Growth hacking is like engineering (stick with me, Arts degree holders). It’s about building systems that allow you to create tests and learn from them so that you can build even better systems. With engineers, they’re building bridges, but for growth hackers, it’s all about designing growth strategies that yield ever higher growth rates.
Growth hacking (or growth marketing) is a modern approach to marketing. Instead of gut-calls and one-size-fits-all solutions, it leverages actual user data to find paths to sustainable growth. It may not be as easy as applying X generic growth strategy for Y result, but the end result will be bespoke hacks that encourage growth for your product. Once you get into the growth hacker mindset, every aspect of your UI and UX becomes an opportunity to optimize. With each positive tweak you make, you’ll improve your product and unlock the growth you’ve been looking for.
What is growth hacking?
Growth hacking is a process where you run experiments on your products to find the best optimizations to increase growth. Unlike traditional marketing, growth marketing is concerned with all aspects of a user lifecycle, from acquisition to adoption and advocacy.
According to Sean Ellis, the person who popularized growth hacking in 2010, a growth hacker is “a person whose true north is growth.” To find true north, growth hackers need to run experiments to see what increases growth for that product. It’s not enough to know that doing X worked for Uber; you need to know that it’ll work for you too. The growth hacking process requires you to experiment with your user base to find what strategies work specifically with them. When you find something that works, keep on experimenting and refining as your product user base grows with it.
To be an effective growth hacker, you need to know how to run experiments. A basic growth hack experiment can be set up this way:
- Set a goal: Increase signups by 10% in the first quarter.
- Create a hypothesis on how to reach that goal: We can increase signups by 10% if we start advertising on LinkedIn ads.
- Set a way of measuring the success of your experiment: The experiment will be successful if we see a 10% increase in signups after three months of LinkedIn ads.
- Use what we learn to improve growth: If we get the 10% increase, we make the LinkedIn ads permanent and try an experiment where we increase the budget to see if we can get more. If it fails, then we try to understand why (maybe our users aren’t as active on LinkedIn as we thought). This info still tells us something about our user base. Our next experiment can avoid LinkedIn and instead focus on a different way of increasing signups.
If you follow these steps and run experiments, you’ll improve your growth metrics over time. However, growth hacking only works when customized to a specific situation. One company’s growth hack could be another company’s downfall. Growth hacking is about experimenting, not blindly copying. It’s all about monkey see, monkey try for themselves in a limited trial.
Growth hacking experiments you can start with
Growth hacking is all about experimentation, but like a Cheesecake Factory menu, it’s hard to know which experiment to try first. To get you started, here are three growth hacks you could start planning today.
1. Purchase social media ads for a month: Social media is a great way to get the word out about your company. To start your experiment, pick which platform you want to advertise on. The most popular are Facebook and Instagram. If you’re already on these platforms, try a more niche platform like Pinterest or Reddit. Choose one that lets you meet your target audience where they are. Next, design ads targeted at a specific segment of your target audience. Finally, pick a metric that you’ll track that means success for you. This could be traffic, signups, or purchases. Now run the ads for a month and see how your new ad campaign affects your chosen KPI.
2. Ask users to do one thing in your engagement emails: Emails that aren’t written in a way that connects with your audience often end up in the spam folder. To increase engagement, try a neat trick pioneered by the founder of AppSumo, Noah Kagan. End each one of your emails with a simple task that users can accomplish. Once you get users to do one thing, you’re more likely to get them to do even more with your SaaS product, increasing overall engagement. Try it yourself and measure if this change improves email-open and link-click rates.
3. Incentivize referrals: Referral programs are big business these days. When created correctly, they incentivize your customer base to invite their friends and colleagues to try your product. Set up a referral program by offering your long-time users a benefit when they refer a certain number of friends. After running your program for three months, track the number of referrals, signups, and new customers who lasted more than a month.
If you need more inspiration, check out our blog post on 30 ways to experiment with acquisition, product, and virality to find sources of new growth for your product.
Growth hacking tools you’ll need
A growth hacker needs tools to run their experiments and collect data. Not only will these tools make it easier to get the data you need, but many will also help you organize the data to make it easier to draw conclusions. If the selected tools work for you and your growth team, explore how you can get more mileage out of them through integrations.
- Unbounce: A tool for creating better landing pages and boosting conversion rates. It uses smart A/B testing to find the best variant of your landing pages and then starts to send new visitors there quickly. Especially essential for ecommerce companies who need their landing pages to convert.
- Wistia: A tool for creating video content for your site and social media. Wistia’s video maker not only makes creating videos easy but also lets you collect engagement analytics so you can home in on a video content marketing strategy that works for your audience.
- Privy: A tool for running and analyzing your email marketing campaigns. Privy’s email builder lets you create interactive emails that’ll be more likely to draw in users, so your emails stay out of their spam folders.
- Appcues: A tool for analyzing user engagement and optimizing product adoption through better UX and UI. Appcues’ no-code builder lets you place modals, slideouts, tooltips, and more in your flows to improve user experience. Plus, Appcues will help you track how well your flows engage users so you can continue to optimize for the best results.
- Buffer: A tool for running and analyzing your social media campaigns. Buffer’s platform includes analytics that tell you how your followers are engaging with your latest posts. It’ll also show you who your social media posts are reaching so you can see what messages are resonating with your target market.
- Zapier: An automation tool used for connecting web apps, so you give your users a better overall experience. By connecting your product with other popular platforms, you give your product more usability, which makes your users happier.
Retention and referral tools
- Customer.io: A tool for crafting, automating, and analyzing your messaging, from emails to push notifications. With Customer.io, you can set up messaging campaigns to engage your users and help retain at-risk users who look like they may churn.
- Zendesk: A tool for creating personalized customer service experiences. Zendesk’s platform makes giving great customer service easy, so users walk away from interactions with your company always feeling respected and valued.
- Extole: A tool for encouraging advocacy and referrals. Using Extole, you can easily start referral programs, encouraging your core users to get involved and invite new users to try your product.
Didn’t see everything you want? Here are some more resources you can explore to make the perfect tech stack for your growth marketing team.
- The ultimate growth toolbox: 50 growth hacking tools. An epic storeroom of tools product managers can take and plug into their own unique growth hacking machinery.
- 29 user onboarding tools to drive growth. From progress bars to user segmentation, these onboarding tools can give you quick, easy ways to help users get attached to your app.
Growth hacking examples to learn from
Growth looks different for every company. That doesn’t mean you have to do an Airbnb and engineer a never-before-seen marketing strategy. Explore what growth hacking strategies have worked for others and consider how you could customize them to your own growth machine.
The email marketing giant wasn’t always as big as it is now. In fact, Mailchimp has been optimizing its website and product for over 20 years, slowly adding improvement onto improvement. One area it spent a long time experimenting with was its pricing page, which saw numerous tweaks to language, prices, and design.
Over time, Mailchimp’s pricing page has been simplified, the CTA buttons have been tweaked, and the page is far better at communicating the key differences between the plans. Should you copy Mailchimp’s pricing page layout? No, but it might be worth experimenting to see if similar changes could increase your conversion rate and profitability as well.
Wealthfront is currently a leader in the Fintech sphere and a major disruptor in a multi-trillion-dollar industry. Originally, however, this Silicon Valley startup had trouble getting people excited about investing. It first tried to gamify its platform to get people to sign up. This worked to increase overall signups, but it didn’t attract users who wanted to take the next step and become paying customers.
Next, they tried to use a referral program. This ended up being the ticket to success, as around 15% of people who got invited ended up signing up for Wealthfront.
For more inspiration, here are some of the most innovative and successful growth case studies out there. Some are classics you may have heard of already, while others are less expected.
Where to learn more for better growth optimization
To build your own growth hacks within your company, you need a regular supply of ideas, vocabularies, launch pads, and devil’s advocates. Curate your own reading list from these trusted sources.
- The 21 best growth hacking blogs to follow right now. A list of not-to-be-missed blogs from people who know how growth hacking works. Includes personal blogs from people like Noah Kagan and company blogs from teams like KISSmetrics. You’ll also learn about more broad topics like SEO, digital marketing, product development, and more.
- Amplitude’s Medium channel. A regular source of data-driven tips to optimize your app’s acquisition, conversion, and retention.
- A Guide to the Best Growth Hacking Resources. An arsenal of tried-and-tested resources to give you inspiration and assurance for your growth hacking practice. This list includes books, courses, influencers, and more.
- Growth Insights video series. For regular doses of growth inspiration, tune in to this YouTube series from Growth Tribe, a group of thinkers dedicated to making concise resources for marketers.
- 50 Women in Marketing to Follow. To celebrate International Women’s Day last year, Content Hacker put together this ultimate list of women in marketing. The list includes well-known entrepreneurs, founders, and authors whose words will help keep you experimenting and inspired.