Firstly, what is growth hacking? It is a trend that is starting to permeate the consciousness of digital marketers the world over but has not yet gained any significant level of awareness outside that. Wikipedia states that “growth hacking is a process of rapid experimentation across marketing channels and product development to identify the most effective, efficient ways to grow a business”.
So, growth hacking is about experimentation at low-to-no cost, a swift analysis of outcomes and subsequent iteration to optimise the marketing initiative. The term ‘growth hacker’ could be seen pejoratively as something underhand or nefarious because of the word ‘hacking’, as in the security sense. Here however the idea is that using pretty sophisticated technical skills, a marketer can drive growth in the funnel much more quickly than previous generations of marketer. This might mean for example using in-product promotions or links and driving A/B testing to understand the optimal lead generation, or utilising a whole plethora of digital marketing techniques which have only become common place in the last 10 years such as content marketing, SEO optimisation and retargeting.
Traditional marketers might get a bit ‘hacked off’ (if you will excuse the pun) with the inference that this new breed of marketer is now focused on growth and that in the past marketers have not been. I think that is wrong, marketers have generally been targeted in adding to the top of the funnel and driving lead generation programs. However, clearly identifying the marketing function as a growth driver is I think a good thing. I have always believed that marketing should be a strategic lever to the business, and it is only going to be that if it focuses on what matters, driving profitable growth. So let’s accept the ‘growth’ term – it helps anchor the marketing function clearly to the business strategy.
Generally speaking the idea around the “hacking” part of the moniker refers to a more technical level of marketer than has been traditionally found in mature tech marketing functions. This is probably why we have seen growth hacking take off as a discipline in startups. Few startups have a dedicated marketing function in their early years and still fewer have dedicated budgets for marketing. It tends to be a discipline that is covered to begin with by the founders. Obviously they are smart folk and usually have a technical bias. They also drive the product development process and can see how to build marketing mechanisms into the product (eg hooks in the software on which to attach promotions – which could drive leads). They are continually looking to drive demand using low-to-no cost marketing methods.
So is growth hacking relevant for marketing functions within mature B2B tech organisations? Certainly there are some techniques that can be applied, but not all. B2B tends to be narrative driven, longer sales cycles, less easy to drive to free trial, lower volume of CTR in which to perform variant and A/B testing, and less open to promos or offers (which are often good ‘hacks’ in a B2C context). However any ‘hacks’ which are centred around engaging a conversation, low-to-no cost free stuff like ROI calculators, advocate schemes etc are going to be worth looking at. Usually established marketing organisations have a formal structure, budget for core marketing activities (like PR, Digital spend, promos etc) and professionals who have not grown up in startup environments. This is not particularly conducive then to embrace growth hacking as a concept.
The role of the growth hacker is increasingly significant in startups across the world and as their companies grow to become mature and successful, the growth hacker will keep those techniques as part of their DNA. Thus even large tech marketing organisations with need to pay attention to growth hacking. It would therefore be sensible for B2B tech marketing organisations to think about experimenting with growth hacking before their competitors do. Hiring the right calibre of individual is not going to be easy, a true growth hacker is a blend of marketer, data analyst and developer. There are a number of online growth hacking courses emerging and it would be a good idea for the CMO to encourage a couple of members of their staff to get some training and become acquainted with what could be applied to their marketing efforts.
Note: first published on LinkedIn