I became aware of the buzzphrase “growth hacking” in 2013 when it started to take off as a standard role in the startup/tech world. While it had different connotations for different companies and people, for the most part it refers to using digital marketing ‘tricks’ to ‘hack growth’. Generally, these tricks are focused on driving traffic and acquisition through SEO/SEM, landing page optimization, email drip cycles, etc. There’s a real application for this specialty in certain situations and I think the benefits are easily realized.
But, I also think there’s a bigger context that growth hacking fits into and a reality that marketers need to start waking up to.
There needs to be a focus on creating a marketing program that’s less of a laundry list of activities and more of a tactical game plan that’s focused on achieving very specific objectives - much in the same way that growth hackers are tasked with user acquisition. Growthhackers attack their objective by thinking creatively about their resources and searching for side doors into an audience. Marketers need to think similarly and not enough do.
Our job is perfectly summarized by Peter Drucker, Austrian management theorist's hyperbolic description of marketing's objective:
"The aim of marketing is to make selling superfluous."
Marketing and sales should never be at war to justify their existence. Instead, they should live in a happy state of symbiosis…helping each other but not relying on the other to survive. Our goal as marketers should be to help make our product, organization and customer experience so delicious that not only do our customers and prospects have trouble imagining a better alternative to our brand, but that they even sell for the brand through referrals and self-service sales.
That’s the true heart of marketing - the experience a customer has before, during and after doing business with the organization. This isn’t to be confused with product, which is of course part of the experience but not the entirety.
Marketers have been in the business of allowing themselves to exist as in-house branding and advertising wonks for far too long. I don’t know at what point ‘marketing’ became synonymous with graphic design and “making things pretty” but that’s a very dangerous line to tow for our profession. I truly believe that this misconception about our role is the main factor in why many people fail to see the value in marketing. Too many people confuse marketing output (marketing collateral, etc.) with the discipline of marketing and it needs to change.
We need to add value to the bottom line.
Sometimes that’s going to be quantified in web traffic or leads in the pipeline. And yes, sometimes that means producing content and marketing collateral that kicks ass and takes names. Other times, though, adding value should mean enhancing processes and helping other teams within our organization to evolve their approach so that the experience of doing business with the company becomes more appealing within the greater context of the market.
Marketing hacking is how to go about doing just that.