The term “growth hacking” was coined by Sean Ellis in 2010. Ellis is an entrepreneur, angel investor, startup advisor, and current CEO of GrowthHackers, an online community that shares marketing techniques. Early in his career, he worked with several internet companies, like Dropbox, and gained a reputation for being the go-to guy for building user bases quickly.
Ellis helped accelerate growth for Silicon Valley startups but struggled to find anyone else to fill his boots. He had become a one-person growth-boosting machine, and although he had many applications for marketers, they weren’t the right fit. Their focus was on budgets, conversion rates, and expenses. Ellis, however, had one focus – rapid growth. Everything else was secondary.
Since the term was coined, there’s been a steep rise in the popularity of growth hacking. This isn’t just true for startups in Silicon Valley. Larger companies, like Uber, have gone a step further than Ellis and invested in growth teams to supercharge their marketing tactics.
Growth hacking vs. Traditional marketing
There’s an overlap between growth hacking and traditional marketing. But, while they share some common strategies, they each have a different end goal. Marketers ultimately look to sell to customers, whereas growth hackers aim to build business growth as quickly as possible.
Traditional marketing focuses on selling products and services to target groups. Each marketing campaign can have multiple goals that are often broad and long-term, such as boosting brand engagement, establishing customer trust, and generating leads.
It’s also costly and time-consuming. A marketing campaign could take weeks or months to approve and implement.
Growth hacking, however, focuses on a single goal. It pushes for quick and inexpensive growth. Everything else is secondary.
Take the case study of the Q&A website Quora. When they first started, they wanted to boost the number of users they had on their platform. As it’s their users who provide the responses to questions, they needed to ensure they had trusted individuals giving the answers.
They decided, therefore, to invite well-known, influential professionals with expertise to the platform and targeted their marketing efforts to this type of user. By doing so, they boosted user acquisition and became a platform for trusted sources of information.
This is an example of how quick growth hacking is. It doesn’t take months to approve. Strategies are tested immediately and implemented once they’re proved effective.
Growth hacking looks for and eliminates waste processes, helping to achieve a lean startup.
Compared to traditional marketing, growth hacking:
Traditional marketing may use historical data to improve future campaigns, but this often comes at the end of a long-term campaign. Growth hacking uses metrics for continuous evaluation. By measuring and tracking campaigns in real-time, the best shortcut to growth can be found and implemented.
Instead of continuing with ineffective tactics in long-term campaigns, growth hacking can make rapid changes to improve further growth opportunities.
Using data to inform decisions is thus vital to growth hacking. By continuing with successful hacks and eliminating ineffective processes, growth hackers are able to achieve maximum, cost-effective growth.
Automation is often used to boost efficiency further in the use of data- For example, to improve the effectiveness of a growth hacking strategy centered on partnership marketing, you could take advantage of Affise’s CPAPI tool.
CPAPI automatically transfers and synchronizes data and analyzes the results of campaigns. Offers can be transferred without delay because of API integration between sources of offers and your system. It eliminates manual work, allowing businesses to scale and grow faster.
Putting data and efficiency at the forefront of your marketing efforts, it allows you to work with thousands of advertisers and offers, and is thus an effective growth hacking tool.
Requires greater technical skills
Given that growth hackers need to be able to implement and iterate their strategies quickly, growth hacking requires technical skills more so than in traditional marketing. Growth hackers must be competent enough in programming, working with data, and web design that they needn’t depend on any other team members to execute these tasks.
Obliges involvement in the product development process
Traditional marketers are tasked with finding buyers for products that have already been developed. They aren’t involved in product development. Growth hackers take a holistic approach, meaning they regularly involve themselves in different areas of the business, including product development.
While traditional marketers and growth hackers both gather insights into customer needs and desires, growth hackers often use their insights to assist product developers.
It makes growth hacking valuable to product developers when deciding on new products and features to implement.
Focuses on the entire customer journey
Traditional marketing focuses its efforts on attracting new customers. But, growth isn’t just about new customers. Current customers are essential for online reviews and word-of-mouth marketing. Maintaining customer satisfaction helps you recruit ambassadors for your business.
Growth hacking focuses on optimizing the customer journey, from making customers aware of your brand and providing smooth onboarding to encouraging referrals.
Involves the running of small experiments
Growth hacking was born from startups looking to make a penny stretch as far as it could. As such, small experiments are conducted to identify and implement successful growth strategies.
Traditional marketing, however, uses large-scale campaigns, such as TV, newspaper, and billboard ads. This can be expensive, time-consuming, and risky. Returns on investments (ROI) are not guaranteed. This is unfeasible for startups.
Growth hacking overcomes these failings. Using small scale-experimentation before implementation increases the likelihood of successful strategies. For example, testing different landing pages to see which one collects the most email subscriptions before deciding on which to use.
This almost guarantees growth hacking strategies will lead to more significant ROIs.
Who are growth hackers?
A growth hacker is someone whose sole focus is growth. Everything they do is fuelled by the potential to impact the growth of a business.
A marketing background isn’t required for success as a growth hacker. These can be engineers or programmers.
What do they do?
Like computer hackers, growth hackers identify weaknesses and find opportunities to accelerate growth.
They look at how prospects think and what motivates them in their buying journey. They track critical metrics, like traffic, leads, and sales, using KPIs (Key Performance Indicators).
This information guides them as they look for potential growth triggers and execute experiments to determine the effectiveness of different tactics to achieve their growth goal. If the results prove the strategies are successful, these can be repeated on a larger scale.
For example, they may test different email newsletter subject lines to find the one with the best open rates.
Not only does this increase revenue, but it saves companies time and money instead of spending on large, expensive campaigns.
It’s not uncommon for companies to invest in growth teams to make efficiencies to their marketing tactics. These teams might include the following roles:
- Growth master – Leads the team and makes final decisions
- Growth marketers – Propose and implement experiments focused on KPIs
- Growth analysts – Provide data analysis on experiments and implementation
- Designers, programmers, and engineers – Develop products, tools, and software
The insights growth hackers provide can be valuable in other areas of a business where potential triggers for growth can be exploited, like sales or accounting. Thus, growth hackers can stretch across the company, assisting across teams, not just marketing.
Growth hackers can change the way a business does things, like, for example, migrating an in-house partnership solution to a SaaS platform. Hacks like these can be vital on the road to growth.
Investing in growth hackers can provide you with creative and results-oriented solutions. They won’t replace your traditional marketers. But, they’re invaluable for startups desperate to move upwards.
What skills do they need?
Growth hacking requires a set of skills and a specific mindset for success. These differ from traditional marketers. While both of them understand marketing concepts, growth hackers’ expertise extend beyond these.
Growth hackers need the skills to think outside of the box and come up with new, cheap marketing methods to achieve growth. Independence is key for this, as they have to be able to work quickly to achieve their goal.
While they don’t need to be experts, growth hackers use a broad set of skills to come up with and implement solutions.