Growth Hacker vs. Digital Marketer – The Ultimate Guide for Startups That Want to Acquire Leads and Grow Revenue

Growth Hacker vs. Digital Marketer - The Ultimate Guide for Startups That Want to Acquire Leads and Grow Revenue

You’re familiar with the term growth hacking, right?

In reality, growth hacking is the “secret sauce of digital marketing”.

In other words, if you want to cut through the noise, make an impact in your industry, and experience tremendous growth within a short time, you need to switch to growth hacking.

It begins with the shift in your mindset as a digital marketer thinks differently when compared to a growth hacker. Of course, there are areas when these two professions collide, but they both take on a different path.

The most effective growth hacks focus on tactics and strategies that are well-documented – which can be replicated in a new business or model.

As a startup, acquiring new leads, converting them into customers and retaining them is critical. On one hand, growth hacking can help you quickly grow your user base, but digital marketing is how you retain them.

Are you beginning to see the possibilities of embracing both?

If you’ve ever wondered why free trial users suddenly closed their accounts or refused to upgrade their membership privileges, the reason isn’t far-fetched – they were not nurtured and engaged through digital marketing.

In this in-depth article, I want to show you how to place growth hacking and digital marketing side by side, so that you can acquire and retain new customers, and skyrocket your revenue.

Let’s get started with the basics…

Who is a Growth Hacker / Digital Marketer?

As the term implies, a growth hacker is a professional who’s concerned about growth.

The focus of a growth hacker is to determine low-cost actions that will ignite a massive, sustainable, and rapid growth of a product, service, business, cause, or brand.

According to Sean Ellis, a growth hacker is a person whose true north is growth”.

They go beyond the first levels of conversion”, says Aaron Ginn.

They’re much more obsessed with attaining scalable growth than anything other KPI.

On the flip side, digital marketers use available strategies to drive performance, get insights from analysing data, develop action plans, experiment, measure and adjust their campaigns across different marketing channels.

At the end of the day, the efforts of a digital marketer may not bring sustainable growth, but it can help a growth hacker to make better decisions.

In reality, both growth hackers and digital marketers can work together to achieve a common goal – Growth.

What is Growth Hacking?

Growth hacking is the use of cost-effective methods to drive sustainable significant growth, acquire users and customers, and retain them for years to come.

It’s the by-product of creative marketing, experimentation and data analysis, as well as automation and engineering.

Each of these segments is important for growth hacking to be highly effective. Otherwise, it’s plain traditional marketing.

As an example, the majority of users who signed up to Dropbox when the company deployed its hacks are still loyal customers.

It all boils down to following a proven path, as well as exploring new processes for driving a consistent funnel of new users to a website or product.

As you’d expect, growth hacking is usually linked to startups and small businesses as they want to thrive, especially in a competitive niche.

However, growth hacking works for other forms of business models. All it takes is a shift in your way of thinking, which forward-thinking entrepreneurs and smart marketers can apply to their strategy to achieve growth.

The Growth Hacking Process

As I mentioned earlier, there’s no marketing endeavour that will yield overnight results. I know that sometimes you set up a campaign and by the next morning, a lot has happened — several leads and sales generated.

For example, an e-commerce brand generated $22,000 sales per month with browse abandonment email, but you don’t get to see what happened in the funnel. That’s the process.

But here’s the truth:

It didn’t happen overnight. Remember all the brainstorming, planning, efforts, writing and rewriting, and pains that went into it. It certainly took some time, and your energy was dissipated.

A lot of people are quick to conclude that growth hacking is a shortcut. But I’d argue it all day.

The results you see from Microsoft, Airbnb, Dropbox, and several other big companies today, didn’t happen instantly.

There’s a lot that went into the growth hacking process.

I’m seeing smart digital marketers who are beginning to approach marketing like growth hackers. For example, in growth hacking, you’re looking at testing, measuring, and scaling your campaigns.

It’s not enough to get an influx of new users this week, if that doesn’t happen in the subsequent week, there’s a problem.

To fully identify with growth hacking and embrace its processes wholeheartedly, let’s discuss the core areas that will ultimately determine the success or failure of your campaign.

Note: Different business models and niches will have a different path to the same equation. Essentially, here’s how it works for eCommerce and online marketing entrepreneurs:

i) Sales funnel: Everything happens in the sales funnel. Without it, you’ll be losing sales. According to PureB2B, 75% of leads don’t lead to sales, largely due to a lack of nurturing, persuasion, and motivation.

The term “sales funnel” doesn’t mean that you’re out to exploit people or cajole them to buy what they don’t want to buy.

On the contrary, a sales funnel (I prefer to call it a marketing funnel) has all the touchpoints and stages that a cold visitor goes through before becoming a loyal customer.

If your sales funnel is weak or irrelevant to your target audience, growth hacking will not help you.

From the awareness stage all the way to the stage where the lead takes action and purchase your product, you need to educate them.

No marketing gimmicks, just plain education.

That’s why the first consideration is the sales funnel. Make it count, study your audience to understand them better, develop a buyer persona, study and understand user psychology.

There are good resources to help you in this respect – you don’t need a University Degree to know it. Once your sales funnel is ready, it’s time to begin at the top (which is usually very wide).

ii) Customer Acquisition: At the top of the funnel (TOFU), you’ll be bringing visitors to your website or landing page. Customer acquisition happens at the very beginning, and a lot of people get a chance to enter.

Bear in mind that not all of them will like what you’re doing – studies found that up to 68% will leave before moving onto the next stage in the funnel.

iii) Customer Engagement: You’ve got to understand that regardless of your good plans to help people, once you’ve them on your funnel, many of them will still ignore your messages and even deny ever knowing or subscribing to your email list.

However, there’s a place for customer engagement. For the benefit of your leads that have indicated interest (A. I. D. A.) in your offer, you MUST engage them.

By engagement, I’m talking about your involvement in their affairs, finding out their problems, questions, and challenges.

According to a recent study by PwC, customer engagement will yield satisfaction, loyalty, trust, advocacy, and more.

Don’t assume that you can deliver 100% satisfaction. If that happens, then, your business is already perfected. And you can improve on perfection. Think about it.

No, you’re not expected to solve every problem that your ideal customers are facing, but you need to help them see a brighter side to it — and how they can become better and still grow their business despite the challenges they face.

Content marketing is the best way to create engagement. One thing you must do is diversify your content formats.

Of course, blog posts and written content are great, but for a stronger engagement with your leads, you need to create videos, infographics, podcasts, PDF reports, online courses, and more.

Any content format that gives you the ability to express yourself in words, actions, and interact with your leads will work.

iv) Customer Activation: At this stage in the sales funnel, people have made a buying decision, and they have begun to buy from you. It’s a delicate stage because they could change their minds if you fail to communicate “What Is In It for Them”.

During activation, you want to ensure that users have the best experience ever. Don’t take your eyes off the sales, but don’t dwell on it either. Customer satisfaction is the key at this stage.

Therefore, in growth hacking, since the ultimate focus is on scaling growth in the business, buyers need to be appreciated and cared for. What questions are they asking, you must answer them to aid the smooth transactions that are going on.

v) Customer Retention: Customer churn increases when startups and SaaS companies don’t take customer experience and satisfaction seriously. According to New Voice Media, 58% of consumers will never use a company again after a negative experience.

At the end of the day, startups and small businesses can acquire leads, increase sales, and build a loyal audience when they have mastered customer retention.

Whether you’re going to employ digital marketing strategies or growth hacks to get consistent sales, you have to up your customer service delivery.

Data from the Institute of Customer Service found that a 10% increase in a company’s customer satisfaction score leads to a 12% increase in trust from customers.

Positioning your Website for Growth

Before you start driving traffic and leads to your website, you need to position it for growth.

Have you ever seen startups that spend so much money on Facebook ads, Google ads, and all sorts of native advertising, but they don’t invest in a high-converting landing page.

How sad.

Growth hacking is becoming the norm these days. Many people are already sick and tired of SEO and frequent algorithm updates. If you think that your startup or business will suffer, this section will help.

You need to start with your homepage. For most startups, the homepage is the most visited page on their website.

If you’re looking for new users to sign up, you need to optimize your homepage. Here’s the anatomy of a high-converting landing page – you can ensure that your homepage has some if not all of these elements.

If you deploy growth hacking strategies to a high-converting homepage, your sign-ups will skyrocket.

Another vital step to position your website for growth is by increasing the page speed. The consequences of a one-second delay are as follows:

  • 11% fewer pageviews
  • 16% decrease in customer satisfaction
  • 7% lost conversions

To put it in the right perspective, a survey of 1,048 online consumers by Akamai and Gomez shows that 47% of consumers expect a web page to load in two seconds or less, and 40% will leave a web page if it takes more than three seconds to load.

You create a good impression with your fast-loading web page. If it’s slow, it’s a sign that your product, business, and brand isn’t worth trusting. Can you see the multiplier effort already?

Did I mention that once your homepage and other pages are loading up quickly, you can add call-to-actions (CTAs) to collect additional sign-ups and leads?

From your Google Analytics dashboard, you can check your landing pages (i.e., pages that are most popular on your website), when you do, add CTA buttons, links, and lead magnets to encourage more people to opt-in. Don’t just rely on your homepage for acquiring new users.

Specifically, you can use these simple growth hacking tactics to trigger growth:

i) Put your content to good use: You’ve got tremendous ideas already. Instead of waiting for the perfect time, why not start a blog and attach it to your startup website – you’ll see great results.

According to HubSpot, B2C companies that blog generate 88% more leads per month than those that do not. B2B companies generate 68% more leads.

The idea with blogging isn’t to slave away every single day writing and publishing new posts. Instead, you want to spend quality time researching and creating each post, such that people will want to link to it.

If you’re smart, you’ll follow this blogging rule: “Publish less, Promote More!”

That’s how the likes of Buffer, Backlinko, Chris Brogan, and other authoritative online entrepreneurs cut through the noise and grew their businesses.

ii) Leverage social media: The “essence” of social media isn’t to promote businesses, even though it’s become the norm today. It’s for connecting, communicating, sharing, and building social relationships with people.

By helping people on social media, you’re building a tribe that believes in you and will go the extra mile to support your cause. It all boils down to helping people. Come on, the rule hasn’t changed yet.

Growth hackers use social media groups, social masterminds, discussion boards, and other social gatherings to build buzz around their products.

In an interview with Forbes Magazine, former Facebook growth hacker Andy Johns explained that in order to grow Facebook, his team created embeddable Facebook widgets that could be shared on users’ blogs and websites.

As expected, these widgets “served billions of impressions per month, which resulted in hundreds of millions of targeted clicks and millions of new user signups”.

So, what’s the growth hack here…?

You should have seen it. Facebook was creative enough to tap into its user base and followers with the simple introduction of an icon.

Even if you can’t develop your app yet, you can still leverage social media to drive business growth.

Share irresistible posts on your social media accounts to engage and interact with your followers.

If you want more visitors and customers to your business, you might want to include social proof in the form of testimonials, social sharing counters, and behind-the-scene video tutorials on websites.


The battle continues. Growth hackers and digital marketers play a key role in the online marketing space. In as much as growth hackers tend to be respected (maybe due profession), I know some badass digital marketers.

In all, if you’re a digital marketer and you want to adapt and start using growth hacking methodology (ideation, testing, measuring), you need to develop the traits of a growth hacker – you must be focused, creative and curious, data-driven, resourceful, daring, open-minded and eager to learn.

If all or a handful of these traits be in you, you’ll not only acquire leads and generate sales today, and whine tomorrow, it’ll be consistent and you’ll build a thriving business in the face of intense competition.

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