Grow Your Business With Less

startup lifeMarketing 3.0: Growth Hacking

The term ‘hacking’ means more than just bad people doing bad things with computers. It really means cutting through to the essence of a problem and solving it creatively.

We do this at hackathons, where teams of developers are tasked with creatively coming up with projects that answer challenges. We do this with ‘life hacks’ like adding those “,,,” between a conference bridge and its password. And lean startups utterly rely on the ability to think around problems and solve them without money – they need to hack their markets.

There is a renewed sense of the power of creativity to solve hard problems with fewer resources, and I think the business world is better for it.

When “marketing” turned to “growth”

The sometimes bizarre economics of software businesses can mean that growth is more important than profits. At first that meant that tech startups ignored marketing as a discipline, instead relying on the virality of their product. The mantra was ‘growth’ over everything else – and that worked when the product was distinctive, new, and inherently viral.

In about 2010, Sean Ellis coined the term “growth hacking.” He referred to growth hackers as “a person whose true north is growth. Everything they do is scrutinized by its potential impact on scalable growth.”

In so doing, he formalized a change that had been brewing for years – turning marketing as a set of disciplines into a re-unified, tech-infused practice.

Integrated Marketing Grows Hacks

For decades marketers have been saying ‘everything communicates,’ and that marketing must be integrated to work. Growth hacking takes this a step further and tightly integrates the digital product with how it is promoted, passed on to friends, cited in social media, and so on. The whole must work together, and through agile sprints, scrum meetings and communications tools like Trello and Slack, teams are able to work together in ways unimaginable just a few years ago.

In sum, what used to be “branding,” and “advertising,” and “media,” and “design,” and “product” are all part of one tightly integrated process. This change in viewpoint is critical for entrepreneurs, as you are competing with people who have at least some sense of the tech, the brand, the customer, and the channel. You cannot delegate that understanding, and need to get smart about each of these elements.

The Silicon Valley version means you infuse everything with tech – with A/B tests, with data, with code. This is important but not the first place to start if you’re not a developer – start with integrating your marketing at the deepest levels, then look for folks to help with data & code.

Hacking Your Way

The point of growth hacking is to create tons of impact without tons of budget – using the design of your product to help growth, the colors of your logo, the choice of partners, and the terms those partners work with you – all to drive growth. Most entrepreneurs cannot go after growth at all costs, but the core idea of doing more with much less by doing everything as a single process is still valid.

In practice, that’ll mean you’re constantly looking for ways to tie two things together in a way they’re not normally tied together – things as simple as including ‘refer a friend’ at key places. Or optimizing your facebook posts for search engines, there are countless growth hacks out there.

For a start, have a look at Andrew Chen’s blog on the subject, but again don’t be put off by the emphasis on code. You can get a lot done by refocusing on marketing holistically as a growth effort vs. a creative one. Then check out Growth Hackers, a community founded by Sean Ellis.

I’ll be teaching a branding workshop on April 20th – come check that out and bring your growth, growth hacking, and branding challenges.

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