Growth Marketing Mental Model: What, How, and Why

Published on: | Trisha Miles


If you want to boil a leader’s role down to its very essence, it comes down to this: make good decisions.  

Much easier said than done, right? In the growth phase of a business especially, new changes and challenges appear daily and it can be tough to pivot and evolve so quickly. 

The best way to combat this is to develop growth marketing mental models that set precedent for strategic planning and decision-making. These are frameworks (like our favorite, the GOST Framework) that help you establish a process for making choices so that no obstacle is too great to handle. 

But how do you find the right mental model for you? There can be a lot of noise in growth marketing, so as a leader, you have to actively listen, stay involved, test everything, and not shy away from taking action. When you can focus on your exact business goals and build the right toolbox, then you can confidently make whatever decisions come your way. 

“OODA...stands for observe, orient, decide and act. And the reason I bring that up, it's just one of several models that I use, but I bring it up because you have to have a hypothesis, you have to kind of be on the battlefield as it were, but then you have to observe and quickly orient, but then you have to decide quickly and then act.
-Andrew Hoerner, Fractional CMO to startups and former EVP of Global Marketing at


Establishing the Framework for Growth Marketing Success  

In this week’s Growth Marketing Chat episode, Andrew Hoerner, Fractional CMO to startups, pulls from his own fascinating growth marketing journey to reveal actionable tips for marketing leaders tasked with making major decisions, including:  

  • Always stay curious and actively listen 
  • Be a “player-coach” who’s not afraid to roll up your sleeves 
  • Be respectful and empathize with your team 
  • Step out of your comfort zone once a week 
  • Find a mentor who will guide you through your career 
  • Be grateful 
  • And much more! 

When you’re not afraid to get your hands dirty and throw your all into the growth phase, you can set growth and revenue marketing frameworks that will enable you to make fast and smart choices.  

Check out the full interview for more advice on how to be a strong marketing leader who can ensure that your business and career flourish. 

Video Transcript:  

NICK: Today, we have an exciting guest, Andrew Hoerner, Fractional CMO to Startups and former EVP of Global Marketing at Symphony.Com. Andrew, welcome to the growth marketing chat. 

ANDREW: Thank you, I'm so happy to be here. I appreciate you having me. 

NICK: Thank you and welcome to all of our viewers. So Andrew, let's start by having you tell us a little bit about your journey in marketing and how you arrived at your current role as Fractional CMO to multiple growth phase startups from coast to coast. 

ANDREW: Absolutely, so if I go back to the very start of my career, when I got out of college, I thought I wanted to be a journalist and write stories. And I did that for a short amount of time in the Midwestern United States. I actually was a journalist for a while and I realized I love the art of storytelling and writing, but the digging into investigative journalism was not for me. So a friend said, come out to Silicon Valley and do PR instead of journalism. 

There's some similar similarities, but you know, some differences, so come try it. So I did, that was the start of my journey. And then I've been very fortunate to have great mentors and world class marketers that have guided me along the way. And I always recommend that. I offer that to others and I hope others do that too. And they helped guide me on my journey to becoming a marketing leader. So one of the tenets that I got from my mentors was you have to know quality before you can really manage quality. And so I rolled up my sleeves and I actually did every functional area marketing from demand gen and digital marketing and field marketing and product and solution marketing and brand and awareness and just about everything you would think of, I actually did it myself before I grew into a marketing leader role. 

And that's a very important thing because once you've been a practitioner, you do have a lot more respect. You understand the mechanics of it, and then you can understand what high performance looks like. So long story short, that brought me to where I was. About, you know, over four years ago, I joined Symphony for a three year period, three plus year period. I was very grateful for that experience. I built a high performance global team there across all functional areas of marketing, worked with two very amazing CEOs who also provided some mentorship as well. David Gurle and Brad Levy, both very highly qualified CEOs and great storytellers in their own right. I had a good run there. Was very happy about that. We grew from about 35 million to a hundred million ARR. We can talk about that in a moment, but I was grateful for that experience. And then after that, got the opportunity to really spend the last, you know, six months or so working with other high growth startups in a Fractional CMO role, and really making sure that I'm bringing best practices to bear across those entities. So that's what brings us here today. But like I say, I'm always a student of marketing. I'm curious. I never feel I know everything. I always want to know more. I have an active community that I have participated in with other marketing leaders and we're always trying to learn and marketing's evolving by the day. So it's important to keep track of all that.  

NICK: Awesome, awesome. And I love your background, you know, journalism to PR to a practitioner across kind of multiple disciplines inside of marketing to then elevating to a leadership role. Now that you've had the hands-on experience and being able to manage kind of cross-disciplinary teams, that's and, you know, I think the really kind of, the CMOs that have really taken it to the next level, I hear some of the similar stories, you know. Being a practitioner across multiple fields and never really being able to become the specialist necessarily, but understanding the mechanics on the ground level. 

ANDREW: But also I feel like I'm a player coach. So I would never ask a team member to do something I wouldn't do myself. I'm going to roll up my sleeves. I write press releases, collateral, web copy, all sorts of stuff. I'm happy to do that. At a certain point that doesn't scale, of course, you have to have the team behind you to do that, but we all stand on the feet of giants. But I do believe that good leaders, they say that you can lead from the front or lead from behind, right? So you have to pick that. And then another phrase is, you know, generals eat last or what have you. So I think that that's an important thing, especially in today's environment where we need more empathy. There's no such thing as work life balance anymore. And the demands of the job are great so we have to be respectful to the teams and treat them with empathy, so. 

NICK: Yeah, no, the player coach lead from the front, I think that's great. I wanna start kind of our conversation, a little more general and high level. What are some of the biggest obstacles do you think to getting marketing right? Because it seems it's hard to get it right. And a lot of people agencies, CMOs, leaders across all levels struggle with getting it right. 

ANDREW: Yeah, yeah, so let's talk about that for a minute. So a couple things just philosophically. So I am a big believer in mental models and models applied to marketing, and we can all interpret that different ways. You do have to take action though. You can't just think about things, but I do believe in having a framework right for decision making. So one that I share pretty frequently is I have a lot of friends and colleagues that served in the military, intelligence services, law enforcement. I never did, but I have appreciation for those folks. And I've learned a lot from those. And one of the things I did get out of those folks' experiences is something called an OODA loop, O O D A. And it stands for observe, orient, decide and act. And the reason I bring that up it's just one of several models that I use, but I bring up because you have to have a hypothesis, you have to kind of be on the battlefield as it were, but then you have to observe and quickly orient, but then you have to decide quickly and then act.

There's mental models nested within each of those things, especially decision, good decision making. And one of the things I ask executive teams all the time is like, what are your decision models? How are you gonna make decisions? How does that evolve? Because if you get that process down, you can handle that, the agility, the changes, the pivots that come and need to come, especially in growth phase, right? So the reason I bring that up is I think, first of all, get kind of get your mental models, your toolbox, and be able to apply that. And when you say, what do folks get wrong? 

Well, first of all, you have to start with a hypothesis, but I have just in the past few years, and even the past few months believed more and more and more in what I've termed a fast fix process. I used to call it fast fail, but that was negative. And a CEO that I worked with, we had to do debate on it. And he said, let's not fail, but let's fix things. So I took that wisdom. So it's a fast fail, fast fix process. And I do believe testing is everything, not just AB multivariate testing and cycling as fast as you can with the test. Start with a decent hypothesis, but then sharpen it, sharpen it, sharpen it, iterate test, test, test, test. Get a little better, little better, little better, little better. It's a grueling process for anything. And I'm applying this typically to like account based marketing campaigns, intent based marketing campaigns, things like that, but you can apply to other places too, but once you get that improvement, that cycle of improvement, all of a sudden amazing things come out of it. 

You know, multimillion dollar deals can come for some companies or better sales velocity for other companies or more, you know, increases in awareness and thought leadership for others. So there's different outcomes, right? But that process can be used again and again and again and again, so long story short, what do companies get wrong? I think there afraid to test. They just want kind of results. They want ROI up front. That's not what marketing today is about is in my opinion. Yes, there will be ROI. Yes, we'll measure all the standard SaaS metrics that everyone wants, but you have to have an engine, a mechanism, a process, a fast fix, iterate, improve, and you roll that out across every area you can. And again, hard work, but it pays, it absolutely yields. 

NICK: Yeah, I couldn't agree more. Testing is essential, but sometimes there's, you know, especially with paid media and kind of algorithmic learning, there's a balance between how fast you go, how much you spend, because the more you spend the faster you learn, but then maybe the shorter the patience of the board and the CEO. So how do you balance learning, testing, and the short term results while also sowing seeds for long term growth. And that's kind of the million dollar question, right? 

ANDREW: I know we have a short amount of time. We could spend a lot of time on that, right? And there's many different ways to think about that. And it depends on the context. It depends on the phase of the company. Are they in the A, B, C, D beyond, you know, stage? Are, are they B2B SaaS? Are they B2B to C SaaS? Are they focused on North America? Or focused on, there's so many different cuts of that cube, that data set or cube, you know, that you're talking about. But what I would say is the other part of the OODA, just to revert back to that for a moment is the observe. And so one of the things that I think is really important is you do have to do a good job of observation, and that takes up active listening. 

And there was an exec, I don't remember the, I forget the guy's name, I'm sorry, but many years ago there was a very famous marketer who would walk in organizations and do what he called a forensic kind of discovery process for the first 60 days within the organization, any organization, big or small. And he'd just do active listening and take notes, again, almost like an investigative journalist. And he was picking up on the cues and he talked to not just inside, he talked to outside, right. He talked to customers, prospects, thought leaders, those that bought, those that did not buy. And he just did the full forensic analysis of things. That, so that's intense. That's a lot, I'm not saying everyone should do that, but that's part of the, get good at listening, good at observing, and then compiling that data to create the hypotheses. And I think that's the important part, right? 

The other thing is the act part, you have to act. And a lot of companies spend too much time on the analysis and they don't just act and do it and try it. And again, I'm borrowing a lot cause you know, we're all in the kinda the marketing communities and we hear these things, but one of, I was on a, I was listening to a podcast from another marketing leader and he said on day one of a new employee marketer's job, he asked them to write and publish something, like on day one, just get in market, like get something going get, you know, so I think that's also important to do the observation right, but then know when to take action and take that action. And then of course you iterate on that and you're absolutely right. 

It's a balance and so what I usually say is to the executive team is like, what's the low, medium, high outcome. How can we kind of get there? And then also what's the moonshot. Like if you could go way beyond your wildest dreams, what does that look like? And then, you know, as they say, if we aim for that and fall a little shorter, that it's okay. But I think you have to calibrate a bit and again, it's also a maturity curve. So you have to understand where you are in the maturity curve and what you're trying to do. Are you still doing the product market fit stage or are you really in accelerate stage? One of the other mental models I use for marketing is what I call the BOAT model, B O A T. And that means when you come in as a marketing leader, you're either there to build an organization, operate an organization, or accelerate marketing, or transform it. And it, when you get to that, I think a lot of folks know how to kind of operate, some know how to accelerate, not everyone knows how to build and then the transformation's tricky, right. 'Cause if you're transforming, that means something's not quite gone right and you gotta kinda revamp it a bit, but again, take that mental model in mind and think which part of the boat am I in? Am I in the build, operate, accelerate or transform. If you know that, that helps drive those behaviors that you were just talking about. 

NICK: Yeah, yeah, that makes sense. And it sounds like you you've kind of you're, you know, you're, you, you've been a seasoned, C-suite exec in multiple companies and these mental models are kind of the framework from which you operate. And I'm just wondering, where do you think the CMO fits into the C Suite? What is the role of the modern CMO and what makes, what's the unique role of the modern CMO? 

ANDREW:  Yeah, again, there's so many different answers to that. I think it really is dependent. And as we know, many CMOs come up through the ranks of different things, you know, I came up through kind of a PR and communication side, but then really focused on other areas. I knew I needed to strengthen, but there are CMOs that come in from the branding and awareness side, you know, for sure. There are folks that come from B2, kind of B2C into to B2B and vice versa and try and leverage across that, those ways of doing things. And then others might come up through very strong growth marketing and demand gen and digital marketing side, right. 

And then some come up through product and solution market. So each one's gonna bring their point of view. You have to be respectful of that. But I think a couple different things. I think again, like, I think the CMOs job is to listen a lot and then interpret and then frame up a story. And the way I like to think about it is a good CMO will take data, help the team turn it into stories, but then that's gotta revert into revenue. And if you can help to that flow, that's really important. There's a couple tricks to the trade though. I think that, I'm not into a big self-promotion, but I do think that one of the jobs of the CMO is to generate enthusiasm internally. I kind of jokingly call it a kind of a cheerleader type role. And so what that means is you've gotta kind of be an internal publicist. You've gotta do PR internally, as well as externally. That matters even at a tiny company, it matters at bigger companies, right, as you scale. So one of the jobs is to be a connective tissue and flow energy throughout the organization. I think there's big initiatives that a CMO can help lead, for example, product launches and things like that that are of course, collaborative with the revenue teams and the product teams, but the CMO and and his or her team, their team would take that and really drive it as an initiative and bring multifunctional areas across the organization together to get something very big and visible and meaningful for the organization. That's just one example, right? 

So I think you've gotta lead teams that you don't even control, and you've gotta do it kind of in a way where you've commanded the, and earned the respect of the other teams, but then you've gotta add the energy. In some ways, I think about it like cold fusion. I bet you've gotta generate energy where there is none, and then take advantage of other energy where there is energy and pull it together into something that ultimately leads to growth. So I mean, long story short, I think there's many ways I could answer that question, but I'm just trying to give you some flavor of how I think about it today. And the other thing I think is it's up to the CMO to help those across the organization build brand as not just a company's brand, it's the sub brands of individuals. So at several companies, I've helped build kind of micro brands around individual subject matter experts that then stitch into the corporate brand and help that storytelling and help build that kind of brand efficacy. 

But those individuals, whether they're at that company or they go on in their career to be successful, hopefully, they have that brand that they can leverage and that network, right, that they can leverage. So I think that's the other thing is, it is about building both personal brand on behalf of others within the organization that then contributes to the corporate brand and reputation. It helps with word of mouth. It helps with the dark funnel, everything else, but I think you do need to help elevate others, whether that's your, those on your team, whether that is the other thought leaders or subject matter experts within the company, whether that's influencers externally, whether that's the C-suite, it's the CMOs job to help those folks achieve their visibility, again, sometimes in mission and support of the company. Sometimes it's their own personal brand that needs to be built as well. 

NICK: Yeah, yeah. Well, you heard it folks. It's the modern CMO is a brand maker, a tactician, a revenue generator, and a cheerleader, and so much more. Andrew, we kind of started with the general philosophical ground, but I'm very curious to hear about your story with You're able to generate some very impressive growth. How are you able to do it, spill the secrets for us. 

ANDREW: Sure, well, I'm not gonna give you all the secrets. 

NICK: Not all the secrets. 

ANDREW: Because I have to respect the organization, but I'll give you a flavor of it, a little preview over it. So a couple things I've talked about some softer things like mental models and like brand and awareness and things like that, which are absolutely critical, but let's talk about kind of the grungy, gritty details of growth just a bit. So the other thing I'd say is that a CMO must be fiercely aligned with the revenue team and the go to market team. Now I've been fortunate. In my career, I've worked with a lot of revenue leaders and I've never experienced that kind of dog fight, cat fight type mentality that I hear about. And it's not great, I hear about it. Thankfully, I have not been on the front lines of that too often. So I'm grateful. But I always feel like one of the, some of the sales leaders you talk to say,everyone's in sales and some would say everyone's in marketing. Well, no, everyone's in growth. And so, I think it's really important for, like for one of the, I'll give you an example. So at Symphony, I actually took members of my team and I embedded them with some of the revenue team. 

They were literally like in the room with the regional directors and the field sales and sales engineers and all that. And so they were almost considered a virtual part of that team. So I gave up a little bit of that control if you will, but it was the best thing because then the teams were super tightly stitched together. And we came together in moments where within 48 hours together sitting side by side marketing and sales, we would generate campaigns together. Of course, we'd take them out and test them, but we would generate campaigns and get them into market that actually impacted the pipeline in a very positive way, in a very fast way. Usually that can take weeks, months, quarters, but when you're working together, things can happen in 72 hours. I mean, there's just no question. I'm not saying it's all done in 72 hours, but the genesis of it and the meat of it can be done that fast. So that's that I, you know, I talked about velocity a bit and that's, I think it's an important part of it. The other thing I think is very important is alignment with the product team. So at Symphony, we had a lot of different product that we launched.  

I had a small but mighty team of marketers, but we were launching, you know, many, many products and some things were fully formed and some weren't quite ready, but we still felt it was time to get them into market. And so again, we partnered with teams and we would do things like kind of like early customer ship, or even before that we would do working groups where we would understand really what customers wanted and co-develop things with our customers and then bring them into market in a very methodical way. So that's just a couple ideas there. But the other thing I think is letting your customers tell the story versus, you know, Symphony. So one example is we had big customer events before COVID. We switched them to digital. We had a thousand digital transformation officers from banks sitting in a room in New York City before COVID and we would let our customers go up stage and tell their complete stories, but it was whole context. It wasn't just a demo. It was here's our business, here's the workflows, here's how we use the technology. 

And we never allowed them to demonstrate anything that was mocked up. It had to be a live demo of a real, in production use product. That just got amazing feedback, right. And we're up on stage and literally folks are texting their account reps from Symphony saying, I just saw something that, so and so presented up on stage. I wanna buy that, right. That's a great moment if you will. And so you wanna create more of those moments, right? So Symphony worked very hard to create many such moments, whether it was in smaller forums or larger forums, digital, live, whether that was, you know, across, you know, different channels. So that was one thing. And then I think the other thing that we thought a lot about at Symphony is kind of, you know, multi-channel, multi-touch and how we attribute that and how that flows through. So we had a top account approach there, and we would track, you know, six plus touches on top accounts from a marketing standpoint and things like that. And that helped us really understand exactly what the impact, the marketing impact was on what we were doing. So that plus the fierce alignment with the revenue team, listening actively, those things were very important. And then just understanding our own customers business to the degree where we, you know, it's cliche, but we really did achieve the trusted advisor status where, you know, whether it was a product marketing exec on my team or someone on the revenue team or the executive team, we could walk in and just have the trust of the customer and have a very frank discussion on how we could help catapult their business forward. 

It wasn't about us and our product, about Symphony. It was about how could you actually, you know, ramp your own business, leveraging a technology like Symphony, and those conversations are just so pure and so productive and helpful that amazing things happen. So I'm kind of all over the map there, but I'm just trying to give you some hints of it. I can't go into every single detail, but I'm proud of the work there. The team worked really hard. We did not always get it right. We learned a lot of lessons and ultimately, it led to growth. And I think that Symphony is gonna be an amazing company. It's already a double unicorn and hopefully it'll grow for platinum, so. 

NICK: Wow and you had a big role in contributing to that. 

ANDREW: Well, it wasn't just me It was a true team effort, a true team effort from the executive suite on down. Absolutely everyone. 

NICK: Yeah, just to kind of summarize what you said in very, very basic terms, alignment with the customers, alignment with the revenue and sales team, alignment with product and really, you know, it's kind of, it sounds basic, but it's hard to do. It's hard to do that and it's hard to do it well. 

ANDREW: Yeah, the way I think about it, a little bit of analogy. So I grew up in Southern California. I was more like a skateboarder. There's some similar things there, but for a lot of my friends were surfers and I did surf a bit and not as much as others, but one of the lessons I learned is when you get up on that surfboard, it takes every muscle to stay up on that surfboard on the wave and have a great experience. It's an amazing experience when you do it, but it takes every muscle to do that. And alignment within the organization is that way. You're using every muscle to keep that balance, to keep that alignment. In some ways, it's exhausting, but it's also exhilarating at the same time. 

NICK: Yeah, you know, as a marketing agency, I have to ask the selfish question. Where does outside expertise fit into the mix, right. When do you hire in house, when do you bring outside experts in certain roles? 

ANDREW: I think it's very valuable. I've always had a mix. I do believe that the core kind of marketing intellectual property approach, processes, oversight, and subject matter expertise, I do believe that has to reside inside the company, but I think it's really important to do what I call a flex in, flex out approach with trusted agency partners and really tailor that to the strengths of the team and then the needs of the team. So, for example, like at, one example is at Symphony, you know, my team was so good at so many things, but we wanted to get additional expertise specifically on LinkedIn. 

And so even though we had gotten good traction, we had grown our followers. We were consistently publishing calling out content, our engagement rates were double the industry average at one point for what we were posting. That said, I wanted more, I wanted to be like best in class at LinkedIn. So I hired a fantastic agency called Ditto at the time. And those guys helped come in and really some amazing creative thinking in a very rapid amount of time and again, moved the needle for us. On the PR side, we had very talented small internal PR team, but they could not cover everything. And we were in every region of the world. And so we hired four that were really tightly managed and a lot of oversight, but they helped us get the message out. And they helped us to keep track and understand what the stories were. So I absolutely believe in that. Again, you can't over rotate on it. A lot of companies, not a lot of, some of the companies I've worked for along in the past have given it a lot out to the agencies. I think you have to have a core, right? In house, but at the same time, I also think you can bring some best practices from agencies in house. 

At Symphony, I developed kind of a mini service bureau with designers and some of the digital marketing team were like an internal service bureau at one point. So you can leverage that model both ways. I always treat agencies as true partners and true parts of the team. Invite them to calls frequently. And I think they're integral part of it, but again, it's gotta be a balance it's all a balance. I think the other place that partners can really help, not just in kind of functional areas or vertical areas, but geographical areas, right. So, you might not know how to go to market fast in the Nordics or in Japan or whatever. And so, you know, partners in those areas could absolutely help accelerate the business. And so I can see a lot for that. And then the other thing I think partners are good for is some of it, not shaping the strategy, but help kind of coaching the strategy. So if you're going through kind of a rebranding exercise, you would want a trusted partner to help guide you through that process. Again, a lot of the hard work's gotta be done in house, but that trusted partner partner can help put guide rails in place and push you in the right way and ask the right questions and that's invaluable. That's absolutely invaluable. 

NICK: Yeah, no, that's a great perspective. And I feel like we could talk all day about this stuff, but I know we have to wrap up soon and I want to finish with one last question. Can you offer our audience kind of some actionable, very specific advice, something, a growth hack or tip, something they can implement in the next week or the next month? 

ANDREW: Yes, well, so I post pretty frequently on LinkedIn. I try and do the marketing tips and sometimes they're more specific than not so I could pull from that, but let me give you one. Take every type of content, whether it's short form, long form, written, video, audio, and cut it by at least 30% up front, just do it. Just, I don't care how crisp and tight you think it is. You can take out 30% or more of it right now. And the reader viewer listener will thank you and bless you a hundred percent. We are in info fatigue, everyone's overloaded. We don't have time. Everyone wants helpful crisp content. As marketers, we usually like to produce. We like to write, we like to create. That's great. That's important. But just do the audience a favor. Cut it back, immediately, like right away. So that's one thing. The other thing I think, and I, again, it's a soft thing. Be grateful. That's another thing I think, let's be thankful for those that work with us and help us, just be grateful to people like all the time, 'cause we all need that right now. Especially again with empathy, it's a moment of empathy. I think we need to do that. 

And then the other thing is step outside your zone at least once a week. And I've talked about this before in different forums, for example, like I'm heavy into B2B SaaS, cybersecurity, et cetera, collaboration. But I often go out and seek kind of best in class examples of what kind of B2C is doing, because I think you can't bring all of it in, but you can bring some of it in. It's a fresh perspective. It's just one example, like get outta your comfort zone, go do something a different way, go to a different restaurant, go see a different movie than you'd normally see, listen to a different podcast than you normally would. Just jolt your routine with something out of the norm. And that goes for personal life as well as professional life and it's amazing what cross pollination can happen and how one idea can spark. I have several ideas a week that just spark from totally unexpected places, but I had to be in the place. I had to be listening. I had to force myself outta my normal comfort zone to get that fresh perspective. It doesn't always work. It's not always helpful, but that process is helpful. And a lot of times good  stuff comes from it. So those are three things that I would just give you off the cuff. I dunno if that's helpful or not, but. 

NICK: Very helpful, very helpful. Love that advice. The video editing team, watching this, they're gonna have a hard time cutting 30% of this video, but we'll try. 

ANDREW: Please do it. 

NICK: Well, Andrew, I really appreciate your time. This was very insightful. Before we let you go, where can people find out more about you and the companies you work with? 

ANDREW: Sure, just reach me via LinkedIn is probably the best way to do, I'm very active there. Happy to respond. I offer help. I do some, a little bit of pro bono when I can or just give advice and mentorship. I want to give back as much as people have given to me. So feel free to reach out for any reason. I'm happy to extend my network. 

NICK: Awesome, thank you so much, Andrew Hoerner. Appreciate your time. 

ANDREW: Take care, thank you.