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What the Hell Is Growth Hacking, Anyway?

Vincent Cassar
What the Hell Is Growth Hacking, Anyway?

We have a new buzz-term — growth hacking! And it appears to be really buzzing.

Seems that everyone we speak to these days is looking for a "Growth Hhacker." Like most new terms we wondered whether this might be just a new fad, but it appears not, because growth hacking is increasingly in high demand for startups. Some stand-alone info sharing sites like GrowthHacker.tv and GrowthHackers.com, plus the annual Growth Hackers Conference, have been developed solely to better serve startups’ marketing strategies.

It’s certainly great that more and more businesses are taking growth seriously, and it’s definitely very important that business owners be aware of creating sustainable companies and networks. But, what exactly is it?

What’s Growth Hacking All About?

Growth hacking is not a silver bullet — it’s efficient and intelligent marketing. Sean Ellis is the man who coined the term "growth hacking" and he believes that a Growth Hacker is a person whose only real direction is toward growth. It’s all about driving as much growth as possible, whilst spending as little as possible. A dedicated Growth Hacker is driven by the challenge and the enjoyment of the "game."

I’ve put together this brief explanation on what Growth Hacking really is, in a way that should be easy to understand, and in a way that will hopefully explain exactly what a great Growth Hacker brings to the table.

  • They’re Obsessive!

Yes, they’re obsessive — because all they focus on is user growth. This pretty-much defines a growth hacker because they relentlessly focus on the bottom-line growth of startup businesses. They’re not really successfully Growth Hacking if their activities don’t ultimately increase the overall user base.

  • They Use A Combination of Marketing, Product, and Engineering

A successful Growth Hacker can draw experiences from many disciplines: a comprehensive understanding of "Marketing" will allow them to utilize inbound, PPC, SEO, copywriting, landing pages, and so on. Understanding ‘Product’ means they can       utilize product-market fit, onboarding, registration flows, email, UI/UX, roadmap    decisions, and so on. With an understanding of ‘Engineering’ a Growth Hacker can utilize APIs, event tracking and triggers, code heavy growth tactics, automated systems, and so on.

  • They’re Like Scientists

Well, sort of! A growth hacker will scientifically test new approaches and tactics the same way a scientist would. Each experiment contains a question, following by hypothesis, a prediction, subsequent testing, and finally — analysis.

  • They Create Retained Customers

A Growth Hacker is not only interested in acquiring a new customer: their interest is in the complete lifecycle of a user. Acquiring the new customer is the first step, and then they must find ways and means of effectively activating this new user and turn them into a retained customer. A Growth Hacker will use cohort analysis and other tools such as Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) to effectively maintain customers.

  • They’re Totally Driven By Data

A Growth hacker isn’t interested in intuition: they are completely data driven. Certainly, numbers are not always able to point a Growth Hacker in the right direction, but they certainly serve as a clear scoreboard and a fairly reliable guide for every growth attempt.

  • They Get in Early

A Growth Hacker will exploit new growth avenues very early. They’re right on the cutting edge of what’s working. A growth channel is most valuable when it’s large enough to make an impact, but so new that not everyone knows about it.

  • They’re Creative

They have to be! They must use their own creativity and initiative to create new opportunities for growth: they don’t just adopt growth tactics when they hear about them. They must create opportunities for growth through their own creativity. In every industry there would be many ways to create massive user growth right now –          and they’re all just waiting to be discovered!

  • They Use Free Growth First

A Growth Hacker will pick the low-hanging fruit first. Free, or low-cost growth is there for those who have the above skill-sets, and these opportunities will be used up  before advancing to paid channels.

  • They Only Spend Money To Grow

Once all the free options have been expended, then a Growth Hacker will be prepared to spend money. But there must be a positive Return on Investment. They’re not interested in raising awareness; their goal is to spend money to grow.

Is Growth Hacking Here To Stay?

Before answering that question let’s look at some very well known examples:

  • Facebook began college-by-college, and started expanding when they had more than 20% of each student body;
  • LinkedIn began with the founder requesting that his entire professional network join him; and
  • AirBnB cross-posted on Craigslist to get early supply and demand.

Certainly, these were all great starts, but it wasn’t until each of the above had more SEO conversions and sustainable viral loops working that they really took off.

Growth hacking and the hype surrounding it at the moment are perfect reminders of just how vital it is to grow your product.

We often hear people say that if they could just build a great product then they would attract lots of users, but that isn’t the way it works. You have to keep a close eye on your data and learn and understand what it is in your product that helps your current and active users attract new users: then with this information you create solutions to help engineer this to occur more quickly, and more often.

Have you added any growth hack in your marketing mix? Please share your experience by commenting below.

Image credit: Depositphotos.com

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Vincent Cassar is the Founder of Keeping.com, a Gmail extension that turns Gmail into a help desk. He publishes the exact growth hacks he uses at The Growth Hacking Experiment.
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Robby Wilson
I really enjoyed this article. There is so much rhetorical gymnastics going on out there as it relates to digital marketing, so it was nice to read a more straightforward version.