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Growth hacking is really just creative low-cost marketing

Growth hacking is really just creative low-cost marketing

Growth hacking, a phrase coined by Sean Ellis in 2010, is tossed around frequently today. It’s usually associated with technology start-ups or small businesses that use cunning and low-cost strategies to acquire customers and sales, as opposed to spending heavily on traditional marketing tactics. User acquisition is generally the singular focus. But is this really something different and unique? Or is it just savvy targeted marketing on a low budget?

Marketing has transformed rapidly over the past decade. It’s had to adapt to fragmenting media, sales channels, audiences, and the rise of smaller niche markets. There’s been an explosion of technologies and methods for finding and connecting with customers. But underlying all of these “new developments” is the fundamental premise of marketing - to sell something.

So while growth hacking is a clever buzz word that sounds intriguing, in essence it’s simply the smart application of new technologies and the use of new media to reach and convince prospects to buy (and to share your product or service). A growth hacker is an early adopter of these new methods, especially if they’re free or low cost – and most importantly, they’re focused on growth.

Of course all marketers are focused on growth, but traditional marketers often take a layered approach that isn’t singularly focused. The concept of growth hacker as defined by Sean Ellis is a person who’s “true north is growth.” It’s certainly a distinct mindset, but one that many in bootstrapped marketing scenarios also deal with daily. How to grow a business and a customer base with little or no resources. This leads to embracing new media because of its no or low costs.

To this end, growth hackers pioneered the successful use of social media, video marketing, and content marketing to build audiences cost-effectively. Along the way, they also aggressively monitored analytics to tailor their tactics. These folks are capable marketers who are very focused. But truthfully, they aren’t that far removed from the traditional marketing professional.

Today, most of these growth hacking strategies have reached the mainstream and sit within the quivers of traditional marketers. Moreover, the adoption of “growth hacking” techniques spreads more quickly as more and more marketers share their techniques and strategies online. So the lead time in developing a successful growth hack – and the subsequent spread to others – is fairly rapid today.

Growth hacking will continue as a buzz word

For the foreseeable future, growth hacking will remain a popular buzz word. But to me, it’s really just a catch phrase that’s applying an age-old marketing strategy of trying to define a new niche segment. That’s not to say that the low- or no-cost tactics – growth at all costs – don’t have merit… I just don’t think they rise to the point where they’re a distinct type of marketing.

Growth hackers use many of the same tools and tactics – just more aggressively. So while growth hacking is a good concept, and aggressively and affordably marketing your business should be the goal of every entrepreneur – don’t be deceived into thinking it’s the magic bean of marketing. Instead, if you’re hiring or working with a marketer, establish goals for them and worry less about buzz word methods used to achieve them, and more about the actual results that are delivered.

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Jun 25, 2015
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