Growth Hacking Is Bull, Part 2
“Accounting is a department. Marketing isn’t. Marketing is something everyone in your company is doing 24/7/365.” Fried, Jason, and David Heinemeier. Hansson. Rework. New York: Crown Business, 2010. 193. Print. Unadulterated Growth Hacking In response to my article Growth Hacking is Bull, Sean Ellis provided some background on how he came about the term back […]
“Accounting is a department. Marketing isn’t. Marketing is something everyone in your company is doing 24/7/365.”
Fried, Jason, and David Heinemeier. Hansson. Rework. New York: Crown Business, 2010. 193. Print.
Unadulterated Growth Hacking
In response to my article Growth Hacking is Bull, Sean Ellis provided some background on how he came about the term back in 2010.
Anyone claiming to be a growth hacker today must read Sean’s definition of the term because it strips much of the bull away from how the term is abused today. If you understand the message, what he really means by “hire a growth hacker” is that growth should be one of your marketing objectives and someone should be solely assigned to that objective.
This person can have an engineering background or a sales background or something entirely different; what matters is this person’s sole focus should be on marketing initiatives with direct impact on growth.
Sean’s approach focuses on connecting your target market with your product or service and is very reasonable. More than once, he emphasizes proven, scalable, repeatable and sustainable ways of growing the business.
The Bastardization Of Growth Hacking
It starts with Andrew Chen saying that Growth Hacker is the new VP Marketing. While Chen links to Sean’s explanation of growth hacking, his post is rife with false claims.
- Claim 1: Coding and technical chops are now an essential part of being a marketer. As Sean points out, the goal is growth, and you can achieve it with an engineering background or a sales background.
- Claim 2: Growth hacker is a replacement for VP of Marketing. Within the scope of marketing, there are several distinct roles to be performed, growth being one of them. A focus on growth shouldn’t come at the expense of other initiatives but should complement other marketing-related responsibilities. The responsibilities of a VP of Marketing are far broader than growth.
- Claim 3: Marketers are technology neophytes. To suggest that a marketer couldn’t replicate what AirBnB did is just insulting.
Andrew also perpetuates the harmful expectation that exponential growth from zero to tens and hundreds of millions users in a matter of years is the new norm. Examples such as Pinterest, Instagram, and Dropbox are outliers, not the norm. Companies like Zynga and Groupon are cautionary tales in unsustainable growth, not case studies to be emulated.
In his post titled Why The Haters are Wrong About Growth Hacking, Mark Suster agrees with Sean and encourages startups to “think about growth as daily blocking-and-tackling rather than a dark art,” and that “marketing is a long, hard slog of continually investing in repeatable, testable channels.”
But then in his follow up, he all but equates growth hacking with “‘gray hat’ tactics to acquire customers.” This is in complete opposition to the long, hard slog. He argues that killer products are all well and good but that “you also need to compete to win eyeballs and users playing by the same rules as your fiercest foes.” Some of the tactics he highlights to make his point are: vote reciprocation on social news sites, search engine ranking manipulation, and mobile app rank manipulation.
“Growth hacking” simplification drives adoption to a much broader base. By simplifying you get some people who short-hand and never learn the details and therefore half-ass the implementation. This will fail. But you also vastly expand the universe of those who will discover the topic and want to do a deep dive, learn more and then spread the idea to others. It’s why super smart people shouldn’t hate on the idea of simplifying if it provides a tool for the masses.
In response to my original post, many people pointed at me derisively, saying I was merely arguing semantics. But the fact of the matter is semantics are incredibly important — we’ve already shown how the term “growth hacking” has been bastardized since its inception. Simplification is definitely part of the problem. That people will discover the topic and do a deep dive is a dangerous assumption, especially when combined with “gray hat customer acquisition innovations.”
After reading Mark’s followup, I have to say I agree with David.
Growth hacking: A cool-sounding euphemism for making the doer feel good about using the same old sleazy marketing tricks.
— DHH (@dhh) January 9, 2014
The Defense of Growth Hacking
I’ve read almost all the responses and commentary generated by the original article and come to the conclusion that defenders of growth hacking use the following misconceptions to make their point:
- Myth #1: Traditional marketers have no technical skills, are unaware of analytics and cannot make data-driven decisions that impact product development and growth.
- Myth #2: Marketers cannot address the needs of startups.
- Myth #3: Startups need to grow rapidly to succeed.
These myths do nothing more than create a class divide. The terms “traditional” or “classically-trained” are appended to marketers pejoratively to present them as less technically adept and unable to address the needs of small businesses or use agile methodologies.
The idea that marketing is primarily the domain of mature and well-funded businesses goes hand-in-hand with the idea that startups need to grow exponentially. If you’re a startup that needs to grow at a rapid pace or your company will implode, your problem doesn’t start with marketing, it starts with product/market fit and it starts with business model.
Danny had the perfect response to this, noting that a startup doesn’t have to grow fast, it can grow organically. Startups feel pressured to attain hockey-stick growth because they’ve taken investment and feel the noose around their necks. This is a VC problem — not a marketing problem.
Sustainable Businesses Need Not Apply
Why do we need to hack growth? We need to do it because of the startup lie. Just take a moment to look at these numbers from Everpix. The company burned through $2.3 million over two years, couldn’t turn a profit and was out looking for another $5 million. Instead of arguing that the company’s problem was growth, it would be much more productive to focus on the many mistakes the company made along the way.
The startup is a magical place. It’s a place where expenses are someone else’s problem. It’s a place where revenue is never an issue. It’s a place where you can spend other people’s money until you figure out a way to make your own. It’s a place where the laws of business physics don’t apply. The problem with this magical place is it’s a fairy tale.
Fried, Jason, and David Heinemeier. Hansson. Rework. New York: Crown Business, 2010. 55-56. Print.
We should be encouraging entrepreneurs to start businesses not startups. We should be arguing in favor of premium instead of freemium. We should be fighting for monetization from day one. We should come to terms with the harsh reality that instead of good being the enemy of great, sometimes good enough is simply good enough. Above all, we should emphasize proven, scalable, repeatable and sustainable ways of growing the business rather than trying to hack growth.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.