What is Growth Hacking?

What is Growth Hacking

I do NOT consider myself a “growth hacking guru” by any stretch of the imagination, although I have been doing what would be considered “growth hacks” for years without ever realizing it. So with this being said, I am going to throw my 2 cents into this much talked about and often debated topic and hot way for companies of all sizes to grow a more highly engaged, loyal customer base at a rapid pace which is generally known as and currently labeled growth hacking.

Sometimes referred to as growth marketing or even growth hacking marketing, it is the relative newest buzzword describing a type of DIY / shoestring budget marketing, advertising, influencer outreach or even unconventional publicity seeking that focuses on leveraging the internet to create a loyal audience / or customer base that help create viral marketing through word of mouth for the hyper-growth of a business, a cause or other such event…

In business, It’s focus is on pure growth of the said business with quantifiable conversion numbers and ROI. It’s NOT, I repeat, it’s NOT just brand awareness absent of any hard conversion measurement or trackable ROI.

According to Wikipedia, which is always the most accurate source of information (yes that was sarcasm), growth hacking is defined as the following:

Growth hacking is a process of rapid experimentation across marketing channels and product development to identify the most effective, efficient ways to grow a business. Growth hacking refers to a set of both conventional and unconventional marketing experiments that lead to growth of a business.

If we look at Google Trends for the search term “Growth Hacking” you can plainly see there was a sudden surge and spike in the worldwide search volume right around 2012 where it shot up at a steep angle… Before this time there was almost NO search volume for it at all… Why?

Growth Hacking

The rumor is that a guy named Sean Ellis coined the term “Growth Hacker” in 2010, but it seems that it took about a year or so before the term “Growth Hacking” really caught on and embedded itself into our lexicon of new marketing styles and methodologies.

When Sean Ellis coined the term he also wrote this great article entitled “Find a Growth Hacker for Your Startup”. In that article, Sean Ellis describes what makes one Growth Hacker…

A growth hacker is a person whose true north is growth. Everything they do is scrutinized by its potential impact on scalable growth. Is positioning important? Only if a case can be made that it is important for driving sustainable growth (FWIW, a case can generally be made).
The good news is that when you strip away everything that doesn’t have a direct impact on growth, a growth hacker should be easier to hire than a VP Marketing (or maybe an insider already has the needed skills). I’ve met great growth hackers with engineering backgrounds and others with sales backgrounds.
The common characteristic seems to be an ability to take responsibility for growth and an entrepreneurial drive (it’s risky taking that responsibility). The right growth hacker will have a burning desire to connect your target market with your must have solution. They must have the creativity to figure out unique ways of driving growth in addition to testing/evolving the techniques proven by other companies.
An effective growth hacker also needs to be disciplined to follow a growth hacking process of prioritizing ideas (their own and others in the company), testing the ideas, and being analytical enough to know which tested growth drivers to keep and which ones to cut. The faster this process can be repeated, the more likely they’ll find scalable, repeatable ways to grow the business.

Is Growth Hacking Really Just Guerilla Marketing Rebranded For a New Generation?

Here is how I see it, Growth Hack Marketing and Advertising aka Growth Hacking is the new generation and rebranded name for Guerilla Marketing that was first popularized in the 80’s thru the 90’s because of the book that was written by Jay Conrad Levinson in 1984. Now I know I probably risk getting rotten tomatoes thrown at my head for saying so since Guerilla Marketing was conceptualized and articulated before some of the more famous practitioners of modern day Guerrilla Marketing aka Growth Hacking were even born. There a subtle differences between the 2 styles of marketing techniques but overall they are one in the same… Again, I’m going to default to Wikipedia on this on how they describe Guerilla Marketing:

Guerrilla marketing is an alternative strategy and is about taking the consumer by surprise to make a big impression about the brand (What is Guerrilla Marketing, 2015), this in turn creates buzz about the brand or product being marketed. It is a way of advertising that increases engagement with the product or service, and is designed to create a memorable experience for the consumer. By creating this memorable experience for the consumer, it also increases the likelihood that a consumer, or someone who interacted with the campaign will tell their friends about it and via word of mouth the product or service being advertised reaches a lot more people than initially anticipated, and means it has more of a mass audience.
This style of marketing is extremely effective for small businesses to advertise their product or service, especially if they are competing against bigger companies as it is inexpensive and focuses more on reach rather than frequency. For guerrilla campaigns to be successful companies don’t need to spend large amounts, they just need to have imagination, energy and time (Bourn, 2009). Guerrilla marketing is also an effective way companies who do not provide a tangible service can advertise their products through the non traditional channels as long as they have an effective strategy.
As opposed to traditional media Guerrilla marketing cannot be measured by statistics, sales and hits but is measured by profit made. It is designed to cut through clutter of traditional advertising and have no mystery about what is being advertised. The message to consumers will be clear and concise, the business will not diversify the message to the consumer and focus will be maintained. This type of marketing also works on the unconscious mind, as purchases quite often are decided by the unconscious mind. To keep the product or service in the unconscious mind means repetition is needed, so if a buzz is created around a product and it is shared amongst friends it enables repetition. (Bourn, 2009)”

That Sure Sounds Like Growth Hacking 101.

The only major difference between Growth Hacking and Guerilla Marketing in my mind is the type of technology used and how it is used. Growth Hacking tends to be a bit more cutting edge on the use of internet technology, viral marketing automation, conversion rate tracking and optimization and use of social media overall. But I only think it seems this way because Guerilla Marketing has been around since the mid 80’s and so was not born of the instant info on demand and very accurate and granular conversion rate tracking that Growth Hacking was born into. Overall the principles are the same as well as the overall all ethos.

Another more subtle difference between growth hacking and guerilla marketing is that Growth Hackers tend to focus on not only marketing their products and services but making their products and services addictive and / or habit forming so there is a high rate of continued use, repeat sales and word of mouth referrals from currently hooked customers. So essentially, with Growth Hackers, virality is built right into the product and / or service itself and not just in the marketing of the said product or service. This is how it should be. If a product or service has a viral nature to it within itself it just means is is a by-product of maximum value delivered.

It’s part “new shiny object” aka “new buzz word” part “extreme efficiency in the use of limited resources” part “cult of personality” part “same thing — new name” part “leveraging The amazing new social media tech” part “gray hat marketing” part “controversial soundbite tactics” part “the exploitation of and capitalizing on current events” part “annoying internet memes” part “being outrageous” and part “smarmy, snarky, attitude” all rolled into one giant mass that equals GENIUS AND RELENTLESS BUSINESS GROWTH…

Growth Hacking Is 1% Inspiration and 99% Execution

Listen, don’t kid yourself… Everyone can get inspired or have a great idea but if you can’t execute on that idea then all your inspiration and great ideas are wasted. This is even more blatantly true when diving into Growth Hacking Marketing tactics

Can Only The Younger Millennial Generation Be Considered Growth Hackers or Growth Marketers?

Of course not.. The truth is that the general idea and concept of “Growth Hacking” has been around for close to 40 years if not longer. It just has not been called “Growth hacking until about 2010 and then the younger mostly millennial generation latched onto this new buzz word describing an already existing concept and ran with it…

Do I have to Grow a Hipster Beard Before I Can Call Myself a Growth Hacker?

Uhh NO… Yes, “Growth Hacking” sounds a bit trendy and pretentious, although personally I think it is a more precise and descriptive label than “Guerilla Marketing”… Yes, there are a lot of goofy, seemingly stereotypical entitlement mentality, millennial type personalities and hipsters with hipster beards that are calling themselves “Growth Hackers” because it sounds cool to them. Some of them even produce some sort of digital training or online marketing course or waaay overpriced eBook that describes themselves as the “super duper growth hacker of the week and if you only spam every social media platform incessantly until you get death threats then you too can be super successful” person who you should listen to… So Flipping What? If you can gain value and get real results from even one of the supposed growth hacking tactics then it is all good in my book…. Well, don’t spam though. Spamming is for A-holes…

We are all responsible enough for ourselves and smart enough to be able to discern from something that has some merit and can work if executed upon and the pure bull shit. If you can’t smell the bull shit then you either need to decide to exit to the left or expect that you are going to be taken for a ride repeatedly and lose money until your bull shit meter starts working properly.

Say what you will about the idea of growth hacking or being labeled as a growth hacker, but those who understand what it really is and then execute on it are the ones who reap the benefits. Those who don’t, just gossip at the water cooler…

I am going to write a follow-up blog to this real soon giving some actual use cases of successful growth hacking strategies and some real current growth hacking examples. So stay tuned and come back often to read…


- Keith aka #DigitalKeith