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Growth Marketing

Growth Marketing vs. Growth Hacking: Combining Both for the Ultimate Growth Strategy

What is the difference between growth marketing vs growth hacking? Which strategy is right for you? We discuss how both can work together for sustainable growth.

11 mins read time
Jeanna Barrett
Jeanna Barrett

Aug 16, 2021

How do you grow your B2B brand? That’s the $64,000 (or more like multi-million dollar) question. You’ve likely been hearing a lot about growth hacking and growth marketing over the last few years, and you might be wondering if they can work for you…and if you need one, the other, or both.

We’ve got the answers to all your questions ($64,000 to $1 million and beyond). Read on to learn the difference between growth marketing and growth hacking and how a growth marketing agency like First Page can help your B2B brand achieve next-level measurable and sustainable growth.

First, let's define both terms.

What Is Growth Marketing?

Before we dive in, we have to make an important distinction: growth hacking and growth marketing are not the same thing. While some marketers use them interchangeably, there is a clear delineation between the two, and understanding that will help you put a plan in place to drive results.

Growth marketing is a methodology that combines two different types of growth: brand growth and performance growth. Brand growth targets awareness-building, customer loyalty, and brand perception and reputation. Performance growth focuses on moving the needle and boosting your brand’s bottom line, through increased leads, traffic, sales, revenue, and ROI.

Got all that? Good, because there’s a lot more coming your way.

Growth Marketing Is the Umbrella Term for All

Think of it this way: growth marketing is a strategy, and growth hacking is a tactic. A growth marketing strategy encompasses all facets of marketing your brand and is centered around achieving consistent long-term growth. Growth hacking, on the other hand, is one of many tactics employed to reach that growth.

What Is Growth Hacking?

Back in 2010 (so, in tech terms, ancient history), Sean Ellis — an entrepreneur and startup investor — coined the phrase “growth hacking.” He wrote the book on it. Literally. Ellis is also the founder of GrowthHackers, a community of growth-focused marketing professionals.

Growth hacking can describe any technique designed for rapid market growth, but most often, growth hacks involve experimentation, ingenuity, and out-of-the-box thinking. Hacks put brands on the fast track to connect with new and established audiences and boost their revenue. But it isn’t all about customer acquisition. In fact, some of the most critical elements of growth hacking include activation, retention, and referral.

The growth hacking funnel looks a bit different from the traditional marketing funnel. And if you need a mnemonic device to help recall each stage, just remember to think like a pirate (AARRR, get it?).

growth hacking funnelSource

Why Is Growth Hacking So Popular?

Less time. More money. Who wouldn’t want that? Growth hacking is pretty irresistible, because many brands think it offers them an equation to super-speed, earth-shattering growth, if only they do the math.

Don’t start planning your early retirement in Fiji just yet. Like most equations, this one has a lot of variables. It can work — and does — with the right planning and execution, but riding a growth hack all the way to the bank has to be earned.

Still, the promise of quick revenue growth is a siren song for most brands, and those who’ve done it well are the sirens luring us into the deep waters of growth hacking. Whether you sink or swim depends on a lot of different factors (some of which we’ll outline here).

Growth hacking’s rising popularity, however, is not based on mere hope. It’s based on the proven outcome of hard work, innovative thinking, and fearless experimentation. When done well, growth hacking can allow brands without the biggest budgets or widest audience to get a seat at the table…fast.

What Are the Similarities Between Growth Hacking and Growth Marketing?

Growth hacking, as we’ve learned, is one element of growth marketing — and a very important one. They are not the same, and though you can growth hack without an overall growth marketing strategy, they work better (and deliver better results) together.

Both Rely on Data

Data is critical to all marketing methodologies, but maybe none so much as growth marketing (and subsequently, growth hacking).

  • Growth hackers are the mad scientists of the marketing world, hypothesizing new techniques and experimenting repeatedly to find what works. They need instantaneous access to data in the moment, whether it’s through A/B testing or lead gen info, to test their theories.
  • Growth marketers, on the other hand, are playing the long game. They rely on data to make updates to long-term strategy and maintain a high-level view on the ultimate desired outcome, which is brand growth and revenue growth. That kind of data takes time, but while they’re waiting, the mad scientists are busy in their labs, making adjustments that push the strategy further.

SMART Goals Are the Same

We love a good SMART goal, as does pretty much every other marketer. But setting SMART goals is even more critical to growth marketers and hackers. Why? Because being SMART is the first step toward achieving growth.

While all parts of the SMART goal are important, some seem to be designed with the growth marketer or growth hacker in mind.

For the growth marketer: ACTIONABLE

Growth marketing keeps a hawk eye on performance. If the strategy isn’t moving the needle, they need to adjust. Setting goals that are actionable will reduce time spent resetting the goalposts and allow more time to focus on what works.

For the growth hacker: TIME-BOUND

Growth hackers want quick results, and setting a time-based goal can help them stay on track. It’s important to keep in mind the nagging reality of time, though. Success isn’t likely to happen overnight, so make sure goals account for a realistic time frame that includes planning, experimenting, and adapting.


As noted in the section above, data is key to both growth marketing and growth hacking. If your strategy and tactics aren’t aligned with your KPIs and business metrics, you won’t be able to show proof of performance.

The Process Is Similar

AAARRR, matey! The steps for both growth hacking and growth marketing are very similar, as you can see in the growth hacking funnel. Acquisition, Activation, Retention, Revenue, and Referral are all key elements of growth-focused marketing.

And though it happens on a smaller scale, the growth hacking process can be applied to a wider growth marketing strategy. ERR…no, we’re not confused. ERR stands for Experimentation, Repetition, Referral.

  • Experimentation: At this stage, testing is critical. Trying new ideas (or at least, ideas that are new to your brand) will widen your revenue stream and get you in front of new potential customers. Some will peace out immediately, but others will stick around to see what other tricks you’ve got up your sleeve.
  • Repetition: Once you’ve found the tactics that work, you repeat them frequently to maximize impact. Repetition leads to faster growth, because you can “set it and forget it” with the tactics that work and turn your attention back to experimenting.
  • Referrals: Your brand or advertising may not go viral, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use viral marketing tactics. Going viral is less about luck and more about a process of compounding the growth of your audience. So when one happy customer wants to tell others about you, they don’t just phone a friend — they get on the party line.

While ERR is pretty standard practice for growth hacking, the same core principles can be applied to growth marketing over a longer period of time.

A Great Product Is Crucial to Success

You won’t get very far without a stellar product, no matter how shiny or slick or sexy your marketing is. Growth hackers and growth marketers both know that even the best ads, logos, or web pages can’t put lipstick on a pig. A poorly designed product will stick out like a sore thumb, so be sure your product is before you get too far down the growth hacking/marketing path.

Is There a Difference Between Growth Hacking and Growth Marketing?

You bet there is. As we’ve pointed out, the two are not the same. One is a novel, while the other is a haiku. Both are literature. Both are entertaining. But one engages the audience over a long period of time, while the other offers a bite-sized snippet that can be consumed in a flash. You can’t put a novel into a haiku, but you can incorporate a haiku into your novel.

To illustrate, a haiku:

Growth hacking is short.
Growth marketing takes longer.
Both will bring results.

Growth Marketing Is Focused on the Brand While Growth Hacking Has Nothing to Do with the Brand

Growth marketing is strategic and methodical, working to build brand awareness before moving toward measurable, sustained growth. On the flip side, growth hacking is more concerned with finding right-fit tactics that move the needle fast.

This, however, is a cautionary tale. A growth hacker who ignores the brand is bound for failure. And a growth marketer who ignores innovative ideas and short-term growth is going to get stuck in a sea of sameness.

Yes, growth marketers should keep the brand as their source of truth, but they must also be agile and forward-thinking enough to get outside the box and experiment. And growth hackers need to have a good handle on the brand, persona, and product in order to make experiments a success rather than an exercise in futility.

Best practice? Mesh the two together to see both short-term and long-term results.

Different Skill Set

Growth marketers and growth hackers are usually very different kinds of people. And for good reason — the methods each use to drive results are unique and require a particular skill set.

growth marketing vs. growth hacking

Growth Hackers Dive Right in While Growth Marketers Take Time to Collect Background Data

Growth hackers are quick on the jump. They know the latest trends and tech available to them, and they aren’t afraid to use them…even if they don’t work. Growth marketers, on the other hand, are fully invested in the strategy, carefully crafting each phase toward a clearly defined goal.

Growth Marketers Aim for Sustainable Growth While Growth Hacking Aims for Rapid Growth

To approach growth successfully, you need both. A growth marketing strategy that includes growth hacking tactics offers the best of both worlds. Quick results that can be adapted and repeated for long-term, sustainable success.

Growth Marketing Is Focused on People and Business While Growth Hacking Has a Preference for Technology

As we mentioned, growth marketers have an eye on the brand at all times, and that includes the people the brand serves. They develop personas and dive deep into their needs, their expectations, and their motivations. They leverage this insight to craft content that reaches the audience at the right time, in the right place, with the right message. It may not be quick, but it’s very often effective.

Growth hackers aren’t so worried about who they reach, but how. They are the earliest adopters (and sometimes creators) of new technology, and they rely on tools to get their work done quickly.

Neither is wrong, and neither is better than the other, but to achieve maximum growth, you need both in the mix.

Growth Marketing Is Consistent Hard Work While Growth Hacking Is One Revolutionary Move

Before you get your hackles up (looking at you, growth hackers), we’re not saying that growth marketers work harder — just that the hard work they do happens over a longer, sustained period of time. Growth hackers, on the other hand, expend more energy on the front end. But they do it over and over again as their experiments either succeed or fail.

Growth marketers are adept at planning. They put together a strategy that will be implemented across months, if not years. Growth hackers want to see instantaneous results. If they don’t get them, it’s onto the next experiment.

Again, neither is a better option. Ideally, the two are used together for maximum impact: fast growth now and long-term sustainable growth into the future.

Growth Marketing Looks At the Bigger Picture, Growth Hacking Wants Results Now

As stated before, growth marketing is a long game. The stakes are high, but they’ve got one heck of a poker face. Growth hackers, by contrast, know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em. They aren’t afraid to step away from a bad hand. Both play the odds, just in different ways.

A growth marketer considers where the brand wants to be five years from now. A growth hacker is more concerned with where it is now. The end game is the same — increased growth, higher revenue — but the way they play is very different.

Neither Growth Marketing Nor Growth Hacking Can Exist in a Vacuum

By now, you should know that to meet your goals, you need elements of growth hacking woven throughout a larger growth marketing strategy. While one can exist (with limited success) without the other, a symbiotic relationship offers the best outcomes.

Brands that take an either/or approach are typically left unsatisfied. Either they have a strong, promising start that fizzles out because there’s no strategy behind it and it isn’t sustainable, or they never get off the ground before consumers get bored and the bottom line begins to sag.

Putting all your eggs into one growth basket simply isn’t going to get you the desired results. Or if it does, it will be in the short-term — a blink-and-you-missed-it move of the needle — or it will be a seemingly endless wait before that carefully crafted strategy pays off.

Do You Need Growth Marketing or Growth Hacking?

You need both. For those in the back: YOU. NEED. BOTH. We could go into a lengthy PB&J analogy, but we’ll spare you. Suffice it to say, just having one or the other makes for a pretty disappointing sandwich.

However, if you’re wondering where to start, that’s a tougher question to answer, and it depends on several factors. Begin by asking yourself:

Are You in a Saturated Market?

It might be time to shake things up so you can stand out from the crowd. If that’s the case, growth hacking might be the right choice for you. Hacks are disruptive, potentially viral, and attention-grabbing. If your market is overrun, a hack could be exactly what you need to create the biggest differentiator among a sea of similar products.

Do You Have Product/Market Fit?

If you’ve found your niche, know your customers, and have designed a product they love, quick growth isn’t going to cut it in the long term. In this case, consider a growth marketing strategy that dives deep into those buyer personas and develops a plan to deliver according to their needs.

Conclusion: Growth Marketing vs. Growth Hacking: Which Do You Need?

We don’t have to say it again, do we? We’re going to do it anyway. You need both growth marketing and growth hacking to achieve next-level results.

If you’re looking for quick results right now, give growth hacking a try. If you want to sustain that growth in the long term, you’ll need a growth marketing strategy. But the best thing you can do for your brand is combine both.


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Jeanna Barrett

Jeanna is the Founder & Chief Remote Officer for First Page Strategy, an award-winning, fully distributed marketing agency. Jeanna has a combined 17 years of inbound marketing experience at venture-backed startups, digital agencies and Fortune 500 companies, with an expertise focus on business and tech. She's been named 'Top 40 Under 40' of brand marketers and 'Best in the West' for financial technology marketing. In 2016, Jeanna left the U.S. to lay roots and build her business in Belize, and in 2021 First Page was named #43 in fastest growing private companies of Inc. 5,00 Regionals: California.

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