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The principles of Growth Hacking are not new

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(This post originally appeared on Medium.)

The principles of Growth Hacking are not new

It’s just a natural progression of word-of-mouth marketing,yo

Admittedly, I’ve been a bit obsessed with this concept of Growth Hacking for the past month or so. When Julien Smith recently told us marketers that our jobs will soon be obsolete, I experienced a wonderful moment of “Holy shit, everything I’ve been doing is wrong and some 20yo engineer is going to gank all my opportunities and I’ll be the old creepy guy at local tech Meetups talking about how QR codes are the future of consumer engagement!” Panic set in, Codecademy and Dash were immediately signed up for and I’M GOING TO BE THE GREATEST CODER / MARKETER ON EARTH AND GROWTH HACKIFY MY WAY TO THE PROMISED LAND!!!!

Then, the reading began. Oh Dear God, the reading. (I’m a consistent victim of paralysis by analysis, you see.) Making my way through Ryan Holiday’s online musings, it dawned on me; and when it did, it dawned hard and good:

The principles of growth hacking are not entirely new. As a matter of fact, I’d call the theory a natural progression born out of word of mouth marketing beliefs.

OMGWTFBBQ!!!! Here, let me state my case:

From Andrew Chen: growth hackers can make sure virality is embedded at the core of a product.

And: Before this era, the discipline of marketing relied on the only communication channels that could reach 10s of millions of people — newspaper, TV, conferences, and channels like retail stores.

From Ryan Holiday: Anything that gets customers is marketing. Anything that keeps customers is marketing.

From Blake Commagere: Growth hacking has a subtle message of ‘what have you done for me today?’

From Paul Graham: Make stuff people want.

From Matt Mason: We might not have marketing budgets, or a massive fan base…[But] we can build for sharing.

And, a few growth hack examples I’ve seen commonly used:

Hotmail added “P.S. I love you. Get your free email at Hotmail” automatically at the end of sent emails

Airbnb engineered a way for users to cross-post their rentals on Craigslist

Dropbox offered 500MB of free space for every friend a customer got to sign up

Folks, this is word-of-mouth marketing (WOMM) at its core. Check out some of the wording on WOMMApedia, for those not familiar with the discipline. At the end of the day, WOMM is about providing kick-ass experiences that result in customers spreading the word about your product because it is that freaking amazing. Easily shareable, disruptive, unexpected, low-cost / budget-maximizing, focus on ROI and measurement — these are shared principles that require a new kind of marketer with a different mindset. In both WOMM and Growth Hacking.

All that being said, I’ve conveniently left out a crucial element in growth hacking, which is the “engineers leading the marketing” thing. As Andrew Chen says, “This isn’t just a single role — the entire marketing team is being disrupted. Rather than a VP of Marketing with a bunch of non-technical marketers reporting to them, instead growth hackers are engineers leading teams of engineers.” And that is a beautiful thing.

I just hope those engineers springboard off the fundamental WOMM approaches to customer acquisition and engagement, because that is a powerful combination of awesomeness right there.


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Growth obsessed startup co-founder (MusicBox) and strategist-for-hire.

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