Is Growth Hacking Nonsense?

Agile, Experience Design

I had to jump in. This is my contribution to this (http://bit.ly/growth_hack) discussion on Quora;

I walked into a talk a few months ago here in New York where a self-proclaimed growth hacker gave his spiel about the practice. The room was overcrowded and people were hanging on to the walls eager to get their questions answered at the end of his presentation. The questions and discussion went on and on and way over the allotted time we had in the room. It was clear to me that growth hacking was the buzz word du jour. But rather than dismissing it as a fad or a self aggrandizing propaganda tool I want to acknowledge the enthusiasm that everyone in that room felt. Yes, it is not unlike the responsibilities of a product manager or even a CMO. Yet what I saw in the youthfulness of the presenter was the future of what I believe marketing – and advertising should and will become.  In the old days we used to message out. “Try our product, it is so awesome” and we would take that very same message and drape it with all sorts of entertainment value and we would get very clever about it and sometimes people would remember the product or service that was associated with the message. But most of the time they would not. And then came the web when advertisers tried it some more and they noticed that messaging out was becoming less effective. And then came mobile when everyone noticed that messaging out was not only ineffective but gosh darned annoying. Think about it. This may sound pedantic to most of you but your mobile device is the most personal thing you carry. It’s what connects you to your friends and the world around you. And most people would rather forget their wallets at home then forget their phone.

So advertising has no place on mobile. But smart marketing does. And this is where growth hacking fits in. Born from the world of technology growth hacking is about optimizing the user experience so that your user becomes your advocate. And thus, no need to advertise because, as we know, the most effective advertising is word-of-mouth. Especially amongst friends. And their friends. And their friends.

From what I can tell, growth hacking is in its early phase. Most practitioners are young and haven’t been through the full customer life cycle, the ups and downs, of a product launch. Or a brand crash. Witness the ups and downs of some of our most valued brands – like Facebook or Instagram – as they bumble (and shed users) with privacy issues and things they should know better to mess around with. And most are still figuring out the loyalty thing and how to retain the user/customer over time. I mean, gosh, how many apps do you still use?

Let me step away from the title for a second and let me tip my hat for the enthusiasm of the movement. It is a pragmatic approach to a very simple idea – how to make your product – or service – better. And it reminds me of the early days of advertising when, in the early twenties, advertising agencies partnered with manufacturers to make their products better. Before agencies became all about the message out the best of them were actively involved in the product life cycle because most manufacturers had no internal marketing, or product management, team. And before they became all about the message out the best agencies spent enormous time researching customers and helping to hone the business model. And many times even affecting the actual design of the product itself (think the Coke bottle).  The best agencies and marketing teams still do this but growth hacking, in my humble opinion, is at the tip of the spear of a new wave and age of product and service design and development because they are actively aware of the user/customer FIRST and are not encumbered by the legacy of a management team who are stuck in the world of “message out”.

Yes, you will have charlatans, snake charmers and hoodwinkers but the best growth hackers will drive real value. And that is how they should be measured. So give them a break. The best will float to the top and their products will show it. Let’s see where they go. I feel fully confident that they will upend the industry and make all marketers, product and service designers and product managers smarter and better.

Here’s the link to a Growth Hacking course on Udemy – http://www.udemy.com/growth-hacking-lean-marketing-for-startups/

Here’s a good definition – http://blog.hartleybrody.com/growth-hacker-definition/

And here’s a conference – http://growthhackersconference.com/