Growth Hacking is the New Inbound Marketing


Do you remember the inbound marketing hype? It already got overshadowed by the more recent content marketing hype. The most recent blow to inbound marketing comes from so called growth hacking though. There is even a new community dedicated to growth hacking and it appeals to almost the same people Inbound does.

Every year there is at least one major attempt to replace SEO with something else.

Most people seem to assume that by changing the name all the issues with the SEO reputation and its lack of understanding among common Web users will disappear. To some extent they are right. People react to words not the reality first and foremost.

Inviting the market

Of course it’s not just about renaming SEO. Inbound marketing is a valid concept combining a plethora of non-aggressive tactics to get people to like you, your brand and buy your products or services. It includes social media, blogging, conversion optimization to name just a few. The common umbrella is that you don’t interrupt and annoy people like conventional or outbound marketing does but entice them to like you by offering valuable incentives (for example entertaining or informative content).

Personally I don’t use inbound marketing in my job description and I don’t specifically refer to my services as inbound marketing but that’s mostly because I’m not into marketing, advertising and sales really. I prefer the neutral optimization which doesn’t imply commercial intent. For most people such differences are irrelevant anyway.

Inbound marketing has by now a solid standing but it’s not an industry-wide standard so to say.

All you can read

Content marketing and strategy have been much more successful in getting general attention but it seems it’s already eating itself with phenomena like “content shock” marking a natural boundary to its spread.

People can’t digest more and more content, attention is finite so that the growth of content marketing is limited.

Yes, capitalist economics is inherently about growth. Resources do not grow accordingly be it the environment or the time people have to read content. That’s why content marketing is not for everybody and its growth won’t go on forever. We may call it peak content.

Startups need to grow

The most common business model among startups in the technology sector is simply growth.

These companies do not abide by the rules of the market like brick and mortar small businesses do. They are largely virtual and do not need even to earn money as they are financed by so called venture capitalists for years. These people in a way bet on several horses at once and can afford to lose their money on a dozen of startups and get huge return on investment just by one successful startup that grows exponentially.

The first and foremost goal of startups is to grow as fast and as much as possible. Then they can get acquired by one of the technology giants like Google, Apple or Facebook. Just think of Whatsapp – a tiny startup sold for billions of dollars. Another route is to get become a giant too but here again you need explosive growth.

Growth hacking

Here comes growth hacking to accelerate that growth. Common growth hacking techniques are

  • required sign ups and log ins to see a website’s content
  • automated tweets or shares without the explicit permission of the account holder
  • automated messages to all your contacts by mail or even phone

In a way growth hacking is like inbound marketing without the content and the slow organic growth. It’s about technical short cuts to growth, hence the “hacking” part. In the best case growth hacking is like a rocket launcher for a business, in the worst case it’s what people outside tech consider hacking.

Like SEO growth hacking is fairly controversial but without an arbitrary referee like Google to tell people what’s right or wrong.

Indeed that’s one of the most obvious advantages of growth hacking – you are not dependent on Google or any other gatekeeper to optimize your site and grow your business. A lot of growth hacking is also good old conversion optimization with techniques like A/B testing to make more of the people who actually arrive on your site actually do what you want them to.

Startups choose one over another

So while inbound marketing is pretty established now but almost stagnating growth hacking is rising in popularity quickly. That’s no coincidence in my opinion. The same people who have opted in for inbound marketing a year or two ago are trying their luck with growth hacking now it seems. There are many reasons for that I guess.

Get rich slowly

As inbound marketing relies a lot on SEO and as startups often do not even have demand for their product yet they can’t optimize for search traffic really. Startups are often so ahead of their time that search users do not even know there is a solution for their problem they could search for. They only thing you can optimize for is something descriptive like “how to solve [insert your problem here]” queries.

Inbound marketing requires a lot of effort, expertise and time.

You need to get your website optimized for Google, you need establish relationships on social media and create an audience there and directly on your site. You need to build your list of subscribers, you need to tweak your site for conversions etc. etc. At the end of the day you need to “get rich slowly” by becoming an authority in your niche, area or trade.

Jumping in head on

Growth hacking on the other lets you circumvent all of those by jumping right in the fun. You in a way lure your audience to your site and once they are there many stay, no matter how they arrived or signed up. In many cases growth hacking is downright pushy and “outbound” but startups do not rely on trust and authority like solid small businesses.

Many startups appear and disappear within a time-frame of two or three years. Most of them simply fail others like noted above get acquired and disbanded. Those that stay longer rely on the user habits and can do whatever they like without ostracizing most of their users. Just think of the many privacy scandals Facebook came up with.

Which one better suits your needs?

So inbound marketing may be too slow for startups but growth hacking too fast and furious for small businesses. In case you want to still be around 5 or ten years from now you may prefer inbound marketing.

In case you aim to become a billionaire this year growth hacking is probably the way to go.

So I have to admit the my headline is a bit baity and misleading. It was meant as a growth hack to be honest. Inbound marketing won’t get replaced by growth hacking. The latter will catch on with the startup clientèle while SMBs keen to keep their reputation and unable to grow exponentially will follow the long winding road of success.