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Growth Hacking vs. Marketing: What's the Difference?

By Ryan Law on Sat, Jun 29, 2024

We've all heard stories of 'disruptive growth hackers' transforming tiny SaaS start-ups into multi-billion dollar businesses.

There's even an aura of mystery surrounding these enigmatic figures, and the seemingly magical tactics they employ to achieve the near-impossible - but what exactly is a growth hacker?

How do growth hackers differ from marketers?

And what strategies, tools and processes do they use to achieve such incredible growth?

Growth Hackers are Usually Marketers with Some Coding Skills

In the simplest possible terms, growth hackers are usually marketers skilled in coding as well. Within small start-up businesses, this marriage of programming expertise and marketing savvy is usually borne out of sheer necessity, as small teams of SaaS developers turn their hand to marketing, in an attempt to rapidly grow their revenue with minimal resources.

Crucially though, growth hacking is no longer limited to small start-ups. The potent combination of marketing experimentation, data-driven analysis and automation has blazed a trail for a whole new wave of effective, measurable marketing strategies.

Whilst growth hacking was once restricted to fresh-faced new businesses, the rapid growth achieved by this new wave of SaaS marketers has seen companies of all sizes adopt a similar way of thinking – with Valley entrepreneur Andy Chen famously declaring the growth hacker ‘the new VP Marketing’.

Growth Hackers Use Data-Driven Strategies

A growth hacker’s technical ability is reflected in the tools and processes they use to achieve their goals. Landing pages are used to capture lead insight, A/B tests are used to optimise advertising, and marketing automation is used to nurture leads towards a product demo or free trial. Data from each of these marketing channels is collected and analysed – and used to iterate and improve upon their marketing strategy.

For anyone versed in agile software development, this process should be familiar. Product development, marketing and sales aren’t treated as separate silos – they’re integrated together to create a fluid process that attracts prospects, nurtures them, and converts them into sign-ups and new customers. There’s no need for bloated marketing and sales departments, with companies instead able to develop more collaborative, tight-knit teams of growth-focused specialists.

Growth Hackers Prioritise Education

Start-ups don’t have access to the same resources as larger businesses. Aside from the obvious capital limitations this brings, this creates a need to raise awareness for the product and brand, and educate potential customers about the problems it solves.

Teams like HubSpot have realised staggering growth through the sheer power of education. By regularly creating helpful, actionable: blog posts, eGuides, templates and free tools, they’ve managed to attract a huge, engaged and relevant audience to their brand:

Growth Hackers Experiment

The concept of growth hacking is closely associated with Silicon Valley, and the underdog stories of small teams of developers that built multi-billion dollar companies.

It’s a product of start-up culture, and the disruptive ethos of the latest generation of new businesses. Growth hackers aren’t afraid to experiment with their strategies - and any tactic, tool or technique that works can be used to unseat established industry giants, in classic David vs. Goliath style.

Whilst large organisations are often slow to take to new technology, automation and the adoption of new tech is at the forefront of the growth hacking ethos.

If growth hackers are able to identify the perfect solution to their needs, they’ll act upon it immediately. It’s this willingness to adapt and develop that gives start-ups and SaaS businesses the competitive edge over larger, slower organisations.

Growth Hackers Want to Grow Revenue

Perhaps most crucially of all, growth hacking, especially in SaaS, has a single, primary goal: to grow revenue as quickly as possible.

Whilst marketers in large corporate organisations are often content to eke out a few percentage points of growth each year, growth hackers strive to realise much higher levels of growth. In many instances, new start-ups looking to corner a segment of the market have to realise rapid growth, or risk losing out to competitors.

In order to achieve rapid growth in revenue, it’s crucial for growth hackers to break-down their goals into smaller, more manageable targets. Revenue growth requires a business to attract visitors to their website, engage and educate them with helpful resources, collect essential lead insight, and nurture them to a point of sales qualification – all before closing a sale.

To achieve these goals, growth hackers are increasingly adopting the inbound marketing framework – and setting SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-Constrained) goals to realise their growth targets.

Growth Hacking? It’s Still Marketing

Concepts like growth hacking and inbound marketing have grown in popularity because they challenge the established norms, and offer a new way to market your business, and achieve rapid growth.

Growth hackers are, at their heart, marketers that aren't limited by the status quo. They set out to achieve their growth goals using any tools, techniques and processes they can prove to work. Growth hacking isn’t black magic, or a panacea – it’s simply part of a smart saas marketing strategy, tailored to the unique challenges and goals of tech companies.

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