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Growth Hacking Is Bull (marketingland.com)
55 points by r0h1n 1376 days ago | hide | past | web | 35 comments | favorite

The difference between "growth hacking" and "online marketing" as I understanding it is that the former involves dedicating engineering effort: building repeatable automated systems that operate at scales that are untenable with manual effort.

Marketing, as a business objective, has historically been underserved by engineering. "Marketing engineering" occupied approximately the same status level as internal IT. "Growth hacking", as I understand the term, involves increasing the status and priority of marketing-focused engineering to be lateral with product development.

I work in ad tech, and while this isn't the sort of position I'd take, I do fit the bill qualifications-wise in some ways (IMO). Someone who understands both the business and technology, involved in marketing/advertising. There's a slew of Professional Services positions in my industry that are basically outsourced growth hacking.

This is exactly how I view it. Well said!

I wrote this blogpost over a year ago now: http://www.layeredthoughts.com/startups/growth-hacking-is-bs...

Danny Sullivan's tweet last week (quoted in OP's link) is almost word for word my thesis in my blog post.

In fact, if you search for "Growth hacking is bull" in google, my post is right above this one now.

I don't really have a point to make here, other than there's quite a bit of overlap between this post and mine.

Like any fashionable word, "growth hack" is being assigned to all sorts of things that it wasn't meant to mean. This article attacks those other things, and not the core of what 'growth hacking' means.

A code hacker is doing things creatively and differently and coming up with a unique way to accomplish something that is difficult to accomplish following standard protocols like 'coder' would. A growth hacker is the same thing -- but for marketing and/or sales. By definition, once someone else shows the way, it's no longer hacking to do it; but the first one to do it, was a hacker.

I would argue that airBnb's cross-posting was hacking. The first person to some up with "give away the razor and charge for the blades" was a growth hacker even though that term didn't exist for another 100 years. Plain and simple, new and innovative ways to build brand awareness or increase sales is growth hacking.

Call it marketing hacking if it makes you feel better.

Edit: to add to my point: why use the term hacker at all if growth hacker is BS term for a certain kind of marketer, isn't 'hacker' a BS term for a certain kind of technologist? /rant

Exactly what I came here to say -- people are forgetting the 'hacking' part.

By definition, growth hacking is not established techniques, it's coming up with new clever ways to get people to spread the word about your product, which are often going to depend on your specific product or product category, and not be generally applicable. As soon as a technique is widely known/defined/used, it ceases to be growth hacking and is then just part of regular marketing.

How about we just call it marketing?

Or "internal marketing" when it's directed at what's left of your poor working culture... Great way to boost cynicism and turn over in your smartest employees!

So, a marketer is upset that marketing wordplay has been applied to the act of marketing?

I've never seen growth hacking as anything other than marketing but with a focus on trying the unusual or the usual in a different way and measuring the results immediately. No big mystery but interesting in that novel approaches or surprising results come to light more often than traditional marketing.

I use the title Growth Hacker in the sense that it is a hacker (programmer) focused on growth (marketing). In this sense, it is simply a term for a marketer that writes code. So then "growth hacking" should simply mean writing code to do marketing for you. This is indeed different than marketing alone.

Growth Engineer.

If you use the word "hack" and "hacking" as synonym for "unprofessional" (ex: he is just a hack), then growth hacking makes sense that it's not good. (Also, when non pro's write code, that is a hacking)

That's not what hacking, in this sense, means.

Hacking is getting something done creatively. As in, hacking away at a problem.

I am largely to blame for the recent tirade against “growth hacking.” I’ve let the term be bastardized and redefined a lot since my original blog post on it back in 2010 http://www.startup-marketing.com/where-are-all-the-growth-ha... . I wrote that blog post primarily for startups that had achieved product/market fit. The idea was not to replace marketing, but to create a category of marketing activities that have a direct attributable impact on growth. Startups are always on the brink of death. They don’t have the luxury to focus on things like awareness building or to prepare 50 page slide decks on the demographics of the customer. I wrote that a startup’s first marketing hire should have “growth as their true north.” They shouldn’t be outsourcing and managing vendors, the person should be a hands-on “builder” and optimizer of growth programs. In order to help make the concept stick, I put a name to it. On that day the term “growth hacker” was born.

I won’t rehash why all this debate is actually a good thing. Read my comment here http://www.growthhackers.com/dhh-growth-hacking-a-cool-sound... for my thoughts on that…

Since my original post in 2010, I’ve been happy with certain evolutions of the term. One is that I think large companies should have a group that is exclusively focused on managing the activities that are directly attributable to growth. Companies like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter have had these groups for a long time. Bigger companies have the luxury of specialization so they can have research departments, PR departments and I think “growth” should be a focused discipline within larger organizations. Part of this group’s objective should be to create a culture of growth across the entire organization and help each department evaluate and measure activities that have a direct impact on growth.

“Growth hacking” may or may not be the right word, but it’s the one I used and it stuck.

Much as SEO is a categorization of marketing activities that improve a websites search ranking, you can think of growth hacking as a broader categorization of marketing activities that directly and measurably impact growth. In my original post, I suggested that the role should be easier to hire than a VP Marketing, since the scope of focus is actually smaller. I also suggested that some of the best growth people I’ve met have engineering backgrounds. It wasn’t until Andrew Chen’s post “Growth Hacker is the New VP Marketing” that people really began to focus in on engineering skills as a prerequisite for being an effective growth hacker. He also falsely positioned it as a replacement for VP Marketing. I both disagree that it is the new VP Marketing and I disagree that engineering is a prerequisite. A VP Marketing needs to have a broader understanding of all of the disciplines within the marketing function. Some growth hackers will be good for this and some won’t.

Lastly, you could easily argue that SEO as a concept doesn’t need to exist because marketing already exists. But SEO is a subset of marketing activities. Growth hacking (to me anyway) is a subset of marketing activities too. The most powerful online marketing tactics often involve exploiting the unique advantages of the internet, which generally require some engineering skills. It’s easier to run these experiments if you don’t need to beg an engineering department for help. So engineering skills are definitely an advantage, but results trump skills.

Apologize to all that the conversation will likely to shift to a “defense of growth hacking” for a while. But eventually we’ll be back to the sharing of effective ways to grow the user bases for products that customers love.

I like your idea that the first marketing hire at a startup should have "growth as their true north."

Part of the reason I wince when someone says, "growth hacker" is that too often I've seen someone with that title parachute in, turn all the knobs up to 11 and then run off to be airlifted into another team's domain. I think a lot of folks treat growth hacking as magic pixie dust that they can sprinkled around to make numbers go up. I'm sorry to say that my introduction to the term was well after it became bastardized.

Personally, I think we a new phrase for all this.

> Growth hacking (to me anyway) is a subset of marketing activities too.

I've always thought that it was the other way around, i.e. marketing is one of the things you can do in growth hacking, but not everything. To me growth hacking means doing/focusing on things that help grow the business, and marketing is just one of the things you can do. Other things that you can do to help growth include actually improving the product and reduce friction, which are not marketing. Maybe I've misunderstood the term "growth hacking" then.

Its probably better represented as a venn diagram. Applies to potentially many disciplines within an operation.

The act of improving your product is not marketing, but deciding to improve it and what to improve is marketing. The same applies to reducing friction.

Few companies actually use growth hacking as I understand it: taking advantage of [social] networks to grow exposure exponentially

It's not SEO, and it's not SEM. It's making your product interesting and accessible to social networks, and allowing for organic growth.

BuzzFeed growth hacks (that's basically their entire business model), and while it may fall under the broader term known as marketing, it's not traditional marketing, and it absolutely deserves it's own name.

I think the bigger problem is that people who misuse growth hacking for their marketing department.

Actually they're doing branding by distinguishing themselves from marketers who offer an unbranded growth hacking experience.

Sounds like someone is pissed they got out branded by a bunch of hacks. This is the marketing equivalent of every hacker post that Facebook and Twitter are just big CRUD databases.

I view growth hacking as online marketing done by people who don't need permission or help to get things done.

Traditional online marketers are paralyzed by their lack of technical and design skills. The best they can do is brainstorm ideas and spend money on ads.

The fact is, it doesn't really matter what was intended of the word when it was created. "Growth hacking" on its surface seems to imply beating systems for the sake of growth. Sean Ellis, who is happy to tell you he coined the phrase, considers most marketing for the sake of driving growth "growth hacking." But, despite the fact that what I do probably matches both of those definitions, I would still never call myself a growth hacker.

The reason I don't call myself that is because calling yourself a "growth hacker" is akin to calling yourself a "social media guru" or a "rockstar programmer." It's a buzz-word that's been taken over by people who have no idea what they're talking about. And if you have to beat your chest and call yourself a growth hacker, chances are you're not.

Are there some incredible marketers out there who beat and create systems to cause growth? Absolutely. But I don't think many of them call themselves "growth hackers" either. Interestingly enough I find a few brilliant minds when I'm roaming amongst the blackhatters of the world. The seedy underbelly of the Internet has some really sharp people in it determined to continually out-engineer Google, beat other systems, or just brute force something. And sometimes what they do is pretty ingenious. You can actually learn a lot from them if you look at the principles they use, legitimize them, and use them for good instead of evil. There are a lot of script kiddies to be sure, but that caliber of brilliant marketer, whether it be a spammer who uses it for evil or some of the marketers causing explosive growth at young companies rarely beat their chests and assign themselves buzz-wordy titles. They don't have to.

Just like social media experts don't call themselves "gurus." No one of any high level of legitimacy has ever assigned themselves the term "Thought leader." In the same way, 99% of the people who call themselves "growth hackers" are at a marketing intern equivalent level.

It's just turned into another phrase people who don't know what they're doing throw around because it sounds cool.

This is my response --http://brandonpindulic.co/2014/01/10/growth-hacking-defined/

Summary: This is simply an opinion piece that I wrote to try to get the point across that growth is everywhere, and constraining it to a definition is simply counterintuitive.

In short, if it grows your business, then by all means do that, whatever it is, and to keep learning, experimenting and testing new strategies.

Almost every term in marketing/sales is imprecisely defined and most writing in the field seems to be around making things more complex and vague than they need to be. Kind of like the postmodernists, it's as if they want to convince you that there's some extra layer complexity which only they can understand.

And if you've watched nerds sell you'd agree that there's some extra layer of complexity which only marketers understand.

If you haven't read them you may enjoy Deschooling Society by Illich or The Spectacle of Society by Debord, though Debord gets a little postmodernist/heglian at points.


Nerds' general inability to sell isn't because they don't understand marketing lingo, but because they lack an intuitive sense of people/markets. Inconsistent and vague buzzwords do nothing to bridge that chasm.

Maybe its poor semantics, but I'm not really sure where this nerd/marketer divide is coming from.

One of them is a type of person/personality and the other is a job description.

Similar thread/conversation happening at http://growthhackers.com/growth-hacking-is-bullshit/

anyway I always felt Growth hacking is very generic term whose definition will always be different depending on the context.

"the same year Jason Calacanis started his highly-publicized crusade against the online marketing industry and, in particular, against professionals specializing in SEO and social media."

The same year Calacanis decided to found Mahalo, designed specifically to profit from abusing SEO 'growth hacking.'

Waaaahhh, somebody used a new term to describe tried and true marketing activities to make them sound new/sexy/novel.

People reapply the same concepts and ideas, but with new terminology all the time. It's good marketing :)

Now, I must get back to word sculpting...

Saying what Airbnb isn't growth hacking doesn't mean it wasn't. There were no protocols into Craigslist for cross-posting and they had to hack them together to get growth - that's growth hacking.

I really like the word Technical Marketing because it does a better job of encompassing a broader use of technology to enhance your marketing.

growth != marketing because growth is marketing union ramping up operations, not sure if growth hacking tries to incorporate building scalable company structure and/or recruiting and/or incorporating software. Keeping a team that is growing super fast on track is a full time job. In my opinion growth is just such a broad term..

"Growth hacking" is like an SUV: an attempt to take something stigmatized as effeminate (minivans) and masculinize it, to the point that it develops its own mancult.

I like the analogy, but I think SUVs were really a way to exploit a loophole in emissions regulations. Because of the technical definitions, SUVs count as trucks not cars for emissions standards.

Ever tried to drive an 80's or early 90's minivan in five months of bad winter weather? SUVs had a great reason to exist.

They weren't developed to make minivans more masculine, they were meant to sit between the minivan and the truck, providing the best qualities of each.

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