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Growth Marketing

A Quick Look at Growth Marketing vs. Growth Hacking

Are growth hacking and growth marketing the same? Not by a long shot. To use each effectively, you need to understand the differences.

8 mins read time
Jeanna Barrett
Jeanna Barrett

Aug 03, 2021

Are you a growth hacker? Are you a growth marketer? Or are you confused? Crawlers of the internet have actually searched for “Is there a REAL difference between growth hacking and growth marketing?” If you’re wondering too, let us begin by telling you that yes, there IS a real difference. 


What Is Growth Hacking?

Sean Ellis and Morgan Brown define growth hacking in their book "Hacking Growth" as “a rigorous approach to fueling rapid market growth through high-speed, cross-functional experimentation.”

Here are the core elements of growth hacking they talk about: 

  • Growth parameters focused on a very short period of time for quick results 
  • Combining marketing and technical teams (such as analytics) to develop high-speed growth strategies
  • Aggressive metric goals and rigorous testing 

Popular belief says that these hacks can only help startups acquire customers and not retain them; however, Ellis and Brown highlight in their book that they’ve used growth hacking for not only customer acquisition but also retention and monetization. 

So, are there any specific growth hacks one can follow?

Not really. While there aren’t any specific methods that fall under growth hacking, any “one” tactic that leads to hitting aggressive revenue growth is considered to belong to the category of marketing. In short, as Ellis says, “A growth hacker is a person whose true north is growth.” And they achieve this by focusing only on one metric and putting full-force efforts into that ONE direction. 




What Is Growth Marketing?

Growth marketing is a process of growing brand awareness so much that customer acquisition becomes almost natural. In the meantime, you focus on a long-term marketing strategy or inbound marketing goal and connect with customers on a deeper/more personal level. Growth marketing can consist of the following: 

  • Infusing marketing tactics such as content marketing, SEO, and PPC together, but not always on a short-term basis
  • A long-term sustainable strategy with a focus on revenue and CAC
  • Customer retention over quick customer acquisition

Growth marketing has gotten a bit of a bad rap for taking too long to show results or not being up to speed with some of the newer tactics, such as growth hacking. But in the end, it depends upon what your immediate and ultimate goals are. 

Parallels Between Growth Hacking and Growth Marketing 

There are some similarities between the two and we can’t deny that to a great extent both strategies work; it’s just about which piece of the pie suits your brand better. We’ll draw some parallels to help you understand the similarities:

  1. Product: Whichever strategy you choose, both need to have great product backing. People don’t buy from people they don’t know. So, the better the product, the easier the acquisition. 
  2. Revenue: Whether it’s the immediate goal or the end goal, revenue has quite a bit of a share in any kind of marketing strategy, and for good reason. 
  3. Data-driven Strategy: Both follow a data-driven approach where they use data and analytics to derive insights and draw consistent, useful conclusions. 


Growth Marketing vs. Growth Hacking 

Now the distinction!

Ever thought of Steve Jobs and said, “Hmm, what a great growth hacker?” Probably not! He is known for many things, but being a growth hacker isn’t one of them. 

Ever heard of Instagram? (We’d be worried if you hadn’t!) Previously known as “Burbn,” Instagram’s founders incorporated growth hacking to tweak their product, which was previously focused on too many editing options. They converted it to a simple app for sharing photos with easy editing, commenting, and liking options and had 25K downloads within a day! 

While both have their own wins and losses, growth marketing and growth hacking are distinct in many ways. 

1. Rapid Growth vs. Sustainable Growth

Growth marketing quite easily promotes sustainable growth with the usage of long-term growth strategy, clear metrics that you usually say godspeed to, and revenue and customer retention as end goals. 

With growth hacking, even though the end goal is revenue, it’s all about rapid customer acquisition. If we look at the growth strategy adopted by Dropbox initially, it’s more aligned with growth hacking than growth marketing — with a mix of scarcity and referral. The essence of the messaging behind their hack was basically: “Come hang out, but only if you get invited" and also, "We won’t be hanging out tomorrow." This resulted in a sign-up growth of over 600 percent and their beta launch waiting list had around 75K sign-ups.


2. Approaching Data

If there’s anything growth hackers get right, it’s the usage of customer data. Starting from building/buying intelligent tools that give them more than a sneak peek into user data to deploying data insights into customer acquisition, a growth hacker’s mindset is quite analytical. Growth marketing, on the other hand, fosters long-lasting relationships with their customers over a period of time while gradually understanding their customers' needs and wants. That’s where most legacy brands who have built a reputation in the market for their products and services will come into play. 

A growth hacker might be considered the data master, but it’s the growth marketer who knows how to drive long-term growth using these insights. 

3. Approaching Technology and People 

We learned that growth hacking leans more towards making use of every bit of new technology to extract large-scale but quick outcomes. This might put growth hackers into a very versatile and dynamic bucket of those who constantly want to test out the tools and technology that could benefit them.

Growth marketers, on the other hand, think people are their most valuable assets and are the main drivers behind their brand’s growth. They’re looking for the next target audience to explore, the next industry vertical to expand into, and the next customer testimonial to gain insights from to better understand how they can position themselves in the emerging markets. 


Which One Is for You? Growth Marketing or Growth Hacking?

First things first, growth hacking might be the new sexy, but it might or might not work for a particular niche. It could be safe to say that if you’re a startup with a limited budget looking to gain speedy attraction and following of your brand, then growth hacking might be for you. It is indeed one of the cheapest yet effective ways to venture into the market when executed correctly. 

On the other hand, if you’re a startup or an established brand more focused on long-term growth, even if it’s slow and steady at the beginning, then growth marketing is for you. As a growth marketer, you’ll first be spending a significant amount of time understanding your audience, charting a long-term marketing strategy, and then a well-thought-out distribution plan. 

Although today’s startups, such as tech, fintech, edtech, etc., are coming up with great solutions one after the other, they’re also at the disadvantage of learning traditional marketing tactics or those that take longer to show results than what they would prefer.


A Quick Growth Marketing Compatibility Checklist 

If you’re wondering whether growth marketing is for you or not, then here’s a quick checklist for your reference: 

  1. Insightful Customer Data: If you’re looking to form long-term relationships with your customers and understand how customer data enriches their experience with your business further, then enter growth marketing. 
  2. Long-term Growth: You could have short-term or long-term goals or both and tie it all together with the broader strategy. This is where you’re looking to go deeper into your buyer persona by understanding their nonlinear buyer journey and retain your existing customers. 
  3. Organic Keyword Revenue: If you’re expecting to acquire and grow organic traffic and revenue through your keyword strategy across the length of your broader marketing strategy, then growth marketing is for you. 

Our expert team of growth marketers is ready to take the challenge head-on, even if you still aren't sure whether you're leaning towards growth hacking or growth marketing. We'd love to help you steer in the right direction that's aligned with your business goals.


See what a bespoke marketing strategy can do for you    Our experts identify your unique opportunities and lay out a plan that puts  resources where they matter — so your company will exceed traffic, lead, and  revenue goals.   Learn More

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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