Is Growth Hacking the "Anti-Marketing" Marketing?

Published on: | Updated on: | Nick Ilev

It’s the buzzword that’s been taking the marketing world by storm for years: growth hacking. In fact, nearly 60,000 people search for “growth hacking” on Google monthly. 

To some, it’s the silver bullet that can drive business growth overnight. To others, it’s a method that focuses on vanity metrics and delivers unsustainable outputs. 

But what exactly is growth hacking, and is it truly on track to replace the more strategic approach of growth marketing for B2B companies?  

Read on for an overview of growth hacking and the pros and cons of implementing this polarizing marketing approach. 

growth hacking definition

What is Growth Hacking? The “Anti-Marketing” Marketing 

Coined in 2010 by marketer and entrepreneur Sean Ellis, growth hacking refers to marketing efforts designed to drive growth tactically by any means. This short-term investment isn’t reliant on brand and doesn’t permeate every marketing and sales activity. Growth hacks operate in a silo and don’t bleed into other company efforts. 

Growth hacking campaigns are one-and-done attempts to achieve a single goal. In modern parlance, “hacking” means using easy, surefire techniques to accomplish something efficiently. That’s precisely what growth hacking is: finding tactical modes of driving growth quickly and easily. 

While some see growth hacking as an outdated, cop-out marketing method that relies on vanity metrics, Sean Ellis affirms, "Growth hacking is not anti-marketing, it is the evolution of marketing, it is pro-growth." Many other companies take Ellis’s pro-growth diagnosis to heart and implement single-goal hack campaigns regularly. 

Even large companies rely on growth hacks. Airbnb targeted and incentivized Craigslist users who listed vacation properties to expand their database. When Google first launched Gmail, it was an invite-only system that used the fear of missing out to drive early growth. 

Growth Hacker: Magician or Tactician? 

At companies like Google and Airbnb, growth hackers were the forces behind executing these significant triumphs. According to entrepreneur Ryan Holiday, “A growth hacker is someone who has thrown out the playbook of traditional marketing...” 

A growth hacker is a tactician whose job is to seek out, test, track, and scale quick-fire ways to drive growth. They’re always searching for the best “ins” and clever ways to achieve short-term business goals. For these marketers, growth hacking is not just a method but a mindset that impacts everything they do. 

Holiday even wrote a book about becoming a growth hacker and promoting this seemingly magical “zero to hero” technique. In Growth Hacker Marketing: A Primer on the Future of PR, Marketing, and Advertising, he notes that growth hackers believe that businesses should iterate consistently “until they’re primed to generate explosive reactions.” 

The Top 3 Advantages of Growth Hacking 

A laser-focused approach to quick wins, growth hacking has benefited many organizations and continues to be advantageous when appropriately implemented. Three pros of using growth hacking are: 

1. Cost-Effective ROI 

Marketers are constantly faced with proving the return on investment (ROI) of their efforts to leadership to justify their budget and keep a seat at the decision-making table. Growth hacking enables marketers to implement short, low-cost campaigns designed to make a major impact while requiring fewer resources. 

Because growth hacks are budget-friendly, fast, and relatively simple to execute (given that they usually don’t stretch over months or demand all hands-on take), it takes far less time, money, and effort to make them happen than traditional marketing campaigns. This results in a higher net income and a lower cost of investment per campaign, which leads to ROI that marketers are happy to present to executives. 

2. Fast Results 

One hallmark of growth hacking, and a main reason many companies turn towards this method, is that it often yields impactful results in a short period of time. In growth marketing, efforts like SEO are usually strategically planned in detail, but don’t necessarily show results until a few months in. Growth hacking is especially popular among new and growing businesses looking to see significant results with as little time and expenditure as possible. 

3. Adaptable to Many Goals 


Are you looking to grow and retain an active user base? Sell a product quickly? Gain brand exposure overnight?  Growth hacking can be molded to fit a variety of goals, making it a flexible and adaptable approach to marketing. Growth hackers first identify a single goal and then use experimentation and data analytics to create a targeted campaign and meet it. Growth can come from anywhere, and the adaptable nature of hacking makes that a possibility. 

The Most Common Drawbacks of Growth Hacking 

Along with some competitive advantages, growth hacking is frowned upon by some because of evident drawbacks, including: 

1. Lack of Strategy 

A tenant of growth marketing is that it’s backed by a carefully developed strategy that permeates all marketing and sales effort. Growth hacking, on the other hand, is wholly tactical and not supported by an overarching strategy. This can lead to time wasted on ideas that don’t end up working or don’t meet desired KPIs because the hack didn’t seamlessly fit into a larger strategy.  

2. Short-Term Investment 

Growth hacking is a short-term investment that seeks to make ripples in results right now. It’s not a future-oriented approach, unlike its growth marketing counterpart, and instead emphasizes immediacy with fast campaigns that do whatever they can to directly or indirectly drive short-term growth. A lack of long-term marketing investments can set a business up to fail, even if they see explosive results in the present. 

3. Not Very Scalable 

Growth hackers often work as individuals rather than as members of a team. Because of that, and the unpredictable nature of a growth hack that might work for one campaign but fail for another, the approach is not very scalable. Hackers constantly go back to the drawing board to try to master the constantly-changing world of growth hacking, and it’s not easy to build on such a fickle method that presents inconsistent results.  

Growth Hacking: The Conclusion 

Growth hacking is clearly here to stay; its low-cost way of driving growth quickly is irresistible to businesses at every stage. But growth hacking is missing the long-term, scalable elements that truly set a business up for scalable future success.  

One way to make the most of growth hacking while still developing a growth marketing strategy that will last? Fuse the two. By supplementing your well-thought-out strategy with some tactical stepping stones, you’ll have the chance to iterate, experiment, and figure out the best way for your business to achieve its revenue and growth goals within your budget. 

Want to Know More? 

 If you’re looking for a growth marketing agency that excels at driving revenue through growth marketing and growth hacking, get in touch today.

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