What the Hack?! Debunking Growth Hacking for Marketers

First, the Internet became interactive. Then, it became social (shout out to all you trolls). That’s when job forums began searching the cosmos for those ubiquitous “digital strategists.” As one of these unicorns who live in the Matrix, I have discovered a single resounding question from many executives I’ve met to consult or lead as a client.

“You can help me grow online, right?”

Externally, I calmly reassure him or her with a gentle caress of their hand across the mahogany conference table, look this bigwig straight in the eye, and utter “It’s a matter of time, but I’m certain we can find some growth over time…together.”

(Inside, I’m yelling “Well… DUH! I’m not here because I buy these threads off the rack.”)

This question is more and more common because of the exponential rise of articles about “Growth Hacking.” It’s like it never existed until Google decided to call it a thing. That’s not entirely true.

There are these up-and-coming websites called Facebook and LinkedIn that determined content created engagement, which brought about growth, before the hacking of such was ever that thing. The term was coined much later but many of my fellow strategists have been investigating growth hacking before someone called it that (and probably forgot to patent it… hurts to miss that one, pal.)

That is just one of the myths we are going to discover here. Let’s debunk growth hacking:

 It's much easier than you think... 

It's much easier than you think... 

It’s “hacking” so it must be bad. This misnomer has scared many clients who regretfully leave a good deal behind in the dust and bring their business to some Webhead in his garage surrounded by Star Wars action figures tucked cleanly in their original packaging. Ever heard of a “life hack,” or a way to make life easier? Yeah, that. Ever heard of an SEO algorithm? Hack. Using analytics to determine your aim? Also, a hack. And neither are bad.

2. A “Growth Hacker” is one person to add to my team. Another misnomer that has forced the immediate employment of some hipster with more attitude than his girlfriend’s cat. Growth hacking is a mentality that an entire team must adopt to achieve growth of a digital footprint. How will you challenge yourself? What KPIs aren’t being met? Who makes up the audience you can’t reach? Answering these questions requires several minds and one vision.

3. If hacking works, you will just see it. C’mon man. Is anything that simple? To make anything grow online – and sustain it – the processes require testing and measuring, testing and measuring, testing… well, you get it. Just because the strategy is full of keywords and a few links, doesn’t mean your audience will immediately change their behaviors and become customers. See what you are doing right and wrong, and then act accordingly.

4. Growth is a quick fix for my business. Really? And you are an executive?! There is no such thing in corporate America. The Web is an esoteric tapestry of “What the what,” cat memes, and naughty tapes involving any one of the Kardashians. And somewhere, your product needs to be seen among all that mess. It’s a slow burn that requires patience and consistency. Use those two tools, and the insight of your team, and you will see change (and plenty of dollars).

5. To go “viral,” you need a growth hacker. First off, shut up. Next, no one “goes viral.” Your audience make your content viral. Third, yeah… just shut up. For any campaign to catch fire, it needs a great amount of strategy, excellent creative and copy, and just a smidge of luck. There is never a guarantee, not even if you hire Matt Cutts of Google fame (although Matt, if you’re reading this, call me).

6. Growth hacking only works for start-ups. The company that decides it has grown enough is about to find bankruptcy. Just ask the aforementioned Google, Facebook, or LinkedIn. There’s never too much expansion. All growth requires is a team and bandwidth to manage it. That is the secret to any growth hacking. There is no “growth hacking budget” or department. If anyone is related to growth (e.g., marketing, PR, creative, engineering), this is the growth hacking team. Bigger company, bigger team. Bigger team, bigger opportunity.

7. This only works for new audiences. Sure, the word “growth” would imply anything, but if you have any inkling about business, you understand growth is sustained through brand loyalty. In other words, those old fart customers are crucial to growth. These are brand advocates who end up sharing the greatness of your widget to others. Growth is holistic so the audience should never be segregated. It’s 2017 for crying out loud. Let’s all just get along.

In short, these “hacks” will all help your brand grow, only if you have the recipe. And if you suck at cooking, then hire a person…or many.