Growth hacking – a technology-based marketing strategy for early start up businesses – is rapidly becoming part of Silicon Valley culture and experienced growth hackers are in high demand. But is a growth hacker a distinct role with a unique skillset or is it simply a fancy name for a tech-savvy marketer as the role of technology in marketing expands?

Let’s take a closer look at what makes a growth hacker and how the role fits into the wider marketing industry:

Growth hacker trait 1: A singular focus on growth

The key difference between growth hackers and marketers is an almost obsessive focus on growth. While traditional marketers may split their attention between objectives such as building brand awareness and improving customer relationships in addition to customer acquisition, growth hackers make growth their one and only goal, and the benchmark by which they measure success. Sean Ellis – who coined the phrase – said, “A growth hacker is a person whose true north is growth.” The rise of disruptive communications platforms such as Facebook now make it feasible for startups to grow their customer base from nothing to millions in just a couple of years and the practise of growth hacking has emerged from this phenomenon.

Growth hacker trait 2: Use of technological tactics

While marketers use a mix of traditional and digital tactics to meet their goals, growth hackers exclusively leverage technological methods to achieve growth – partly because these low cost tactics fit the limited marketing budgets of start-up businesses. The tactics used by growth hackers have been likened to McDonalds’ 1950s strategy of locating restaurants at busy road junctions – they place the product where the maximum number of target customers will see it. This means using tactics such as SEO, content marketing, affiliate marketing, and – perhaps most importantly – social media to make the product an integral part of the online conversation across global markets, often in new and unexpected ways.

Growth hacker trait 3: Emphasis on software products

In general, the start-up businesses that employ growth hackers don’t manufacture traditional goods, they produce software products such as social platforms and mobile apps. The unique feature of these products is their ability to promote themselves, possibly using an API integration with an existing network or platform, which is a key part of growth hacking.

Growth hacker trait 4: Possession of technical skills

The analytical and technical skills vital for growth hacking are simply not developed in current marketing courses, so growth hackers often come from engineering backgrounds. A growth hacker doesn’t necessarily need to be a programmer in their own right but they do need an understanding of technological integrations and preferably a coder on their team. According to Uber’s Andrew Chen, “This isn’t just a single role – the entire marketing team is being disrupted. Rather than a VP of Marketing with a bunch of non-technical marketers reporting to them, instead growth hackers are engineers leading teams of engineers.”

While a growth hacker is clearly a distinct role with its own set of skills and goals, it still sits within the marketing department and can best be described as an inventive, technically skilled marketer who pushes the boundaries of what is technologically possible to achieve maximum growth. The rise of growth hacking shouldn’t be viewed in isolation but should be seen as an indicator of the increasing role technology now plays in marketing. The worlds of marketing and technology are colliding and marketers must develop technical skills in order to survive.