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If you haven’t been living under a rock, then you have probably heard someone mention the term “growth hacking”.

Coined by Sean Ellis back in 2010, “growth hacking” was quickly adopted by the startup crowd and pinned to people who were in charge of launching digital products and making sure that the right type of audience starts using their software.

If you operate in marketing or startup communities than you’re probably aware of how often this particular phase pops up in conversation. Probably even more than “pivoting” and “disruption”.

But What Exactly is Growth Hacking?

Even though the term is now omnipresent in the digital world, the jury is still out on its precise definition and meaning.

Some marketers and entrepreneurs feel that growth hacking is just another buzzword used by people to make their services more important and appealing to their customers. Others believe that it’s something else, something that requires lots of outside of the box thinking and experimenting.

Sean Ellis himself feels that “growth hackers are people whose true north is growth”. He thinks that growth hackers are just different types of marketers. They are not better, nor smarter. They just use alternative instruments and tactics to reach their goals.

And we agree with him.

In our line of work, growth hacking is more than just a term that gets thrown around every time when the opportunity presents itself.

For us, growth hacking represents a number of forward-thinking tactics that we use to rapidly increase the growth of our clientele’s business. It’s a strategic, creative and technical approach with a single mission in mind –  to stimulate a rocketfast increase in traffic, leads and conversions for our clients.

Octopus reading growth hacking secrets | Elevate Digital

During these last couple of years, we have helped a number of clients skyrocket their traffic and brand exposure. From taking care of the technical aspects of their SEO to tweaking on-page SEO factors, finding lucrative keywords and locating and filling valuable content gaps – we have done quite a bit in this field.

For example, we’ve helped one of our clients from the home improvement industry generate thousands of customers and rank high in Google’s SERPs for targeted keywords in less than five months, without spending a dime on paid promotion.

Our strategy looked something like this:

  • We narrowly defined the client’s target audience and created content they would find helpful and relevant;
  • Searched Google, Facebook, Quora and Reddit to find the most engaging communities where the newly-defined target audience was likely to hang out;
  • Joined those communities, interacted with people and tried to engage them with content;
  • Identified trusted industry news and info sources and promoted the client’s content on those sites;


This is just one of the examples.

In the following segments of this article, we are going to expand on the idea of growth hacking, list some of the tactics we use to achieve superfast growth and explain how they work:

The Main Differences Between Growth Hacking and Traditional Marketing

Even though traffic and growth are the core values of every form of marketing, growth hackers take things further by focusing all of their time and energy solely on these two KPIs. They use methods that currently still aren’t part of the standard marketing repertoire.

Mr. Ellis said on one occasion: “Growth hackers are hybrids”. They’re part developers and part marketers. One side of them is focused on traditional marketing and getting people to acknowledge what they’re selling, while the other is more concerned with making the product itself more useful and appealing to people to whom they are planning to sell it.

While growth hacking focuses on pulling data-driven moves to achieve quick and measurable results via low-cost channels, traditional marketing is more a game that revolves around creating open-ended awareness through conventional media.

Traditional marketers are more oriented towards making people want a specific product, while growth hackers focus on creating a product people want. It’s a whole different approach to the same goal of generating more users.

Growth hacking is basically marketing, but it comes with a side of product development and distribution. For this particular reason, it is not really uncommon to see web developers in growth hacking roles. They help fine-tune the software to the point where it becomes a real powerhouse for driving sales and corporate growth. Regular marketers don’t really do that. These activities aren’t really in sync with their skillset or jurisdiction.

Most Valued Traits in Growth Hacking

Growth hackers need to be creative as well as analytical. Their no.1 priority is to redefine and improve the product and its distribution. These people conceptualize features that enable a company’s product to experience impressive growth. They have little to no regard for the rules, and their job can be basically described as a never-ending brainstorming session.

Growth hackers maneuver in the following fields:

  • Viral acquisition
  • Paid acquisition
  • Sales (cold calling) support and team management  
  • Content marketing  
  • Email marketing  
  • SEO
  • Split testing

They poke, twist, test and look at all the aspects in which their offer can be dialed up for optimal performance.

Growth hacking octopus trying to manage all tasks | Elevate Digital


How Do Growth Hackers Actually Operate and Turn Products from Zero to Hero?

To encourage new people to become active paying customers/users of a particular product or service, growth hackers engage in numerous procedures meant to help them customize a perfect formula for achieving and nurturing sustainable growth.


  • Look at the product and analyze the current state of it;
  • Propose growth-oriented design/feature adjustments;
  • Do a bit of coding and development;
  • Analyze the current marketing strategy and propose changes to make it even better;
  • Assess and tweak landing pages, copy, content – everything that directly communicates with the audience;
  • Increase brand visibility and ratings;
  • Evaluate existing distribution channels;
  • Monitor customer acquisition and retention ratios;
  • Assess and/or redefine user profile;
  • Deploy various analytics to track efficiency changes en route;
  • Perform A/B and other tests;
  • Take care of all other activities relevant to growth.


As you can see from everything written above, growth hackers analyze the current state of things and introduce series of custom changes that alter existing business models, product, marketing, and distribution strategies.

Of course, this particular practice works on a hit and miss principle. A lot of shots are fired in the dark, until one of them eventually hits the bullseye. Deep-research, careful analysis, precise execution and cross-comparison are the key stages of growth hacking.

Growth hacking octopus approaching target | Elevate Digital


So, What Does Growth Hacking Look Like in Practice?

Let’s start with Airbnb, the poster child for growth hacking.

Back in 2008, when the company was launched, the braintrust behind this brand came up with an ingenious plan to use Craigslist to grow their business.

At the time, Airbnb was still a young company and Craigslist was the number one site for searching for temporary housing solutions. For an up-and-coming company that specialized in finding people a place to sleep when they’re visiting a new city – Craigslist seemed like a goldmine. There’s was so much “precious metal” there just waiting for someone to snatch it!

The guys behind Airbnb first drove traffic to their listings by stimulating users to cross post their listings on Craigslist with a backlink to their Airbnb page. This helped them generate an audience they didn’t really have and build their brand awareness.

Instead of wasting a ton of money on advertising, the Airbnb people created their own free traffic from a platform that was already populated by their desired audience. By having users cross post to Facebook with just a couple of clicks through the Airbnb official app, their customer base and website traffic continued to grow.

They’ve also used Craigslist as a solution to their inventory and offer issues. They contacted people who were posting housing offers on Craigslist and asked them to sign up on Airbnb and post there as well. Even though this sort of practice might be considered spam now, back then – it was a legitimate and effective strategy for poaching traffic.

Growth hacker holding airbnb balloons | Elevate Digital

A huge part of growth hacking revolves around locating lucrative distribution channels and figuring out how to make them work for you. If you want to make something of your business today, you need to think ahead and start building your traffic and audiences from day one.

That is how Dropbox made it big. The company increased their new user signups by 60 percent the very moment they’ve started offering people 500MB of extra storage for free whenever someone they’ve referred signs up for the services.

Heap Analytics took notes from DB’s success and created their own system. Users who added the Heap badge to their website footer were provided with an increase in the number of visitor sessions they can track for free (from 5k – 50k).

Over to You

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. I hope it helped you understand the difference between growth hacking and traditional marketing, and what you need to do/know in order to make itas a growth hacker.

Growth hacking is a term that means different things to different people. Even though some of us in the industry disagree on certain points here, one thing is clear – growth hacking is more of a mindset than an actual strategy. What has worked for some, won’t necessarily also work for others. The goal here is to adopt a specific way of thinking and be constantly on the lookout for information and opportunities that will help you find the path to success.


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