Growth Hacking Is Bull

The phrase “growth hacking” upsets me more than I should let it. Why? Because it takes me back to 2007, when I was about to graduate from college and start my career in online marketing — the same year Jason Calacanis started his highly-publicized crusade against the online marketing industry and, in particular, against professionals specializing in SEO and social media.

The whole thing was not only misguided, showing his complete and utter ignorance when it came to online marketing, but ended up being wholly farcical, as Calacanis would later become the very embodiment of the prototypical “snake oil salesman” he railed against with the launch of Mahalo.com.

Of course, Calacanis’ story only serves to highlight a larger trend. The startup world and the technology blogosphere have spent the better part of the last decade misunderstanding online marketing, making broad generalizations about marketers and maligning the industry as a whole — only to now realize how essential online marketing is to their own success.

So, what do you do when you find yourself in a situation such as this one? Rebrand, rebrand, rebrand! And thus, the term “growth hacking” is born.

What Growth Hacking Is Not

“How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg? Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.”

Growth hacking is often defined in opposition to traditional methods of gaining exposure and acquiring customers. Instead of using traditional media such as print, radio, and television advertising, you use new media such as content marketing, search engine optimization, and social media marketing.

What does “growth hacking” entail, then? Let’s see:

  • Creating a search-based user acquisition strategy through content marketing and search engine optimization and marketing
  • Embracing social media technologies and building a presence on platforms like Twitter and Facebook
  • Using search to inform your product development roadmap
  • Optimizing your websites for user experience and conversions
  • Using cost-effective methods of advertising through in-depth analysis of analytics and extensive A/B testing

Not only are the tactics above not growth hacking, but they are also nothing new — this is online marketing as we’ve known it for years. It is not something proprietary and there are no secrets to it. SEO, SEM, SMO, SMM, content marketing, analytics, A/B testing, sales funnel/sales loop workflows and conversion optimization are fundamentals of online marketing and have been since the emergence each of these platforms.

Being well-versed in online marketing and executing these strategies for growth and user acquisition is just good sense. Applying a data-driven and programmatic approach to your online marketing strategy is not new, either — pick up any book on search engine optimization, and you’ll gain some insight into how much good SEO relies on developer resources and collaboration within a company.

Integrating marketing (especially search and social) into every level of your organization and using it to inform your product development roadmap and user acquisition strategy is online marketing at its best.

Growth Hacking Demystified

If anything, growth hacking can be defined as a wake-up call for the startup industry and technology blogosphere to start taking online marketing as we’ve known it for years more seriously. To suggest that the secret of growth hacking is the mindset not the toolset, detracts from its effectiveness. One of the fundamental principles of online marketing is the emphasis on a company-wide, holistic strategy that combines both mindset and toolsets.

Nabeel Hyatt, a venture partner at Spark Capital said, “If I’m given 1,000 visitors and I’m trying to convert as many as possible to customers, that’s lead gen optimization. If I’m tuning the product to convert 1,000 visitors into 10,000 customers, that’s growth [hacking].”

Well, he’s wrong. If you’re not focusing on turning 1,000 leads into 10,000 leads, you just have a crappy sales funnel and you should take another look at this chart.

2014-01-04_1230

Far from a disruption, the use of “growth hacking” is a juvenile response to an “I told you so” from the online marketing industry.

Not only is growth hacking a meaningless phrase used to rebrand online marketing by the very people who’ve spent the better part of their careers maligning online marketing, but at its worst, it is actually harmful to your company. Growth hacking perpetuates this myth that you can magically achieve hockey-stick growth by using short-term “hacks.”

Deconstructing Growth Hacking & Growth Hacks

Adam Breckler, Co-Founder and VP of Product at Visual.ly and self-proclaimed growth hacker, pointed to the following as successful examples of growth hacking. Let’s take a look at a few of the notable ones from the list and see whether they are truly different from online marketing as we know it.

  1. Paypal’s Friend Referral Bounty. Paypal gave $10 to each new customer and $10 to the customer who referred them. This is called referral marketing.
  2. Hotmail Tagline. Hotmail would add a signature at the bottom of outgoing messages saying,”Get your free email at Hotmail.” This is called email signature marketing and is one of the most underutilized marketing tools.
  3. Airbnb’s Craigslist Integration. AirBnB enabled cross-posting of your listing to Craigslist. Cross-posting as a form of marketing has existed since the days of forums and newsgroups. This is nothing new.
  4. Dropbox Incentivized Referral Program. Dropbox gives you free storage for inviting your friends to Dropbox. Once again, this is called referral marketing.
  5. Instagram Cross-Posting. Instagram enabled posting images to Twitter and Facebook. Once again, this is cross-posting as discussed above.
  6. Mint.com Content/SEO Strategy. Mint developed a content marketing strategy based on search and social. This one is explicitly pointed out as content marketing and search engine optimization.

Finally, let’s take a look at entrepreneur and self-proclaimed growth hacker Gagan Biyani’s take on the difference between growth hacking and marketing. Biyani concedes that “growth hacking is not a new practice, just a new term,” just as we’ve explained above, but to suggest that manipulating Google’s search ranking algorithm is the same as search engine optimization (and growth hacking) is an egregious assertion. Take the Rap Genius fiasco as an example — that is not search engine optimization or marketing, and it is not growth hacking. It is just spam.

I also take issue with the idea that a growth hacker is a marketer with a unique toolset. All the tools listed below are in every good online marketer’s toolbox regardless of the type or scale of company you’re working for.

  1. Viral Acquisition — is a commonly used strategy by online marketers at the bottom of the sales funnel to engender customer loyalty and acquire customers through referral marketing or word-of-mouth.
  2. Paid Acquisition — search ads, display ads, affiliate marketing, Facebook ads, mobile ads, and search engine marketing are all forms of paid acquisition used by online marketers.
  3. Content Marketing — is a fundamental underpinning of any search optimization and marketing strategy, and it is hard to have a social media strategy without content marketing.
  4. E-mail Marketing — is one of the most basic tools at the disposal of an online marketer and predates most social media.
  5. Search Engine Optimization — “Startups that use SEO effectively build scalable infrastructure that applies to tens of thousands or millions of pages. Most of the SEO theory on the web is focused on ranking for just 5-10 keywords.” On the surface, I believe the argument is distinguishing between short-tail and long-tail SEO, but at the scale we’re talking about it seems more like something that would get you banned rather than let you capture the long tail. Either way, any complete SEO strategy focuses on both short-tail and long-tail keywords.
  6. A/B Testing & Analytics — As I’ve mentioned before, A/B testing is vital to any organic or paid search campaign and necessary to optimize sales conversion workflows.

The next time you see a resume come across your desk that says “growth hacker” tell that person you’re interested in a seasoned online marketing professional and not some kid who can spew nonsensical buzzwords.

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” — William Shakespeare

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Search Marketing | Search Marketing Column | Top News

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About The Author: is an award-winning digital marketing consultant who has been recognized for outstanding achievement executing social media and search engine marketing strategies.



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  • eugene

    but this is completely the same rhetoric and situation we had with SEO industry some time ago. There are always the real guys and the ones that “fake it till they make it”, so nothing actually new Muhammad.

  • http://www.evolvor.com evolvor

    Thank you Thank you Thank you

  • GrowthHacker

    The last time I checked, “growth” and “hacking” were part of the English language and you can call the same thing by many names. So this rant is just absurd.

    Other examples:

    Author: writer, essayist, word slinger
    Entrepreneur: businessperson, founder

  • dman2010

    I’ve been saying the same thing since that ridiculous term started appearing (often spewed from a 20-something MBA). Thank you for fully articulating…

  • tomkuhr

    The real difference between marketing and growth hacking is traditional marketers usually aren’t good at finding / specifying / designing product innovations that make a difference in distribution. Marketers are good at managing campaigns and defined marketing channels, but a real growth hacker impacts the product in a way that is meaningful to it’s use, engagement and rapid distribution. This is not marketing, it’s not engineering, it’s an innovative combination of both – and that’s the reason why ‘growth hacking’ as a new name is valid. Marketers, as is their penchant, have adopted this title because that’s the trend, but that doesn’t mean they actually know anything about hacking, innovation or product management.

  • seanellis

    I am largely to blame for the recent tirade against “growth hacking.” I’ve let the term be bastardized and redefined a lot since my original blog post on it back in 2010 http://www.startup-marketing.com/where-are-all-the-growth-hackers/ . I wrote that blog post primarily for *startups* that had achieved product/market fit. The idea was not to replace marketing, but to create a category of marketing activities that have a direct attributable impact on growth. Startups are always on the brink of death. They don’t have the luxury to focus on things like awareness building or to prepare 50 page slide decks on the demographics of the customer. I wrote that a startup’s first marketing hire should have “growth as their true north.” They shouldn’t be outsourcing and managing vendors, the person should be a hands-on “builder” and optimizer of growth programs. In order to help make the concept stick, I put a name to it. On that day the term “growth hacker” was born.

    I won’t rehash why all this debate is actually a good thing. Read my comment herehttp://www.growthhackers.com/dhh-growth-hacking-a-cool-sounding-euphemism-for-making-the-doer-feel-good-about-using-the-same-old-sleazy-marketing-tricks/ for my thoughts on that…

    Since my original post in 2010, I’ve been happy with certain evolutions of the term. One is that I think large companies should have a group that is exclusively focused on managing the activities that are directly attributable to growth. Companies like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter have had these groups for a long time. Bigger companies have the luxury of specialization so they can have research departments, PR departments and I think “growth” should be a focused discipline within larger organizations. Part of this group’s objective should be to create a culture of growth across the entire organization and help each department evaluate and measure activities that have a direct impact on growth.

    “Growth hacking” may or may not be the right word, but it’s the one I used and it stuck.

    Much as SEO is a categorization of marketing activities that improve a websites search ranking, you can think of growth hacking as a broader categorization of marketing activities that directly and measurably impact growth. In my original post, I suggested that the role should be easier to hire than a VP Marketing, since the scope of focus is actually smaller. I also suggested that some of the best growth people I’ve met have engineering backgrounds. It wasn’t until Andrew Chen’s post “Growth Hacker is the New VP Marketing” that people really began to focus in on engineering skills as a prerequisite for being an effective growth hacker. He also falsely positioned it as a replacement for VP Marketing. I both disagree that it is the new VP Marketing and I disagree that engineering is a prerequisite. A VP Marketing needs to have a broader understanding of all of the disciplines within the marketing function. Some growth hackers will be good for this and some won’t.

    Lastly, you could easily argue that SEO as a concept doesn’t need to exist because marketing already exists. But SEO is a subset of marketing activities. Growth hacking (to me anyway) is a subset of marketing activities too. The most powerful online marketing tactics often involve exploiting the unique advantages of the internet, which generally require some engineering skills. It’s easier to run these experiments if you don’t need to beg an engineering department for help. So engineering skills are definitely an advantage, but results trump skills.

    Apologize to all that the conversation will likely to shift to a “defense of growth hacking” for a while. But eventually we’ll be back to the sharing of effective ways to grow the user bases for products that customers love.

  • Tyler_Hakes

    I’m not sure why we’re wasting time and energy arguing over what one deems to call themself. “Growth hacking” is OF COURSE a buzzword — as is nearly everything in marketing. As marketers, we dress ourselves and our titles up all the time. This is not new.

  • matthewbaker

    Growth hacking is online marketing that is scrappy out of necessity. Not everyone has a big war chest to throw around online, thus the buzzword provides a good delineation in intent and skill set.

  • https://syerram.silvrback.com/ Saikiran Yerram

    I think the author is missing a point and it seems like a rant to me.

    Growth hacking techniques is definitely online marketing. i don’t think anyone is questioning that. The key difference being the individuals involved. Growth hacking is lead by a programmer or a hacker with focus on growth [marketing]. All of the techniques you mentioned can be either done by a agency [costing $1000s of dollars] or by a programmer. As a startup, you don’t have that kinda dough to spare, so you do what you can to get the growth.

    Growth hackers write code to do most of these tasks, hence the difference between a typical online marketing vs growth hacking.

    In fact, as coder I never tell people I am a growth hacker. Its absurd to call yourself a growth hacker or say you’re doign growth hacking.

  • Justynn Royal

    I agree with this whole heartedly, however I believe that there are some differences between traditional online marketing and “growth hacking”. The difference, to me, is the amount of coding and statistics that are used in “growth hacking”. Writing landing page code to track cookies and process them in a certain way to be used for statistics was not in my tool set a couple of years ago, nor was starting my day with a dashboard full of graphs and numbers reminiscent of statistics courses that I took in college (and yes I made a C in that class lol). So I do believe that all marketers use the same vehicles to do their work. I just think that the marketing that I was taught (wordplay, call to actions, emotional response) is also combined with computer science(analytics, coding, a-z testing, cookie tracking, time spent on page) There are just a larger number of KPI’s to be looked at now. Separate departments used to look at that data or do those technical things and then once a quarter deliver the results. Now online marketers and “growth hackers” can do it in a day. To me when I see growth hacker term I see someone who can deal in the computer science and the marketing. Either way, marketers are learning the coding and the analytics and soon everyone will have that in their tool set if they don’t already. Good read and thank you for posting this!

  • https://codeable.io/ Tomaž Zaman

    So at the end of the day it’s just naming that annoys you. To me personally, the title doesn’t matter, results do.

  • seanellis

    Great comment carmivorehq. Completely agree.

  • Toni Voutilainen

    I think Muhammad is also trying to say that you need more than just random ‘hacks’ and you should to treat those operations as they really are: marketing processes

  • Joe Preston

    well said, sir.

  • Steve

    LOL! Thank you, Muhammad Saleem.

    Growth hacking sounds ridiculous. The thing is in the past, you had specific job roles right… you were either a programmer, designer, seo, analyst, etc.. Today, some of these roles overlap each other and so people try to come up with these silly terms.

    Even if you said you were a growth hacker to someone, they wouldn’t know what the hell you do. It’s hard enough telling someone what an SEO does. Try explaining growth hacking to someone not in this business.

    Let’s just stick to online marketing. Instead of trying to complicate things with 4 or 5 different terms for essentially the same thing. Hey, look at me, I’m a SPERM – search premium engine rank master. I’m cool.

  • Shannon L. Titus

    As a person who’s been building start up marketing departments from the ground up for (ahem) many years, the move from old school style marketing, where marketing is simply a service organization or, worse yet, “just a cost center” have been long gone for a long time. Being data driven and responsible for revenue, not just leads, has called us to be active contributors to product dev (even if we don’t do the coding) — and that’s been going on for the last eight or so years in the start ups that I and my colleagues have been part of. The thing that I’ve found troubling about the idea of growth hacking is when your resident computer scientists think that marketing is *only* data or a formula that can be easily deconstructed, then replicated such that *anyone* can do it, regardless of experience or area of discipline. I’ve seen start ups struggle and fall down hard thinking that growth hacking is the silver bullet that will drive the growth necessary to get them that next round of financing.

  • http://raymondduke.com/ Ray

    The startup world and the technology blogosphere have spent the better part of the last decade misunderstanding online marketing, making broad generalizations about marketers and maligning the industry as a whole — only to now realize how essential online marketing is to their own success.

    Exactly. Also consider the startup community is generally younger, so they would rather create a new term than learn about an “old” technique. That’s a huge mistake because once you learn about things like Direct Response and you study the “old guys”, you notice that “growth hacking” is not new.

    It’s like most things that you learn; you can either go with the latest and most hyped up way of learning it, or you can study the fundamentals.

    And what’s kind of funny… and makes me chuckle at least once a day… is how “growth hacking” is essentially marketing that has marketed itself. That is the comedy behind the buzzword.

    http://www.nickusborne.com/been-a-growth-hacker-since-1979/

    ^ Is a great article where a Direct Response copywriter goes through his step-by-step process he has used since 1979 and shows how it is essentially “growth hacking”.

    Although it irritates me everytime I hear the word, I’m not going to let it get to me. “Let the kids have their sandbox,” I say.

  • http://raymondduke.com/ Ray

    I suggest you study marketing more. Specifically, direct response marketing… something that’s been around for 100+ years. There is not one element of GH that cannot be attributed to DR.

  • http://www.startupmanagement.org/ William Mougayar

    Hi Sean, You don’t have to apologize so much. You’ve done a good service to raise visibility for the growth hacking mentality. Startups are all about growth. If growth doesn’t happen fast, they die. We know that.

    True that some folks in the startup culture like simplicity and will replace that for substance. Growth hacking is a good mentality to have. But it’s just a bridge to marketing. It doesn’t replace marketing.

  • http://www.startupmanagement.org/ William Mougayar

    It’s a good critique of growth hacking, but one cannot compare the marketing needs of startups to those of grown-up companies. A larger company does a portfolio of marketing activities, and choice is not their issue, rather they need to do a number of things well. A startup doesn’t have the luxury (nor the need) to implement 22 various marketing activities. They need to keep it simple initially, and the “growth hacking” moniker is a good one that captures their imagination and keeps them focused on growth, which is a key goal.

    Where growth hacking derails is when a startup thinks that’s all they need to keep doing. In reality, growth hacking is one of the marketing arsenals, and if the startup grows, they get to implement more diversified marketing.

  • http://darwinweb.net/ Gabe da Silveira

    You’re throwing out the baby with the bathwater here. Growth hacking is to digital product marketing as lean startup was to traditional bubble-era startup.

    That is to say, you are iterating on the product directly in collaboration between marketing teams and engineering teams. A growth hacker is someone who is particularly good at living in both these worlds and has the authority to drive the actual code in the product as a result of experimentation. DR marketing may well be the progenitor of this mindset, but the products they sell are not code and so the “hacking” part doesn’t apply. Tightening the feedback loop to the extent that proper growth hacking does it is simply impossible in the world of manufacturing.

    Don’t be fooled because of the fact that growth hacking has become a misused buzzword by wannabe entrepreneurs everywhere, it’s just a fact that any good idea will sooner or later be co-opted by hacks and charlatans. You need to look beyond the hype to understand the seed of the good idea, and understand that in this case, the people who really made this work were not just applying traditional digital marketing methods, they really did start doing things differently.

  • Mike Post

    It’s the name that riles people up. It’s a trashy buzzword. This article is an in depth way of saying, the term “growth hacking” is ridiculous

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    But you can compare the marketing needs of a startup to any small business or new non-tech business. You rarely hear small businesses talking about the need to growth hack. And yet, the marketing activities they can do to get the most bang for the buck may be the same activities. I guess that’s one thing that gets me about “growth hacking.” It comes off as something unique for startups rather than something any business can and should be doing, a set of essential marketing activities.

  • Jordan Cohen

    Can you provide an actual, real-life example of a company and a growth hacker marketing campaign that used code within product to generate leads? I’m trying to wrap my head around this, easier with real examples. Thanks in advance!

  • http://www.startupmanagement.org/ William Mougayar

    “But you can compare the marketing needs of a startup to any small business or new non-tech business.”

    Not quite. What is different about a tech startup is: a) they have a more urgent need to grow fast, b) they are searching for a business model and product-market fit, c) they don’t want to stay small forever, d) their business is fairly ambiguous initially.

    All these uncertainties demand a “hacking” mentality to growth related activities which can later mature and become more mainstream, as their business matures. I think the “growth hacking” period is almost like a warm-up towards the more essential/standard marketing activities.

  • http://raymondduke.com/ Ray

    But it’s all just marketing.

    And marketing that was smart always consisted of product creation just as much as the actual marketing. Copywriters of yesterday would come up with ways to make the product better while writing the copy for it. And some products were marketed before manufactured. There was always a connection between the two.

    A product is defined as “an article or substance that is manufactured or refined for sale”. So a product could be a book, widget string of code – whatever. As long as it’s something being sold.

    “Hacking” to me means “idea”. Growth hacks are just ideas people have to get more customers / sales. They are growth ideas. So growth hacking as it’s known today has been around since Bob the caveman thought of a way to sell a wheel.

    I understand your argument. I think where you are wrong is you loosely define traditional marketing methods as things you’ve experience or seen on TV. If you study 19th century marketing, you’ll find a lot of it is the same concepts that are being used today. That’s a hard pill to swallow because people associate traditional marketing with things like Mad Men or hyperbolic ads.

  • Logan Hall

    Thanks for the article. I agree that this is simply another buzz word, to pump up the volume of online marketing and they are both ultimately the same thing. More traffic, better onsite conversions and increased revenue (fingers crossed). The only big thing that i have come across is articles professing that a CMO is a new growth hacker. This i would disagree with. Growth hacking/online marketing are part of the picture for a CMO. A marketing team is focussed on all those MBA cliches such as competitive positioning, pricing and placement, company values and ethics, recruitment strategy, data analysis, reporting ROI using business metrics and not ‘hacker’ metrics etc etc etc. There are many more. Thanks for the post, a great one to share.

  • Chris Elwell

    One thing that never changes about marketing is the overwhelming need for its practitioners to be loved and recognized as the smartest gal/guy in the room. “Growth hacking” is the latest in an endless number of attempts to take a marginal tweek to the dicipline and ignite a career/business/movement. Inbound? Content marketing? Native ads, anyone?

  • Chris Elwell

    Your a, b, d reasons are precisely why so many tech start ups fail. They take VC money so they need to grow unnaturally fast, they have no commitment to their busniess model, their business is ambiguous, and they rely on smoke and mirrors like “growth hacking” to dupe vullible VCs with more money than brains.

  • John Hoskins

    As a Start Up I don’t care what you call it. If it gets leads at a low cost that convert to customers – I’m in. Love to know who all see as best of class in the space so I can talk to them.

    John
    SalesGenomix

  • http://www.startupmanagement.org/ William Mougayar

    Sorry, that’s not an accurate representation of startups. And it doesn’t appear that you understand the startup world.

  • JamesHRH

    Sean, I am with William.

    Its a good term. Like a lot of good terms, it goes through a hype cycle and gets attached to all kinds of silliness. Superficial people want to be associated with terms that are hot (strategic used to be one, now its growth).

    All these terms – product/market fit; growth hacking – could also be replaced by the phrase ‘find out who wants something you could provide and then provide it to them’.

  • http://darwinweb.net/ Gabe da Silveira

    “Hacking” doesn’t mean “idea”. It is a specific term with a long history among software engineers and tinkerers. Again, I have worked a long time in both software engineering and in marketing, and I’m telling you that there is actually a new phenomenon here based on things that weren’t really possible at all until the technology converged to allow it in its current form.

    Are these things built on previous ideas? Of course, all ideas are built on other ideas. There is no such thing as an original idea. But again, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, every accusation you’re leveling against growth hacking could equally have been leveled at the word “marketing” itself before someone coined that term. “Marketing is not a thing, it’s just getting the word out about your products and services”.

  • http://www.EyeOnJewels.com/ Darius Vasefi

    Good counter Sean. Main take away for me is that these roles are not replacing each other but complimenting. I’d like to see more constructive information/discussions on how growth and marketing work together with specifics on each role’s ownership so hopefully we can all speak the same language.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    A tech start-up doesn’t have a more urgent need to grow fast. Plenty of start-ups are happy to grow organically. But some tech start-ups want to grow fast because they’ve taken investment and feel pressure or because they hope fast growth will bring investment.

    As for (b), if you’re searching for a business model, you don’t need growth hacking. You need a business plan. That’s sort of applicable to (d), as well.

    There’s no “hacking” mentality to “I have a product but don’t know if anyone wants it but if I somehow come up with a way to attract attention, maybe it’ll make it.” Maybe a pyramid scheme mentality would be more applicable for that :)

  • James Norquay

    Growth Hacking is just a fancy word for marketing, similar to Inbound Marketing. I agree in the end of the day it is all marketing.

  • tomkuhr

    Sorry that you’re incorrect Ray, but word of mouth marketing and viral marketing are not direct response marketing; nor is product specification or product management. And measuring software application engagement wasn’t even possible 25 years ago.

  • http://www.startupmanagement.org/ William Mougayar

    Most startups (especially in the early stages) don’t have a marketing budget, let alone a formal marketing plan. They have to hack their growth in order to reach a more sustainable growth pattern, at which point they can perform more predictable marketing activities. Growth hacking is an entry into more diversified marketing.

    Re: the business model issue, growth hacking can help in the iterative stages of business model discovery. That is the reality of startups.

  • http://www.silvar.net/ Miguel Silva Rodrigues

    I’d say there’s one aspect of growth hacking that isn’t fully encompassed by online marketing yet — the ability to code. It’s not an accident that “hacking” is part of the name. However, I agree that the term is being used to garner more attention and sell more books than it should. Which doesn’t differ from a lot of other made-up terms in online marketing such as “inbound marketing”.

  • DJLProjects

    Well written article. Regarding some of the comments below, nothing is ever new. It’s just a remodeling of the same old stuff.

    And as for Growth Hacking, I hate the term as well. But, whatever, it is just a name.

    Now, don’t let the fact that the majority of growth hackers are just kids trying to differentiate themselves from the now 30-50 year old seasoned online marketers with fancy new terms and a resume that lists skills such as “Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest”. There can be and are differences between online marketing and growth hacking. But of course they have to share the same foundation.

    I hope that thess become the true differences between online marketing and growth hacking.
    Online Marketing: Objective numerical goals. (conversations, clicks, views)
    Growth Hacking: Subjective community goals. (retweets, blog posts, customer created content, interactions)

    In a perfect world I see a growth hacker with a focus on brand audience engagement and an online marketer with a focus on sales working together. Let the online marketer achieve short-term sales goals, and let the growth hacker build a brand’s image and audience for the future.

  • Geoffrey Colon

    Growth hacking is already so 2013. Information Jamming is the next trend for those start-ups looking to grow quickly their product with an edge of controversy and a “punk rock” disruptively innovative philosophy… https://medium.com/p/ea0391c362e6

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    William, if someone opens a new restaurant, no one things “they’d better growth hack some patrons so that eventually, they can do predictable marketing activities.”

    Start-ups are no different, nor a tech start-ups different — with the key exception that sometimes, they seem more likely to get investors to throw absurd amounts of money at them.

    Many business start out with no marketing budget or any clear idea of really how they’re going to grow. Start-ups aren’t special in this, so so “growth hacking” isn’t some unique start-up thing, not in my book.

    But it is, however, a piece of start-up specific jargon that seems to have evolved for what everyone else doing the same type of stuff would just call “marketing.”

  • Cezary Pietrzak

    I’m also not a fan of how growth hacking has been bastardized over the last year, but that isn’t your fault, Sean. Even something with the best intentions can be twisted, bent and warped to the point that it’s no longer recognizable.

    The only real gripe I have with the term is that it places too much emphasis on the latest user acquisition tools and not enough on marketing fundamentals. It’s like trying to run without first learning to walk. Most of the self-professed growth hackers I’ve met can’t put together a coherent marketing strategy and only resort to a series of disjointed tactics – which fail 99% of the time. A similar thing happened with social media in the mid 2000s when a crop of “experts” emerged who knew the ins and outs of Facebook and Twitter, but couldn’t communicate their company’s key message in a compelling way.

    That said, I think everyone will agree that growth hacking has a huge branding problem, similar to the one that BitCoin has among the larger population. I’ve found the negative connotations of the term often trump the benefits of its larger sentiment, which is finding creative ways to grow companies with minimal resources and a lot of uncertaintly. For this reason, I prefer to use the term “growth marketing” or simply “growth” to describe my work. While I understand the rationale for including “hacking” in the name, it’s simply too divisive and distracting, and not worth the effort. In contrast, no one will argue with the idea of growth.

  • http://www.startupmanagement.org/ William Mougayar

    A restaurant and a startup are being different beasts.

  • http://www.davidlaubner.com/ BostonDave

    Can we please…just get along. ;-)

  • Nik Souris

    Wow… lots of discussion here.. Admittedly, I am not a fan of the term #GrowthHacking It is, however, not limited to SEO or online marketing and in fact requires a much broader and more experimental scientific mindset. Much more research oriented than the “let’s spends tens of thousands of $$$ to optimize your pages, schedule post, come up with hashtags and/or blast your email list”. At the very core we are talking about customer / user acquisition in an efficient manner that you can scale. That “hack” may be infecting an existing social network, or putting a link on the email signature block or may very well sit with an infomercial at 3 am or a flyer at a club. It all “depends” and ultimately requires an open mind that builds off of highly monitored, relevant exercises. So to conclude things if you are “calling it (growth hacking) something that already exists (SEO/Online marketing)” the notion of looking at it differently proves that the two are in fact not the same, and it just so happens lots of people call it “Growth Hacking”.

  • http://blog.maxlytvyn.com/ Max Lytvyn

    The author bashes a term but fails to see that the purpose of the term is to describe in two words what the author described in several pages of text. Just because we can say “growth hacker” and not write a page or two explaining what this person needs to do is a good enough reason for this term to exist.

    And explanations like “it’s all just marketing” are plain dumb. It is just marketing! But it’s like saying that power bar is just food, so term “power bar” is redundant and offensive and should drive people crazy. So what if growth hacker is a subset or a “flavor” of a marketer? How does it make it bad? Use this term to communicate more efficiently or not use it and keep writing “someone who can do SEO when needed, recommendation/viral marketing, when needed, SEM when needed, …. ” – it’s up to you. But quit passing judgement on those who decided to be more efficient in describing a particular type of marketing work.

  • Sean Ellis

    Thanks William. Apologies for so many apologies:-) As long as I’m apologizing, sorry for not replying earlier. I was deep in prep for a board meeting this week. I really like your comments throughout this thread and glad we’re having some dialog around this.

  • http://www.startupmanagement.org/ William Mougayar

    Great. No need to apologize :)
    But this discussion made me realize the deep misunderstanding that exists about growth hacking, from those that are not in startups. I don’t recall ever hearing G-H being dissed by any one doing a startup. The critics typically are from the periphery or outside circles.

  • Sean Ellis

    I agree that the criticism is rarely from startups. I think the challenge is that larger companies realize that startups are doing some very innovative things around growth. Increasingly this is referred to as growth hacking and they want to learn more about it. When they ask their trusted advisors, those advisors need to take a stand. If they say “I don’t really think much about that” they may lose respect because they look like they are not plugged in. So they either say “yes that’s me/us, I/we really get this stuff” or they say “growth hacking is bullshit”. I think both groups are often pretty similar in terms of abilities, it’s really more about how they want to position themselves to potential clients or employers.

    Ultimately I really don’t care what people call themselves. Results are the only thing that really matters. Smart marketers or growth hackers or customer magicians want to understand the most powerful tools available to them to drive the results that matter.

  • http://www.startupmanagement.org/ William Mougayar

    I agree, and you’ve said it well. These new techniques were not in the “marketing books”, so that tends to throw some people off.

  • Sean Ellis

    Thanks Cezary for a relatively balanced opinion on the term “growth hacker.” I agree that many people who call themselves growth hackers are often very short-term focused. But I think the opposite problem exists among more traditional marketers. They often spend too much time on marketing strategy.

    In an early stage company the first thing that matters is finding something that moves the needle. As a company starts to gain some growth momentum, then it is equally important to manage that growth and not screw it up. If I had to pick one or the other I’d probably pick the growth hacker over the growth strategizer, but ultimately the right answer sits somewhere in between.

    Rapid testing often leads to the identification of growth programs that work. It’s even more likely if that testing is driven by relevant facts such as people who need your product and an understanding of why they eventually love it. Once effective growth programs are identified, they need to be optimized, managed and scaled. Once you have several programs being optimized, managed and scaled you start to need process and start to look more like a traditional marketing organization.

    Ultimately growth becomes a machine where managing the machine may become more important than identifying new effective growth programs. And strategy to make sure you are growing into large expanding markets also becomes very important.

    Based on my experience leading growth at several companies from customer zero to customer 1+ million, I’ve found it’s all very stage dependent.

  • Sean Ellis

    Thanks for giving us kids back our sandbox. It’s from this little sandbox that I’ve helped build the foundations of several companies that are collectively worth around $10 billion dollars.

  • Sean Ellis

    More often they can’t figure out how to create a product that someone wants (which is really difficult). But you are right that if they are trying to growth hack a product that nobody wants, then they will die. That’s why it’s critical to find product/market fit first. As the creator of the term, that is something I’ve always emphasized. The only time you’d growth hack before product/market fit is if you were building a business that needs critical mass to become valuable to users (like LinkedIn).

  • http://raymondduke.com/ Ray

    Sounds like a fun place. I hope it is?

  • http://smallerthan500.com/ Aaron Kantrowitz

    So basically we’re arguing over what it’s called? Either way, it is what it is.

 

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