Growth hacking is one of the sexiest things in marketing nowadays. Traditional marketers will squirm when they hear about this, business owners don’t really understand what this is, and sometimes even growth marketers themselves will feel a bit confused about their role.
Over the years, I’ve been in multiple marketing roles: a growth hacker, a social media manager, a PR officer, a content marketing writer and strategist, an email marketer, a copywriter, a website designer, a conversion specialist etc. Will all that experience, I’ve come to a have a unique understanding of the dilemmas behind growth hacking and growth marketing.
Because things are not that straightforward, I put together a list of frequently asked questions and their answers to help business owners like you learn more about what growth hacking is, how it works, and hopefully get a sense of what it can do for them.
What is a busineess growth strategy?
A business growth strategy is what allows companies to expand their business. It is basically a plan that can be short or long term. Considering that growth is a key to any business’ survival and success, this practice should be embedded in your company from day one (or at least after surviving your first year in the market).
What are the most common business growth strategies?
Traditionally there are four common growth strategies that most businesses will employ to expand: market penetration, product development, market expansion and diversification (adding a new location, getting more clients, developing a new product, adding new sales channels).
Here are the most common business growth strategies that companies have implemented:
Market penetration (least risky, sell more of your current product to your ideal customers):
Campbell deploying advertising campaigns to get more people to eat soup
Dropbox rewarding 2GB of free storage to each user registered with a referral link
Market development (sell more of your current product to a new market):
Any local company entering an international market (Adidas, Nike, Reebok etc)
Finding a new use for your product (Slack, Facebook both started small, with a different purpose than what they are being used now)
Product development (develop new products to sell to your existing customers along with new customers):
Coca-Cola launching Diet Coke
Product diversification (develop new products to sell to new customers):
Hasbro selling baby care products under the Playskool brand
Apple selling the iPod after only selling the Apple computer
What is growth hacking?
Growth hacking is a term coined to designate a type of marketing that focuses on delivering results as fast as possible, with as little spending as possible. It was “invented” by Sean Ellis, founder of GrowthHackers and has become a routine for startups looking to achieve growth fast on a small budget.
What is the difference between growth hacking and business Growth?
While both aim to achieve growth, hacking strategies are more related to marketing and conversion optimization than overall business goal. Think of business growth strategies as the goal to head towards, representing a broad concept that brings growth across multiple channels. The growth hacking strategy is focused on a specific channel, and specific tactics, looking to get results fast.
At the beginning of this article I mentioned four of the most common business growth strategies.
Here are three examples of growth hacking strategies:
And here are a couple of growth tactic examples:
Creating social media content
Writing ebooks and white papers
Running contests and giveaways
umm, ok so what is the difference between growth hacking and marketing?
This is where a lot of people get confused. The difference between growth hacking and growth marketing is that one focuses on rapid growth, the other focuses on sustainable growth. One tends to focus on fast results, the other one builds over time to create a strong, durable result. It’s the difference between using Facebook ads to drive leads and sales really fast in a market with low customer acquisition costs vs building a premium brand overnight, such as Apple, or focusing on SEO and organic traffic to increase the durability of marketing efforts.
This is why I work under the name “Architect”. I take the best of two worlds to build a unique growth strategy that focuses on a combination of getting fast results (more money now) as well as a strong brand (more influence that creates returning customers, increased traffic, reputable brand).
I call this an Influence Growth Formula and it helps a business owner figure out why they want to grow, how they want to do it (based on their resources) and it gets them the best mix for growth. For instance, while we focus on things like building a tripwire funnel, we are also conducting customer interviews and using those inputs to build an SEO strategy that favors high-intent keywords as well as optimize the sales copy to include actual customer language.
Unfortunately the world is not black and white. In between we have rainbows and a world of greys. We’d live in a great world (and economy) if all businesses would afford focusing their efforts in growth marketing, but bills pile up, wages need to be paid. That’s where growth hacking is sexy and works its magic. It’s a band-aid that is going to allow a business owner to afford paying wages, getting cash flow to hire specialists to focus on growth marketing.
It shouldn’t be a question of growth hacking vs growth marketing. Both should be deployed together, the first one helping the other.
What is a growth hacker?
A growth hacker will not hack past firewalls. A growth hacker is a unique type of marketer who develops and implements strategies that helps businesses acquire and retain customers. A growth hacker will focus only on what is going to drive growth for a business, deciding on the best option after taking a data-driven approach to analyzing priorities, best customer acquisition channels, and KPIs.
I recommend myself as a growth architect as what I help a business achieve is identifying the reasons you want to grow, and how to make that happen based on the resources you have available or are easy to obtain in the present moment.
The bottom line is that a growth hacker will help a business get more traffic and website visitors, convert more visitors into leads, then clients and increasing the retention rate of the acquired clients.
What is a growth tactic?
A growth tactic is a specific action or step you undertake to accomplish your strategy. Strategies are used to set destinations and describe how you are going to get there, while the tactics are the concrete small steps needed to reach your destinations.
Which is better: growth strategy or growth tactic?
There’s one simple answer: you can have one without the other, but you won’t get very far with this modus operandi. Strategy and tactics work together as means to an end. I like this example from Clear Point Strategy to explain how these two work together:
“Let’s say your organization’s overarching mission is to reduce the carbon footprint that humans are contributing to. If your strategy is to reduce carbon emissions in a certain area by a certain percentage, one goal might be to educate people about the options available to them in regard to renewable energy. From there, you might decide one particular tactic to use would be a marketing campaign through television ads. From there, you’d track the resources you need for this project and begin checking off items like hiring a producer, writing your script, shooting your scenes, editing your video, and so forth.”
Is growth hacking legal?
Yes. While it includes the word “hacking” it has nothing to do with actually hacking past firewalls.
Is growth hacking only for startups?
How is growth hacking different to online marketing?
This is a common dilemma, and even marketers will ask this one. Growth hacking is laser focused on ways to market a product whereas online marketing takes a macro approach to making a brand visible online.
At the intersection between growth hacking and growth marketing is the architect. It’s the avatar I’ve chosen to represent over a decade of being both.
I’ve worked with small businesses where the luxury of having a marketing department was a thing of the future. They did not have the resources to afford thinking long term about their marketing and acquisition strategies. They needed marketing that brought in fast results. That’s where growth hacking was a massive help. Through ads, promotions, focusing on one channel like Pinterest to drive traffic, rather than all channels at once, those businesses lived to see another day and eventually get to the point where they had the resources to focus on building a solid brand with a reputation and authority that precedes them.
This is where most businesses will be nowadays. It’s not good, it’s not wrong. It’s just how things are. Yes, it’s extremely beneficial to focus on your marketing for long term goals. But when the needle is barely moving there’s a need to look at marketing through the lens of a growth hacker. Learning from Silicon Valley’s results (Dropbox, Hotmail etc) is a great way to shorten the gap from barely getting clients to acquiring a bunch of happy customers who bring in more money than your acquisition and delivery costs.
Remember, neither is one-size-fits-all overnight recipe for success. What worked for Dropbox, might not work for you. That’s why it’s a good idea to keep an open mind to experiment with the product, pricing, and different subniches within your large niche.
I hope this helped you get some answers around what growth hacking is and how it works. If it’s your best choice, that’s a different discussion. I will always favor growth marketing to help you figure out who your best customers are, how to make your products stand out from the crowd, build SEO for long term organic traffic, but as I stated earlier, sometimes, a small business will simply not have the luxury of time and resources available to do so.
At the end of the day, growth hacking isn’t just “hacks”. Sometimes it’s the one thing that you need to focus on to get the best results in your business with what you currently have at hand. And that can even be a growth marketing component, like customer research, or copywriting.