I stopped reading Detective Comics a long time ago. I was never really into it. Mostly because I started reading comics in the ‘90s, and anyone who read comics in the ‘90s can tell you that they were terrible. Green Lantern went crazy and murdered everyone, Superman died, Batman was crippled, and Spider-Man was a clone. Oh, and there were belts, shoulder pads, and needless accessories everywhere. For a while, it really did seem like we were living in the darkest timeline.
But my other issue with Batman comics is that the primary audience for Batman prefers him to be a deranged sociopath. One who displays zero emotion and never smiles. That’s not the Batman for me. I liked the one from the animated series where he watched It’s A Wonderful Life every Christmas.
So yesterday, in my announcement that I was taking over SocialTimes, I mentioned that I’m a growth hacker. I have a lot of problems with this term, but unlike “content marketing specialist”, “inbound marketing expert”, or “social media guru”, “growth hacker” actually refers to something new in marketing.
The problem with “growth hacker” is that the term is embroiled in a civil war. On one side, you have the engineers who coined the term. To them, a growth hacker is someone who is right-brained, knows how to do the coding themselves, and it refers to a specific set of practices and processes that apply only to software companies.
On the other side, you have the marketers who argue growth hacking isn’t a new thing, can apply to everyone, and that it occurs only at the early stage of the marketing process.
Who ultimately wins that war doesn’t matter. What matters is that, for the purposes of this column, I develop a definition you and I can work with. I also think that both sides in the civil war are mostly wrong. The folks in Silicon Valley are right in the sense that the potential growth path of the product is something that needs to be thought out first. This is true. If your product isn’t awesome, nobody’s going to want to tell their friends about it. So you can’t just graft the growth hacking strategies onto your product later and expect results.
The engineers are wrong on everything else though. You don’t need to be a coder because that’s something you can outsource for cheap. You don’t need to be right-brained because that can actually be a hinderance if you let yourself get lost in the numbers. The practices of growth hacking also aren’t limited to startups. In fact, a lot of the growth hacking “success” those startups have experienced have more to do with offline phenomena and behavioral psychology. We’ll get into that more in a future post.
The marketers are wrong because they think growth hacking is a thing that goes into its own box, sort of like what we’re now referring to as “content marketing”. “Content marketing” is, to them, a separate function from your advertising and marketing strategy. Marketers also think that online marketing strategies, and stuff like growth hacking, can be a replacement for paid advertising. No. It can’t. Paid advertising works. So, although the marketers are right growth hacking can apply to anyone when it comes to marketing, they’re wrong about whether or not growth hacking is a new thing. Truthfully, when it comes to marketing, advertising, and public relations, I don’t think there’s ever been a fusion of all those things, product marketing and development, and a scientific method-like approach to all of it.
So what exactly is a growth hacker then? Growth hacking is obviously the process of doing what a growth hacker does, so there’s really no reason to get into any more detail on that term. But growth hacker? That term needs a cleaned up definition that we can work with. That brings me back to Batman.
Batman is a growth hacker. Here’s why:
1. Batman doesn’t punch people in the face without a plan. There’s no wasted motion. He always knows what he’s doing because he has a plan and follows it.
2. Batman is a detective. He asks questions. He tests assumptions. Then once he’s formed his hypothesis, he acts on it and makes adjustments as needed. Batman is always right, that’s how he stays ahead of everyone.
3. Theatricality is crucial to his success. In other words, marketing is crucial to Batman’s success. If Batman ran around beating people up, plan or no plan, data or no data, and he didn’t wear a costume? He’d just be some vigilante. But he’s not. He’s Batman. He knew that criminals were a “superstitious and cowardly lot”, so he took a symbol from his childhood trauma that he knew would scare those criminals. Everything about Batman screams theater, from the cape, his dramatic exits, and even his voice if you want to go with the Christian Bale version. (But don’t. Seriously. No one understands him.)
Everything about Batman, right down to the smallest detail, is thought out to provoke a strong emotional reaction in his target audience. One that he knows will spread to others with minimal effort on his part. (If that doesn’t sound like the basic tenant of growth hacking, what does?)
So what’s my definition of a growth hacker? Batman. Batman is a growth hacker. Think about it: A growth hacker is a marketer who creates, develops, and markets a product according to a well researched, and constantly tweaked, plan. A plan whose ultimate goal is for the product to be passed on with minimal effort and cost after it’s first introduced.
Batman may not be a marketing professional in the traditional sense, but make no mistake, he’s very much in the marketing business. Everything about Batman is marketing. Otherwise he’d just be Aquaman. Do you know who he is? Of course not, which proves my point.
Now that we have our definition, in the following posts we’ll start to look at the big picture here before we start drilling down into how you can utilize growth hacking best practices. Stay tuned.
And as always, send any and all feedback about this column or the site to: STEditor@boun.cr
(Not Pictured: Batman. Photo Credit: JMV on Flickr.)