At first glance this seems a crazy term, but the more I read about it the more it makes sense. Most commentators define it as a role existing on the overlap between technology/development and marketing. Two things that traditionally don’t go together, but that’s because traditionally we have thought in silos. The product development team used their expertise to create something, and then passed it on to marketing to sell. A poor process often mocked, most famously in the tree swing cartoons.

But things in both areas have changed; user feedback as part of the development process, so the development teams are collecting user input online, and using this phase to build an audience prior to launch.

Meanwhile marketing has become an increasingly data-based occupation. That’s the dirty little secret about marketing, there’s a perception that it’s a creative discipline but in fact marketing teams are constantly looking at data on sales, results of surveys, focus group outcomes and customer feedback to find the best ways to communicate the product. As products and communication have moved online so has the data.

Development has become closer to the user, and marketing has become closer to the data and to product development. In fact the two have come to overlap, and the professionals operating in that hybrid space are calling themselves “growth hackers“. They’re either marketers who can code or geeks who get marketing, depending on your point of view. It’s on the way to becoming a recognised profession, last year saw the first official Growth Hackers Conference.

This slideshare presentation points to another driver for growth-hacking; start-ups do not have the budget for full blown marketing campaigns. Plus it offers some good examples, some of which pre-date the term growth-hacker.

This hybrid role represents a breakdown in the old silo’d world of Development vs Marketing, the two disciplines are now  using the same resources and have the same goals. I think the mentality of testing and trying new things usually considered the preserve of geeks is shared in the role of growth-hacker. I’ve tried to represent that new inter-relationship. (I should have given them both happier faces – and shoes for the dev guy).

Not everyone sees this as a new legitimate role, there are those who consider it “just marketing” I can understand that point of view, and perhaps in a few years the people now calling themselves growth hackers will call themselves marketers. Perhaps the the allergy that (some) development and tech people feel for marketing means that they need a new title when they begin taking on marketing tasks. Perhaps marketing departments will be renamed as growth hack centres.

Or the name might turn out to be a fad – and we’ll have a new term for high level innovation in building sales for a company.

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