A Short Introduction to Growth Hacking

Over the past few years, you’ve likely heard the term ‘growth hacking’ being thrown around, but what exactly is growth hacking, and how is it different from plain old ‘marketing’?

What Is Growth Hacking?

Growth hacking seems to be more than one of those Silicon Valley buzzwords you see being born every other week. And although the definition may err on the side of subjective, there does seem to be some common fundamentals that most ‘growth hackers’ seem to abide by.

From my own research, growth hackers often (but not always) sit in a unique position, at the intersection between data (statistical analysis and programming), marketing, and product development.

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When speaking with MakeUseOf writer Matthew Hughes about his understanding of the term, he said that to him ‘growth hacking is the process of attracting users by taking an analytical look at the platform, marketing, and the users’.

In most articles that you may read about growth hacking, it’s the emphasis on data, and the analytical side of the coin that stands out. A growth hacker spends the majority of their time attempting to push quantitative metrics forward by rapid testing, iterations and methodologies that are (ideally) highly scalable and automated.

How Does Growth Hacking Differ From Marketing?

If you’ve been reading about this online, you likely know that this is where the real debate lies. Online communities battle over this question relentlessly, but nevertheless, it seems there is a difference between marketers and growth hackers, even though the line may be somewhat blurred.

  • Marketing may be focused on re-targeting, changing public perceptions, improving brand awareness etc. None of these explicity focus on growth (although some aspects of marketing do use growth as a measure for success). Growth Hacking, on the other hand, explicitly revolves around the growth of a company, whether that’s through improving/changing the marketing message, the product or the user experience. The end goal is, more often than not, growth in the number of dedicated users for a certain product.
  • If you consider ‘growth’, and the focus on rapidly building certain metrics within a company, you’ll see that growth hacking lends itself more to the startup industry, rather than larger corporations. After all, a growth of 0.5% for Coca Cola from one campaign may be a great success, whereas for a startup it would likely be little more than a ripple in the ocean. Growth hackers tend to go for the larger numbers here, which are mostly achievable by working with startups.
  • The emphasis on the startup industry, therefore, means that budgets are often tight. Businesses are looking for quick growth, but without the large cost that a more traditional marketing campaign may incur. And so the word ‘hack’ comes in. Growth hackers are looking to find shortcuts, aternative routes, or entirely new roads to reach those high-growth numbers, adding an extra dimension of creativity and curiosity into the mix.

It is, however,  true that a more ‘modern’ approach to marketing can take into account all of the above. For years, marketing has been analytical too (SEO, etc.). But as I mentioned, being analytical alone, isn’t what makes a growth hacker different from the marketer. It’s the whole package. It’s the technical ability, the focus on growth, the understanding about product development and user experience.

A marketer very rarely has this whole package, but a growth hacker does.

What Kind of Tactics Are We Talking?

It’s impossible to sum this up for you quickly or easily. The whole premise of growth hacking means that tactics used for one company aren’t necessarily replicable by another. This Slideshare, however, does take you through 21 ‘tactics’ that growth hackers can consider employing, including SEO, content marketing, search, A/B testing, built-in sharing, automated distribution, CRM automation, remarketing, etc.Advertisement

There are, of course, some more famous examples of growth hacking done extremely well. When Dropbox ensured that both the referrer and the person referred receives benefits, rather than the usual situation where the benefits are reserved solely for the person doing the referring, this helped to ensure that successful signups skyrocketed.

Another successful example is Buzzfeed, a company that “adjusts their headlines, text, and images in real time to see what will increase sharing. Sort of like an A/B test but there are multiple variables being changed simultaneously and in real time. The results speak for themselves.”

Other Resources

There’s a wealth of information to delve into if you want to learn more about growth hacking. Here are six of my favourites.

  • Growth Hackers are the New VP of Marketing – Looking at why this gradual shift from marketing teams to growth hacking is important.
  • What are the Top 10 Internet Consumer Growth Hacks? – Examples of successful growth hacks you may not have heard about.
  • 13 Critically Important Lessons From Over 50 Growth Hackers – Lessons learned from working with some of the world’s top growth hackers.
  • Stacking the Odds for Authentic Growth – Looking at ‘must have’ experiences for making your chances of success even greater.
  • How Tempo Growth-Hacked the Hell Out Of Its App Before it Ever Launched – Looking at what this company did pre-launch to skyrocket the success of the app.
  • How did Udemy get 5000 Courses Online So Quickly? – An account from the co-founder of Udemy of how they grew their catalogue in such a short space of time.


Athough the term ‘growth hacking’ has been (and still often is) confused with other aspects of marketing, promoting and building a business, it does seem to have its own specific skill set which sets this role apart from other positions. This is obviously still a developing role, however, and with the tools and methods available at growth hackers’ fingertips, the future looks pretty exciting to those embarking on this career path.

What do you think of Growth Hacking, and have you seen any less-well-known growth hacks?

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