Growth Hacker Marketing And The Rise Of Engineers In Marketing

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If you’re a brand and you don’t believe in advertising, what do you do?

The default position is to use social media. Create real interactions with real human beings. To be useful. To create content that makes a brand more likeable. Let’s face it, there are so many brands on social media, that’s it somewhat hard and ambiguous to say which ones are truly being effective. There isn’t (nor should there be) a common or unified metric to define success in these channels, and most brands may be investing heavily (in terms of money) but haven’t done the long, hard work of defining what the end-game should be. In the Marketing Charts news item, Too Many Companies On Social Media? Almost Half Say Yes, they state: "Within the US, almost half – 47.1% – of respondents who had been active on any type of social media in the previous 6 months indicated some level of agreement," that they had "negative attitudes to social media marketing."

Do you know what that means?

Marketers are being annoying (once again). And yet, brands like Uber, AirBnB, Dropbox, Instagram and many more Silicon Valley startup darlings have built magnificent and defendable brands without any of the traditional advertising fare and relying only on word of mouth within the social media channels as a form of awareness and validation. It would lead some traditional marketing practitioners to wonder if these brands have uncovered the true secret to viral marketing, or if there is something much more substantive underneath the hood? There has been a lot of attention on the idea of Growth Hacking. Some call it Growth Hacker Marketing (and it’s the title of Ryan Holiday‘s latest business book, Growth Hacker Marketing, as well). These Growth Hackers are engineers, coders and entrepreneurs who don’t know (or follow) the traditional marketing path (because it’s not something they have studied or practiced). They don’t sit in the marketing department or have optics into the CMO’s office. Instead, these people spend their entire day testing acquisition strategies and leveraging technologies like split A/B testing, web analytics and social listening tools to get people to try, share and loyally use their products and services. There is the infamous story of how Hotmail gained fame and fortune with their free email service by dropping the line, "P.S.: I love you. Get your free e-mail at Hotmail," into every note that went through their digital mail system.

Will data trump gut?

In a marketing world of real-time bidding, programmatic buying and more automation tools than you can shake a TV ad at, it would be clever to state that engineers and data are can easily overthrow an advertising system that is archaic, in a world where we understand human nature and what humans are doing online in ways most of us could never have imagined. Brands enter into the social media fray as a way to build community, conversation and connect with influencers with this military-like mentality that every media channels must be conquered and infiltrated with their marketing message or brand dilution will set in. In the same breath, it’s hard to argue that the 22-year-old engineers who are Growth Hacking aren’t the next generation of where the marketing industry is headed.

Pushing the envelope.

Technology has a way of turning professionals into quibbling toddlers. Human beings resist and fear change, and yet we push technology to unimaginable lengths. The truth is that there has never been a more profound time in the history of marketing to be a professional in this industry. In the next half-decade we are going to see a dazzling amount of new technology, channels, data and opportunities for brands to make themselves truly relevant to consumers. We have moved from advertising as an engine of attention, to content as an engine to engage, to context as an engine to personalize and optimize. With this, we’re already seeing a more sophisticated consumer that understands both their role as a consumer and what technology does to make them more connected, informed and empowered. Growth Hacker Marketing is a new name for an old marketing strategy: customer acquisition. The true innovation in this field comes from the low-cost, no-barrier-to-entry to try, iterate, optimize and maximize the outcome. That’s the scary part, if you’re an advertising agency that really just sells ads (even if they are digital ads). The ante has been upped for marketers. This is a good thing. A brand new opportunity.

The better question is this: will these Growth Hackers even have an interest in working for the advertising agencies?


  1. Why would they? How many agencies really understand this trend? Further, if they do, how many have adapted their business models in response and started to recruit these folks? From what I’ve read, seen and heard at SXSW and elsewhere is that it’s more attractive to go the start-up route than the agency route.

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