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  • Writer's pictureMadison Giddens

Growth Marketing vs Traditional Marketing for Tech Startups

Updated: Jan 22, 2023

Recently, I’ve noticed a new term pop up in my “jobs recommended for you” section on LinkedIn called a “Growth Hacker.” If you were to talk to me a week ago, I would have said that the companies hiring “growth hackers” wanted fast growth using viral videos or tactics like Mr. Beast to build awareness.

While my first assumptions might be kind of true, I have since done my research and learned that “growth hacking” is so much more than viral YouTube videos. With a definition of growth hacking–also known as growth marketing–understood, my second question was “should technology startups use traditional marketing or growth hacking as a way to build their brand?”

The age-old answer to any marketing question? It depends.

In this article, I’ll break down the differences between growth marketing and traditional marketing and clarify, to the best of my ability, if tech startups should hire a traditional marketer or a growth hacker.

Differences Between Growth Marketing and Traditional Marketing

Throughout my research, many sources refer to growth marketing as “marketing 2.0,” and marketing 1.0 as “traditional marketing.” This casts a negative connotation on traditional marketing, which I think misses the point. Though growth marketing is a new concept, there is still a need for traditional marketing for certain industries and brands.

In this article, I’ll break down the following differences between traditional marketing and growth marketing:

  1. The Goal

  2. The Method

  3. The Necessary Skills

#1 - The Goal

The main difference between traditional marketing and growth marketing is their end goal. In traditional marketing, companies want to make conversions or bring awareness to their company. In growth marketing, companies want to build brands that have sustainable growth for the long term.

Let’s use an example. We have two tech startups. One startup is a business-to-business (B2B) enterprise finance software, the other is a business-to-consumer (B2C) SaaS product.

The B2B company focuses on selling more licenses or units of their product, building awareness in their industry, and growing quickly. They hire a traditional marketing team and use tried and true tactics to market their products. Their budget is big, and their cost per conversion is the key metric.

The B2C SaaS company’s marketing team has a goal to build a brand that customers recognize, trust, and share with their friends. They use growth hacking, focusing on building a brand that engages with customers and creates brand ambassadors. They thrive on organic growth that is sustainable for a long period of time.

Both marketing goals are acceptable and may result in the same level of success in growing a customer base. The main difference is the speed at which they reach their goals.

#2 - The Method

The methods used by traditional marketing and growth marketing differ as well.

Using our previous example, our B2B company may use traditional marketing like ads, print, commercials, radio spots, Google ads, Facebook ads, etc. The marketing team for the B2B company focuses on metrics like “Cost per Conversion” and asks the question “How can we get more customers to buy?”

Our B2C SaaS company, on the other hand, determines their marketing strategy based on data. Growth marketers are sometimes referred to as “Marketing Scientists” because of their passion for testing new strategies, tracking data, and iterating as necessary. They ask the question, “how can I create a brand ambassador?”

Growth marketers can use something called “AAARRR”--otherwise known as the pirate funnel–in order to expand and identify bottlenecks that are choking growth. AAARRR stands for:

  1. Awareness - Build awareness for your brand and focus on bringing value to customers.

  2. Acquisition - Lead generation through email marketing, chat bots, or social media strategies.

  3. Activation - Engage with customers, make onboarding simple using clear UX/UI.

  4. Revenue - Customers purchase a product or service

  5. Retention - Retaining customers through constant engagement, evolution, and solving customer problems.

  6. Referral - customers are referring the product or service to friends and their professional network.

This is a funnel that growth marketers use to establish their strategy and identify bottlenecks in their sales funnel. For example, if a company has no issue getting new customers, but they can’t retain customers, the company should look into the UX/UI, pricing structures, or performance of their product to determine a root cause.

Growth marketing uses traditional marketing methods in addition to:

  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO) - increasing organic traffic to a website

  • A/B Testing - testing out different tactics and tracking what works best

  • Data Analytics - focusing on what areas are not working for making sales

  • Content marketing - videos, influencers, blog posts, podcasts

  • Email and social media marketing

  • Pricing strategies - different pricing structures based on psychology

  • Lead generation - lead magnets, chat bots, newsletters, webinars

#3 - The Necessary Skills

To call yourself a “growth marketer” or a “growth hacker,” there are certain skills that may be different from a traditional marketer. To illustrate this, let’s look at two LinkedIn job descriptions.

Marketing Manager:

Growth Hacker:

While a traditional marketer has experience in marketing campaigns, a growth hacker is much more focused on testing and shaping future strategies. They don’t focus on the tried and true marketing tactics of traditional marketing, but continually try new methods, validate through data, and focus on long term growth.

Some sources say that tech startups may not have as much success with a growth hacker, as the majority of their work focuses on testing new strategies. If everything is new, what baselines do you have? Yet other sources argue that tech startups should hire growth marketers as they are generalists with a love of new marketing mediums.

In my humble opinion, an experienced growth hacker could help a tech startup by way of their general understanding of many marketing methods, their ability to stay up to date on latest trends, their understanding of data, and ability to influence the design of a product based on user research.

Growth marketers/hackers should have the following skills:

  • Search Engine Optimization

  • Data Analytics experience

  • Keyword Research experience

  • Entrepreneurial Spirit

  • Creativity

  • Understanding of most marketing methods and passion for new trends

  • Content Marketing

  • A/B Testing

  • Email Marketing & Lead Generation

  • Social Media Marketing strategies

One common misconception is that a growth marketer can act as a one-man-band marketing team. Though startups may opt for this at the beginning depending on funds available, the goal should be to build a growth team full of growth marketers. Each growth marketer should have different specialities and work well together on creative campaigns for your tech startup.


Should you hire a growth marketer or a traditional marketer? It truly depends.

We hope that this brief introduction to growth marketing helps you understand the complexity that is marketing for tech startups. There is no consensus on the best ways to grow a brand for a B2B startup or a B2C startup. Every company is different and tactics will vary based on your target audience and product’s market fit.

Ultimately, marketers have to be good storytellers to make any kind of impact for a company. Telling a story that connects with a target audience is absolutely key to brand awareness and building trust with your customers. To tell great stories, you need to hire marketers with great creativity or the ability to outsource the conception of stories to copywriters and designers.

For small tech startups, a growth hacker may need to outsource much of the manual work to freelancers. This is acceptable because the majority of the growth hackers’ time should be focused on data and planning for the next test of a new strategy. For manual tasks such as copywriting, content writing, and SEO, there are many freelancers available to partner with growth marketers.

Check out our blog 6 Tips for Hiring a Copywriter for Your Tech Startup for advice on when and how to hire a copywriter for your startup.

Want to learn more about the Sierra Agency’s offerings? Contact us today for a free consultation!


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