Growth Hacker: The Next Marketing Leader?

startup-growthI read a lot of job descriptions for Marketing leadership roles – and coding and technical chops don’t often make the standard requirements list. But that might change sooner than you think.

You see, according to Andrew Chen – noted as one of the “smartest geeks in Silicon Valley” by PayPal alum, Dave McClure – there’s a new job title sneaking into Valley culture: Growth Hacker.

Three to four short years ago, that same “Growth Hacker” would have been called the VP, Marketing – a people-centric, communications driven, data-interested superstar. But this new nom-de-plume is the revolutionary answer to an ultra-speed web-universe where products are built on top of open platforms (Apple, Facebook) giving unprecedented access to millions of users. Chen explains:

Growth hackers are a hybrid of marketer and coder, one who looks at the traditional question of “How do I get customers for my product?” and answers with A/B tests, landing pages, viral factor, email deliverability, and Open Graph. On top of this, they layer the discipline of direct marketing, with its emphasis on quantitative measurement, scenario modeling via spreadsheets, and a lot of database queries.

This isn’t just a single disruption either, but an entire marketing team full of disrupts (and if you’re thinking it’s all just Valley-talk, check out this recent, local job posting from HootSuite for a Growth Hacker/Marketer):

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. The process of integrating and optimizing your product to a big platform requires a blurring of lines between marketing, product, and engineering, so that they work together to make the product market itself.

With regards to the latter, Chen gives an excellent example: Airbnb’s incredibly smart Craigslist integration.  At the offset, it’s fairly simple: Airbnb gives rental-listing holders the opportunity to share their ads on Craigslist in just a few, easy clicks. The catch? No traditional marketer, says Chen, would have thought of this, “or known it was even possible – instead it’d take a marketing-minded engineer to dissect the product and build an integration this smooth.”

Of course, this doesn’t mean you should run out and get your engineering degree and/or hire the most technical candidate in the room. As Sean Ellis (one of the first marketing leaders of well-known start-ups like Dropbox and LogMeIn) reasons, the VP Marketing needs to have the right core competencies to allow him/her to shape the overall company strategy, build and manage a marketing team and coordinate outside vendors among many other responsibilities.”

And when it comes to engineers or the highly technical marketer, says Ellis, some might excel at this while others “will be bored out of their minds.”

What really matters is the ongoing emphasis on growth.

So, take a look at your resume or recent work history…

  • Are you selling yourself as a growth hacker?
  • Above all else, do you emphasize and quantify your track record of growing the businesses you’ve worked for?
  • Do your skills satisfy the highly technical nature of today’s marketing landscape – or at least acknowledge the seismic shift in that direction?

If not, you’ll need to focus fast on learning those skills or hiring them in – because if you don’t, nothing else will matter.

Bonus: 19 Growth Hacker quotes: Thoughts on the Future of Marketing