Growth hacking — it’s likely you’ve heard this phrase, especially if you work for a startup. And it’s a term that drives me absolutely nuts.
Anyone running a business, especially a startup, will tell you that the pressure to grow is immense. Without growth, and the revenue that comes with it, the business won’t survive (and you’ll have very unhappy investors). In fact, Fast Company states that 75 percent of venture-backed companies fail. It’s no wonder why the promise of quick wins and instant results is so tempting.
Where did growth hacking originate?
Growth hacking is described as “a process of rapid experimentation across marketing channels and product development to identify the most efficient ways to grow a business.” It refers to both conventional and unconventional marketing experiments that lead to growth.
The term originated in the startup world, where businesses without a lot of money to spend had to find a way to grow — quickly! So they often focused on low-cost versus traditional marketing; things like social media, viral marketing, and targeted advertising. They used emails, pay-per-click ads, and blogs instead of commercials, publicity, and big budgets. And, when successful, saw phenomenal growth. Companies like Facebook (which grew from zero users to a billion users in just eight years) and Uber (which started acquiring driver-partners in mid-2015 and had over 450,000 of them by January 2016) are good examples of how wildly successful growth hacking can be when done right.
“No amount of experimenting with red buttons vs. green buttons can overcome a product that sucks. Expect to see a temporary spike in website traffic, or likes on social media. Businesses built for long-term success are built on solid foundations — not Band-Aids.”
So, why do we loathe this term so much?
By definition, the word “hacking” is an ugly one, conjuring up images of stealthy programmers breaking into computers (and breaking the law!), stealing data, and intellectual property.
“Hacking” devalues the very real and very challenging work it takes to grow a business.
Growth hacking implies that anyone can make a product or service an overnight success. It doesn’t take into account factors such as product-market fit (are you really solving a problem?), quality, and customer retention.
Too often, growth hacking is used as a Band-Aid for a lack of tried and true marketing strategy and processes. Sure, experimentation is absolutely something marketers should do, but searching for instant gratification and quick fixes to your growth are rarely sustainable. No amount of experimenting with red buttons versus green buttons can overcome a product that sucks. Expect to see a temporary spike in website traffic, or likes on social media. Businesses built for long-term success are built on solid foundations — not Band-Aids.
Growth hacking’s tactics focus on outputs, not outcomes. At the end of the day, simply focusing on vanity metrics, or how you “10X” or “100X” something doesn’t really matter unless it’s revenue.
The term has become synonymous with what are, at their core, inbound and outbound marketing tactics (content marketing, landing pages, legitimate SEO, analytics, conversion optimization, blogging, PPC). News flash: that’s just marketing! And marketing, when done in a highly strategic, thoughtful way leads to growth — no hacking required.
What’s a startup to do?
It can be very tempting to hack your way to success. Long-term customers and users (the kind that don’t churn quickly) can see through gimmicks and poorly built products.
By focusing on building a great product that fits a market need, and then deploying a well-formed marketing strategy, you should expect growth.
At Lumen Marketing, we focus on helping startups identify strategies and tactics for sustainable growth. If you’d like to learn more about how we can help your startup, click the blue button below to start a conversation with our team.
[…] doesn’t happen overnight, and neither does business success. It takes time, and sometimes it takes trial and error to decide which marketing tactics to tend […]