I’ll be the first to admit the somewhat scary level of my geekdom.

No, I’m not part of the Sherlock fandom. I don’t (often) wear t-shirts with 80’s video games prominently featured. And, I don’t have a man-bun.

But, there is this: I absolutely love to read and research – probably for far too much of my working day – about subjects like SEO, inbound marketing, conversion optimization, and other topics guaranteed to glaze the stares of nearly anyone I’m likely to meet outside of Comicon or other similar networking events.

Amid all this research, I’ve come across the concept of growth hacking repeatedly, and it’s always intrigued me. But, since I make my living helping companies accomplish great things with inbound marketing, for the longest time I felt like growth hacking was from “the other side of the tracks.” Like it was nefarious magic they could use, but that nice guys like me didn’t get caught up in.

And here’s why:

One authoritative article after another from sources I love and respect seemed to put growth hacking and inbound marketing on opposite sides of the table, with many of them pitting the two against each other in a no-holds-barred battle for supremacy. In many cases, these marketers even painted growth hacking in an ugly light, as if it was the new kid on the playground and they didn’t like how their girlfriends were smiling at him.

So, I started to investigate. I was hesitant at first, almost feeling like that kid who accidentally comes across an old magazine in the back of his dad’s sock drawer, only to realize a moment later that it’s just Sports Illustrated – and not even that issue. But once I gave into my geek tendencies and started really diving in, I realized that this seeming dichotomy simply doesn’t exist.

In fact, the principles of growth hacking can and should work hand-in-hand with solid inbound marketing to create a killer strategy for impressive results.

Here’s an overview of what I discovered:

First of all, what exactly is growth hacking?

I think this is where some of my fellow marketers and marketing bloggers have gone off-course. Over the years since the concept was first introduced and the phrase was coined by Sean Ellis, then CEO of Qualaroo and an experienced tech startup growth hacker from before it was cool, it’s been both expanded and watered down through overuse and misapplication.

Here’s Sean’s original definition of a growth hacker from 2010:

“A growth hacker is a person whose true north is growth. Everything they do is scrutinized by its potential impact on scalable growth… The common characteristic (among growth hackers) seems to be an ability to take responsibility for growth and an entrepreneurial drive. The right growth hacker will have a burning desire to connect your target market with your must have solution. They must have the creativity to figure out unique ways of driving growth in addition to testing/evolving the techniques proven by other companies.”

How do people view growth hacking?

As you can clearly see, when the concept of growth hacking was originally put out there, it wasn’t about growth at all costs or deceiving the public into funding a company’s growth as quickly as possible.

But that seems to be what dominates the view of at least some modern marketers when they discuss growth hacking. Like it can be lumped in with performance-enhancing drugs in sports: an enviable, obviously functional, but nonetheless unethical way to go about achieving success.

And, unfortunately, there are plenty of “experts” out there – in the marketing field and many others, I’m sure – who call themselves growth hackers, but who are actually just individuals looking for the fastest way to get from point A to point B, regardless of the long-term effect on the reputation, resources, or future of the client they’re “helping” with their questionable advice.

How can growth hacking and inbound marketing enhance each other?

When you get down to it, inbound marketing is a marketing framework that includes both strategies and tactics. The bottom line goal is to draw in your ideal customer by offering them informative, helpful, and engaging content that answers their questions, boosts their confidence in your brand, and eventually makes them want to do business with you.

Growth hacking – although it informs numerous strategies and tactics – is actually a mindset more than anything else. It’s a way of looking at commerce, marketing, and many other topics with a singular focus on growing a business.

Growth hacking – although it informs numerous strategies and tactics – is actually a mindset more than anything else.

So, we can bring together the best aspects of these two ideas – and actually end up with something more than the sum of its parts – by applying a growth hacking mindset to our inbound marketing strategies and tactics. It’s really that simple.

Here are some quick examples:

Inbound Strategy / Outcome Inbound Tactic Growth Hack
Increase traffic to my website Publish quality SEO’d content on my site that appeals to the target audience Distribute a link to that content on every available channel my target audience may frequent
Increase qualified leads Create a premium piece of content that appeals to the target audience and require an email address for access Change the download form to require both an email address and a social share to access the premium content
Enhance my position as a thought leader Write an authoritative book on my chosen niche and self-publish it Include no less than 50 interviews and/or quotes from established thought leaders in my niche and ask them to notify their audiences about the book

These are very simple examples and applying a growth hacking mentality to inbound marketing will get a lot more involved and granular than that. True growth hacking is very much a data-driven discipline that relies on analytics, testing, and optimization to determine just how to keep the company driving forward.

But inbound marketing should be highly data- and analytics-driven as well. If we’re practicing inbound marketing but failing to collect and analyze data regarding its effect, how would we even know we need to grow, much less how to go about doing it?

Can you apply a growth hacking mindset to your inbound marketing strategy?

There’s a lot more to be said about this topic, and I hope to write about it some more in the near future. But for now, take a look at that question in bold above and give it a few minutes of real, earnest thought.

If you really think about it, I’m confident you’ll find the answer is definitely a resounding “yes.” In fact, I’d be amazed to find any organization in business today who couldn’t apply some level of the growth hacking mentality to whatever inbound marketing strategy they already have in place.

With that in mind, here’s your homework assignment:

Make up a table like the one above and use it as the template for a brainstorming session with your marketing team at your next staff meeting. Fill in your current strategic goals for your inbound program, and what tactics you’re employing right now to reach those goals.

Then, start spitballing ideas for hacks that could produce massive growth. They’re not all going to be viable or even wise. But get them out there on the whiteboard anyway. The more input you receive, the more creative you can be, the more likely you are to run across the ultimate growth hack for your unique inbound marketing program.