The term “growth hacking” is all the rage these days, and in my mind it’s a bit of a silly concept. (There are even several books dedicated to the topic)

Growth Hacking

photo credit: fabola via photopin cc

It’s not that I think focus on growth is silly and I certainly don’t think using creativity and ingenuity to gain attention and build a user base is silly either – it’s just that there’s nothing really new about it.

Effective marketers have always been “growth hackers” at heart.

The new generation of growth hackers types want you to believe that they are almost anti-marketing when, in fact, all they are is anti wasteful marketing – but that’s something that everyone should be able to agree upon.

So called growth hackers might argue that they look at product and service features as a means to an end of real growth, but this is just another form of distribution powered by the growth of online networks and participation.

Most of the attention given this term is coming out of Silicon Valley and the tech startups mushrooming in that space. Therefore there’s a great deal of emphasis on the need for growth hacking marketers to be tech savvy or even coders. The truth is that in the world we live in today no marketer will survive if they aren’t tech savvy, don’t immerse themselves in every online tool and gain at least an appreciation for back end and front end development.

The one challenge I do have with the growth hacker vs. marketers conversation is the arm of hackers who seem to believe that growth at any expense can be rationalized. That stunts aimed at tricking members of the media or diverting traffic from someone else’s community are okay if done in the name of growth.

For every growth hacked success case study of a Dropbox or AirBnB there are dozens of growth hacked startups attempting to do things that cross the line in terms of activities that could ever sustain a brand long-term.

Effective marketing is focused on growth – long-term, sustainable growth. The only way to get that is to figure out ways to build an audience, move some portion of that audience to become advocates, users and customers and then focus on getting as many of the folks in that group to remain loyal.

You do this by creating a tremendous amount of awareness as inexpensively as possible. You do this by building trust, gaining trial, creating an incredible experience and doing something that almost forces people to talk about you and your products.

But most importantly – you do this by measuring every single event along that journey and looking long and hard at what works and what doesn’t. Then you go to work on coming up with more of what works and less of what doesn’t.

Effective marketing, no matter what you call it, is not a single tactic or event, it’s a process that lives and dies by your ability to test and measure and adapt. Success by any other means it mostly an accident.

If you’re not using a guided process, similar to what I call the Marketing Hourglass and you’re not equipping that process or journey with a total focus on analytics using tools like Google Universal Analytics, Mixpanel or Kiss Metrics you are simply gambling with your marketing or hacking or whatever term you choose to apply to your efforts today.

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John Jantsch

John Jantsch is a marketing consultant, speaker and author of Duct Tape Marketing, Duct Tape Selling, The Commitment Engine and The Referral Engine and the founder of the Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Network.
  • Working in Marketing is like being Madonna, first we were eMarketers, then we were social media marketers, now growth hackers. Yet the job description remains unchanged.

    • Jude Brown

      Don’t forget content marketers, technical marketers and engagement engineers. It would seem they all have their own institutes now as well. I guess we need to respect conference marketing too 🙂

  • nunzio_bruno

    I love that you referred to this as a process and that growing is not just about single or one-off tactics. I am all about creating processes and tracking progress! You can’t know what works and what doesn’t if you aren’t measuring. Best part is if you aren’t actually keeping track of what’s going on you’ll never know if there are any confounding factors in your business or your market!

  • John, great minds think alike. I wrote a very similar post just a week ago that made essentially the same arguments. Especially agree that those who consider Growth Hacking is a surefire way to grow a startup need to look at all the startups that are not growing in spite of following the playbook.

    Would love your thoughts on my post

  • Growth Hacking is a mindset that encompasses product development, distribution and marketing all working together instead of separately. Its marketing by making product changes and changes to the business itself to ensure that growth is the top metric. There’s a ton of overlap between growth hacking, marketing and online marketing.

  • Khaled Jamal

    Great!, Many thanks John

  • Carmen Sognonvi

    This is the kind of post that exemplifies why I really love your work, John. No one cuts through the fluff and the buzzwords quite as well as you do. It’s so true that while tools may change, the underlying principles don’t change. As long as small businesses have a solid grasp of marketing fundamentals, along with an interest and willingness to stay on top of new technologies, they’ll be in good shape.

  • A couple of months ago I wrote a post in German arguing that this term “growth hacking” was stupid…. Therefore I couldn’t agree more with you on this one! 🙂

  • kwanie belk

    I’ve followed you john for years. I have your ebooks and just purchased a copy of your latest book however
    I think there’s a difference in growth hacking and marketing today. Growth hackers are marketers who utilize analytical thinking, product engineering and creativity to significantly increase their company’s growth. It’s the mindset, on-board features and viral loops that distinguishes itself from just online or traditional marketing. It’s more about leveraging and maximizing resources ( people, product and process) and having the “platform” mindset.

    • I guess that’s the point I was trying to make – it’s just good marketing – what your using as the definition of traditional marketing just isn’t very effective no matter what we call it.