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Growth Hacking Definition
Growth Hacking is a marketing concept that focuses on efficient and rapid business expansion by experimenting with non traditional methods of acquiring and engaging users. It leverages the expertise of developers, marketers, engineers, sales strategists and product managers.
A Closer Look At What Growth Hacking Entails
In lieu of traditional advertising platforms like print, radio or TV, Growth Hackers seek efficient and cost effective channels for marketing like targeted online advertising, social media marketing, viral videos or memes.
Start-ups launching new services or products are ground zero for Growth Hacking as quick expansion of the user base is paramount. But rapid expansion of the customer base wouldn’t be the sole aim of a growth hacker, long term retention of this rapidly expanding customer base would also be given equal emphasis, as growth hacking takes a 360 degree view of the marketing process. It also accounts for capitalising on the leads gained.
Growth Hacking specialists optimize customer conversion rates by testing various marketing strategies at a fast pace. Some of the tools and techniques exploited by growth hackers for rapid growth and increased sales are:
- Dogfooding products in the developmental phase – looping in the internal feedback to improve the product and gauge public favour, popularity of features, and ease of usage. This approach avoids long winded product development cycles and fuses the testing stage with the development stage. Product schemas, prototypes, and graphical representations are relied upon to cut down on time and resources, and incorporate feedback from the get go.
- Testing with smaller sets of power users, creating artificial demand.
- Streamlined email marketing.
- Creating viral content like easily shareable memes, videos, hashtags.
- Search Engine Optimization and Marketing.
- Social Media Management – Acquiring and managing followers on various online social platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, keeping this user base engaged, rewarding engagement, tying up with influencers to broaden the user base, and so on.
- Targeted outreach efforts towards mainstream media on both online and offline publication platforms to create widespread buzz.
- A/B testing, web analytics, and on page SEO, to improve landing page quality extending user engagement duration.
The term ‘Growth hacker’ was coined by Sean Ellis in 2010. He stressed on the importance of sustainable and scalable growth as the true calling of a growth hacker.
The term was picked up by the general populace, when Andre Chen blogged about it in 2012 in a post titled, “Growth Hacker is the new VP Marketing”, using the example of Airbnb’s strategic integration of Craigslist to expand its user base, to drive his point home. He wrote that, “coding and technical chops are now an essential part of being a great marketer. Growth hackers are a hybrid of marketer and coder…”.
Gagan Biyani set up the second annual “Growth Hackers Conference” in 2013, in San Francisco. Major social networking and media sharing platforms like YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter were amongst the featured growth hackers. Ellis created the website GrowthHackers in 2015 with Everett Taylor. Besides being the largest online community of growth hackers, it also hosts the annual Growth Hackers Conference.
The Modus Operandi of Growth Hacking
Growth hacking thrives when there’s a paucity of funds and traditional marketing experience. Growth Hackers focus on the most cost-effective as well as alternative channels of marketing, innovative ways of getting the word out, and out-of-the-box ideas for prolonged user engagement. It blurs the barriers between product development and marketing. Growth potential and marketable features are incorporated in the product itself at the developmental stage, eliminating the need to build a separate ecosystem for marketing the product. Facebook’s “People You May Know” feature was built into the product to increase connections. But not all of this is free of cost as effective marketing does require actual funds expenditure, however, market adaptability to Growth Hacking has lead to the introduction of advanced tools like Saas, Paas, IaaS, that enable firms to work with limited budgets.
Growth is the sole focus and the only metric worth measuring for a Growth Hacker. AirBnB’s Brian Chesky followed this maxim to a T. Growth is the common denominator across diverse industry verticals and companies vying for it in different ways. Those who’ve aced this philosophy reap rich dividends due to the feedback loop that keeps churning clients, innovation, and turnover. Once you have established a broad base of users, marketing new products becomes easier as you have an inbuilt client base to launch the product to, and a ready audience to tap into viral marketing campaigns. The broader the user base, the faster the growth.
A marketing funnel has five stages that users go through; acquisition – activation – retention – revenue – referral. Every stage is crucial and optimized by Growth Hackers to increase the user base as well as keep them in the fold.
The most well known tech giants – Google, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, Telegram, and more – have used Growth Hacking to get where they are today.
Examples of Growth Hacking
When Hotmail promoted its free online mail service link with the anchor text, “PS I Love You”, it was banking on the readers’ curiosity whilst tapping into the demand for free emails, becoming one of the first companies to use “growth hacking” to acquire more users.
Gmail created an artificial demand by making it’s email service ‘by invitation only’, causing a huge spike in users coveting these invites, hacking the ‘aspirational mindset’ at the acquisition stage of the marketing funnel.
Airbnb growth hacked scalability by tapping into Craigslist’s user base with the “Post to Craigslist” feature – a brilliant example of combining technical expertise with out of the box thinking.
Zynga growth hacked user engagement and retention by reducing the crop harvesting time from 8 – 12 hours to 30 minutes – 2 hours, effectively keeping gamers playing Farmville for hours on end.
Entrepreneurship Guru Noah Kagan increased his subscriber base by 26% by simply eliminating the ‘revenue’ field from his submission form.
References for Growth Hacking
Academic Research on Growth Hacking
- Growth Hacking: Exploring the Meaning of an Internet-Born Digital Marketing Buzzword, Herttua, T., Jakob, E., Nave, S., Gupta, R., & Zylka, M. P. (2016). In Designing Networks for Innovation and Improvisation (pp. 151-161). Springer, Cham. This study takes a quantitative and qualitative look at the term “Growth Hacking”. The qualitative part focuses on the origin, definition, meaning, and implications of the term with a case study and interviews with 12 industry experts. The quantitative analysis takes the real world example of Twitter, analyses its growth strategy in light of the qualitative assessments made in the case study.
- Growth Hacking Practices In A Start-Up: A Case Study On Thecon. Ro, Geru, M., Rusu, E., & Capatina, A. (2014). Risk in Contemporary Economy, 212-216. This paper sheds light on techniques unique to growth hacking that separate it from conventional marketing. It examines the effectiveness of growth hacking, seeks experts’ opinions, discusses special skills required as a growth hacker, and the tools at their disposal to acquire and retain customers.
- Growth Hacking: A Deep Look into Online Marketing for Startups, Sineni, S. L. (2014). (Doctoral dissertation, University of Southern California). This dissertation does a deep dive into the growth hacking phenomenon in the start-up culture.
- Overview of growth hacking: The evaluation of implementations on Uber, Dalaman, I., & Marsap, A. (2017). International Journal of Economics, Commerce and Management, 6, 60-77. This paper is a case study of Uber as a growth hacking phenomenon.
- Growth Hacking: The Definitive Guide of Growth Hacking Tactics (growth mindset, growth hacker, growth marketing, growth seo, growth engines, growth investing, seo …, Jackson, J. (2016). James Jackson demystifies “Growth Hacking” in his book by giving real world examples of successes and failures. He stresses on the need to build sustainable growth processes and the capacity to endure.
- What Do We Talk About When We Talk About Growth Hacking?, Župič, I. (2014, November). In EBR Conference 2014. This paper discusses various successful online companies and their growth hacking techniques.
- Growth Hacking Strategies for Virtual Research Environments, Kahle, M., & Glaser, R. (2018, April). In EGU General Assembly Conference Abstracts (Vol. 20, p. 2019). This abstract studies the application of growth oriented principles to website development as a function of Virtual Research Environments(VRE). It presents insights and best practices gleaned from the operation of three different VRE systems pertaining to growth hacking techniques like acquiring new users, customer retention and satisfaction.
- Growth hacking: Defining a digital marketing buzzword, Herttua, T. (2016). This is a master’s thesis that breaks down the growth hacking phenomenon from different perspectives. It delineates the contrasts between the academic literature available on the subject, the practical approach to growth hacking with real life examples, viral marketing trends, and New Product Development.
- Growth hacking as the optimizer of start-ups to grow: the way start-ups could impement growth hacking successfully, Nguyen, K. M. (2017). A case study was conducted to analyse growth hacking techniques employed by successful messaging and file-sharing apps, Dropbox and Whatsapp. The academic findings were presented in the paper for the benefit of start-ups to achieve rapid growth.
- Growth hacking as a methodology for user retention in the entrepreneurial venture: A case study, Vilda, S. (2018). This case study attempts to study the phenomenon of growth hacking amongst entrepreneurs and start-ups. It aims to present theoretical findings as opposed to the practical insights shared by numerous other studies.
- Business growth hacking: using trackable and testable methods to pursue growth, Ratcliffe, J. (2016). Journal of Aesthetic Nursing, 5(9), 462-463. This journal discusses early adoption of growth hacking techniques to incorporate product marketing at the planning stage