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Growth Hacking: Marketing Joins the Lean Revolution

  |  January 22, 2014   |  Comments   |  

The impact of digital technology and media proliferation on marketing has largely been to streamline and increase the efficiencies of existing methods, rather than re-define them.

Most of us are familiar with the “Lean Revolution” that’s been taking place over the last few decades. Originating in manufacturing at the turn of the 20th century, lean is a process-based mindset focused on reducing waste. Lean’s version of waste? Any activity or resource use that does not contribute value for the end customer.

The efficiencies that lean has brought to manufacturing are directly responsible for the sheer volume and quality of the goods we have access to today. It’s had an obvious impact on almost every industry in the global economy.

Except marketing.

While businesses in every sector struggle with the influence and disruption of digital technology has on their business models, marketers remain (paradoxically) unchanged. Structurally, procedurally, and culturally, many agencies and marketers look broadly the same as they did 50 years ago. It’s Mad Men - with computers.

Shifting from “Making People Want Things” to “Making Things People Want”

“There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” -Peter F. Drucker

The impact of digital technology and media proliferation on marketing has largely been to streamline and increase the efficiencies of existing methods, rather than re-define them. And when the benchmark for success in our industry is campaigns or projects with single digit conversion rates, it’s not hard to conclude that the methods that underpin traditional marketing (be they digital or analog) are a wasteful pursuit.

The connection between lean and marketing is not obvious but is beginning to take shape; particularly in the startup community. Methodologies espoused by Eric Ries and The Lean Startup have helped define the need for agile, direct, and accountable forms of growth.

Enter: Growth Hacking

As a set of skills, growth hacking is not without controversy with claims that it subsumes or relegates marketing to irrelevance. Instead, I think growth hacking offers marketing a long overdue way to join the revolution.

What’s the difference between growth hacking and marketing?

1. Growth hackers optimize the product, not just the campaign.

Marketers usually have a limited impact on the development of a product. They’re typically constrained to market research, product positioning, and distribution.

In contrast, growth hackers tend to have a larger amount of control and influence on a product. Because of this, they also need a high level of technological fluency and a sharply analytical mindset.

2. Growth hackers focus on the “hockeystick” stage of growth.

The remit of a growth hacker is very specific. Sean Ellis (who coined the term growth hacker) said: “A growth hacker is a person whose true north is growth."

Growth hackers do not help product teams validate their product, nor do they help maintain equilibrium once growth is achieved. They focus solely on one specific stage of growth: finding large amounts of users quickly.

3. Growth hackers specialize in digital products and services.

As products and services continue to become partially and completely digitized, the demand for growth hackers will increase. Digital isn’t just one channel or touchpoint, it’s quickly becoming all of them.

Growth hacking is the future.

Growth hacking does not make marketing redundant, but it does shine a light on some of the current problems. Growth hacking is a logical next step, a way for marketers to get lean, add more value to customers and have greater influence through technology.

As products and services become increasingly digitized across touchpoints, those who embrace growth hacking will gain greater influence on product development and have a more powerful voice in the boardroom.

Title image via Shutterstock.


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Kristin Low

Kristin Low is founder of On-off Design & Technology, a strategic design and digital services company, based in Hong Kong. He has a background in user experience (UX) design, service design, and product management. Kristin founded the Design Thinking network in Hong Kong, which has over 500 members. He’s also an MC, mentor, and trainer, and hosts jams and hackathons. He’s passionate about blending human-centered insights with quantitative data to drive business growth and innovation.

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