Growth hacking emerged in 2010 and over the past couple of years, has dominated marketing forums and strategies. Originally coined by Sean Ellis he defined a growth hacker as,
“a person whose true north is growth. Everything they do is scrutinized by its potential impact on scalable growth.“
With the emergence of digitally transformative businesses like AirBnB, Uber, MiniBar, Andrew Chen noted that marketing was changing, and thus we needed a new view of what it means to be a marketer.
“Growth Hacker is the new VP Marketing…a hybrid of marketer and coder, one who looks at the traditional question of ‘How do I get customers for my product?’ and answers with A/B tests, landing pages, viral factor, email deliverability, and Open Graph.“
Now a popular term with forums, online communities, and now it even has its own annual conference, growth hacking has changed what we understand the role of a marketer to be.
Growth hacking has become especially popular with start-ups, who with little to no marketing budget or knowledge, can use these tactics to quickly grow a base of customers.
A slightly controversial topic, growth hackers are focused 100% on growth. Every decision or tactic employed, growth is at the center of every growth hacker’s life. It’s important to state that traditional marketers are also focused on growth, but not to the same extent. It is not to say that growth hackers are better than marketers. They are simply different and provide new perspectives.
Hacking is often associated with illegal activity, where someone gains unauthorized access to a system. It’s certainly true that growth hackers seek weaknesses in a current system, process or product to exploit, but these activities are not (mostly) illegal. Another association is that to software. Growth hackers are focused on technology. They may not have a programming background, but they are always on the lookout for the next technology that will disrupt their industry.
The last association to the definition of hacking is the idea of someone creating a solution that others may have overlooked. Life hacking, for example. Growth hackers are always looking for the next big idea, which often results in the creation of something new.
If you’re interested in growth hacking, I highly recommend that you read Growth Hacker Marketing by Ryan Holiday. This succinct guide is the perfect starter pack for any wannabe growth hackers, or for marketers looking to explore new tools and methods.
In his book, Ryan talks about the 4 stages of Growth Hacking. The first step is to make sure that your products fit the needs of your target audience. You can have the best hack, but without a product that fits the needs of your market, it’s not going to work. If you have the right product for your market, it will market itself in some respect. Take Facebook. Their product is set up for you to share it. When LinkedIn first launched, it was almost impossible to not invite your contacts to the platform. You were asked maybe 4 times when you signed up to invite your contacts, via the click of one button! Digital transformation has led to this new class of product.
Stripe is an example of a growth hacking company, who looked at their product first. They created a tool made by developers for developers, that enable companies to accept payments instantly. Their growth stems from the product-market fit. They saw a gap in the market and created a product that answered the needs of so many.
Of course, having the right product is but one aspect of growth hacking.
The next step is to find your growth hack or your distribution sweet spot. This new class of product has led to a new class of marketing. Digital infrastructure has changed the way marketers distribute information about products, at little or no cost. Social media, chatbots, messaging apps, content, emails, SEO and paid search…the list is endless. The trick is to find the right channels of communication for your target market.
This doesn’t mean that traditional methods are obsolete. As with all marketing, choosing the right platform to talk to your audience transcends the latest trend. If your target likes billboards, make a billboard. If your target soaks up press releases, send a press release.
There is a myriad of tools out there for you to use, often categorized by the 3 Ps of generating visitors. Firstly, ‘pull tactics’. You entice visitors, sparked their interest and hopefully convert them. Blogging is a fantastic way to entice visitors. Being keyword rich, they help your SEO strategy and make you, quite simply, more findable. This effect is easily scalable and repeatable – blog more! Blogs are typically targeted, so finding the right blog to appear as a guest writer on is a fantastic way to talk directly to your target consumers. The educational nature demonstrates your credibility and helps move potential customers through your sales funnel. Blogs are also highly shareable.
Simply adding social sharing buttons to your blogs can increase your reach exponentially. Blogging works. Hubspot, another growth success, invented their own term ‘Inbound Marketing’ and leveraged their knowledge separating them from the other marketing and sales platforms out there.
Often the only thing stopping marketers from using this tool is fear. Fear of writing. That’s why I love Ann Handley from Marketing Profs. She rightly points out that the only thing stopping you being a writer is yourself. Sitting down, writing and then editing and reviewing before publishing is the key.
Another great ‘pull tactic’ is content creation. Whether it be an eBook or a podcast, content is another great pull tactic. Slack, a team messaging portal, owes some of their growth success to their podcast. By examining the meaning of work, they found a niche and by taking the time to become experts, separated themselves from the competition. SEO and Social Media strategies are also great ‘pull tactics’. Used with fantastic content, you’ll be unstoppable.
‘Push tactics’ interrupt your target consumers activity. They are a little more aggressive, and often have a price tag attached. Push ads, using a sales team are just a couple of examples that can be incredibly successful.
Finally, thanks to this new type of product which markets itself, we have a new tactic to drive traffic – the 3rd P, ‘Product’. Here are just a few examples from Neil Patel:
- Network connections
- Social Sharing
- API integrations
The third step according to Ryan Holiday is ‘Going Viral’. Having a great product with a great growth hack leads to virality within your market. It generates fantastic word-of-mouth marketing. Digital channels are designed for sharing at the click of one button. Make it easy for your marketing content to be found, and if it’s the right market fit…possibilities are endless. LinkedIn is a great example of the power of virality. This social network filled the need for a professional-only platform, that was especially powerful for job seekers. Their success comes from their users themselves. At every possible opportunity, you are invited to invite contacts to LinkedIn, not only bringing in new customers for the social network but often re-igniting inactive users.
Finally, close the loop by optimizing your customers’ experiences, creating loyalty and ultimately leading to retention and referral. Marketing and customer experience should be considered one and the same. They are so intertwined. UX is vital for growth hacking – make it simple for your consumer. This is a fantastic UX checklist, that you should bookmark now – https://uxchecklist.github.io/
Now you have attracted visitors you need to focus on converting them into customers. This comes down to optimizing their experience, so they don’t bounce. Neil Patel calls this “Customer Activation“. There are multiple ways to do this, including creating engaging landing pages, blogging, getting them to download content, competition, gamification and more. The key is to get them to do something that means they engage with you and your product.
Did you know that on average it’s 33% cheaper to retain customers than attain new ones?
This is a keen focus of growth hacking, and stage 4 of Ryan Holiday’s book. Retention of customers gives you the platform from which to grow. Increase the value for your customers. Offer them unique content, exclusive offers, a chance to be part of a community. Regularly ask for feedback and actually listen. Essentially, you want to make them happy.
Etsy is a fantastic example of a company who has done this extremely well. They have leveraged a community of engaged customers, so have extremely low acquisition costs. Their repeat users have fuelled their growth and are Etsy’s number 1 marketing tool.
There are 3 characteristics of all growth hacking strategies, they must scalable, repeatable and measurable. Analytics is vital to all growth hacks. You want to be able to focus on what is working. Digital tools enable marketers to gain real-time data about their consumers, to track behavior, trends and respond instantly.
All growth hackers live and breathe analytics. Be it by being permanently sat in Google Analytics, or constantly monitoring social media uptake, analytics are a driving force behind growth hacking. Why?
- Determines the focus of growth hackers.
- Makes repeated success possible.
- Helps growth hackers predict the future.
Analytics are the driving force of growth hacking, but its fuel is creativity. The data driven characteristic of this movement can mask the underlying innovation. With their analytical mindset, growth hackers have an unquenchable thirst to try new things, to experiment. Hackers always rely on the statistics to back up their activities. It enables them to move from one idea to the next, or adapt and idea with more agility than a traditional marketer or product developer can.
What is the growth hacking process?
Neil Patel examined the process behind Growth Hacking in a great infographic. As with any new idea, start by defining your goals. Make sure they are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-based. Goals need to be focused, as specific as possible. Start with the final goal, and then you can work back and detail the steps you will need to take to achieve this.
Next, for every step, remember what should be driving your growth hack – analytics. Detail how you plan to measure each step. What’s the measure of success? What tools will you use?
Don’t just abandon what you already succeed at. There is not always a need to completely rewrite the rulebook. Assess your strengths and weaknesses. Use your strengths to your advantage, leverage them to improve in areas of weakness. Growth hacking is scalable – so why not scale what you already do well?
Now you are ready to execute your growth hack or experiment. You’ve set clear parameters, strategized how to analyze each step, leveraged your strengths and now you’re ready to press SEND or LIVE. With any experiment, there are successes and there are failures. The trick is to not be discouraged by the first failure, or slightly disappointing results. Use both successes and failures as opportunities to learn.
Growth hacking is scientific. So remember your first science lesson! Experiments must be optimized and can be tweaked and re-run multiple times until you find your sweet spot. A/B testing is a stable of all marketing campaigns these days and it is invaluable.
Growth hacking provides great value to start-ups, but established brands can learn a lot from these principles and tactics. The mindset of growth hackers is the same of that of digital transformers.
Want to know more?
These are two fantastic books that I read recently and it changed how I approach creating a marketing strategy.
- Ryan Holiday – Growth Hacker Marketing