Interview: Why Sean Ellis sees growth hacking and marketing agility as bedfellows

The godfather of growth hacking talks about how the principle has evolved over the last seven years and what marketers can learn from this emphasis on growth

It’s been seven years since Sean Ellis coined the term ‘growth hacking’ to describe a process by which early-stage companies could align themselves for fast customer and market growth. And the former marketer for Dropbox, LogMeIn and Eventbrite and now CEO of GrowthHackers.com, agrees its application is changing over time.

“The idea has evolved from my initial thinking, which was I wanted to define something for an early-stage company that couldn’t do everything a marketer can do and had to be focused on things that had a direct impact on customer acquisition and growth,” he tells CMO during a recent visit to Sydney.

“It’s now something that’s more applicable to companies of any size, and it overlaps with the need for a lot more agility. The channels through which we acquire clients change so quickly, that if you don’t have a really agile team and process in place to move in and out of those and coordinate efforts across all customer touchpoints, you’re going to have a really hard time staying the same size, let alone growing.”

For the same reason, Ellis sees the modern concept of marketing agility as a “close cousin” of growth hacking.

“The difference with growth hacking is you’re taking it deeper into the full funnel,” he says. “Through testing, iteration and metrics, you’re trying to move forward in a direction that defines progress, growth and success in the business. Growth hacking just brings together those two movements and is more focused on the long-term customer growth side of things.”

Taking responsibility

Growth hacking has more traditionally sat within or alongside the product function. What’s helping bring it and the modern marketing function closer together is the onus on accountability and entrepreneurial thinking, Ellis continues.

“It’s interesting when you start to define a head of growth role, versus a head of marketing. The minute you call it head of growth, you’re essentially defining the role by an outcome, whereas marketing is often defined by an input,” he says.

“What you have seen in business in recent years is both the head of growth and head of marketing becoming a lot more accountable for actual growth. When that happens, the profile of the marketing role changes from one largely like the mad men days that’s highly creative, to one that’s more entrepreneurial, where you’re taking on an entrepreneur-type of risk.”

Ellis believes the most successful marketers are the ones taking on risk, embracing accountability and thriving on it.

“As things become more trackable, and expectations become more focus on heads of marketing and growth, there’s a lot more pressure and not everyone will be able to handle it. It’s similar profile to what an entrepreneur should have,” he comments.

Ellis admits plenty of marketers won’t like this shift very much, but that it’s inevitable.

“The best part about it is that it’s a lot less talent driven than it used to be,” he says. “If you truly understand a growth process and can follow it, and have the drive to keep working towards a result, you can be more successful as a marketer than in the past, where it was so much more about creative and campaign development.

“The creative branding role is still important, but it’s not what the key executive skill set ends up being. It’s about acting more like a CEO or entrepreneur.”

Up next: Examples of growth hacking in action

Join the CMO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Show Comments

Supporting Association

Blog Posts

Why 2017 will herald a resurgence of values-based marketing

It doesn’t take long for predictions to become predictable: The rise and rise of Facebook; advancements in analytics; the normalisation of chatbots; personalisation, programmatic, automation, authenticity… The prediction that’s missing from these lists is that in 2017 we will witness a resurgence of values-based marketing.

Jacqueline Burns

Founder, Market Expertise

Why customer experience driven growth is set to take off

Our overall brand perceptions are invariably shaped by our experiences. And loyal customer relationships can be severed in moments by a negative service interaction.

Consistency and conversation: How branding and advertising can work better together

Advertising and branding are two of the most visible outputs of marketing, which is why getting them right is so important. However, too often the line between branding and advertising becomes blurred. This means advertising activity can be out of sync with brand, resulting in poor results for both functions.

Dan Ratner

managing director, uberbrand

Someone needs a swift kick up the bum for such an idiotic idea.

random

​Why a degree is no longer enough to get you hired as a skilled marketer

Read more

The frequent flyer programs are the new profit machines for airlines all over the world, as they have morphed to be mass marketing machin...

Steve@iFLYflat

Velocity frequent flyers program strong performer in mixed half-year for Virgin

Read more

Hi Jennifer, thanks for sharing these info regarding the digital marketing trends.I've created a related video to this topic, would you m...

Fabio Carry

Predictions: 17 digital marketing trends for 2017

Read more

Great news. Marketing automation can be very useful for companies at various stages of development. With so many tools out there it's bet...

Ben

How HBF rolled out marketing automation in eight months

Read more

I read a report that the business sector in Australia as a whole have yet to fully harness and see the proactive change that predictive a...

Alex Martin

Report: Predictive analytics, IoT, machine learning battle it out for marketing dollars

Read more

Latest Podcast

More podcasts

Sign in