We all love a shortcut. The path of least resistance will always appeal to our inner slacker.

That’s probably why the culture of hacking has taken off in such a big way. It’s difficult to scan content feeds at the moment without some headline promising the rich benefits of hacking.

‘Hack’ is a cool phrase. And ‘Growth Hacking’ as a marketing strategy emerged in the kingdom of coolness: Silicon Valley. Facebook, Pinterest, Youtube, Dropbox et al all growth-hacked their way to fame and fortune by building marketing into their products.

But what began as a collection of lean start-up marketing techniques has now morphed into something else.

Hacking has become a clarion call to reach out to our lazy demons.

Hack your way to success. Steal someone else’s blueprint.

Why learn the trade when you can learn the tricks of the trade?

And therein lies the problem. We are encouraging a whole generation of marketers to just bung something into the microwave rather than learn how to cook.

It’s all part of the wider instant gratification culture. The lack of perceived need for any form of apprenticeship.

If you are a 17 year old looking to become a pop star, then just hack your way to success and go on the X Factor.

You could of course build a sustainable career by going to Hamburg and practicing for 10,000 hours in sweaty nightclubs like the Beatles did.

But why sweat when you can hack?

I saw an e-book the other day promising ‘Killer hacks to instant conversion rate optimisation success’.

Wow – it’s that simple.  Who knew that eliciting a direct response from deeply cynical and time-starved prospects could be as easy as switching the layout or colour palette on a landing page?

By-pass years of study that generations of copywriters have documented on the art and science of persuasion. The reams of carefully researched evidence on buyer phsychology.

Ignore the fact that a landing page or a website is the 21st century version of the sales letter. The sales letter that has been in existence for over 100 years as a tried and tested marketing tool.

Just read an e-book for 10 minutes and you are an expert.

To hack or not to hack? That is the question

One area where you hack at your peril is the crafting of buyer personas.

Getting inside the ‘conversation in the head’ of your potential customers is not a hack. It takes time to understand the hidden triggers, hot buttons and hopes and fears that your content can tap into.  Time taken out to gain a better understanding of your audience is never wasted time.

Taking the time and effort to understand and map out thought processes along your buying cycle is hard and frustrating work. But hard work that pays dividends. The understanding that results from that hard work could provide you with an untapped pool of ripe content topics and keywords that will ensure your content is in prime position for prospect searches.

Or you could take the path of least resistance.

Don’t get the sales team involved – what would they know?

Don’t get your customers involved – they are the last people you would want to learn from.

Just hack it. Let your SEO agency build a keyword profile and second guess the complexities and intricacies of your market. A cheap hack. But an effective hack?

Hack in the right places

Productivity hacks in the right places are obviously a good thing. There is no point in being a martyr if a technology can do the legwork for you.

Understanding audiences is not a hack. But it can be a viable hack to build persona profiles of engagement channels to reach them with. If a blogger outreach programme is a viable content distribution strategy then don’t sweat it – hack it.

Finding out those key scribes who are already engaging with your audiences is as simple as a play with keyword searches on tools such Followerwonk, BuzzSumo or Wefollow.

The marketing technology ecosystem is awash with great labour saving hacks. But be wary of ‘thought saving’ hacks.

Balancing learning and hacking

There are many things in the marketing world, and indeed in real life, where we can operate quite comfortably with surface understanding. I can operate my smart phone in complete ignorance of how it actually works underneath the touch screen. Why would I need to know?

But if my websites’s bounce rate has just gone up 30%, I should probably learn more about it.

Understanding where ignorance is bliss and ignorance is bad could be the biggest challenge facing the 21st century marketer.

By all means let’s hack to uncover the right short cuts.  But let’s not lose sight of the power of real understanding.

“Successful engineering is all about understanding how things break or fail.”

Henry Petroski