There’s a debate going on in the digital marketing community. It feels like it’s been brewing for a while and, upon entering the new year, it may have finally boiled over. As with any debate, tensions may be running high for some, but for the most part, the discourse is professional, healthy, and ultimately great for digital marketing on the whole. The debate I’m speaking of revolves around the definition (and potential bastardization) of the term “growth hacking.”
A Short History
Sean Ellis, a seasoned and accomplished full stack marketer whose impressive resume includes massive scalable growth at the likes of Dropbox and Eventbrite, is responsible for coining the term “Growth Hacker” in this 2010 post on his Startup Marketing blog. In short, Ellis explains, “A growth hacker is a person whose true north is growth. Everything they do is scrutinized by its potential impact on scalable growth.”
Fast forward to 2013 and we see the rise in popularity of the term with forums like Bronson Taylor’s Growth Hacker TV and Ellis’ own GrowthHackers.com community, as well as comprehensive resources like Taylor and Neil Patel’s “The Definitive Guide to Growth Hacking.”
Obviously, between the coining of the term in Ellis’ 2010 blog post and the advent of dedicated Growth Hacker forums and communities in 2013, we are knowingly skipping over a couple years of actual growth hacking in practice -- whether it was being called that or not at the time. In many ways, therein lies the debate.
A New Year
At the beginning of the new year, a string of tweets from influential technologists and digital marketers raised the argument that “growth hacker” was just the latest buzzword being used by those that have “[misunderstood] online marketing, making broad generalizations about marketers and maligning the industry as a whole." To its dissenters, "growth hacker" equates to nothing more than a misnomer, a rebranding of sorts to simply describe an individual with the skill-sets representative of and employing the strategies long used by seasoned online marketing professionals.
Doing SEO, SEM or social media marketing isn't "growth hacking." It's just marketing. Problem is some marketers & start-ups don't get that.
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) January 4, 2014
Growth hacking: A cool-sounding euphemism for making the doer feel good about using the same old sleazy marketing tricks.
— DHH (@dhh) January 9, 2014
Earlier today (January 10, 2014), award-winning online marketer Muhammad Saleem wrote an article published on Danny Sullivan’s Marketing Land (“Growth Hacking Is Bullshit”) which may have finally brought the debate front and center -- in a very public way -- within the digital marketing community.
And how does Ellis feel about that? Well, frankly, he’s ecstatic:
“I’m glad that some people hate the term “growth hacker.” Most marketers and/or growth hackers recognize that indifferences is the biggest enemy to getting attention for a product or concept. Love and hate are much more powerful emotions. All this hate means that “growth hacker” strikes a nerve and makes people think. That was one of my original goals for the term. I wanted to break out of the stale all inclusive term of ‘marketer.’”
What does Growth Hacker mean to you? Tell us below: “Growth Hacker” or “Seasoned Online Marketing Professional” or are they the same thing?