Growth Hacking Vs Digital Marketing: What’s The Difference?

growth hacking vs digital marketing

Have you ever wondered what makes growth hacking different from digital marketing? Is it the process, tools or mindset? Find out the difference here.

The world is rapidly moving towards digitization with newer technology being innovated and created every day. Start-ups are mushrooming at an alarming rate and everyone is trying their best to grow and sustain their business. Scaling up your business and achieving sustainability falls under the purview of growth hacking. Promoting your business, its products and services through social media, google search, online advertising, etc. will fall under digital marketing. Most people are not able to clearly distinguish between growth hacking vs digital marketing. Here we will go into detail to clearly demarcate the differences between the two. Before we jump into the difference between growth hacking and digital marketing, let us dig deeper into what each one actually consists of.

What is Growth Hacking?

Widely touted as the Godfather of Growth Hacking and the Founder and CEO of Qualaroo Sean Ellis had this to say about growth hacking: “A growth hacker is a person whose true north is growth.”

Thus growth hacking is the process of experimentation and implementation of all strategies that can prove to be the most optimum and efficient way to grow your business. Growth hacking is department agnostic and has a strong focus on growing the business.

This staunch focus on plain growth has resulted in a series of practices, strategies, and tools that did not previously exist. This model is often seen in start-ups as they require the most growth but every company benefits from growth hacking.

The Process of Growth Hacking

Growth hacking as a process can be tried, tested and evaluated. The first step is to identify and define the areas which affect the growth of your business. For example, this could be customer engagement or customer acquisition, etc. The second step would be to set a goal for the area that is most likely to give you the maximum growth. If it is acquisition, then your goal can be to generate over 200 leads. Once the goal has been set, the next step is to brainstorm on how this goal can be achieved. Various ideas and strategies need to be tried and tested to see which one can work best for your company.

A lot of growth hacking involves trial and error. You try out something, measure its results, see if they align with their overall objectives and move forward. There is no single approach to growth hacking and it’s up to the company’s discretion as to how they want to go ahead.

Let us look at a famous example of growth hacking – Airbnb. Airbnb leveraged on the platform Craigslist, where users look for stay and accommodation, to promote themselves and increase the number of acquisitions. There is an option to place your listing on Craigslist which will result in inbound links for the host as well as for Airbnb. This seemingly easy method, helped Airbnb gain a huge host of users. However, Airbnb did this by reverse engineering Craigslist’s forms and then made their product compatible. Craigslist has since then removed this. This proves that while growth hacking may use temporary methods, it is enough to propel them towards growth as it did on this occasion.

Traits of Growth Hackers

Growth hacking requires a lot of skills in the domains of marketing, analytics, programming, product development as well as creative and analytical skills. Growth hackers often deal with problems such as how to produce better results, how to cut back on money, how to make a process easier etc. Growth hackers need to constantly come up with unique and innovative solutions that can bring in users at a low cost and spread word about their products and services.

Following are some of the traits they possess –

  • Their primary focus is on growth and all of their efforts is concentrated towards that
  • They have a deep understanding of various growth platforms and the various tools that come along with it
  • They are task oriented and need fast results
  • They possess skills across various disciplines and have mastered the art of blending these skills in order to meet the current requirements
  • Growth hackers are extremely innovative and creative and have the ability to think outside the box
  • They have an analytical mindset and love data. They are masters at identifying trends and translating them into action items
  • Risk takers who try various new ways to get the job done

Now that we have an understanding of growth hacking, let us take a look at digital marketing so that we may be better able to understand growth hacking vs digital marketing.

What is Digital Marketing?

Digital marketing, as the name suggests is a way of marketing products or services on digital platforms such as electronic media or the internet. There are several advantages to digital marketing over traditional marketing such as –

  • Digital marketing can precisely target the audience you want to target
  • It can be optimized real-time based on the feedback you receive
  • Digital marketing efforts are also measurable and the results can be evaluated
  • It gives a higher return on investment as compared to traditional media
  • It is also more cost-effective
  • Digital marketing also helps in building better engagement with the audience
  • Communication can also be personalized by understanding the requirements and delivering the key messages on the right platforms

Sample Modules of Digital Marketing

  • Search engine optimization – This involves the process of ranking your website in organic search results
  • Search engine management – This involves increasing visibility for your site through organic searches as well as paid search results
  • Social media marketing – As the name suggests, this involves marketing on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.
  • Display Marketing – This involves image ads or banner ads on different websites
  • Content marketing – This involves communicating messages about your product through short form and long form content such as blogs, podcasts, videos, webinars, etc.
  • Affiliate marketing – This involves promoting products of other companies and earning a commission out of it
  • Email Marketing – It’s a form of direct digital marketing through emails such as newsletters, promotional updates, product info, etc.
  • Mobile Marketing – This involves communicating with the audience through mobile platforms

Traits of Digital Marketers

A digital marketer needs the skills, knowledge, and experience of many different professions. Most digital marketers are self-starters and are independent and self-motivated but it also important for them to be a part of the team, lead others and communicate with co-workers.

  • They are independent and have the ability to get work done without being reminded
  • They love challenges and are always on the lookout for things that can make tasks interesting
  • Creativity is a must because each digital campaign is different from the other which calls for innovation and creativity
  • They are incredibly passionate about learning new things, be it new technology or new courses and skills
  • Communication skills are imperative for digital marketers because it’s all about disseminating messages and building trust and relationships.
  • Flexibility and adaptability are important traits for a digital marketer because there are constant changes that keep happening in the industry and they need to stay ahead of the curve
  • They also need to have good leadership skills because they often work in tandem with various other professionals
  • Strategic and analytical thinking skills are important for digital marketers in order to plan out and achieve various client goals and objectives

Growth Hacking vs Digital Marketing

We have had an in-depth understanding of both growth hacking and digital marketing and have understood the differences between them in terms of their roles and traits. Now it’s time to understand the differences between growth hacking and digital marketing in terms of the work.  

From our initial understanding, we can see that a lot of the channels used by both digital marketers and growth hackers are similar. However, there are some fundamental differences between the two which lies in their inherent ideologies

Objective – Despite the similarities, the very objective of the two domains is different. This can be understood by looking at the sales funnel. Growth hacking deals with all the steps mainly, acquisition, activation, retention, revenue, and referrals. Digital marketers are mostly concerned with the first two steps which are acquisition and activation. Growth hackers are only focused on the growth of the company whereas digital marketers follow a more long term approach in building the brand and establishing a relationship with customers.

Technical Skills – Growth hackers generally have more of technical background and thus have the ability to ideate and execute all by themselves. This also helps in them being able to measure and evaluate results and thus reach an informed conclusion. Digital marketers are primarily in charge of ideation and have separate teams of designers, developers and data analysts who take care of the rest.

Budget – Since digital marketing falls under the larger purview of promotions they usually have a larger budget at their disposal in order to run their various campaigns. However, growth hacking is generally associated with start-ups and thus they are usually operated on smaller budgets. This inherently influences the kinds of strategies or methods they employ.

Degree of Risk – Building a brand takes a lot of time and effort and digital marketers are actively involved in this process. Hence they are less likely to take more risks as the brand can crumble within minutes. However, growth hackers are more likely to take risks because they deal with generally low scale strategies


We can see that it really isn’t right to compare growth hacking vs digital marketing because both have inherently different objectives. Growth hacking is more suited for smaller companies or start-ups that are in the process of launching a new product or service. If the company is bootstrapped and cannot afford promotional campaigns then growth hacking is the way to go. However, for bigger companies that have been around for a long time, maintaining the reputation comes first and hence they invest more in digital marketing.

It all comes down to the needs and requirements of the company and what their budget is. If it’s an individual considering a career path when it comes down to the skills, traits and technical know-how you possess that will determine whether you succeed in the chosen field.

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