Growth Hacking is B.S. Follow these Marketers instead

For those of you who didn’t read this earlier post on hacker news,  Joel Andren wrote an awesome post on how “growth hacking” is being used a vehicle to promote oneself. As someone who’s been talking about this for a while,  I was so happy to read this.

That got me thinking – if all the hype is centered around growth hacking, where are the SaaS marketers who provide evergreen content on startup marketing? I’ve been on the hunt for these people, so I figured I’d put together a list of  people you should follow. These are some of my favorites, and they focus on solid marketing principles, not fads and tactics. I split them up into groups depending on what stage your company is at (although some may bridge between different categories).

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Website Visitors are People Too

I visit quite a few websites over the course of the day, and I’m amazed at how bad most of them are. I’m not very picky about design (although I appreciate good design), but instead, I’m dumbfounded at how pushy they are from the very beginning.

Buy this! Sign up for my ebook! Don’t think about leaving this window, or I’ll put another pop-up to convince you to stay.

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Marketing Skills that Matter

The tech community is in love with “growth hacking.” I’m not.

Marketing has never been more important for early stage tech companies – with enormous competition online from every angle there’s a massive need for talented marketers to use online channels to build businesses and make money, but instead marketers are focused on growth.

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Minimum Viable Marketing

In high school, I hated science. I despised memorizing terms, labeling body parts, and dissecting frogs. Over the past few years, I’m realizing that there’s one aspect of science that I find myself using on a daily basis. It’s the scientific method. The simple process of identifying a problem, developing a hypothesis, testing, and coming to a conclusion is a major part of marketing on the web.

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Tips to Find and Validate Potential Customers

A couple months ago I wrote an article on simple ways to find potential customers online, and it picked up some traction, so I decided to expand and write a few more tips and tricks I’ve learned recently. Enjoy!

Find Demand

If you break down business to it’s simplest form, it’s a supply and demand game. First, let’s find the demand by browsing popular sites for products that people are currently paying for . Here’s a list to start:

Find Local Demand

What are locals interested in? Use the following to find out:

Automate Craigslist = Win

I’m moving to Boston in a month, and I’ve wasted so many hours on Craigslist searching for an apartment. When seeking to find potential customers online, you may be tempted to spend insane amounts of time browsing through listings – don’t do this! There’s a better way.

There’s many programs out there that notify you via email of new listings. I use Craigslist alerts and I can search for a particular product/service, enter other parameters, and have listings sent to my inbox. This is a beautiful thing – and it saves so much time.

On a side note, you may find that you receive duplicate emails – this may annoy you, but I’ve found that if the listing is something you actually want, it gives you an opportunity to negotiate with them on price, etc. This is how I saved $150/month on my sublease. After all, who likes constantly posting on Craigslist?

Supercharge your Emails

There’s nothing I hate more than sending dozens of emails, and being clueless about whether or not the recipient actually read it. I recently found Yesware – hook up this app to your Gmail account and you’ll be able to see if people open your emails. Even better, you can create and use templates to speed up the process.


Knowing if people open your email is valuable – it narrows down your list of leads so you can give a follow up call. It’s also good for refining your message. 

If you’re looking for another tool to help with email – use Rapportive for extra customer insight.

Forums, Linkedin Groups

I enjoy following conversations on blog comments, forum topics, and wherever I can find the potential customer in their natural habitat. Oftentimes during customer development, people are eager to offer feedback, yet oftentimes it’s not insightful. I’ve had conversations with people that just want to talk, and while I enjoy building relationships, it’s tough to guide conversations.

LinkedIn groups can be another pitfall – posting on a group with 10,000 members probably won’t help you. Find niche groups – sometimes they can be a goldmine. On the other hand, I’ve seen many groups full of spam.

In short, there’s no golden bullet, but I hope some of these techniques help. Let me know in the comments below!



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Running Marketing Experiments with Purpose

Over the past few years, marketing on the web has become way too much fun. I remember trying to figure out what “hits” on awstats meant in high school, and I distinctly can recall how disappointed I was when I found out the true meaning.

Nowadays, we have a plethora of useful programs that provide deep insight into how visitors use web applications. Many of these programs have a fire hose of data, and it can seem very daunting. I’ve been reading Lean Analytics, and it’s caused me to question some of my habits as a marketer.

The first and most important thing that I’ve been reminded of, is that marketing on the web is all about running experiments based on intuition. I’ve found that the best marketers are ones who are humble and understand that they don’t know everything. Intuition serves a purpose, but be ready to prove it with data.

In short, I believe marketing has become much less risky. There’s not a lot of pressure if you can run experiments all the time – you’re not spending a massive marketing budget only to find out the results are lackluster. That’s awesome!

With this new style of marketing, I believe it’s important to keep track and learn from every experiment (and also keep record). I’ve created a simple guide to follow, It’s a series of simple questions you should ask when running a marketing test. I’ve also attached a PDF that you can download and use for your own tests. Enjoy!

Marketing Experiments with Purpose


What are you Testing?

This is a very basic question, and is used primarily for categorization purposes. Are you testing a landing page? The color of a CTA? Store these experiments in a way so you can reference them later.


What is your Purpose?

What do you aim to accomplish with your experiments? Are you looking to drive signups, sales, or referrals? If you have no purpose, then you probably shouldn’t be running the test in the first place.


What is your Hypothesis?

What do you expect to happen during this test? This section is valuable because it forces you to develop your intuition. If you find that your hypothesis fails time and time again, consider spending more time asking questions with your customers. Intuition can be learned.


What Metric measures success/failure?

The authors of Lean Analytics wrote a great blog post outlining what a good metric should entail. I highly suggest using this post as a reference when choosing what to track. I personally suggest using sales as a benchmark for your business, after all, the goal of a business is to make money!


What Results did you see?

What happened during the experiment? What did you learn?


What would you change in the future?

If there was anything you could change in the future what would it be?


By running experiments and keeping track of the results, you will become a more effective marketer. Feel free to download a one-page worksheet so you can run marketing tests with purpose!

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Designers & Developers have Style Guides. Marketers should too

I’ve been learning to program for the past couple years, and I’ve been exposed to style guides. For those of you who don’t know, a style guide is a framework of how code is organized. It’s also used to onboard new hires, and get them up to speed on how the company crafts code and maintains consistency. Here’s an example for programmers, and an example for designers.

I come from a marketing background, and I’ve seen (and experienced) that one of the biggest struggles is to brief a new hire or consultant on the overall marketing strategy and tactics of the company.

In short, I believe marketers should be writing style guides like programmers and designers do. I’ve created a framework below. I think of this guide as a short, condensed version of a marketing plan, without the fancy words and meaningless fluff.

Ideally, the marketer’s style guide should be like a funnel, beginning with the marketing strategy of the company, and work it’s way into some of the tactics. Avoid the granular details though, the purpose is to be short and concise.

Also, I’ve posted a sample marketer’s style guide on Github – enjoy! For those of you who want to dive into the individual pieces, feel free to keep reading.



The overall strategy sets the tone for the company. It’s the guiding light for the company, and all decisions should mesh with the mission and vision.

  • Vision – 1 sentence that explains your aspirations as a company
  • Mission – 1 paragraph that explains how your company will achieve the specified vision.


Perceptual Map

The perceptual map is a great way to visualize the competitive landscape of the industry in a short and succinct way. It’s also a great way to see how your product/brand stacks up in the mind of a consumer. Here’s an example I created for Apple.

Apple Perceptual Map



The campaigns section is broke up into past campaigns and future initiatives.

Past campaigns create context for the on-boarding process. They also provide metrics on how the campaign performed. As a marketer, I like hearing stories of success and failure. For successful campaigns, I view this as an opportunity to focus and fine-tune, while failures show places to improve.

Future initiatives show where time is currently being spent, and show opportunities to get involved.



I view this section as the keywords your company wants to win online. This is geared towards SEO efforts in particular, yet it should also encapsulate what you have learned during customer development. As you have conversations with customers, you will find common phrases/keywords that customers will use. Put these keywords in this section, it will be a good reference point.



Oftentimes larger companies contract this work out, but this collateral should include web, print, and other forms of media that support marketing efforts. The purpose of this section is to give insight on how the marketing message is tailored to each channel. Feel free to put Facebook Ads/Google Adwords copy in this section.


Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

What metrics should you be be paying extra special attention to? KPIs are simply the metrics that matter most to your company. Including these metrics in the style guide is important – it shows the marketing team what to focus on (instead of pageviews and other pointless stats.)


Acquisition Cost/Channel

What channels are profitable? How much does it cost to acquire new customers? This information allows new hires/consultants to quickly determine which channels are the most effective. Once again, the purpose is to provide areas to focus efforts.



The budget can seem tricky, but I would use this section to set benchmarks for how much to spend on each channel per month or quarter. How much should we spend on PPC? Print? Trade Shows? You get the point.


Once again, I’ve created a sample guide on Github, check it out, and let me know what you think on Twitter.

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The Best Marketers are Humble

A modest or low view of one’s own importance; humbleness

I’ve been thinking recently about what characteristics separate an average marketer from a great marketer. It seems like great marketers have superhuman tendencies; they somehow understand EXACTLY what the customer wants. What I’ve realized is that the best marketers are humble – they aren’t wrapped up in their knowledge, but instead focus on understanding the customer on a deeper level. They also don’t use past success as an indicator of future success. Every day, the slate is clean.


Get to Know your Customer

It’s easy to think that you understand the customer, but do you really know what motivates them? What do they hate? What do they love, and how does your service/product make their life better? 

Think about it. As a marketer, you spend countless hours immersed in marketing your business – do you really think you are the ideal person to understand what your customer wants?

The only way you can find out this information is by asking – don’t be afraid to dig deeper. A great way to do this is simply by asking “Why?” Toyota manufacturing coined the process of the “5 Whys” – use this technique to pinpoint the underlying reasons to seemingly basic questions.

Practical Tools & Application: 

  • Ask your customers questions on Facebook or Twitter
  • Email and call customers – ask for 10-15 minutes of their time.
  • Send out a survey (email subscribers are great candidates)
  • Use Qualaroo or Snap Engage (for website visitors)

Your hunch is a Hypothesis, Not a Fact

As a marketer, it’s easy to think you understand what the consumer wants, when in reality, you are CLUELESS. Treat your opinions as a hypothesis that needs to be tested. Remember science class? It’s time to use similar tactics:

  1. Determine what you are testing
  2. Develop a hypothesis
  3. Conduct research and establish control groups
  4. Make sense of your findings

Stay Humble

It’s great when your assumption turns into a goldmine, yet don’t base past success on future efforts. The great part about marketing is that it’s a process that continually builds on itself, the more you understand your customer, the more likely your tactics will succeed. Yet don’t get cocky, and stay eager to learn.

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Enough of this “Growth Hacker” Talk

The term “Growth Hacker” has been circulating around tech blogs for the past couple months, and I think the overall discussion around creating scalable, long-term growth is extremely important. As someone who is a current marketing student, with a few years of a semi-technical background (working on that right now), I’ve been reading these posts with anticipation that I will find something valuable that I can focus on during my last year of college.

It seems like startups are pursuing someone who understands marketing at a deep level, yet has a firm grasp on the technical aspects of the business. According to Andrew Chen, a “growth hacker” uses A/B testing, tons of analytics, and leveraging “super platforms.” While I won’t argue that these skills are critical, why are people with these skills outliers? Why aren’t they a norm in our startup obsessed subculture?


Marketers are Lazy

I’m not gonna lie, I enjoy networking more than I enjoy unit testing, but the more I program, the more  I realize that anyone can learn this stuff.  It’s not rocket science, it just takes motivation and patience. There are so many resources online nowadays, there’s no excuse NOT to learn.

Technology is changing at such a rapid pace, I believe the disconnect is only going to get worse. Marketers are going to make more and more horrible suggestions to programmers, further isolating the teams (and overall progress). Sure, marketers aren’t always the problem, but many people think programmers are like hermits – afraid of the world, and unable to carry on a decent conversation. In reality, some of the smartest people I have ever met hack on computers for a living.


Marketers love Vanity Metrics

With the rise of these “super-platforms” (Facebook, Twitter), marketers are preying on the ignorance of their business colleagues. Using nearly worthless data (i.e – “likes”, re-pins, engagements), these people suggest that their campaigns have a positive effect, when the majority of the time, there’s very little qualitative evidence to prove it. I’ve seen “marketers” play with these metrics, manipulating information to prove their worth. It’s sad, but it’s very common.

I’ll admit that it’s not always the Marketers fault. Many clients measure success on vanity metrics, which creates a sticky situation that often leads to unethical practices (purchasing Facebook “likes” for example).


Clueless Marketers

I distinctly remember sitting through a class last year where a student asked, “Does Google own the internet?” We live in a culture that is constantly using technology, yet has no idea how it actually works. This is the future my friends.

I never expect the masses will understand how to read a Google Analytics dashboard, but I hope that marketers will. It’s not happening in college. Not one bit. I’m a little afraid that these idiots will be bossing around the people that actually understand the web, and have the skills to make a difference.


Most Marketers avoid the Technical stuff

As I wrap up with my final point, I must stress that “soft skills” are extremely important, but for the life of me, WHY are marketers ignoring the technical stuff? Do you not realize that your entire business (especially web-tech) is built off lines of code? Why don’t you think that’s important enough to learn? I’m not saying you should be an amazing hacker, but can you carry on a decent conversation with a programmer at least?

Wake up my marketing friends, let’s get up and start making real-progress. If you work at a web startup, you should be a growth hacker. And please stop referring to yourself as one – that’s annoying.

Feel free to yell at me on Twitter.

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