Growth Hackers And The Marketing Wake Up Call

One of the biggest trends in marketing was defined in one of the top Slideshare presentations from last year.

Nestled at number 22 was a presentation on “growth hacking.” 

I wasn’t really sure what a “growth hacker” was or what impact it has on marketing. But as soon as I saw it, I knew that I was one of them. Or at least I want to be. Are you a growth hacker?

What is Growth Hacking?

According to Wikipedia, “Growth hacking is a marketing technique developed by technology startups which uses creativity, analytical thinking, and social metrics to sell products and gain exposure.

The term was first used by startup marketing consultant Sean Ellis in 2010. In 2012 Entrepreneur Andrew Chen claimed that “Growth Hacker is the New VP Marketing.”

And while some of the emphasis from both of these gents is that growth hackers will be engineers and coders, they are open to technology-minded marketers like me who just want sustainable growth and cannot live with marketing created to check the list,  to please the boss, or to hang on the wall.

Growth hacking is about getting new customers in an efficient, scalable and sustainable way. Growth hacking, my friends  is marketing. The future of marketing. Or what marketing always should have been.

What is the Growth Hacker Wake-up Call?

Ryan Holiday is a consultant and author of the slideshare “The Growth Hacker Wake-up Call” and the book Growth Hacker Marketing: A Primer on the Future of PR, Marketing, and Advertising. He explains the wake up call like this:

Instagram, Zappos, Airbnb, Twitter, and Facebook all became billion dollar brands without any traditional marketing. None. Zip. Zero. Growth hacking is how they got there.

That’s the wake up call because let’s face it, most marketers are classically trained traditonal marketers.

Does that make marketing more or less relevant? One thing is for sure, it has changed the way business leaders think about marketing.

“Growth hacking is a mindset, not a toolkit,” according to Aaron Kinn, Growth Hacker at StumbleUpon. And you could say the same thing about content marketing. According to Ryan:

A growth hacker is someone who has thrown out the traditional marketing playbook and replaced it with only what is testable, trackable, scalable…while their marketing brethren track vague notions like branding and mindshare, growth hackers relentlessly pursue users and growth.

Some of Ryan’s additional tips

  • The worse marketing mistake you can make is starting with a product.
  • Don’t sell what you’ve got. Work with what you’ve got until it’s something people want (and want to talk about).
  • Growth hacking is never being complacent because whatever you have, you can always do better.

Let me know what you think in the comments below. And please follow along on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook  and Google+ or  Subscribe to the B2B Marketing Insider Blog for regular updates.

Michael Brenner  is a Top CMO, Content Marketing and Digital Marketing Influencer, an international keynote speaker, author of "Mean People Suck" and "The Content Formula" and he is the CEO and Founder of Marketing Insider Group, a leading Content Marketing Agency . He has worked in leadership positions in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as for thriving startups. Today, Michael helps build successful content marketing programs for leading brands and startups alike. Subscribe here for regular updates.

13 thoughts on “Growth Hackers And The Marketing Wake Up Call

  1. Hey MIchael,

    I think the modern marketer needs a mix of marketing and technical skills to survive.

    To be successful online you still need to find your niche, understand your audience, build your funnel etc so I think the growth hacker still has a lot of marketing skills but they may not have gone to College to get it!


    1. Great points Ian. I think this is one of those things where it’s more about the mindset and less about the training. The skills you mention ARE important. But i think today’s world requires the mindset to never rest, to always be testing and improving.

  2. The article makes a great point that growth hacking is simultaneous product development and marketing. The next step is automation.

  3. Marketing today isn’t what it used to be a few years ago because the world has evolved since then and marketing has evolved along with it. As new marketing channels and technologies emerged, marketers have employed new techniques to reach audiences as well as measure and optimize their ongoing marketing efforts.

    The terms “growth hacking”, “growth hackers” or even just “growth hacks” irk me to no end because they suggest that growth hackers are some sort of “advanced marketing wizards” in a class by themselves and that growth hacking is a brand new job function. It’s not. It’s just what savvy, modern marketers are doing these days anyway as part of their job.

    It might be more accurate to refer to “growth hacking” as a modern marketing technique, but I don’t think it’s right to differentiate between a “marketer” and a “growth hacker” because in this day and age their goal is one and the same.

    The difference is that professional marketers have also trained and practiced (sometimes for many years) to hone an expertise across a variety of marketing disciplines whereas “growth hackers” are usually technically inclined people who experiment with marketing, design and analytics to solve specific problems quickly as part of an overall marketing strategy.

    That’s my humble opinion!

    1. Hi Noya, I think you’re absolutely right. That’s why I really liked the “mindset not a toolset” quote. And also suggested that we are seeing the same thing happen with Content marketing which I believe will soon just be called marketing (or an expected sub-set of marketing skills and strategy).

      So I can see where you are coming from 100%.

      That said, I see so much marketing that is traditional, campaign-mindset, tactical, “check the box,” crap with no eye to metrics, optimization or even just plain customer-centric. So I think we have a long way to go. We have a “Mad Men” legacy we need to out grow. We have an awful market perception that marketing equates to promotion (or advertising). And I think these newer concepts (you could even call them made-up terms) can help demonstrate the problem to some marketing leaders and provide the “wake up call” they need.

      So that was the justification behind covering the term, defining it and providing a few thoughts on what it means for modern marketers.

  4. Direct marketing principles up front and personal.

    The days of the agency mindset are going away for the
    most part, it has become so easy to track almost everything that it doesn’t make any sense to not track and test and retrack and retest until we find the most persuasive message.

  5. Great article Michael. Despite being the culprit who coined the term growth hacking, I agree that marketing and growth hacking are essentially the same thing.

    Marketing is evolving to deal with the pressure caused by real-time data feedback loops. As marketers, we can no longer live under the illusion that a customer acquisition program is working. If something isn’t working, we know it immediately. We either need to cut it or try to quickly optimize it to start working.

    Old days of long-term marketing plans and fixed budgets are no longer realistic. Marketing is realtime and requires an agile mindset, tools and processes to support rapid iteration and rapid scaling of sustainable growth programs.

    Growth levers extend beyond channels, through the entire conversion funnel to deep within products. Marketing is evolving toward dealing with these challenges and opportunities – growth hacking is a more revolutionary approach that started with these challenges and opportunities in mind. Eventually it all becomes the same thing.

    1. Thanks so much Sean, I agree with you completely. I talk a lot about content marketing which is only a term because it is different from regular marketing. What I like about the term you coined is that it really gets to the Mindset and Culture issues embedded deep within traditional marketing. Agile is a mindset as well. And seeing that we live in a world where real-time is barely fast enough is also part of the challenge.

      There are still many who use their defenses to write these ideas off as “buzzwords.” I think we’re going to see rapid changes in the way marketing evolves as a discipline. I think we’re on the verge of this revolution. Part of it is demographics. Part of it is technology and data and process. But the main obstacle is culture.

  6. Interesting post, Michael. It was suggested to me during a Twitter exchange last week that growth hacking is the reinvented version of guerrilla marketing… what do you think?

    The definition you provided seems to match up…

    1. Thanks Ardath. I think they are very similar but I think growth hacking is much more about testing and learning than guerrilla marketing was. For me, guerrilla marketing was about doing a few things that were surprising to the audience and thus gained attention. Growth hacking is about doing a great many little things continuously to see what works.

  7. My ideal combination is “start with why” and the growth hacking mindset.
    Thank you Michael Brenner put a name on what i had so much hard time to define. What the marketing always should have been.

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