An increasingly common subject and growing activity among major consulting firms and companies, is making Digital Marketing a daily presence, and making the relationship between brands and customers a fundamental issue. We have many articles and papers that discuss what Digital Marketing is, along with the associated practices, tools, its importance, who it applies to, business cases, and much more. In parallel, I have noticed the growth of a new approach, which is highly valued and makes great sense in today’s context of a continuous search for a better consumer experience in concert with business growth: Growth Hacking.
Before we discuss how these two approaches work together, I will give an overview of my perspective on Digital Marketing — what it is and what runs through it — and offer what I think is a simple definition of Growth Hacking.
As a classical definition, “Digital Marketing is the set of practices that seek to increase the visibility of the company, products, and/or service through communication in a digital medium in order to promote the brand and win new leads/customers.” However, a quick dive into this definition leads us to fronts such as channels, tools, customization, the user journey, customer relationship scales, data, metrics, analysis and continuous improvement. In other words, we use digital communication to better disseminate our brand and/or product (branding) and win new customers and/or retain them (performance). As Shantanu Narayen, CEO of Adobe, said: “Retention is the new growth!” But that is a subject for another article.
Coming back to the subject, we need to understand the context in which we work, our competition, our target audience, what kind of communication that audience wants, and what kind of experience we should deliver over the course of our relationship with them. It is also important to understand how we can keep our audience satisfied with our content about our brand.
Today, it is possible to accomplish all of this, and it is done every day by major companies, using digital customer relations activities, or, in other words, through digital marketing.
As for Growth Hacking, my definition would be “any and all activities that seek to respond to the context of continuous analysis of business growth, using digital and physical media, through the use of methodologies, tools, and any other means necessary for the continuous learning cycle (design, implement, measure, learn) to function successfully.”
People who work in this area end up being generalists, in the sense of their knowledge of the business and the necessary practices, but also a specialist, in the sense that they put the tools into practice, configure them, conduct analyses, request adjustments in digital media being measured, and proceed through the continuous learning cycle. These are people with substantial technical capacity, as well as the understanding needed to discuss information and insights with the business team.
Digital Products and Services
When we look at our customer, we always want to deliver what we think is the best product or service. This is true in the digital world as well, and it isn’t easy. It is easy to be fooled by hypotheses that fail in the hands of users. That is why, the more quickly we fail, learn, and correct, the more value we can deliver to those who drive our businesses: our customers. This philosophy of continuous learning and agile delivery is perfectly aligned with the contributions of the Lean philosophy, as we can see in the book Lean Startup (RIES, 2011), which defines a methodology that is common in startups and small companies that need to grow quickly by learning from data and customer insights.
When a startup, or even a large company that needs to reinvent itself, begins working in this extremely fast-paced and agile approach, the role of the Growth Hacker (the person who does the Growth Hacking) becomes absolutely necessary.
We can divide the Lean Startup methodology into three major fronts:
(1) Everything is a hypothesis: understand that everything we have in-hand so far is a hypothesis about what the product/service can deliver. In this case, we should organize our thinking using the Business Canvas model to build a model of the business.
(2) Listen to the customer: at this point, the business should go into the field and really develop its solution in partnership with the customer and any other stakeholder, in order to determine viability and define an MVP (Minimum Viable Product).
(3) Develop in an agile manner: this is where we use some agile development frameworks to continuously learn what is happening with the digital product/service when it is in the hands of the customer. We must design, prototype, implement, measure, learn, and evolve or pivot.
When we think of digital products/services that must evolve over time, in an agile model, creating value and continuously capturing consumers’ feedback to confirm our hypotheses, or to pivot our thinking, in order to grow our business, it is time to begin the work of Growth Hacking.
Digital Marketing vs Growth Hacking
Ok, but what is the relationship between Digital Marketing and Growth Hacking? Are they distinct, and distant, things? Are they the same thing? Are they complementary?
As I have said in conversations with several people, I have analyzed many articles and the opinions of people who work in this area. My conclusion is that without the tools and practices of Digital Marketing, Growth Hacking cannot stand on its own.
In my opinion, all practices and tools needed for Growth Hacking to work are found in the world of Digital Marketing. I’m thinking of analytics, A/B testing, content customization, and customer experience, among others.
Additionally, Digital Marketing offers a number of other activities and tools that support, and provide a basis for increasing customers’ knowledge of the brand/product, such as SEO, Inbound and Outbound Marketing, Media, and Campaign Management, among others.
In that sense, I believe it is possible for companies that work with Digital Marketing to exist without being completely tied to the Lean methodology. But, in my view, we cannot imagine agile business growth through Growth Hacking, with its practices involving constant experimentation and continuous measurement, without using the activities and tools offered by Digital Marketing today as the foundation.
The fact is that if we do a good job of organizing the actions we need to take, if we have a well-designed communication and digital product strategy, and finally, if we have a well-trained team with the autonomy to prototype, implement, make mistakes, learn, and start over, then we are certainly much closer to winning over new customers and especially retaining our existing customers, maintaining the health of our brand/product.