What Is Growth Hacking? Definition & Strategies.
Growth Hacking Definition
Growth hacking is the practice of experimenting with and optimizing user activation, marketing or product tactics in order to provide fast business growth. Most growth hacking strategies are created with the goal of acquiring lots of new users and customers while limiting costs, making them ideal for emerging startups looking to scale as quickly as possible.
Growth hacking goes beyond traditional marketing strategies and techniques to deliver rapid company growth with experimental and iterative short-term tactics. With growth hacking, stakeholders prioritize growth and focus on going after the most valuable opportunities. Growth hacking is fundamentally based on experimentation and adopting new strategies as opportunities arise, not relying on any single tactic for growth but adopting multiple efforts for collective growth.
A strong focus on data and an understanding of audience behavior is essential to successful growth hacking and will lead to the discovery of unforeseen opportunities ripe for exploring. A growth hacker’s responsibility is to think holistically about growth throughout every stage of audience interaction, engaging in rapid experimentation and consistent product updates to ensure products continue to align with audience needs.
Origins of Growth Hacking
The term “growth hacking” was coined in 2010 by tech startup entrepreneurs Sean Ellis, Hiten Shah and Patrick Vlaskovits. Ellis described a growth hacker as “a person whose true north is growth. Everything they do is scrutinized by its potential impact on scalable growth.”
Growth hacking was further popularized by growth product leader Andrew Chen, who described the role as a “hybrid of marketer and coder, one who looks at the traditional question of ‘How do I get customers for my product?’ and answers with A/B tests, landing pages, viral factor, email deliverability, and Open Graph.”
Shortly thereafter, books and conferences on the subject of growth hacking began popping up, including 2013’s “Growth Hacker Conference” hosted by Gagan Biyani, featuring growth hacking experts from forward-thinking companies like Linkedin, Twitter and YouTube. GrowthHackers.com emerged in 2015 and the practice became ripe for adoption by companies across industries.
Growth Hacking Vs. Traditional Marketing
Growth Hacking Vs. Traditional Marketing
- Growth Hacking: Test and optimize short-term tactics.
- Traditional Marketing: Create marketing campaigns.
- Growth Hacking: Improve business metrics.
- Traditional Marketing: Boost brand awareness and brand equity.
- Growth Hacking: Measure impact with data.
- Traditional Marketing: Remain unclear about what ads “worked.”
Traditional marketing focuses on generating brand awareness and brand loyalty through advertising campaigns; growth hacking concentrates on improving key growth metrics — such as web traffic, email opens, conversions and subscription renewals — that are tied to the bottom line of the business.
Traditional marketers may focus on singular goals and campaigns at a given time, while growth hackers remain focused on the company’s overall growth.
Growth Hacking Funnel
When searching for growth opportunities, growth hackers typically focus on what is called the Pirate’s Funnel or the AARRR Funnel (pirates say “aarrr” — get it?). Created by Dave McClure, the Pirate’s Funnel has several stages meant to demonstrate a user’s journey from product discovery to conversion, with unique growth opportunities presented at every step along the way. The five stages of the funnel include:
- Acquisition – Consumers become aware of and interact with the product.
- Activation – Consumers become customers or users of the product.
- Retention – Customers/users continue to interact with the product over time.
- Revenue – The product’s stakeholders receive income from the customers.
- Referral – Customers begin engaging in lead generation for the product.
By thinking holistically about every stage of the funnel, growth hackers have the opportunity to decide where the largest opportunities to grow revenue reside at any given time. Traditional marketers focus only on awareness and acquisition.
Benefits of Growth Hacking
Benefits of Growth Hacking
- Can lead to quick growth in user base, conversions, etc.
- Impact is measurable.
- Cost and time investment is lower.
The old advertising adage goes something like this: “I know half of my ads are working; I just don’t know which half.” That sums up some of the shortcomings of traditional marketing, whose focus on improving awareness sometimes comes at the expense of knowing how specific marketing efforts impact things like revenue and retention.
Growth hacking has the potential for exponential growth and leaving lasting impacts on an audience. Tactics don’t necessarily have to be repeatable but can have the ability to cement a brand’s legacy for years to come. By embracing growth hacking, companies will be able to set measurable goals with a high potential for paying off, perfect products through constant experimentation, find a more thorough understanding of their data and build stronger overall brands.
Examples of Growth Hacking
Examples of Growth Hacking
- Dropbox — rewards users with extra storage space if they refer friends.
- HubSpot — offers free tools to marketers as a way to later introduce paid ones.
- Dunkin’ — leverages influencers on TikTok.
- Spotify — creates social sharing and FOMO with yearly Spotify Wrapped campaign.
- Duolingo — keeps users around by gamifying its product.
Dropbox was able to successfully hack growth and expand greatly by “gamifying” its onboarding process. Dropbox presented existing users with free storage upgrades for linking their social media posts and sharing posts about Dropbox on their feeds. Different types of messages would offer users with varying amounts of free space upgrades, with tasks ranging from simply linking accounts to posting photos of the Dropbox platform. This tactic led to massive amounts of exposure, helped retain existing users and brought in new users at a minimal expense.
Airbnb is one of the most famous and influential examples of growth hacking. The company knew that in order to compete with the leading provider of alternative accommodation, Craigslist, it would have to build a user base, a customer base, and a reputation that could compete with Craigslist. Airbnb found its solution by using its competitor’s platform to its advantage and provided users with a way to copy their Airbnb listing to Craigslist with a single click — taking advantage of Craigslist’s massive audience and perfect selection of targeted users.
Gmail’s launch was accompanied by a feature that would allow users to send a limited number of invitations to other people. Invites were the only way to join Gmail at the time and provided a sense of scarcity, exclusivity, and fear-of-missing-out to both the sender and the recipient, adding value to a product that shared similarities with many of its competitors. Buzz around Gmail skyrocketed and some users even auctioned off invitations on eBay. Limiting accessibility to a product is always a risky strategy but has the potential to pay off with massive results.
Most modern growth hacking strategies are used by highly scalable businesses leveraging their digital power and multiple marketing channels to achieve successful growth. Businesses like SaaS products and cloud storage space providers can conduct experimentation quickly and with less overhead than traditional storefronts or other types of businesses. This enables companies to add value and adapt swiftly to audience feedback. However, products and businesses of all kinds can utilize emerging media, multiple marketing channels, experimentation and viral tactics to discover opportunities that could lead to massive growth for their brand.
Growth Hacking Methods
Understanding the technical side of growth is a crucial skill for any growth hacker. Landing pages, websites and paid search advertisements are all viable channels for growth. In order to grow efficiently, these channels must be optimized and tracked, therefore, growth hackers should possess some combination of programming, design, advertising, conversion rate optimization, API and advertising expertise in order to maximize growth potential.
Viral marketing is any marketing strategy that creates an incentive for users to share the product with other people. Viral strategies have the potential to pay off in massive amounts of traffic, attention and revenue. One common example of viral marketing is sending users a referral code that offers discounts or free products when another user signs up with their code.
Data-Driven Decision Making
Data is the most valuable tool for a growth hacker, paving the way for making more informed decisions and implementing features that provide real value to users. Data can come in many forms, including common metrics like user totals, new users, sessions, revenue and a variety of daily averages, and can lead to insights that establish clear pathways to growth.
Maximizing growth is only possible by staying consistent with changing market needs and insights from audience feedback, adjusting products over time to maximize value at every point in the product’s life cycle. Experimentation provides the data and experience needed to implement new features, and when done rapidly, creates a product that will continuously evolve to meet audience needs.
Products must be up to date to provide value to customers. Issues with compatibility or market fit will immediately render a product obsolete and eliminate any pathway to growth, therefore, products must be continuously updated and improved to fit market needs.
Growth Hacking Tips
- Have a product that fills a clear need.
- Employ constant feedback throughout the entire product lifecycle.
- When designing a product, securing support from a variety of stakeholders ahead of time facilitates experimentation and leads to more useful data, as no single stakeholder has to fear massive losses in the event of failure. This also helps validate or invalidate ideas before work begins.
- Proper targeting is crucial to the success of growth hacking. The opportunities with the highest growth potential present themselves when a product can serve the needs of an intersection of audiences. Knowing how to target these audiences, and present a product to them, is crucial to reaching the product’s maximum value.
- Offering a product for free and utilizing marketing channels like social media and video streaming can help gauge audience interest and feedback while skyrocketing traffic and sign-ups, creating viable paths to market.
- Have incentives for pushing users further down the funnel to combat conversion decline.
Growth Hacking KPIs
The best way to measure growth hacking success is by tracking how much incoming traffic is generated by any piece of content or new marketing execution.
Conversions occur whenever a visitor accomplishes a set goal on a website, whether that be creating an account, submitting an email account, making a purchase, signing up for a trial, interacting with a specific piece of media, or viewing a specific page. Conversion rate is measured by dividing the total number of conversions by total traffic over a certain period.
Viral interactions are never a given on any single piece of content, however, every activation is a chance to build buzz and form connections with audiences. Successful viral tactics can be determined if the viral coefficient is a number greater than one. A viral coefficient is defined by growth blogger David Skok as “the number of new customers that each existing customer is able to successfully convert.”