If you’ve ever watched a cash-strapped startup go from 17 customers to 700,000 virtually overnight, scratched your head and wondered how that happened…
Two words: Growth Hacking.
Growth hacking is a method of embedding virality into the core of a product so that the product markets itself. It’s a practice that has built phenoms such as Facebook, Airbnb and Dropbox into organizations that would have taken decades to build in the old economy.
Growth hacking is audacious, scalable and efficient. It doesn’t rely on public relations or advertising dollars to make an impact. It’s a bald-faced challenge to the ways people are used to marketing a product and acquiring customers.
It’s here to stay, too. Consider some of its accomplishments.
Sure, Twitter might have eventually amassed 250 million active users (500 million registered) using traditional marketing methods. But in six short years?
Groupon had the largest IPO since Google. The fact that it did so just three years after it was founded made it the fastest-growing company in history. Groupon did this using a variety of smart growth hacks.
These kinds of stories are becoming more commonplace by the day. You can bet these companies are not growing as quickly as they are by printing glossy brochures and advertising on network TV, Mad Men-style.
No, they’re installing growth hack teams instead of marketing departments, replacing the traditional outreach toolbox with strategies relentlessly geared toward growth when startups need it most.
Dropbox and Engineered Virality
The real genius behind growth hacking is its engineered virality, whereby users beget more users. Take Dropbox, for example. Current users are incentivized to earn more cloud storage by inviting others to share folders and install Dropbox themselves.
Dropbox, incidentally, is worth $4 billion today, four years after it was founded largely due to their talent at growth hacking.
Riding on the Coattails of Craigslist
Airbnb is another great example of an effective growth hacking strategy. It leveraged Craigslist’s massive audience by reverse-engineering Craigslist forms to post their service there automatically when Airbnb users signed up. It worked for a while — long enough for Airbnb to build its customer base — until Craigslist plugged the hole.
Audacious? Absolutely. A traditional marketer likely wouldn’t have had the coding chops or the vision to pull it off. It broke all the rules, and it worked.
You don’t necessarily need to be a coder or engineer, though, to develop a growth hack of your own. Instead, organizations require adaptive thinking where silos are replaced with system-wide strategic thinking and creative problem solving that defy acknowledged best practices.
Growth hackers value testing, tracking and flexibility. They seek to be viral on a grand scale. They question design and its functionality. They take advantage of loopholes.
They are the new secret weapons in the business world. And they can teach us a lot about how marketing is evolving.
Photo courtesy of Adam Thomas