Without a doubt, the way we do business (and the way we’ll be living our lives) is going to change after this whole COVID-19 pandemic blows over (or at least simmers down a bit).
People are already calling it “the new normal”, and as early as now, business owners and entrepreneurs are forced to innovate, pivot, and evolve somehow in response to these drastic changes in the way (we foresee) how people will now spend their money and how other businesses continue to operate.
Growth hacking was such a buzzword several years back especially among startups and entrepreneurs, and it’s enjoying quite a bit of resurgence these days. After all, while we’re all back to the drawing board, we might as well be running our own new startups once again.
So whether you’re geared up to drastically reconsider your existing business model, or forced to come up with a creative new way of doing business, you’ll want to revisit the concept of growth hacking.
Why? Because change is certainly coming (or already here!), and you’ll want your business to adapt quickly and get up and running right away.
The History of Growth Hacking
In 2008, a then-unknown startup known as Dropbox had limited traction in the marketplace, mostly because they only attracted users with a higher level of technical proficiency.
Of course while Dropbox is worth a little more than $8 billion today, twelve years ago, in 2008, the tech of storing files in the cloud was relatively brand new, and not something regular folks thought about.
The methods used by Dropbox to grow from a simple startup to the tech giant it is today– methods developed by Sean Ellis and his team– were later given a name in 2010: growth hacking.
Especially for the startup scene in Silicon Valley, the ability to rapidly get a business to grow was a valuable skill to have indeed. Growth hacking actually works, as attested by the success of companies like Uber, Airbnb, and Facebook. No surprise then that other companies from around the world have started to adopt a more growth-driven mindset.
What Does a Growth Hacker Do?
Think of your growth hacker as a specialist within your organization– and this guy’s job is to figure out how to scale as rapidly (and as sustainably) as possible using:
- Marketing growth programs and initiatives
- Creative ways of bringing in users, leads, and/or customers
- Testing and experimenting to find tactics that yield best results
- A host of tools to automate marketing processes and otherwise menial tasks
Another way to see your growth hacker is as a specialized digital marketer, with some handy tech skills and a strong entrepreneurial mindset to match.
Growth Hacking and Digital Marketing: Is There a Difference?
Some people might be asking if there’s a difference between growth hacking and digital marketing. We believe it’s sort of like comparing apples and oranges.
They’re both skill sets, and are primarily centered around online activities.
Gagan Biyani, CEO of Sprig, brought forward the idea that growth hackers are actually marketers with limited time and resources, and are therefore, forced to get really innovative on how to achieve their goals of growth.
Specifically, if there’s a difference between growth hacking and marketing, according to Gagan, it’s that startups do growth hacking while bigger companies do marketing. And here’s why:
- Startups are organizations with extreme uncertainty.
- Startups are designed for astronomical growth.
- Startups don’t have access to the same resources or brand equity.
So it can be said that growth hacking is more of a mindset, a philosophy, or a way of getting things done. A lot of creativity might be involved– because you’ll likely be exploring unconventional marketing tactics, but ultimately, the focus is on building the brand, growing the user base, and engaging leads of a business.
On the other hand, digital marketing is more like a toolset: where some people might want to scale a business quickly with it, others might have a more academic approach, or just want to learn digital marketing for fun.
However, good digital marketing helps to serve the goals of growth hacking. So you can say that it is a part of a growth hacker’s toolkit (along with other tools of course, such as marketing automation software and other services that essentially get the job done).
Do I Need Any Special Skills To Do Growth Hacking?
So now you understand that essentially, growth hacking is just an approach to doing marketing. Arguably, it’s a more practical way of building a brand and bringing in new business– something entrepreneurs can clearly appreciate.
The growth hacker sprang from the need to get things done, especially when traditional marketing techniques just aren’t applicable. Hence, the heavy emphasis on digital marketing.
With that in mind, anyone can get into a growth hacking mindset. Aaron Ginn, formerly of Everlane and StumbleUpon, is another thought leader in the growth hacking space. He helped define growth hackers with having these three key traits:
1. Growth hackers should have a love for data. “Without metrics or data, a growth hacker can feel out of place and uncomfortably exposed. This strong bias towards data drives a growth hacker away from vanity metrics towards metrics that will make or break the business.”
2. Growth hackers are creative. “Growth hackers are also creative problem solvers…(they) do not stop at data but build into new and unknown frontiers to find growth.”
3. Growth hackers are curious. “A growth hacker has a fascination at why visitors choose to be users and engage and why some products fall flat on their face. With today’s distracted users, growth hackers are habitually exploring to find new ways to push metrics up and to the right.”
The Growth Hacker’s Toolbox
We know that digital marketing plays a big role when it comes to growth hacking. Let’s dig in and examine what’s inside a growth hacker’s toolbox to help with brand-building, generating and nurturing leads, and optimizing conversions.
1. A “Must-Have” Product/Service
As opposed to being “Nice-to-Have”, a “Must-Have” product or service is a necessity, and so it draws upon a lot of storytelling and other techniques to be able to create a need (and maybe even some urgency or fear of loss/missing out).
2. Buyer Personas
Personas help you focus your marketing efforts towards one specific market segment. Remember: not everyone will find your product or service relevant, and so it’s important to figure out who those people are right away, and this is where buyer personas come in.
You can read more about that here: “Buyer Personas: Why They are Important and Why You Should Have Them”.
3. Sales Funnels (and Conversion Optimization)
There’s a system for bringing in leads, nurturing them, and converting them into sales, and this is typically known as the sales funnel. Understanding your sales funnel means you know what it takes to lead an interested customer down the right path towards closing a sale. These don’t all have to be sales though; depending on your campaign, you might be after sign ups, or getting people to download a resource, or follow you on a particular social media channel.
4. Insights and Analytics
Analytics and insights are the best way to prove if any of your marketing experiments have generated any real results. Remember, just about anyone can come up with wild and crazy ideas on how to generate leads or traffic. But numbers don’t lie, and what might be unconventional can actually be one of the best ways to bring in business (as long as you have the data to back that up.)
5. An Optimized Website
Needless to say, all your marketing efforts start and end with your website. Not just any website, but one specifically built to achieve your growth hacking goals. Certainly, your site can have a blog, as well as landing pages corresponding to your various campaigns.
Most importantly, however, you have to remember that the user experience (UX) is an important consideration for a high-performing website: you’ll want a website that doesn’t just fulfill your business goals, but also delights your customers so they tell their friends about it, and maybe even keep coming back.
6. Techniques For Driving Traffic
It takes time to build traffic organically, and while SEO is certainly a big part of your overall digital marketing strategy don’t forget that you should also seriously consider:
- Pay-per-click advertising: for a short-term boost in new leads.
- Online P.R.: to get more people to talk about you, your brand, and what you have to offer. A great source for medium-term traffic.
- Search engine optimization: most cost-effective, most bang-for-your-buck source of traffic, but this is your long-term play.
- Social networks: while these have no direct effect on your search rankings, they do help distribute your content, especially among your target audience.
7. Content Creation/Content Marketing
You’ll be expected to create a lot of original, market-relevant content, and we’re talking about all sorts of material– both digital and print. Different pieces of content are better for different points of your sales funnel, serving a specific purpose of moving a lead further down the buyer’s journey.
- Top-of-the-funnel (ToFu) content is more educational, informative, and ultimately helpful: Whitepapers, ebooks, tip sheets, checklists, how-to videos, educational webinars, and kits all help serve this purpose.
- Middle-of-the funnel (MoFu) pieces of content aid in evaluation and research, and is thus geared more towards leads that are in the “consideration” phase of the buyer’s journey. Content pieces you can create that aid in evaluation include case studies, product webinars, samples or demos, FAQs, or data sheets, among others.
- Bottom-of-the-funnel (BoFu) pieces are more geared towards nudging the lead just a little further towards purchase. Content will include free trials, consultations, coupons, estimates, and live demos.
8. Email Marketing
Email marketing continues to be an effective tool for acquiring new customers, driving conversions, and increasing website traffic. In fact, a study reports that email makes an average of $38 for every $1 spent.
No wonder that email marketing stays on as an important tool in a growth hacker’s arsenal, and figuring out how to optimize for higher open-rates and click-through rates is almost an obsession among those into growth hacking.
9. Marketing Automation Tools
Digital marketing, even with a growth mindset, is going to be a lot of work; much of it repetitive and mundane. Thankfully, there are now a lot of tools available to help automate, organize, and keep track of most of those tasks– so you can focus on more big-picture things like strategy and optimizing conversions.
A Final Word on Growth Hacking
Some people call it “pivoting”, others may call it “reiterating” or “shifting their focus”. But for business owners looking to stay ahead of the curve in anticipation of big changes ahead, growth hacking is certainly a concept worth revisiting.
Growth hacking was “created” several years because there was a need to do marketing differently, more creatively, and more effectively. COVID-19 has without a doubt rocked the business landscape, and so now we have that need once more.
The world will change (for better or for worse) in the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis, and as early as now, many business owners and entrepreneurs are already thinking of ways to bounce back. With a growth hacking mindset, you can just as easily get back on your feet and hit the ground running; there are fresh new opportunities out there, you just have to get ready to take those for yourself (before your competition does).