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Blog Post

Growth Hacking: Marketing Reimagined

July 20, 2018
Table of Contents

How to scale. How to expand. We know we need to do this, we just don’t know how.

Growth hacking is a term that many people have heard and even read about. However, the vast majority of these people think that growth hacker marketing is a practice that does not have any significance to their products or services.

“Growth hacking is strictly for tech companies and startups that are bringing an entirely new product or service to market.”

This type of sentiment is very common, and also very wrong.

Breaking it down to the most simple concept, the main strategy in growth hacking is to create such a good product, service, and overall customer experience that your targeted users share their story about your brand with their networks, essentially becoming part of your marketing team.

A Brief History of Growth Hacking

The term growth hacking has only been around since 2010 when it was coined by Sean Ellis. He had helped a number of tech companies and successful startups achieve incredible growth rates of new users by employing new digital marketing techniques that were often overlooked by those with traditional marketing backgrounds.

He had the luxury of not being concerned with managing a marketing team or establishing a long-term plan to coordinate future marketing efforts; his only concern was creating a growth strategy to acquire new users.

However, when these companies started searching for marketing teams to continue their trends in growth, their efforts largely fell flat. What Sean Ellis figured out is that when he turned over his responsibilities to marketers who thought only in terms of traditional marketing, they only saw traditional results.


This realization caused him to shift his focus from finding marketers who could think in terms of growth to finding people who thought only in terms of growth. He authored a blog post titled “Find a Growth Hacker for Your Startup” and the term was born.

Growth Hacker is the New VP Marketing

In 2012, Andrew Chen introduced the term to a much larger group of users through a blog post titled “Growth Hacker is the New VP Marketing”, in which he cited the real world case study of AirBnB, a startup (at the time) that was successfully disrupting the hospitality industry using growth hacking techniques instead of traditional marketing practices.

Chen described growth hackers as a “hybrid of marketer and coder, one who looks at the traditional question of ‘How do I get customers for my product?’ and answers with A/B tests, landing pages, viral factor, email deliverability, and Open Graph.”

What he was outlining was a new approach to marketing that focused on the user experience at every step of the way.

Growth Hacker Marketing

One of the people who read Andrew Chen’s blog post was Ryan Holiday, who at the time, was the Director of Marketing at American Apparel. Instead of just sitting back and assuming that because his company sold a traditional product, a growth tactic used by a few tech startups would not apply to his business, he saw the limitless potential baked in.

In addition to incorporating these new techniques into his marketing plan to grow his user base, he also quite literally wrote the defining book on the subject: Growth Hacker Marketing. What struck me over and over again while reading the book is how every concept seems so intuitive to traditional marketing practices, yet are commonly overlooked for one reason or another.

Another way to look at growth hacking is that it relies on shifting your marketing focus from attracting an audience to creating a product that attracts an audience. In essence, you need to change your mindset that marketing is separate from your other efforts, and realize that everything, from product development to lifetime customer value, is part of your marketing.

Growth Hacking Concepts

For the remainder of this article, I am going to identify the core principles involved in growth hacking. This will consist of a very high-level look at each step that I will attempt to simplify to its most basic idea. In future posts, I will take a much deeper dive into each step and use real world case studies and growth hacking examples to further illustrate the dramatic impact these techniques can have when executed properly.

Product-Market Fit

Traditionally, companies created a product or service, planned an expansive launch, and hoped for the best. For companies that are thinking in terms of growth hacking, a big launch event could hinder their efforts in the future. Instead of creating a product they think people will want, they instead go through many iterations until they identify the product or service that their target audience has already indicated that they want.

At its simplest, product market fit is the practice of constantly refining your product based on your customers’ feedback. There are countless examples of this in business: it’s why Apple releases new models of iPhones and MacBooks; it’s why Nike continues to improve upon the iconic Air Jordan; and it’s why Google is constantly making updates to its search algorithm. This is all a part of the growth process and the continual fine-tuning of your product.

Just because something works doesn’t mean it can’t be improved.

Targeting Your Core Audience

Identifying your core audience is the easy part. Building your messaging to make them care about your product is where it becomes difficult.

Traditional marketing tells us to invest in big, expensive tools such as television advertising to put your brand, product, and service in front of as many people as possible. This is the marketing equivalent of throwing pasta at the wall and hoping that something sticks.

This is where many digital marketing practices, such as search engine optimization, targeted social media advertising, e-mail marketing, and paid search campaigns, can really help you advertise to only relevant audiences.

Craft your messaging to inspire the people who will be most interested in your brand.

Activating Your Audience

Why not allow your customers to do your marketing for you? If you have successfully created a product that fits your market and shown it to the right people, essentially achieving customer acquisition, your next goal should be to activate them and have them start sharing their story with their networks.

The reason websites that position themselves as useful tools, like Yelp and Foursquare, have found success is because people trust other people’s experiences over traditional advertising. The first thing most people do these days when they hear about a new restaurant or day spa is to check the online reviews to see what others are already saying about it.

However, you can’t just hope that your customers tell your story. You have to give them a reason to share your brand.

Instilling Brand Loyalty

Once you have inspired your audience to make a purchase or contract your services, you need to exceed every expectation they may have about their customer experience. When you delight a customer with exceptional service, you make them feel as if they are a part of your brand’s story.

This is how you transform a potential one-time purchaser into a loyal brand ambassador for your company.

Instilling brand loyalty should also be a focus across all of your marketing channels. By empathizing with your customers and providing them with a solution in the form of your product, you can position your brand as more than just a trusted resource.

Showing your customers that you understand them builds this trust. This trust combined with your exceptional products and focus on customer experience builds loyalty.

Applying Growth Hacking Strategy

By focusing on user experience at every level of your marketing strategy, you have shifted from marketing a product to marketing the experience that your product enables people to have. In other words, you are not selling a product, you are selling a better, easier, and more fulfilling life because of that product:

  • Adjust your content marketing to focus on the customer instead of your product.
  • Change your online marketing strategy to address your audience’s needs rather than flashing your logo in front of them.
  • Survey your customers and incorporate their feedback into the next iteration of your offering.
  • Focus on creating a product for your market instead of creating a market for your product.

Focus on Your Customers for Growth Hacking

A traditional marketing strategy would tell us to flaunt the features and benefits of our product offerings as a way to communicate their value to our potential customers. Growth hacking and other more recent approaches that have disrupted the marketing and advertising industries tell us to focus on creating the most valuable user experience for our customers and allowing them to communicate that to others through their social media, professional, and personal networks. This focus allows us to develop strategies and tactics that achieve real growth and increase conversion rates on top of other important metrics.

This approach is essentially a guide for successful scaling and achieving sustainable growth.


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