A definitive guide to Growth Hacking Marketing.

Growth Hacking
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TL;DR

Growth hacking (also known as 'growth marketing') is the use of resource-light and cost-effective digital marketing tactics to help grow and retain an active user base, sell products and gain exposure. Think ‘hacking’ in terms of life hacks – those little shortcuts that make your life easier – rather than nasty bits of code that can ruin your computer and your life. Growth hacking is most commonly associated with start-ups and small businesses, i.e., those organizations that don’t have a huge amount of cash to spare but need results quickly. However, it’s a scalable concept applicable to any online business looking to maintain the growth and retention of an active user base.

Growth hacking is kind of like the new “in thing” for startups. It’s kind of annoying if you’ve already heard about it a thousand times. But it can be confusing if you don’t know what it is. Growth hacking is pretty much the reason why we get to see a few new startups each year. And almost all with with ridiculous growth rates. It only started becoming popular a couple of years ago. And now everyone’s doing it or looking for growth hackers to help them out. The reason growth hacking has caught on so quickly is because everyone wants to grow ridiculously fast. So they can acquire millions of users and dollars worth of revenue!

What is Growth Hacking Marketing or Hacking Growth?

Growth hacking is one of the biggest buzzwords of the past few years, but what does it really mean? Marketers, consultants, and entrepreneurs call growth hacking ‘the future of marketing’ but in fact, they’re all wrong. Growth hacking isn’t a bunch of gibberish that only those so-called ‘superstars’ know. In this article, I will define growth hacking for you in clear terms and explain what hacking growth is. 

Growth Hacking is a new way of thinking about marketing. While traditional marketing focuses on the product or service, growth hacking focuses on the people. It’s about getting people to know about and use your product and helping them achieve their goals. It’s about getting ideas and interacting with the world. That’s what separates growth hacking from digital marketing. It’s about having the mindset of a salesperson, a developer and a marketer. It’s about finding an opportunity and solving a problem.

History of Growth Hacking?

Sean Ellis as a growth consultant had helped a number of internet companies achieve incredible and sustainable growth, and a few of them even had an IPO. Needless to say, Sean Ellis became the guy that the valley went to when they needed to grow their user base. He is one of the first growth hackers. Sean is the Alpha. He essentially became a one-man growth machine, engineering systems, processes, and mindsets geared towards fast-paced growth – which he could maintain after he left by having the knowledge shared with the right people amongst their employees. Eventually, Sean Ellis would hand over the keys to his fast-growing machine to someone else. But this is where he had a problem.

While searching for his replacement Sean Ellis kept getting resumes from people who had marketing degrees and marketing experience, but it wasn’t quite the right fit. He needed people who could think beyond the traditional marketing textbook and he knew that traditional marketing guys won’t fit for growth roles. So, the current set of Marketers are not the right fit. Sean Ellis asked for marketers. He got marketers. What he wanted were growth hackers. Sean changed his mind. And he decided to ask for what he was after in the first place. The title of his post that stirred up the industry was “Find a Growth Hacker for Your Startup” and the idea was born while looking over many resumes.

When Sean Ellis first coined the term ‘growth hacking’ back in 2010, he was referring to it as a more results-driven way of marketing. Moreover, in his article posted in Techcrunch and given the fact that his company only had 2 software developers and a team of 8 at the time, Ellis sought to build up enough resources (both human and monetary) so as to not have to rely on traditional marketing alone. Since then there have been many others who stand up and call themselves data-driven marketers or heads of growth, growth hacker or even growth marketers (and rightfully so!)Even companies like Uber, TikTok or Shopify now have dedicated growth teams and VP/head of growths to handle their marketing technology. But they are quick to forget the original definition of this role as laid out by Sean Ellis, “doing whatever it takes.”

Marketers felt like they had to keep track of budgets, expenses, conversions, etc. A growth hacker was someone who didn’t hold back any expenses and didn’t analyze results unless it helped drive further growth. Sean wanted a person who wasn’t afraid to experiment and make bold statements if the return justified the expenditure. And that’s how a growth hacker works – they go all-in on finding new ways to grow a company’s customer base (new customer acquisition, customer retention) as fast as possible because that’s what growth looks like – exponential growth – for a startup.

Who is a Growth Hacker?

A growth hacker is not the same as an ordinary marketer. A growth hacker’s main objective is to grow. While a marketer learns what type of people who would purchase the company’s products or services. Sean Ellis published a blog post with the most concise description of a growth hacker. “A growth hacker is a person whose true north is growth”. Every decision a growth hacker makes is informed by growth. Every strategy, every tactic, and every initiative is attempted with the goal of growing your business in mind. Growth is the sun that a growth hacker revolves around and it’s the reason why they’re so alone and yet so empowered – it’s their power to use their powerful growth hacking mindset to achieve an individual goal that sets them apart from others. 

What is the difference between Growth Hacking vs Digital Marketing

There are too many differences between digital marketing and growth hacking marketing. The first one is around what do you focus on as a marketer. In digital marketing, marketers focus on the top of the funnel, which is awareness and acquisition. Whereas growth hacking marketing focuses on the entire funnel, which are Awareness, Acquisition, Activation, Revenue, Retention, and Referral. So your primary job as a growth marketer is to drive growth across the business.

In digital marketing, marketers focus much of their time and energy on the top of the funnel which is awareness and acquisition. Whereas growth hackers, on the other hand, tend to focus on the entire funnel including the “ordinary” fundamentals like awareness and acquisition as well as penetration; activation; retention; referrals; plus viral loops (virality), community building (community) etc. All these make up what is called “the wholesale funnel”. So if you consider digital startups then your job, as a growth hacker, is to drive growth across all stages of the business.

The goal of digital marketing is to generate leads and sales. It analyzes which techniques are most effective through different digital channels, like online websites or social media outlets. The goal of growth hacking is the same: to increase growth. Growth hacking relies on the same digital channels but it uses an experimental approach that considers different analytics for feedback along with testing its own hypotheses using an iterative development cycle that’s informed by data.

Also, the focus area is important and is a defining trait of growth marketing as a function. Even more importantly the second characteristic is that the process of growth. Growth is driven by experimentation. That is one of the main differences between traditional digital marketing and growth hacking. The way that you drive growth across all areas of the funnel is to constantly experiment with campaigns, product features. In return you will get increased conversions, creating better customer experiences and an increase in sales. In a nutshell, growth hacking is all about generating data that you can then use to learn and improve. So that you can continually optimize your funnel, grow the business regardless of kind of what your focus is.

The main differences between Growth Hacking and Digital Marketing are – 

  1. A growth hacker determines what could soon become profitable based on collected data/feedback. While marketing teams are often overly busy already with current day-to-day marketing and branding.
  2. A growth hacker looks at retention and referral, while an average marketer focuses on awareness and acquisition. Growth hackers are aware of the potential for successful marketing campaigns. They realize that the full marketing funnel applies to them, not just to anyone else looking at things strictly from a top-down marketing perspective.
  3. A growth hacker is like a scientist; he focuses on the results of his experiments. He also relies heavily on statistics to drive his choices, so it makes sense that “run small experiments” and test which directions work best/show the most potential. A growth hacker is a cross between an engineer and an entrepreneur. He analyzes what’s working in the market, then uses that information to “hack” into the system and create new things that are better than what already exists.
  4. A growth hacker uses metrics and is data-driven, whereas most marketing departments rely mainly on gut feeling and good old fashioned guesswork whether or not a campaign might work.
  5. A growth hacker is similar to a chef; they understand how to combine different ingredients and push the right buttons at the right times. They may not be development-oriented, but more marketing, project management-focused, with an understanding of technical skills, such as programming, tools and automation.
  6. A growth hacker works closely with the product manager to measure retention rates and gauges growth. He also talks with the team about the user experience of your company’s product because users are part of his fan base!

Growth Hacking Examples

Some examples of successful growth hacking campaigns include:

  1. Dropbox started rewarding existing users for inviting new ones with additional storage. When Dropbox was first starting out, it realized that if it gave its initial users’ storage space. And in return for inviting their friends, the users would in turn invite more people. It helped them with ridiculous growth rates. 
  2. Hotmail empowered people to sign up for a free online email account after each email sent out. There is a signed with a message at end that provided a link for new users to signup on its website.
  3. AirBnB used Craigslist to find customers who were looking for an affordable place to live. They cross-posting all new listings on Craigslist for free.
  4. Youtube making it as easy as possible for people to share YouTube videos on their own sites by providing embed codes.

What is not Growth Hacking Marketing?

People think growth hacking marketing is like some sort of lazy silver bullet. They always think, “What is the next growth hack, that is going to save my business?,” or “What is the next hack, that’s going to get me 10x ROAS?” Growth hacking marketing is not a single hack. It is a series of hacks that unfold over a period of time with experimentation and learning. And that’s how to reach the end goal faster.

Testing, testing, and more testing are what makes these successful growth hacks tick – and there are so many more besides. In order for these powerful backend strategies to be discovered, a company must implement a legitimate plan of action that encourages experimentation and refinement.

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