What is Growth Hacking? Really.

Marketing. It’s clever branding for marketing because people in marketing are creative.

Marketing is the work of knowing and creating the market.

Most startups are completely oblivious of this (something I’m pointing out only because the question refers to startups). Marketing is NOT lead gen nor advertising; rather, those are things marketing does, having determined that such things need to be done.

Marketing is, by any measure, the most important thing a business does. No market, no business. Marketing studies the competition, knows investors and partner sources, understands the customer, designs the product and pricing, drives the brand that results in employees and culture….

In doing that, Marketing says to a business, “hey, we should be more like…” or “hey, we need to do…” or “did you notice our competition is…” or “our customers clearly want us to be doing…”

What the heck does that have to do with “Growth Hacking”??

Well, a funny thing happen about 20 years ago.

The internet changed EVERYTHING. Forever.

Thing is though, traditional Marketing professionals, advertising executives, creatives, and the like had no idea how the internet worked.

At that point in the world, only those personally evolving from building their own computers, to playing around on Bulletin Board Systems and HTML, were catching on to website directories, email, and message boards.

Universities were still essentially a decade away from capably teaching anything about the internet and anyone with a half way decent technical skillet, in the creative fields, took jobs at the internet companies where they could get paid well and earn equity.

This resulted in a VAST rift in Marketing.

When I was at Yahoo in the early 2000s, my job was literally telling ad agencies how to do their job.

Online Marketing was born and because it was born by a bunch of people who had no idea what the internet was, it was called a bazillion different things… eMarketing, Interactive Marketing, iMarketing, Digital, etc.

It wasn’t Marketing, it was Online Marketing.

Companies throughout the world built out completely separate “Internet” savvy divisions from where the Brand, MarCom, and “Offline” marketing groups desperately tried to keep a strangle hold on their massive budgets, while the 20-something internet people came along and gobbled them up; while explaining to the ‘Marketing departments,’ 40 years into their career, how MySpace worked.

I went from Yahoo to Hewlett-Packard and quit after two years because I couldn’t stand the pace of and having to educate my seniors on things that I thought were obvious. Yes, I was young, inexperienced, and egotistical but imagine having spent a few years spending online multi-million dollar budgets for major brands and consistently exceeding their expectations (and getting bigger budgets)… and then having to sit in executive Marketing meetings with a bunch of award-winning marketers at the peak of their careers, having to explain how Google works so you can get another 2% of their budget; all while being told you don’t know what you’re doing

Roughly, a decade in to those internet savvy creative careers, people said screw this.

It was rightly time for the online marketing people to start getting the executive and agency Marketing jobs but they were still being relegated to online. Marketing is Marketing.

Hell, I still have friends who think I do “SEO” because the letters are in my personal brand name… SEO stopping being something complicated that someone specific in your organization did, 15 years ago! If your head of Marketing doesn’t know how search engines work, find a new head of marketing! These things are fundamental to the economy today.

So, being Marketers, Marketers did what Marketers Do.

Here, we had traditional marketers still doing focus groups, print ads, and television campaigns while the “Online Marketing” people were crushing their ROI and delivering analytics they couldn’t even dream of…

Online Marketing folks weren’t getting promoted to the VP/CMO jobs because those were held by people who had no grasp of what anyone was doing online.

So rebrand it.

Create the market of marketing. It might be confusing to wrap around what I’m saying there but literally marketers (online marketers) did what marketers do: they created a new market: their own new market, saying, “we’re not online marketers,” we’re Growth Hackers!

And for about 5 years, it worked. It worked perfectly.

New market created and those people (growth hackers) were hired, celebrated, awarded, and paid.

That rebranding gave every traditional marketer who didn’t want to seem ignorant, nor replace themselves with those online people, a way of saying, “we need to be growth hacking!”

They went from being on the brink of extinction to at least being the heroes, albeit uttering with their dying breath that they still knew best what the company needed! Growth Hacking was the manifestation of all the traditional marketing promises, with the potentials provided by this internet thing!

And five years into it, everyone started recognizing that Growth Hacking was precisely what it always was… just Marketing, by way of people who understand the internet, which is the reality of the economy today.

And as a result of that, naturally now, we get people picking on the term because it really wasn’t anything more than calling Coca-Cola, New Coke.

Don’t we all just want Coca-Cola?!

Yeah… but there are still a bunch of people who don’t get that Marketing is the same Marketing it always was, now flavored with Internet.

So some say “Growth Hacking,” and you laugh. Some say you need SEO or social media, and they’re inexperienced. Some say you should to online marketing, because online is magically different from just marketing.

Hire a Marketer who knows what they’re doing with the internet. It’s that simple.

Their job is by definition calling things what you want, because you (broadly speaking) want it to be something other than what your experience with it has been, so… Tomorrow we’ll call it something else, Augmented Customer Generation.

Sure, that’s what we do, go with that.