Growth hacking may just be the latest thing in marketing. As the name suggests, growth hackers are heavily, not to say totally, focused on growth: growing the market, growing the number of contacts and customers. Growth hacking has often been seen as only for tech start-ups, but established brands can gain from it too. We look at the lessons available.

Growth hacking is budget-friendly – Because growth hacking developed as a technique among cash-poor start-ups, it is focused on achieving maximum results at minimum cost. This means that it can be seen as an addition to existing marketing practices, not an either/or. Almost uniquely, this allows experimentation and even failure without serious implications to the existing marketing operation.

Growth hacking focuses on what people want, not on making them want what you have – Growth hackers Direct Spark suggests that traditional marketing ‘makes people want the product’ and growth hacking ‘makes a product that people want’. It is simple, but profound: if you have a product that everyone wants, people spread the word for you. Where the product is not particularly special, growth hacking focuses on improving the user experience, understanding that experience is marketing.

Growth hacking builds marketing into the product using a feedback loop Over-simplifying somewhat, instead of looking on marketing as something that you do to attract customers, growth hackers use the product for that purpose. Examples of this technique include Dropbox offering customers more storage for recommending friends, and Twitter’s suggested user list. Most growth hacked products have a feedback loop built in that encourages users to share information and encourage friends to join in.

Growth hackers tend to be entrepreneurial in their thinking – Growth hacking is all about doing something big with very little money, and looking for a new approach. Geoffrey Colon, a growth hacker, described the difference as being about disruptive growth, rather than sustaining growth. It is therefore a very entrepreneurial approach. Introducing a growth hacking approach can therefore help an established brand to become a bit more creative and think differently.

Growth hacking is about speed – This is both speed of movement, and speed of change. In other words, if what you do doesn’t work, which you know because of your relentless focus on data and measuring success, then you change, or ‘pivot’ quickly, and do something else that will be more successful.

Growth hackers don’t wait for permission – Developing in tech start-ups, they didn’t need to; often, they were their own bosses. That is a mentality which it may be harder for established brands to accept, but it is essential if they are to get the benefits from growth hacking. The motto needs to be ‘try it first and apologise later’.

Growth hacking often combines traditional marketing with a technology ‘fix’ – Growth hackers often have a technology background, or are at least familiar with the technology and with coding. Growth hacks therefore often contain an element of technology. Airbnb, for example, built a function that offered its users a chance to list their property on Craigslist, the classified site with a huge user base.

Data-driven decisions are more reliable – Growth hackers are serious about data. They use data and analytics to make decisions about what they do, and where they should focus, as well as to measure their success or failure. It is a continuous feedback loop, and it means that the approach is extremely responsive to customer activity.

Growth hackers really know their customers – Building on the relentless focus on data, growth hackers are obsessive about knowing their customers. They know how their prospects and leads behave, and where they gather information. They are engaged with the communities in which customers are active. Whether this is through formal buyer personas or similar tools, or just a gathering of knowledge, it’s a vital tool.

Culture is important: don’t ignore it – A word of warning: many of the attributes of growth hackers are very entrepreneurial, as we have said. Established companies and brands, by their nature, are much less so. As David Tebbutt pointed out earlier this year, this means that it may be difficult to introduce growth hacking, especially in a company or with a brand that is very traditional in its outlook, and especially if the new approach involves new staff who do not know the culture. Examining your company culture for suitability is vital before making a decision about introducing a growth hacking approach.

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