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Marketing is Growth Hacking

4 minutes read

There tends to be this love-hate relationship between the term, “growth hacker.” And for those who are part of marketing startups, the word allows for some separation from the marketer counterparts in corporate America. Yet, to others, it is another one of those “Silicon Valley buzzwords” that make you want to puke every time you hear it.

Can anyone say “Big Data?”

Traditionally, marketing at its core has simply been to drive awareness, demand and sales. No matter what you are selling, or how you are selling it, marketing has been used to push products and service forward in markets. The difference between successful business from others is understanding that marketing is simply a channel used for getting customers.

That being said, “growth hacker” is not leaving the party anytime soon. And it is important that we understand how marketing connects with growth hacking. We may as well own it and make it clear what it means — that way, employers can actually use it, hire for it and train for it.

So What Is Growth Hacking?

There are plenty of resources and opinions on what growth hacking is and whether it will continue to redefine marketing. First, let’s break this down so we can all understand it. As Sean Ellis put it, “A growth hacker is a person whose true north is growth.” The growth aspect of the term is usually easier to understand: it’s ensuring that the arrow keeps moving upwards and to the right. It’s finding a method that works and leading with it.

“Hacker” is more of a double entendre. In some circles it has one meaning. But as it applies to our context, it has a more figurative sense. Think of the term “life hacker” for businesses.  A “hacker” is someone who thinks outside the box, discovers new ways to solve problems and may not always follow the rules (in fact maybe they’ll disregard them all together).

At the end of the day, growth hacking might prove to be traditional methods of marketing, but more often it involves identifying innovative ideas for capturing a target audience’s attention. This is why a growth hacker needs to be as creative as they are analytical.

What’s the Point of Growth Hacking?

Andrew Chen, a writer, entrepreneur and tech startup advisor, recently referred to growth hacking as the “new VP marketing.” Pointing out that growth hacking has quickly become integrated into the culture of Silicon Valley (We weren’t kidding when we said it was a buzzword). This is making marketing a multi-channeled role. Marketers are still focused on the best way to get customers interested in their products. What has shifted is how they are going about it. Rather than being people-centric, marketing has now made a transition to a technology-centric approach.

Chen claims that the lines between product development, engineering and marketing are blurring, requiring everyone to work together. The takeaway is that integration is the new foundation to this mixture of marketing and growth hacking.

Yet to say that all growth hackers should evolve into VPs of marketing is not the best train of thought, either. It sounds confusing, but a VP marketer needs to be able to help shape an overall company strategy, build and manage a marketing team and coordinate external sources among many other responsibilities. At times, this is more rigid and traditional than the typical “out-of-the-box” growth hacker. To be fair, some growth hackers will be great at this, yet you might find that some hackers will be pounding their heads to their desks in boredom.

Putting It All Together.

Marketing and Growth Hacking should honestly be put hand-in-hand. Though, you’ll find that most business people associate marketing with large corporate budgets and growth hacking with tiny start ups. And while it is true that growth hacking was a result of start ups not having the funds and resources to carry out large campaigns, there are valuable lessons to be learned from both sides.

Like we said earlier, marketing is driving awareness, demand and sales. And growth hacking is a set of ideals that help motivate the marketing behaviors of consumer products. A critical step that all business should start adapting is to merge these two aspects. When you take the ideals of growth hacking and push it through marketing derivatives, you might find that:

  1. You don’t need to spend tons of your budget on over the top campaigns.
  2. Powerful marketing strategies can be surprisingly simple.
  3. You’re able to create a more flexible job description for a flexible individual.

Let’s look at DropBox. They are one of the best examples of what it looks like to redefine this merging of marketing and growth hacking through a cheaper, easier and much more scalable means. In less than three years DropBox became a multi-billion dollar brand; it was done because they innovated:

  1. A great product
  2. A simple demo video that drew in early adopters
  3. A hook that drove consumer need and then benefit (DropBox betters me when you have it too).

Simple, right? They made a straightforward product that is easy to understand. They created a simplified and budget-friendly demo that appealed to business insiders and consumers, alike. Finally, they gave referral bonuses of extra storage space for each new user that a current user convinced to sign up. And during the rise of cloud storage, consumers had no trouble being convinced to receive free, extra storage.

From Twitter to AirBnB to Groupon to Spotify, you’ll see a surprising fact: tactics that would have never been previously described as “marketing” turned out to be the successful pushes behind their business growth. It was the limitation of characters to expand user’s thought in Twitter or the integration of Craigslist’s platform and AirBnB or Groupon’s “Refer 3 Friends, Get the Deal Free” offer that paid users to share deals with their friends. And consider how much advertising Spotify gets when they broadcast songs your friends have been listening to.

These innovations were possible because they were able to be creative enough to broaden the definition of marketing. It worked. Meanwhile, companies with the ability to spend millions a year (or sooner), are still slugging along with poorer results.

That is the beauty in merging these two ideas to better promote the product and further your company’s mission to the consumer.