What is growth hacking?

Written on 22 October, 2015 by Verity Meagher
Categories: Marketing | Tags: growth hacking, marketing, online business, online marketing

As we look back on a busy year of startups, it’s worth investigating some of the new techniques these young businesses have been using to get a foothold in often-crowded markets. One such method is growth hacking – a popular new strand of marketing.

Growth hacking: Understanding the basics

In a nutshell, growth hacking is a form of marketing where the entrepreneur or business takes a product, service or sales point and finds a way to ‘hack’ it into the market – that is, grow it in an unusual or previously untested way. It also typically taps into the way the online world has changed the playing field.

Unlike a traditional marketer, who may be adept at understanding and selling traditional products and creating campaigns accordingly, a growth hacker is capable of seeing what’s unique about online and modern products and can draw attention to them in a more dynamic way.

For example, there are many software products that can independently market themselves. Facebook makes it easy for users to share pages, posts and products with friends – therefore driving growth without direct and constant involvement from a marketer.

Sean Ellis, who was in charge of growth at Dropbox when he first coined the phrase ‘growth hacker’, was able to see the marketing potential of a product that offers in-built rewards – such as additional storage – when a user recommends the service to a friend.

The pros and cons of growth hacking

Businesses that have suitable products and services can find that growth hacking offers opportunities to access new pools of previously untapped customers. Airbnb offers an excellent example of a company that deployed a perfect growth hack. It reverse-engineered Craigslist’s forms to allow Airbnb users to cross-post their rentals on to Craigslist, even though it didn’t have a function for it.

This helped the company grow exponentially, and the very fact that Airbnb can no longer cross-post to Craigslist is further testament to the fact that it qualified as a growth hack – something that was tricky to do, innovative and a marketing strategy that no business had accomplished before.

However, it’s worth remembering that by the very definition of the role, a growth hacker is someone who is entirely focused on boosting numbers. This means that although they may be able to come up with innovative ways to connect with new audiences, they may also fall foul of issues a traditional marketer knows how to avoid, such as negative product associations or misinformation.

Focus on finding new avenues for sharing your products that will help encourage positive growth. Remember that while growth hacking can be very successful, it must be supported by a good company infrastructure – there’s no point driving a huge demand for your products or services if you don’t have the ability to meet it.

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