#Asia Startup essentials: What’s the difference between growth marketing and growth hacking?


Growth hacking is more of a mindset, rather than a long-term marketing plan

The sailfish is the fastest swimming creature in the ocean, clocking in at close to 70 miles per hour. The whale, on the other hand, perhaps partially due to size, clocks in at an average of about 14 miles per hour.

If we were to draw an analogy between these two sea creatures and business enterprises, Coca-Cola is a whale, and a young startup is a sailfish. In terms of growth, the whale (Coca-Cola) is happy with about 5 per cent a year. Why? Because the whale already has a huge customer base and focuses on maintaining that base and adding new customers as they come of soda-drinking age.

The sailfish (relatively new and young) needs 20-25 per cent growth at least every few months to kick start its customer base and must come up with creative, sometimes out-of-the-box marketing tactics that will go a bit viral.

And this is the difference between growth marketing and growth hacking.

Older and bigger boys have long-term growth marketing plans and usually lots of money. They can purchase TV ads, full-spread magazine pages, and billboards. They also keep abreast of newer marketing trends and acquire large marketing teams to come up with new slogans, new songs, etc., to spread the brand all over social media. They have a global reach, launching large marketing campaigns that are localised in hundreds of countries. Their goal is to keep their already popularised brand in front of people, so they don’t forget. These are the growth marketers.

Also Read: Startup essentials: Why startup marketing is not growth hacking

Small, new enterprises know they will not be a Coca-Cola in the next year, or maybe not in their entire lifetimes. However, their goal is to swim like the sailfish and make big splashes so that they can gain as large a market share as possible, in the least amount of time and with the least amount of expenditure. At the same time, they must focus on the solution they offer to their target audiences. These are the growth hackers.

The essentials of growth hacking

Nathan Chan was (and probably still is) a growth hacker. When he launched his digital magazine, Foundr, it was because he saw a need for startup entrepreneurs – a publication that would provide information, tips, and methods by which they could grow quickly and successfully. He did not develop an elaborate marketing plan to get his brand out there. Instead, he decided to focus on Instagram and see where it lead. For him, it was a gold mine. He went from zero followers to 10,000 in just two weeks. How? He got a theme – beautiful photos with inspirational quotes. He posted many times a day, sometimes every 3-4 hours. He offered a free subscription in his bio. He joined in conversations; he made big use of hashtags in the comment section; he followed followers of related brands. He used share for share networking. This and more he has outlined for other growth hackers.

And this is what growth hacking really is – coming up with a creative marketing idea, pursuing it with zeal and passion, analysing if it is working, and, if so, keeping that tactic and moving on to another that might also prove valuable.

Growth hacking, then, is more of a mindset, rather than a long-term marketing plan. It is running with an idea, pushing it out there and using metrics to see if it works. If it doesn’t work, scrap it and move on to the next idea. If it does work, maintain it and move on to the next creative idea.

Tactics for growth hacking

For those who are not certain where to begin growth hacking, there are some strategies that have worked for others that can be “stolen”, implemented, and tested for value. These include guest posting, building a reputation as an expert, working hard on developing relationships, and harvesting a ton of email addresses. These and other tactics are discussed by Neil Patel in a recent article.

But as much advice as a growth hacker may take from others, it truly comes down to a mindset of creativity and developing the uniqueness of a brand that engages others.

Also Read: 3 ways to leverage customers to growth hack your startup

Sometimes, this might be as simple as creating an explainer video. For US$2,500, Mark Dubin and mark Levine, founders of Dollar Shave Club, created an explainer video about their subscription-based razor blade delivery model. It is hysterical and quickly went viral (over 22 million views in just a few months). The company has skyrocketed.

Other startups have relied on social responsibility as their “calling cards”. Thus, Toms Shoes and Headbands of Hope have a one-for-one charitable model that has captured the hearts of consumers and skyrocketed their businesses.

It’s difficult to know what specific tactic may catch on for a business. In fact, highly successful enterprises have used a variety of “ growth hacks” that have worked, and worked well. What marketing hacks do is act like those sailfish. They move quickly, try a hack, test the results with good analytics, keep what works, and move on to the next hack.

Growth Hacking and Growth Marketing – Merging the Two

As new enterprises scale, they develop a repertoire of marketing strategies and tactics that work for them. Those that work well become a part of a longer-term marketing plan and are expanded, modified, and improved upon as time goes on. When these strategies become key components of a larger plan to retain existing customers and to move into new target audiences, we call it growth marketing. But growth hacking is never thrown out the window. The next great idea should always be tried and tested. In this way, hacking and marketing will always work together.


The views expressed here are of the author’s, and e27 may not necessarily subscribe to them. e27 invites members from Asia’s tech industry and startup community to share their honest opinions and expert knowledge with our readers. If you are interested in sharing your point of view, submit your post here.

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