What is Growth Hacking – Tools, Strategies, Process and Case Studies

Growth hacking is THE BUZZWORD for startups. It’s all about growth hacking.

That’s the thing.

It’s almost annoying for those who have heard about it 1,000’s of times. And, it’s confusing for those who don’t know what it is.

Like it or not, growth hacking is happening.

And, it’s the reason we get to see a few new startups, each year, with absolutely ridiculous growth rates.

 

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For many people, “growth hacking” might sound like a something to do we unethical ways of growth. There is nothing unethical in growth hacking. We constantly hear about growth hacking strategies, growth hacking experiments and growth hacking techniques, and the word itself gets more and more popular over time.

But is it a buzzword only?

It’s said that thanks to growth hacking, Facebook reached 500 million users. LinkedIn grew from 2 million to 200 million users by implementing a technique that allowed users to create public profiles. It helped Airbnb to grow into a billion-dollar business!

From today’s post, you’ll learn how to use growth hacking in your business, but first, let’s focus on what it is.

WHAT IS GROWTH HACKING

A growth hacker is a person whose true north is growth – Sean Ellis

You cannot describe “growth hacking” without a proper understanding of a word “hacker.”

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We used to think about hackers as outlaws who break the law and gain unauthorized access to data. It’s a narrow (and unfair) description, though. In a broader sense, a hacker is a person that knows a process very well and is able to find a “shortcut” to get things done faster.

So, what is growth hacking? It’s an innovative approach to growth. A growth hacker is a person whose goal is to grow the number of customers and bring more revenue to a company.

“What’s innovative about growth hacking’, you could ask. Isn’t marketing team responsible for the same thing? Why ‘growth hacking team’ needs this fancy name?

Well, a growth hacker is a hybrid of marketer and coder who based on data and endless tests, uses different marketing and product approaches to grow his business rapidly. He optimizes the value of each user on each step of user’s journey.

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How does it work?

Now, when we know what growth hacking is, time for “how does it work.”

Michal Fiech, who’s the leader of LiveChat growth hacking team, gives it a very simple definition. If you want to start your growth hacking efforts, you should hire a T-shaped marketer, a web developer and have a proper mindset.

Who’s a T-shaped marketer? It’s a person that has knowledge covering a wide range of online marketing topics and has in-depth knowledge in 1 or 2 specific areas. It gives them the ability to understand the online world and marketing strategies, but at the same time to be an expert.

When we have a team of miracle makers, we shouldn’t be surprised when they sniff around and ask “how will it impact growth?” every time someone comes up with an idea.

And that’s how a growth hacking team works. They find opportunities for growth and break through the identified bottlenecks. Once one bottleneck is opened up, the team will focus on another bottleneck and begin the process again.

Here’s growth hacking process in steps:

  1. Generating ideas (everything that can help to increase growth),
  2. Organizing (estimating potential impact and resources required),
  3. Testing (working in quick iterations, testing everything they can),
  4. Analyzing (comparing results to hypothesis and asking “why”),
  5. Optimizing (using learnings to correct processes),
  6. Repeat.

 

 

DEFINITIVE PROCESS OF GROWTH HACKING

The guide by Neil Patel and Bronson Taylor explains the process of growth hacking in much details. I have simplified the same for quick grasping. It all starts with defining actionable goals.

1. It begins with Product Market Fit

 

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Marketing has long been applied after the product is completed. The result is marketers are often forced to promote products that don’t resonate, that don’t really work. And the reason marketers didn’t contribute to product development was that they didn’t have any interest or the skills to do so.

Growth hacking changes this, says Josh Elman, a growth hacker in Twitter’s early days. “Growth hacking recognizes that when you focus on understanding your users and how they discover and adopt your products, you can build features that help you acquire and retain more users, rather than just spending marketing dollars.”

 

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Aaron Ginn, today a growth hacker for StumbleUpon, explains that growth hacking has marketing goals “driven by product instincts.” In other words, don’t just try to market; try to build a product that is easy to market.

This, more than any other single factor, is responsible for AirBnb’s and Zappos’ growth. They are great, necessary and unique solutions to problems; therefore, the product largely markets itself.

Growth hackers try to achieve “Product Market Fit.” That is, a product perfectly designed to fit a specific and critical need for a well-defined audience. Prolific founder and investor Marc Andreesen says, “You can always feel when product market fit isn’t happening.”

What’s one of the biggest signs? Word of mouth isn’t strong. In other words, it’s the product’s fault, not the marketer’s. Growth hacking, most growth hackers will tell you, is pointless without product market fit.

So instead of jumping the gun, tweak and re-tweak your idea until you get there. Run surveys, test, iterate and improve. Then the magic starts.

2. Now, find your growth hack.

So your product’s been tested and developed for a specific audience. What’s next?

Andrew Chen defines the growth hacker mindset best: A tech startup doesn’t want awareness. It wants users, customers, clients. A growth hackers job is to hack that growth together, through any means possible: “A/B tests, landing pages, viral factor, email and open graph.”

Hacking is taking advantage of loopholes and underappreciated opportunities. With American Spotify, it was Facebook integration. With AirBnb, it was hijacking Craigslist to get new users and traffic. With Zynga, it was cheap online advertising and Facebook alerts (its CEO later explained they were willing to do anything to get users early on).

Author and entrepreneur Tim Ferriss gave parts of his last book away on BitTorrent and sold around 250,000 copies as a result.

The specifics will differ for your product or company (as Ginn has said, growth hacking is a mindset, not a toolkit). There is very little commonality between strategies.

 

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The essential mindset? “Forget press releases or advertisements. Let’s figure out something that’s never been done before and is specifically designed to leverage the strengths of our product.”

As Twitter product manager Paul Rosania describes it, the job of a growth hacker is to try “a lot of ideas, ruthlessly optimizing successes and quickly discarding dead ends.” There is no one thing they do to achieve growth.

The key is to always be prepared for the next step.

3. The Viral Lift

Once you pull your first users in, you must ask: “How do we get more?” The most scalable approach is to get those initial users to do it for you.

 

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Take Hotmail, perhaps the best (and earliest) example of viral marketing. Tim Draper, its first investor, pushed the founders to add “PS I Love You. Get Free Email” to the bottom of every email. The result? One million users within six months. Within a year, 10 million.

Paul Graham once explained why he prefers companies with multiple cofounders. It means, he said, they found a least one other person to buy into the idea, and they can convince others.

Not every product is going to go “viral” like a YouTube video, but success will always depend on word of mouth. A growth hacker’s job is to develop a product people want to get on board with, and to encourage that process to happen rapidly and self-sustainedly.

Take Dropbox again. I get extra storage space by referring friends.

On LinkedIn, my resume will look better if I ask former bosses and employees to provide testimonials — I am going to be more likely to upload my email contacts and invite them. As one of the company’s growth hackers, Ivan Kirigin says, “If your product involves sharing at its core, virality will matter and you should focus on optimizing it.” Not just optimizing, but encouraging it.

 

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“A product goes viral through baking in growth mechanics, through testing and data-based creativity — it is hardly ever random,” says Ginn.

In other words, you can refine and refine your product until the rate of sharing goes up. You can’t just build something and hope it goes viral. You can’t just bolt on viral features after the fact. Something that spreads from person to person is not the result of a couple well placed “like” and “tweet” buttons.

It’s the growth hackers job to engineer virality.

4. Retaining and Optimizing

Fandrop growth hacker Ken Zi Wang says growth hackers have two sides to their approach. The first is about getting “very creative in finding new ways to get users.” The second gets “very scientific in looking into metrics very carefully.”

You can drive a million new users, but if none stick around, what’s the point?

If users are leaving, chances are imperfections in your product are the result. Sean Ellis, inventor of the word “growth hacker” reminds us we must constantly “obsess over every element of the customer experience.”

 

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Gagan Biyani, founder of Udemy and of the Growth Hackers Conference, explains that the way to fix a user retention problem is to actually “interview your existing users (both active and dormant) to understand why they aren’t coming back, and then figure out what to build to get them to re-engage.”

Yes, it’s actually the marketer’s job to take market feedback and improve the project — not just to pitch harder.

Andy Johns, product manager at Quora, says it’s not just new user signups that matter. A growth hacker focuses on reactivations of current users and pays close attention to deactivations of other users.

Reducing churn means the team has to go out and chase new customers less often — because they’re keeping the ones they already had.

Of course, it’s not just retaining users that matters, but also optimizing and upselling the ones who have stuck around. Archie Abrams, director of growth at Udemy, aims a philosophy at sustainable growth, increasing the long term value of customers: “It’s better to have 500,000 users, each spending $20 than it is to have 10 million users each spending $0.05.

Companies that win find a channel like email, Facebook notifications or push notifications that can sustainably drive users back to their product.”

Instead of going out chasing new customers (which is expensive), we can, as Josh Elman reminds us, “focus on understanding your users and how they discover and adopt your products. You can build features that help you acquire and retain more users, rather than just spending marketing dollars.”

That’s why this is the final step in the growth hacker. Instead of spending more, it’s designed to get more out of what you already spent your time, money and resources on.

5. Now … start again

You can see why the growth hacker approach not only lends itself to the bootstrapped, iterative world of startups, but also how it could be responsible for their massive successes as well.

Instead of putting the cart before the horse and promoting a half-baked idea, growth hackers are intimately involved in product development. Instead of chasing vague notions like branding or awareness, a growth hacker drives users and clients. Instead of spending money, growth hackers look for scalable growth from viral factors and social sharing.

Finally, instead of hoping these things magically happen and customers organically stick around, they ruthlessly optimize and improve efforts based on data.

All of this happens not once, but countless times, a continuous loop that makes the startup and its promotional efforts more effective each time.

No one is saying traditional marketing can’t be successful. Only that it is incredibly expensive, and worse, failure is often catastrophic (think of massive flops from New Coke to Google Wave). Who wants to spend millions only to find out it was all for nothing?

Growth hacking is a new way. It’s cheap. It’s effective. It’s iterative. It’s practical.

And best of all, it’s right there, available for you to try.

GROWTH HACKING STRATEGIES

 

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Here are four strategies that work great and bring you more customers.

Content creation & blogging:

It’s essential to know for whom you are creating content. You don’t want to spend hours crafting an article only to find out that no one showed any interest in reading it. A great way to find out more about your audience and craft the right article is using an empathy map.

It helps you discover audience feelings, thoughts, pains and attitude. What does she think about? What really worries her? What influences him? What does he talk about among friends? Once you defined your audience, draft your content from their view and highlight the points that you want them to take away when reading your blog.

Remember, your blog should either offer a unique solution to one of their issues or help them to see the bigger picture of what they can gain over time.

Guest posting:

You can enjoy the advantages of guest blogging, which vary from getting additional visitors from each article you guest post to improving brand awareness.

Your main objective should be adding value by crafting epic content. It requires hours of research, writing and proofreading. Thus, a typical guest blogger who writes 30 articles per week offers no value.

Use visuals and infographics:

It’s inevitable — infographics that are designed based on visualization techniques are more appealing than articles. If a picture is worth a thousand words, why don’t you leverage visuals to acquire more customers. Here is a three step approach to creating a viral infographic.

Choose a topic that matters to your readers:

Don’t assume that your idea is great. Instead, use market research techniques and get help from the right tools to monitor the trends and choose a catchy topic.

Build your narrative based on facts and data. Find as much data as you can from the most reliable sources. Don’t overcomplicate your story, and choose maximum 10 to 12 key points. Build a narrative, and create a compelling story around those points.

Share the infographic:

Once you’re done with your design, it’s time to share it with the world. Don’t just publish it on your site. Get it in front of people in social medias, infographic sites, email, etc.

Leverage on forum marketing techniques:

One of the most undermined marketing strategies that results in attracting prospective customers is forum marketing. Luckily, there are plenty of forums available for each niche. Simply join an authoritative one, and start building your reputation. I have to warn you that people who come to forums are looking for answer, not self-promoters. In other words, they are looking for solutions that can address their pain.

In the beginning, spend enough time in forums and try to answer as many questions as possible. Once you build a good reputation, you can include your solution and value proposition in your comments, answers and other forum activities.

EXAMPLES OF SUCCESSFUL GROWTH HACKS

Successful growth hacks are the product of engineering, marketing, leadership, design and product management. Whether your team consists of two co-founders or a skyscraper full of employees, your growth hacking strategies will only be effective if you’re able to affix them to your organization, apply a workflow, and use the results of experiments to make intelligent decisions.

Growth hacking is a mindset where there is always an another better optimized, efficient way to do things. It always push you to the limits to find new avenues of business growth. Find out different ways to Growth Hack your business for efficiency :

Growth Hacking Tools every
Growth Hacker must have

With the importance of reverse engineering explained, let’s take a brief look at seven of the more notable examples of growth hacking that we’ve seen in the past:

1. Hotmail‘s “Get Free Email” Signature Link

In one of the earliest examples of growth hacking, Hotmail added phrases like “Get Free Email with Hotmail” to the bottom of every email sent through their service.

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This was a move recommended by the company’s very first investor, and it wound up igniting word of mouth around the product at a time when email and the Internet were just gaining widespread commercial recognition.

2. YouTube‘s Embed Feature

One of the reasons why YouTube was able to spread around the web so quickly was its embed feature introduced in 2005, which has gone down as one of the most popular growth hacks of all time.

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This simple hack made it possible for users to embed any YouTube video onto any web page with a few clicks and a simple copy and paste of an automatically generated embed code.

3. Spotify‘s Facebook Integration

In 2011, Spotify pulled a landmark growth hack by partnering with Facebook to become the social megasite’s default music service.

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The company has since attracted more than 50 million users, more than 25 percent of whom are paying for the premium version of the service.

4. LinkedIn‘s Public Profile Feature

LinkedIn was able to become the most popular professional social networking site by using the concept of peer pressure and transparency to coerce users into inviting and interacting with their coworkers, former employers, and clients in order to have a more complete and convincing public profile.

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5. Dropbox Gives Extra Storage for Referrals

After determining that paid advertising was costing more than the value of each new customer, Dropbox hacked growth by offering 500MB of free storage for every referral.

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As a result, the company went from having about 100,000 users to having more than 4 million in about 15 months.

6. Facebook‘s Initial Exclusivity

While Facebook has been the platform of choice for many growth hackers, it is worth noting that the social site used a few nifty tricks of its own to get ahead in the beginning, including starting out as a closed network that was only available to college students.

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This perceived exclusivity helped to generate a sizable following of students that desperately yearned to be “part of the club.”

7. Airbnb‘s Post to Craigslist Feature

In a brilliant move, Airbnb made it possible for users to post their rentals directly to Craigslist from the Airbnb website with a “Post to Craigslist” feature.

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Andrew Chen reverse engineered this technique and published his findings in a detailed case study.

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 WHY YOU SHOULD HIRE A GROWTH HACKER

Let’s face it, the average marketer would not have been able to come up with and implement most of the creative solutions mentioned in the above case studies.

Here are 21 growth hacking case studies, that have deployed growth hacking strategies to achieve massive growth in their companies. Every strategy is tied to the company’s context, but there’s something we can learn from each one and apply to our own audiences.

Nowadays, gaining the competitive edge means doing something that hasn’t been done before.

Growth hackers are able to facilitate such revolutionary marketing moves on a regular basis by leveraging their skills in coding, platform integration, task automation and data analysis.

Even if you already have a marketing team that handles all of your outreach and promotion, adding a growth hacker to the lineup will only improve your abilities to encourage growth via cutting edge technical methods.

Hacks by Growth Hacker

In the past the growth hackers have used variety of hacks. Here are a few examples of advertising hacks used by growth hackers:

The Content Skyscraper Method

Some growth hacks don’t involve coding at all and are instead based on adjustments in content strategy.

The content skyscraper technique revolves around the principle that “most people don’t want to know about the second-tallest skyscraper, they’re only interested in the tallest.”

With this technique, you find an incredible piece of content (a guide, tutorial, resource) in your niche and treat it as the “skyscraper” you’re trying to outdo.

Then simply expound and improve upon it to make your new skyscraper even taller, thus ensuring that your content piece is positioned to become the most authoritative on that topic.

YouTube Video Ads

You’re about to watch a video on YouTube when suddenly an ad starts playing and it sidetracks you because, surprisingly, it’s just as interesting as the video you were about to watch.

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Next thing you know you’ve discovered a whole new product, event, YouTube channel, or brand. This is a common scenario on YouTube and it’s one of the keys to the site’s success as an advertising platform.

Remarketing with Facebook Ads

Facebook ads are already a great way to appeal to targeted audiences based on a wide range of criteria. One way to further fine-tune your campaign and improve conversion rate is to remarket your Facebook ads to users who have already visited your website.

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Taking this follow-up based approach ensures that you’re making the most out of all potential leads who have previously expressed interest in your ad content.

DO YOU THINK YOU ARE A GROWTH HACKER?

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UNBEATABLE GROWTH HACKING STRATEGIES FOR STARTUPS

Build your brand audience efficiently and effectively with these top growth hacking strategies.

As an early stage startup, one of the most difficult challenges you will face is getting your name out there and cultivating a loyal customer or fan base.

When you’re just starting out, it’s nearly impossible to compete with larger, more established companies through traditional methods, which means that you need to get creative in order to grow your company quickly and effectively. They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and for startups, that couldn’t ring any truer.

The need to reach larger audiences in a short amount of time is what has led to “growth hacking,” a strategy employed by most startups in order to attain rapid growth, despite having limited resources at their disposal. Because growth hacking requires a certain level of creativity, critical thinking, and unique applications, certain growth hacking strategies may or may not work for every business.

However, despite the fact that every company’s attempt at growth hacking will look different, there are certain practices that tend to work for most startups, regardless of their niche, product, or service.

If you’re an early stage startup looking for rapid growth of your customer base without having to break the bank, try using these strategies to entice potential customers to patron your business and become a loyal and long-term customer.

Offer Something for Free

People love free, which is why giving something away to new users is a quick and easy way to increase your fan base. Take a business like Hotmail for example. When Hotmail launched its browser-based email service in 1996, it leveraged a free account to entice its existing 20,000 users to sign up.

The company used the tagline “Get Your Free Email at Hotmail” at the end of each existing user’s outgoing mail to help spread the word, and soon after the campaign, Hotmail’s user base climbed to an astronomical 1 million users in the first six months.

Set Up a Referral Program

There are a handful of companies that take advantage of a referral program to grow their business, and for one reason: it works! Businesses ranging in form and function from local yoga classes to the online storage startup Dropbox have used referral programs in the past, and to much success.

When Dropbox was in its earliest days, for example, it offered upgraded storage amounts to each referral party pending their sign up with the service. Once both users signed up for Dropbox, they received an extra 500MB of storage, free of charge. Just by offering this, Dropbox’s user base went from 100,000 to over 4 million in just 15 months.

Go with Exclusivity

People always want to feel like they’re a part of something that’s special, which is why exclusive invitations or offers work extraordinarily well as growth hacking strategy. Look at Pinterest, for example. When Pinterest was first getting started, it was invitation-only, but allowed users to request an invitation if they wanted to join.

After requesting an invitation, Pinterest sent out an email to prospective users explaining that the waiting list was quite long, but that eventually, they would be accepted to join.

This helped the budding social network generate buzz and made users feel like they needed to be a part of the brand. From August 2010 to October 2013, Pinterest grew from 100,00 users to over 70 million, proving that exclusivity is an incredibly effective way to drive growth.

Try Platform Hacking

Capitalizing on the success of another platform or business is a great way to grow your own. Try to find a way to work with other relevant platforms, businesses, products, or services. That’s one way that YouTube got so big, so quickly. In 2005, YouTube looked to “platform hack” MySpace and tap into their growing user base and gain more views and users for themselves and guess what; it worked.

At the time, MySpace had 25 million unique users and was at the top of the social media totem pole, but sharing videos was a huge pain point, both for their users and their advertisers. So, YouTube set out to solve that problem by allowing MySpace to embed their videos without having to pay for the service.

YouTube took on the costs of hosting in exchange for increased brand recognition and ended up winning out. Today, YouTube enjoys traffic from over one billion users and is without a doubt one of the largest, most successful startups of our time.

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Growth Marketer | Co-founder. Amol is Chief Growth Strategist at upGrowth. Different ways of lead generation, quick optimization tricks, and easy to implement growth hacks are his specialties. He loves to read and share his knowledge through training in free time.
August 14th , 2018

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