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.

Patricio Robles

Published 5 September, 2012 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (9)

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Aaron Ginn

I hope this post will also provide some insight.

Overall, growth hackers are more product people who do marketing rather than marketing people who do product/ engineering.

Some additional insight: the people who invented the term were not marketers, but product people.

I like that you are moving the discussion to what they do vs what they call themselves. What is important is outcomes, not what people call themselves.

almost 6 years ago


Adam Quirk

Hi Patricio,
Good post, I spoke about this subject on Tuesday at the iMedia Brand Summit in the Hunter Valley, Australia. I felt that the idea and some of the thinking was new to many of the senior marketers but the objectives clearly resonated. What ever we call this function and this new marketing style, it is an interesting evolution of disciplines and a space to watch.
Details of our talk and take on it:

almost 6 years ago

Andrew Lloyd Gordon

Andrew Lloyd Gordon, Digital Marketing Expert, Speaker and Trainer at New Terrain Limited

I think this points to a wider trend that, as more and more people in an organisation are involved in its 'digital activities' - Customer Services tweeting, Sales Reps blogging, Product Managers and Web Designers implementing CRO techniques - the traditional, narrow definition of Marketing is under threat.

Marketing is often seen as something 'done by' a certain individual, team or department. It's something they (attempt to) control, manage and shape.

In reality, however, a better definition of marketing is, 'everything the organisation does'.

If you accept this definition, then it makes perfect sense for a wider group of people within the organisation becoming involved in 'Growth Hacking'. After all, it's in everyone's interests if the organisation grows.

almost 6 years ago


Unternehmensberatung Stephan Jäckel

All these IT entrepreneus have one thing in common: They are visonary coders following a dream with little or no marketing expertise.

All marketing departments these days have one thing in commom: The lack technological expertise and understanding ot IT development, implementation, coding and the possibilities that have arisen from the changes IT has undergone in the past 10 years.

In marketing departments people are happy if they can handle powerpoint to give presenations on their latest branding sorty or brand relaunch and new visual world. Some dare to balme the decline on marketing on the high quota of females in these departments suggesting that women do not have a high involvement with computers and IT. But its not only the females its basically any person in marketing from Exec level downwards who lacks technological vision. marketing is happy to tell IT what to do and then no longer be bothered. If the result is bad its the fault of IT, never the lousy briefing or lack of technical competence in marketing.

IT people have for a decade now been confronted with this. Websites used to be placed ofen with the IT department rather than marketing or sales. Where "the onliners" became part of marketing they where treated like exotic animals and often are still today for their troubels, language and wordings are others than their collegues.

It is natural that in such a weird zoo the entrepreneur-spirit is calling for a new position to fill the void like a new product fills the void in a market (more or less). And sure those start ups that wanna be hip have gotten some funding cause they quoted the "grwoth hacker" and of course they now hire "growths hackers" cause its part of their hip-ness factor simply called USP in the past.

But a growth hacker does not mean more integration of processes, duties and more collaboration. Indeed hacker is someone hacking it all out in silent alone with little to no cooperation (at least thats the common preception of a "hacker"). Indeed we for a decade now need something very much different:

We need marketing-people to become involved with technology. No company should hire anyone for marketing who is not profoundly understanding the eveolvement of technology. Its ok if he or she is more conservative and not apodping to any fad coming up. But lack of IT skills must be a no-go for marketing in the future.

Furthermore the huge inrads that tehcnology has made into marketing eversince call-centers started making their way has lead to everything but branding and choice of campaing slogans and pictures being tech-based. But there are no marketing-technology departments around (at least I never saw one). Exec-levels already a decade ago should have seen the need for setting up tech-focused departments within marketing, departments large enough to no longer being the outsiders but at least making up 50% of the marketing staff.

From the Content-Managers to Online Marketers, Database Analysts, CRM-Specialists, Sales Process Managers, Direct Marketers, Call-Center Specialists and now also Social Media Specialists they would all have to become one in an entity dubbed "Marketing technology" tasked with expanding the companies technological capeabilities while running its tech-based marketing activities.

People there would all have marketing-degress and at least half of them would hold tech-degress with marketing being the add-on qualification.

I have been lobbying for long for such marketing-technology departments to be set up. It fails for the marketers (I seem to be a very exotic offsrping of my own breed) these days claim their work of sponsoring, branding, image management and corporate identity management doens't have anything to do with this computer stuff.

Well my fellow marketers: Its exactly this major fault in your thinking that has diminished toe role marketing used to have. If marketing lost its leadership in enterprises to controlling and the sick idea of running a company by reducing costs then its YOUR fault. Pretty-picture-image-marketing never existed. Marketing was once largely sales and advertising and nowadays its largely IT. Indeed Marketing-departments who do not adapt to changes and embrache technology can indeed be closed down.

In Social Business the eveolvement of the brand moves into customers hands anyways (which includes branding, CI, CD and advertising). So all that remains is making the things that are already there potentially better. And that indeed is a task that could be left to a handful of skilled growth hackers who work on simple trial-an-error rather than if marketing-techniques in their minds. It would work.

So I call upon the young generation of marketing students to either embrace technology fully or to prepare for a job in company archives dusting off pictures of advertising campaigns that weren't scanned yet into the company data-bases!

almost 6 years ago



It makes me laugh on some of these new job titles and buzz surrounding them (growth hacker) what a lot of rubbish. The leading web personnel have been doing this for the past 10 years.

Agree with lots of the points made by in the last comment. Many traditional marketing departments do not want to fully understand how technology can help them and how closely intertwined both technology and marketing is. Many are happy to let the IT department come up with solutions based on a one page idea.

The ones that will thrive and be in demand are the ones who understand the principles of marketing and IT.

almost 6 years ago

Tom Fordham

Tom Fordham, Director at MET Marketing

Surely a "Growth Hacker" has been around for years just in different guises and spread across more than one department. The objective of what businesses are trying to achieve remains the same but the structure of teams / roles trying to achieve it are evolving and vary for each business. We've had various clients of all sizes recruiting roles, many of the aspects of which could be those of a "growth hacker" by the definitions provided but I can't see it being a role in it self for the majority of businesses however tech savvy they are for a good few years to come.

almost 6 years ago

dan barker

dan barker, E-Business Consultant at Dan Barker

I came across a list of growth hackers a while ago & put together this list:!/danbarker/growthhackers

I'm not sure whether or not I like the term, or whether it is a 'thing', but here's a stab at defining it:

"people who identify opportunities to dramatically improve the likelihood of acquiring users & customers via technology"

almost 6 years ago


das klub

Having both a marketing degree and an MIS degree I have been looking for ways to combine both. I am currently a web developer but I know that all the code in the world isn't going to lead to anyone giving a damn unless you understand the human side.

I have experimented with many practices such as having youtube video contests, growing a facebook page and even building my own social network community.

I think there is a lot to be said for getting people to be your social voice, that's the goal really: to make other people willingly talk about your product or site etc. The best way to do that is to give them a sense of ownership in the project and a way to be recognized.

over 5 years ago

Ian Brodie

Ian Brodie, Founder at The Rainmaker Academy

While we can argue that "growth hacking" is simply applying good (online) marketing practices through the application of technology, I think there's a bit more to it than that.

In the manufacturing world, the Toyota Production System was essentially a particular configuration and implementation of lean thinking principles to assembly line manufacturing.

You could argue there was nothing new, they were just applying well known principles. But the key thing was that the specific configuration "clicked". it worked incredibly well in the assembly line environment and became the dominant model for production in automotive and many other similar businesses.

It feels like the "growth hacking" model - a combination of landing page best practices, viral growth tools etc. has hit a similar spot for online tech businesses.

You can argue there's nothing new, but that misses the point. They're found (or are rapidly finding) a particular combination of best practices that works incredibly well in their environment (and a few more besides).

Good luck to 'em - I'm watching interestedly to see what I can learn for my own (different) business.


over 5 years ago

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