Why we Pivoted From Growth Hacking to Product Marketing and PMF (and Why You Should Too)

Making a pivot is not easy.

But, sometimes, it is the only way to move forward.

And, this is what we did.

Do you want to know what was our way of thinking, and the signs that lead us to make that decision?

Then you must read this article.

You’ll find it all here.

Contents

Chapter 1: Why Growth Hacking and not Marketing?

Chapter 2: What is Product Marketing?

Chapter 3: Why we Pivoted From Growth Hacking to Product Marketing

Chapter 4: Final Thoughts

Chapter 1: Why Growth Hacking and not Marketing?

Growth hacking—and growth in general—is a very popular term.

But, it’s a very misunderstood and misused term as well.

This is happening for several reasons:

  • Many “growth hackers” are using grey-to-white-hat tactics to get results,
  • The word “hacking” gives a wrong impression as to what the term really is,
  • Most people connect the term with quick results and quick wins that don’t cost.

As you can imagine, this creates expectations that—in most cases—agencies can’t meet.

And, of course, it can harm the reputation of agencies as a whole.

In our blog, we’ve covered the topic of growth hacking extensively:

And, we are delighted to see many people join our online course on growth marketing.

Because we have the chance to educate people; to teach them the fundamentals of growth hacking.

Growth hacking allows you to treat things holistically—to test things across the whole funnel, and not just a part of it.

In addition, it is an amazing framework that can add value to any organization, as long as it has managed to find a product-market fit.

Last but not least, growth hacking takes the product under consideration.

Simply put, the product has to be great, for growth hacking to get results.

According to Brian Balfour:

“Growth is typically described as the blending of marketing, product, and engineering.”

Which means that marketing is a part of growth hacking.

And, I would say it’s one of the most important ones.

However, the thing is that marketing has a lot of different areas:

  • Content marketing
  • Online advertising
  • Email marketing
  • Conversational marketing
  • Search engine optimization
  • Search engine marketing

Growth hacking is using all of these areas to discover the channels that can drive growth within an organization.

This doesn’t mean that a growth hacker is an absolute expert in all of these things.

And, this is what most people get wrong.

They believe that growth hackers are some kind of magicians that get results no matter what and that they are gurus in all marketing areas.

But, that’s NOT true.

For us, choosing growth hacking was a way to add value to our clients based on a very specific process, using various tools and marketing channels.

Also, as I just mentioned, growth hacking typically works when a company has managed to find a product-market fit.

While operating as a growth hacking agency, we noticed two more things:

  1. That most companies wanted growth hacking services didn’t have a PMF, AND
  2. That most agencies selling growth hacking services didn’t mention PMF at all.

So, there is an obvious problem here:

On the one hand, companies need something for which they are not ready yet.

On the other hand, agencies sell services that don’t fit their clients’ needs.

Thus, even though in the beginning we had every reason to choose growth hacking over marketing, after a certain point we had every reason to leave growth hacking behind us.

And, this is what we did…

Chapter 2: What is Product Marketing?

Product marketing is not a new term.

It exists for many years now, and it has become widely popular only in the past couple of years.

Many marketing professionals are interested in the term. 

Why is that?

Mainly because we are entering a product-first era; an era when the product—and not marketing—is a company’s main growth lever.

So what is product marketing?

According to Dave Gerhardt from Drift:

“Product marketers are focused on understanding and marketing to customers. They drive demand and usage of the product, which often includes writing positioning and messaging.”

Think of product marketing as a blend of:

  • Product
  • Marketing
  • Sales

But, that’s quite similar to what growth hacking is, right?

Well, not exactly.

Product marketing focuses on the product.

The product is the single most crucial aspect of growing a business.

“Yes,” with product marketing you can still:

  • Explore channels, AND
  • Run experiments,

But, you do all that on a product level, trying to find out if you’ve reached the stage of product-market fit.

Thus, everything that we do with product marketing is strictly connected to product.

Even the traffic we generate—paid or organic—aims to test our product, and see whether or not users stick with it; if yes, why? if not, why not?

This transition from “channel led” strategies to product led strategies (and way of doing marketing) is product marketing.

Now let me tell you how we moved from growth hacking to product marketing.   

Chapter 3: Why we Pivoted From Growth Hacking to Product Marketing

I believe that growth hacking reached its climax 2-3 years ago.

Now, it’s just fading out as many other terms and buzzwords have over the years.

Don’t get me wrong: the process and the methodology behind it is amazing.

As I explained earlier in this article, it’s a holistic approach as to the means that will help a company grow.

However, I believe that somewhere along the way, people forgot to think of it as a process, as a framework.

They started thinking about it as a way to make money quickly and easily.

As you probably know, most of these wins last only for a second.

And, when the buzz is gone, the reality starts to take place.

This is why you see job posts on freelancer sites like this one:

Growth Hacker Upwork

Or this one:

Growth Hacking Upwork

How can you beat that?

Most people (mainly) think of growth hacking as:

  • Exponential growth
  • Quick and cheap results

Our recent research revealed something unique:

That there is a true scam behind growth marketing agencies.

I believe though that this doesn’t have to do only with the agencies, but with their clients as well.  

The knowledge is out there; still, most clients—people who need growth guidance or execution—decided to move on blindfolded.

This is why agencies can take only half of the responsibility.

Growth hacking is NOT about:

  • Quick wins,
  • Cheap results,
  • Grey-hat tactics.

GrowthSandwich started as a growth hacking agency that helps businesses with their marketing and growth efforts.

Somewhere along the way, we understood that there is a gap between:

  • What people think of growth hacking, AND
  • What growth hacking really is.

We also understood that product is the most critical aspect of growing a business.

If your product doesn’t provide users with a great experience, then it’s almost impossible to grow your business.

With our pivot, we aim to help companies understand the value of their product, and try to communicate it effectively.

Also, we try to help our clients understand in what stage they are.

Why is this important?

Because if a company is pro-PMF, can’t seek for growth; it has to pass through various other stages first, and then start growing.

“Yes,” the shift from growth hacking to product marketing wasn’t smooth.

But, more and more businesses understand the importance of the product.

And that they will move away from cheap marketing tricks, and quick wins.

Product is a long-term game; growth hacking can be too.

For us, exploring the possibilities of the first one feels like the right path.

If it will pay out?

We’ll just have to wait and see…

Chapter 4: Final Thoughts

So there you have it.

I just described to you how we pivoted from growth hacking to product marketing.

This was a long journey (and still is).

However, I believe that the more transparent and product oriented we (all) become, the better:

  • The relationships we form, and
  • The results we achieve.

Now I turn it over to you:

What is your opinion on growth hacking, product marketing, and marketing in general? Have you ever thought to pivot, and change the strategic direction of your company?

Let me know by leaving a comment below!

People Who Read This Article Also Read:

  1. Growth Bootcamp: How it All Started, And What’s Next
  2. A (Stealth) Research on the Scam Behind Growth Marketing Agencies
  3. What Does the Agency of the Future Look Like? (A Study by GrowthSandwich)

About the Author: Aggelos M

Aggelos M
I have over 8 years experience in Digital and Growth marketing. Currently, running Growth Sandwich, a London based Product Growth Lab. Before turning in Growth Marketing and Product Growth, I had the chance to pass by head marketing and head digital positions in Athens and London, work with numerous tech startups but also build and run companies. In my spare time, I am consulting ambitious startups about their Growth and Business strategy.