Why We Don't Believe in Growth Hacking

Marketing is now a dirty word.

At least among startups, a Head of Marketing has vanished into the ether, replaced by a title with no reference to Marketing at all. Growth. And while a Head of Growth has a certain ring to it, a Growth Hacker is something a bit different. And here at Intellyo, Growth Hacking is not something we believe in.

Some startups just use the term Growth Hacking to talk about regular marketing activities, but in general it is used to refer to hacks that can increase your audience quickly and cheaply. A long term strategy it is not. And that is where our distrust of Growth Hacking comes in.

A Winning Marketing Strategy Starts with Strategy

One of the big gurus of the British advertising scene is Dave Trott. And Dave Trott is always talking about the difference between strategy and tactics.

Strategy is the big picture. Tactics are the little pictures that make up the big picture.

Growth hacks are marketing tactics (and they’re often called hackticks, too). But tactics are no good if the big picture isn’t there.

At Intellyo, we believe in doing a complete research before starting marketing activities. You should understand your audience, your message, your competitors and everything else that can filter into your marketing.

And from that, you can start to build up a big picture. Just like a jigsaw.

Marketing Jigsaw

Image source: blog.johnrchildress.com

When you put a jigsaw together, you don’t start with random pieces in the middle of the picture. No, you start by sorting out the corners and the edges. Once they’re in place you've got a framework. Now you can start filling in the pieces.

Tactics are vital, as a part of strategy

But as you may have noticed, those tactics are vital. Without them, your jigsaw is just a frame. But without the frame, it’s just a random collection of little, oddly shaped cards.

And that is where the main problem comes with Growth Hacking. Too often, hacking happens without strategy, in a little bubble removed from reality. And while growth hackers often gain some instant success, that success is not built upon anything.

As Ali Mese says in his excellent Medium article:

Content is a long game and it isn’t for those who quickly lose their interest and jump on the next ‘killer growth hack’ to ‘skyrocket’ their growth by ‘286%’.

And as a content first company, we agree wholeheartedly. Which doesn’t mean we don’t use tactics.

It’s important to try out new media for your marketing. You may find something that works really well and helps to change the big picture. But unless it conforms to the rules of the big picture, it’s not going to have the right long term effect on your business.

If we go back to Dave Trott again:

What we communicate is the “strategy” and how we communicate is “tactics”

Without strategy, how are we going to ever manage to communicate the same message clearly and consistently?

So what do we believe in?

All marketing starts with research. It continues by forming a clear, concise and coherent strategy, and then it moves into planning how you can execute that strategy. Only then do we get to the tactics, the execution.

And missing those first 3 steps is one of the biggest problems in marketing today. Indeed, when asked the question What are the biggest challenges marketers face?, Professor Mark Ritson, one of the most respected marketing academics around nowadays, responded:

The biggest one is ‘tactification’. We are obsessed with execution and specifically communication. Too many marketers are not just strategically negligent, they don’t know the difference between tactical execution and strategic planning.

And that is enough for us.

Growth is great. Hacks are a distraction

So incase you’ve just skipped to the end, let’s finish with one sentence to describe the whole reason we do not believe in growth hacking.

By concentrating on hacks and tactics, a marketer forgets the overall strategy that is the building block of future success.

Don’t lose sight of the long term. Don’t be distracted by short term gains. Focus on building something that grows over time. And give it space to breathe.