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Growth Hackers vs Growth Marketers: What’s the Difference?

May 6, 2021
Growth Marketing
6 Min Read

Stefan Bardega is Traktion’s Co-Founder and Chief Growth Officer. Here he explores the key differences between growth hackers and growth marketers — and when you might need one more than the other.  

A growth hacker is someone who uses clever, creative, and often low-cost digital marketing tactics to help a business — usually a startup — attract and retain customers. 

They tend to combine marketing, optimisation, and coding knowledge to implement and test marketing hacks (i.e. shortcuts) on a small budget in pursuit of rapid growth.  

Sometimes you’ll see a “growth hacker” being referred to as a “growth marketer” (and vice versa). And while growth hacking and growth marketing do share the common goal of customer/user acquisition using data, I would argue that the two roles are not synonymous

Rather, growth hacking and marketing are quite distinct, both in terms of skill set and outlook, and in this article, I’ll explain those differences.

Growth hackers for hire: how to spot a great growth hacker

The best growth hackers are usually a combination of marketer and engineer.  They’re creative, data-oriented, analytical thinkers prepared to think outside the box and take risks in pursuit of rapid growth. They’re also technical and hands-on, ready to find a faster, smarter way of doing something (hence the “hacker” part of the name). 

A growth hacker’s skill set can be split into three:

  • Marketing - in particular, optimisation, analytics, and split-testing
  • Coding - they understand the limitations and potential of digital assets
  • Data Analysis - every hypothesis is based on data, and every test they run is measured obsessively to understand what has worked and what hasn’t

So, what’s the difference between a growth hacker and a growth marketer?

As I mentioned earlier, growth hackers and growth marketers overlap in their desire to acquire new customers or more active users. But their approach to this task — and their outlook on brand — couldn’t be more different. 

Growth hackers see rapid growth as the aim of the game, conducting their marketing experiments in a high-tempo, data-led, creative environment. They’ll test a bunch of hypotheses in quick succession trying to find huge gains. And if something doesn’t work, they won’t lose much sleep, simply moving onto the next strategy at pace.  

Growth marketers, on the other hand, will typically prioritise sustainable growth over speed. They see the value in the hard yards, building out lots of high-quality original content to answer hundreds of long-tail search queries, for example. 

Growth marketing is also closely entwined with brand. Growth marketers understand that customers want to spend money with brands they like, and so they work to raise awareness and foster loyalty. They do this by dutifully responding to Tweets, solving problems, and working on brand positioning and differentiation.

Growth hackers don’t tend to value brand nearly as much, because strategic brand building takes time and can be difficult to measure. Instead, they want to know precisely where a lead has come from to understand if their hypothesis was correct and if their tactic can be quickly scaled to produce similar results at a higher volume. 

When might you need a growth marketer instead of a hacker?

To put it plainly, if you want to build your business long-term, you need to prioritise growth marketing. 

Let me explain.

Growth hacking is often more focused on individual tactics as opposed to end-to-end marketing. Hackers come armed with a list of hacks that they believe will work, regardless of brand, industry, or audience. When one or more of these tactics work, they drive rapid growth and it’s job done. 

But is it really “job done”? Because there’s more to growth than simply acquiring new customers. You need to activate them, retain them, and monetise them. You need to build an affinity with them and turn them into brand advocates. This is where growth marketing wins the day. 

Growth marketers are interested in the long game. They’re highly strategic brand-builders who recognise that you can’t keep pouring money into paid acquisition. That’s why they’re willing to do the hard work, consistently, to understand your customer and create reliable, organic, and sustainable growth. In other words, you can’t hack together a brand.

Note: I’m not saying there’s no room for growth hacking as part of your growth strategy. Depending on your business stage and category, a growth hack could pay dividends by driving a stream of leads your way. Just remember that, as soon as you’ve acquired those customers, you’ll need a strong brand to keep them (and others like them) coming back for more. 

What makes a good growth marketer? 

I like to say that a good growth marketer is someone who can go from 30,000 ft to 3 ft in the space of one conversation. 

By that, I mean they’re equally at home talking about high-level strategy as they are diving into the detail of a particular channel or tactic. And they know enough to confidently brief a specialist in one of those channels. 

Beyond that, they should be data-driven, not ego-driven. Just because something has worked in the past doesn’t mean it will again. No matter how many years of experience they have, it’s always day one. Platforms change, regulations change, and so they should be constantly reviewing their knowledge and skills to stay ahead.  

In short, a good growth marketer has:

  • Cross-channel awareness
  • A tactical and agile mindset
  • A willingness to review data and pick out opportunities for marginal gains

How to assess a growth marketer?

You’ll find several articles on the Traktion blog which cover talent-spotting and hiring across channels and disciplines, including:

To add the above, I would say that, when assessing growth marketing talent, always ask for examples of strategies where they’ve taken a client from Point A to Point B. 

When answering, they should be able to demonstrate the steps they took to achieve this, explain their tactics, and offer a clear definition of success. If they can’t articulate this, it often means they weren’t responsible enough to oversee it. 

You’ll also want to ensure that their knowledge is up-to-date and they display an agile mindset. Every growth marketing plan is based on data, and if your candidate isn’t tracking emerging news, trends, and channels, they’re not doing their job right. 

And remember, if you hire through Traktion, our marketers have already been put through their paces to ensure they have elite domain expertise. 

In summary: hacker vs marketer — there’s room for both

As I’ve alluded to, there’s room for both growth marketing and growth hacking when you’re building your business, and in many ways, you can’t have one without the other. 

For long-term, sustainable growth, you should prioritise a strong brand and a strong search presence. This comes from patient and methodical growth marketing. 

But you can’t become tied to the same old channels. Otherwise, your brand could come under threat from fresh and savvy competition. Growth hacking allows you to find emerging channels and test the waters, uncovering competitive gains and protecting your brand in the process.

Whether you need a hacker or a marketer (or both), hire pre-vetted growth talent with Traktion. Connect with the world’s best and brightest through our easy-to-use platform.

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