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10 Common Misconceptions About Growth Hacking

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One of the most confusing trends in digital marketing right now is growth hacking.

A lot of people just don't understand it. The surprising thing is, even though people are confused about it, they still get into big arguments about it. Arguments over topics that one knows little about are rarely productive arguments.

I want to try to lay some of the confusion to rest. No, I didn't coin the term. No, I don't pretend to know everything there is about growth hacking. But I have spent my entire career in the marketing industry, and experienced the delights and downsides of growth hacking.

So, what are the biggest misconceptions about growth hacking that are haunting the world?

1. Misconception: Growth hacking doesn't work.

Might as well start at the beginning. Growth hacking does work. There is proof, including the jaw-dropping growth of some of the most high-valued companies in the world today.

2. Misconception: Growth hacking is just a buzzword.

Growth hacking is not a buzzword. It's an actual set of methods, practices, techniques, metrics, and information. It has its leaders, its blogs, its guides, and its software. Growth hacking is a thing, and it's here to stay.

3. Misconception: Growth hacking alone will make your business grow.

Definitely not. There is a whole array of business savvy and marketing insight that a business requires if it is expected to growth.

4. Misconception: Growth hacking will pass away soon.

I'll be the first to admit that the world of marketing is in constant flux. It seems like every time I wake up in the morning, there's a new trend started, an algorithm tweaked, a strategy destroyed, or a method discovered. It's dizzying, to say the least. But to think that growth hacking is going away soon is to misunderstand what growth hacking is. As long as there is marketing and technology, there will be growth hacking.

5. Misconception: Growth hacking is always a fast way to growth.

The popular appeal around growth hacking is its speed. Of course everyone wants to grow fast. Even though growth hacking can produce high speed growth, it is not guaranteed to do so. Growth hacking isn't about speed as much as it is about method and mindset.

6. Misconception: Growth hacking can be used at any point in a business's existence to accelerate growth.

Nope. Think about it. Growth hacking is a form of marketing. Like any other form of marketing, it requires that the business define its target audience, ideal customer, and a viable product. Sure, you can pivot/hack growth, pivot/hack as often as you want. But the truth remains: Growth hacking requires that you have a product, and know who you're selling it to. Once those foundational elements are in place, the company is free to engage growth hacking.

7. Misconception: Growth hacking uses artificial growth methods.

If the growth methods were "artificial," then they would not produce durable and tangible results. But growth hacking does produce durable and tangible marketing results. One of the clearest indications that growth hacking is not artificial is that, once in place, growth hacking methods expand organically. Growth hacking methods are carried along by the momentum of incremental and strategic changes.

8. Misconception: Growth hacking only works on the off chance that something will "go viral."

Growth hacking and virality are closely intertwined. But the confusion here is due in part to the confusion about virality. Virality isn't just about some YouTube video hitting 1.5 billion views in three days. Virality is the intentional engineering of a product or service to reach high visibility and/or circulation in a very short amount of time. Marketers can make things viral. It doesn't happen by chance. In the context of marketing, growth hacking and virality have a lot in common, and neither happen by accident.

9. Misconception: Growth hacking is the only marketing solution for startups.

The world of digital marketing is open wide. Growth hacking isn't the only way, and it might not even be the ideal way for some companies.

10. Misconception: Growth hacking requires a job title or position.

Growth hacking is a mindset, not a formal business role. Sean Ellis, who coined the term, made this famous statement:

"A growth hacker is a person whose true north is growth. Everything they do is scrutinized by its potential impact on scalable growth."

In his article, Ellis discussed the transition from growth hacker to VP of Marketing. Even in his mind, the distinction wasn't that concrete. In fact, he identifies a growth hacker who is an engineer, one who is a CEO, and another who is the VP of User Growth. Title isn't important; mindset is.

11. Misconception: Growth hacking requires a specific background.

Growth hackers can come from any industry and have any role. A growth hacker could be a programmer, a copywriter, a traditional marketer, or somewhere in between. The important thing isn't a prior job title, but the focus on growth.


I'm a big fan of growth hacking, in case that much isn't clear by now.

I'm on a mission to produce more growth hacking fans. Growth hacking works, and it's here to stay.

What is your experience with growth hacking?