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What is the difference between a digital marketer and a growth hacker?

(MARKETING) Knowing whether you’d benefit more from hiring a digital marketer or a growth hacker has everything to do with what phase your company is in.

growth hacker vs. digital marketer

Business growth in the digital age can feel anything but natural, with companies employing everything from advertising tricks to wildly expensive internal consultations to bump up those quarterly numbers. As your ambition to expand your business grows, you might find yourself wondering which of those routes to pursue. Ward van Gasteren, a Dutch entrepreneur, has some guidelines you can use to answer that question.

van Gasteren is the creator of “Grow with Ward,” a growth hacking course designed to be accessible and effective – a combination that was decidedly absent from the market, according to him.

“I noticed that almost all other growth hacking courses fell into one of two buckets: (1) cheap… but focused on superficial growth tactics, or (2) good quality in-depth content, but very expensive,” he says. “I believe everybody should have access to that knowledge of how to build a systematic process to achieve long-term sustainable growth, so I created my own course, since… working one-on-one with me is also too expensive for most people.”

As a certified growth hacker himself, van Gasteren posits that both growth hacking and marketing should occupy the same cycle – growth hacking should simply occur “on top of ongoing marketing” and explaining that “the fields are very different in focus [but] actually complementary to each other.”

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“Marketers should be there to continue where the growth hackers left off: Build out those strategies, maintain customer engagement and keep tactics fresh and relevant,” he says.

According to van Gasteren, the ideal growth model entails marketing campaigns informed by data while growth hackers test new strategies to alter or build upon the existing strategies. In theory, this model creates a mobius strip of ever-changing advertising strategies as growth hackers are able to solidify practices that work (and prune the ones that clearly don’t).

But both growth hacking and digital marketing are extremely expensive investments for businesses, and your growth hackers need data before they can get to work.

So, if you’re unsure of where to start as a brand-new venture (or a firm looking to start a new strategy), a digital marketer is your best bet, with the data they provide – the good, the bad, and the ugly – being ammunition to aid the growth hacker you eventually hire.

Of course, van Gasteren’s philosophy of adding growth hacking on top of (and parallel to) marketing is an eventual step for any successful company to take.

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He explains that growth hacking is often the solution to determining “why” traffic is slowing rather than the “where” that digital marketing results convey.

“[That ‘why’] comes from talking with customers, running hypothesis-focused experiments (not result-focused) and maybe by looking at your feedback from customer support or surveys,” he says.

In short, if your marketing is secure, a growth hacker is a good investment to make, especially because they will complement your current campaign.

However, if you haven’t yet established successful or well-rounded marketing data, a digital marketer is probably your best bet.

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Jack Lloyd has a BA in Creative Writing from Forest Grove's Pacific University; he spends his writing days using his degree to pursue semicolons, freelance writing and editing, oxford commas, and enough coffee to kill a bear. His infatuation with rain is matched only by his dry sense of humor.


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