September 9, 2019

Is Growth Hacking a Reality or a Buzzword?

Growth hacking has become a popular term in today’s startup culture. As people try to launch startups, pressure is applied to produce results quickly. Businesses that don’t fuel rapid growth are unlikely to survive.

The term growth hacker was first introduced in a blog post by Sean Ellis from July of 2010. In the post, Sean stated, “a growth hacker is a person whose true north is growth. Everything they do is scrutinized by its potential impact on scalable growth.” In his definition, growth hackers try to improve their businesses through testing and process iterations. 

Later, Andrew Chen wrote, “Growth Hacker is the new VP Marketing” and established the idea that growth hacking requires coding knowledge or an engineering background to think about problems differently than conventional marketers. Chen defined a growth hacker as a “hybrid of marketer and coder, one who looks at the traditional question of 'how do I get customers for my product?"' and answers it with experimentation and optimization.

But, isn’t this the approach of all data-driven marketers? Don’t data-driven marketers test different solutions and iterate until they find an optimal one? Don’t all marketers want to grow?

We think so. Let’s explain our perspective and dig a little deeper.

If Not Growth Hacking, What?

Here at New Breed, our philosophy is that growth hacking is simply a term attempting to describe innovative marketing tactics. It was born from someone thinking, “I did this incredible thing that no one has ever thought of before.” In reality, these “unique” methods are normally minor tweaks from the way marketers have been doing things. 

“Marketing isn’t about reinventing the wheel; it’s about making the wheel spin better,” says Guido Bartolacci, New Breed’s Head of Demand Generation. “What really matters is doing the right things well.” 

Basically, you don’t need to “hack” growth. If you provide value for your consumers and optimize your efforts to give them what they need, you’ll create a business that expands naturally.

For instance, New Breed practices inbound marketing which targets sustained growth. Contrary to outbound approaches like advertising, which interrupt consumers, inbound positions content so consumers can interact with it when they want. Individuals find our offers, convert on them and enter our conversion funnel where we hope to nurture them into customers.

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“Inbound marketing is like paying a mortgage where you’re investing in this thing that’s going to pay off long-term,” says Guido. “Paid advertising, or growth hacks so to speak, are like paying rent, where you’re only going to get benefits from it while you’re doing it.

“That blog post you write today — it’s going to last you for years down the line. Whereas, that click you bought in paid is only going to bring that person to your website once. You need to pay for the next person too, and when you stop the flow of traffic will stop,”

While there are short-term growth tactics that can provide fleeting gains, inbound can offer both long-term value and short-term wins, especially when combined with growth marketing

Growth marketing is a demand generation process where you design and conduct experiments to optimize your results in a particular area. Growth marketers concentrate their experiments on pirate metrics which can be separated into six categories: awareness, acquisition, activation, revenue, retention and referral. 

“Once you get that sustained growth from inbound marketing started, you can use growth marketing as a way to dial things in and turn levers to get more out of what you’re doing,” says Guido.

After implementing inbound marketing, you’re going to find things you want to tweak.

“Whether it’s in the marketing process, the sales handoff or even the sales process, growth marketing can come in, identifying those areas of opportunity and finding experiments to run to make a specific area of that process better,” says Guido.

Basically, if you have a metric you want to improve, growth marketing can help you do that. Using pirate metrics to consider the different aspects of your business also helps pinpoint problems and make changes faster. In this way, optimizing your processes one by one can generate more quick wins.

Combining the methodical nature of inbound marketing with the speed of growth marketing can help businesses grow quickly and sustainably which is vital in today’s startup culture. 

Sustainable Growth in Today’s Startup Culture 

Startups are under massive amounts of pressure to prove their worth in the market. If you work for a startup, you’re trying to build a viable product and looking for seed capital to expand. You need to generate enough demand to demonstrate your product is worth investors’ money now and will provide a return for them in the future.

“Once you get that funding, it’s on you to get those leads, to show that the business has potential for growth,” says Guido.

When you’re in your first round of funding (series A), you’re still in the early adopter, pre-growth stage of your business, so ramping up and driving results is imperative to get the next round of investment.

At this stage, it’s hard to balance quick wins and sustainable growth. You need results now, so thinking too far ahead is difficult. Guido explains that, at this stage, startups feel the need to move as quickly as possible and invest in things like paid advertising to generate leads. 

“They’re not thinking of that long-term vision even though they know it’s important. They just can’t focus on it because of the pressure that’s being applied to them,” he says.

While short-term wins are vital, they should not compromise future success. In fact, both short-term and long-term wins should be reached using the same engine fueled with the same energy.

“Whether you want a quick win or long-term growth, you’re going to need to create content and offers that will resonate with your audience. The way that you leverage that content can be for short or long-term gains, but you should always be balancing the two,” says Guido.

At New Breed, we normally create a piece of content like a blog post or premium content offer that can sustain us into the future, but then we’ll amplify it, getting it in front of people as quickly as possible. For instance, we use paid search, social media and email marketing to help position our premium content offers. That way we don’t have to wait for them to rank and gain traction on Google.

In this way, you can strike a balance. You’ll have evergreen content to continually generate leads but boost material so it’s seen faster. From there, you can experiment, using growth marketing to see what works best.

Key Takeaway 

“There are always going to be new buzzwords, but when you think about it most of them are just a new approach to an existing concept,” says Guido. “It’s very rarely the case that someone is completely revolutionizing the whole idea of marketing.” 

Instead of getting caught up in the shiny new terminology, it’s important to ground your marketing strategy in the ideas behind the buzz.

Drift is a really good example of that. A lot of people look at Drift and think they’re completely changing marketing, but if you listen to them talk about it, if you read some of the books they’ve written, they’ll say, ‘we’re not doing new stuff in marketing; we’re taking old, traditional marketing concepts and applying them to today’s buyer,’” Guido says.

Consider growth hacking: a “growth hacker” is simply a new label for a data-driven marketer. Instead of relying on opinions, they let data direct their decisions, guiding them to growth.

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This post was originally published on September 22, 2014.

Isaac Desranleau

Isaac is an Inbound Specialist at New Breed. His passion for the inbound philosophy of giving value to customers before extracting it brought him to New Breed. In his free time, he's an avid outdoorsman.


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