Marketing vs. Growth Hacking

Contrary to popular belief, marketing and growth hacking are not the same thing. Marketers and growth hackers have different perspectives about the world and they approach the world in different ways. At the end of this post, you will have a stronger understanding on the differences between marketers and growth hackers and in what context each professional is needed. Moreover, you will understand why you need to start incorporating growth hacking principles into your marketing today.

1. Their Definitions

Marketer: someone who aims to sell particular goods and services to their target group.

Growth Hacker:  A person whose true north is growth (Sean Ellis)

2. The Way they Work

Growth Hackers focus heavily on data, everything is a hypothesis until it is proven. They are continuously improving through experimenting and testing. They are comfortable with the uncertainty of the online environment and this uncertainty is what motivates them them to excel.

Marketers on the other hand tend to make assumptions, without having solid evidence on why certain decisions need to be made. For example, many marketers use social media for their business because it is expected, but many times they do not measure whether their social media campaigns are actually worth their time. Many times, marketers do not ask themselves 'Where else could I be focusing this energy to achieve more?'.

3. Channels Used

The most important difference between marketers and growth hackers is the maturity of the channel in which they promote their product or service. There are very few growth hackers who use TV advertising or other sheltered campaigns in order to achieve skyrocket growth (also known as hockey stick growth). However TV is a popular advertising channel for marketers in large companies.

Growth Hackers enjoy exploring new channels, which few people have experience using and that are unexplored territory amongst marketers. These channels excite Growth Hackers as they are innovative, new and are arenas where the do’s and dont’s within the channel are not yet defined. These channels offer opportunities for people to push the limits within the channel in creative ways. Indeed, growth hacking was developed in the startup world in order to explore new channels for startups to puch their products on a low budget. Furthermore, Growth Hackers only invest fully in a channel once they have seen that it works, e.g. first test Google Adwords with €100 budget before putting €1,000 into a full blown Google Adwords campaign.

Therefore, the Internet is ideal for Growth Hackers, as it constantly offers new arenas and opportuities to explore. Hence, the internet always offers new possibilities to test new ideas and channels in order to find tools that can help firms achieve hockey stick growth.

4. Failure is GOOD

Growth Hackers fail more often than marketers. This is to be expected: they are constantly trying out new things they have never done before. Marketers tend to stick to tried and tested marketing channels and rarely explore new marketing opportunities. Growth Hackers are accustomed to failure and it is part of their job description to learn as much as possible; and learning experience very often includes failure. Through learning from failing fast and often Growth Hackers can drop what does not work and focus only on what truly works for their company.

5. The Frameworks Behind it All

Growth hackers also think more holistically about the customer funnel through the AARRR model. Whilst most marketers are only busy with acquisition in the top of the funnel, growth hackers pay attention to each stage of the funnel:

Source: Coelevate

So: When do you need a marketer and when do you need a growth hacker?

You need a Growth Hacker if:

1. You are busy with an idea, concept or business model that is completely new.

2. You want to grow aggressively and quickly.

Basically: you need a growth hacker if you want to start challenging your company and improving what you are doing. This should be what your company, no matter what its size, aims for continuously.

You need a Marketer when:

1. You have a business model that does not have much potential growth.

2. High reach is important, but not the effctiveness of the reach.

What does the future hold?

There is one potential pitfall for marketers and that is that the world, competition and customers are changing rapidly. Traditional channels are losing their effectiveness and new channels require exploration in order to stay on top of their marketing game. A few years ago Facebook Advertising was enough to grow your business, however today, this is rarely possible. These existing platforms are getting crowded and you need to start focusing on what is new. New (digital) products are being rolled out and the only question is whether or not they are going to work.

Our prediction is that Growth Hackers will become more and more relevant within company growth processes. Marketers will always exist, however they will need to shift their mindset from their current traditional marketing focus to the mindset of ever-exploring Growth Hackers to stay ahead of the curve.

In the end, the difference between the two professions is quite small, but the people who aren’t ready to jump onto the Growth Hacking mindset bandwagon will most likely encounter evergrowing problems in this digitally dominated world.