To Growth Hack or Not To Growth Hack?

Growth Hacker – An individual or team of marketers who focus on growing users for a product or service through non-traditional methods that are often overlooked by typical marketers.

The term "growth hacking" was coined in 2010, but little was known about it until the past couple of years. That's because case studies and stories about growth hacking strategies for big companies such as Yelp, Airbnb, Hubspot, PayPal, Box.com and others only began surfacing recently. The practice was an integral part of growing the user base for those companies and eventually made them household names.

For example, Yelp was one of the first companies to implement badges. These started as an SEO strategy to generate high-quality backlinks and improve Yelp’s search rankings for locally focused keywords.The result ended up being much greater. The badges drove customers to leave reviews and use Yelp’s platform regularly with its captive audience. The user growth was exponential and covered the entire United States. 

Box.com had a similar sharing strategy, but instead of badges, users would share files, which forced the user receiving the file to share an account. The number of users on Box.com would double, triple, or increase even more with a single file share. 

PayPal used growth hacking to put a promotional system in place to give users $5, $15 or $20 just for signing up. Eventually, the incentives disappeared, but people kept joining.

The examples above raise a simple question: “Why wouldn’t a company want growth hacking strategies in place to grow its customer base quickly?”

The answer: all growth hacking strategies are not created equal and have their fair share of cons. Here are a few things to watch out for before embarking on growth hacking strategies.

  • Plan for growing pains. A successful growth hacking strategy affects how you operate, so think about the resources you’ll need for hiring, training, scaling, supply and more.

  • Avoid short-term promotions. Those types of strategies will not sustain growth. Your revenue may see a large spike, but you may not be able to duplicate or sustain those spikes. For example, special pricing promotions for limited membership seats or product coupons. Those types of campaigns will generate high initial growth rates, but leave your audience waiting for the next big promotion. 

  • Consistency. That's the opposite of short-term growth hacking promotions. Strive to identify strategies that can become part of your service, product or mission. That will enable your service or product to grow regularly at similar rates of strategy initiation. Yelp and Box.com are a few examples of a consistent growth hacking strategy.

  • Don’t force it. For some products or industries, growth hacking doesn’t make sense. That could be due to the company mission, product / service use, or competitive landscape. 

  • Follow the road less traveled. Don't rely on case studies or past successes when devising a growth hacking strategy. Odds are, it isn’t going to work for your business the same way it did for the originating business. The whole idea behind growth hacking is to be innovative or look at a problem differently. A book I recommend reading is Idea Links by Jim Link. It provides great insight on how to think differently in a world where there are increasingly fewer “new ideas.”

  • Hire better marketers and salespeople. Don’t hire a growth hacker or try to train someone to think like a growth hacker. Everything I’ve mentioned in this article has been related to real life marketing and sales strategies. Growing a product or service is a frame of mind. It's the same frame of mind that a valuable marketer or salesperson has. Look for people who have one goal in mind: growth. You should also look for people who balance that individual.

So, to growth hack or not to growth hack? That is the question.

In most cases, we do not endorse growth hacking strategies. As marketers and business development personnel, we strive to ensure all growth strategies are everlasting and help the company achieve its overall goals.

Brad Timofeev

Brad is an energetic thought leader on digital marketing.

Since joining the WebArt team in 2009, he's guided the agency's unique perspective on search engine optimization, content marketing, and other digital strategies. Book Brad for your next speaking arrangement.

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