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No, I can't magically growth hack that thing for you

No, I can't magically growth hack that thing for you.

One mild annoyance I've had as somebody in growth marketing is the notion that, like a magician, people focused on growth can help you grow anything at all. With the magic poof of a few words and a LinkedIn job title, you're supposed to be able to solve every digital marketing problem possible.

I think it speaks to a fundamental misunderstanding of what people in growth do. It speaks to the fact that a growth hacking definition is vague and undefined, a canvas with no bounds on paint.

The notion that "growth hackers" are magic and pixie dust with a bit of data sprinkled in has certainly not helped matters when it comes to clearing up exactly what a growth hacking definition is.

There's three reasons for that vagueness that can help clarify a "good" growth hacking definition.

First off, there's a huge focus on tactics that are supposed to be content-neutral. A growth hacker can mass distribute your offering to a bunch of email lists, or enlist a Twitter bot to do the same. What does it matter what that content is?

This strain of thought shows a fundamental misunderstanding of growth. Growth shouldn't be about how you distribute your message. It should be about the message you're spreading.

In a world with social networks and instant sharing of information, you should rely on other people to carry your message forward for you since it's innately valuable to them. Social networks are built to amplify good content. Pushing through those rules seldom works.

Good content can only come with research, not spamming ten thousand times with a bot.

Secondly, related to this point, different industries have different users, needs, and wants. Generally, anybody who has done digital marketing can figure out the broad confines of any new project in a few days, but in order to get the very best marketing for your product, you need somebody who is more akin to a method actor.

Many marketers are the "world's best beginners" on a topic. At its highest level, that won't cut it. *It can mean the difference between thousands of dollars in revenue and millions. *

The very best marketers have passion and deep knowledge on the products they're marketing.

You could ask me growth hack your fashion app, but don't expect me to do a good job on it. I won't have the passion, nor the immediate knowledge to make the impact I know I can in fields I deeply care about.

Finally, there are distinct types of growth marketing, all dependent on what business model you run. They're broadly split into three categories:

1) B2C apps (think Snapchat) where it's too expensive to use paid acquisition or almost any other standard marketing tactic to get users.

You're going to want somebody with a product marketing background who has product and data knowledge and who is focused on optimizing on-boarding and referral flows. Don't get somebody who specializes in Facebook ads. Paying for ads beyond quick spurts of learning is a losing strategy and a distraction when your product needs to be good enough to get referral traffic on its own.

2) Hybrid apps (think most SaaS businesses) where you're making enough money to justify some paid acquisition, but you'll probably need to make a lot of organic plays to keep costs economically viable.

You're going to need somebody with experience in paid acquisition (ex: Facebook ads) but more importantly, you're going to need somebody who has scaled a content marketing engine that can help you get leads and purchases for very low cost. It's the only way you'll compete against SaaS providers in your space looking to do the same.

3) Companies like Hired where you make ridiculous amounts of money per transaction and are basically looking to make a volume play (so tons of paid acquisition).

You're looking for somebody who is a pure performance marketer who can religiously optimize paid channels for you. That often takes extensive experience with a few paid channels like Adwords and Twitter ads to understand how performance optimization works.

If you find somebody who is good at marketing a certain type of company and you don't fit the mold, it most likely won't work out.


Look, I'm looking to play to my strengths in content and deep knowledge of edtech/new technology/programming/data science. If that's not what you're looking for, look for somebody else: it'll be worth the search. If your growth hacking definition is somebody who can spam a lot of people or who can blow a lot of smoke about instant, amazing results: buyer beware.

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