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In 2010, Sean Ellis coined the term “Growth Hacking” in this blog post. Ellis is known for helping Dropbox and other companies develop in their early days. However, the term never really took off until Andrew Chen wrote the 2012 article, “Growth hacker is the new VP Marketing.” Chen wrote about how AirBnB’s marketing team figured out how to cross-post on Craigslist even though the classifieds engine offered no API’s. As a result, Craigslist became a major source of traffic for AirBnB and the rest is history.

Defining Growth Hacking

So, what is growth hacking? Well, there are multiple definitions, but they all have one common theme. Growth hacking is a marketing technique that makes use of analytical thinking, social media and metrics as well as creative thinking to help drive sales and revenue. Essentially, growth hackers are marketers, but they also need technical savvy in order to be successful. Some companies want to turn engineers into marketers, while others want marketers to explore engineering.

Traditional Marketing vs. Growth Hacking

With traditional marketing, you would use mediums such as the radio, newspapers and television to build brand awareness and sell your products. Growth hackers uses methods such as search engine optimization, A/B testing, website analytics and content marketing to increase site traffic. Furthermore, the goal is to search for low-cost and innovative means to drive revenue. You must think outside the box and use your technical skills to get there.

The Role of the Growth Hacker

Ryan Holiday is a consultant who wrote the book, “Growth Hacker Marketing: A Primer on the Future of PR, Marketing, and Advertising.” This was the top marketing guide on Amazon in 2013. Holiday describes a growth hacker this way, “A growth hacker is someone who has thrown out the traditional marketing playbook and replaced it with only what is testable, trackable, scalable…while their marketing brethren track vague notions like branding and mindshare, growth hackers relentlessly pursue users and growth.”

He conveys that companies like Instagram, Zappos, Twitter, AirBnB, and Facebook all became billion-dollar companies using non-traditional marketing techniques. So, is traditional marketing dead? Not necessarily, but the rules of marketing have changed drastically. Holiday has also shared some tips based on his research stating:

  • The worse marketing mistake you can make is starting with a product.
  • Don’t sell what you’ve got. Work with what you’ve got until it’s something people want (and want to talk about).
  • Growth hacking is never being complacent because whatever you have, you can always do better.

Common Characteristics

Today, job postings are all over looking for “growth hackers” as opposed to “marketers.” In fact, they are being sought out almost as aggressively as UX and CS candidates. Not to mention, thousands of individuals now identify themselves as growth hackers, as well.

First of all, growth hackers have a passion for data tracking and metrics. The aim is the move metrics from point A to point B. These include metrics that can make or break a business. Growth hackers use metrics for theorizing and testing in addition to motivating them to improve their products and services. Their approach to growth and distribution is empirical. They relish testing an advertising campaign against two different versions of a website.

Secondly, these technical marketers must be creative. Yes, there is much science involved in their craft, but they have to propel the science through unique inspiration. For example, when the iPhone made its debut, people were blown away by its sleek look and beautiful interface. It took a strong technical background to construct its software, but its design is pure art. Growth hackers are considered unicorns when they can successfully combine creativity with science.

The third piece of the pie is a curious nature. How can you learn without an innate curiosity? Growth hackers are intrigued by what makes users tick. They want to know why a user visited a site just as much as why some products fail to make it past their launch. They understand behavioral economics. They want to know what goes on in the minds of their users.

Growth Hacking and Startups

Why do startups like growth hackers? Because they usually don’t have much money to spend on traditional marketing, at least not initially. But, that is what is most exciting about a startup and why being a startup attracts interest in the first place. Google, Facebook, Yahoo!, Dropbox, Twitter and WhatsApp were all startups. Then, these companies made billionaires and millionaires of their founders and several employees and investors.

Growth hackers can help a startup expand from the ground up. In addition, they assist with product development. Why? Because, they want to know how users interact with a company’s products. When you have that type of information, you can then refine your product or service to make it more palatable and interesting for your target clientele.

Is Growth Hacking All You Need?

So, you’ve hired a growth hacker; is that all you need? Not at all. You need to have a product or service that meets a demand. Sure, AirBnB used growth hacking techniques to get where it is today, but before that, it spent two years refining its product. What is the point of getting all the traffic you could ever need or want if consumers realize they do not like what you have to offer?

As a result, growth hacking cannot be the end all and be all. To be certain, it is a validated necessity in today’s online marketplace. Nonetheless, the initial step needs to start with having something that is worth marketing. Then testing, retesting. And pivoting if necessary. Not to mention, you need to have a story that makes it easy for people to share. From there, you can gauge and measure all the ways you can improve and build upon your value.

Growth hacking is here to stay because constructing great products and marketing go hand in hand. As long as those two things go together, potential can be limitless. What are your thoughts on growth hacking?