Growth Hacker Marketing by Ryan Holiday: my foreword to the Polish edition

Growth Hacker… The first problem is translating the title. “Haker wzrostu”? I can already imagine a number of experts on growth hackers (hakerów wzrostu), conferences about growth hackers (hakerach wzrostu) or growth hacking (hakerowzrostowe) websites and the faces of corporate marketers. Please excuse my sarcasm but for many years I have been witnessing this peculiar tendency to polonize English words related to the marketing revolution. Anyhow, let the translation of the phrase growth hacker into “haker wzrostu” stay, unless professor Bralczyk finds a better-sounding equivalent.

What is this book about? On the basis of his own experience and the analysis of particular cases Ryan Holiday defines growth hacking as a new identity of marketing. It is symbolized by the perspective of very fast company growth which occurs after the standard marketing methods have been abandoned. At this point a short explanation is needed for Polish readers. The American market has developed a bit differently in terms of marketing. It is not only the matter of the scale but also of economic transformations. During our 25 years of free market economy, global trends and changes have intermingled with the stereotypes concerning marketing. Nowadays we have three generations of entrepreneurs on the market and all of them are used to a little bit different way of doing business. Another issue is the legendary Silicon Valley and its experience connected with the dotcom bubble burst at the turn of the centuries, which affected the present world of e-business. Finally, it is important to understand the notion of inbound marketing, that is the principles based on permission, the term coined by Seth Godin. I am mentioning this for a simple reason. For a few years I have been working as a mentor with many innovative companies which put the idea of growth hacking into practice. Many of them are technological firms which have great technical competences, but not always such a great understanding of marketing principles. It is important to remember that the author does not refute any fundamental principles, but points out particular changes in the perception of growth and ways of developing an innovative company instead.

Growth hacking is a perfect elaboration on the issue of establishing presence and getting an edge on the market. The search for low cost methods of operation, which are far different e.g. from the traditional advertising in the media, is a form of acting in an arbitrary way mainly when dealing with digital products, the diffusion and sales of which may reach a global level practically overnight. An additional aspect is the issue ofpivoting, namely the ability to adapt to the changing market and customer expectations. For Polish IT specialists, who are sometimes much in love with their products, accepting this element may be challenging.

According to Ryan Holiday, it is necessary for the marketers to understand the technology; however, it is also crucial for the engineers and developers to be familiar with the rules of marketing. The fundamental principle is to get the idea of customer needs as well as the market and its behaviour before applying particular tools. Holiday seems to represent the typical product-oriented approach to market development and product sales. The assumption that the core of growth hacking is to simplify and to take a short cut without regard to formerly gained experience reminds me of the Bruce Lee’s philosophy expressed in Jeet Kune Do — the combination of various effective martial arts. Growth hacking seems to be similar to it in the sense that it seeks highly effective marketing methods which are at the same time low cost.

The author assumes that the work of a growth hacker involves “creating something from nothing and making it reach unimaginable size in a very short time”. This defines the familiar-sounding “marketology”, i.e. the creation of the market and managing it. The growth stage, on the other hand, depends to a great extent on the type of the product and its scalability. Digital products are not limited by borders and the modern philosopher’s stone of IT specialists and developers is a brand new app downloaded by a million people within 24 hours for $1.

It is worth emphasizing the precision of marketing activities. Holiday criticizes the approach typical for actions targeting masses and using the commonly known tools. While the so called precise targeting is a classic method implemented by business-to-businessfirms, the tools such as newsletters, landing page, white papers, SEO, SEM and positioning of online adverts on social media which are used nowadays, make the targeting look completely differently. It ought to be stressed here that the growing significance of behavioural targeting, i.e. the one based on the analysis of our behaviour on the Internet and not on what we declare e.g. on Facebook by providing information about who we are and what we do.

“Growth hacking begins with testing the product until we are sure that it is worth the marketing” — says Holiday. It is a dangerous sentence and so it is worth explaining. What seems to be crucial is usability anduser experience, not the fact of saying why a given product is perfect and then “pumping” it on the market. In this respect the crowdfunding websites prove to be great tools as they make it possible to estimate whether their users are interested in a particular business concept and a finished product, to simply assess if people want it. A growth hacker has to attract people and this is a precise definition of inbound marketingwhich I have previously mentioned.

The author points out the significance of the phenomenon of a product going viral for the building of awareness of its existence and applications. Nevertheless, the content on the Web tends to become viral, rather than be programmed this way from the beginning. Whether it happens or not depends also on the place the product was first presented. In other words, a note about a new app published on “Wired” will have a totally different viral potential than the same note posted on a Polish website. Another thing is strong focus on growth, which does not necessarily yield a similar business result. New digital products, particularly in the SaaS model, frequently develop as free betaversions, and the number of their premium users may vary greatly. Yet another model are the “ad-funded apps”, as they are often called by start-ups. Unfortunately, this seems to be their only idea for generating revenue. It is not about making a million apps available for free testing, it is about convincing this million of potential clients to pay at least $1 monthly to continue using the app after the testing period ends.

According to Holiday, the essence of marketing is client acquisition, but in my opinion, this approach is too simplified. The key to the world of “marketology” is to increase the value of a firm in such a way that its owners and employees are happy and the customers elated. The importance of intangible assets is rising, which means that for example the brand understood as a fulfilled promise to a customer is more significant than the label on the product.

The book can be recommended not only to innovative entrepreneurs but also to every person who wants to understand the changes taking place in marketing all over the world and see how the behaviour of Polish firms looks in this context.

Highly recommended :)


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Jack Kotarbinski

Economist, Keynote Speaker, Best-Selling Author, Marketing & Innovation Strategist, digital influencer, blogger, entrepreneur, top columnist Forbes Polska