Growth Hacking vs. Growth Marketing: Differences and Similarities

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4 May, 2021

4 mins read

From the outside, it’s easy to confuse growth hacking vs growth marketing. If you know one, you tend to ascribe its characteristics to the other, and vice versa. If you love growth hacking, you might expect the same from growth marketing. But if you’ve read some of the more critical opinions about the concept, your first instinct might be to stay away from growth marketing altogether.

In reality, though closely related in their emphasis on business growth, the two are separate concepts. It’s crucial to understand their differences to decide how one, the other, or both can help your business grow and succeed.

So let’s dig into the two. In this guide, we’ll provide a basic overview of both growth hacking vs growth marketing, before explaining some of the basic similarities and differences between the two core business processes.

What is Growth Hacking?

At its most simple, growth hacking consists of

“Outside-the-box marketing strategies used to get the maximum number of users with minimal spend.”

In other words, it’s about getting successful and gaining revenue, as quickly as possible. Through tactics like rapid experimentation, a data-first evaluation and iteration approach, and leveraging channels beyond traditional marketing opportunities like billboards, growth hackers look to rapidly gain market share above all else.

Successful growth hackers consistently identify growth opportunities and execute on them. Every part of the business is fair game to optimize for growth. A system like this is especially relevant for startup founders, who tend to have limited resources but need to gain market share to prove viability and product-market fit.

What is Growth Marketing?

Growth marketing is a strategy specifically designed to optimize every marketing dollar for business revenue and growth. Through continuous experimentation and channel/audience analysis, growth marketers ensure that every resource spent on marketing is specifically focused on gaining and retaining customers for the business.

The tactics used to get there might sound familiar. Continuous use of testing and experimentation, along with a willingness to test new and unique marketing channels, is a common part of growth marketing. The similarities, of course, don’t end there.

3 Basic Similarities Between the Two Concepts

Growth hacking and growth marketing share a few important characteristics, which have caused many to confuse the two processes. Even for those leveraging them as separate concepts, though, these similarities can help to build a more comprehensive strategy that includes elements of both.

  1. Emphasis on Data. Both growth hacking and growth marketing place data at the forefront of decision-making. Hunches based on hearsay or past experiences are replaced by more informed choices that trust the hard numbers, gleaned from the experimentation and A/B testing mentioned for both concepts above.
  2. Focus on Revenue and Growth. It’s in the name, so it’s a natural connection. Whether we’re talking marketing or hacking, the concepts both place revenue and business growth above all else. For startups prioritizing both to gain a foothold in a competitive industry, these philosophies are a natural fit.
  3. Investment Optimization. Finally, hacking and marketing for growth both involve a focus on working in a lean environment with limited resources. Every dollar has to count, and every decision made comes with ROI in mind. Optimizing for investment is a core tenet that both growth hackers and growth marketers strive for at all times.

In other words, and especially in these characteristics, growth hacking and growth marketing are very similar. But, at the same time, they exhibit a few core differences that are important to highlight.

Growth Hacking vs Growth Marketing: The Core Differences

The similarities are undeniable. At the same time, it’s crucial to note that these concepts are not identical. Far from it. Understanding their differences can help you decide which option is best for your startup. Some core differentiators include:

  • Broad vs. Narrow. Growth hacking is an organizational philosophy, an effort to turn every available resource into rapid business growth. As a result, it’s inherently inflexible within that framework. Growth marketing, on the other hand, is both more narrowly focused on marketing, and more flexible within that marketing framework to choose strategies and opportunities that most benefit the business.
  • Short-Term vs. Long-Term. In growth hacking, rapid growth trumps all. Growth marketing, on the other hand, emphasizes the long haul. Marketing strategies are implemented and valued not just for their top-of-funnel efforts, but for how well they attract and retain customers. That’s one reason why branding, often shunned by growth hackers for its lack of immediate benefits, is a constant in growth marketing.
  • Technology vs. People. In growth hacking, technology trumps all. Products are built on technology, and a large part of the effort is based on improving its development. Growth marketing, in contrast, has a bias towards people—more specifically, the audience towards that product (and its underlying technology) are the focus. Unlike growth hacking, successful growth marketing doesn’t necessarily require expert development knowledge but is impossible without an in-depth understanding of who your customers are.

Some of the emphases inherent in growth hacking, including its short-term emphasis and bias towards technology, have opened it to criticism from a variety of sources. However, the more long-term approach of growth marketing, focusing on people, inoculates it against these criticisms and makes it a more sustainable choice for many startups.

Choosing a Philosophy to Help Your Business Succeed

Despite their differences, growth hacking vs growth marketing are not necessarily mutually exclusive. As evidenced in case studies like Dropbox, both can be combined successfully to achieve both rapid and sustainable growth.

The key, though, is not tackling either on your own. Instead, finding a partner who can help you successfully build your business is absolutely vital. That’s where we come in.

Our work with startups has allowed us to understand just how difficult it can be to juggle the multiple, often conflicting priorities that exist when growing a business from scratch. In that environment, marketing shouldn’t be an additional challenge, but an opportunity to provide solutions. Work with us to create a growth marketing strategy that will propel your business forward—and stay on a sustainable growth trajectory.

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