What is the Difference Between Growth Hacking and Marketing?

By Christy Hill — Tuesday, February 23rd, 2016 at 11:00am
Difference Between Growth Hacking and Marketing

“Growth hacking” is a term you probably hear thrown around a lot. Is this just another trendy buzzword for ‘marketing’? Yes, and no. Growth hacking is a type of marketing, but one with a unique set of challenges. The goal of a growth-hacker is to grow their audience as quickly as possible on a limited budget. The practice itself is not new, but the term was first introduced by Sean Ellis in 2010.

The main difference between growth hacking and traditional marketing is that growth hackers don’t take the time to come up with a long-term marketing strategy. Instead, growth hackers experiment to find something that works fast and they stick with it. Traditional marketers focus on long-term, organic growth and lead-nurturing, while growth hackers focus only on growing their business quickly and inexpensively. A “hacker” by definition, is someone who disregards the rules and solves problems in an unconventional manner, so you could say “growth hacking” is a way to hack your marketing efforts to accomplish your goals faster. According to SplashOPM, In order for you to truly be “growth hacking” you need to:

  1. Be a growth marketer – which means, you need to have turned ALL of your business efforts towards growing an audience through a specific channel.

  2. You must only care about your core 1 metric – either follows, views, or most commonly email subscribers.

  3. You must be running a well thought out growth test.

Since startups are typically under tight resource constraints, they typically embrace the world of growth hacking. Most growth-hackers are skilled in coding, since many startups do not have the resources to hire a full-time marketing team. This skillset allows growth hackers to use many unconventional marketing tactics as they aren’t limited by the status quo; they will test new technology, tools, and techniques that larger companies might be slower to adopt.

Established companies have the resources to dominate the traditional marketing channels, so it can be difficult for a smaller company to break through the noise and get noticed. While marketing departments in large corporations are often happy to keep their organic growth slow and steady year after year, startups often have no choice but to realize rapid growth, otherwise they risk losing out to competitors. A corporation might aim to grow at a rate of 5% per year, while startups might have to grow at a rate of 20% or more per month to keep up with the market. This kind of astronomical growth requires a lot of experimentation and a great deal of risk-taking.

A variety of strategies could be considered growth hacking, with some popular examples being: referral programs, giving away free items, partnering with larger companies, and making your product accessible “by invitation only” to give an air of exclusivity. There are also plenty of instances of unethical growth hacking such as: creating fake reviews for products, buying fake followers for social media pages, and spamming email addresses scraped off the internet. These types of practices give growth hacking a negative connotation, and while they do happen, they should be considered the exception and not the rule.

So, is growth hacking the future of marketing? In a word, no. Growth hacking isn’t designed for long-term success as it doesn’t incorporate many of the marketing tactics required to drive sustainable long-term growth. Growth hacking should be used a complement to, instead of a replacement for your long-term marketing strategy. But don’t write it off as just another trendy buzzword! Growth hacking has marketers thinking in new and exciting ways, which is always a great mindset to have!

What about you? Have you successfully implemented any growth hacking strategies? 

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