Growth Hacking Fundamentals For Digital Marketers

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“Growth Hacking.” I’m sure you’ve heard of it. If not, well, where have you been the past year? According to Google Trends, “growth hacking” as a topic has absolutely exploded in just the last few years. However, because “growth hacking” is rooted in fundamental business and marketing best practices, it’s likely something that will stick around and gain in popularity.

In this article, I’m going to cover the basics of growth hacking and explain why digital marketers in large or small organizations should be paying attention to this trend. Actually, you should be doing more than paying attention. If you don’t start implementing growth hacking techniques, you may very well get left behind doing things the “old fashioned” way.



What is growth hacking and why should you care?

Let’s start with the basics. Here’s a very good and thorough definition of growth hacking from Wikipedia

Growth hacking is a marketing technique developed by technology startups which use creativity, analytical thinking, and social metrics to sell products and gain exposure. It can be seen as part of the online marketing ecosystem, as in many cases growth hackers are using techniques such as search engine optimization, website analytics, content marketing and A/B testing. Growth hackers focus on low-cost and innovative alternatives to traditional marketing, e.g. utilizing social media and viral marketing instead of buying advertising through more traditional media such as radio, newspaper, and television.Growth hacking is particularly important for startups, as it allows for a “lean” launch that focuses on “growth first, budgets second.”

That’s a lot to take in. I’m going to attempt to break this down a bit. But, here are a few core principles to start with:

  • Growth first: Growth hackers look to grow as fast as is reasonably possible with limited or non-existent budgets.
  • Inbound focus: Because of the limited or non-existent budget parameter, growth hackers tend to focus on lower cost marketing programs, making inbound marketing an ideal option.
  • Test > Measure > Scale: Growth hacking involves testing, measuring results and then scaling successful tactics. This is important and we’ll dive into this further.

Growth hacking offers some incredible benefits. Here are just a few …

  • Hyperfocusing on growth will, more than likely, result in actual growth
  • More and different types of tactics can be tested since many techniques leverage lower cost strategies
  • Testing ensures that the very best tactics win your attention
  • Measuring success provides ammunition for gaining internal support to advance programs
  • Data-oriented decision making as a result of growth hacking will aid in prioritization, resource efficiency, effectiveness and produce better overall results.

QuickSprout has created a fabulous guide on Growth Hacking fundamentals. Check it out.



5 Steps to Growth Hacking Success

Let’s get into some of the details of growth hacking. Following are my own 5 steps of growth hacking success. As I mentioned, while “growth hacking” as a topic is fairly new, the fundamental principles have been around much longer. The growth hacking movement, however, is taking these principles and operationalizing them in a way that anyone can start growth hacking right away. Here’s what you need to do.

1. Hypothesize

Start with a hypothesis. Some people call this the “ideation” phase. Really, these are just your good ideas that should lead you to come up with measurable objectives. You should ask questions such as:

  • What do I need to grow my business today?
  • What are my current strengths I can leverage for growth?
  • What innovations can I introduce that I think will result in growth?
  • How would I measure and test my ideas?
  • What are my competitors doing to grow?
  • How have other companies grown successfully that may work for me?

Notice the theme around growth? Again, growth hacking is all about growth. ANYTHING that could potentially yield higher growth should be a candidate for a test. Once you have your list, prioritize and pick the ones to test. Use any criteria you want – cost, speed to test, difficulty to test, impact opportunity, mom’s opinion – whatever works for you when making decisions.

2. Test

Next, design your test. The test design should include a test description, objective, what you think will happen, key measurements and criteria for success. Ensure that you can actually run your test. You may have product or other limitations that make your test impossible to run.

We grew from 90,000 MAU to 152,000 MAU in about eleven weeks without spending a dollar on advertising or increasing the size of our growth team. The only thing that changed was the velocity of our experimentation.

– results following implementation of their High Tempo Testing framework

3. Measure

Measure, measure, measure! Did I say “measure”? Why, yes I did and I meant it. Data is the lifeblood of growth hacking. Without effective measurements, your tests are wasted, your hypotheses are unproven and you have no way of knowing whether or not your activities are successful. Invest the time and resources needed to acquire and analyze the data you need. When you test, test with clear measurement objectives, ensuring that your measurement systems are capturing data accurately.

4. Optimize

Optimization is one of the most overlooked aspects of digital marketing, generally. It’s a key component of growth hacking success, though. Your tests are not always going to be “black and white”. There will be times that something looks and feels promising, but, you just can’t get that definitive answer. This is where optimization comes into play. Optimization involves tweaking your tests in a way to improve success of the experiment. For instance, let’s say that you think a live chat program will enhance revenue growth (yes, this is an actual experience I had.) Your data shows that your users love interacting with chat, but, you can’t directly tie that to revenue growth. Optimization to the rescue. Change the parameters of your live chat tactic based on what you learned, then retest. In the end, you may end up with something that just doesn’t work, and that’s OK.

5. Expand

You may test 10 tactics and figure out that only 3 can be reasonably scaled to support your growth demands. That’s OK. Growth hacking is as much about what you should stop doing as it is about what you should be doing. Once you have those tactics, you expand and scale. You may need to repeat the process at every scalable stage. For instance, a technique that has worked well may need to be optimized if you want to expand internationally. What do you do then? Simple, start the process over, but, use your working tactic as the foundation. Hypothesize, test, measure, optimize then expand.

#Growthhacking is as much about what you should stop doing as what you should start doing Click To Tweet

What’s next?

Want to learn more about growth hacking? Here are some of my favorite resources.

  • QuickSprout’s “Definitive Guide to Growth Hacking” is an exceptional starting point.
  • Quora has an interesting thread devoted to Growth Hacking. Remember, these are individuals’ unsolicited opinions – you get what you pay for.
  • Here are some really fantastic examples of growth hacking used with some of the biggest internet brands we know. This is proof you don’t need to be a little startup to take advantage of growth hacking.
  • If you like Udemy, there’s a “Growth Hacking Masterclass” that has fantastic reviews. The course outline looks thorough and you can often hit Udemy sales making the course only $10 or $15.

Need more help getting started?

Yep, I consider myself a growth hacker with a diversity of experience across multiple channels and tactics. If you’re interested in working together, just drop me a line – or connect with me on LinkedIn. I love to talk shop!


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