The first time I heard the term “growth hacker” I may have wrinkled my nose and rolled my eyes at the term, probably because my mind immediately skipped over the (very important) “growth” part and I got caught up on all the negative connotations I associate with the word “hacker”.
hack·er (noun): a person who uses computers to gain unauthorized access to data. Synonyms: cybercriminal, pirate, computer criminal, keylogger, keystroke logger… you get the idea. The only cool one in there is “pirate”.
But the more I looked into what it really means to be a growth hacker, the more intrigued I became, and I realized how important the “growth” part of the title really is in today’s constantly changing and advancing culture (and my nose slowly unwrinkled from its previous upturned, snobby position).
So what exactly is Growth Hacking??
A growth hacker is very different than a traditional marketer in the fact that instead of having a very broad focus, they focus on only one thing – growth. To achieve this growth they do use some marketing tactics, but they will also integrate many other skillsets that a traditional marketer does not have, with an intense focus on analytics, all in the name of growth. Quick Sprout has put together an amazingly helpful PDF all on Growth Hacking and in it they describe this obsessiveness over growth:
Every decision that a growth hacker makes is informed by growth. Every strategy, every tactic, and every initiative, is attempted in the hopes of growing. Growth is the sun that a growth hacker revolves around. Of course, traditional marketers care about growth too, but not to the same extent. Remember, the power of a growth hacker is in their obsessive focus on a singular goal. By ignoring almost everything, they can achieve the one task that matters most early on.
Why is Growth Hacking so important today?
It all starts with the definition of what a product is. Before the days of Internet 2.0, Marketers were able to depend on the tried and true traditional forms of marketing. Back then all marketers really had to focus on selling were services or physical products like couches, clothing, shampoo, etc. And then the Internet came and complicated all of that. You see, now we have products like Facebook, Twitter, or Dropbox all of which you can’t hold in your hands, but are still products. “The internet has given the world a new kind of product, and it demands a new kind of thinking.”
Physical products rely on marketers to sell them. Now with our new definition of what a product is, a digital product has the ability to participate in its own product adoption. Take Dropbox for example – Dropbox will give a user free storage if that user gets a friend to also sign up. Similarly with Facebook, which allows users to share their product with other friends in users, which in turn makes the Facebook experience even better. Couches, clothing, and shampoo can’t do this. So these new products have the ability to participate in the user generation process.
Growth Hackers are the Honey Badgers of Marketers
So what makes Growth Hackers different from traditional Marketers? First of all, it’s their mindset and approach towards Product Market Fit. Traditionally, a company would spend all this time creating what they think is a really cool product, and then once they are finished producing it, they would hand the product off to their marketing department and tell them to find a market segment who would buy it. Growth Hackers instead approach a market segment and see which of their wants and needs are not being met. Then they will create a product specifically for them, fine tuning and tweaking that product until it fulfills their every want and desire (ok, slight exaggeration, but you get the point).
Since the companies usually using Growth Hackers are small startups without the money and resources to promote their product using all the expensive traditional marketing tactics (TV ads, print ads, etc.), they really want growth, but they also want that growth by spending as little money as possible. To achieve that growth, sometimes Growth Hackers have to just take what they want by thinking outside of the box and using clever and ingenious methods that most Marketers don’t have the skills to do. A lot of times this will be extremely analytical, and often in the form of coding, using APIs, software, databases, or other technology based tools to achieve their goals.
One famous example of Growth Hackers taking what they want is AirBNB. This company makes it possible for anyone to convert their guest bedroom into a hotel of sorts, and rent it out to tourists who are looking for a cheaper alternative to hotel rooms. They had an awesome idea, but what really helped them get noticed was how they “hacked” on to Craigslist to get customers to notice them. AirBNB already knew that Craigslist’s preexisting users were exactly the kind of people that would use the AirBNB service, but the way Craigslist was set up made it difficult for companies to post their service since Craigslist doesn’t have an API. So what did AirBNB do? They used their coding skills and reverse engineered how Craigslist posting forms work, and then created their own product around it, making their service compatible with the Craigslist platform. All without ever having to access the Craigslist codebase. They didn’t ask Craigslist for permission to do this – they just took what they wanted, and were rewarded with an enormous amount of growth without having to spend the big bucks. Genius!
And since I know the only reason you all checked out this post was just as an excuse to watch the honey badger video again… here you go. You’re welcome.
- The 5 Phases of Growth Hacking
- The 6 Best Growth Hacks to Get Customers Without Having to Pay for Them
- Growth Hacker is the new VP Marketing
- The Definitive Guide to Growth Hacking