Growth Hacking vs Growth Marketing: What's The Difference Anyway?

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If there was an award for Buzz Phrases, I believe "growth hacking" would have quite an impressive collection of plaques by now. 

Too many times, I hear people describe themselves as growth hackers, but does this then mean that they have expertise in growth marketing? Or are these two terms mutually exclusive?

Clearing a Few Things Up

I'll start with a definition of terms. A general description of these two terms is the approaches used in developing and executing experiments that trigger company growth.

Growth hacking, on the other hand, is the process of experimenting rapidly and cross-functionally to accelerate market growth." Based on the work of Sean Ellis and Morgan Brown, growth hacking is composed of the following elements:


  • Marketing and product development skills integrated into a cross-functional team.
  • A survey of user behaviors and preferences that utilizes both qualitative and quantitative data.
  • Results are evaluated and acted upon using high-speed testing and rigorous metrics.

They also point out that growth hacking is more than simply acquiring customers. It involves activating, retaining, and monetizing them.


Furthermore, despite many people associating growth hacking with specific tactics such as Google Ads, an original definition suggests that any experiment that leads to rapid, measurable profits can be considered a growth hack.

Conversely, growth marketing uses branding and performance marketing to build a customer base that refers other potential customers to your product, which will keep them coming back for more.

Wow… try saying that five times.

I think it'd be better for me to break down this mouthful into crucial components as I did with growth hacking. 

  • Brand marketing combines both strategic brand positioning (differentiation) and tactical performance marketing (content marketing).
  • An agile development process based on growth hacking principles and techniques. 
  • Sprint processes prioritize tactics based on their perceived long-term impact.
  • Activating, retaining, and monetizing customers helps companies achieve sustainable revenue growth.
  • The goal is to serve your ideal client profile, not just anyone who needs your service.

These separate definitions aren't to say that growth hacking and marketing are irrevocably different, and to vindicate me; I will subsequently discuss the four fundamental similarities between these two.


Differences Between The Two Approaches


First, growth hacking has nothing to do with the brand, and growth marketing is all about it. 

These two terms have fundamentally different views on brands, which are the main difference between the two approaches. 

The brand is vital to growth marketers, whereas hackers aren't interested in it.

Growth marketing has the issue of being hard to measure. It's about building a consistent, positively perceived brand for those who see it. So it's hard to gauge the business impact of just one tactic.

For a better way to explain this, I got this idea of an analogy from an article I read. Let's say, for instance, I lost my basketball. I have two options, either to go straight to the nearest Wilson outlet or to compare the different factors between it and other brands. 

It is safe to say that, like me, most of everyone will choose to just walk up to a brand they like rather than starting a comparison process with others. 

Now how did I know I wanted a Wilson ball? Simple, it's a brand I like and am loyal to. I agree it costs quite a buck, but I don't care about that. Summarily, what the author and I are trying to say is:

  • Growth hacking alone has not led to any iconic brands. I mean, the legendary Thomas.E. Wilson was many things, but he wasn't a growth hacker. 
  • Wilson grows through growth in marketing, but so do all the other brands. 
  • It's hard to measure the profitability of brand marketing, but it's worth it.



Another way these two concepts differ is in their method of approach. Growth marketing, for instance, adopts a data-driven approach, while growth hacking adopts a more aggressive approach. 

Growth hackers also aim for rapid growth, while growth marketers aim for sustainable development.

 They most often work for startups, always prefer to grow fast, get immediate results, and move on to the next project, unlike growth marketers, who are more interested in long-term growth. 

Simply put, growth hackers emphasize revenue growth while growth marketers emphasize both client retention and revenue growth.


Selling Point

Do you remember when Sean Ellis created Dropbox's famous referral loop that promised free cloud storage to anyone who invited others? Sounded enticing, yeah? 

That's the selling point for growth hackers constantly looking for one-time revolutionary actions that will snap up. This is not the same for growth marketers who go through conducting and analyzing customer research. 

Growth hacking is focused on rapid experimental testing, while growth marketing entails strategic experimentation.

These differences, crucial as they are, do not mean there are no key differences between them. As such in the final entry of this 2 part series, I will discuss the similarities and other trends in growth hacking and growth marketing.

Similarities between growth hacking and growth marketing

The first thing they both have in common is a goal. Both strategies have in common the goal of increasing revenue by acquiring new customers and activating, retaining, and monetizing them.

Then comes the process. Both practices rely on agile sprint models, which encourage experimentation, data-driven decision-making, and continual improvement.

The third is the data. Growth marketing's success depends both on qualitative and quantitative data, just like growth hacking.

And the last implementation linking these two approaches is the product. For either growth marketing or growth hacking to work, the product needs to be good enough.

And right where is where their similarities end.


Don't stop now. Keep reading as we explore the trends in growth hacking and growth marketing.




Growth Marketing Trends In 2021

  • Zero>One/Featured Snippet: anyone in the lightning-speed SEO world has heard about Position Zero or Featured Snippets. 

The snippets are the blurbs that are visible when one searches for a topic on the internet—identifying Position Zero keywords has become all the rave. 

In fact, according to a survey by AHREFS, ranking on position zero vs. the first position saw 31% higher traffic. 

  • Voice Search Optimization: The number of smart speaker owners in the US increased by 39% to 66.4 million adults, according to a report by Interestingly, Gartner predicted that 30% of web browsing would be screenless by 2021. 

Backlinko found some key factors that could be used to boost Google Home rankings. As to which method will optimize your website for voice search is yet to be ascertained. 

Now, this is not me claiming that voice search will replace text. All I'm saying is that it has increasingly become an essential portion of your current traffic, primarily if your devices rely on smartphones. 

  • Video Marketing: According to a survey, 82% of internet traffic is from video content. As a tool, video marketing is quite a phenomenon. 

With the right gear and content, one's audience can rise more steadily than other marketing tools.

  • Personalization: I don't know about everyone, but I like getting pampered with personalized service. 

A study by Epsilon on personalization revealed that 80% of people are more likely to patronize a brand that offers customized services.






  • Human vs. Bot: 

 In a report by Drift, 14% of people would prefer filling out a form instead of talking to a bot.






 Although the chatbot does not have enough content to answer users' questions, this is not disparaging the conversation with bots. 

Fixing this will make for optimal bot conversations.

Growth Hacking Trends Of 2021

  • Visual search and AR:

 Scanning an object to live and providing users with information is a trend to learn from Pinterest and Google Lens. 

Given the conditions brought on by COVID-19, not very many people are eager to leave the comfort of their homes to buy things. 

It is in addressing this challenge that AR has soared in the past year.

  • Leveraging Referral Marketing: Whenever I think of this subject, what comes to mind is Uber and the many treats one gets from referring the app to others. 

It is much easier to convert a prospect to a customer when their friend/relation is the one making the introductions.

  • Following The Competition: In a race, we can only see the results of people running before us. Taking time to learn their strategy speaks favorably of the subsequent encounter. 

The same can be said for sales and marketing. Following your competition will broaden your horizons in your field.

  • Guest Posting: There are few things better than having something or someone else working for you. 

Producing guest posts with links is a great way to boost your visibility and audience on social media.

Summarily, I'm the type of person who is always interested in learning more. As such, there is nothing I avoid more than limited knowledge. In this vein, I am entirely open to learning from your comments every other thing about growth hacking and growth marketing.

Key Takeaway

Growth hacking and growth marketing are two of the most common phrases in sales and marketing. 

Writing this article made me realize that although commonly interchanged, they do not mean the same thing.

In simple terms, growth hacking is about getting results fast, without thoughts of long-term goals. 

Growth marketing on the other hand, focuses more on sustainability than on immediate results.