If you follow tech news, you might have read a recent story or two about growth hackers. Growth hackers are product and user experience designers who specialize in getting products to market themselves. A classic growth hack, for example, allows users to embed badges or profiles from your service on their own blogs and Web sites.
Considering that growth hacking appears to pose a threat to more traditional marketing techniques, you might expect chief marketing officers to be skeptical. And some of them presumably are wary of all the attention being lavished on growth hackers of late.
But many of today’s top CMOs, such as Beth Comstock at GE, aren't shying away from the challenges posed by growth hackers. Instead, they’re embracing the growth hacker’s engineering-focused approach to marketing.
So what can CMOs learn from growth hackers? Let’s have a look at three specific lessons:
Lesson 1: Data Should Be Put To Use Quickly
Growth hackers understand that technology makes it possible not only to amass huge amounts of data, but to act on that data almost immediately. For CMOs, the lesson is not merely that you have to deliver highly targeted messages based on demographics or behavioral data. Smart CMOs today already do that.
Rather, the lesson is that your data can and should be leveraged in real time. Putting data to use immediately makes it possible to break the traditional product adoption cycle by focusing on short-term tactics. Growth hackers expect immediate, data-driven results, and so should CMOs.
Lesson 2: Failure Can Be Constructive
CMOs can also learn a lot from the growth hacker’s love of iterations. Growth hackers are not afraid to try, fail, and try again. Everything they do is scrutinized for its potential impact on scalable growth.
This isn’t to say that traditional marketers don’t do any testing. There’s plenty of experimentation and testing going on in today’s best campaigns. But once the approach or message is settled on for a given campaign, it’s often locked up. The traditional campaign, once set in motion, runs like a train that can’t be stopped.
Think, for example, of display campaigns that are prepurchased and then run for months with few opportunities to make adjustments. Such a situation would be entirely unacceptable to growth hackers. They don't have the luxury or patience to wait another cycle to make changes.
As Andy Johns, who worked as a growth hacker for Facebook, Twitter, and Quora, told Forbes, “Most people don’t realize what was going on behind the scenes at these companies [and what still goes on is]. Most were conducting several experiments a day to determine how to best sway people to do what they wanted them to do.”
A CMO who thinks like a growth hacker is running multiple display campaigns across thousands of Web sites to see what sticks and what doesn't, then turning to the power of programmatic advertising to optimize all of these campaigns on the fly. Whether it’s changing the creative, refining the audience, or perfecting cross-device targeting, the CMO who thinks like a growth hacker will adjust again and again until the message is as effective as possible.
Lesson 3: The Power Of Pull
In place of classic marketing, which typically interrupts your day by pushing messages at you, a growth hacker uses “pull.” The lesson for CMOs is simple: The best marketing wraps messaging into the fabric of a user’s life and thoughts.
In the world of display, this means using data to interpret the intent of the user. When you’re delivering the exact right message at the exact right time, you’re not intruding on the user, but providing a service that can be as useful and interesting as all the other content the user is engaging with online. This is where programmatic advertising provides a tremendous opportunity for CMOs to think like growth hackers.
None of this is to say that growth hackers get it right every time. I recently attended a meeting where a growth hacker suggested changing the color of the brand’s Web site to black because the brand’s black display ads were performing better than the blue ones in an A/B test. Such a hack might have helped in the short term. But CMOs still need to look at short-term gains in the context of long-term relationships with consumers. And brands that hope to have long-term relationships with consumers need to tell their stories in a consistent way.
But for today's CMOs, looking at the big picture doesn’t mean turning your back on growth hacking. It means making sure you get growth hacking right. Because while we don’t yet know what marketing or the role of the CMO will look like 10 years from now, we can be pretty certain of this: The leading marketers of the future will be data-lovers who think like engineers and know how to market in a way that hardly feels like marketing at all.