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.

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.

I Am Only As Good As My Network

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I would like to share this one thought about “sharing expensive knowledge”…

I learned SEO, social and marketing organically, and am continuous student. If it weren’t for many, many people in the SEO community sharing their knowledge and expertise, via blog, time, etc. I know I could not be in the position I am in today. I have never gone to a class – my former employer paid for my first conference,  others I have gone to as a speaker or on my own dime. The SEO and online marketing community is general is very generous with sharing knowledge for free. If anything, sometimes they like to “one up” each other testing different tactics and creative. But they always share.

I can certainly see the view about not wanting to share expensive knowledge. But as someone who does this every day, it’s not only MY knowledge that counts – it’s my community’s knowledge that keeps me moving forward. I am only as good as my network. If we aren’t learning from each other, the community – and I –  will remain stagnant.