2 minute read

I’ll admit it. I fully subscribe to the ethos of growth hacking. It’s a no-stone-left-unturned, data and measurement-driven approach to maximizing audience engagement, conversion and loyalty. What’s not to like?

Well, the one thing that never quite sat right with me is the word hacking. There are a number of things implied by that word that don’t align with the intended growth hacking definition. I argue that we must replace the word hacking with something more appropriate. My rationale is as follows.

1. Hacking implies shortcuts and quick fixes.
Anyone obsessed with business growth knows that sustained growth is only achieved through a dedication to understanding and maintaining maximum relevance and appeal to a target audience. Doing so requires the disciplined and relentless application of specific methodologies to drive engagement, conversion and loyalty. Furthermore, additional methodologies must be deployed to detect and adapt to changes in the needs and orientations of that audience.

Great copywriting is not a quick fix. Disciplined A/B testing is not a quick fix. White hat SEO is not a quick fix. Focusing on the customer to optimize engagement and drive down is not a quick fix. And, this applies to all companies, not just startups.

This is a deep process. A long(er) term strategy. This is not hacking.

2. Hacking implies nefarious methods.
Being highly relevant and accessible to your target audience doesn’t come from gaming the system. Black hat SEO techniques to artificially boost page rank are dying off fast as viable means to drive sustainable growth. Real growth hacking strategies not only create better, more relevant content and offerings for customers, they make the web better as a whole. And as more companies engage in a process of continuous optimization (improvement), the entire web improves.

Growth hacking techniques are not shady, deceitful, or ill meaning. They require creativity, analytical thinking, and social prowess to achieve a singular goal.

This is not hacking.

3. The term hacking causes confusion and adoption of false principles.
The term is misunderstood, which means the benefits of growth hacking becoming widespread, or even universally adopted, is slowed unnecessarily.

If the perception among company leaders and marketing generalists is that growth hacking involves quick-fix and black hat methodologies, then the adoption of real techniques to drive customer-oriented optimization stalls. If growth hacking makes for a better web as a whole – as I argued previously – then slowing the adoption of its true methods is bad for the web.

This is the point where I confess that I don’t know if I have anything better in mind. I have no quarrels with growth engineering as a term of art. Growth marketing is also somewhat apt, though less complete in terms of what it encompasses.

In the end, growth hacking may stick. I can probably live with that. Do you know a growth hacker who would prefer to be called a growth engineer? You’re at a party. You introduce yourself to someone. You tell your new companion that you’re a growth hacker. What you do is witchcraft, unknowable to ordinary mortals. You are the James Bond of the deep web. You are mysterious, and important.

Or, you say that you’re a growth engineer. You’re the nerd in the marketing department.

See the difference?

The point is to continuously make the web a better place. This happens when companies focus on being more relevant, more accessible and more frictionless. If this is the true collective ethos of growth hacking, then perhaps it’s time to redefine the word hacking, rather than rebrand our discipline.