Growth, there is no sweeter word for entrepreneurs. They love the idea of growing their business exponentially without spending tons of money. The truth is, developing a successful business is not easy, even more so in markets overcrowded with brilliant minds.
What if you could ‘hack’ your growth, blending technological knowledge and innovative marketing tactics? This is the essence of growth hacking, a technique designed and developed for startups but useful for any company out there.
The term ‘growth hacker’ was coined in 2010 by Sean Ellis, entrepreneur and angel investor. In a blog post, he defined “a growth hacker a person whose true north is growth. Everything they do is scrutinized by its potential impact on scalable growth.”
Being directed primarily at young entrepreneurs and small businesses, this new mindset mostly revolves around low-cost and creative alternatives to traditional marketing, replacing costly investments and high budgets with growth-focused innovation.
Traditional media and old-style advertising are replaced by a more systematic approach that blends cheaper digital tools such as social media, content marketing, search engine optimization, website analytics, and A/B testing.
Growth hacking requires a long-term approach, as it usually sacrifices immediate revenues and shares in the name of fast growth. In this perspective, growth always comes before budgets. It is evident why startups love it, and why structured organizations look at it with suspicion.
And yet, hacking their business is the change many digital leaders ask for. The reason is all in the success stories, the best cases that show the power of growth hacks: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Airbnb, Dropbox, Quora, YouTube.
Twitter is still considered one of the best examples. When the company first started out, it was able to gain a lot of quick - and mostly free - publicity, thanks to the word-of-mouth, tech blogs, and other social networks.
Not everything was roses. Thousands of users were signing up, but the use of the product was not continuous, and the retention rate suddenly fell to the lower point. The company, then, decided to test and study customers’ behaviors instead of spending on traditional marketing and advertising.
The growth hack mentality has two compass points: the product and the customer. Well aware of the importance of the customer experience, Twitter began testing the UX and the UI, revolutionizing the product based on the information gathered from the tests.
Focusing on what customers want - and what actually do with the product - Twitter has chosen a path of constant evolution that adds value to the entire platform.
Airbnb is another great example of how growth hacks can bring your business from basement size to billion dollars funding. The peer-to-peer vacation rentals giant has tackled its startup phase taking advantage of any possible channel, tapping into an existing website to gain publicity.
Again, word-of-mouth and tech websites have been critical to spreading the voice, but the real hack by the company was the use of the so-called ‘Craigslist spam’. It is, in fact, a brilliant use of email marketing.
Long story short, they used Craigslist to find listings of rentals, then contacted the renters and asked them to place their ads on Airbnb instead. This risky move allowed them to collect thousands of users, to increase awareness and transform Airbnb into a buzz word.
These two examples sum up how the business hacking works:
- You aim at reaching cheap publicity;
- You set up viral marketing actions;
- You exploit already-existing channels;
- You open your products to users (even in Beta);
- You let the users do the work for you;
- You study their behaviors and test alternatives;
- You analyze to see what works and what needs to be improved;
- You accept that there is not perfect, only perfectible.
As said, growth hacking is particularly critical for startups because they do not have a mighty marketing team or huge budgets. However, it can be used by any type of company that wants to get quick visibility, acquire a strong user base and convert traffic into leads and sales.
In an era of digital transformation, it may guide you to find creative ways to build a new business model that actually works. It may teach you how to stop wasting valuable money on marketing techniques that just don’t work with digital customers. It may ultimately help you deliver a unique customer experience.
With that in mind, here are few ideas and tips to start your hacking for growth.
SET ACHIEVABLE GOALS
Growth is, of course, the ultimate objective for any growth hacker, but how can you get there as fast as you can? The answer is: You will only be able to go from your actual situation to the optimal growth if you set short-term and mid-term achievable goals. Break down your primary growth goal into realistic, smaller and measurable goals: i.e. 10% increase in traffic on the website by the end of the month, or 200 leads from social posting in two weeks.
GO FROM OUTBOUND TO INBOUND
Lead generation is critical to proceed swiftly along the path of sustainable growth. If acquiring new users is the key, it is ‘how’ you actually do it that qualifies your hacking strategy. Traditional outbound marketing relies on tools like advertising, a one-way communication that is too expensive. Inbound marketing, on the contrary, focuses on cheaper and automated tools (i.e. blogging and link building) that set your brand as the best solution to solve your customer’s problems.
FOCUS ON RETAINING CUSTOMERS
Acquiring new users is important in the startup phase; in the long-term, however, customer retention becomes the most critical element for healthy growth. The Twitter story is a brilliant example of how you should never take customers for granted. Whenever you work hard to improve your product or brand experience, do not focus all your efforts on potential new customers. Start with existing customers. They will tell you everything you need to know, and they will help you grow (loyalty is the most precious currency in digital markets).
DEVELOP A MOBILE PRESENCE
Growth always generates from the harmonious mix of marketing and technology elements. In this moment of business transformation, there is no growing without digital tools. This is real ‘level zero’ but, today, everyone has a digital presence (be it a website, social accounts, or a blog). Customers, though, have done a further step: they have gone mobile, they live online 24/7. If you do not develop a coherent mobile presence (mobile app and responsive site above all), you will lose your place in customer’s mind (and Google SERP).
TEST, MEASURE, AND TEST AGAIN
Again, Twitter success story teaches that testing is the foundation of product improvement and experience management. Innovative companies have grounded their business development strategy in the use of testing and analytics tools. Growth hackers constantly unlock the power of A/B test on the one side and (web and mobile) analytics on the other one. All the data you need to grow is already there, hidden in your customer base; their use habits and behaviors will show you the best alternative to take the next step toward success.
The fastest way to grow is to transform actual users into loyal advocates. We have seen how the word-of-mouth and social reach have helped Airbnb and Twitter. Customers want to be part of your story, not just random users of a random product. Uniqueness comes from the customer experience, and that is the reason why you should always encourage membership. We have entered the membership economy, where customer retention is the top priority, and you need to learn how to build relationships and monetize your customers.
One final advice: Every decision or action that growth hackers make is informed by growth. However, do not let growth hacking ruin your digital customer experience. Do not forget that exceptional business growth is not sustainable if you let your customers behind.
To help you provide a strategic advantage to your organization, Neosperience has crafted the first DCX 7-Steps Checklist, with requirements and insights for a successful digital transformation. Download the free guide here: