What is growth hacking?
Writing about growth hacking can be a little like the proverbial hopeless task of nailing Jell-O to the wall. At just the point that you think you have control of the thing, it shimmies out of your grasp.
Growth Hacking Since 2010…
The term “growth hacking” has only been around since 2010 and is credited to an article by Sean Ellis on the blog Startup Marketing
Entitled, “Find a Growth Hacker for Your Startup.”
Ellis begins the post by saying, “Once startups are ready to scale, their biggest challenge is often hiring someone capable of leading the growth charge.
A marketer with the right talents and approach can kick some serious ass once product-market fit and an efficient conversion / monetization process have been proven.”
What is growth hacking?
A few paragraphs later, he defines the term “growth hacker” in this way, “A growth hacker is a person whose true north is growth. Everything they do is scrutinized by its potential impact on scalable growth. Is positioning important? Only if a case can be made that it is important for driving sustainable growth (FWIW [for what it’s worth], a case can generally be made).”
Since Ellis’ post, many writers and industry pundits have run with the term “growth hacker” and made it as magically elusive and sometimes as questionably valid as the Reagan era “voodoo economics.” Here’s how I see growth hacking . . . and you don’t need a cauldron and a spell book to make it work.
What is Growth hacking – Marketing for the 21st century.
“Really?” you say, “That’s all you’ve got for me?”
Go watch a few episodes of the television series Mad Men and come back and tell me if a 1960s era ad campaign would work today.
When I first began working online in the early 1990s doing web design, animated GIFs were all the rage. I think now about the pulsating rule bars and spinning globes that were the “in” thing and cringe. It’s as bad as 1960s era fashion, clouds of cigarette smoke, and lava lamps.
Okay, lava lamps are still cool, but I digress.
I’ll try to introduce you to the figure of a growth hacker and invite you into his mindset. As you read through the text, including the profiles of 40 companies that have successfully used growth hacking techniques, you’ll come to understand the importance of that one fundamental quality a growth mindset.
The growth hackers at the companies I discuss expect their efforts to grow from day one. They want that growth, and they focused all their efforts on achieving growth.
What is Growth Hacking? Examples
- Elliot Schmukler at LinkedIn analyzed the channels that brought users to the site and brilliantly linked the actions of “actives” to “inactives” to grow membership.
- Ride-for-hire company Uber cultivated a local market roll out plan and refined and repeated it one market at a time.
- Etsy exploited an overlooked group of sellers that eBay was pushing out and catered specifically to their needs.
- Pinterest built interest and desire with an invitation-only beta and seeded the site with professional content from designers who immediately grasped the concept of building online inspiration boards.
- Yelp leveraged the desire for first-person recommendations with perceived authority, all built on the founder’s need for a doctor when he came down with a flu.
- Square founder Jim McKelvey lost a $2,000 sale on a piece of art glass at a fair because he couldn’t accept a credit card, so he founded a company that brought mobile payment technology to cell phones and tablets regardless of location.
These examples are only samples of the strategies employed by some of the most successful growth hackers of our time who understand that the first principle of growth hacking is that markets change and successful marketers change with them.
This is the video that helped Dollar Shave Club Launch and went from beta site in 2011 to a $1 Billion Dollar sale in 2016
In fact, everything about web access and use has changed and is continuing to do so around us, thanks to the rise of the smartphone and the connected tablet. Mobile devices are generating more and more web consumption, including watching streaming video content. Growing your business in this climate demands meeting the needs of the mobile user.
The more the cellphone providers can pump out in terms of affordable mobile bandwidth and the more free wifi spots become available in municipalities, the more that trend won’t just grow, but explode exponentially.
The days of sitting down in front of a desktop computer to do something online are rapidly passing into the dim recesses of memory. People want to be able to buy things from their phones, hail a ride, meet people, video conference – be connected.
Old marketing concepts don’t work in a world that is online to that extent. I used to have a running argument with a friend who insisted to me that the Internet is not a “place.” I still beg to differ that it is indeed a place, and the portals of entry are now no farther away than our mobile devices.
If your particular branded portal, be it an app or a website, that leads to your product or service is not optimized for the mobile user experience, you’re in trouble. All the beautiful SEO in the world won’t save you.
Growth hacking isn’t about running “an ad campaign,” it’s about living a constant philosophy of growth – never resting on your laurels, being prepared to change your course with the needs of the marketplace. In short, growth hacking is as dynamic as the Internet itself.
And there’s no ONE way to do it.
That’s where the nailing Jell-O part comes in. A lot of people are saying they can teach growth hacking, but I think the age old model of the master and the apprentice is much more applicable.
There really is something of the Jedi knight in the successful growth hacker. You can learn all kinds of techniques from stories about growth hacks that worked. The bulk of this text is about doing that very thing, profiling companies and their growth hacks and absorbing the lessons they have to teach those who come after them.
But to really be “one with the Force?” That’s between you and your product, your market, your customers and users, your software engineers – and likely your financier. Growth hacking is about finding the sweet spot where inspiration and perspiration meet.
It’s about using the most up-to-date tools to analyze market trends and then rolling the bones to make them work. It’s about calculated decisions and out and out scrappy trickery.
When it works, it’s a thing of beauty. Not surprisingly, there are already legendary growth hacking stories – Like AirBnB’s bot-driven hack of Craigslist in the absence of a publicly available API.