What is growth hacking?
Recently the term “growth hacking” struck the online marketing community. But what is growth hacking?
Growth hacking first appeared in the community of American technology start-uppers. It’s not some independent marketing technology jargon, or a set of specific tools and channels of driving traffic and, as a conclusion, clients. Tools and audience driving channels are the same as those used by others.
People with lengthy experience in online marketing often face the following situation: Google AdWords shows great results for one product, while for another there is nothing but loss. One service is primarily driven by a simple landing page – just attract traffic to this page and you are on fire. The other service is having a bad time: a landing page can’t fill an information vacuum with thin air, talk about the advantages of a service and engage visitors in a conversation. For some companies, SEO is their main channel for acquiring customers, while for others it’s nothing but a headache and a loss. Some companies are active apologists of attracting sales leads from social networks, others put an end to social media. Why does it happen this way? There are a couple of reasons:
- Nowadays there are almost no universal tools left. If something works for other sites, it doesn’t mean that it will work for you.
- Competition is increasing.
- Even the smallest gap in the competences of two job seekers, so small that it can’t be identified by most experienced HR experts when hiring a person, leads to a significant difference in the results they achieve.
- Lastly, and most importantly, moving sales to the Internet became a cardinal reason to increase the speed of developing new technologies, channels and methods of work.
This rapidly changing environment created a demand for chaos seekers, “growth hackers”, who can quickly evaluate the practical significance of a new marketing tool or customer-driving channel and try it out on their own projects.
Growth hackers are the same as online marketers, who have experience in many widespread tools used to drive the target audience to sites and increase conversion rates. They are good at SEO, SMM, content marketing, email marketing and they know how to conduct advertising campaigns using systems of contextual and targeted advertising. They use RTB, media and so on, they track and analyse conversion rates in statistical systems. Wherein, they are always unsatisfied with the current conversion rate, and so they are constantly conducting A/B-tests of this or that page elements.
It’s nothing supernatural, correct? Let’s make a stop here.
In the previous paragraph I listed a set of famous and widespread tools. However, speaking frankly: there are very few agencies in the market who can integrate all of these tools. I speak as a CEO of an agency with more than 20 requests a day from different customers – representatives of both small and large businesses. When I say “they are very few” I’m trying to be nice. Coming back down to earth, they almost don’t exist. As a rule, companies use, at maximum, two or three tools for getting traffic and no more. Analytics? You must be kidding me. A/B-testing? The titles of PPC ads are tested at best. In other words: everyone knows everything, but few of them use all of these tools in real life. That’s the truth.
Fail Fast principle
Complex projects to get traffic, analyse it and permanently work on increasing the associated conversion rates – these are the things that growth hacking can’t exist without. That’s why complex projects provide (not always, but very often) a synergy of results. It’s easy to understand: when you are “catching” your target audience on all possible platforms and channels, there are many more chances to attract their attention than when using only one channel.
When working on a complex promotion for a project, it pretty often happens that one of the traffic-driving channels requires less investment than the market average. This is what allows you to get that very advantage that your competitors don’t have.
How do you manage everything and be everywhere at once? How do you use all the tools available, all the opportunities that take place nowadays in online marketing? Of course, it’s possible, but it’s expensive, which means hopeless in real life. That’s why growth hacking is impossible without using the principle of Fail Fast (the expanded version sounds like Fail Early, Fail Fast, Fail Often, Fail Cheap).
This principle came over to marketing from web development. By the way, there’s nothing strange about it. I will exaggerate a bit, but this exaggeration has a real basis: growth hackers are a new generation of web developers, who became marketers out of necessity. Perhaps, they didn’t read Kotler, but they know how to quickly fix code – suddenly this skill turned out to be more in demand.
They didn’t read Kotler, but they know to quickly fix code – suddenly this skill turned out to be more in demand.
Growth hackers are not a creative class, it’s a post-creative class, which regards a more conversational design as the best one. For growth hackers, an assessment of their work, either by a professional audience or industry awards is nothing, compared to attracting targeted traffic to a project. Growth hackers are marketers out of necessity. Growth hacking is about numbers, conversion rates, split-tests, it’s not about “repositioning” and “branding” (sorry, I just added two random terms from a marketing community which I don’t understand, other words with an unclear meaning are also ok).
The principle of failing fast and cheap allows you to avoid long-term and expensive failures – the fatal ones. In terms of growth hacking, the Fail Fast principle is about:
- Prototyping. Why would I develop a complete service, if I can check the demand for it on a single functioning thing?
- Simplification. Why would I make investments in a site, if I can check the projected demand on a single landing page? Why would I conduct a full-scale PPC campaign for all our goods, if I can run a small one for a single product and then scale it up?
- Stopping a work timely. Why would I waste my budget on increasing a conversion rate by 0.051% in Google AdWords, if I can switch to another channel and increase a conversion rate by 1.5% there?
- Short iterations. Why would I spend time on developing one huge thing for our service, if I can develop 15 small ones that give better results at the same time?
This last point is very important. We can prove the following thing in our own practice. In todays’ conditions of online marketing, when a SERPs’ ranking depends largely on user behaviour (in general, on user characteristics of a site), you can improve user behaviour not by making huge changes but by making regular small changes – day to day, update to update.
Coming back down to earth
Now it’s time for a very important point. After reading all of the above you could think that Growth Hacking is some (hidden and secret!) set of tools to drive targeted traffic, while, accordingly, it is difficult to identify growth hackers as either programmers or marketers, they just possess this hidden knowledge. This is not real. Moreover, growth hackers don’t exist as some group of people who think of themselves as of growth hackers.
Growth Hacking is a response to the modern conditions of online marketing, which change faster than site owners want it to. The majority of entrepreneurs don’t manage to learn this or that marketing tool before it goes into circulation. Growth Hacking is a concept, which tells us that the ability to learn and, what is especially important, integrate new tools in practice is much more important than deeply researching every facet of these tools.
Moreover, if you read some blogs on growth hacking, then you’ll come to a very interesting conclusion. There are no “areas of responsibility” in growth hacking: there are competences of marketers, there are those of sales managers, even those of product experts. Everything that can bring explosive growth in target visitors must be used. Sometimes it’s not the correct usage of online marketing tools that gives better results, but making changes in the product itself – its goals and global purpose (a so called pivot).
The recipe for correct Growth Hacking
If you expect to see a list of ten points (“do this – get that”), then I’m here to disappoint you. There will be no such list, it conflicts with the main idea of growth hacking. Just like you can’t find two identical projects, you can’t find two identical recipes for explosive traffic growth. Moreover, it rarely happens that some single method becomes key to a project’s growth. Sean Ellis, the author of the “Growth Hacking” term, being the first marketer of Dropbox, “hacked” audiences with one simple method – users were given “bonus” gigabytes for attracting new users to the service through referral links. However, Ellis asked himself the following question in one of his articles: would one successful hack lead to the explosive growth of Dropbox, ifthey were not using a lot of other hacks, which were less to do with marketing than with the product itself?
The recipe for effective Growth Hacking stands on three pillars:
- Not being devoted to a specific set of tools and, as a conclusion, having no fear of using new methods and tools for generating traffic. Exploitation of a single tool is a sign of being narrow-minded and self-limited.
- All growth hackers’ activities must be based on web analytics. No web analytics – no growth hacking.
- The third cult of growth hackers is automation. Everything that could be automated must be automated.
Don’t be afraid of something new, don’t distrust unknown terms. There will be more and more new things in the modern world and in the close future. The task of online marketers is to “hack” new ideas and think how to use them in their work to improve results.