What is Growth Hacking? Does it Really Differ from Traditional Marketing?

growth hacking

Growth hacking is a term that’s all the rage right now. In all honesty, I can’t stand it… I feel like we’re on a merry go-round with terminology sometimes when it comes to marketing. Growth hacking is simply guerilla marketing applied to the web with technologists. Because technology startups have a lot of analytical and programming talent internal, it’s only natural that those resources execute alternative marketing strategies utilizing their talent.

What is the Definition of Growth Hacking?

Growth hacking is a marketing strategy that utilizes both creative and unconventional means to get a lot of exposure to your products or service without spending a lot of money. The term was applied to technology startups who lacked a marketing budget, but could creatively utilize search engine optimization, social marketing, analytics and testing to quickly optimize and grow their online presence.

Sean Ellis penned the term on his blog in 2010 in a post called Find a Growth Hacker for Your Startup where he identified a Growth Hacker as an alternative to hiring a traditional, full-time marketer. Growth hacking displaces a traditional, long-term marketing strategy with short-term strategies focused on accelerating growth and revenue.

This infographic from Direct Spark attempts to juxtaposition growth hacking to some traditional marketing techniques. As a professionally trained and experienced traditional marketer, I absolutely, whole-heartedly disagree with some of the opinions of traditional marketers here.

  1. A great marketer doesn’t guess based on opinions and hierarchy, they are incredible analysts who utilize data to make informed decisions.
  2. The approach makes it sound like traditional marketing is all about manipulating people into wanting your product… ridiculous. Word of Mouth (WOM) marketing – known in this infographic as referral marketing were well-known strategies long before the Internet. And retention is a core to every great marketing strategy – every marketer knows it’s much more effective to keep a customer than find a new one.
  3. Paid advertising is expensive and great marketers absolutely recognize the importance of inbound and outbound alignment and strategies to reduce cost per lead and grow their customer base.
  4. If a traditional marketer doesn’t identify a clear funnel, they aren’t a marketer. Having a clearly defined funnel is an absolute minimum for every marketer nowadays. Even a brand marketer with zero knowledge of the web understands the impact of their decisions and how it will draw a prospect into making a purchase.

Oh… and I dress more like the guy on the right… only I’m fatter with great hair and a goatee. To be absolutely clear, I’d state that without a long-term budget, adequate resources, and the talent of a great marketing department, growth hacking is a must for any scrappy startup. However, everything a growth hacker does a traditional marketing department should be doing and – ultimately – doing better. We work with corporations both large and small deploying these marketing solutions every single day.

Traditional Marketing vs Growth Hacking


  1. 1

    Seems to be another “quick fix” solution based upon a “quick fix”mentality.  Slow and steady always wins the race be it in business or in life. IMHO

    Leanne Hoagland-Smith

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