October 26, 2014
I’m not a huge fan of the term growth hacker, but I really respect what it stands for. To understand the necessity of this term, I will explain its history. A growth hacker, quite simply, “hacks” their way to growth. What that means is that this person will use creative, unique tactics (often free), to promote their product and get it into the hands of as many users as possible.
This is usually seen in startups because the budget is so small that they can’t afford a lot of paid acquisition channels like TV ads or Google search ads. Also, depending on what industry you’re in, the only way to really beat incumbents is by being incredibly creative, and outsmarting the competition. Being that this position is usually needed to promote a software startup, the thing that is being grown is the users.
The really interesting part about this is the level of growth that is usually expected. Chris Dixon, General Partner at Andreessen Horowitz, famously said that 10 million users is the new 1 million. If a growth hacker, or the growth team does a good job, then the product can grow exponentially. When you're looking at going from 0 to millions of users in a very short amount of time, the term “growth hacker” is more easily understood. That's why this skillset is so appreciated.
It was Sean Ellis who originally coined the term Growth Hacker, and when asked why he created this new role, he explained that when he was hiring someone to replace him as a growth hacker, all of the CV’s he was getting were of traditional marketers. He explains that while a traditional marketer has very interesting skills, they’re not the kind of skills that you need for a tech startup. What they teach you in school usually applies to bigger companies.
Probably one of the biggest factors in bringing this term to use is based on Google and its SEO algorithms. I don’t necessarily think SEO is dead; I just think it’s different. Traditional SEO is definitely dead, because Google is getting smarter. The Googlebot is getting more human, so a lot of the tactics that people know about how to drive users to their website don’t work anymore. That’s why as marketers, we needed to get creative. Andrew Chen wrote a great article called Growth Hacker is the new VP Marketing where he explains some of the most famous growth hacks, and how no traditional marketer would have been able to figure them out.
Here are 3 ways to implement growth hacking to boost your business.
1. Viral Loop
This is the most popular way of growth hacking. If you ask anyone interested in growth hacking about it, the word “virality” will probably come up.
The most famous example of this was Hotmail. When Hotmail first started out, their growth wasn’t very good, because they were competing with existing email providers. What they did was put in the signature of every email that went out “PS – I love you. Get your free email at Hotmail”, with a link back to Hotmail for the person receiving the email can sign up. This led to exponential growth.
This is what the viral loop is all about. Building virality into your product so that your users can spread the message for you. This was a very simple, free thing to do, and it led to one of the biggest email companies in the world.
2. Content Marketing
Content marketing is the most valuable tool in a growth hacker’s arsenal, in my opinion. If done right, it’s a free way of generating massive amounts of traffic, social media presence, and leads.
Blog posts are great, and I make sure to blog every day, but it’s important to get creative and create things like infographics, white papers, ebooks, guides. This content will ultimately get shared and lead to new business.
My favorite example of this is Groove’s blog where the founder is documenting his journey on getting to $100k in monthly revenue. They’re being incredibly transparent, and they're making content that goes viral. My favorite post is How We Got 1,000 Subscribers From a Single Blog post in 24 hours.
As Google’s algorithm gets smarter and smarter, content marketing will become more important. Remember, content marketing is the new SEO.
3. Email Marketing
Too often, the focus on growth hacking is about getting new users, but there is a huge amount of value in your existing users, either by retaining them, or by upselling them.
Email marketing is the greatest way to keep a constant dialogue going with your users, and to understand what they want, and how you can improve as a company. You can drive millions of new users to your product, but if they’re not sticking around, what’s the point? You need to understand why the happy customers are happy, but more importantly, why the angry ones are angry.
There are so many great resources online to learn more about growth hacking, but here are a few of my favorites:
Growthhacker.tv – The mother of all growth hacking resources. Sign up to this site, trust me it’s worth every penny.
The Definitive Guide To Growth Hacking, by Neil Patel – Neil Patel is a legend in the online marketing world, and anything he writes is worth reading
Growth Hackers on Clarity – You can talk directly to some of the best growth hackers in the industry. Clarity was started by Dan Martell, one of the most well known growth hackers.
What are some creative growth hacks that you know? Let me know in the comments!
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