The Inevitable Rise and Fall of Growth Hacking

Growth hacking. It’s a term I really don’t like. I don’t like it because it sends the wrong message.

It implies that rather than planning and executing a carefully managed growth campaign, a business is simply finding shortcuts to get new users / customers. It implies a focus on low-cost, quick-wins rather than lifetime value.

In reality, though, applying a considered, strategic growth strategy to scale up a new business is crucial. Growth hacking isn’t a shortcut, it’s a necessity.

Growth hacking, or growth marketing if you prefer, means ensuring that a focus on growth is completely and entirely ingrained in your product or service. Marketing is far less effective as a separate function; it should be built into everyday operations, resulting in exponential growth for consistent effort (see also the Flywheel Model for marketing.)

In short, growth hacking means you should:

  • Have recommendations, referrals or shares built into the product itself
  • Align these recommendations, referrals or shares with a suitable channel (i.e. promoting the product in places where your ideal users spend time)

With a viral coefficient – the number of new users an existing user generates – of 1, you will see linear growth (assuming your retention rate is 100%).

Ensuring your growth hack is effective means a business should see a viral coefficient of 1.1 or above, resulting in exponential growth without expending further effort.

It’s no surprise then, now we’ve discovered the marketing equivalent of a perpetual motion engine, that we’ve seen a consistent increase in the adoption of growth hacking as a term and as a discipline.

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Consistent growth, yes, but do you see what I see? A decline in interest in recent years. Why is growth hacking on the decline when it’s so effective?

Perhaps it’s not.

Think about digital marketing. With an ever growing population of digital natives, a plethora of digital-first businesses and a growing trend for digital transformation (accelerated by Covid-19), ‘digital marketing’ is fast becoming ‘marketing’.

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That doesn’t mean digital is less prevalent, it’s just the norm. The assumed channel of choice.

In the same way, growth marketing is becoming so ingrained in start-up marketing that it no longer needs to be qualified as ‘growth hacking’. It’s just good marketing.

I predict that in the coming months and years we’ll see the role of the ‘growth hacker’ slip from our minds as quickly as it appeared. To be replaced by our old friend, good marketing.