The question I encounter more than any other with people who are new to this topic isn’t, “What growth hacking strategies can I use” A surprising number of people are still at, “What the heck is growth hacking?”
Since growth hacking is as much an art as a skill, you’re right to ask both questions in the beginning of your understanding of this exciting new approach to marketing.
A “growth hacker” is a hybrid beast, a skilled mix of a technical genius and a marketer. He’s leading the way in the rapid development of a new “standard” business model. In the process, he’s making every definition of “marketing” you ever learned completely irrelevant.
The Growth Hacking Strategy Mindset
At the very least, growth hackers are rewriting the standard “best practices” of marketing. Many are doing so from the coding perspective of the genius geeks who built the Internet as we know it today.
Growth hackers don’t see marketing as an activity, per se, but a fundamental aspect of how a product or service is designed and built. Subsequent versions or iterations are optimized and shared on the basis of ongoing evaluations of success.
The Formula to Success
These evaluations and adjustments are assumed to be infinite and are repeated multiple times. The major goal is massive and rapid growth, not being wedded to any one design or operational model.
In this mindset everything becomes fair game for the critical eye of the growth hacker. They don’t so much ask, “How well is our marketing email written?” as “How deliverable is our email?”
Marketing language is not as important as the mechanism that sends the email and encourages the message it contains to be passed on from one user to the next.
A growth hacker won’t be satisfied with an attractive or well-laid out website, he’ll ask why the site doesn’t load 2 seconds faster and why the Facebook opt-in link isn’t more prominently placed.
Such factors are no longer issues for the technical or design team, but for the growth hacker charged with winning the market. His end goal is always a self-perpetuating machine that is so well oiled, it constantly grows itself.
Armed with the ability to track, test, and improve every imaginable Internet metric, growth hackers are not attracted to the enormous gambles that were once the lifeblood of the dot come world.
They don’t do anything that is unnecessary or counterproductive, and they know the value of small, but highly elegant strategies.
Growth Hacking Strategies: Lessons Learned from Hotmail and Gmail
Take, for instance, the example of Hotmail, a classic in every growth hacking conversation. The simple strategy there was the answer to the question, “Can we put a message at the bottom of everyone’s screen who gets an email from our service?”
That translated to an advertisement for the product on every email sent. In six months, Hotmail had 1 million members, a figure the service then doubled in just five weeks. When Microsoft bought Hotmail in December 1997 for $400 million, there were nearly 10 million users.
“Hotmail took exactly 30 months to acquire 30 million users! The initial investment in the service was $300,000. Most everyone I know would be happy with a profit margin of $399,700,000!”
When Google launched Gmail the company followed many of the same growth strategies. They built an excellent product, but created curiosity and buzz by making its initial use by invitation only.
The number of potential invites was increased along with the existing user base, spreading Gmail usage and popularity from person to person. Now, Gmail is the dominant and best free email service with 425 million users reported in 2012.
Growth is the Focus
Growth hackers are charged with taking “nothing” and turning it into “something” as fast as they possibly can.
To do so, the traditional marketing playbook goes out the window in favor of all things trackable, testable, and scalable.
Once upon a time the buzz words of the business world were publicity, advertising, branding, and “mind share.” All growth hackers do is pursue growth.
Their tools are things like email, pay-per-click, blogs, and platform APIs. Their mantra is almost Biblical, “And users beget users, who beget users, who beget . . . “
Fill a Need, No Matter What
The basic principle of marketing still applies, “Who are my customers and where are they?” In classic marketing, the strategy used to reach those customers was honed and refined, but the business and product remained basically the same.
Growth hackers believe changing the entire business model is completely fair game.
They’re not interested in just re-designing the cereal box, nor are they even dedicated to making the cereal! The only goal is to generate explosive reactions and complete loyalty from the customer.
The best marketing decision is to fulfill a real and compelling need for those customers. If that means changing the business itself to reach them, the growth hacker says, “Let’s do it!”
He is a relentless follower of the Socratic Method. Question every assumption repeatedly and beware complacency.
- Who is this product for?
- Why would someone use this product?
- Why do I use this product?
- Is this the right product for the job?
- Is this the right job for the product?
And on and on and on until you get the Holy Grail — Product Market Fit (PMF).
Match Making with Early Adopters
Matching the way products are marketed with the way prospects learn about and shop for those products is a crucial aspect of growth hacking.
Early adopters are key to this process and can make or break a business launch. Any product or service that can, in the beginning, grab and keep the interest of early adopters that become loyal and fanatical users stands a much greater chance of achieving the kind of explosive growth that is the ultimate goal.
If you’re launching a product or service and you don’t know where to find those early adopters? You don’t know your industry or service sector well enough to even think about launching!
It Takes a Tribe
Building that army of passionate, loyal users is today’s version of branding. If you have that army, what some growth hackers call your “tribe,” you don’t have to worry so much about how you maintain your pre-existing brand as it relates to a specific product or service. Your tribe will be receptive to whatever you offer.
This is a lesson that self-published authors are learning. The new product model in self-publishing is the serial novel offered after the fashion of a television series. This type of fiction is shorter, and appears on a regular schedule.
Fans are passionately loyalty to the characters and the world they inhabit, so they are hungry for each new book. As additional readers discover the books, they are equally hungry for all the titles in the existing catalog. Sales for older titles are generated at the same time that the desire for new titles is amplified.
Some self-published authors have fewer than 1,000 loyal readers, but they are earning six-figure incomes, completely redefining the concept of what it means to be a “bestselling” author.
Not all of these books are great works of literature. In fact, most of them aren’t. That’s not the point. The books sell, and they generate excellent long-term income for the authors. Is it any wonder that traditional publishers fear the growing power of independent authors and the rise of the ebook?
Every start-up, even if it’s a self-published zombie novel, is designed to be one thing — a growth engine.
Going Viral Isn’t an Accident
Most people think “going viral” is an accident, and if you’ve shot a YouTube video that has generated buzz, it probably is.
If you’re a growth hacker, however, you don’t view going viral or achieving “virality” as something that happens after the fact.
You know that successful products are inherently worth sharing and you facilitate and encourage that sharing every way you possibly can. You know that products and services have to advertise themselves, and you know the value of “behavioral residue.” Social currency is free, but it is also invaluable to the point of being priceless.
Virality isn’t an accident.
It should be hardwired into your product or service. You don’t just want a new customer, you want a lifelong user who will happily turn right around and market your product for you like a religious witness.
Investing in strategies that improve sales and marketing is no longer the goal. Creating fanatically happy users is the be all and end all of the growth hacker’s day.
Investing in refining and improving the product or the service to retain and optimize customer loyalty is everything — even if it’s a 2 second faster load time on a website! Ridiculous, you say?
- A 5% increase in customer retention rates translate to a 30% increase in profitability according to Bain & Company.
- The chance of selling to a new prospect is 5-20% — to an existing customer, 60-70%.
Growth hackers achieve success by doing whatever they have to do not just to bring customers into the “funnel,” but into the “family.” Budgets go toward targeted product and service refinement or even redirection, not advertising.
In this model, the price of being “wrong” is greatly reduced because you grant yourself the freedom to change on the fly. As long as your customers are happy and using your service or buying your product, you are a success.
Growth Hacking Strategies: How Do I Learn to be a Growth Hacker?
As I said earlier, growth hacking is as much an art as a science. The tools to grow one product or service won’t necessarily work for another. This is not a set process of steps, or a “do this” and then “do that” way of thinking.
In my opinion, one of the best ways to become a growth hacker is to study at the feet of masters. To that end, I’m devoting the remainder of this book to profiling some of the most impressive (if not always the best known) examples of how products and services have benefited from innovative growth hacking techniques.
“But wait,” you say. “If I’ve never heard of a company or a service, how can it be a success?” Because each of these entities has a dedicated set of core users. Growth hacking even redesigns what it means to be a success!
Remember those self-published authors? Many are remodeling their homes and funding their children’s college education on the reading tastes of fewer than 1,000 dedicated readers.
To a Stephen King, a readership that small might not be a success, but to an indie author, it’s their ticket to a completely changed lifestyle. Both authors are “successes,” but their success is defined differently.
Stephen King is an internationally recognized author. The indie guy? His mortgage is paid off and his kid is going to college. That’s more than enough success in his book.
As you begin to read the profiles that comprise the bulk of this book, take your first step toward becoming a growth hacker by throwing out both the rulebook and the dictionary.
You truly are about to enter a “brave new world,” and frankly, it’s a pretty exciting landscape out there!