Growth Hacking & Inbound Marketing: Which is Best for Your Company?

by Dustin J. Hall

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If you've been fumbling around on social media for marketing insight, you've undoubtedly come across marketers and agencies deeming themselves "growth hacking" experts. I'll admit that the Firesnap Twitter account has been inundated with fellow marketers of this variety. This is actually how I first came across growth hacking and, being a total nerd for all things marketing, I had to investigate.

What I found was a marketing methodology that was of stark enough contrast to inbound that it did, indeed, validate its own name. In some ways, it's even predicated on the concept that inbound marketing was ineffective for growth purposes and perhaps even dying.

Is this true? Is growth hacking the next big thing to hit the marketing world or is it just a new spin on a staple set of strategies, like "cloud computing" was on the IT industry?

Here's the answer...

First...What is Growth Hacking?

inbound marketing growth hackingThe term "growth hacking" was originally coined by Sean Ellis in 2010 and made even more popular the following year in a blog article by Andrew Chen.

Growth hacking was initially adopted by tech startups (i.e. LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, etc.) as a means to scale user adoption and growth as quickly as possible.

Some of the tactics used to facilitate this exponential growth exist outside the traditional (and almost ethical) boundaries of inbound marketing methodology.

More specifically, tactics that involve:

  • Viral mechanisms such as required social sharing in order to access certain features/content (think of how many times your friends have "invited" you to play Candy Crush).
  • Automation of non-permitted emails, tweets or messages to a users contacts.
  • Other gated content/feature assets requiring subscription or registration.

In short, the primary premise of growth hacking is built upon strategies that rely less on content, organic SEO and other methods that contribute to long term growth, and instead, rely more on strategies that simply facilitate the fastest growth possible, regardless of trust, reputation or authority (that's the "hacking" part).

If you'd like a full blown crash course in growth hacking, you might want to check out The Definitive Guide to Growth Hacking by Neil Patel & Bronson Taylor.

How Does Growth Hacking Compare to Inbound Marketing?

The simplest explanation is that inbound marketing focuses more on long term, sustainable growth as opposed to short term, rapid growth. 

Growth Hacking

growth-hacking-inbound-marketingSince growth hacking is not heavily focused on elements like organic SEO, the results of its implementation may also be short lived. That's NOT to say it doesn't have the capacity to build a long term audience, since those who opt-in are inevitably part of the marketing funnel as long as they are willing.

Companies who deploy growth hacking techniques are often comfortable with this short-term strategy because they are frequently positioning themselves for an exit, namely by acquisition. The more users they can obtain within the fastest period of time, the better their valuation.

Inbound Marketing

Inbound marketing, on the other hand, is primarily geared toward more holistic, long term growth with a strong focus on organic SEO by way of content marketing. In fact, inbound marketing is so incredibly reliant on content marketing, that people often get the two confused. Inbound is often absent of viral mechanisms or "ethically challenging" tactics like non-permitted marketing messages.

Companies who deploy the inbound methodology are seeking longer-term sustainable growth and looking to build a business that's not necessarily seeking acquisition in the near future. The primary focus is on becoming an authority within the respective market, improving organic SEO, reinforcing sales initiatives and generating inbound leads on an increasingly consistent basis.

The beauty of both of these methodologies is that they rely on closed loop reporting, with constant tracking of performance metrics. Marketing strategies that are built upon data are always a good idea!

So Which is Best for Your Company?

Much of this answer depends on your industry, goals and financial resources.

As I mentioned above, growth hacking is largely centered around the tech industry with deep pockets and a hankerin' for acquisitions. Inbound marketing is centered around long-term, consistent growth often using less financial resources.

So which is right for you?

That's ultimately your call and nobody should tell you you can't have both. Just do some thinking about...

  • what your product or service is
  • what comfortable growth and lead generation looks like to you
  • how your sales/marketing department is structured
  • what your budget looks like
  • what technical resources you have at your disposal

Knowing these things will certainly set you on the right path to achieving the type of growth that's best suited for your company.

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