Growth Hacking vs Growth Marketing

“Marketing is dead. The future is growth hacking. Don’t tell Katie.”

I had just finished giving a workshop on marketing when I overheard one of the attendees proclaiming this to his small group. I hadn’t heard this growth hacking vs marketing argument before.

I gave a little chuckle because every year one pundit or another loves to proclaim some aspect of marketing “dead.” I’d never heard anyone proclaim that marketing itself was dead. The statement was especially peculiar because growth hacking IS marketing. It’s a particular strategy with a particular set of tactics that works best under a particular set of circumstances.

Marketing itself can never be dead because it’s a concept. It evolves over the years and certain tactics may be in and out of fashion, but growth hacking will certainly not replace everything. 

It’s not possible to compare growth hacking vs marketing, so let’s compare growth hacking to it’s slightly slower cousin, growth marketing.

Growth Hacking vs Growth Marketing: Definitions 

What is Growth Hacking?

Growth hacking is a term that first came on the scene in 2010, coined by Sean Ellis the CEO and founder of GrowthHackers. It describes a series of marketing tactics focused solely on rapid growth. It’s most likely to be utilized by startup tech companies hoping to attract venture money or to sell their company quickly.

Growth hacking is fully focused on growth. Not customer relationships, not brand building, not long term business goals. It’s expansive growth, yesterday. Startups don’t have the time or money to grow using traditional channels, and growth hackers are specially trained to be creative and adaptable to build revenue quickly.

These kinds of marketers (called growth hackers) are analytical, creative, hyper focused, and only keyed in on tactics they can easily measure and convert quickly. They want to know exactly where a customer came from so they can replicate it immediately. 

No, “I saw it on billboard, then my friend suggested it, then I saw an ad…”  It’s “I saw an ad on Facebook five times and I clicked the button twice so you sent me another four ads with a discount and then I purchased and you know this because it’s all traceable.”

They build out clear and succinct digital marketing funnels and test every aspect of them. The funnels that work are quickly replicated. There isn’t much room for consumers to research or think about it. They are in or they are out.

growth hacking vs marketing. A man lays on a couch with an orange growth hacking book over his face. The wall behind him is brick.


What is Growth Marketing? 

Growth Marketing takes the entire business into account when planning marketing tactics and strategies. This includes one year, five year, and even ten year goals. 

Our goal is to grow businesses sustainably and to create a high level of brand loyalty with customers. Growth marketing focuses on understanding the customer, defining the brand, and setting up a combination of paid and earned marketing strategies to home in on both short term gains and long term goals. 

We build out customer journeys instead of tight funnels and take into account that people travel at their own pace and need different kinds of information at every stage.

Growth marketers are focused on metrics and data but they aren’t hyper-focused like growth hackers. They also understand that some tactics are hard to track (brand awareness for example) but fit into the long-term growth of a company and can pay off down the road.

They work with all aspects of the company to gain insights (no marketing and sales silos here) and utilize talent and resources already present in the company before seeking outside consultants. 

growth hacking vs marketing.

A white stack of stones built on the ground.

Growth Hacking vs Growth Marketing: Pros and Cons 

Growth Hacking Pros:

  • Growth hackers use creative and out of the box thinking to reach and convert as many people as possible as quickly as they can.
  • Their laser focus helps small companies reach rapid growth in record time to catch the eyes of investors or larger companies.
  • Growth hacking creates funnels that are easy to track, evaluate, and replicate. They are true marketing scientists.
  • They are cost effective and look for the cheapest and fastest advertising tactics they can.

Growth Hacking Cons:

  • Growth hacking is focused solely on any growth, not necessarily growth that supports the long term goals of your company.
  • Rapid growth can quickly become catastrophic growth. If the rest of the company isn’t prepared, it can have disastrous results. 
  • Growth hacking works best with one specific product that has undergone rigorous testing. Think apps like AirBnB or Uber that provide one service.
  • While growth hackers are focused on finding the fastest and least expensive route, they often ignore slower methods of growth that are more cost effective in the long run. Growth hackers will pay for ads to drive traffic in favor of developing long term SEO. If they do choose SEO it’s to write as many keyword dense articles, regardless of whether they are helpful to customers.
growth hacking is frustrating

Growth Marketing Pros:

  • Growth marketing provides sustainable growth your company can adapt and growth with.
  • Growth marketing helps companies develop strong and lasting brands and a deep understanding of their right customers.
  • This kind of marketing sees the value in tactics that are highly effective but more difficult to track (word of mouth and some traditional advertising routes for example).
  • Growth marketing also prioritizes marketing tactics that have a higher long term vs short term pay off.
  • We think about what’s best for the brand as a whole and how best to serve the customer (a real human being) along with conversions and short term funnels.

Growth Marketing Cons:

  • Growth marketing takes more time. At best it’s three to six months, but campaigns can take up to a year to fully develop.
  • Some growth marketing tactics can be hard to track, especially if they aren’t all in the digital world.
  • Often upfront costs are higher, especially for long term strategies like inbound marketing.
growth marketing develops customer journeys.

Which one should I use?

There is a place and time for both growth hacking and growth marketing. It depends on your business goals and your capital.

If you’re a startup tech company selling an app that has proven interest or a company with one product that is already a fan favorite and you’re ready to ramp up production, growth hacking is the best option for you. This is especially true if your plan is to sell your company.

If you’re a business looking for sustainable growth and staying power, have several different products or services you sell, and aren’t currently looking for investor money then growth marketing is a good fit for you.

You don’t have to stick to one kind of marketing. Different phases of a business and different goals are best suited for different marketing strategies. Just just because a competitor is using a particular strategy doesn’t mean it’s right for you and your business. You can and should do a combination and be ready to switch as your business grows.

Marketing isn’t stagnant, and there is no right way to market your business. Make sure you’ve got a marketing strategist who fits with the goals of your company and can make decisions that will support those goals. 

For example, Wild Path Consulting is not a growth hacking company and isn’t the best fit for a tech startup looking to sell an app. There are other companies out there much better suited. However, I’m an expert at building strong foundations for any kind of marketing you want to pursue for long term and sustainable business goals.

Curious about working with me? Find out more here.