Growth Hacking vs. Digital Marketing: What’s the difference? | WeGrowth

Have you ever wondered what makes growth hacking different from digital marketing?

Is it the process? The tools? The mindset? The product?

Don’t worry-you’re not the only one thinking about these questions.

In this article, we will explain to you what these widely used terms mean and give you profiles of both growth hackers and digital marketers.

By the end of this article, you’ll know exactly what the differences between these two are.

So, let’s begin!

What Is Growth Hacking?

Perhaps it’s better to start with growth hacking definition and explain how it works through examples later on.

Growth hacking is a process of rapid experimentation across marketing channels and product development to identify the most effective, efficient ways to grow a business.

Growth hacking is usually linked to startups because they are the ones who need growth the most to “survive”, but they are not the only ones to benefit from it. In fact, this process (more of a mindset, really) can be used by all smart marketers and forward-thinking businesses.

The Growth Hacking Process

Most people think that growth hacking is all about finding the ultimate idea that will bring them huge success overnight. Naturally, this isn’t the case. What led to such thinking is a number of articles talking only about big, successful growth hacking examples created by companies such as Uber, Airbnb, and Dropbox.

Tactics are important, sure, but it’s completely wrong to think that growth happens overnight.

What you actually need to think about is the process that can be tested, measured, and scaled.

In order to come up with a growth hacking process, it’s necessary to define the most important areas of your project that directly affect the growth.

If you have an eCommerce website those areas could be:

  • Customer Acquisition – bringing people to your website.
  • Customer Engagement – people finding your product.
  • Customer Activation – people registering and buying the product.
  • Customer Retention – people returning and buying something again.

After defining your key areas, you’ll need to set a goal for the area that currently has the greatest impact on growth and progress of the project.

If it’s retention, your goal can be to improve it by 20% in the first month.

The next step is to brainstorm how to achieve this goal.

For example, you can do it with email notifications, retargeting, and loyalty cards.

When it comes to email notifications, you can try “thank you” emails, email notifications for similar products, or emails with information about discounts.

You will test your ideas and implement the best solution.

With analytics and data you can measure actions, track behaviors, optimize the user experience, efficiently repeat past successes, and better predict the future.

This whole process is about practice and experimentation in order for you to achieve stable and long-term growth. You get to set your objectives, run an experiment, use some growth hacking tools, measure the effects, and move quickly towards new objectives in order to find uncovered growth options for traffic, sales, retention, views, backlinks, shares, comments and more.

Don’t be afraid to try, fail (often), and then move to another option. Even if the experiment fails, you will gather a lot of helpful information which you can later use in your future experiments.

The ultimate goal is to find exactly what works for you-which channel and tactic delivers the highest ROI and then completely focus on it.

After a couple of years, when your project becomes successful, someone will probably write that you did it overnight, with that ultimate growth strategy.

Growth Hacking Strategies

One of the most common growth hacking strategies for attracting new users is leveraging ‘giants’ on which your target audience hangs out. This is exactly what Airbnb did with the Craigslist platform integration.

Moreover, statistics say that businesses that use partnerships to access large, established audiences have six to one return on their investment. Partnerships in the online world include integrations, access to user base, cross-promotion, etc.

Dropbox increased their signups by 60% with a referral tactic. Namely, they offered their existing users the possibility to get more storage space. How? By inviting their friends to join Dropbox. Those friends would then get extra storage space, as well, if they used a friend referral link to sign up to Dropbox.

This way, they spread the story about Dropbox all over the world.

Skype did a similar thing using a viral loop tactic. When people start using Skype, they invite their friends and family in order to stay in touch with them, who then do the same, i.e. invite their own network to join Skype.

Some products and services are ideal for sharing, others aren’t, but you can always learn from success stories.

Check out Popular Growth Hacking Sucess Stories and take a look at this list of 128 Marketing Growth Strategies to find out how to make optimization work.

Keep this in mind: just because these strategies worked for someone else, doesn’t mean that they will work for you, too. You need to try them out and test them to see what works and what doesn’t.

Growth Hackers

Let’s say that a growth hacker is a cross-functional, multi-tasking person focused on achieving a certain objective.

They can be a programmer with an excellent understanding of marketing and analytics, but also a marketer with strong programming skills.

The skills required for this profession are actually a combination of marketing, data analyzing, product understanding, and creative and analytical thinking. Combined together, they need to provide you with a solution that might have been overlooked by others.

Building a brand step by step and community engagement take too long, mass media campaigns are too expensive, and growth hackers usually don’t have enough time and money for any of this. That’s why they are always after innovative marketing techniques.

What growth hackers do is try to come up with a unique strategy to create hacks which will spread the word about their products, bring new users and increase revenue, without them spending too much money.

Successful growth hacks are rarely replicable. It’s simple – the first inventor gets the greatest advantage. After that, everybody copies the hack from the inventor and at one point, it stops being a hack.

In the process of growth hacking, growth hackers rely on different techniques and skills, including search engine optimization, website analytics, content marketing, copywriting, remarketing, referral, A/B testing, users feedback, guest blogging, social media campaigns, paid search optimization, viral loops, word-of-mouth marketing, etc.

You can easily recognize a growth hacker by their way of thinking.

How to produce better results? How to save money? How to do this faster? How to automate this process?

Personal Traits of a Growth Hacker

A growth hacker needs to be:

  • Focused – on fast growth, which is the number one priority. They can’t afford to wait and see if longer-term activities will pay off. They need fast results.
  • Passionate – about their job and growth, which allows them to persist until they find what works the best.
  • Responsible – about the results and getting a company to the next level.
  • Resourceful – when it comes to finding new tactics, channels, and unexplored opportunities.
  • Creative and curious – to think out of the box and experiment in order to find something unique to achieve growth.
  • Data-driven – to understand and use data, analytics, metrics and statistics in order to improve processes. They don’t guess. They test.
  • Eager to learn – about new channels and tools which keep popping up constantly.
  • Intelligent and knowledgeable – so that they can come up with working growth hacks, which require using a number of different tools, channels and sets of skills.
  • Open-minded – about listening to ideas and gathering inspiration from others.
  • Brave – when it comes to taking risks.

They are scrappy, resilient, creative, analytical, and they hustle.

You get the point.

Now is the time for us to move on to digital marketing.

What Is Digital Marketing?

Digital marketing is a global term used to describe the process of promoting brands, companies, products or services via different online media, channels, tools and tactics.

Basically, it’s the process of using different digital marketing strategies to communicate specific information to an audience.

All of these strategies are there to drive relevant traffic to a business and then convert a one-time visitor into a returning loyal customer.

Key Areas of Digital Marketing

Types of digital marketing include:

Social media marketingdeveloping an online presence by attracting large numbers of internet followers through social media channels such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.

Content marketing – creating and sharing online material such as blogs, videos, and social media posts. Content isn’t there to simply promote a brand or a company; it’s more about getting an audience interested in products or services.

Email marketing – using emails to send advertisements, but also to build loyalty, trust, or brand awareness.

Search engine optimization (SEO) – developing strategies to increase the number of visitors to a website by achieving high-ranking positions in search results.

Pay-per-click (PPC) campaignspaid online advertising as a way of buying visits to your site rather than earning them organically.

Mobile marketing – developing strategies for targeting audience on their mobile devices through social media, websites, emails, SMS, MMS, and apps.

Affiliate marketing – a business rewarding other businesses (affiliates) for each visitor or customer they brought to them.Digital marketers can either work in all these areas or specialize in a few – it all depends on what a certain company needs.

Let’s look at a digital marketer’s profile in more detail.

Digital Marketers

Marketers know that data doesn’t have all the answers.

After all, how can you put a metric on the feeling you get after engaging with a brand?

Marketers are more focused on branding, storytelling, long-term thinking, and emotions.

Their job is to create, develop, and implement multi-channel communication strategies that will boost the online presence of a business, brand, or product.

In order to do that, they use almost the same channels as growth hackers: Google Analytics, link building, CRM, video marketing, landing page conversions, Google AdWords, blogging, search engine optimization, etc.

Personal Traits of a Digital Marketer

A digital marketer needs to be:

  • Innovative and original – to spot new online media opportunities and figure out new ways of presenting products and services. They need to be extraordinary in order to stand out in the crowd.
  • Intuitive – when it comes to how people work and what triggers them. They know that emotions often take priority when people make buying decisions.
  • Responsible – for managing online brand and product campaigns, and for budgetary control of all digital marketing.
  • Knowledgeable – so they can develop and manage digital marketing campaigns, increase search visibility, tracking conversion rates, do analysis, etc.
  • Patient and engaged – to build a strong brand and a trusted community.
  • Creative – in order to craft stories based on emotional connections, transform them into campaigns, and enhance relationships with clients.
  • Adaptable – to new trends and constant changes in the digital marketing world.
  • Eloquent and forthright – because they are storytellers and great communicators.
  • Organized – so they can manage all different activities and measure results.

The Difference Between Growth Hacking and Digital Marketing

Like we mentioned above, growth hackers and digital marketers may use the same channels and have similar personal traits, but their ideologies about work are very different.


Digital marketers are usually focused only on customer acquisition, while growth hackers focus on all phases of sales/product funnel.

While marketers follow a long-term path and focus on a brand and connections, growth hackers are focused on one thing only-growth.


Building a brand requires a lot of time, but it can be destroyed in a second. That’s why digital marketers don’t have a high tolerance for risk, but growth hackers do.


Digital marketing teams are usually composed of non-technical people that often rely on developers, designers, and data scientists to implement their ideas. On the other hand, growth hacking teams are made of people that generate ideas and execute them from start to finish. While digital marketers sometimes rely on purely intuition and guesswork, growth hackers test, measure, and optimize everything. Their technical background helps them see opportunities where marketers cannot.

As you can see, growth hacking lies somewhere between marketing and technical knowledge, which is why digital marketers can become growth hackers if they have a strong analytical and technical mind.

Here’s the thing: all successful growth hackers are marketers, but not all marketers are growth hackers. This isn’t the case simply because they can’t code-it has more to do with them not focusing on growing a business.


Do you follow digital marketing trends? Want to create your online presence and build a strong brand, or are you looking for quick growth strategies? If you are having doubts about whether you need to hire (or to become) a digital marketer or a growth hacker, you should define your needs first.

If you are a startup or about to launch a new product/concept, but can’t afford the time and/or money for expensive marketing campaigns, growth hacking is probably the best solution for you.

On the other hand, long-standing companies are usually satisfied with their growth rate and are more focused on maintaining brand reputation, i.e. they need digital marketing.

That’s all for now! We hope this article has helped you understand the difference between growth hacking and digital marketing.


She joined the team because she heard about their cool (non-existant) dress code, and now she’s found a new passion in growth hacking. Before that she worked as a PR&Marketing Manager in a couple of different places, finding most joy in organizing events and speaking publicly. Besides digital marketing, she enjoys singing (and not just under the shower). For more, find her on the popular social networks – she’s everywhere.


Article by channel:

Read more articles tagged: Growth Hacking