Growth hacking is a term that originated in the tech industry—coined by entrepreneurs Sean Ellis, Hiten Shah, and Patrick Vlaskovits in 2010—and remains popular in Silicon Valley. In effect, it describes a non-traditional approach to marketing, wherein expansion of the business is the primary focus. Many growth hackers (some of whom have even adopted that title) would describe themselves as more-or-less analogous to the VP of Marketing at a conventional firm. Historically, growth hackers have tended to work with small- and medium-sized enterprises rather than major established companies—although there are indications that growth hacking is now making inroads into the corporate mainstream.
You needn’t be an IT wizard—or even a self-identified growth hacker—to take advantage of growth-hacking techniques.
A common perception of growth hackers is that they are mostly associated with the dot com sector, and as such, possess extraordinary technical knowledge and skill, including the ability to code at an advanced level. While this is undeniably true of many in the field, technical expertise is not necessarily a precondition for growth hacking. Marketing and expansion techniques familiar to growth hackers can be adopted by traditional marketers, entrepreneurs, managers—in fact, just about anyone in the business world. And now that website design templates are widely available, non-techies have ample opportunity to establish a profitable online gateway.
Growth hackers’ approach to marketing resembles more conventional marketing strategies in some respects, but principally revolves around the online medium. Like traditional companies, firms that adopt growth-hacking principles aim to attract customers, facilitate sign-ups, and retain clients over the long term, in part, by offering innovative products and services. But under a growth-hacking framework, the effectiveness of the website (and online pathways thereto) take precedence.
A simple, elegant website, with an easy sign-up process
Modern society is characterized by short attention spans, and a rule of thumb for business website design is that there is roughly a ten-second window in which to attract a prospective customer’s attention and pique h/er interest. In your initial user interface, aim for short but clear descriptions, understandable options, and visible (but not gaudy) links and portals. Allow visitors to navigate to some areas of your site without registering, and give them the option of signing up for additional services.
Another vital consideration is the process of registration itself: You’ll want to collect relevant data from your prospective clients, but it’s also important to ensure that they know exactly what they’re signing up for, and don’t feel daunted by the duration and/or arduousness of the endeavour. Many would-be customers will simply give up and move on rather than endure even a few seconds of unnecessary inconvenience.
Tools of the trade
Among the devices in the growth hacker’s tool kit are search engine optimization (SEO), data analytics, viral video, guest blogging, mailing lists, and a wide range of specialized survey and marketing software. A fairly extensive list of utilities for marketing and metrics is available here.
Some common objectives growth hackers emphasize in the development of a new product or business are virality, effective distribution, and ease of access and use of the business’s website (from the customer’s perspective). The purpose of metrics, surveys, and other data is to provide feedback as to the success of those efforts.
Start with your networks to drive traffic. Use “calls to action” to generate sign-ups.
Online advertising can get expensive, and virality can be a difficult and time-consuming ambition. For start-ups with low cash flow, the cost and challenge of driving traffic to a website can be especially prohibitive. One of the ways around this problem is to start with your social network. Let your friends on Facebook know about your business, send e-mails to your contacts, call up friends to gauge their level of interest.
Create a landing page separate from the website’s home page, and direct visitors toward it. Once they arrive, the next goal is to promote registration. An approach that many businesses find effective is the Call to Action—usually in the form of a prominent icon that visitors can click on in order to “learn more”, “get started”, etc. This is where registration kicks in, which you can then measure, analyze, and, in turn, identify ways to improve.
Of course, there is no shortcut to a robust level of growth. But a growth hacker’s mindset can help to propel your business toward that goal.