Growth Hacker? Or Growth Marketer?

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I don’t like the way the word “hack” is being thrown around willy-nilly, especially in regards to marketing. And according to some definitions, I’m actually a growth hacker. I don’t like it.

Last week my colleague (read: boss) Danny Sullivan tweeted:

Good question.

I participated in a tweetchat a few weeks ago about #growthhacking and that same question came up numerous times – how is growth hacking different than marketing? And, how is hacking necessarily a good connotation when it comes to marketing? That short conversation didn’t seem to get very far, but I still felt like I was missing some secret marketing approach that was going to save me oodles of time and headaches. Isn’t that what hacking means these days? Over the past few months I have been visiting the GrowthHackers forum periodically, checking out videos on GrowthHacker.tv. There are some great ideas, and some excellent resources. But I couldn’t seem to definite it differently from smart marketing. So I looked it up.

What is Growth Hacking?

I first came across growth hacking via Mattan Griffel, partner at GrowHack, who defined growth hacking as “a set of tactics and best practices for dealing with the problem of user growth.” You can check out his primer on Slideshare (you can skip to slide 43, and if you’re short for time go straight to slide 102 through 137) but it all looks so, so familiar, including A/B testing, email marketing, and segmenting your audiences.

I dug a little deeper, and discovered Sean Ellis first described a growth hacker in 2010 as someone in charge of scalable growth, primarily for start-ups, without the inflated credentials of a traditional marketer.

I found more satisfying definitions and opinions of what growth hacking means over at Quora, and liked this definition of growth hacker from Aaron Ginn:

growth hacker (noun) – one who’s passion and focus is pushing a metric through use of a testable and scalable methodology.

In this case, a growth hacker is someone who is more concerned with achieving the growth metric rather than getting bogged down by a defined process.

I really like Aaron Beashel’s process in 4 Stages of Growth Hacking, but to me, this is far from a hack, it is a legitimate painstaking process to build customers. It’s work, there are no shortcuts, so why is it hacking?

Nick Usbourne, a self-proclaimed “growth hacker since 1979” (back then we called it “direct marketing”) reviewed Growth Hacker Marketing: A Primer on the Future of PR, Marketing, and Advertising, and concluded that much of growth hacking is marketing.

Patrick DiChiro took another approach last year, distinguishing the differences between growth hackers and brand marketers, concluding that in order to be successful, the two roles will ultimately collaborate together.

And recently TechCrunch article depicts how growth hacking can go “bad” to spammy digital marketing shortcuts, especially to meet investor expectations.

It seems like what once had been defined as a creative, start-up marketing role in 2010 has evolved into as using aggressive tactics that just annoy and infuriate users.

So Do We Have To Use The Word “Hack” When Talking About Marketing?

Personally I still define the word “hack” as unauthorized entry into a system, or cobbling code together as means to get to a desired outcome. The phrase “hack job” implies you have no idea what you are doing. And, in case you were wondering, the word “hack” originates from the word hackney, which can mean, “To cause to become banal and trite through overuse.” My friend Kristy Bolsinger shared this ridiculous article where two of the “it” jobs to watch for startups have “hacker” in the title. Yet all these definitions and descriptions about growth hacking sounds a lot like what I do. Maybe I’m old fashioned and tired of buzzwords, but I would rather explain exactly what my role is in a company and talk about growth and engagement. Because all I can think of is hacking and wheezing. So let’s just stop already.

Humility, Twitter Reciprocity and Not Being Famous

A month ago now I was at SMX West in San Jose, meeting up with good friends and colleagues, and meeting many for the first time as well. I had the pleasure to be introduced to someone well-known in the search space. We had a few great discussions over the course of 3 days, and at one point he turned to me and said, “I am sorry, but up until today I have never heard of you.” My response was merely, “So what?”
I don’t have any aspirations for recognition from strangers, I just want to do good work. But the exchange stuck with me, and started to think, do I fall into the same trap as to quickly assume because I haven’t heard of someone that the conversation is less meaningful or interesting? And where do the new connections generally originate if not in person? On Twitter, of course.

So this past week I just turned back on my Twitter follower notifications –  the past two years or so I was getting so much spam that I had to turn it off to maintain some level of sanity (especially those that pull the follow > unfollow > follow again trick to get your attention). And I still don’t know how people can engage with 10,000 people, or even 2,000 for that matter. But I wanted to see who the real people are in real time as they followed.  Plus it’s easier to detect the spammy profiles compared to back in the day when you actually had to visit a Twitter page, so the inbox hasn’t suffered too badly.

Interestingly, I noticed that I still didn’t follow back. And not because I didn’t want to “JOIN THE CONVERSATION”. I am on Twitter because I care about the people I follow and what they say, and it’s easier to do that if I manage that list. In fact I could probably do a better job reining it in. So does that make me a Twitter snob? No, the way I look at it is this – the people we seem to respect are following the least amount of people. It’s not an exclusivity metric or a popularity contest, it is because they have curated and honed in their following list to a realistic and useful level, and when they do converse, it’s not broadcasted noise.

Anyway, back to the “I am sorry but I have never heard of you” exchange… what is most interesting to me is the assumption that this was a bad thing. My participation in the marketing community – online and offline – has been a genuine effort to contribute and build respected relationships and trust, not about fame. So I keep my circles pretty tight. I could use Twitter (or anything else for that matter) as a platform to elevate my status, but what’s the point? I can’t equate accomplishing my goals that way, it’s not how I work. Let me clarify that using social media to meet people  – especially before and after events –  is a very powerful thing. But I don’t need it as a narcissistic stroke of the ego. And frankly, there are more than enough egos in this pond to contend with, another would just be jumping the shark.

One Internet Marketing Book Of All Books? Good Luck With That.

I was presented with a question on SEOmoz the other day asking, “What’s the one definitive Internet marketing book that covers everything?” Um, does it need to be one book? Because I could not think of THE Book Of All Books – the Gray’s Anatomy of Internet Marketing if you will – the “one” internet marketing book that will answer all questions. There may be a great textbook out there, but the idea of learning Internet marketing from a text book just seems really bizarre in its own right.

So I created a must-read book list. I can say I have read (or mostly read) these books, and there is important enough messages in all of them to share with you here. If you think you’re an expert in one realm, you will be pleasantly surprised what you may learn from a different source. I try to supplement my reading without relying too much on one source for all of the answers. And frankly, picking up a book in addition to the blogosphere is a nice change of pace.

Monica Wright's Bookshelf

I don't own a Kindle.

Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability by Steve Krug

Marketing in the Age of Google by Vanessa Fox

Web Analytics An Hour a Day by Avinash Kaushik

Web Analytics 2.0: The Art of Online Accountability and Science of Customer Centricity by Avinash Kaushik

The New Community Rules: Marketing on the Social Web by Tamar Weinberg

New Rules of Marketing & PR: How to Use Social Media, Blogs, News Releases, Online Video, and Viral Marketing to Reach Buyers Directly by David Meerman Scott

Content Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks, Webinars (and More) That Engage Customers and Ignite Your Business (New Rules Social Media Series)

Trust Agents by Chris Brogan

Inbound Marketing: Get Found Using Google, Social Media, and Blogs (New Rules Social Media Series) by Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah

Pay Per Click Search Marketing An Hour A Day by David Szetela

A Few More On Deck

Of course there are other books I want to read as well, and just haven’t had the time to pick up or dig into. I recently got extremely sidetracked by The Hunger Games Trilogy. It can’t be all work and no play.

Search Engine Marketing, Inc.: Driving Search Traffic to Your Company’s Web Site (2nd Edition) by Mike Moran and Bill Hunt

Landing Page Optimization: The Definitive Guide to Testing and Tuning for Conversions by Tim Ash

Advanced Google Adwords by Brad Geddes

The Art of SEO, Mastering Search Engine Optimization (Theory in Practice) By Eric Enge, Stephan Spencer, Rand Fishkin and Jessie Stricchola

Content Strategy for the Web by Kristina Halverson

Always Be Testing: The Complete Guide to Google Website Optimizer by Bryan Eisenberg, John Quart-vonTivadar

What’s on your marketing book list?

Addendum: Earlier I FAILED to add my friend Alan K’necht’s book The Last Original Idea: A Cynic’s View To Internet Marketing. Entertaining and worthwhile, it shares amusing stories of how Internet marketing has evolved over the years. Some I have completely forgotten about! And fwiw, it’s on the top shelf in the image above on top of Built To Last. It really is. :)

Launching Maine SEO, Search and Social Marketing Consulting Services

The time has come.

But why the delay? I needed a nudge. A big fat nudge.

But despite that, I have been extremely lucky to have colleagues, friends and family who have pushed me in this direction for years. I have been inspired by too many to list here. Why it has taken so long to get started is because I had always believed that I was better suited working on a bigger team. That still may be the case, but what’s awesome is that I can still do that.

I am thrilled to launch my own business. This is a great opportunity to bridge global search marketing expertise and apply it locally. I have a serious passion for SEO, reputation management and social media marketing, combined with a holistic strategic and tactical perspectives. I have over a decade of marketing experience and a proven track record in strategically defining and implementing successful campaigns.

Enough of the complex marketing-speak – my focus will be to be savvy and insightful. And cause trouble here and there.

Let’s do this.

Moving on to MicroArts and a New Adventure in Ubiquity

After almost 2 years at VONT + HMG, I’m about to embark on a new ride.

Most don’t realize this, but I was a search newbie when I was hired. For almost 10 years I was deeply involved in online marketing, but only unofficially dabbled in SEO. Joining VONT + HMG threw me into the search marketing pool deep end, and without guidance, education and friendship from many search professionals online and in person, I would have sunk straight to the bottom. Instead, alongside my colleagues and friends Ginny Marvin and Sarah Kutzen, we redefined our search services, building out to include full SEO audits to social media marketing. It’s been a tremendous experience, and I am extremely grateful for the relationship and knowledge shared these past few years.

So where am I headed?

MicroArts Creative Agency

On February 1 I’ll be joining MicroArts Creative Agency as the Practice Director for Search Marketing, collaborating with an awesome team with amazing creative brainpower and marketing smarts, working together in a culture that’s too good to be true. These guys get it, and now it’s time to get their clients to the next level when it comes to search marketing. Admittedly, this is going to involve refining some PPC chops (wish me luck, I’ll need to have multiple come-to-Jesus calls with Dana Lookadoo, David Szetela, Joanna Lord, Kate Morris and Steve Plunkett). Those calls will only become fodder for future posts, I’m sure of it.

But it doesn’t stop there; there will be Ubiquity

Ubiquity

Ubiquity is a book project MicroArts is launching this year – a collection of  “proven internet strategies for pioneering brands” written by “Entrepreneurs, Innovators and Downright Crackpots”. Since I seem to attract and befriend a lot of crackpots, they thought it would be a good idea for me to serve as a voice for the book, working with collaborators from all walks of Internet marketing. Rather than me define Ubiquity – take a look at some pages yourself, and let us know if you are interested in contributing.

This is an opportunity to take part in something extremely special. Establishing a brand while building a viable business has changed. Getting heard – let alone getting attention – is arguably a challenge in such a noisy space. This is going to be awesome project, and I can’t wait for the crackpots to share what they’ve got.

(Update: I would be amiss not to mention MicroArts on Twitter, so plugging that here at the end.)