What is Growth Hacking, Really?

Explore how shifting definitions have blurred the meaning of growth marketing and how it can actually work for your business.

plant under a lampYou’ve probably heard that term “growth hacking” buzzing around like buzzwords tend to do. You’ve read about the case studies detailing how Facebook, Uber, Airbnb, Hotmail, and Dropbox growth hacked their way to global success.
Viral growth hacks, as mirrored in those case studies, have made a slow shift in marketing priorities from strategy and long-term growth to a simplistic acknowledgement that growth hacking was a quick-fix to “grow stuff” or “get users.”
But is growth hacking even a set of skills or a stock of knowledge? Both a blessing and a curse, the term draws attention to the hidden marketing potential within products while suggesting that a single move can skyrocket a site to success, but that’s not necessarily how the term began.  

The Rise of “Growth Hacking”

2010 – Sean Ellis, previous founder and CEO of Qualaroo, coined the term “‘growth hacker’ as, “[…] a person whose true north is growth.”
2012 – Andrew Chen, leader of the Rider Growth teams at Uber, described growth hackers as a cross between marketers and coders. He later elaborated that growth hacking meant boosting an already positive growth curve into something even bigger.
2012 – Aaron Ginn, who does growth at Everlane, clearly separated product-focused growth hackers from inbound and outbound marketers.
2013 – Gagn Biyani, CEO of Sprig, made the distinction that startups do growth hacking and larger companies do marketing.

Traditional Marketing vs. Growth Hacking

While startup-related marketing is primarily lumped into the term “growth hacking,” somewhere along the line strategies like email drip campaigns, platform engagement techniques, blogs, incentive programs, and social media became synonymous.
Perhaps the line has been blurred even further as growth marketers use different types of digital marketing strategies such as viral acquisition, customer service and sales strategies, content marketing, email marketing, SEO and A/B testing to achieve a desired growth target.
But let’s look at a hypothetical referral marketing example: When a normal marketing team initiates a referral campaign, it’s typically based on intuitive strategies and experience. Results would be tracked and optimized at a later date. A growth hacker, on the other hand, may list out six separate referral incentives, testing each individually through rapid emails to a part of the user base or through a product in order to bypass time spent on development.
Speed and efficiency are the only way to outrun the fact that 80% of your ideas will probably fail.
Growth teams should be focused on developing and fine-tuning an objective, scalable, repeatable growth process that may look something like this:

the growth process

While the growth process doesn’t look all that different from typical marketing, it’s working to create a repeatable system. Instead of banking on 10 tactics and hoping one pulls through, you’re strategically and systematically working through each one in order to gain insights and learn from trial and error.

How to Begin a Growth Hacking Process

Since growth best occurs in teams, it’s helpful to prepare an initial brief in order to establish a unified vision. Here’s a universal template to supplement and expand every element of the brief:
Project Template Checklist
With the expectations and basics in place, refining product development is the first step. Validating your product-market fit means seeing profitable results. Explore your ideas and key metrics at every stage of the funnel, beginning with traffic acquisition and ending in retention. And analyze the results of your testing in order to finally optimize, learning from your execution and improving future and existing ideas.

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Throw out the list of supposedly viral growth hacks you’ve found online. Instead, create a repeatable process grounded in creativity and confidence in your product. While the goals of traditional marketing overlap in prioritizing growth, it’s the analytical skills and technical understanding of a growth hacker that creates new solutions.
At RLC Media, we have the ability to cross-translate sales and product development into digital marketing strategy and data analysis. Contact us here to learn how you can confidently drive long-term growth for your business.