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Growth hacking is not the silver bullet

The Data Handbook

How to use data to improve your customer journey and get better business outcomes in digital sales. Interviews, use cases, and deep-dives.

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Antton Ikola



Many of the activities organisations participate in to increase sales and improve customer experience are not best described as “growth hacking,” even though the actual activities might be modern, optimal, and relevant for growth. We, as constant explorers of new ways to grow digital businesses, should not limit ourselves too much on terms.

On a practical level, growth hacking is all about doing rapid experimentations to grow revenue or acquire customers. By definition, this contrasts an approach where growth is achieved by patiently crafting experiences, brand and meaning.

The terms are ambiguous, have slightly different meanings on different levels and are interpreted differently by people (if you want to know Columbia Road’s definition, refer to this blog). On the other hand, growth hacking is not a patch to put on any type of activity that is not actually directly focused on revenue impact.

It’s about the business – not the tools

Growth hacking itself tries to challenge the traditional thinking of “everything that can be digitalised – will.” Instead of building solutions for the sake of digitalisation, it aims at directing the spotlight on actual measurable business impact for business. However, growth hacking is not a one-size-fits-all solution for digital growth. Putting too much emphasis on growth hacking and diving too much into the details of it can all too easily lead to Maslow’s Hammer problem: "I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail." (Maslow’s Hammer)

Growth hacking is about solving problems

The truth is, many business problems can be solved without building anything. Services and products do not function in a vacuum. Rather, they are parts to a bigger journey. For example, we can think of a simple customer service situation. What makes a service fail? Where is the weakest link? In these technology-driven times the problem is this: We might be more eager to deploy chatbots on our websites instead of deeply understanding our customers’ problems and the context that they use our products and services in.


Balance fast experimentations with a broad understanding

Even if growth hacking would have an immediate business impact, it’s important to understand that some things may take a few years to show results. Broad understanding requires a broader range of research methods than web or customer analytics data. We need to be ready to go out there and ask about customers’ motivations and whether we have prototypes or just plain paper as the first “build.”

However, what growth hacking must give to development requiring longer cycles, is the mindset of rapid experimentation. While patiently, for example, building an identity for your service, it does not harm to keep in mind all the time, how any sub-items could be experimented and validated as well as what tiny pieces of your work could help you to reach some business goals already next week or month.

Balance easy transactions with brand and meaning

It is important to understand that tools that are included in a growth hacker’s toolbox, such as conversion rate optimisation, are not a silver bullet solution and have their limitations. While these tools can provide actual data about what works for getting more online transactions, they will always fall short of explaining why a specific something works. A/B-testing tools allow you to only know what you can measure, and even measuring has its limitations. At the end of the day, doing things that you cannot measure matters as well.

What we’ve learned in our growth hacking teams early on is that a conversion optimisation approach cannot replace the needs for differentiation and conscious creation of meaning for the end-customer. Creativity and data must work hand in hand. What makes the difference to the traditional advertisement world? Having the world-view, you are presenting to your potential customers results that have been validated with real data and in real-time.


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The Data Handbook

How to use data to improve your customer journey and get better business outcomes in digital sales. Interviews, use cases, and deep-dives.

Get the book