Why The Creation of the Growth Hacker Was Unavoidable
And why it was marketers who made it essential
While the tenets of growth hacking (or growth marketing) are an essential part of any startup or established business, the mistake in perception that I see quite often is the belief in the fact that the principles of growth hacking are wholly new. There is a lot to learn from the way Dropbox acquired its vast user base in an astonishingly short period of time, or how Airbnb implemented a Craigslist “hack” to achieve broad distribution, but one could argue that there is an equal amount to learn from fast food entrepreneur Ray Kroc’s product growth strategies. In order to truly learn from the best business “hacks,” one must look at the underlying approach as opposed to simply the physical and tactical executions. For example, one must acknowledge that a “user funnel” is a concept, not a feature in an analytics dashboard, and that effective marketers and businesspeople have been beholden to key performance indicators (KPIs) since the dawn of modern business. With these acknowledgements one can more easily assess their business situation and develop more creative strategies — unencumbered by a formulaic mindset that comes along with stringent labeling.
Prior to the era of mass communications, the role of the marketer was to achieve product market fit by any means available, and subsequently to grow a consumer base using an equally undefined set of tools. With the onset of mass communications and the growth of conglomerate companies serving mass markets with relatively few product alternatives, gaining market share often resulted in mass media “shouting matches” with little accountability regarding which voice was most effective and which tactics were responsible for gains in market share. Product communications grew separate from product development as corporate silos emerged within corporations; the marketing profession became synonymous with advertising and media and little more, and many complacent marketing professionals relished in the grandeur of these “larger than life” industries.
The separation of product and product communications coupled with the opulence of big advertising and media budgets led to a bifurcation of thought regarding what marketing is, and what it should be. Many modern marketing professionals operate so far from the core product they are promoting, not only could they not tell you how the product itself works, some may not even be able to tell you how their efforts have grown adoption of the product they are meant to promote. This reality has led to the need to reclassify the role of customer acquisition and retention in The Digital Age. In addition to a reunited symmetry between product and communications, this reclassification also addresses a set of professionals who often lack the resources of large advertising and media-driven companies. But make no mistake; the underlying challenges of the growth hacker are not fundamentally different than entrepreneurs throughout history. The tools have drastically changed, but the past still has a lot to teach us about the present and the future. There is no immediate harm in role reclassification in order to fit the modern state of business, but there is always potential harm in creating new silos within companies; departments with similar goals operating with potentially divergent visions.
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