I’m sure you’ve heard the term before: growth hacking. It’s one of the key approaches that led companies like Facebook, Airbnb, and Uber to become the behemoths they are today.
Growth hacking is such a broad topic, however, that there’s a lot to write about. It can also come across as pretty vague. The last thing we want is to overwhelm or confuse.
That’s why today, we’re going to get into the specifics on what exactly growth hacking is, how it works, and a variety of ways you can implement it in your own startup.
Table of Contents
If you’re just getting started with growth hacking for your company, you’ll want to read through all three sections. And at the end, if you’re eager for more knowledge and support, we’ll give you some information on an entire course Foundr offers on this very topic.
If you have any questions, feel free to add them in the comment section at the end of this piece.
Let’s get started.
Part 1: What Is Growth Hacking?
Growth hacking is a relatively new concept born from the mind of serial entrepreneur Sean Ellis. In the now seminal article published in 2011, Ellis described a growth hacker as “a person whose true north is growth.”
Based on this simple definition, we can imagine that growth hacking is a process that focuses intensely on generating growth in a startup. In his book Hacking Growth: How Today’s Fastest-Growing Companies Drive Breakout Success, Ellis expands on the concept:
The growth hacking process provides a specific set of activities that growth teams should undertake to find new, and amplify existing, growth opportunities through rapid experimentation to find the top performers.
This means, the focus of growth hacking is growth, and to achieve it, a growth hacker must find new opportunities as well as optimize current ones through experimentation.
To understand more about what growth hacking is, check out this video where Bronson Taylor, founder of Growth Hack TV and instructor of our course The Growth Hacking Playbook, explains it:
For more on this topic see this post: What is Growth Hacking, Really? An Expert Explains, Plus 3 Real-World Examples.
Part 2: How to Implement a Growth Hacking Strategy
Sometimes growth hacking gets mistaken for a random hodgepodge of tactics thrown together, but doing it right requires you to implement a system that makes it easier to find and scale growth opportunities.
According to Ellis, a growth hacking strategy consists of four steps:
Step 1: Gather the data
To start, you must understand the characteristics of your best customers, which includes:
- The features they use
- How often they open the app
- The items they buy the most
- Their average order size
- The time of day and days they shop
- The acquisition sources (e.g., Google Ads, SEO, referral, etc.)
- The devices they use
- Their demographics (age, income, and more)
- Their locations
You must also understand the behaviors of customers who “churn,” that is, those who stop using the product or decide against buying, which includes:
- The pages that have the highest exit rates
- The bugs that prevent people from taking a particular action (share with a friend, make a purchase, etc.)
- The actions they don’t take that your best customers do
You also need to carry out interviews and surveys to get to know both your best customers along with those who have churned, and understand the reasons behind their behaviors.
Step 2: Generate ideas
The insights you get from your data will help you understand the way your users interact with your company. They will guide your future experiments.
So first, come up with test ideas. These will be based on your data (both quantitative and qualitative) as well as on your intuition. Remember, you want to find opportunities for improvement and, at the same time, come up with new original ideas related to the data you gathered.
As you come up with test ideas, make sure to write their:
- Metrics to be measured
Step 3: Prioritize the ideas
Your idea generation will likely result in more tests than you can run. That’s why it’s important to prioritize those that have the most potential for improvement at the lowest cost.
Growth hackers have developed several prioritization frameworks. Ellis likes to use the ICE framework which measures:
- The idea’s potential impact—the expected degree to which the ideas will improve the metric being focused on
- The submitter’s level of confidence in how effective it will be
- The ease of implementation—the time and resources needed to run the experiment
Step 4: Run the experiments
Once you’ve generated and prioritized your test ideas, you must create them and run them.
When running tests, Ellis recommends two rules of the road:
- Use a 99% statistical confidence level
- Control wins in a tie
Many of your experiments will help you improve the metrics previously defined, while many will fail in making a difference. What matters is that you continue testing and learning to see what works and what doesn’t. Growth hacking is an iterative process that helps you improve your company one test at the time.
To learn more about this topic, check out this guide: A 4-Step Plan to Create a Growth Hacking Strategy for Your Tech Startup.
Part 3: Growth Hacking for Your Business
Now you have the basics. But how do you really hack the growth of, say, a blog? Can you actually implement growth hacking in your Instagram account?
These are great questions. And the answer is, yes, you can.
We’ve written extensively on how to implement a growth hacking strategy in different scenarios. Below, you will see four ways you can implement specific growth hacks for different aspects of your company.
While for some of them you can’t generate A/B test experiments, you can still adapt the growth hacking strategy shown above with a focus on making constant improvements and re-evaluating the results to see if your improvements made a difference.
If you think and act like a growth hacker, you will slowly but surely see the exponential growth in your company.
Growth Hacking for Product Marketing
As Steven Wheelwright explains, product marketing focuses on defining:
- The products to offer
- The target customers
- The way the product will be marketed to and sold to its customers
- The price of the product offered
While product marketing is often associated with software, it can be used by ecommerce companies, digital products (such as ebooks and video courses), and more.
The following four ideas can be used to growth hack the product marketing process and speed up the customer acquisition for a given product:
Idea 1: Create a Sales Funnel
A sales funnel is an automated system that allows you to attract people to a page and convert them into potential customers.
To start with a sales funnel, you need to identify your core offer—the product you want the prospect to buy.
Then, you need to create a compelling lead magnet to convert visitors into leads. This lead magnet should be a simplified version of the solution your main product offers.
To attract leads with your lead magnet, you need to create content that attracts ideal customers to it.
As you acquire leads, you need to continue delivering value. This can be done by sending three or four educational emails that amplify the concepts explained in your lead magnet and core offer.
Finally, you need to make a sales pitch that shows your leads how your core offer will solve the exact problem you’ve been educating them on in your content, lead magnet, and previous emails.
Idea 2: Conversion Rate Optimization/Landing Page Optimization
Instead of focusing on attracting visitors into your sales funnel, you can optimize the existing traffic you get. That’s what conversion rate optimization (CRO) is all about.
The conversion rate is the number of conversions (sales, signups, etc.) divided by traffic (the number of people who visited the sales page or signup page) and multiplied by 100.
In order to improve your conversion rates, leverage the power of A/B testing. This requires you to create an exact copy of a given page, change one element of it, send traffic to it, and see the changes in each version.
For example, if we wanted to create an A/B test for this blog post to improve the reading time, we could change the blog post title. It may be that certain titles have a higher chance of making people want to read the entire piece and thus improving our business metrics.
To start optimizing your conversions, identify your biggest driver of sales. This could be a specific product or a specific page. Then, review the conversion rate data for that product or page.
Pick one variable to improve and create an A/B test. This could be the call to action, the timing of an email, the color of a CTA button, an image on the sales page, and much more.
Finally, use the results to improve your metrics. Keep testing new variables and elements so you can increase the number of leads or customers.
Idea 3: Customer Service as Marketing
Customer service is often seen as a secondary aspect of doing business. But more and more, people are starting to consider it as a key part of a purchase decision.
A 2011 Customer Experience Impact Report found that 86% of consumers are willing to pay more for a better customer experience. What’s more, Bain & Company found that by increasing customer retention by 5%, a company can expect a 25% to 95% increase in profits.
If you focus on your customer service, you can easily acquire (thanks to the word-of-mouth from your current satisfied customers) and retain more customers without having to spend any more money on deploying expensive marketing tactics.
In order to use customer service as marketing, you need to start tracking your Net Promoter Score (NPS). This is a scale that goes from 0 (least satisfied) to 10 (most satisfied) based on the answer to the question: “How likely is it that you would recommend to a friend or colleague?”
Based on the results from your NPS score, you need to work on integrating your customer service and marketing teams.
There’s an almost symbiotic—yet often ignored—aspect of both teams. The customer service team can provide the marketing team with the latest complaints and ideas taken from conversations with customers, which marketers can use to improve their messaging.
On the other hand, the marketing team can notify the customer service team about the latest promotions and offers, which the latter can then use on their conversations with customers.
Another important thing to consider is to create small ways to delight your customers. These ideas can be as simple as sending handwritten thank you notes to customers and providing free gifts to those customers who are either loyal to the brand or who have had problems with it.
Finally, you can send special offers to your current customers so they stay loyal to your company. This offers can include special coupons and discounts, unique deals, and new products that only loyal customers can find out about.
Idea 4: Affiliate or Referral Programs
The power of word-of-mouth is second to none in the marketing world. People who recommend your company to others are basically giving you free advertising. Not only that, but it works incredibly well.
A Nielsen study found that 92% of consumers believe recommendations from friends and family more than they do from advertising.
Both affiliate and referral programs are effective at tapping the power of word of mouth. The former incentivizes people by giving them a commission from the sale of a given product, while the latter gives them more indirect benefits, such as discounts and free products.
You then need to pick enticing rewards for your customers—either a specific commission from the sale of your products or an incentive as a free product.
With your program in place, you need to start promoting your program to your customers and/or influencers. If you have an existing customer base, invite them all to join the referral program. Otherwise, you can talk to influencers in your industry and partner with them to promote your referral or affiliate program.
As you promote your program, keep track of the main referrals or affiliate partners and maintain relationships with them.
Their success is your success, so make sure to help them with the promotion of your program.
For our full article on growth hacking for product marketing, check out this post.
Growth Hacking for Content Marketing
Content marketing has been one of the key growth drivers for countless brands, and that includes us.
Unfortunately, achieving the level of scale with content marketing can take a long time. And yes, that’s something we’ve also had to struggle with.
You can create the very best content, but it can take months, if not years, until you start to see the exponential growth you are looking for.
There are countless content growth hacks we’ve covered on our blog before, and here are some of them:
- A 3-Step Plan to Growth Hack Your New Blog into a Traffic-Generating Machine
- How I Booked $8,000 in Podcast Sponsorships Before Airing the First Episode
- The 5-Step Guest Blogging Strategy I Used to Increase My Traffic by 5x in 3 Months
- The Low-Cost, 1-Hour-a-Week Content Strategy That Lands Us 150 New Customers a Month
- The Viral Video Formula That Resulted in 200M Organic Views in Under 6 Months
Out of all the growth hacks we’ve covered in past blog posts, let’s dig into one in particular that stands out in its originality.
Stefan Debois, the founder and CEO of Survey Anyplace, was able to create a large volume of links and rank for a lot of relevant, high-traffic keywords, getting a lot of organic traffic, by creating a glossary on his site.
This glossary is similar to a Wikipedia entry page: it summarized a list of concepts in his industry so people could use it as a resource. People love evergreen resources like this, so it’s no surprise so many people linked to it.
The glossary he created included a list of words related to surveys and market research, the keyword focuses that define his company. Each item was about 300 to 500 words long. Out of the 36 glossary articles he created, he acquired an additional 8,000 monthly visitors to his site.
To read the entire piece on this strategy, click here.
Growth Hacking for Branding
One of the biggest challenges new startups face is the lack of brand awareness.
A startup needs to develop a brand in order to cement their company in the minds of their customers. But when you read about developing a brand, you usually find a list of tactics like billboards or TV advertising. These are effective, but they come at a steep cost that most young or bootstrapped startups can’t afford.
Fortunately, Jonathan Maxim of K&J Growth Hackers found a way to growth hack this process. Within the first month of operations of his business, he received coverage in top sites like Inc., Influencive, and Entrepreneur without spending a dollar.
Here’s what he did:
Step 1: Start Networking
You want to be where your customers are. Join popular subreddits in your niche as well as Facebook groups, events, and blogs to start connecting with your customers.
Step 2: Define Your Narrative
A brand is much more than a logo or a tagline. It encompasses a narrative, a purpose, a storyline that explains why the company came to be. In order to draw some attention to your brand, you need to have a great story.
Jonathan recommends picking your favorite superhero and recalling their origin story. As you define your own narrative, pitch it to a few friends before approaching your PR contacts.
Find your lowest and highest points as a person or business, and describe exactly how you got from a point of struggle to success.
Step 3: Decide on Your PR Strategy and Aggressively Execute It
Make a list of sites where you’d like to be published. It can be The New York Times or a niche local blog. The point is that the people who read this outlet should be the same customers you’d like to work with.
Don’t expect to get your company published in any big outlet—rather, focus on the story you have and the way the readers of that site would benefit from learning about it.
You want to start looking for people to pick—writers, editors, managers. Your pitch should mention your story and the readers of the site, so the person who receives the pitch gets interested in your story right away.
Step 4: Get Into the Game With Influencers
Leverage the power of influencers. See who are the top players on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook groups.
Use a search query like “top NICHE influencers” or “top NICHE Facebook groups” to find potential opportunities.
You want to pitch them and make them share your story with their followers.
Once you collect around 10 influencers who are willing to share your storyline, Jonathan recommends creating a content calendar with the captions you want them to use so they don’t have to do any work.
To learn more about this subject, check out this post.
Growth Hacking for Instagram
Instagram is one of the most powerful channels for new online businesses who want to connect with their potential customers and develop loyal followings.
Here are five proven Instagram growth hacks you can implement in your account to start generating followers, visitors, and leads:
Idea 1: Make the Most of Instagram Stories
Instagram Stories are one of the most popular features people use. The 24-hour snippets provide an intimate, behind-the-scenes look at your business through photos and videos.
Here are some creative ways you can leverage your stories in order to grow an engaged following:
- Ask for opinions with the “questions” sticker. These interactive stickers Instagram gives you work wonders to engage with your audience and get to know them.
- Ask your followers to submit their opinions on your latest product, questions they have about your business, or something else to get them to interact with your brand and to allow you to gain valuable user feedback.
- Use location tags and hashtags. Location tags and hashtags help users who don’t follow you find out about your brand.
Idea 2: Start an IGTV Channel
An IGTV channel allows you to having a chance to get featured prominently in the Explore tab, which in turn can allow you to reach more potential followers.
IGTV videos aren’t limited to 15 seconds like stories or to one minute like in your feed. Instead, IGTV videos can be up to one hour long. What’s more, you can keep IGTV videos for as long as you want them there.
In order to get your latest videos, which can be about your brand, your products, or a specific topic that your followers are interested about, people must follow your account.
An IGTV channel can help you increase your following while boosting your brand’s reach.
Idea 3: Work With Influencers
Influencers are powerful partners you can leverage to increase your following number and increase your engagement.
Instead of focusing on large and expensive influencers, focus on micro-influencers—that is, accounts with up to 50,000 followers.
You can either pay them by post, by campaign, or by doing a free exchange of goods (they get a free product, which they then feature in their feed).
To learn more about growth hacking on Instagram, check out this blog post.
Part 4: How to Learn Growth Hacking
As you can see, there’s a lot to learn about growth hacking.
And new tactics are created every few weeks in almost every industry imaginable. What truly matters, however, is the mindset you use to implement growth hacking into your startup.
In order to help you with this, we decided to partner with a growth hacking legend to create a course that explains everything you need to learn about the topic.
Bronson Taylor is the host of Growth Hacker TV, a subscription video service that features more than 170 interviews of the greatest growth-focused minds on the planet, including Eric Ries, Steve Blank, and Guy Kawasaki, among many other top CEOs and growth hackers.
In our growth hacking course, Growth Hacking Playbook, Bronson distills all the trade secrets he has learned over the years working with his own companies as well as dozens of startups he has advised.
He teaches unique “pull” and “push” tactics for getting visitors, activating them, and retaining them for the long-haul. He also talks about tactics to develop the right product and sell them to the right audience.
This is an intensive five hour-long course filled with both beginner-friendly and advanced tactics you can use to start implementing the growth hacking strategy explained above in your startup.
Start Growth Hacking Your Company
Growth hacking is an ever-changing approach that marketers use to make their growth exponential. It’s not only a set of tactics you use, but a mindset, a strategy, and a discipline you must ingrain in your company.
Regardless of the exact growth hack you decide to implement, it all starts with a deep understanding of your analytics. You need to dig deep in your data to find potential growth opportunities.
Then, you need to develop a list of test ideas, based on the data found, and prioritize them.
After you’ve decided on the few experiments to try, you need to run them and wait until you reach statistical significance.
With the data gathered, you will inform your next batch of test ideas, and so on in a never-ending virtuous cycle of growth.
There’s no limit to the growth you can achieve, all you need to do now is get started.
Are you interested in learning more about growth hacking? If so, check out the posts shared above and our premium course which takes all these ideas to the next level.
If you have any questions, we’d love to hear from you in the comments below.