Growth Hacking 101: What It Is and Why It Matters

‘In this world, you’re either growing, or you’re dying so get in motion and grow.’  – Lou Holtz

Growth. Long the Holy Grail of business enterprises everywhere, it is one of the key drivers of business success.

But business growth can be elusive, and businesses will try seemingly anything to ensure it continues.

Enter growth hacking.

Growth hacking is one of those terms that has sprung onto the world business stage seemingly out of nowhere and has trailed confusion and not a little controversy in its wake.

So what is growth hacking, why should you care about it, and how would you begin to go about practicing it within your own business? We explain.

What is Growth Hacking, Anyway?

Growth hacking is a relatively recent concept. Neil Patel and Bronson Taylor place its origins in 2010, with the invention of the term by Sean Ellis, an entrepreneur, and start-up advisor.

Back then, Sean was helping start-ups rapidly grow their business and customer base. How did he achieve this? By using a range of methods, systems and well, hacks, that he developed in the course of his work.

Essentially, Sean could be likened to a mad scientist in a lab, conducting a series of innovative experiments that had one and only one objective:
Growth.

In this sense, Sean’s obsession with growth gave rise to a new practice and discipline that was distinct from traditional marketing practice.

contributor from SEOchat, Ann Smarty, has provided a useful definition of growth hacking.

According to Ann, growth hacking can be defined as:

“… the process of finding the right trick or ‘hack’ that allows for accelerated and accumulative growth.”

Commonly, growth hacking uses a combination of technical tools and innovation to drive growth in a key metric of interest (like conversion rate or email sign-ups).

Which leads us to the question of how growth hacking differs from conventional marketing. After all, aren’t all marketers concerned with driving ‘accelerated and accumulative growth?’

Well, yes and no. It goes without saying that traditional marketers commonly include growth as one of their objectives. However, it’s also true that growth is not their only objective.

As an example, some of the objectives we might expect to see in traditional marketing that aren’t explicitly about growth include:

  • Increasing customer loyalty
  • Improving stakeholder relationships
  • Building brand recognition
  • Enhancing communication

… and so on.

Contrast this to the growth hacker’s only objective:

Growth.

Growth hacking is all about the single-minded pursuit of growth … or, as Patel and Taylor so eloquently put it: “Growth is the sun that a growth hacker revolves around.”

Growth Hacking Strategies

Every business is different.

What works for one company may not work for another, and there is no ‘magic bullet’ for growth hacking that will suddenly launch your business into the stratosphere.

At the heart of growth hacking is a willingness to experiment within your own ‘lab’, such as it is – to fail rapidly (and learn from the failure) until you hit on a winning strategy.

Furthermore, there is a range of strategies that are used to support growth hacking that may help you to fail (and succeed) a lot faster. Here are three to get you started.

1. Make Use of Widely Available Tools

Growth hacking as it was originally conceived often involved the use of coding or behind-the-scenes engineering to put the ‘hacks’ in place.

However, with new applications being developed every day, you no longer have to possess mad technical skills to get started – just an awareness of what available tools are out there and what they could potentially do for your business.

The Kissmetrics blog has a huge list of such tools available to support growth hacking, so we won’t duplicate it here.

However it’s worth noting a few standouts from the list:

  • Click to Tweet, a free tool that makes it easy for your readers to share key points from your published content on Twitter;
  • Hello Bar, another free tool that inserts a highly visible call-to-action bar across the top of your site;
  • MailChimp, an email marketing tool that allows you to manage closely and track the impacts of your email marketing campaigns. Offers a free plan as well as a paid plan for more advanced requirements.

2. Offer a Valuable Lead Magnet

For those to whom the term ‘lead magnet’ is unfamiliar, it refers to a worthy offering you make to prospective customers in exchange for their contact information. They are almost always offered at no charge.

Common examples of lead magnets include e-books, resources (like toolkits or blueprints), infographics, webinars, and online or email courses.

Of crucial importance is that the lead magnet should be seen as highly valuable – if possible, irresistible – to prospects.

You may be wondering why you need to offer something so valuable, free of charge, to total strangers. Surely you should save the good stuff for your paid products (and paying customers)?

The fact is, offering the lead magnet in exchange for a prospect’s email address is merely the first step in what you hope will be a long relationship with the client and not the end in itself.

As such, you want to ensure this relationship gets off on the best possible foot, not be mired in disappointment.

As a saying attributed to Bob Burg notes, the Golden Rule of Sales is:

“All things being equal, people will do business with, and refer business to, those people they know, like and trust.”

Offering value without expecting much by way of return is a way to build trust rapidly (and thus your email list), with the opportunity to sell effectively much later down the track.

3. Track and Measure Your Efforts

This step is critical.

How will you know if your growth hacking is effective? Answer: By tracking and measurement.

The best part is, there are many tools out there that can take care of this for you. One of the most commonly used (and tweaked) for websites is Google Analytics.

The Google Analytics dashboard can seem a little confronting at first, perhaps because there is so much going on.

The reality is, most of this stuff will not be useful to you.

Not now, and maybe not ever.

The key is to simplify. Just as with growth hacking we narrow our focus down to a single objective: growth, we have to be equally single-minded about stripping down our metrics so that we only pay attention to what matters.

There are some great resources out there for businesses who want to monitor some of their growth hacking efforts through this channel.

Here are just a few:

Growth doesn’t have to be painful, but companies do often find innovation difficult. As a consequence, some are unwilling to experiment as widely and as often as is needed for true growth hacking.

This is unfortunate because as Patel and Taylor note, it seems growth hacking is here for the long haul:

“Growth hacking is a new way of thinking, and those who ignore it will be handicapping themselves for no apparent reason.”

We couldn’t have put it better ourselves. Get on the growth hacking bus, or get run over by it. Which will it be?

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