Is growth hacking making marketing obsolete?

Growth hacking is one of those strategies that goes completely against conventional wisdom and makes us question if we knew about marketing from the beginning. With the uprising of startup mania, growth hacking strategies have not only shunned traditional marketing, but it also challenged the idea that in order to win over millions of customers you need a budget in the millions as well. But if companies are no longer creating ads or working on big-budget campaigns it begs the question, is traditional marketing obsolete?

Before we go deep into the discussion of whether traditional marketing has a place in today’s marketing plan, let’s define the term “traditional marketing”.

For the purpose of this article, we will refer to traditional marketing as any activity that involves paid advertising. If you are paying a third party like google, Facebook or TV channels to distribute ads then you are going through traditional channels. However, this definition does not cover expenses that were incurred to create content for advertising.

What is growth hacking?

Growth hacking is known as the practice of using creative methods to achieve massive growth in a short time with next-to-none marketing budget. This loose definition of growth hacking doesn’t help the reader to understand what hacking refers to in real life. Then again, growth hacking is so vast, it can barely be confined to one definition. Consider the practice more of a guide to a model of a strategy rather than a concrete theory.

Confused yet? I wouldn’t blame you if you are. In order to simplify things, let’s consider some examples of successful growth hacking strategies (that work)!


The Airbnb team is known for implementing a myriad of growth strategies. While not all are a runaway success, those that were, needed very small budgets and had massive impacts.

Some of AirBnB’s more successful strategies include:

  • In the early days, Airbnb asked its renters to post their listings on craigslist, a website that already had huge traffic from people looking for cheap accommodation.
  • The Airbnb referral 2.0 program leveraged word of mouth and email referrals to reach out to potential customers with great success. By offering a monetary incentive to both parties, AirBnB increased its room bookings by 300%.


It's quite ironic that one of the biggest advertising media in recent times did not spend a single dime on advertising. Instead, it hired a team that focused on growing subscribers by working on finding a better product-market fit. Facebook’s growth team would not only find innovative ways to grow facebook in an age before social media became a thing, but it also coined the term growth hacking.

Now that Facebook has 2 Billion users worldwide, it's hard to imagine Facebook ever struggled to reach a global audience. On the contrary, Facebook immensely struggled to gain grounds in non-english speaking countries. The growth team at Facebook approached this problem with great ingenuity. According to insiders in facebook, they called language the “great equalizer” that would abate them in conquering the entire world. Here’s the punchline though, instead of hiring a team of translators for each language, the engineers at facebook created tools that crowdsource translation from every country. The facebook growth hacking strategy wasn’t just about speaking the language of its users but to build on systems that allow it to grow and scale along with its user base.


“This one small trick can help your company grow to 12 million customers” - imagine coming across this headline on the web. Your B.S. alerts must be going ballistics right now but this is exactly what happened for Hotmail. One small hack led Hotmail to grow to 12 Million users in a short time. Back in the days when companies were competing fiercely to earn its place as your go-to email client, Hotmail ditched all traditional marketing channels its competitors were on and focused on growing its customer base organically. The first step was creating a great product, the next and most crucial step was to include a referral link to hotmail in the email signature body.

One link was all it took Hotmail to reach 12 million subscribers at a time when most other email clients were buying expensive ad slots in prime TV and premium billboard spaces. At the same time, one of its customers spent 20 million dollars to get only half of Hotmail’s numbers.

Can corporate and small businesses emulate growth hacking success?

Growth Hacking doesn’t have to be for startups or tech companies. There are several large companies still practicing growth techniques that involve little to no budgets and getting amazing results. What really drives a large company to emulate growth hacking success in the fashion of startups is to act like a startup itself. As a large company, managers need to let go of corporate dogma and embrace cultures that have worked for startups.

Break Silos

Corporations and small business often separate marketing, engineering, and finance into divisions which have few if any communication with each other. This results in marketing not knowing the effectiveness of their campaigns and engineers not being able to develop products that help in the marketing efforts. Breaking silos is the first step to incorporate marketing mechanisms into your product.

Create a culture of failure

Learning to fail is one of the most important factors in a company’s success. Where large corporations focus on getting it right the first time, small startups embrace failure and encourage their employees to try multiple things until they find success.

Note: The top 4 highest valued companies in the world are tech companies that have been founded as early as 1998 beating out companies like Johnson & Johnson which formed back in 1886. All of these companies were once startups known for thoroughly experimenting with their services.

Start small. Stay Nimble.

The phrase go big or go home has no space in growth hacking as hackers more often than not prefer starting small to test out their ideas before scaling it to a larger audience. Growth hackers understand that their first iteration will most likely be a failure, so they test hard and fast quickly determining the probability of success.

Does Growth Hacking’s tremendous success mean traditional marketing is becoming obsolete?

It's already established that growth hacking is extremely powerful. However, it is also true that most growth hacking tactics involve bringing huge changes to your product and services which a lot of large corporations are unable to do in the short run. So it is safe to say that large companies can have a harder time trying to growth hack their way into profits. Add that to the fact that established companies are already big and have a lesser margin to grow than startups, it is difficult to growth hack their way to newer customers who haven’t used their product.

It seems traditional marketing is here to stay for a long time but only to remain the shadows of growth hacking’s immense success.

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