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Why Startups Should Focus on Growth Marketing Instead of Growth Hacking

At the outset, growth hacking and growth marketing may look similar as both rely on data obtained by the prospective customer’s behaviors and actions. Yet, both differ in the way this data is utilized.

Why Startups Should Focus on Growth Marketing Instead of Growth Hacking

Thursday August 24, 2017,

5 min Read

Growth Marketing is a strategic approach for long-term growth

Growth Marketing is a strategic approach for long-term growth

When it comes to the digital marketing world, growth hacking and growth marketing are two buzzwords many people would have heard of. Both are marketing models that are oriented towards the growth of a business and both have their own fan following due to their effectiveness. Growth hacking is seen as a marketing technique usually preferred by tech and product startups while it is commonly believed that growth marketing is something preferred by matured and established enterprises. While both terms are commonly used words in digital marketing, very few people understand what they truly are, how they work and what context do they work in.

Here, we will understand these two buzzwords better, compare them and explore why it is a better option for startups to choose growth marketing over growth hacking to grow and nurture their business.

What is Growth Hacking?

So, what is growth hacking? The term “growth hacking” was first coined in 2010 by Sean Ellis, former CEO of Qualaroo and then popularized by tech startups and SAAS companies. In fact, it is the tech startups that adopted growth hacking as a means to acquire users and grow as fast as possible. Today, it is a common buzzword amongst most startups.

Growth hacking is essentially a marketing tactic that focuses on exploiting a specific underutilized strategy, which is often unconventional and can sometimes be ethically compromised, to acquire the organization’s core metrics such as visitors and followers at a very low cost of acquisition in a very short period of time. For example, some of the tactics involve using viral content and mechanisms that promote social sharing and sharing of gated content that requires email subscriptions or registrations.

Growth hacking relies more on techniques that obtain quick results rather than depending on techniques such as content, organic search engine optimization (SEO) and other similar strategies. It however, does rely on significant experimentation and testing to identify a strategy that brings drives rapid growth.

These non-traditional tactics allow startups and small businesses with a limited budget to acquire users without having to spend too much.

What is Growth Marketing?

Growth Marketing can be considered a more mature version of growth hacking where marketers not only focus on growing users but also on retaining them. 

As per Mike Volpe, Angel Investor and former CMO of Hubspot:

“Growth marketing is removing the boundaries of marketing to enable every aspect of the customer experience to focus on attracting more engaged customers”.

While growth hacking focuses on product to move the needle, growth marketing goes beyond that and focuses on long-term growth in the right direction, which eventually leads to increased revenues and profitability in the long run. It concentrates on a more holistic, sustained long-term growth with a strong focus on content creation, content marketing, and SEO.

Similar to growth hacking, growth marketing uses data as well as agility to experiment and scale revenues. However, unlike growth hacking, growth marketing refrains from using unconventional and viral mechanisms to achieve customer acquisition in the short term. Instead, companies that employ growth marketing seek to become thought leaders and authorities in the market, reinforce sales initiatives, attract visitors to their websites and generate leads on a consistent basis.

Growth marketers seek to optimize campaigns and sources to track opportunities closed, total revenue generated and customer lifetime value. They also pursue the power that is inherent in cross-selling, up selling and references to drive profitability.

Why should startups focus on Growth Marketing rather than Growth Hacking?

At the outset, growth hacking and growth marketing may look similar as both rely on data obtained by the prospective customer’s behaviors and actions. Yet, both differ in the way this data is utilized. Growth hacking focuses on using data to test and identify that one thing that drives explosive initial growth. However, it is not designed to be a long-term strategy as growth without sustenance is not real growth.

Growth marketing, on the other hand, relies on not only driving initial growth but also sustaining it. This means that it not only concentrates on the top of the marketing funnel but also focuses on affecting change throughout the funnel. Growth marketers believe in using strategy before tactics. They make use a well-thought-out marketing strategy and align with scientifically proven lead generating and growth tactics.

While growth hacking champions unconventional tactics, growth marketing emphasizes on the use of various forms of educational and high-quality content, integrated search strategy, social media engagement, lead nurturing and other proven conversion optimization techniques to drive leads and customers from all stages of the funnel. In fact, growth marketing follows a very clear methodology of attracting website and brand visitors, converting them into valuable leads, closing the qualified leads into sales and retaining customers and delighting them so that they can become brand evangelists.

Another problem associated with growth hacking today is that most “growth hackers” want to find a way to go from point A to point B in the shortest time without considering the long-term effects on reputation, resources or the future of the organization. This could potentially break the organization’s trust with its visitors and customers. However, growth marketers realize that following the right practices and excellent processes underlie a quick and sustained growth. As already mentioned above, organizations employing growth marketing work towards establishing themselves as trusted experts in their respective industries so that customers seek them out and keep coming back to them.


While growth hacking occurs in fast spurts of spontaneous growth, it is not designed for a long term success as it lacks focus on sustenance. Additionally, a growth hack may not necessarily be in the best interest of a brand’s reputation. Growth marketing may appear as a slow and steady approach but it is a carefully considered approach that is strategic in its nature and helps organizations grow their business in a sustainable and a profitable manner. Moreover, it offers a strong foundation for the organization to build on. 

After all, businesses are built to last long.