Growth hackers have a role in established marketing, too

Growth HackerWhat a great moment when I clicked on a Mashable tweet linking to 12 Buzzwords You’ll Hear in 2013. Before that click, I was challenged to succinctly define how marketing has shifted over the past few years. There are many articles saying traditional marketing is dead or decrying the lack of new-savvy by marketers but I found nothing describing what needs to take its place.

In his blog Is Growth Hacking = Lean Marketing?, Mattan Griffel describes this exchange with a VC:

“Explain this term to me,” Charlie said. “Everyone’s talking about growth hacking, but I’m not convinced it’s anything new.”

I explained that growth hacking is a set of frameworks, tactics and best practices designed to help startups think critically about the problem of user growth.

“That sounds like what a product manager does,” he said.

I told him that growth hacking is actually more of a philosophy of how marketing should be done at a startup, and as a result growth hacking incorporates a lot other disciplines like product management, direct marketing, brand marketing, and engineering.

“So growth hacking is basically lean marketing?” he asked.

I had to think for a minute, because I’d never heard it put that way. I quickly realized he was absolutely right.

Why growth hacking?

As I did more research, I had several ‘aha’ moments where I saw great definitions of things that I felt but hadn’t formed into words. Along the way, I came across this great explanation of why growth hacking is ‘here’ on the website Aaron Ginn’s Thoughts:

With mass media dying and the onslaught of mass customization & niching on the web, marketing as we known it for the past 100 years has died. People are awash with mounds of data and marketing fatigue is at an all-time high. Users are drowning and won’t pay attention to the next best widget. Distribution is the number one problem that faces every new product.

Just for startups?

So it gets even more interesting when I think about Mattan’s definition applying to startups. In startups, there isn’t room for partitioned marketing roles. Startups need marketing to be extremely cost-effective and goal-driven rather than hierarchical and process-driven. It might start with just one person, possibly doing double duty. That difference changes everything and leads to highly creative approaches.

But I would argue the same things apply in large companies…maybe even more so. Traditional marketing methods that involve ad spends, trade show booths, product release press announcements and the like aren’t nearly as accountable as the ‘lean marketing’ methods of the startups, where each spend needs to have a corresponding benefit. Many marketing departments are under increasing pressure from the business to move beyond the “echo chamber” of going through the old-school motions.

After all, if we can use technology to get our message out in increasingly specific ways, we can use technology to measure the benefits of what we’re doing. We can know exactly what works today…and know that it isn’t working tomorrow.

Who fits the role?

Just for starters, a growth hacker needs to understand the product(s) they sell, technology and how to find and use data. They can talk with engineering and even help lead the conversation about what product features are most marketable. A Growth hacker is comfortable on the platforms that give access to enormous numbers of people and know how to narrow down messages and channels to the right people.

So clearly this isn’t just anyone and finding the right person can’t be easy…or is it? As Sean Ellis says, “…a growth hacker should be easier to hire than a VP Marketing (or maybe an insider already has the skills). I’ve met great growth hackers with engineering backgrounds and others with sales backgrounds.”

Aaron Ginn, in a post on Quora, describes the common characteristics he has seen in what he calls growth hackers:

  • Constant learner
  • Aggressive at moving the needle
  • Obsessed with moving the needle
  • Enjoys pushing the limits
  • Lives and breathes product
  • Creative problem solver
  • Everything is about growth
  • Hunter-like instincts

The more I digest this idea, the more I see the parallels with non-startups wanting to ‘act like startups’ as a way to reinvigorate their business and renew their entrepreneurial spirit. A growth hacking approach for established marketing operations, at minimum as a constant way to test and validate (at bare minimum) is an excellent way to reinvigorate marketing.


The following are great reads about Growth Hacking:

Growth Hacker is the new VP Marketing – Andrew Chen

GrowHack – “The world’s first growth hacking shop for startups”

4 reasons why growth hackers came to be – Aaron Ginn

Find a Growth Hacker for Your Startup – Sean Ellis

You’re a Growth Rookie, not a Growth Hacker – Patrick Vlaskovits


Tags: ,

Categories: Disruption, Marketing

Author:Chris Taylor

Reimagining the way work is done through big data, analytics, and event processing. There's no end to what we can change and improve. I wear myself out...

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2 Comments on “Growth hackers have a role in established marketing, too”

  1. loriaustex
    January 2, 2013 at 5:11 am #

    Hi Chris – an interesting perspective, one I replied to on the Forrester LinkedIn Group discussion. Thank you for sharing and for getting my brain cells going this morning! Better than a second cup of coffee! 🙂

    • January 2, 2013 at 6:06 am #

      Thanks. It was one of those pieces I started to write and completely changed my perspective by the time I was done.

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