Growth Hacking: What Is It?

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Why define growth hacking again?

In the startup universe, I noticed (and I am not the only one), that there are many definitions of growth hacking; indeed, there are a large numbers of books, webinars, incubators, boot camps, accelerators and specialists explaining what growth hacking is. However, I found it difficult to really understand the concept with this mass of information. This is why, today, I am going to define the growth hacking concept for you.

This article is based, in part, on the original growth hacking definition on the Growth Hackers’ website. Indeed, I believe their idea of growth hacking is right on target.

Since Growth Hackers launched their services, startups from all corners of the world contact them. The issue is that those startups do not necessarily get the responses they expected from Growth Hackers. Actually, most startup entrepreneurs and marketers have their own growth hacking definition based on what they think it is or what they’ve heard.

In fact, Growth Hackers found that the growth hacking principles were not well defined, and I think this too. (The problem is that even when growth hacking is well explained, it’s lost in the middle of bad definitions). This is the reason why, Growth Hackers and I want to give the ultimate growth hacking definition.

Growth hacking is often misinterpreted

We hear a lot of stories and rumours about growth hacking and I want to make things clear.

First of all, growth hacking is not magic. This is not a software hack that brings your startup millions of visitors, sales or downloads overnight. If it were that simple, I would probably sell this hack for millions of dollars and retire.

Surprisingly, a lot of people believe it’s that easy. Growth Hackers mentions that they get contacted by people asking them for millions of customers through growth hacking.

The purpose of growth hacking is to hack growth, meaning getting quantifiable growth the fastest way possible with limited resources. If the best way to growth hack my startup is going door-to-door to sell my product, then this strategy becomes my growth hacking tactic for my startup.

Most people I meet believe that growth hacking is software hacking because of the word “hacking”. But, don’t forget that you can hack a lot of things besides computers: life hacking, brain hacking, camping hacking…

Is growth hacking the same as marketing? No, it’s not. Growth hacking goes further than marketing (because growth hacking is not only about growing marketing channels but also growing the product), but I will explain further.

“Growth Hacking is a buzz word, in 2 years we won’t hear about it anymore.” This is something I hear often and I disagree. The word growth hacking was invented in 2010 and the concept will stay for a long time, and might replace marketing in the long run.

“Growth Hacking is unethical.” Wrong again. Making you buy a product you will like is not unethical.

What growth hacking actually is

Growth hacking is a mix between marketing, engineering, data analytics and craziness. You probably heard that before. Let’s dig further.

Growth hacking involves several skills with one purpose only, growing your startup. The definitive objective is finding a predictable, sustainable repeatable and scalable growth process. Yes, growth hacking is a process, nothing else.

KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) / Metrics

Before starting the growth hacking process, it’s crucial to know on which KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) or metrics to focus on. Each business or startup has its own KPIs.

For instance, Twitter uses the number of monthly active users, Instagram the number of pictures shared a day, AirBnB the number or rooms rented a month… Your KPIs will be unique. Be careful you don’t choose vanity KPIs (KPIs that can be tricked, that are not relevant, or bring no value). The number of Facebook fans your business page has is a vanity KPI for example. A relevant and good KPI could be the number of sales.

You now have your KPIs, this is time to start the growth hacking process.

Prioritizing channels

Growth hackers have a lot of channels they can use such as Social Media (SMO, SMM), Content Marketing, SEO (Search Engine Optimisation), SEM (Search Engine Marketing, Public Relations, Email Marketing, App Search Optimization (ASO), referral marketing (viral growth), User Interface (UI), User Experience (UX), gamification, online/offline event organizations (tradeshows, street marketing), Video marketing, partnerships’ building…

Every startup and business is different. The industry and target are different (demographics, passions, culture, languages). Therefore, depending on your startup or business, you should prioritize the channels you are going to use depending on those factors.

The best method would be to test all the channels, but because you probably don’t have the same resources as Google or Apple, you need to prioritize them.

A/B Testing / Split Testing / Continuous Experimentation

Split Testing, also called A/B Testing, is a key component of growth hacking. Everything needs to be tested.

Therefore, you need to test several channels, and also split test those channels. For instance, you could test email marketing, content marketing and offline events. Then, you also need to split test those channels. Let’s say we use email marketing. You need to test different subject lines, fonts, pictures, colors, times you send emails…

The objective is to experiment as much as you can.

Analytics / Data / User feedback

Growth hacking is nothing without tracking data. You have to get data for growth hacking to be effective. Being data-driven when applying growth hacking is vital.

User feedback is important too. While split testing and experimenting, you have to get feedback from customers or users. User feedback, as well as data analysis, is crucial to make your business user-centric; in other words to grow your product.

It’s more important to get feedback from your users than getting opinions from people calling themselves experts. These so-called experts don’t use your product, so what do they know? Your users know your product more than anyone else, so listen to them.

Optimization / Prioritization

Optimizing your channels as well as your product is the ultimate goal of split testing and data analysis.

Scalable / Automation

You have now optimized your channels and your product, it’s time to scale and automate your process. Your tactics should be scalable.

You can also automate the channels, process and methods.

Should you imitate other startups’ growth hacks?

Let’s be clear. No, you probably should not. A growth hack is hardly imitable because your startup or business probably has a different target, meaning that your users behave differently than the startup you want to copy. The objective is to run your own growth hacking process in order to find your own growth hacks.

Growth hacking accompanies your startup product development

The growth hacking objective is to help your startup or business to grow. This means that growth hacking will help you grow the acquisition channels via split testing and data analysis, with the goal to help you grow your product too. This is the main reason why growth hacking is different and goes further than marketing. A growth hacker takes parts from both engineering and product development. So, growth hacking ensures your product’s growth fits the market needs and demand.

What did we learn about growth hacking?

To summarize, growth hacking is a process wherein you use marketing, data, feedback split testing, measuring results, optimization, automation. Growth hacking is more than just marketing because of a growth hacker’s involvement in product development.

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Jonathan Aufray
Jonathan Aufray is the Co-Founder and CEO of Growth Hackers. He has a background in International Business and Marketing. He created Growth Hackers because he saw a need for growth strategies in the startup world. Jonathan has already helped startups in 50+ countries get fast and sustainable growth via growth hacking and inbound marketing tactics.
Jonathan Aufray

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