The Wikipedia definition of growth hacking is “a marketing technique developed by technology startups which uses creativity, analytical thinking, and social metrics to sell products and gain exposure.”

The term growth hacking was coined by Sean Ellis, who defined the growth hackers as “a person whose true north is growth. Everything they do is scrutinized by its potential impact on scalable growth.”

The term was coined five years ago now, but in recent years it’s been gaining popularity. We see it everywhere, from articles in Ad Age to marketing job posts.

It’s commonly misunderstood or misinterpreted, and depending on where it shows up, it might mean different things. And this prompts the common question, “what’s the difference between growth hacking and marketing?”

Many people will have you believe that growth hacking is the new marketing. Unfortunately, I believe that description comes from a misunderstanding of what marketing is.

In reality, marketing has always been growth hacking, to an extent. Marketers are growth hackers. And growth hackers are marketers.

Most people outside the marketing profession, and some inside it, believe marketing to be advertising. And that’s where the misunderstanding starts, since growth hacking strategies often involve product design, pricing strategy, referral programs, and other things that don’t resemble advertising.

But marketing is so much more than advertising. Marketing, when done well, has its hands in all aspects of a business, from product, to service, to operations. A good marketer will recognize that a small tweak to a product’s design will encourage more frequent use, thereby further engaging users and developing brand advocates.

Growth hacking and marketing are NOT the same thing. Instead, I would classify growth hacking as a subsection of marketing. There are other things within the broad description of marketing that are not growth hacking, but there is nothing about growth hacking that exists outside the marketing spectrum.

I welcome debate on this topic however. If you have an opinion, please share it with us in the comments below.