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The Tale of a Marketer Who Writes Code

Last spring, I graduated from college and began working as a software engineer on the Product team at HubSpot.

But a few weeks ago, I switched to the Marketing team, where I now work on SEO and driving leads from organic search and referral traffic.

My path is an unusual one, and it puts me in quite a hybrid position. My day-to-day work is much different than it was on engineering — there are no UIs to build or deploys to coordinate. But it also looks much different from the other members of the marketing team — none of them spend all day in Sublime Text and terminal windows.

So I’m not exactly a marketer, but I’m probably not what you’d call an engineer. I am: a growth hacker.

A Clearer Definition of “Growth Hacker”

I believe it was Andrew Chen’s famous article from last spring that really crystallized what it meant to be a growth hacker. But kudos if you can survive reading through the buzz words:

Growth hackers are a hybrid of marketer and coder, one who looks at the traditional question of “How do I get customers for my product?” and answers with A/B tests, landing pages, viral factor, email deliverability, and Open Graph. On top of this, they layer the discipline of direct marketing, with its emphasis on quantitative measurement, scenario modeling via spreadsheets, and a lot of database queries. If a startup is pre-product/market fit, growth hackers can make sure virality is embedded at the core of a product. After product/market fit, they can help run up the score on what’s already working.

Unfortunately, a lot of people drowned in the slew of topics and channels he lists and ended up missing the point of the article. Growth hacking isn’t just a new channel for marketers to use. And it isn’t another worthless buzz word for startups to throw around.

Growth hacking represents the fusion of two fields that were previously discrete. A true growth hacker possesses two separate sets of skills and finds ways to combine them to drive marketing metrics.

What Isn’t A Growth Hacker?

I think Andrew’s definition would have been much clearer if he had stopped at: Growth hackers are a hybrid of marketer and coder.

There’s been a lot of confusion and misinformation around the position, which weakens the community’s understanding of what makes a growth hacker valuable, and why it’s a new position and not just a buzzword for a plain-old marketer.

I think most of the confusion stems from competing definitions of the word “hacker”. Paul Graham has a great essay about hackers where he starts by saying:

…the noun “hack” also has two senses. It can be either a compliment or an insult. It’s called a hack when you do something in an ugly way. But when you do something so clever that you somehow beat the system, that’s also called a hack.

A lot of people are using the “beat the system” part of the definition, presenting clever ways to secure guest blogging opportunities or get more SlideShare views as “Growth Hacking.”

One article even made a list of ways to “growth hack” PR that says:

  1. Be creative.
  2. Build Relationships as you pitch.
  3. Create interesting content
  4. Take advantage of Social Media.

To anyone who has actually spent time in marketing, it’s obvious that these aren’t new ideas. It certainly doesn’t take a new type of employee to execute them. It’s dubious whether they’d even be considered “hacks” at all — it sounds more like marketing best practices, dressed up with a new name.

While the internet has ushered in tons of new channels for acquiring customers, marketers as a whole have responded fairly well. The new concept of inbound marketing centers around ways that non-technical marketers can leverage increasingly online buyer behavior to get leads and customers.

Optimize your website for search engines. Interact on social media. Blog and create interesting content. Use email intelligently. Track everything and do more of what’s working. These are things that savvy marketers can do thanks to a whole bunch of marketing tools that have sprung up in the last decade. But it’s not necessarily growth hacking.

So What Does a Growth Hacker Actually Do?

So how does the combination of marketing and engineering manifest itself in a day-to-day sense? I see my role as a growth hacker as three-fold:

  1. Build tools that drive visits, leads and customers.
  2. Dive into our data and find interesting trends and statistics.
  3. Automate boring stuff so my coworkers have more time to focus on being awesome marketers.
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