growth hackingIs growth hacking inbound marketing in disguise, with an aggressive new name? Is it some unholy combination of marketing, finance, and public relations? Are so-called growth hacking professionals really just jargon addicts with a background in startup marketing?

To be clear, none of these rumors are true, though there could be some truth to all of them. The most succinct definition comes from Sean Ellis, who states A growth hacker is a person whose true north is growth.”

The term was coined by Ellis in 2010. Ellis was something of a go-to individual for startups, who was renowned for his comprehensive approach to viral customer acquisition with few resources. Sean was essentially a marketer, but his approach was somewhat different from his peers.

Growth hacking in a startup setting doesn’t require many of the same competencies that traditional marketers at established corporations may need. There’s little need for aligning business silos, or trying to convince the CFO to let you hire another graphic designer in the next fiscal year. In the startup world, things move extremely quickly. Your budget may literally be $0. You’ve got weeks (if not days) to bring in some revenue or else. The remarkable performance under pressure is what separates growth hackers from traditional marketers.

Is Growth Hacking a Startup Trick?

While growth hacking originated in startup culture and is particularly beneficial to startup organizations, it’s not just for new organizations. In fact, growth hacking principles can be critically important in corporate settings. Given the right degree of flexibility to unleash growth hacking principles at full velocity, many of the concepts we’ll cover in this blog can revolutionize marketing metrics at bigger organizations.

Really exceptional marketing managers at huge companies are probably a bit more like growth hackers than they’d ever realized. The actions these managers can take in times of public relations crises or industry events are pretty darn growth hackerish, indeed.

It’s almost certain that growth hacking principles will ever replace traditional marketing. However, it’s in today’s marketing pros best interest to really embrace many of the concepts in this set of practices. Here are several key signs of a successful growth hacker that should have you squirming in your seat (or eager to emulate their success):

1. Growth Hackers Don’t Take No For an Answer

Remember when AirBnB, the Uber of travel accommodations, came out of absolutely nowhere several years ago? Part of the platform’s meteoric success came from the fact that it offered users the ability to automatically push postings to Craigslist, according to Quicksprout.

Engineering this integration with Craigslist wasn’t simple, because the website doesn’t offer an OpenAPI. It required some serious ingenuity and sweat to reverse-engineer this integration. But the team at AirBnB ultimately won because they accomplished the impossible.

2. Growth Hackers are Analytical

While many undergraduate marketing programs and MBA schools are slowly integrating more quantitative curriculum, traditional marketers still have something of a reputation as a “not very analytical” group of professionals. In many startup environments, many organizations can’t afford to bring on marketing leadership that’s not multi-talented, including deep expertise in heavy analytical methodologies.

Fluency in analytical methods for leading growth hackers includes deep competency in Google analytics or HubSpot, but it will also include cost of customer acquisition calculations, A/B and multivariate testing methods, segmentation, and possibly even custom analytics applications.

3. Growth Hackers Leverage Existing Strengths

Traditional marketers often take a comprehensive approach, in order to capture customers across platforms. Growth hackers have the privilege of being able to leverage an organization’s existing strengths. Take finance website Mint, who’s meteoric rise to mainstream use came from creating landing pages. Creating tons, and tons, and tons of landing pages.

The team at Mint created a landing page for the vast majority of common personal finance queries that their buyer persona (20-something professionals) were likely to Google. Their investment in organic search exposure worked, even though it wasn’t coupled with an aggressive guest blogging strategy or hardcore social media promotion.

Marketers don’t always have the option to jump in fully to one method and one method alone, but it’s certainly a concept worth considering. Could investing entirely in one of your company’s strengths bring you further than spreading resources across many different methods?

4. Growth Hackers are Experimental

Marissa Meyer, CEO of Yahoo, believes that graphic design is effectively measurable. She once led a “50 shades of blue” experiment, which tested the impact of 50 (yes, 50) different colors for links and their impact on user behavior.

This burning desire to measure everything and test things that aren’t obviously testable is a core component of growth hacking. The best growth hackers treat all marketing like an experiment, and launch campaigns with control groups, hypotheses, and defined key performance indicators.

5. Growth Hackers are Experts and Generalists

Many marketers today are either specialists or generalists. Maybe you’ve got a comprehensive background, and leveraged that broad expertise to get into content management. Perhaps you’ve stepped into communications directorship due to a strong background in corporate PR.

Growth hackers have to be whip sharp, fully-informed generalists. It’s the only way they can comprehensively consider all of their options. However, they also have to be specialists. Perhaps a growth hacking candidate knows everything about marketing analytics methods, or effective onboarding processes. However, the intersection of deep niche expertise and broad knowledge is what defines today’s best growth hackers.

Do you think today’s traditional marketers should fear the crazy successes that emerge from the best growth hacking campaigns? Why or why not?

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