4 Reasons Marketers Are Uncomfortable With Growth Hacking
Much of the discomfort marketers feel toward growth hackers comes from misunderstandings. They think growth hackers are out to replace them, or they think that growth hacking is simply another term for what they are already doing… Wrong.
“Growth Hacker is the new VP Marketing”
That is the title of one of Andrew Chen’s most popular blog posts. He’s the head of growth at Uber and one of the most influential people in the field.
I can imagine that if your job title is “VP of Marketing” this headline probably made you grind your teeth.
Just relax for a bit and keep reading.
Growth hacking is a popular term, and growth hacking agencies are popping up like mushrooms after a rainy spell.
With this perceived intrusion into the domain of marketing, it’s unsurprising that many marketers are up in arms about it. Here is what some of them are saying:
“[It’s] just a new term for what true marketers have been doing for years only now there are new channels and tools to use.”
“A lot clever headline grabbing statements to build hype.”
“It’s actually just a buzzword because companies have been doing these practices for years.”
But is this critical view accurate? Is growth hacking just another term for modern marketing? Is it just a buzzword?
Or is there something else behind this negative appraisal?
Growth Hacking has been around since 2010 when the lead marketer at Dropbox, Sean Ellis, coined the term. He realized what he was doing was more than traditional marketing and thus needed a new name.
A common way of describing growth hacking is as a cross between creative marketing, data science and software engineering. So it’s certainly related to marketing — there is some overlap — but it’s still quite distinct.
(You can read more about the differences between marketing and growth hacking here.)
So if it’s really a different discipline, why do so many marketers have their knickers in a twist? (apparently that’s a saying in Australia).
We have a few theories.
1. It Sounds Too Good To Be True
Growth hacking lore is full of sensational examples about how startups skyrocketed their growth using clever, unconventional and often highly technical techniques.
One of the chief among these is Airbnb who reverse engineered an API that allowed them to automatically cross post all their listings on Craigslist — who already had a huge user base.
This resulted in massive traction and exponential growth for Airbnb. It’s part of the reason they are so big now. Today this type of growth hack is called “leveraging other people’s platforms.”
Hotmail is another big example. Abandoning billboard and radio advertisements, they came up with the clever idea of turning every single email into a free promotion by simply adding “PS: I Love You. Get Your Free Email at Hotmail” to the footer.
This simple hack instantaneously created a viral loop that launched Hotmail on an explosive growth trajectory with almost no marketing expenditure.
Traditional marketers are used to launching ad campaigns with a bang and a press conference. They want to be on primetime TV and all the best billboard spaces. They pay loads of money for crafting great ads that earn them lots of exposure.
And so when they then see small startups soaring past them, becoming some of the most valuable companies in the world, armed with nothing but a programming engineer and a miniscule marketing budget, it can result in some pulsating forehead veins.
On top of this, self-identified growth hackers in the blogosphere have a tendency to come up with really annoying headlines. They make wild promises which read more like scams than solid advice.
Indeed, sometimes the stuff you read about growth hacking is too good to be true.
But here’s the thing.
Real growth hacking is not magic… But neither is it a collection of get-rich-quick schemes or empty promises. Tweet That!
Rather, it’s a product-focused marketing approach that requires persistence, creativity, controlled experimentation, extreme focus on data, and willingness to take risks.
Famous examples like Airbnb are exceptional. They are the “unicorns” of growth hacking. Behind every one of these sensational stories are typically a dozen failed attempts you don’t hear about.
Much like scientific breakthroughs, growth hacks like the ones above are the result of a systematic, data-driven process of continual ideation, prioritization, measurement, testing and optimization.
This is something many people don’t understand. They just see the annoying headlines and think, “yeah, right.”
The truth is, growth hacking can be extremely successful, as many companies (like Dropbox, Instagram, Uber and PayPal) have all shown. It’s a breakthrough new field.
But it’s also widely misunderstood — and even resented.
2. Growth Hackers Are Out To Steal My Job
Lots of people are calling growth hacking “Marketing 2.0.” They say that growth hackers have made marketing obsolete. That in the digital age, growth hacking is all you need to grow a business.
While growth hacking does have the potential to bring your business to the next level, it is not exactly a substitute for having a solid marketing strategy — especially if you’re a big company.
Growth hackers bring in new types of expertise, things like programming automation and the ability to use rich data analytics tools for optimizing online channels. But many of them don’t have a background in marketing.
We have found that the most successful growth hacking implementations have taken shape when we worked closely together with a client’s existing marketing team.
Growth hackers are not out to sabotage the field of marketing.
However, it is worth saying that the rise of growth hackers, and the fact that there was room for their emergence, should serve as a wakeup call for the field of marketing.
Times are changing. The abundance of data has forever altered the way businesses reach customers and design products. New skills need to be learned, and new tools need to be adopted as technology advances.
Skills like programming and data analytics are becoming increasingly essential for marketers. Many have learned these skills, but many have not. In any case, they are typically not taught in university marketing classes.
If you are a marketer, learning how to use tools like Google Analytics, heatmap generators like Hotjar, and A/B testing tools like Optimizely should be high on your agenda.
Companies that learn how to make marketing decisions based on valid data, rather than on assumptions, will be the ones that continue to grow and thrive.
If their marketers are not equipped to deal with this data, companies will likely turn to growth hacking agencies.
3. I’m Going To Be Exposed!
Modern technology, advanced tools and the latest techniques have made almost everything a company does to grow measurable.