Growth Hacking vs Growth Marketing

What is growth hacking?

And how is that different from growth marketing?

Are you, a growth hacker, a growth marketer, or neither?

All that in just a second…

But first, let’s talk about why you keep hearing this now infamous buzz phrase “growth hacking.”

As the startup era matures and we begin to acknowledge the need for traction over (or alongside) product development, we’re coming to a point where every entrepreneur or marketer considers themself a “growth hacker.”

It feels like people that call themselves a “growth hacker” are really just trying to validate their business or product simply because they understand how to “get customers for cheap.”

And that’s why I have a bit of a negative association with the term “growth hacker,” despite being the CEO of a social media marketing agency.

But therein lies the problem…

If I can call myself an expert, so can anyone.

In fact, anyone that’s ever got 100 visitors to their blog due to a semi-viral social media post can go around and tout their stellar growth hacking skillz.

But there are clearly some differences between gaining a large amount of followers, likes, shares, or email sign-ups in a short period of time, which probably falls in the realm of “growth hacking” (and used to just be called “good at bizness”) and understanding the metrics that drive your daily decisions to grow an audience, which more closely resembles growth marketing.

So let’s dive in…

Note: To us, as audience-first, or community-first growth marketers, we have a slightly different take on these terms than others.


Growth marketing is when you focus all of your business efforts on growing an audience (or community) as fast as possible in an environment of extreme uncertainty, on a limited budget.

Let me break that down for you.

Growth marketing is when you turn to understanding that you need an audience in order to sell your product.

No one has ever bought something from someone they didn’t know. So you need to get people to be aware of your brand.

This is brand awareness 101.

When you’re starting a new business, you need to get more people to acknowledge that that business exists.

And that’s how you begin to grow your audience.

So growth marketing is simply focusing on growing an audience instead of selling a product.

(Of course you can use your audience’s feedback to help develop your product, but growth marketing at its core is about getting another follower/subscriber now.)

Now, let me tell you what an environment of extreme uncertainty means.

In an environment of extreme uncertainty, we’re talking about the fact that:

  • You don’t necessarily know who exactly wants to buy your product
  • You don’t know exactly how to write the copy of the pages of your website
  • You don’t know what ads people are going to respond to,
  • You don’t know what channels people are going to be on.

So you need to test.

And you need to test hundreds of different things to figure out what is working and double down, and what’s not working and shut it off.

And if you’re testing hundreds of different things you need to figure out what works for cheap.

You’re not going to go running Super Bowl ads, you’re not going to be on TV at all.

And that means that you’re probably going to turn to the internet.

Because that’s where you can buy micro-purchase ads, where you can be on social media for free or cheap, and where you can blog, and try to drive traffic through search engine optimization.

So growth marketing is all about growing an audience, which then translates, of course, to growing a product, growing a business, growing sales.


To us, it’s not as much about the product…

We are testing the right offers for the right audience.

We’re looking for an offer-audience fit, not necessarily a product-market fit.

We can, of course, extrapolate either from our successful offers, or from interviewing customers, how to improve the product itself, but when focusing completely on growth, we are only concerned about gathering an audience around a specific topic, category, offer, industry, segment, blog, brand, celebrity, or whatever else.

Growth Marketing Metrics

And all of this is specifically metric driven. But even more specifically, driven by the scientific method, the build-measure-learn method, the lean startup method, whatever you want to call it…

So a Growth Marketer is…

So a growth marketer is constantly testing channels for their most successful metrics and cost of [metric] acquisition (CA[m]) in order to find the best way to get traction, and grow their business.

Growth Hacking, however…

So if that’s growth marketing, then why do you constantly hear the phrase “growth hacking?” Well, because more people want to be growth hackers than growth marketers.

Finding a “sick trick” to double my Facebook following is much more impressive than the reality of growth marketing…

Growth Hacking is finding an underutilized strategy for acquiring [your core metric] at an unexpectedly low cost per acquisition.

Tweet: “Growth Hacking is finding an underutilized strategy for acquiring (your core metric) at an unexpectedly low cost per acquisition.”

Whether that’s 100 more email sign-ups or 200 more website visits, growth hacking is clearly about one SPECIFIC strategy that makes one large and “unexpected” benefit to one core metric in a short period of time, and usually for a low cost per acquisition.

Andrew Chen recently talked about the state of growth hacking being stronger than ever. But he’s found that for the older growth hacking strategies, the strength of their results over time has decayed, as they become more mainstream.

This means that when you read about a growth hack, it will be (slightly) less effective than when you invent one yourself. And a year from now, it may not even work.

This is typical of the startup ecosystem and should only encourage you to find more creative ways to market and growth hack your business, using blog posts and articles as inspiration.

Why You’re Not a Growth Hacker?

Running social media for an SMB is not growth hacking…

Driving traffic via Facebook ads is not growth hacking…

Going viral on YouTube is not growth hacking…

Following people on Instagram to get follow-backs is not growth hacking…

Per se…

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.

So if you decided, “Hey, let’s run a test… We will create a bunch of potentially viral video’s around topics our theoretical audience will love, post them on YouTube, and see if we can’t grow our audience with them.”

And you made the videos and it actually worked…

That would be a real growth hack.

Growth Marketing vs Growth Hacking

So, growth marketing is the broader concept that you need to grow an audience and test various channels, whereas growth hacking is literally executing a specific tactic, on a specific channel, that grows that audience (and usually for a very cheap price).

Growth marketing is slow and steady, in a sense, and growth hacking is fast spurts of spontaneous growth. Tortoise vs. hare.

So what do you think?

Do you call yourself a growth hacker?

Do you use the quotes when you say “hacking” like I do?

Are you a real growth marketer? A real head of growth? Or just idling on by waiting for the next Neil Patel post to rock your world?

I’d love for you to put me to shame in the comments below. Thanks for reading.