“Growth Hacking” is BS…It’s All Just Marketing
I found myself having to explain to someone on Hacker News earlier today the difference between the trendy job title “growth hacker” and plain ol’ Marketer. My contention was that a Growth Hacker is simply a Marketer.
You might be thinking, who cares? Well, I guess I do. And everyone who uses the title Growth Hacker instead of Marketer does, as well.
The internet startup world is typically drowning in buzz words at any given time. As of 2012, some the big ones are Lean Startup, Cloud Deployment, Growth Hacker, and a few others. Typically, they’re fancy phrases attached to not so fancy ideas (In order: talking to your customers early and often, hosting as a service, and marketing with data) and honestly, they’re just plain tiring and unnecessary 99% of the time.
So, why is the title “Growth Hacker” a bunch of BS?
Because it’s just a way for marketing averse startups to hire marketers without having to publicly say they’re hiring marketers.
The Hacker News startup world notoriously scoffs at anything to do with Marketing (just feels dirty), SEO (SPAMMERS!), or user tracking and conversion optimization (omgmyprivacy). So when these companies all of a sudden start realizing they need to actually, ya know, make some money, they also realize they need to bring in some people who specialize in growing customer bases: Marketers.
But since marketing is taboo, startuppers just came up with a new name, “Growth Hacker” and ran with that rather than just facing the fact that a Growth Hacker IS a Marketer.
Let’s grab a definition of “Growth Hacker” from Andrew Chen:
Growth hackers are a hybrid of marketer and coder, one who looks at the traditional question of “How do I get customers for my product?” and answers with A/B tests, landing pages, viral factor, email deliverability, and Open Graph. On top of this, they layer the discipline of direct marketing, with its emphasis on quantitative measurement, scenario modeling via spreadsheets, and a lot of database queries. If a startup is pre-product/market fit, growth hackers can make sure virality is embedded at the core of a product. After product/market fit, they can help run up the score on what’s already working.
I’ll give you a second to digest the buzzwords and fluffiness of this definition before we continue.
Good? Alright, let’s go.
The internet is a fantastic landscape for marketers. Why? Because you can track your efforts extremely quickly and extremely accurately. Gone are the days of timing a Radio ad correctly and crossing your fingers. We can now look at our usage data for our products, refine our offering and marketing message to cater well to our customer base, and then split test various ideas programmatically and let the data speak for itself. This isn’t hacking, this isn’t magic…it’s just plain ol’ Marketing at a much more advanced and accurate level.
I have to assume that most people’s idea of what a Marketer is is cribbed from some hybrid of Mad Men and Vince the Shamwow guy. Slimey and fluffy and not really worth the money or effort. And from this assumption emerges a need for a new title that wipes away all of the cruft and ickiness of “Marketing” and instead makes it cool and hip and developer friendly by calling it “Growth Hacking”.
The example tossed at me for why a Growth Hacker is not a Marketer was this (I have no interest in starting a flame war so I won’t mention names):
“This is not inbound marketing but building product that, at its core, is focused on growth. LinkedIn, Zynga, Quora, Twitter, and Facebook all have growth teams.
Do you know Dropbox’s brilliant referral strategy? That was the brainchild of Sean Ellis (growth hacker), Ivan Kirigin (growth hacker), and Dropbox leadership.”
To which I replied:
“The goal of a marketer is to grow a customer base. That’s what these growth hackers are doing, they’re just doing it in a more technically advanced way via data confirmation and split testing.
Referral strategies have been around for decades, the Dropbox guys didn’t hack anything they just applied an old principle to a new technology.
Growth hacker and marketer are synonymous titles.”
The two guys mentioned as “growth hackers” in the comment above just so happened to be coders who implemented a very effective referral system for Dropbox.
Am I saying what they did wasn’t amazing?
Was it a brilliant example of growth hacking?
It was just a referral incentive system implemented in a very smooth and simple way, something used in marketing since its inception because it’s highly effective. And we can tell if it’s highly effective instantly nowadays with the technology that now exists for tracking and testing.
Marketing has traditionally been a discipline that constantly requires one to think outside the box and come up with new ways to introduce new products to existing markets or to build new markets for existing products. It’s not black magic nor is it hacking at all. Just because you use cohorts and automated funnel analysis and multivariate testing and referral schemes doesn’t mean you’re no longer a Marketer and all of a sudden a Growth Hacker…you’re just a really good Marketer.
So please, Startup world, drop the fluffy BS “Growth Hacker” title and focus on growing your companies rather than coming up with cool new job titles.
I have to admit, I had two motivations for writing this post:
- I wanted to point out how ridiculous the pretentious title of Growth Hacker is
- I wanted to see how successful (in terms of traffic) an incendiary post would be
Well, I think I did a decent job of #1, and #2 as well, seeing as how this post got about 4500 unique visitors in about 3 hours yesterday.
Really what I’m trying to say here is that “Growth Hacker” is a smug, pretentious title to use. You should feel embarrassed introducing yourself as a Growth Hacker, because after you explain what the hell a Growth Hacker is to the person you’re speaking with, they will respond with “oh, so you’re really good at marketing?”
It’s the same as all the BS ninja and pirate titles for coders. Would you ever introduce yourself to someone as a “Ruby on Rails Rockstar”? Good god no. And if you did for some reason, after explaining what a rockstar coder is, the person will just respond with “oh, so you’re really good at programming?”
The startup world is constantly trying to separate itself from the traditional business world with new job titles and business techniques. It’s all just a waste of time, there’s no need for the separation.