Growth Hacking.

Have you heard of it? It is a term marketers everywhere should be aware of.

It’s a term that little startups like Facebook, Twitter,, Uber, Airbnb, Instagram and Dropbox know well and used to their advantage. All of the brands I just listed are now household names – and I want you to think about what traditional marketing they used at the very beginning to grow their business.

Struggling? That’s because they didn’t. They used growth hacking and threw traditional marketing ideas out the window.

But don’t be scared!

This does not mean marketing is not important- it just means that the definition is evolving. As a self-identified data dork, I have been trying to  encourage people to see that data should be driving the new age of marketing- from the bottom up. Brands need to put aside the old metrics for marketing ROI and start to rely on actual analytics.

I recently heard Ryan Holiday speak at the Business Marketing Association conference and then purchased and read his book “Growth Hacker Marketing“.  After reading just the first few pages I thought- Eureka! He defined exactly what I have been speaking about for years!

Growth Hacker

(n.) A growth hacker is an employee with a single job: growing the business by any means possible. This role, according to Andrew Chen and many Silicon Valley pioneers, has come to supplant the typical VP of Marketing. Growth hackers’ main task is to build great marketing ideas into the product during the development process. Growth hackers often have a programming background, but it’s not required. Growth hackers are pros at hypothesizing, testing, and iterating different versions of their products to create hockey stick growth for their companies.

Growth Hacking

(v.) Growth Hacking is business strategy that throws out the playbook of traditional marketing and replaces it with customer acquisition techniques that are testable, trackable, and scalable.  Its tools are e-mails, pay-per-click ads, blogs, and platform APIs instead of commercials, publicity, and money. While traditional marketing chases vague notions like “branding” and “mind share,” growth hackers relentlessly pursue users and growth – and when they do it right, those users beget more users, who beget more users.  They are the inventors, operators, and mechanics of their own self-sustaining and self-propagating growth machine that can take a start-up from nothing to something.

Still worried that this might not apply to you or hurt your business? Don’t be, as Ryan Holiday says in his book:

“A growth hacker doesn’t see marketing as something one does but rather something one builds into the product itself.”

We are in the age of data. It is everywhere. We hear a lot of buzz words- data aggregator, measurement, dashboards…  What I don’t hear? What do the numbers mean, and how are they used. Until the marketing/ social media/ digital data is used as a part of the actual business decision/ process, those numbers on that dashboard are just that- numbers- or as Ryan Holiday defined them- “vanity metrics.”

Yay! Great! You got hundreds of thousands of visits to your website. Wonderful. But what does it mean? So what?

One of the best ways to understand how it works is to see how brands have successfully leveraged it in the past.

Ryan’s book has a lot of examples, but I am just going to mention two that I think show the value of data: Dropbox and Twitter.

Think of Dropbox. According to Dropbox, they are a “service that keeps your files safe, synced, and easy to share.” When they started they didn’t have the money for traditional marketing- so they baked it in. They growth hacked.

They built a product- a really great product that they tested and reworked until they knew they could be the answer to a specific problem for a specific audience. They targeted that audience and then baked in the marketing.

How? Once you downloaded Dropbox- if you share it with friends, you got extra storage. They were able to increase the visitors to their website by targeting the right people with the initial offer and then gave them an incentive to share. But- that is not enough. If people are coming to the site but not converting- what is the point?

Enter vanity metrics. Site visits are great- but mean nothing until you get a conversion- they are simply vanity metrics. The conversion rate is the metric you need to track on that dashboard everybody loves talking about. For Dropbox- the conversion wasn’t just the download- because people could download and then never use it. Through their data, they discovered that the conversion was uploading 1 file. If a user uploaded at least 1 file they became more engaged. So, what marketing did Dropbox continue to bake in? They continued growth hacking by providing the customer with more free storage if they actually watch the “how to” video. This is brilliant. The number one reason people tend to abandon/ bounce off a site is that they don’t get it or understand their individual connection. The video forces people to learn how the product works and see how it can help in day-to-day life.

Dropbox used growth hacking to introduce a great product to a specific audience, foster  a relationship with that audience through more free and helpful content, and then give them the tools and incentives to share. They used data to see what worked and what didn’t, they made changes as needed, and collected personal information from customers who really engaged.

Twitter is also a great example of growth hacking.  Twitter created a lot of noise when it was first released, but people were simply making an account and leaving. They were getting a lot of buzz and funding, but users were not sticking. Enter growth hacker marketing. Originally, when you signed up, they automatically provided people for you to follow. However, through data, they realized a user was more likely to engage and use the platform if they manually followed at least 5 users. So, they re-engineered the product. They brought in programmers to create the “suggested followers” component. Users were no longer immediately added to your “following” list; you were provided with options and forced to choose. This brought users into the process and showed them the value right away. That is marketing, the growth hacking way.

Twitter and Dropbox are just examples.  As start-ups, both companies did not have the typical marketing budget to work with. They had to rethink the way marketing was typically done and find a way to make it work for their product.

Growth hacking is a cycle and needs a product or service that has been tested, adjusted and made perfect for a specific audience using the vast amounts of data we have at our fingertips. Marketing isn’t just promoting a product once it is done, and hoping that people like it. It is thinking about how the product will come into you audience’s lives from the point of ideation and integrating that customer’s journey  as key part of the development process at every point. The future of marketing is some form of Growth Hacking. And the key to growth hacking is using data correctly and smartly.

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