The Key to Growth Hacking? Master Digital Marketing Basics First

When you think of a hacker, what do you picture? Perhaps someone sitting alone in a dark room maliciously attacking a company’s code, trying to break in to steal data for personal gain or to wreak havoc? That is a common mental image of a hacker. But a hacker can also be someone who circumvents the status quo in legitimate ways and for a good cause, even in the field of marketing.

Growth hacking is a form of marketing that has one goal and one goal only: growth. It’s a fairly new marketing method, with the term coined in 2010 and the definition still in flux. Like other types of hacking, growth hacking aggressively looks for new ways to accomplish goals. But instead of cracking code or stealing information, a growth hacker circumvents the traditional marketing system to increase customers and sales.

What Is Growth Hacking?

So what exactly is growth hacking? At 8 years old, neither the term nor the practice have been around long enough to warrant a clear definition, and both confusion and misunderstanding is abound for that reason. Depending on whom you ask, growth hacking is one of many different things—or a combination of one or more:

  • It’s the way tech startups quickly generate sales. 
  • It’s a way to bypass traditional marketing methods to accelerate sales and growth. 
  • It’s a marketing method of questionable ethics.
  • It’s a buzzword.
  • It’s a useful technique initially employed by startups but now used by established corporations.
  • It’s a digital marketing technique.
  • It’s product oriented.
  • It’s focused both on getting customers and retaining them.

…and so on. And we probably won’t have a clear definition of growth hacking in the near future until people get used to the whole notion of “hacking” marketing.

It’s understandable that some get hung up on the name. Not everyone likes the term hacker, because it definitely has a negative connotation. That also might explain why some people assume growth hacking is somehow unethical. Hacking, however, is an appropriate term because a growth hacker is outwitting traditional marketing approaches in pursuit of growth. A growth marketer doesn’t do something just because that’s the way it has always been done. Instead he or she is constantly on the lookout for new, ingenious ways to solve a problem and generate growth.

A Few Growth Marketing Examples

Growth hacking as a discipline grew out of the needs of tech startups to generate sales right away, and those digital companies could easily employ totally new techniques to achieve their goals. Famous growth hacking examples include Dropbox’s use of a referral system, Airbnb’s use of Craigslist, and Facebook’s use of tagging. All of these methods relied on the digital nature of the business models to generate more business.

Growth hacker marketing did not remain the domain of these types of digital companies, however. The approach and techniques have proved so effective that other companies have hired growth hackers to put the methods to work for all kinds of businesses. Hence, today you will see job listings for all types of growth hacking positions, even Director of Growth.

How to Succeed at Growth Hacker Marketing

If you’re interested in becoming one of these types of marketers, the definition you apply will probably depend on the job you get and the company you work for. But there is one thing about growth hacking that is for certain: To be a good growth hacker requires a solid foundation in digital marketing principles. Yes, you must be analytical to an extreme, an outside-the-box thinker, a risk taker and a self starter obsessed with results. But you still have to understand digital marketing basics to put growth marketing into practice.

A growth hacker is laser-focused on one job: growth. Therefore a growth hacker pays attention to every stage of the funnel, from awareness and acquisition through activation, retention, revenue and referral. That means growth marketers must know digital marketing through and through, so they can tap into those channels and techniques when needed to put growth hacking methods to work. Successful growth hackers should:

  • Be rock solid in analytics, so they can know what works and what doesn’t, and adjust tactics in real time.
  • Understand all relevant social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
  • Know social media ad platforms as well as pay-per-click and display ads.
  • Be comfortable with AdWords.
  • Know how to use and benefit from Google Analytics.
  • Know ways to optimize landing pages and display ads.
  • Be adept at conducting A/B split tests—and interpreting the results.
  • Be very familiar with the intricacies of email marketing.

If it’s a component of digital marketing, a growth marketer needs to know it.

Getting Started in Growth Hacker Marketing

If you want to act as a growth hacker for your own marketing career by quickly moving into a growth hacker role, first seek out a solid foundation in digital marketing. You’ll be a better marketer and you’ll stand out from the crowd as well. Hardly anyone working in digital marketing has any kind of formal training as research indicates 82 percent of digital marketers learn on the job. Imagine how much more skilled you could be as a growth hacker if you had the formal training plus the growth hacking mindset!

Simplilearn can help to give you that solid foundation and position you for success as a growth hacker. You can zero in on a specific topic such as web analytics or pay-per-click advertising when you choose from the wide range of digital marketing courses offered by Simplilearn. Or you can give your career a boost as a Digital Marketing Certified Associate (DMCA). The DMCA program is designed to help you master essential digital marketing disciplines, including search engine optimization (SEO), social media marketing, pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, conversion optimization, web analytics, content marketing, and email and mobile marketing—all skills you need before tackling growth marketing initiatives.

Doing the DMCA program also prepares you for certification exams including Online Marketing (OMCA), Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Google AdWords and Google Analytics. Those types of certifications show a potential employer that you’re not a “hack” pretending to be someone with magical marketing abilities, but a bona fide digital marketer ready to apply your knowledge to that company’s rapid growth.

And once growth hacker marketing becomes the norm, maybe our mental image of a hacker will no longer be someone in isolation up to no good, but someone leading their company to all new levels of ROI and customer satisfaction.

About the Author

Rahul VenugopalRahul Venugopal

Rahul Venugopal is a Senior Product Manager with over six years of experience in Digital Marketing, Growth Hacking, and Mobile-App based marketing. He specializes in Online User Behaviour Analysis and Creative and Campaign Optimization.

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