Honestly, What is Growth Hacking?? And What it isn’t!!
So there is this new kid on the block called “Growth Hacking”. You may have read an article about it or heard it mentioned somewhere, somewhen. Growth Hacking seems to be a divisive and emotive term.
I first learnt of the phrase in January 2013 when the Guardian posted a job listing called “Head of Growth Hacking”. Having not heard of the term at that point I was intrigued to see what this job was. I thought it might be one of those random job titles you see now and again on the job boards. Two excerpts from the job spec really caught my attention.
“Its about the intersection between Marketing, Product, Technology, and Data” and “The Guardian is committed to a “digital-first” strategy and in order to support this, we are seeking a Head of Growth Hacking to manage a virtual, cross functional team focused on GNM’s growth hacking plan. This role is responsible for finding innovative ways to accelerate adoption, use, and retention to drive up audiences to the Guardian’s digital product portfolio”.
Fig 1. The 4 building blocks of Growth Hacking
“Hacking” is a very sensitive word in the UK for the last few years due to certain British press organisations being implicated in hacking prominent public figures’ phone lines and essentially eavesdropping on private conversations [Google “Leveson Inquiry” to read more]. So, for the Guardian, a major British press institution to be advertising for a job using the word “hacking” was fascinating. Secondly, I started out as a coder/programmer and had been working as a Digital Marketer and have a very varied skill set. I’d launched my own start up or two, worked for major corporates but always felt certain aspects of my skills were not being utilised especially when working for the blue chips.
Seeing the Guardian role led me to do more research on growth hacking and reading through the various definitions it was like a clarion call for me, a realisation that there was finally a clearer description for what I do! I was so stoked at this point in 2013 I immediately created a group on LinkedIn [https://www.linkedin.com/groups?home=&gid=4847418 ] to connect with other growth hackers. Feel free to have a look and join if you want to join in.
Fig 2. Growth Hacking trending topics; velocity of trend; May 1st 2014
From my personal perspective Growth Hacking is NOT:
- some dodgy technique to hack into your phone and listen to your conversations
- just about marketing, whether, digital or traditional
o nor is it suited for fluffy, abstract awareness building campaigns
o and certainly not ideal for improving Net Promoter Score
o and definitely not only about inbound marketing / earned media; i.e. outbound marketing and bought media can accelerate conversion
- only for start-ups – any size organisation with digital content, a mobile app, SAAS product or even a website can utilise growth hacking principles
- about short quick win hacks
- as edgy as it sounds. Its a structured, logical and transparent line of attack
For me Growth Hacking is:
- a digital discipline. It encompasses a digital product, digital marketing, & Internet / Mobile technology stacks. As digital becomes more prevalent in the physical world, hacks for real world retail outlets will become more common.
- about viral growth and acquisition of active users
- about consumer lifecycle, journey, experience and insight. Cohort analysis for example is a must have tool in your growth hacking toolkit
- primarily about the product, be it app, content, website or SAAS. Any digital product / proposition can be growth hacked. Imagine a digital widget that does “something”, people have downloaded the widget but they are not using it. Houston, we have a problem! Applying “hacks” to product features like removing or changing functionality or A/B testing product features [data], changing the IT stack e.g. Optimizely vs. Omniture Test & Target [technology] and modifying the message in the communications [marketing] for example, will help determine why it’s being downloaded but not utilised and ultimately improve conversion. But it all MUST link back to the product. Great marketing or deep data analysis or the wrong technology will not fix a bad product.
- about “lean” [not agile] methodologies and hacker mindsets, i.e. applying entrepreneurial and real time experiments and tests. I once waited 8 months for the IT department to install Doubleclick tracking tags. This is not lean, agile or real time. It should be seconds or minutes! A hacker mindset to me, means implementing multiple HELRs [hypothesis, experiment, learn, repeat] in short periods of time. HELRs can be for code, marketing, data etc but you need to be able to learn quickly and adapt your strategy even faster. Your technology stack plays a HUGE role in allowing for lean methodologies and HELRs to be practiced. The difference between an enterprise level CMS to an open source CMS in terms of flexibility for lean is a wide gulf in favour for open source.
- about formulas, metrics, kpis, Excel [lots and lots of Excel], SQL & databases, viral factors and virality equations, scenario planning, needs analysis, and portfolio analysis. Basically, hardcore data analysis, data hacking and quantitative measurement of large data sets. Data is the pillar upon which product, marketing and technology are tweaked, refined and optimised.
- being a coder as well as a marketer but more importantly a commercially minded business person. Due to my technical skills I’m always looking to either directly or indirectly implement features into content / products from the ground up that facilitate marketing efforts such as A/B multivariate testing and insight gathering. With focus on entrepreneurship and growth;
Growth Hacking is not mainstream; Yet. Not like social media was a few years ago or is now. But, its growing fast. I don’t know if it’s a fad, buzzword, trend or anything else. It is however a very suitable term to describe my skill set and I like calling myself a “Growth Hacker” J, it just sounds cool don’t you think? In the last month [April 1st to May 1st 2014] tweets about growth hacking have doubled. But in comparison to social media it’s got a long way to go to reach critical mass.