Growth Hacking Defined—Hopefully For The Last Time
For whatever reason, people love to obscure the idea of growth hacking. Some do so out of fear that it will make marketing irrelevant. Some do so because they love to hate anything that seems like a buzz word. Some think that it is actually an empty phrase. And some are just completely clueless.
So here is what I’m going to do. I’m going to plainly define a growth hacker, without just reducing it to a bunch of activities, in an attempt to write a webster-worthy definition:
“A growth hacker is an individual, usually within a startup, that utilizes marketing, product, and engineering to quantifiably grow and retain a user base.”
Now, let’s break this definition down a little bit.
Marketing: This could be anything from traditional marketing (branding, awareness, PR, etc.) to newer forms of internet marketing (PPC, landing pages, content marketing, social media, etc.).
Product: This could be the addition or removal of entire features from a product, planning the product road map, or tweaking the existing product. These were decisions traditionally left to product managers.
Engineering: This could be any solution for growth that relies on engineering to implement. This could be viral loops, API integrations, or any other creative code-heavy mechanisms.
Grow: The disciplines/tactics listed above are only used if they get results. If something doesn’t lead to growth then it can be safely ignored.
Retain: The focus is not just simply on top-of-funnel customer acquisition, but it is also on retention. A growth hacker is concerned about the entire funnel.
Quantifiably: If it can’t be measured then it isn’t growth hacking.
You may not like the idea of growth hacking, but here’s the thing: there is a group of people floating around the startup ecosystem that have a deep understanding of marketing, product, and engineering, and they are using their skills to grow and retain user bases. Ignoring their existence (and their effectiveness) will not make them disappear.
Now for the million dollar question:
Isn’t a growth hacker just a marketer? Many marketers also quantify their results. Many marketers also use landing pages and PPC campaigns, etc.
No. A growth hacker is not a marketer. Marketers do not typically make core product decisions, they do not typically utilize serious engineering to promote growth, and often times they are only concerned with top-of-funnel customer acquisition activities, not retention. Sure, marketers sometimes measure their results and use newer forms of internet marketing, but this is only one aspect of the definition. A goat is not a unicorn just because they have some things in common.
For a fuller explanation of growth hacking you can download The Science of Growth Hacking (mp3+pdf)