Growth Hacking vs Growth Marketing: How to Leverage the Difference

Growth Hacking vs Growth Marketing: How to Leverage the Difference cover

The similarities sometimes make it difficult to differentiate between growth hacking and growth marketing.

Some people even assume both terms mean the same thing. They don’t.

In this guide, we explore the differences. As you read on, you will learn the right context to apply each and strategies to combine them for explosive growth.


  • Growth hacking consists of quick hacks and low-cost strategies to achieve rapid growth.
  • Growth marketing is a long-term strategy that considers the entire customer journey, from acquisition to activation, retention, and referral.
  • The primary benefit of growth hacking is increased user acquisition at a low cost.
  • The benefits of growth marketing include long-term sustainable growth, more good-fit customers, improved user retention, and long-term ROI.
  • Growth hacking is a data-driven, experimentation-focused approach to marketing that uses creative, low-cost strategies to achieve rapid growth.

Similarities between growth marketing and growth hacking are:

  1. They’re both geared towards driving product growth.
  2. Growth marketing and growth hacking rely on data for decision-making.
  3. They leverage similar tools to achieve set goals (e.g., analytics tools, A/B testing platforms, email marketing software, social media management tools, etc).

Differences between growth marketing vs hacking are:

  1. A growth hacker focuses on acquisition, while a growth marketer tracks both acquisition and retention.
  2. Growth hacks are fast individual tactics; growth marketing is a long-term strategy.
  3. Growth hacking gives rapid results; growth marketing gives sustainable growth.
  4. Growth hackers track user acquisition rates; growth marketers track a range of metrics across acquisition, engagement, and retention.
  5. The growth marketer’s playground is in the product, while growth hacking happens outside the product.

Choose growth marketing if…

  1. You’ve found product-market fit.
  2. Your company aims to improve both user acquisition and retention.
  3. You want to focus on specific user personas.
  4. You’ve got the budget to invest in a long-term strategy.
  5. You’re looking for stable and tested marketing strategies.

Go for growth hacking if…

  1. You’re a start-up/early-stage company looking for users.
  2. Your company is targeting a broad audience.
  3. You have a high-risk tolerance.

Important note: Irrespective of your growth stage, you can combine growth marketing and growth hacking to get the best of both worlds.

Effective growth hacking strategies:

  • Use exit intent pop-ups to capture more visitors.
  • Promote your product or service via current customers.
  • Offer perks for sharing a landing page.
  • Get listed on software directories for lead generation.

Effective growth marketing strategies:

  • Start a referral program.
  • Personalize your onboarding to improve customer experience.
  • Promote new features with webinars.
  • Use modals to push upgrades at the right time.
  • Activate reverse trials to let users experience the full product.
  • A/B test feature pages to increase acquisition.

Userpilot can help you implement growth marketing strategies to skyrocket growth. Book a demo to learn more.

What is growth hacking?

Growth hacking is a marketing approach that makes small changes or creative “hacks” to achieve rapid growth.

It’s usually low cost and implemented quickly for fast results. Hacking is often associated with early-stage startups trying to find their footing and grow fast, but businesses of all sizes can use it.

Growth hackers think outside the box and experiment with new ideas. They aren’t afraid to fail, and they’re constantly iterating on their strategies.

How does growth hacking work?

Have you heard growth hacking stories from startups like Dropbox and PayPal and wondered how this thing works? Sadly, there’s no magic formula.

Growth hackers dig deeper into their audiences to design growth loops or hacks that could drive virality. Next, they validate these with data analysis to find effective tactics to double down on.

What are the benefits of growth hacking?

Growth hacking comes with many advantages. The major upsides include:

  • Rapid growth: Growth hacking is designed for rapid and exponential growth. It prioritizes quick results, making it especially beneficial for companies aiming to gain market share swiftly.
  • Laser focus on user acquisition: Growth hacking mainly pays attention to acquiring as many users as possible within a short period. This helps companies increase their user base and paves the way for retention (you can’t retain users if they don’t sign up).
  • Extremely number-driven: Growth hacking is inherently data-centric. It relies on rigorous tracking and analysis of user growth metrics. By closely monitoring these metrics, companies can identify what strategies are effective and what needs adjustment, leading to a more efficient use of resources.
  • Often low cost: Many growth hacking techniques are cost-effective or even free. For example, an exit pop-up on your website is quick to make and cost-effective but helps you boost acquisition.

What is growth marketing?

Growth marketing is a more comprehensive strategy that combines brand marketing and digital marketing to drive sustainable business growth.

It takes into account the entire customer journey, from acquisition to activation, retention, and referral.

How does it work?

Growth marketers focus on developing long-term strategies such as content marketing, email marketing, and social media marketing to differentiate them from competitors. The goal is to make it obvious to prospects that your tool provides the solution they need in order to grow.

Once users are in, growth marketers analyze behavior data and use the insights to create a growth marketing framework that encourages continuous usage, renewals, account upgrades, and even referrals.

What are the benefits of growth marketing?

A successful growth marketing campaign helps you crush many growth KPIs. Some of the benefits include:

  • Long-term sustainable growth: Marketing hacks bring in users, but there’s no guarantee they will stick around. Growth marketers take intentional steps to ensure users progress through the journey stages, maximizing revenue and growth.
  • More good-fit customers: Growth marketing strategies consider user needs, preferences, and pain points. This helps marketers develop campaigns specifically targeted to their ideal customers, increasing the likelihood of long-term engagement and loyalty.
  • Improved retention: Growth marketing enhances the overall customer experience through personalized and data-driven strategies. This, in turn, boosts customer retention by keeping users engaged and satisfied, ultimately increasing their lifetime value (LTV).
  • Long-term ROI: It takes time to build a solid customer base and a successful growth marketing strategy. However, the long-term ROI of growth marketing can be very high.

Similarities between growth hacking and growth marketing

Growth hacking and marketing are two distinct approaches, but they share common objectives and methodologies. They both revolve around achieving product growth, making data-driven decisions, and harnessing similar tools for execution.

Let’s expand on the similarities:

  • Goal: Both growth hacking and growth marketing have similar goals – to drive product or business growth. They aim to expand user bases, increase revenue, and create sustainable expansion.
  • Data: Hackers and growth marketers heavily rely on data analysis to strategize and improve effectiveness.
  • Technology: Just like growth hacking, growth marketing relies on a variety of technologies such as analytics tools, A/B testing platforms, and CRM systems.

Growth hacking vs growth marketing: what’s the difference?

Despite the similarities, growth hacking and growth marketing are two different approaches. Here are five key differentiators.

Growth hacking focuses on acquisition, growth marketing focuses on acquisition and retention

Growth hackers only have one goal, and that is to increase user acquisition and scale growth by all means from anywhere.

On the other hand, growth marketers take a holistic approach, focusing not only on acquiring users but also on retaining them. They aim to nurture existing users, enhance the user experience, and encourage them to stay engaged over the long term.

Growth hacks are fast individual tactics, growth marketing is a long-term strategy

Growth hacks are often short-term maneuvers aimed at achieving quick, sometimes explosive, results. For example, when newly launched, Hotmail added a signature to the bottom of every outgoing email that says, “Get your free email at Hotmail.” This resulted in millions of new users through virality.

On the other hand, growth marketing combines different strategies and experiments to drive growth through repeated engagement and personalized experiences.

For example, as part of their revenue expansion strategy, Loom encouraged users to try its paid AI feature for free before upgrading.

Loom introducing its advanced feature.

It’s worth noting that this isn’t a standalone strategy; it’s just one of Loom’s many growth marketing strategies to encourage user retention.

Growth hacking gives rapid results, growth marketing gives sustainable growth

Growth hacks usually give rapid but short-term results. On the other hand, growth marketing goes after sustainable customer acquisition and retention strategies and prioritizes them over “hacks”.

For example, it takes time to plan and host webinars that nurture leads and drive conversions. However, long after the live events, the webinar recordings will remain a valuable tool for educating customers and prospects.

Growth hacking tracks user acquisition rates, growth marketing tracks more metrics

Growth hacking primarily tracks user acquisition rates and may concentrate on one or a few key metrics, such as sign-up conversions or referral counts.

Growth marketing monitors a broader spectrum of metrics throughout the entire customer journey, providing a comprehensive view of the customer lifecycle.

Growth marketing takes place in the product, growth hacking doesn’t

Growth marketing integrates marketing efforts with product development. It emphasizes creating a product that aligns with user needs and continually improving it based on user feedback.

SaaS growth marketing tactics pay close attention to the in-app user experience. It involves deploying UI patterns like modals and tooltips to guide users or prompt certain actions. This also includes using customer behavior data to regularly optimize in-app flows, ensuring users are equipped to succeed.

In contrast, hacking has nothing to do with the product. It focuses on external tactics, such as making changes to the website or reaching out to third-party tools.

Growth marketing vs growth hacking: Which one is right for you?

The marketing approach to apply (or prioritize) depends on your growth stage and company goals. Here’s a quick guide to help you decide what to focus on:

When should you choose growth marketing?

  • You’ve found product-market fit: Growth marketing is most effective when you’ve established a solid product-market fit. This means you have a product or service that people need, and you have a clear understanding of your target customer.
  • You want to improve both user acquisition and retention: Growth marketing strategies will help you boost your growth metrics across the customer journey.
  • You want to focus on specific user personas: Growth marketing is well-suited for businesses that want to target specific user personas. By using data-driven insights and segmentation, you can tailor your marketing efforts to address the unique needs and preferences of various segments, improving engagement and retention among these personas.
  • You’ve got the budget to invest in long-term strategy: Growth marketing requires the budget and resources for continuous optimization and tools. If you lack the resources to do this for long, then you might want to consider growth hacks instead.
  • You’re looking for stable and tested marketing strategies: If you want strategies that have been tested and refined over time, consider growth marketing.

When should you choose growth hacking?

  • You’re a start-up/early-stage company looking for users: If your primary goal is to rapidly build a user base, growth hacking is an effective approach. It’s cost-effective and usually doesn’t need many people on the team to execute.
  • You’re targeting a broad audience: Growth hacks often leverage creative and viral marketing techniques that can capture the attention of a wide range of users. This can help you attract a large user base quickly.
  • You have high-risk tolerance: Not all experiments will yield the desired results, and the fact that something worked in your industry doesn’t mean it will work for you. Only embrace growth hacks when you’re ready to take risks.

Why combining them is the best option for your product

When it comes to growth hacking and marketing, it’s never an “either or” situation – you can combine them to get the best of both worlds.

Use growth hacking for rapid results. Get creative, iterate on multiple experiments, and feed the results into your long-term growth marketing strategy.

This balanced approach will bring in new users quickly and keep them engaged and loyal over the long haul.

Effective growth hacking strategies

Apply the following hacks on your website and product to create virality and boost user acquisition.

Exit intent pop-ups to capture more visitors

Exit-intent pop-ups are triggered when a user attempts to leave a webpage. They often contain compelling offers, such as discounts or valuable content, to encourage visitors to stay or take action.

To leverage exit intent pop-ups effectively, offer something enticing to visitors just as they’re about to leave, like a resource download, a limited-time discount, or a newsletter subscription. Grab their contact information to turn departing visitors into leads or customers.

Exit intent pop-up example from Optinmonster.

Promote your product via current customers

Leverage existing users to promote your product by branding the tools they share with others. This is especially useful with free users (since you’re offering value without charging them).

Consider the following example from Calendly. The “powered by” tag (top right) subtly promotes the product and encourages potential customers to try it.

Calendly promoting its product through existing users.
Calendly promoting its product through existing users.

Offer perks for sharing a landing page

Some SaaS companies offer incentives like discounts or extended trials to current users who share the company’s landing page or product on social media.

This strategy leverages social proof and word-of-mouth marketing. Users are motivated to promote the product because they benefit from perks, while the company gains exposure to a wider audience.

Example: Authory is an online portfolio builder for content writers. This SaaS company extends its free trial if you share the product on social media.

Authory’s growth hacking example.

Get listed on software directories for lead generation

Being listed on directories like G2, Product Hunt, and Capterra increases your product’s exposure to relevant audiences actively searching for software solutions.

Positive reviews and high ratings further enhance your credibility and attract potential customers, driving user acquisition.

If your tool isn’t listed on G2 and Capterra, it’s time to get that done. Use Product Hunt to drive engagement from early adopters when you launch new features or additional tools.

A few featured tools on Product Hunt.
A few featured tools on Product Hunt.

Effective growth marketing strategies

Pair the strategies below with your growth hacking activities to acquire, engage, and retain users.

Start a referral program

Referral programs are a great way to leverage customer loyalty to acquire new users. Here’s how to start a referral program in three simple steps:

  • Choose a referral incentive that is valuable to your customers. This could be a discount on their next renewal, free credit, or access to premium features.
  • Make it easy for your customers to refer people, such as by providing them with a unique referral link or code.
  • Track how many new users you are acquiring through your referral program to measure success.
Dropbox’s referral program gives both new and existing users extra storage space.

Personalize your onboarding to improve customer experience

New users are beginning to get into your tool; it’s now time to set your retention tactics in motion. It all begins with the onboarding experience—that’s usually where users decide if your product is worth it.

One way to reduce onboarding friction and increase adoption rates is to personalize the experience. Begin your flows by showing users aspects of your tool that solve their most pressing needs, and watch your adoption rates go up.

How do you know what features are most valuable to users? Use quick onboarding surveys to learn about their needs, roles, and use cases.

Notion’s welcome survey.

Promote new features with webinars

When you launch new features or update existing ones, you need to help users find them. Buzz around your updates and invite users to webinars where someone from your team explains the new feature and how to use it.

This has dual benefits: you’re educating existing users in the short term and can later use the recordings as marketing and onboarding material.

Use in-app pop-ups like the one below to invite users to your webinars.

Pop-up inviting users to a webinar.
Pop-up inviting users to a webinar.

Use modals to push upgrades at the right time

Employ modals strategically to encourage users to upgrade to higher plans or access more paid features.

Display these modals at appropriate moments, such as when users are engaged or have reached usage limits. By promoting upgrades at the right time, you’re giving users the opportunity to achieve more with your product, potentially leading to higher customer satisfaction and increased LTV.

Loom’s contextual upgrade prompt.

Activate reverse trials to let users experience the full product

A reverse trial is a freemium model that starts with a full-access free trial. This allows users to experience everything that your product has to offer before they’re downgraded to the free version if they don’t pay.

Reverse trials can be a great way to convince users to convert to paid. Having experienced the benefits of a paid feature, many users will choose to upgrade rather than lose their access.

Loom AI reverse trial prompt.

A/B test feature pages to increase acquisition

Conduct A/B tests on your feature pages to identify what resonates best with your target audience.

Test variations of content, design, and calls to action to optimize these pages for better acquisition results. Doing this helps you refine your messaging and in-app flows based on real user preferences and behavior.

Performing A/B tests in Userpilot.


If you’re a startup with a short runway and haven’t exactly struck product-market fit, then consider implementing quick growth hacks to build your user base. Study your audience and market to see what works, then embark on creative growth campaigns.

However, keep in mind that this alone isn’t a sustainable strategy. Once users start coming and you’re beginning to get some traction, channel your resources to play the long-term game.

And if you’re not a startup looking to find its footing, combine both growth hacking and product marketing to drive growth quickly.

Now that we’ve settled the growth hacking vs growth marketing debate, it’s time to begin implementing the strategies you’ve learned. Userpilot can help; book a demo to see how our platform lets you create in-app experiences to prompt action, conduct A/B tests, personalize your flows, and much more.

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