Thursday, December 20, 2012

Growth Hacker vs Marketing: Loser Leaves Town Match

Today, in the greatest showdown of all time, I bring you quackery at it's finest. I've written about the growth hacker concept before, but last week I came across a piece that has brought me to a new level of understanding of the concept. It started with this piece on PandoDaily.

It seems that some people put together Growthathon, sort of a conference designed to pull together growth hackers, presumably, to collaborate and share best practices for "incredible, mind-blowing growth for your fledging startup." Unfortunately, it seems that the conference attendees had trouble with "having them allow themselves to work with other attendees, and create an environment of sharing and brainstorming."

Secrecy or... Something Else?
While the Pando piece attributes the challenges to this conference with "a Valley culture that sometimes puts a premium on secrecy," I found bigger mysteries at work here. To start with, how much secrecy is needed when your conference hackathon project goals are "challenges like building an infographic or assembling a public relations campaign"?

While some gasp in awe at the scope of this challenge and others might question why they were consuming valuable seconds with such heady stuff, I knew that I had to dig deeper. After all, perhaps I was missing some potential personal promotional opportunities through a lack of understanding of the use of a fully armed and operational growth hacker moniker. Here's how the piece describes growth hacker:
The term has been en vogue in Silicon Valley of late, now a buzzword in startup tut-tut. Essentially, a growth hacker is someone concerned with growing a startup from a uniquely marketing and product vantage point.
Okay, so I do that. And I can create an infographic or assemble a PR campaign (I could tell you how, but I'd... let's just avoid the cliche and attribute it to our culture of secrecy here in the Valley), so what am I missing?

To better understand, I followed this link to a post by Aaron Ginn, one of a five part series on growth hacking on Techcrunch. And, because I couldn't resist, I also took a look his post on the impact of growth hacking on marketing. Here are some quotes that help capture some of the things that I learned:

Depending upon who you talk to, growth hacking is or isn't marketing
Often, my suggestions are like basic product marketing because it’s never about a particular trick.
Growth comes from a well-executed and data-driven product strategy, not a marketing strategy.
Marketing is all about spending, budgets, and outbound promotional programs
While traditional marketing involves spending on predetermined channels, growth hackers have no preconceived notions of the channel or the necessity of marketing spending for growth.
Traditional marketers are applying a set of predetermined tactics that worked for the offline world to the online world.
Traditionally, marketing has focused on external methods to attract users and gain momentum around a product.
growth hackers are looking for growth through product utilization and product iterations instead of a marketers’ outbound- and inbound-based strategies.
Marketing people are lazy,
“Budgets make people lazy. They begin to think in traditional terms and don’t innovate.” When a marketer has a budget, they’re tempted to spend it or lose it.
Another thing that separates them from us, they are often engineers.
It is not a coincidence that there are several growth hackers that have engineering backgrounds. This correlation is due to the need to apply engineering-like precision to marketing for growth.
Now, as a marketing pro, I'm all for finding new ways to position products and connect with markets, but...

While some parts of the world want to see marketing as the 'make it pretty' group or the guys that only know how to spend money, the real essence of marketing is much broader and more encompassing that simply spending money on advertising and promotions. In that same way, just because your doctor gave you antibiotics the last time you were sick, it doesn't mean that the only thing that the doctor does is give you antibiotics. Equally, just because somebody is an engineer and they've used a toothbrush, it doesn't make them effective or more methodical with dental hygene.

I celebrate creativity and thinking differently. I'm thrilled to see some people in the business ecosystem with some sense of understanding that product is more than, "if we build it, they will come". But just because you discovered this new world of users, interaction and engagement, it doesn't mean that you've discovered something new. A few years ago, back when today's growth hackers were still in school, yesterday's growth hackers were viral marketers (but wait, this is different).

The reality is that, while aspects of user engagement can contribute to growth in your social software app, it's not a methodology that will help Lam Research sell more tools to fabs, it's not going to help NetApp sell more storage systems, and you could probably argue how it fits with Workday's products. This is the inherent quackery of this growth hacker meme, by defining things as a this-not-that, it also defines the problem as a this or that approach. The actual answer is that each situation is unique and requires a different set of tools from the tool box. Your cookie cutter is no better than this one here or that one over there.

Myself, I have little respect for insipid tacticians of any type, be they marketers, engineers, or rock star ninja thought leaders. If your growth hacker moniker helps get you in the door, gets you into the product meetings, or helps bag an extra chunk of cash, more power to you. But if you're selling yourself based on a secret sauce and your secret sauce is really just ketchup and mayonnaise, sooner or later they catch on.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Friday Reading Suggestions: Tech Jobs, $100M Businesses, and more

First, a couple of links from Pandodaily:
Here's an interesting story about how many more jobs are created by the high-tech sector and it's economic influence.
10 graphs that show how high-tech jobs are transforming the US economy

Here's another one from Sarah Lacy summarizing a study on businesses that have grown to be $100 companies. I like the 'where are the Web 2.0 companies now' aspect of the piece.
New study on companies worth $100M+ shows how much of a lie the Web 2.0 fad was

Here's one on hiring. Personally, when I read his hiring story, I have a hard time believing that an English Literature major wouldn't be able to speak to the books that he'd read. I would suspect that, rather than being an empty suit, the guy was probably not honest about his background. More to the point, my personal belief is that someone with a humanities background is more likely to be a rounded person with depth.
Losers exist. Don’t hire them

More on hiring. Here's Ben Horowitz with an interesting take on 'hiring old people' for your start-up. But you might not want to listen to him because he's an old guy, so you might question his motives. Seriously though, it's a thoughtful post and some good advice.
Hiring old people: The dangerous but necessary steroids of the startup world

Finally, here's an amusing read on venture firms winning a lawsuit against Best Buy for stealing the trade secrets of one of their portfolio companies. Good fun if you like to seeing karma come back to smack unethical behavior.
There is a lot of talk about being pro-entrepreneur. First Round and NEA show serious action

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Internet and Tech Trends: Mary Meeker 2012 Analysis

I came across the link for this yesterday. If you haven't seen these, Mary Meeker from Kleiner Perkins periodically does industry roll-up presentations that are always packed with interesting data and analysis. Truly worth your time reading it.

Here's the link: