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What Is Growth Hacking? Learn Why It Matters and How to Get Started Fast

No matter your job title, level of leadership, or department, every professional wants to drive revenue and fuel business growth as quickly as possible. And why wouldn’t they? Growth is one of the primary pillars of success for all businesses. 

But how do you pull it off? What steps do you take to propel your company toward a bigger, brighter future?

This is where the concept of growth hacking comes into play. 

What Is Growth Hacking?

I’ll admit, after working in marketing for so many years, I would cringe when I heard this term – it feels like an empty buzzword professionals throw around, like “synergy” or “dynamic.”  And what’s worse, it’s often tied to startups because they have small budgets and a need for massive growth. 

In summation – the term “growth hacking” has acquired a bad rap amongst more established companies and veteran professionals. 

via GIPHY

But looking past the overuse of the term, it actually provides quite a bit of value for marketing teams. 

The Definition of Growth Hacking 

“Growth hacking” is a catchall term for strategies focused on massive, rapid business growth.

Similarly, the term growth hacker refers to professionals who use low cost strategies that drive customer acquisition and retention.

They are also sometimes referred to as growth marketers, but you don’t really need to be involved in marketing to be considered a growth hacker. There’s a wide variety of professions that can encompass the role of a growth hacker. 

For example, a product manager might be overseeing and analyzing new products that are innovative. Implementing and managing this kind of product strategy aimed at generating revenue for the company can be considered a form of growth hacking. 

How Does Growth Hacking Work?

Growth hacking requires a certain kind of reverse engineering.

First, you need to identify how your company currently experiences growth, then determine how to take action that leads to more intentional growth. It’s all about defining a pathway for more conscious, active efforts for fueling growth. 

A common formula for growth hacking is the pirate funnel, cleverly named thanks to funny acronym AARRR:

    • Acquisition
    • Activation
    • Retention
    • Referral
    • Revenue

A Breakdown of the Pirate Funnel

via GIPHY

Let’s look a little deeper at each stage of the AARRR pirate funnel.

growth-hacking-chart

Source: Slideshare

Acquisition

The first step of the pirate funnel – acquisition – focuses on asking an important question: Where do customers find you/where are they coming from? 

Within this stage, it’s important to track your customer journey closely, determine where prospects are coming on board, and at what point they’re converting into customers. 

Activation

The next step is associated with the questions – how quickly can you delight your customers, and how good is their first experience with your company?

Simply put, activation is all about how active your customers actually are. So they sign up for your service, download your app, or purchase one of your products – that’s great!

But it’s not enough. Are they delighted enough by your brand that they continually use their purchase, or do they try it out once, decide it holds no value, and then toss it? 

In order to ensure that your customers are active, you need to focus on creating products to deliver that “aha” moment to your users as quickly as possible. How long between purchase and use does it take a customer to say, “Oh my God, this is great!” about your product? That’s what you should be thinking about. 

Retention

Ah, retention – it’s an often overlooked but absolutely essential element of successful businesses and sustainable growth. 

If you want to grow, you’ll need to retain customers. This element within the pirate funnel is closely related to activation because if your customers aren’t staying active with your products, it’s likely that you’re not retaining those users. 

Quite simply, new business alone can’t fuel growth.

Imagine you’re trying to fill a bottle of water, but there’s a hole in the bottom. While you are pouring water into the bottle, it’s falling right back out, and you’re never going to get to where you want – having a full bottle of water (or if we're sticking with the pirate theme here – a full rum bottle). This is what it’s like to have a company with a low customer retention rate

via GIPHY

Closely analyze your company for that hole where the water is pouring out – is there a flaw with your products? Is your service lacking? Figure it out, and plug the hole. 

Referral

When considering referrals, ask yourself, “How can I turn my customers into brand advocates?” 

Why are referrals so great, you ask? Because it’s basically like free marketing and endorsements. 

Creating a referral program for your customers encourages them to promote your brand to their friends – especially if they enjoy your products and services. Good referral traffic is basically like gold to a growth strategy. 

Revenue

This one is pretty straightforward – how can you increase revenue for your company? Quite simply, without revenue, you’re shit out of luck. If you’ve followed the four steps above, then you should already be well on your way to having a healthy, heavy stream of revenue coming in. 

There are two key elements to increasing and preserving your revenue stream – increasing your customer lifetime value and decreasing your cost per acquisition.

Basically, you want it to cost your company as little as possible to convert a new customer, and you want to maximize the amount of revenue they’ll be generating for you. 

How to Start Growth Hacking

Before you dive headfirst into growth hacking, you first need to understand a few core pillars that compose the framework of any good growth strategy. 

A Full Marketing Audit

First and foremost, you need to run a full audit of your current marketing efforts, so you can identify what’s working and what isn’t. If you haven’t yet dug your nose into analytics data, it’s time to. 

You need to determine where your leads and traffic are coming from and which marketing elements are resulting in empty dead ends. 

Goal Setting

Once you have a full understanding of your marketing channels and the ROI they’re generating, you can start thinking about what you want to achieve for the future. Do you want to generate more traffic? Boost conversions? Increase your retention rate, or strengthen your social channels?

Sometimes, it’s actually best not to shoot for the stars – set goals that are realistic and achievable, so you can take active steps toward meeting them. 

Experiment Planning

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Come up with a few different strategies that might be effective means for meeting your goals, and try them out. You’re likely to get varying results, as some will be successful while others aren’t. 

via GIPHY

This is an important step in the process, as it will help you better shape more impactful, beneficial campaigns and strategies in the long run. 

Conducting the Experiment

This one is super important – make sure you really let your experiments run their course. If you cut them short because you start to see undesirable results, then your data may not reflect how effective the campaign really could’ve been had you given it the chance to take off. 

Letting your experiments run for a substantial amount of time – and for an equal amount of time, at that – will ensure that you have more finalized, reliable data from which to work in the future. 

Documentation and Sharing

Once your campaign experiments run their course, you’ll have a nice big batch of data to work with. Put together a report that explores the successful campaigns and touches upon the unsuccessful ones. 

Delivering this information to your team will help you determine the best course of action for campaign strategies going forward. 

For marketers who have never experimented with growth hacking, this might feel like a huge undertaking. But within the realm of marketing, it’s inevitable that everyone will have tested, measured, and shared what they learned through their efforts. 

Think of it as running an experiment in science class as a kid – you’re essentially doing the same thing, just within the frame of a more documented strategy. 

5 Effective Growth Hacking Strategies

As you can imagine, being a creative marketer yourself, the possibilities for building growth hacking strategies are practically endless. You can easily apply the growth hacking framework to any existing marketing strategy. 

Ultimately, growth hacking strategies can be grouped into three buckets:

Here are some of the most effective growth hacking strategies with examples of successful campaigns. 

1. Build Incentives Into Your Onboarding.

Offering incentives for your customers is a great way to encourage them to become brand advocates. Reward new users for using your product and extending referrals and generating word of mouth. 

Dropbox created a highly effective incentive for their customers – they rewarded users with extra storage space for their accounts if they referred new customers.

dropbox

Source: Dropbox

It’s a win-win: DropBox gets more customers, and their current customers get more bang for their buck. 

2. Provide Learning Paths for Your Audience.

While your audience might not yet be at a stage where they’re ready to make a purchase, they probably still want to learn from you. Creating free online courses is a great way to drive leads and expand brand awareness immensely.

If your audience finds value in educational resources that you provide, there’s a good chance they’ll turn to you when they decide they’re ready to make a purchase, as they trust your knowledge. 

HubSpot carries out this strategy brilliantly, as they offer an entire educational learning platform, HubSpot Academy, with a huge amount of informational resources and online courses for their audience.

hubspot-1

Source: HubSpot

They provide training and certification courses on various areas of marketing, sales, and service, and they serve as incredibly valuable resources for people looking to learn more about these fields. 

3. Run Contests and Giveaways.

This is a great way to spark enthusiasm for your products and add to your base of followers for a greater audience reach. Prizes are great incentives for people to share and participate in your contests.

These kinds of contests boost engagement and can help you acquire a mass quantity of contacts who could be potential leads interested in your products. 

When Hydro Flask hit the 200k Instagram follower benchmark, they threw themselves a little party – in the form of a giveaway contest.

hydro-flask

Source: Instagram

To enter, users had to follow their Instagram account and tag two of their friends in the comment section. The winners were randomly selected and they received a 32 oz. Hydro Flask. 

In case you were wondering – Hydro Flask now has over 500k Instagram followers. 

4. Reward Social Sharing and User-Generated Content.

Incentivizing your audience to share your content and create and share their own content showcasing your products will boost your social media engagement immensely. This can lead to more followers and generate more awareness. 

Leveraging user-generated content can be a hugely beneficial strategy, as consumers trust the word of other consumers more than they trust your company. User-generated content shows real people using and being delighted by your products, and this not only builds trust in the quality of product your company produces but also creates a greater demand for it. 

The software company Kajabi has utilized this strategy to great effect. They send all of their customers a T-shirt that says KajabiHero and encourage them to post a picture in the shirt on their social media channels with #KajabiHero.

kajabi-hero

Source: Instagram

Kajabi gets great exposure, and the customers who do this are rewarded with exposure for their own websites and special features on the software platform. It’s a win-win for everyone. 

5. Leverage Urgency and Other Emotional Triggers.

The most impactful marketing campaigns tailor messaging and strategies to connect with your audience on an emotional level. Emotion has proven to be one of the most important and influential elements when it comes to impacting a person’s buying decisions. 

And honestly, is there anything more effective than instilling an intense sensation of FOMO (fear of missing out) within your audience? Generating this kind of urgency amongst consumers triggers them to act immediately rather than later. 

So what does this do for you? It gets you a new converted customer today rather than tomorrow. 

One of the best ways to do this is by using language and images that express a “Don’t miss out!” message to your audience. Wayfair combined this strategy with user-generated content to build a hard hitting campaign that has had some serious results. 

wayfair-at-home

Source: Instagram

Using #Wayfairathome, customers post photos of their Wayfair purchases in their own homes, and honestly, the interior design envy is REAL with this. Glancing at just a few of these posts makes me want to run to Wayfair and restyle my whole apartment – which is the exact impact they’re hoping for. 

6 of the Best Growth Hacking Books You Need to Read

One of the best ways to get started and continue optimizing your growth hacking efforts is through self-education. And what do you know – there’s a whole gaggle of books all about growth hacking out there, valuable resources just waiting to be utilized. 

Here are the best books on growth hacking:

1. Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products

Author: Nir Eyal

hooked

Source: Amazon

Why do some products become hot commodities while others are grossly discarded? This is one of the primary questions that Eyal answers in his book Hooked.

If you’re an inventor, product specialist, entrepreneur, or just all around innovator, you should check out this book. It explores the behavior patterns by which people become “hooked” on some products while ignoring others. 

2. Growth Hacker Marketing: A Primer on the Future of PR, Marketing, and Advertising

Author: Ryan Holiday

growth-hacker-marketing

Source: Amazon

In Growth Hacker Marketing, Holiday explains how mega brands such as Airbnb, Snapchat, Dropbox, and Instagram used growth hacking methods to become the hugely successful businesses they are today. This is a great resource for anyone looking to utilize the brilliant tactics of these brands to build their own empire. 

3. Hacking Growth: How Today’s Fastest-Growing Companies Drive Breakout Success

Authors: Sean Ellis and Morgan Brown

hacking-growth

Source: Amazon

A valuable for resource for teams and entire companies, Hacking Growth focuses on dissecting the methodology of growth hacking in a precise way that will help you develop your own effective strategy for your brand. 

It helps you build that carefully documented test method for strategies to find the most effective plan rather than simply closing your eyes and crossing your fingers in hopes that your efforts will pay off. 

If you’re looking for a book to really help you take action, this could be it. 

4. Growth Hacking: Silicon Valley's Best Kept Secret

Authors: Raymond Fong and Chad Riddersen

growth-hacking

Source: Amazon

In this book, Fong and Riddersen have provided readers with a blueprint of their tried and true growth hacking strategy that was developed through their experience in the tech industry.

Nevertheless, the lessons and pathways they provide in this book can be used to help businesses in almost any industry grow. 

5. The Growth Hacker's Guide to the Galaxy: 100 Proven Growth Hacks for the Digital Marketer

Authors: Mark Hayes and Jeff Goldenberg

guide-to-the-galaxy

Source: Amazon

Apart from its trendy pop-culture title, The Growth Hacker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a wealth of information. Within the pages of this book, you’ll find 100 growth hacks encompassing three primary areas – product-market fit, transition to growth, and scale.

You’ll also find advice from growth hackers who have been through these methods with their own startups and found immense success. 

This book is a must read for any novice marketers, digital marketing professionals, startup leaders, and even nontechnical marketers who still want to pursue massive growth. 

6. Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth

Authors: Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares

traction

Source: Amazon

Drawing on the professional experience of the two authors and over 40 interviews with business leaders who brought their companies to success, Traction will teach you how to do just as the title suggests – help your company gain traction within its market. 

Using a three-step method that Weinberg and Mares have dubbed the “bullseye,” you’ll learn about the 19 potential channels you can utilize for your company’s growth and how to choose the right options for your unique brand. 

Be Active to Orchestrate Success

It doesn’t matter how great or innovative your product or service might be – if you don’t have a strong growth strategy, your business will likely crash and burn with many of the thousands of other startups that are launched every year. 

However, there is another option. By utilizing your resources and developing strategy ideas, you can become a growth hacking expert and propel your business toward explosive success.

So what are you waiting for? 

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Claire Cortese

Claire Cortese

I am a content creator here at Bluleadz. In my free time, I enjoy hugging dogs, watching reruns of The Office, and getting sunburnt at the beach.