Marketing, by any reasonable measurement, is a fast-evolving industry. Many of the most sought-after roles today, such as social media marketer, didn't even exist a decade ago.
What does the future hold for digital marketing? One thing is for sure: more change.
That change could very well involve the emergence of new marketing roles. One that may be in the process of emerging: 'growth hacker.'
Fueled primarily by Silicon Valley startups, there's ongoing debate and discussion about the possible role, which entrepreneur and angel investor Andrew Chen suggested earlier this year in a blog post "is the new VP Marketing." In his post, Chen explained:
Growth hackers are a hybrid of marketer and coder, one who looks at the traditional question of “How do I get customers for my product?” and answers with A/B tests, landing pages, viral factor, email deliverability, and Open Graph. On top of this, they layer the discipline of direct marketing, with its emphasis on quantitative measurement, scenario modeling via spreadsheets, and a lot of database queries. If a startup is pre-product/market fit, growth hackers can make sure virality is embedded at the core of a product. After product/market fit, they can help run up the score on what’s already working.
While the term growth hacker appears to have been coined in 2010, 2012 seems to be the year that it goes viral. Startups are actually hiring for growth hacker positions, and some are asking whether every new company needs a growth hacker of its own.
New role or just a new title?
For businesses that are built on the internet, or rely heavily on it, the idea that marketers will increasingly require higher and higher levels of technical sophistication probably isn't a crazy concept. Many organizations, particularly smaller businesses, can't afford to hire specialists for each channel, and even if they could, they wouldn't know which ones mattered. So a generalist who is capable of taking a holistic approach to digital marketing and executing a marketing strategy that goes beyond Digital Marketing 101 is going to be an appealing hire.
But not everyone is convinced that "one who looks at the traditional question of 'How do I get customers for my product?' and answers with A/B tests, landing pages, viral factor, email deliverability, and Open Graph" has what should be considered a new role. One skeptic argues that the growth hacker moniker "is BS":
We can now look at our usage data for our products, refine our offering and marketing message to cater well to our customer base, and then split test various ideas programmatically and let the data speak for itself. This isn’t hacking, this isn’t magic…it’s just plain ol’ Marketing at a much more advanced and accurate level.
As this skeptic sees it, some popular examples of growth hacking, such as Dropbox's referral program, are simply examples of tried and true marketing strategies implemented effectively. The fact that they may have been implemented by tech entrepreneurs and not trained marketers doesn't matter.
So what gives? Why are some trying to define a new role if it isn't really responsible for anything new? One theory: growth hacker is just an alternative title for marketer created by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs uncomfortable with 'marketing.'
Call it what you want
So-called growth hackers may not be handling a nascent untapped channel, and much of what they do may not be revolutionary to savvy digital marketers. From this perspective, it would seem that 'growth hacker' is more a new title than a new role.
But those getting caught up in a semantic debate may miss the most important point in the discussion: digital marketers are increasingly going to be asked to ply their trade in a holistic fashion, and be expected to apply a variety of digital marketing tactics in sophisticated ways.
Yes, there will always be room for specialists, but with limited knowledge of an ever-complex digital marketing landscape, many companies aren't going to know whether they need to invest more in SEO or if their email marketing strategy is falling short. "'How do I get customers for my product or service?" is the only question they can ask and marketers -- whatever we want to call them -- looking to get hired or win their business will need to know how to find the answer.