Is Growth Hacker a legitimate job description or just more buzzword bingo from the west coast digerati? Maybe because I am writing this from San Francisco, I believe all marketers could benefit from a growth hacker mindset.

Growth Hacking is a marketing technique developed by technology startups which uses creativity, analytical thinking, and social metrics to sell products and gain exposure (Wikipedia). Sean Ellis is credited with coining the term in a 2010 blog post. Andrew Chen popularized it. There are blogs, conferences and communities sharing tips. Like good old direct marketing, growth hacking values A/B testing and other smart ways to measure and optimize what’s working.

What interests me most is that growth hacker thinking doesn't necessarily separate product design and product effectiveness from marketing efforts. Unlike traditional agency creatives, who must make due with the product benefits they are given, growth hackers — who are typically an embedded part of a scrappy start-up team — have the ability to actually change the product, not just the responsibility to sell it.

Now, no fool would try to change the secret formula of Coca-Cola again. But some brilliant minds have hacked the package ("Sharing Can” + "Share a Coke” + “2nd Lives”) and started a whole trend of hacked vending machines (“Small World Machines” + “Friendship Machine” + so many more).

Hack the Medium

2014 was the year a print ad won the Mobile Grand Prix at Cannes Lions. A billboard won the Direct Grand Prix. And yet another innovative Coca-Cola campaign won glory as the Media Grand Prix precisely because the placement was neither print nor poster. Welcome to a world where banks hack their own ATMs to show-off the rainbow in their CSR hearts and rice fields become art works to transform a struggling rural economy. Maker Culture has invaded Adland.

Agency of the Future?

We know that many agencies are soul-searching their way to innovation labs and building new units devoted to product development. Wagon trains of agency talent are heading west — conceptually at least — as creatives and suits alike leave Madison Avenue for Silicon Valley. Meanwhile, mega corporations (aka our clients) are exploring crowd-sourcing for new ideas and making investments in start-ups.

What if more of us tried our hand at hacking the products we know best — the brands owned by our clients. Growth Hacking now gets mainstream coverage and sparks passionate discussions at all the best unconferences. Eurobest and Cannes Lions + the new Lions Innovation in June will be awarding the very best in creative thinking. I'm sure many of the winners will make excellent growth hackers as well.

Cross-posted on H+K

Candace Kuss is Director of Social Media at Hill + Knowlton Strategies