Every once in a while our prospects and customers ask us, “What is the difference between growth hacking (marketing) and traditional marketing?”

I can understand the need to know the difference. Because the future of your business depends on this information, so you have to know it.

At GrowForce, we only have growth marketing services and education (Academy). But the truth of the matter is, it might not be the best fit for you. In fact, traditional marketing might be a better option.

This article is going to explain the nature of two marketing approaches in an honest and transparent manner.

This way, you’ll be able to identify which is the best fit for you.

If you don’t know you can watch this short video or read our comprehensive article about growth marketing.

Growth Hacking vs. Traditional Marketing.

I’m glad that I’m writing this because I’ve worked for three years in a global marketing agency (J.Walter Thompson) as a commercial copywriter. Therefore I have experienced both processes first-hand.

There is a 100-year gap between the two. So let’s start from the beginning and understand why they exist in the first place. 

#1 The birth of growth hacking and traditional marketing


Traditional marketing

Brands were looking for a way to spread awareness, sell more and eventually get bigger.

Traditional marketing responded to this by adopting the latest innovations of 1900s. Since then it’s focused on print, direct mail, radio and video commercials.

(At some point, email marketing murdered direct mail (RIP) and the rest stayed the same.)

The majority of traditional marketing is still focused on print, radio and TV commercials plus some social media platforms. 

Growth marketing

Growth marketing is a baby with a bright future. It’s born inside a high-pressure startup-small business environment. 

Startups needed to survive and thrive. But the thought of combining startup marketing budgets and traditional marketing was impossible.

So the companies took innovative solutions that use the power of technology and platforms. They find different ways to grow without spending much.


#2 Two different approaches.


Traditional marketing

If you want to spend larger amounts and get high exposure on platforms like TV, billboards, city squares or Youtube Masthead, then traditional marketing is excellent for you. 

Traditional agencies always aim for maximum awareness with the most creative ideas to attract prospects. But most of the time they don’t have a clue about the actual results.

The nature of traditional platforms doesn’t allow marketers to measure the effectiveness of campaigns. They don’t have the tools to analyze metrics like ROI right away.

Also, campaigns are quite long-winded. Many big brands run one or two campaigns throughout the year, and that’s all.


Growth marketing

The goal of the growth marketer can be anything from product development to all the way referral campaigns.

The core mentality of growth marketing is experimenting. Growth marketers often set multiple small but potent experiments (also called hacks).

These are short-winded (one week to a month) runs to measure the results. The purpose is to understand which experiments bring the most conversions to the table.

Then they could determine to scale kill or pivot the experiments. Growth marketers can be creative too, but the growth metric always comes first.

One thousand people saw your viral video, wow that’s cool.

Did they sign up for your services? No.

Then it’s not cool because your growth metric is not views but sign-ups. That means you’re not reaching the right people and the experiment has failed.

#3 Pirate Funnel vs. the traditional method

Traditional marketing

There are two goals in conventional marketing: awareness and acquisition. Everything stops when marketers acquire the customer.

Will they stay, buy again or remain happy in the future? This is your or another agency’s responsibility.

Growth marketing

Growth marketing has a holistic approach with the Pirate Funnel. They’re responsible for all marketing and customer-related operations.

It’s called a pirate funnel because the initials of the funnel are AAARRR. Let’s demystify the abbreviation and briefly touch the goals of  every stage of the funnel

Awareness: make sure people know you exist.
Acquisition: make leads leave their details.
Activation: give users a first great user experience. Wow them!
Retention: bring customers back with new features, strategies and keep them delighted.
Revenue: find the right business model for selling, upselling, cross-selling and so on.
Referral: encourage your loyal customers to share your services with others.

#4 Unstable vs. data-driven marketing.


Traditional marketing

People always think traditional marketers use their gut-feelings. Well, yes and no.

The majority of traditional agencies have their own team of strategy geniuses. They conduct researches, focus groups, interviews and feed from other studies to brief creative teams.

What if there are limited resources or researches? Then the strategy team will make a guess-work by looking at the similar campaigns that have done before.

The approach of the strategy department could be reliable but the creative team will say the last words.

Most of the creative directors (head of the creative team) obsessed with getting awards in competitions like Cannes Lions. Awards are also huge for brands, which transform into global recognition and exposure.

So when they find a potential idea that could get an award, they could easily maneuver the direction of the campaign from strategy-driven to pleasure-driven.

This is the truth of traditional agencies.

You’ll get the wittiest and smartest advertisement ever, but your profit and outcome are not the priority for creatives.

And after the campaign, you’ll not know the results because they lack the tools to measure it.

Growth marketing

The north star of growth marketers is data. They will make sure that both feet of the campaign are on the ground and standing towards growth.

Creative solutions are not important as the results and there is no space for guess-work. Also, every experiment should be measurable and trackable to understand what works or not.

Even fails are meaningful when you can spot what is wrong. Therefore growth marketers can build success stories by using failing blocks.

#5 Two different skillsets and structure

Traditional marketers

Traditional marketers are master at one or two skills and unbeatable in their professions. They build big brand identities, strategies and sales campaigns.

And they are often responsible for only one thing in the agency.

  • A copywriter never designs and set social media ads.
  • An art director rarely writes and find ideas.
  • An account manager never talks about ideas.
  • The head of the strategy department probably doesn’t know much about Search Engine Advertising.

They’ll together deliver artistically indulging and top of mind campaigns.

Here the roles are very distinct. So if you have any thoughts, revisions or feedback about your campaigns you will communicate with account managers and executives.

Then they’ll filter your message to the creative team. It’s kind of layered.

You’ll have an account manager that you could reach anytime. On the other hand, you can’t talk with the team that prepares your campaigns first hand.

Growth marketers

Growth marketers are all-round marketers that have a diverse range of backgrounds.

Here are some of the past experiences of growth marketers I know:

  • Programming engineer.
  • Salesperson
  • Commercial Copywriter.
  • Entrepreneur.
  • Account manager.
  • Business development.
  • UX designer.
  • Video Marketer.
  • And so on.

But to create solutions for each stage of the pirate funnel, you should be doing more than one thing. Here you can check the T-shaped growth marketer schema.

Every growth marketer has the majority of the traits in the image to a certain level. But of course, they excel at one or two skills because of their tendency and background.

For us, these are the top skills of growth marketers.

Fast learners: Everything happens in days. The growth marketer must get to know the brand in the first meeting. Even close the day with a concrete game plan and tens of experiment ideas. 

Creative: Growth marketers aren’t focused on finding the most creative idea. But they should have creative reflexes to get over any obstacle and find solutions.

Data-Driven: Every experiment should be measurable for sustainable growth. Therefore, a growth marketer needs to know how to read data and operate different analytic tools.

Tech Savvy: Marketing tools and automation are essentials parts of growth marketing. The growth marketer should know how to set up automated workflows or to set up A/B tests and landing pages.

Here a growth team or consultant will take care of your campaigns. So you’ll be directly in touch with a team that knows all of your strategy, campaigns and process. Without any filters.

You can hire an army of superior marketing people or all-round growth marketers. It all depends on your budget.

#6 Two different processes.

Traditional marketing

You’ll have a meeting with the strategy and account department first. This meeting intends to understand your brand and culture. Then strategy people will eventually brief the creative team.

According to this briefing, the creative team will start to work on their big boy campaigns. After weeks or months, they’ll present you multiple routes with slogans, TV commercials, radio spots, billboard and some witty digital marketing ideas.

After you choose one campaign, the production will begin. After months from the first meeting, you’ll have your fancy campaign on air.


Growth marketing

From the first meeting, you’ll be with your growth team or consultant. And in this very first meeting, your team and growth marketers will do exercises together to find out what your business needs.

If you’re curious about exercises, here are two of them: 

Growth Marketing Canvas.

On the same day, together, you’ll determine a goal and tens of experiments to execute in the following days.

In the next days, you’ll be performing the campaigns together. In one or two weeks, you’ll get the results from the first set of experiments. Based on the results, you’ll scale, pivot or kill the first set.

Then sail for another set of experiments.

As you see, it’s a faster and interactive process that involves your team as much as possible. The idea here is to pass the growth mentality and teach how to fish to your organization. So you can eat a lifetime.

#7 A different set of channels

Traditional marketing

Traditional marketers aim to proven marketing channels like TV and Radio. Of course, these are quite expensive channels and the goal is to reach an explosive growth.

This is a big commitment. Likewise, you can grow or fall big.

Growth Marketing

On the contrary, growth marketers like to discover customer-specific uncharted platforms. Where they can experiment in new creative ideas with low budgets.

With small commitments, you’ll have the chance to grow big or lose small. How can you win big?

Well, most of the new platforms are trackable and measurable. If you can tell it succeeds, then you can scale it. 

Example: You can record a bunch of TikTok videos almost with zero budget. If they go viral and make people follow you, then you can keep recording. 

If not, you can stop.

#8 A different set of toolset

Traditional marketing 

Since they’re heavily dependent on print, tv commercials and PR, they use all adobe creative tools like Photoshop, Illustrator and After-effects.

Some of the marketers also know how to use digital tools and platforms like FB, Twitter and Youtube ads. Or content marketing tools, SEO, SEM and Google Analytics.

Growth marketing

Growth marketers are like Batman when it comes to tools. They can use all the tools that marketers can use.

But in addition, they have tools for testing, analyzing, optimizing and automating the marketing efforts.

Here are some of the tools that we use for different tasks:

  • Phantombuster – To scrape data and automate networking (adding, messaging people etc) on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and other platforms.
  • Salesflare – Amazing CRM tool. It allows us to automate a lot of manual data entry.
  • Webscrape.io – Basically, to scrape all data on the internet.
  • Autopilot – To create mail flows and automated mail campaigns. And even send SMS messages. It also provides good analytics afterward.
  • Reply.io – Like autopilot but with some additional features. Worth to take a look.
  • Plann3r – A highly customizable tool to schedule calls and meetings on autopilot.
  • QWILR – It helps you create interactive and mobile-friendly sales documents. Saves a lot of time and enables you to win more work by replacing traditional PDF proposals, quotes, and presentations.
  • Instapage – It helps you to create stylish landing pages swift and easy. It also runs A/B tests and measures the success of your campaigns.
  • Ahrefs – The best and affordable SEO tool for content marketers.
  • Sumo – Helps you to add social proofs, exit-intent and any kind of opt-in form to your site. Totally free.
  • ManyChat – a tool that allows you to build messaging flows on Facebook messenger easily.
  • Coupon Carrier – Distribute unique coupons to your customers using email, custom links or chatbots.
  • Leadfeeder  It shows you which companies are visiting your site, how they found you and what they’re interested in.
  • Skrapp – It finds you the email of prospects.
  • Zapier – This is the glue that sticks different growth hacking tools together.

And this is just a scratch to the surface.

We went through all 8 differences between Growth hacking and traditional marketing.

But you might still have questions like:

What is the difference between growth marketing vs digital marketing or inbound marketing? So, we’ll make sure that you know everything before you make a decision and answer those questions.

Growth hacking vs. inbound marketing

Here is a concise but sweet answer. They are both customer-centric approaches with different extends.

Inbound marketing is focused on awareness and acquisition solely.

Growth marketing does that too. But in addition, it makes sure to keep your customers happy, make them buy again or give them a reason to refer your product to their friends.

So it’s right to say they have overlapping points. As a matter of fact, many inbound marketing strategies can also be part of a growth marketing strategy.

Growth hacking vs. digital marketing

The digital marketing term is too broad to make a meaningful comparison.

You can label any marketing effort that happens online as “digital marketing”. And growth marketing is a mentality that brings a bunch of online, offline strategies and tools. 

Growth hacking vs growth marketing

In the core, they’re the same thing. For us, the term growth marketing is a more matured and well-settled version of growth hacking.

We may say growth hacking is high-tempo cross-functional experimentation with significant growth potential.

And growth marketing is the more strategical and sustainable version of growth hacking. But growth hackers can be growth marketers or vice-versa. 

There is no significant difference other than names. You can get growth hacking or marketing services from the same agency.

The verdict: growth hacking vs traditional marketing

You learned lots of things and now might want to scroll up to refresh your memory. But don’t do that. Because we have a guide chart that can help you to clarify everything you learned.

Here it is:

So here is our answer to the question. Growth hacking vs traditional marketing, what should you choose?

When to choose traditional marketing?

Well, if you are an established well-fed company that is slowly and surely growing every year, then traditional marketing could be for you.

You may need high budget awareness campaigns that could make your brand top of mind and tip of the tongue.

When to choose growth marketing?

You’re a startup, medium or big-sized business that wants explosive growth (at least 20% a year). Plus, you have a limited to medium budget, then growth marketing is the go-to option for you.

I hope this guide answered your questions.

If you have further questions about growth marketing, you can always ask us. Give us a call here, anytime you want.

If you want to discover what growth marketing can do for your business, we can show you.

Come one of our inspiration sessions.

It’s a 1-hour crash course about growth marketing where we explain all the aspects of growth marketing with real-life examples and demonstrations.

You can reserve your seat from here, for free.

See you around,

Related articles:

What is growth marketing and why it is so effective?



Head of Content

I’m here to make sure you enjoy every bit of content you read.