I recently decided to learn about growth hacking, not only because everyone is talking about it, but because the few articles I read about this triggered my curiosity. On my boss’ advice I got into Ryan Holiday‘s book on this particular topic: “Growth Hacker Marketing”.

I am always very skeptical when I hear about any new so-called “revolutionary” marketing concepts. Like a lot of “big keywords”, growth marketing is the opportunity for a lot of people to make big money out of a new concept. Since this phenomenon has become famous I can’t count the number of new “growth hackers for start-ups” Twitter profiles. My objective when I started to read Growth Hacker Marketing: A Primer on the Future of PR, Marketing, and Advertising was to answer three questions:

  • What is Growth Marketing?
  • Did the people who invented growth marketing reinvent the wheel?
  • How can I apply this concept to my day-to-day BtoB Web & Digital Manager job?

What is growth hacking?

In the book a growth hacker is defined as “someone who has thrown out the playbook of traditional marketing and replaced it with only what is testable, trackable, and scalable (…)”. Very vague I agree. What I will remember from the book:

  • Growth hacking is a real mindset which main goal is to massively acquire new users in a short amount of time,
  • Growth hacking is very much metric and ROI driven, and focuses on “customer acquisition” over “awareness”,
  • Initially, growth hacking was invented by engineers/programmers who happened to get into marketing without the traditional marketing knowledge and mindset, but very attracted by the perspective of driving and improving marketing conversion. A quite rational marketing mindset, based on concrete numbers, 
  • The main tools used by a growth marketers can be very different from a job/industry to another, but usually revolve around new/innovative/collaborative web & digital marketing tools,
  • Everyone can use growth hacking techniques, not essentially marketing people. Growth marketing is a vertical layer that should be on top of the whole enterprise to be successful and efficient,
  • “Growth hacking is not just about finding your first customers. Established brands and companies can use the same techniques to pull in more customers. Growth is growth.”

The genesis of growth marketing by Ryan Holiday

Ryan Holiday gives us very interesting examples of growth marketing-based success: Hotmail, Dropbox, Instagram, Airbnb, Uber, etc. There is of course a big fantasy around the Hotmail growth-hacking case (“PS: I Love You. Get Your Free Email at Hotmail“), very well described here by TechCrunch.

I went though all those different success stories and enjoyed them very much. Very exciting of course. The idea sounds great to me: rethink marketing, step back from traditional marketing and build a totally new approach (besides the evolution of marketing tools) clearly focused on developing growth rapidly.

Did growth marketers reinvent the wheel?

The answer is “no”, and Ryan Holiday is very clear about it. The truth is: when Sabeer Bhatia and Jack Smith decided 20 years ago, on Timothy Draper’s advice (the main investor of the project), to add PS: I love you. Get your free e-mail at Hotmail” at the bottom of every email sent, they had no idea that this decision would be considered as one of the first substantially successful growth marketing action. They were “just” business men that had a funny and original idea which led them after five weeks after its launch (finally they only used “Get your free e-mail at Hotmail”) to 2 million user mark, and to add more than 20,000 signups a day.

I would invite any reader of this article to remember this: growth marketing should be a source of inspiration to get away from boring, inefficient marketing techniques. Marketing is not about putting various campaigns in place and guess what will be their impact on your brand’s visibility anymore, but about creating rapid, substantial and sustainable growth in your business via innovative marketing actions and levers. At the end, growth marketing is just another concept. It has been existing for ever, but now we put a fancy name on it, this is the main change that happened in the past years. This can’t be called a revolution. This is a public growing awareness (at most) about a certain business development mindset. Which is a good thing I believe, as far as it opens new doors for marketers!

Ryan Holiday put the concept of PMF (Product Market Fit) at the very center of the book, as a first step to building a successful venture in which the company meets early adopters, gather feedback and gauges interest. Indeed, before even planning growth marketing-based actions, you need to make sure that you product fit into the market! I did not know this particular concept, and it rang some bells with me.

Some nice tools and services I discovered in this book:

  • KISSmetrics: “delivers key insights and timely interactions to turn visitors into customers”
  • Helpareporter.com: find reporters who are looking for people to include in stories they are already writing about your space



Written by Aurélien Gohier