The term "growth hacking" strikes some people as absurd, wrongheaded, mythical, and downright damaging.

The term "hacking" connotes basement-dwelling lurkers, siphoning away secret government documents or draining the retirement accounts of unsuspecting senior citizens.

This is a nefarious image. Therefore, growth hacking--so they think--is nefarious, wrong, risky, misguided, or otherwise bad.

Those who think that growth hacking is wrong are likely suffering from some delusions about it.

And, unfortunately, there are a lot of possible delusions from which to suffer. Growth hacking has been maligned, misrepresented, misunderstood, and mistaken for something other than what it actually is--a legitimate, responsible, and dependable form of marketing and business growth.

In an effort to reclaim the noble reputation of growth hacking, and disabuse you of any misconceptions, I present to you some of the worst lies I've ever heard on the topic of growth hacking.

Lie: Growth hacking is primarily about self promotion.

Somehow, growth hacking has developed a reputation as the go-to method of narcissistic entrepreneurs trying to attract attention for themselves and their nascent companies.

The grain of truth in the lie is easy to spot: Personal branding is one method or channel of growth hacking. However, personal branding is not at all the essence of growth hacking, nor is it even required.

I see the essence of growth hacking as something altogether different. Growth hacking is about giving value to potential customers, not raw self-promotion. Self-promotion simply doesn't work in marketing today, and growth hacking doesn't change this.

Lie: Growth hacking means getting on as many social media channels as you can, and hyping things up about your company.

Some of the earliest adopters of growth hacking methodologies were the social media entrepreneurs.

Along with the rise of social media came the class of "social media gurus." One method of growth espoused by these gurus and so-called growth hackers was attempting to viralize marketing messages across any and all social media platforms.

These efforts amounted to little more than sad piles of spam littering the social media landscape.

Here's a bit of jaw-dropping truth: Growth hacking doesn't require social media! If you do choose to utilize social media, however, then do what any sane growth strategist would do: 1) Identify your target audience, 2) discover their preferred social channels, and 3) build a loyal tribe of followers.

Lie: Growth hacking requires that you do some complicated back-end coding and semi-legal stuff.

Some enemies of growth hacking disparage it with comments like this:

Growth hacking: A cool-sounding euphemism for making the doer feel good about using the same old sleazy marketing tricks.

I can forgive this statement, because I too have seen the abuses of growth hacking. But growth hacking isn't just recycled gimmicks.

Airbnb's growth hacking maneuver is the stuff of legends: Through some backflip feat of development, Airbnb was able to use Craigslist as their free growth platform.

You probably wouldn't know about Airbnb today were it not for the technical wizardry of the Airbnb developers and their fabled Craigslist/Airbnb integration.

But is this the essence of growth hacking?

Absolutely not. Airbnb's stroke of genius was one isolated and rare application of growth hacking.

Some of the best growth hackers may be programming illiterate but strategy rich. Why? Because growth hacking is a growth-focused mindset, not a collection of programming techniques.

Some of the greatest growth hackers are simply focused on numbers--tracking their analytics, measuring their numbers, and repeating successes.

Lie: Growth hacking only works for tech companies or trendy startups.

Wrong again.

All businesses need to grow in order to survive. Therefore, growth hacking is a noble aspiration and worthy objective for any business, regardless of age or industry.

Much of the buzz around growth hacking centers on forward-thinking businesses such as Uber and Dropbox. However, many of the growth hacking principles are espoused by marketers in established industries with non-tech focus.

Lie: You can expect your company to grow like crazy with growth hacking.

This bit of advice, proffered in many ways, is precisely what turns people off.

Growth hacking isn't a magic bullet. But many are the starry-eyed growth hacking fans that expect to cast a spell on the world with a few incantations of growth-hacking magic.

I'm a firm believer that a business can grow sustainably and quickly. I also believe that there are certain methods--including growth hacking methods--that can produce such growth.

But to believe that growth hacking is the simple solution to meteoric growth is to miss the entire point of growth hacking.

Growth hacking is a growth-focused mindset that centers on innovative methods of growth. They may not be instant, but they are dependable, and the results speak for themselves.

Conclusion

So, what is growth hacking if not narcissistic, social media-spamming, ninja programming for trendy startups that guarantees meteoric growth?

It's a mindset more than anything else. A growth hacker is committed to growth, with or without traditional marketing methods.

When you become unmoored from its legitimate roots, you tend to careen into the uncontrolled and uncontrollable race for methods, cheats, shortcuts, and tricks that will somehow magically catapult your brand to the awareness of billions.

That's not growth hacking.

Published on: Mar 10, 2016