What’s The Difference Between Growth Hacking And Digital Marketing

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The term ‘growth hacking’ is becoming increasingly popular amongst business owners and marketers. But who exactly is a growth hacker, and what does he/she do? Before you hurry to a search engine, you should know that the descriptions of who a growth hacker is might sound similar to that of a digital marketer.

Without delving deep, you may find it difficult to differentiate the two. However, bear in mind that they are not the same. To help you understand the difference between growth hacking and digital marketing, we have pieced up this article, carefully explaining what they are, how they differ, and the end goals for both.

We’ll even look at the similarities between both, and how one can potentially move from growth hacking to digital marketing, and vice versa.

What is Growth Hacking?

Growth hacking is the general phrase for every strategy that focuses primarily on growth. It involves quickly testing out different marketing mediums in a bid to find the best and most affordable ways to grow a business.

Start-up and medium-sized businesses with limited budgets desperately in need of quick growth in a short time are the biggest benefactors of growth hacking.

What is Digital Marketing?

Digital marketing is just like every form of marketing, involves connecting with and influencing potential customers. The major difference however, is that this kind of marketing is done online.

Digital Marketing and Growth Hacking differences

1.     Approach and Processes

Growth hackers are seen as data-oriented considering that they always test, measure, and optimize everything along the way. Digital marketers on the other hand use presumptions and intuitions to plan their next strategy.

Does this mean that growth hackers have an edge?

Not necessarily.

Even though they may have a competitive edge thanks to the technical knowledge gotten from data, digital marketers can simply use tools that provide data without coding.

Where growth hackers focus more on trying, experimenting, and testing out new strategies, digital marketers are more focused on deciphering what works and enhancing it over time to improve results, without incurring risks.

Growth hacking processes summarized

These processes are a summation of what a growth hacker’s approach would look like.

          Step 1: Design a single goal to be focused on (referred to as the North Star metric).

          Step 2: Construct user personas.

          Step 3: Design channel personas (The kind of platforms potential customers use, the sort of applications installed in their devices, and the OPNs that can be used to find user personas).

          Step 4: Implement gut feeling and data to design creative growth experiments.

          Step 5: Work on selected (most of the times, offbeat) channels, and analyze the North Star metric.

          Step 6: Integrate successful experiments into a derived process.  

Now, the last step is usually very tricky even for the most experienced growth hackers. It is usually where they fail. And considering this integration into a process is important for scalable growth, it should be done carefully.

The magical thing about growth hackers has to be the ‘thinking outside the box’ attitude, trying new channels based on channel personas, and the level of experimentation put in.

Digital marketing processes summarized

These processes are a summation of what a digital marketer’s approach would look like.

          Step 1: Establish the goals of the brand.

          Step 2: Design user personas

          Step 3: Create effective campaign strategies.

          Step 4: Work on popular channels.

          Step 5: Evaluate and analyze metrics gotten from campaigns.

Seems pretty straightforward, doesn’t it? Well, even though digital marketers may have a simpler (on paper at least) process, their long term goals are pretty much the same (or bigger) than those of growth hackers.

Let’s look at the end goals or objectives of growth hacking vs digital marketing, shall we?

2.     End Goal

Regardless of their differences, the end goal or objective of growth marketing and digital marketing is not the same. If you look at their sales funnel, you’d understand.

The main goal for digital marketers is to establish a name for the brand and getting customers while doing so. They are only mostly worried about the first two steps of customer sales funnels which are acquisition and activation. For growth hackers, however, the emphasis is laid on all the customer growth funnel stages – from awareness to the acquisition, retention to re-conversion, activation to revenue, and even referrals.

Digital marketers have a long-term goal; helping a business actualize its dreams building the brand and establishing a relationship with customers. Growth hackers have shorter-term goals; improving strategies that are designed to grow a business.

3.     Risks involved

Because growth hackers want to achieve so much in a little time, they do not really fear risk taking. They think outside the box to figure out the best ways for business promotion. For digital marketers, however, this is not the case.

Building a brand consumes a lot of time and effort, and digital marketers are more often than not, involved in the process. Digital marketers focus on establishing a name for the brand and achieving a business’ long term goals. As a result, they try to avoid risks as much as possible when pitching services and products to customers. They would not want the brand to crumble within hours.

4.     Technical Knowledge

Growth hacking is definitely more technical because the person involved has to follow the whole process from start to finish. From ideation to execution, a growth hacker would have to possess advanced knowledge and skills necessary to implement certain strategies. So, growth hackers generally have more of technical background and can ideate and execute themselves.

This ability also means that they can measure and evaluate results on their own, reaching better and more informed conclusions as a result.

For digital marketing on the other hand, this is not so. A lot of digital markers barely have a technical background. They are mostly in charge of ideation and possess different teams of data analysts, developers, and designers that handle the rest.

Even though they have clues about different digital and social media platforms necessary for business promotion, they tend to need help with execution. For example, a digital marketer will employ the services of a developer or designer to build a landing page for a marketing campaign.

5.     Budget

Growth hacking is usually done by startup enterprises and businesses, so they generally operate on small or restricted budgets. Digital marketers on the underhand are in charge of larger promotions for big firms and companies, so they usually have a larger budget to call upon when they run their various campaigns.

Budgets generally influence the types of methods and strategies employed by growth hackers and digital marketers.

6.     Persona Traits

There are particular traits and skills associated with digital marketers and growth hackers. These traits come in handy in the growth hacking vs digital marketing debate. When firms and organizations employ growth hackers and digital marketers, they look out for these traits.

Traits for growth hacking

A lot of skills in the fields of product development, programming, analytics, and marketing are required for growth hacking. Analytical and creative skills are also required. This is probably because growth hackers regularly deal with issues like show to make a process easier, how to cut back on money, and how to better results.

As a growth hacker, you will also need to regularly devise budget friendly, innovative and unique solutions that can generate customers, while spreading the word about your firm’s services and products. So, naturally, growth hackers have the following traits:

          They are risk takers that implement different new ways to finish a job

          They always want fast results and are task oriented.

          They love data and possess an analytical mindset.

          They are the best when it comes to spotting trends and translating them into action items.

          They are incredibly creative and innovative, and possess the ability to think outside the box.

          Their main focus at all times is on growth, so all their effects are directed towards it.

          They are knowledgeable across different disciplines and know how to blend their skills to meet their organization’s requirements.

          They have a deep understanding of the different growth platforms and their accompanying tools.

Traits for digital marketing

For digital marketing, the personnel needs the experience, knowledge, and skills of a lot of different professions. The majority of digital marketers are self-motivated, independent, self-starters, even though it is essential that they are part of a team. They have to be able to communicate with, and lead co-workers.

Their traits include:

          Adaptability and flexibility. This is necessary because of the numerous, sporadic changes that occur in the industry. Every digital marketer has to always be in tune with industry changes and updates.

          Digital marketers should have a passion for learning new things, whether it’s new skills, new courses, or how to use new technology.

          Analytical and strategic thinking skills are not reserved for growth hackers alone. Digital marketers should have them too so that they can plan out and achieve their long term objectives and goals.

          A professional digital marketer should have good leadership skills necessary for working in sync with several other professionals in an organization.

          A professional digital marketer should also possess communication skills necessary for passing messages and building relationships and trust.

          They have to be very innovative and creative because digital campaigns usually differ from themselves.

          A professional digital marketer never shies away from challenges and is always on the lookout for things that make tasks interesting.

          A professional digital marketer is independent and has the ability to complete tasks without being told to. 

7.     Resources

There are resources such as sites, eBooks, videos, and tools used by growth hackers and digital marketers. The resources or tools for growth hacking are different from the ones for digital marketing. However, some tools are used by both growth hackers and digital marketers.

Resources for digital marketing:


          Neil Patel

          HubSpot Academy

          Content Marketing Institute


          Google Ads Blog


          Search Engine Land

          Search Engine Watch

          Search Engine Journal

          Moz SEO Learning Center

          Unbounce Blog


          Social Media Examiner

          The Verge

          Ars Technica


          Google Analytics Academy



Resources for growth hacking:

          10x Factory




          The Lean Startup

          Andrew Chen

          Tim Ferris

          Sean Ellis’s Startup Marketing

          Copy Hackers

          Dr. Robert Cialdini

          Bot Academy


          Google Analytics Academy

          Tamir Vidger

          Georgiana Laudi

          Cali Pitchel Schmidt & #hacklikealady.

          GrowthHackers Conference

          Neil Patel



 Example of growth hacking

Dropbox used to struggle to sign people up as a start-up even though they spent a lot of money on PPC ads. They had to figure out a way to get people for free.

This is what they did. They adopted a referral system that offered their customers free space for any new customer that signed up. Instantly, they had numerous people sending out emails and doing their promotions for them. It worked to a tee.

Example of digital marketing

Airbnb is a firm that embraced user-made content by allowing its users to share their travel experiences on all social media platforms. They didn’t stop there. They even encouraged and promoted travel guides, photos and videos created by clients and owners.

 Wrapping Up; Similarities between growth hacking and digital marketing

Growth hacking cannot (and should not) be considered a substitute for digital marketing, or vice-versa. Truth is, even though they are different entities, digital marketing and growth hacking are connected. 

The emphasis on measurement, creativity, and experimentation to help achieve goals is one similarity shared by both. Growth hacking and digital marketing also have the same fundamental principles, and usually share the same metrics: increased retention, increased conversion, and increased engagement.

Even though the two marketing strategies are very important in businesses, they can overstep one another based on the short or long term goals they would like to achieve. A growth hacker can play the role of a digital marketer, and vice-versa. All they would have to do is change a couple of analytics to grow the business.

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