Online startups and small businesses approach growth in a very different way than traditional corporations and 'brick and mortar' companies. Growth hacking success stories have proven to level the playing field for small innovative startups, giving them a chance to compete with business giants in the global market.
George Deeb of Red Rocket Ventures @georgedeeb calls growth hacking "the intersection of marketing and technology." He says growth hacking IS the marketing of startups. Clearly, some large companies have built huge, lasting success through growth hacks. Twitter, PayPal, AirBNB and YouTube all found success by being the first to capitalize on specific online growth opportunities that attracted people to them in droves. So, how can the average startup make growth hacking techniques sustainable?
What's in a Name?
The term "growth hacking" has gotten a lot of attention since it's introduction by Sean Ellis is 2010. Identifying the role of "growth hacker" as key to online startup growth has attracted many tech-saavy professionals, some who see computer "hacks" as a sport they might otherwise do for a hobby.
The term has also been given a bad rap by some. Many equate it with "cheating the system" or exploiting a weakness of another business or network. Some of the most famous and successful growth hacks have taken measures that some would describe this way.
But what's in a name?
"That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."
This quote from William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet refers to the idea that the value or worth of something lies in what it IS, not in what it is called.
The truth is, growth hacking may just be the unfortunate name of the "new marketing." Just as Joe Pulizzi @JoePulizzi of Content Marketing Institute predicted, in an interview after the release of his book Epic Content Marketing, that content marketing will soon be called just "marketing," it's possible that growth hacking will follow suit in tech startup businesses. Perhaps the evolution of growth hacking will be that it will be considered a new category of marketing along with inbound or content marketing.
Risks of Relying on Quick Wins
Still, the cautious planner in me wants to know that there is substance to this strategy. That planner in me says that longevity requires stability and that quick, temporary wins that lose their impact need to be supported by a firm foundation.
Will "growth hacker" last as a job title?
I see more and more informal networking online for the job of "growth hacker" — companies looking to help you find a growth hacker to ignite your business. So, what do we see as the career path of the growth hacker? What happens when growth hackers grow up? With their dynamic skill sets — technical, business and creative — hopefully they become the "smart creatives" (as Google calls them) that inspire the best products and experiences for all of us.
A Focus on growth, rather than marketing
Like the name or not, growth hackers are taking over as marketers for tech-driven startups. Growth hackers understand that digital marketing is a moving target because of constant changes and innovations in technology. What works today may not work tomorrow. So, clearly, growth hackers know how to attract, but do they know how to delight and convert? The test of these techniques is whether the growth hacker will be able adapt with new techniques that maintain meaningful growth.
Belief that marketing doesn't require a long-term investment
Quick wins can give a small startup a shot in the arm with site traffic, leads and even sales. Achieving fast growth can have the effect of making the business think that every initiative or hack they try will produce the same results, with little effort. While focusing on growth, they may approach marketing of the business as a quick process and not worthy of a long-term plan and investment.
In reality, it's more likely that quick hacks will lose effectiveness sooner than real, sustainable growth takes hold. Meaningful marketing builds a trusted brand, a loyal customer base and following — setting the business up for sustainable growth.
Creating Authentic Growth Using Legit "Tricks"
The idea of authentic growth is about taking the more calculated route to business growth that lasts. This idea won't be progressive or sexy enough for some online marketers, but it can contribute to brand, reputation and lasting growth. A meaningful and stable business foundation might not be necessary for an online business to grow, but it is necessary for any business to survive.
Tools That Spark Authentic Growth
Social media networks are often the channels that growth hackers use to attract large numbers to their message or products. But for those focused on fast growth, it's not enough to just be engaged on social media. Closely monitoring social media networks to zero in on those you want to reach takes more strategy.
Social media listening tools can help you to be in multiple places at once in the social-sphere — with your finger on the pulse of activity from your brand, your competitors, prospects and relevant events and topics.
Certain sustainable growth hacks, reviewed in the video below by Rand Fishkin @RandFish, sound more like traditional marketing strategies, but with a modern twist. One sustainable hack that works is FOLLOWING UP with prospects who didn't buy. Wow, not really revolutionary, right? But, it turns out that reaching out to actual individuals personally can serve as a "growth hack" by companies that otherwise practice digital marketing and value automation. In fact, this type of research can provide some of the the greatest value in defining your brand.
Expect your plan to change
It may seem like an obvious step, but, believe it or not, we encounter prospects and even clients who have never developed a business plan with marketing and sales goals or a plan to achieve them. Skipping this step puts all other success at risk. When a small startup gets a big win through a long-shot growth hack, it may boost their confidence to the point that this process may be further delayed or never even happen at all.
The slide below comes from Google's slideshare, How Google Works. It speaks to the value of flexibility in tactics (employing growth hacks) and the stability of a business foundation.
The Intersection of Marketing and Technology
In the end, I believe there is a logical compromise between marketing with a pure growth focus and marketing in a more traditional way. Any company smart enough to be aggressive in using growth hacks is also one that should be smart enough to build a solid foundation for its future.
A solid business plan that accounts for financial viability, investment, scalability, hiring, technology, and yes, a long-term marketing strategy can be the backbone of an innovative startup. This type of forward-thinking company will be one that is prepared to use technology to its advantage and also provide value to customers for a very long time.
Image credit: sustainable
Image2 credit: juliet