Every business owner wants to grow, and they want to grow fast. After all, the quicker you reach more people, the more money you make, and the more successful you are.
But there are two types of growth-related buzzwords doing the rounds: growth hacking and growth marketing. And, while they’re both concerned with growing, they focus on different methods. If you’re a startup or a new business, you’ll probably want to experiment with both types of activities, but first, you need to know what they are and how they differ.
What is growth hacking?
The term growth hacking seemed to come out of nowhere in 2014 and take the online world by storm. It reached a peak in early 2020, but what is it?
Growth hacking is essentially driving quick growth in a short space of time without spending over the odds. Rather than sitting down and creating a long-term strategy for growth, it involves quick experiments that deliver fast results and quick data points that tell you what’s working and what’s not.
In the popular growth-focused book Hacking Growth, authors Sean Ellis and Morgan Brown define the process as a “rigorous approach to fueling rapid market growth through high-speed, cross-functional experimentation.”
Think Dropbox’s early campaign to get its users to share the brand with their friends. Or Airbnb’s venture into Craigslist to help its highly-focused target audience compare the cost of holiday rentals.
Ellis and Brown went on to claim that there are three core elements of growth hacking:
- A cross-functional team that has expert prowess in both marketing activities and tech
- Qualitative and quantitative data to gain quick insights into customer behaviour
- Speedy experiments that deliver fast results
It might sound a bit like throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks, but it’s more a case of acting quickly to find what works.
What is growth marketing?
On the flip side, the term growth marketing has been around for a lot longer and has enjoyed a surge in popularity since the pandemic–probably because consumers are actively seeking out more authentic experiences.
Growth marketing is all about slow, sustainable, and strategic growth. It is the act of implementing long-term marketing solutions, including SEO, content marketing, advertising, and link building. It takes a lot more time management than growth hacking, but it aims to deliver results over a longer period of time.
The main idea behind growth marketing is raising brand awareness and creating a well-known image, compared to growth hacking which is focused on driving as many sales as possible in a short space of time.
Key characteristics of growth marketing include ongoing experimentation and in-depth audience analysis to ensure that resources are being spent in the right way and on the right activities.
3 key differences between growth hacking and growth marketing
1. To brand or not to brand?
Perhaps the biggest difference between growth marketing and growth hacking is that growth marketing is very concerned with branding and brand awareness, whereas growth hacking doesn’t really care about this at all.
Growth hackers are brand averse for a reason. Because they are so entrenched in running experiments and generating fast results, it’s important that they can guarantee attribution and understand what channels are working for them. They need to know exactly where a lead came from because it helps them determine if a strategy is successful (and should therefore be scaled) or whether it can be scrapped.
On the flip side, growth marketers are all about creating a recognizable brand. They don’t necessarily need to know where leads and customers are coming from, they simply need to know that they’re coming.
2. Rapid vs sustainable growth
We touched on this briefly earlier, but the second biggest difference is that growth marketing revolves around sustainable growth while growth hacking is all about rapid results. Obviously, a combination of the two is ideal, but that’s not always possible, especially for new brands who have just secured a startup loan and need to show quick growth.
Growth hacking is about volume and rigorously testing. Growth marketing is about repetitive tasks that snowball over time.
3. Technology vs strategy
Growth hackers often dip their toes in the tech pool. They rely on technical skills and use technology to aid their experiments. This eliminates the arduous process of executing, managing, and monitoring activities manually, and it means they can quickly scale efforts that are working well.
Growth marketers, on the other hand, are all about strategic thinking and putting the customer first. They will happily take the time to get to know their customers on a deeper level so they can provide content and messages that resonate with them over time. The timeframe for nurturing leads is much longer, and they’re focused on building a solid relationship before driving sales (although driving sales is still a key factor).
Should you choose growth hacking or growth marketing?
Ideally, startups should combine the two. But in the early days, it’s important to secure quick growth, which makes growth hacking the more appealing option.
However, it’s only worth it if you do it right. Turning to tactics that ignore the wants and needs of your audience just to get a few quick sales or a couple of viral posts won’t do your brand any good in the long term. But if you can get the word out quickly and strongly position yourself as a contender in the industry early on, you can build a good foundation to grow from.
Alongside this, you should be putting together a strategic growth marketing plan that has longevity. It’s the little things that add up over time to create a big impact, even if you can’t see it happening as quickly as you’d like.
It’s also important to note that consumers today are actively seeking out brands that understand them and share their values. Loyalty comes from putting your customers first and providing them with personalized, enjoyable customer experiences. It’s all well and good hacking quick growth through a few fast-paced experiments, but if those customers don’t come back, you could be missing out on a chunk of revenue.
All this to say, a healthy mix of growth marketing and growth hacking is often the winning solution. Quick experiments that deliver fast results can help you identify where you should be focusing your efforts, while strategic activities secure stronger customer relationships and inspire long-term loyalty.