The term growth hacking keeps gaining in popularity. However, many people are still puzzled by what it actually means and end up left asking the question, “What is a growth hacking?”

In this post, I am not only going to explain what a growth hacker is, but I’m also going to help you realize why the growth hacking mindset is so powerful.

Where did the term growth hacking come from?

The term growth hacking is largely attributed to Sean Ellis. In a 2010 blog post, Ellis explained, “A growth hacker is a person whose true north is growth.” That’s the first use of the term that I was able to find online.

However, blogger and entrepreneur Andrew Chen really helped propel the idea of a growth hacker into popularity in his blog post on April 27, 2012, titled “Growth Hacker Is the New VP Marketing.” In the post, Chen emphasizes that the best modern marketers have the technical ability to implement their ideas to drive big business results. He explained: “Growth hackers are a hybrid of marketer and coder, one who looks at the traditional question of “How do I get customers for my product?” and answers with A/B tests, landing pages, viral factor, email deliverability, and Open Graph. On top of this, they layer the discipline of direct marketing, with its emphasis on quantitative measurement, scenario modeling via spreadsheets, and a lot of database queries. If a startup is pre-product/market fit, growth hackers can make sure virality is embedded at the core of a product. After product/market fit, they can help run up the score on what’s already working.”

Andrew Chen’s explanation of growth hacker, coupled with Sean Ellis’ coining the term has created a brand new marketing discipline and mindset.

The tools that a growth hacker uses.

The essence of growth hacking is routed in traditional marketing values, but a growth hacker differs from a pure marketer. The way that a growth hacker differs from a typical marketer is how he or she is obsessed with driving rapid growth.

A few of the methods that the typical growth hacker will use to make rapid growth happen include:

  • Viral acquisition: building features into the product that encourage existing users to share your product with new potential users.
  • Analytics and A/B testing: this method of achieving growth is focused on relying very heavily on analytics and testing. A/B tests allow a growth hacker to make smarter decisions to quickly improve conversion funnels.
  • Search engine optimization (SEO): a growth hacker should be focused on establishing good SEO practices at the company they are helping unlock growth for. This doesn’t mean trying to rank for one primary keyword though, but rather coming up with smart strategies to rank well for dozens of meaningful keywords (and phrases).
  • Content marketing: content marketing is a vital part of a lot of growth hacking strategies. This is because content makes it easier to acquire backlinks (which have SEO benefits) and also make a company look more trustworthy– all while increasing website traffic. Content marketing is one of the simplest and most effective ways to quickly find high quality prospective users.
  • E-mail marketing: growing and leveraging e-mail lists is a common growth tactic because it allows for a company to engage users repeatedly. It’s a simple way to educate and inform an audience that has already expressed interest in a brand.
  • Paid acquisition: this growth tactic is often less utilized since a lot of growth hackers currently work with bootstrapped startups. However, a good growth hacker will be able to use Facebook ads, Google AdWords, display ads, and other similar formats to cheaply grow their user base.

Those are just a handful of weapons that are in the typical growth hacker arsenal, but there are obviously plenty of other tactics. Our goal in this article isn’t to elaborate on a vast array of growth tactics, but rather to paint you a picture of what growth hacking is.

The end of traditional marketing.

The essence of growth hacking is routed in the belief that traditional marketing is dying, fast. Traditional marketing is dying because the Internet has made it so that money is no longer the biggest marketing advantage; resourcefully combining data, product, and marketing to build a strong community around your brand is. The days of press releases and billboards are vanishing, and the days of giving your customers the tools to talk about a product or service are here. When customers have the tools to easily talk about a brand, it becomes easier to accomplish explosive growth and come up with creative and fun ideas to build a business that triumphs.

Growth hacking is the future of online marketing.

Growth hacking is more than just a trend, but rather the eventual way that all good marketing will be done online. Marketers and engineers will become better at working together to build growth into their products, because they will realize that without growth a business can’t thrive.

This mentality will also move beyond startups, where growth hacking is currently msot prevalent, into the world of big companies. It will be embraced by large companies because they will see it as an opportunity to save money by being more resourceful, while also realizing that the growth hacker mentality pushes employees to push their creative boundaries.

This is just the beginning for growth hacking.

People seem pretty skeptical about the notion that growth hacking is actually gaining in popularity. However, if you do a quick search on Google Trends, you’ll see that the term growth hacking and interest in the field only increasing.

Here’s a snapshot of the search volume of the term growth hacking:

What is Growth Hacking? Google Trends