung on the funnel and start investing in your most promising channels (SEO, a specific social media platform, podcasting, email, etc.).
While your business is still securing its foothold in the market and the longer you last, the more likely your odds of success will be. Spend your time and dollars wisely at this stage. Don't be afraid to copy and iterate on what's already working for others.
The goal is profitability, not novelty.
Finally, only when you have reliable systems in place for attracting, onboarding, and retaining customers should you look into investing in brand marketing. At this stage, you can think bigger, take more risks, and adjust your focus from survival to legacy building.
Closing example of marketing in action
To conclude, I wanted to share a personal illustration I used to help me understand the differences between the three marketing types mentioned above.
First, I created an imaginary business named Lead & Rubber, a pencil manufacturer. Second, here's how I would broadly approach their marketing strategy in three phases.
- Product marketing: We began by making a series of short video tutorials showing people how to hold a pencil correctly, depending on what type of work one's doing. We also created articles that help people identify the best pencil for them, along with explanations of how our products differ from competitors. Then, we conducted a series of interviews with famous creators who regularly use our products and posted those on our website.
- Growth marketing: We make our pencils in a variety of colors, so we used this feature to produce visual assets on Instagram and Twitter. We ran ads across these platforms and hired a handful of YouTube influencers to feature our products in their videos. During the month of NaNoWriMo, we sponsored a challenge for writers to handwrite their novels. We are also looking into sponsoring a TikTok challenge in the coming year.
- Brand marketing: We invested for our founders to receive media training, and have leveraged that into interviews in magazines and on television. We've partnered with a nonprofit that builds schools in developing countries, and are working on becoming the official pencil for a number of literacy-related endeavors.
Although this example is imperfect, it helps illustrate the distinctions between each marketing type.
The process is cyclical; marketing is never complete. There will always be new opportunities to seize and holes to patch. As your product evolves, new assets will need to be created, promoted, and eventually retired as development continues. As your brand grows, new stories will need to be told, and old stories retold through new lenses and with new voices.
Marketing, much like the humanities, is about finding the right questions to ask. What needs to be said? And how?
If you can answer those two questions, you can market anything successfully.