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Growth Hacking is Manipulation

by Josh Pigford. Last updated on July 01, 2024

I haven’t been writing much lately. Frankly, I’m a bit burned out on the marketing side of things, and traditionally, “content marketing” is the only type of marketing we’ve done.

I’ve had a hard time putting my finger on what exactly has made me feel so disinterested, but I’m starting to nail it down. Last month, I took a week off for Thanksgiving and didn’t touch my email during that time. When I came back, the number of cold emails was just staggering.

It wasn’t that I received more than usual; it’s just that during a regular day, I quickly delete them, so I never really notice just how many I get. But after a week with no email, I returned to dozens of them. Dozens of people I have no connection to feign interest in what I’m doing with the sole purpose of getting me to do something for them.

That’s when I was able to pin down why I’ve had a hard time getting interested in any type of marketing, sales, or “growth tactics” in general: the large majority of them involve manipulation.

Fancy labels

So many companies try to come up with clever ways to increase growth, usually by incentivizing users to take an action that will increase some random metric (number of users, pageviews, time-in-app, trials, etc). But the problem here is that incentivization is really just psychological manipulation. It’s appealing to others’ senses to get what you want.

Throwing a fancy label on it doesn’t justify it.

I’m just exhausted with companies constantly trying to convince me to buy something at every turn. It’s the reason I block ads, it’s the reason I purchase TV shows instead of having cable, and it’s the reason I subscribe to publications and apps to get an ad-free experience. I’m tired of companies trying to manipulate me.

It’s also why I loathe cold emails. It’s faking interest with the hope of closing a deal. It’s insincere and frankly just gross. Have some class.

Maybe my view on all this is naive…that’s entirely possible. I still have no idea what I’m doing. But I don’t see how all of this is actually beneficial to humanity (let alone your actual business).

Last year, when David Cancel and the folks at Drift decided to throw out lead forms, it really struck a chord with me. It just made sense to quit putting things behind walls just to incentive people to do some arbitrary action.

I get it—as businesses, we have something we’re selling. And the things we’re selling often really do help businesses grow, save time, save money, etc. But the way I see companies going after the sales process or user engagement is just backwards.



It’s all vanity

So many companies are after quick wins, but the problem is they’re shallow wins. The number of followers you have, the number of likes you get, the number of top-of-funnel leads you get, the number of clicks on links, the amount of time a user spends in your app…it’s all largely just vanity.

You’re trying to assign a numeric value to a relationship, and when you turn people into numbers, you’ve thrown the relationship out the window.

I don’t know exactly what this all looks like for us at Baremetrics. We’ve never had a sales team nor done any sleazy growth hacks (at least not intentionally or that I’m aware of), but I’m trying to be much more cognizant of what we do to grow.

In the short term, I presume that means slower growth and lower revenue, but in the long run, I hope it makes for happier and more loyal customers who don’t feel tricked or icky using our product.

Josh Pigford

Josh is most famous as the founder of Baremetrics. However, long before Baremetrics and until today, Josh has been a maker, builder, and entrepreneur. His career set off in 2003 building a pair of link directories, ReallyDumbStuff and ReallyFunArcade. Before he sold those for profits, he had already started his next set of projects. As a design major, he began consulting on web design projects. That company eventually morphed into Sabotage Media, which has been the shell company for many of his projects since. Some of his biggest projects before Baremetrics were TrackThePack, Deck Foundry, PopSurvey, and Temper. The pain points he experienced as PopSurvey and Temper took off were the reason he created Baremetrics. Currently, he's dedicated to Maybe, the OS for your personal finances.