5 Reasons Why People Hate Growth Hacking

Julian Kossmann
Growth Hacking - magic, marketing shortcut, or just a buzzword? Growth Marketing Expert Julian Kossmann explains.
Growth Hacker
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It’s not uncommon to come across a confused face when you first explain to someone that you work as a growth hacker. As a term, it’s still pretty novel outside the fields of digital marketing or innovation. But every so often, you’ll come across someone whose confusion comes out as annoyance or irritation. If that happens, don’t fret – they’re probably just having trouble adjusting to an ever-changing marketing landscape (who isn’t?).

That’s why we’ve collected the top 5 reasons they might be a little stuck, and how you can help them out! If you don’t know what growth hacking is, you can first read about the basics here and then come back for the good stuff.

Reason 1 – It’s a buzzword

There’s no denying it – growth hacking is basically two powerful buzzwords strung together. Sean Ellis, the co-author of Hacking Growth and one of the first marketers at Dropbox, coined the term in 2010. He believed that a growth hacker is someone whose “true north is growth”, and that a growth hacker’s technical skills (“hacking”) help them unlock new potential for growth. Within a few years, the methodology gained a significant following, in and beyond Silicon Valley, as could be clearly observed by the number of people changing their LinkedIn job positions (guilty 🖐).  

I’m sure you can think of a buzzword you would just strike from the dictionary if you could. Overuse of buzzwords gets most of us riled up — and that’s not surprising. Arising out of the temporary excitement around something new and shiny, buzzwords are considered impermanent, their popularity inflated and their eventual importance exaggerated. A word that has been “used too often to be thoughtful”.

But 2010 has been a while. Growth hacking hasn’t gone away in over a decade; in fact, it’s enjoyed a steady incline in popularity, year for year. The methodologies that growth hacking entails are universal, and their effectiveness is hard to dispute. So let’s be honest, it might be time to put the buzzword argument to sleep.

Google Trends data for searches for “growth hacking” since October 2019.

Reason 2 – It isn’t magical

“We need you to hack our sales funnel!”
“Which growth hack would help us achieve our revenue goal?”
“You’re a growth hacker – can’t you just hack the growth?”

Those are all real quotes from real clients and leads – I couldn’t make them up if I tried. What they all have in common is a fundamental misunderstanding of how growth hacking really works. When people hear hacking they tend to think of some supernatural energy that reaches deep into the primal power of witchcraft and wizardry to conjure up the marketing strategy with a 150% success guarantee. And that in a few weeks, no less. Ironically, that’s pretty much the exact opposite of how it actually works. Growth hacking has nothing to do with witchcraft, and everything to do with science (but more on that in a moment).

Incidentally, this is a big part of why we, at TheVentury, stopped using the term Growth Hacking in favour of the more mellow Growth Marketing. A little less sexy, maybe, but at least clients don’t come expecting some other-worldly voodoo anymore.

To be clear, this is a GIF from Harry Potter, not growth hacking.

Reason 3 – It’s too scientific

This one is my favourite. As I mentioned, growth hacking is all about science. We reject assumptions in favour of proof, we reject gut feeling in favour of data and hard numbers, and we reject dogma in favour of experimentation. The scientific method – hypothesize, test, analyze, repeat – guides our work as we devise and run experiments at each step of the funnel. A huge part of what separates growth hackers from traditional marketers in their day-to-day work is the amount of scientific rigour that goes into making sure we aren’t falling into any of the pitfalls of traditional marketing. As you can imagine, it takes a bit of work.

Unfortunately, that’s not always an easy tradeoff to understand. To people unfamiliar with the method, that’s a lot of overhead to invest in getting a project off the ground. Our experience: it’s still less investment than the potential wasted budget or even fatal mistakes that a more faith-based approach might bring.

Growth hacking is rigorous, no doubt about that, but as you start to find those growth engines, the benefits can be huge. We don’t believe in taking shortcuts here — our clients’ growth strategies are too important to get wrong.

Not a growth hacker, but this is how rigorous we try to be!

Reason 4 – It’s sometimes more product than marketing

One of the defining tenets of growth hacking is that it doesn’t take a product and try to market it. The thought process starts much earlier – in the product development. Many experiments we run require the deep involvement of the product, to make it an active piece of the growth puzzle. That can be confusing – maybe even frustrating – particularly in companies where the marketing and product teams are siloed and disconnected from each other. But overcoming this separation can be massively rewarding.

When you don’t limit your perspective to a part of the funnel, you simply have to look beyond the limits of product vs marketing. And when your products are built for growth, you unlock a whole new set of tools you can use. Social integrations, viral loops, network effects, self-service upgrades – these kinds of experiments are all better (and some are only possible) when they’re baked right into the product. Not only that, but the product can also play a role in qualifying leads, generating important data to help a growth hacker take important decisions and drive automation.

I know it can be hard to break down these walls in our heads. And as our own product people can surely testify, there’s always enough to build without building product-led growth experiments. But at the risk of repeating myself: once you try it out, you’ll see why it’s worth it.

Reason 5 – it forces you to focus

Let’s face it, no one likes to be forced to do anything. But sometimes there can be a lot of value in being pushed in the right direction. Growth hacking is by design so wide-reaching and all-encompassing, that it has more than once made me desperately ask myself: where on earth do I start?

And warning: the answer to this can be disturbing to some.

Analyze your funnel. Find the bottleneck. Decide how you want to measure it – your One Metric That Matters. Then you hypothesize, devise tests and start to run experiments, with the single goal being to grow that one OMTM.

Coming from a traditional marketing approach, you may see a funnel as something where all parts must move at once. Maybe we want to start running ads for traffic acquisition, write newsletters for lead activation and create a referral program to capitalize on your existing user base. And those are all good ideas! But where it falls apart is when resources are limited – the exact environment growth hacking was built for. Validating and scaling your products throughout your innovation journey, without betting all your chips on one strategy, that’s when you need a different approach.

So we focus. It’s painful, I know – we all want to multitask. But particularly when it comes to experimentation, which is such a dynamic way to work, finding out how we stick to a single growth metric at a time will significantly increase your chances of lifting it, and putting those resources to good use.

It might not feel great – until you see the numbers start to go up, that is.

Focusing your experiments on one growth metric at a time yields far better results than trying to do everything at once

Conclusion – The thing is, it works

As you can see there are plenty of reasons to hate growth hacking. As you hopefully also noticed, most of them are bogus when you really take a closer look. Growth hacking has without a doubt disrupted how marketing works across a ton of industries, verticals and regions. And disruption tends to come with (ahem) growing pains. Luckily you now have a set of powerful retorts to anyone still in doubt.

But the real counterargument is also the simplest: it just works. It’s a proven methodology, that we’ve seen produce results time and time again. So if you need proof, just try it out yourself. We’d be more than happy to help your business get started. If you’re interested, just contact us and book your first consultation!

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