What are marketing hacks and how can they help your business grow? It’s effective marketing using none of the classic marketing techniques. No advertising, promotions, press releases, etc. The “Sent From My iPhone” emblazoned across the bottom of every email sent from an iPhone is pure genius and the ultimate example of a marketing hack. It cost Apple nothing, yet the return is incalculable, literally.

Sure, I’m always the one preaching at the ROI altar, and immeasurability is the devil here, but really, how could it be anything less than stellar? After all, it’s total cost was a few lines of code and a default setting. What did Apple reap from this? Every single email recipient since the iPhone’s inception is reminded that hey, the sender has an iPhone, and well, maybe you should get one too.

Now, of course, there are an estimated 260 million iPhone users out here, and experts expect the impending iPhone 6 launch to drive this number even higher. It’s perhaps the ultimate example of a marketing hack; something that cost little or nothing, yet over delivered in spades. Of course, it’s far from the only reason 260 million people are toting iPhones these days, but it sure didn’t hurt.

What many people may not know is that Apple actually borrowed the “sent from” technique from Hotmail, which debuted it back in 1996. What’s old is new again. Note that in digital marketing parlance, a decade is old!

What are some other killer marketing hacks that drove in the runs, while costing management nary a minor league trade? Here are my picks for some of the best marketing hacks of all time. Will yours be next?

Rebranding Refocus Marketing Hack- Instagram

Instagram wasn’t always the app your kids and major brands loved. Back in the day (3 years go) Instagram was Burbn, of which photo sharing was but a small part. Once founders realized that Burbn wasn’t really taking off, but the photo sharing aspect was, they made some adjustments. Did they ever!

Burbn founder Kevin Systrom scored a marketing coup doing what many experts preach, but few businesses take to the point he did; pay attention to customer feedback, then act on it. Re-brand and re-market your business to conform to what customers really want, rather than your original vision of what you wanted your company to be.

That can be a bitter pill for entrepreneurs to swallow. After all, market validation is a pretty big ego trip. Being shown that your vision doesn’t cut it is brutal. Success however, means finding what your customers DO want and giving it to them. Too many businesses try the opposite; finding what you’re going to offer, and then marketing it.

The Instagram way is much easier, as their users demonstrate. In Feb 2013, the company hit 100 million active users. How can your small business echo their success?

Well, 100 million users may be out of reach for Mack’s Digital Design or Kenny’s Metal Works, but any business can hack their marketing like this. Shift your product offering so you’re taking full advantage of what customers really want, even if it’s not exactly what you’re offering now.

Social Media Marketing Hack – Spotify

The streaming music provider had a hard road ahead of it. After all, they weren’t first to market by a long shot. No first mover advantage here. They were entering a space already crowded with offerings from Rhapsody, Sacker, LastFM and of course, the 800lb gorilla in the streaming space, Pandora. How were they going to get a jump start on the considerable competition?

Enter another marketing hack, partnering with someone who WAS a market leader in another space, in this case social media. Spotify grabbed a deal with Facebook to get in front of their 750 million (then) active users. They didn’t stop at just getting in front of them, however. They jumped on the hood, and hung on for dear life.

Spotify integrated with their users’ Facebook feeds, so that the music they played in Spotify also showed in their Facebook feed. Of course, it included a link to Spotify. Facebook users saw what their friends were listening to, and how they were doing it. Awesome tune, but what the heck is Spotify? Better find out……

Optimize on the Fly Marketing Hack – Buzzfeed

Buzzfeed used a marketing hack to kick their user numbers right in the ass; real time changes. The site looked at what visitors responded to and adjusted their site’s headlines, text, and even images in real time to improve favorable response and minimize the unfavorable.

It’s similar to A/B or multi-variate testing most marketers perform, but rather than sit back and wait for the results to roll in, Buzzfeed adjusted things on the fly. I can see how waiting for a statistically significant sample may be more effective, but what do I know, I got a D in stats!

Buzzfeed’s “do it now” approach let them see their change effects sooner. Did it work?

Email Newsletter Marketing Hack – WELD2

I’ve used this one for years, so WELD2 certainly can’t take all the credit; plus, I doubt I’m the originator of the technique. Oh, well. Try this one in your email newsletter, it works. Add the simple line, or a variation thereof at the end:

“If you know anyone who would like or benefit from this, please forward it to them now.” That’s it.

I’ve seen email list growth curves adopt the hockey stick growth curve every time the technique was added. Be sure to add a subscribe button on the bottom too, so those that get the forwarded newsletter can also subscribe.

As The Worm Turns – Putting those who signed up this way on their own list segment lets you tailor the content more exactly. Having a separate segment for those subscribers enables optimized offers to convert the subscribers who didn’t sign up from your web site opt in form, and may not be as familiar with your organization or offerings as those on your primary list.

Virtually all email marketing platforms also give you the ability to add social sharing icons as well. Use them! Of course, that assumes everything else is well with your email newsletter. Value delivery is vital to make this strategy work, or it won’t get forwarded or socially shared. There’s no reason your newsletter shouldn’t be a powerful lead generation tool for you though.

Sure, you may want to turn your small business into a larger one. Maybe you have your sites (see what I did there?) set even higher, and want to be the next big thing; in your market or beyond. No matter, here are some of the best marketing hack resources you’ll find anywhere.

Marketing Hack Resources You Can Use Now to Kickstart Your Company’s Growth:

Jon Yongfook has 21 Actionable Growth Hacking Tactics posted on his blog. Yeah, he’s hawking his book, but there’s some great stuff there. Even the 21 he shares here could work some magic for your business. No, I haven’t read his book (yet).

Muhammad Saleem penned (keyed?) a killer piece on MarketingLand.com “Growth Hacking is Bull”, and to hear him tell, it sure as hell is! Saleem points out “Embracing social media technologies and building a presence on platforms like Twitter and Facebook” is NOT a marketing hack… unless you ad in some kind of twist that makes it so. This is the 21st century, using social media is just plain old marketing now.

Chaney Ojinnaka on Tech Cocktail has some interesting points on growth hacking for B2B companies. While not actually serving up a marketing hack playbook, he does make some great points in his short article.

Among them, he asks who’s the best fir for your new Marketing Veep slot, between “A strategic VP with strong industry/client connections, an engineer type with some marketing chops, or a sales rockstar “ Think before you answer. He points out all can do the job, depending on who’s the best fit for your customers.

Then, there’s “Deconstructing PR: Advice From A Former VentureBeat Writer”, said scribe being one Conrad Egusa, Founder and Partner of PR firm Publicize. PR is one of the great marketing hacks of all time, because it’s not seen as marketing by consumers…. except you, of course. Since it’s not marketing, but journalism, the trust factor is waayy up there. PR can turbocharge marketing and growth like nobody’s business.

Here’s a gem from Egusa “With PR, a story needs to exist before an article is written” Choice words from one who knows! Fortunately, there’s a great story lurking inside almost any startup or small business looking to grow. Follow along as he deconstructs the 7 steps in the PR process.

Where to Hack Your Marketing

Yeah, you were told there would be no math, but hang tight. Your marketing funnel has four stages:

1) Acquisition

2) Activation

3) Retention

4) Revenue (Yeah!)

They can be called depending on who’s doing the talking. You can hack any of them, but where you focus your hacking can make all the difference. Here’s the math part. Analyze conversions (the percentage of those in that stage that make it to the next) at each stage.

Your best “hack for the buck” will be focusing on the stage with the worst conversions. If you’re not getting any customers into the funnel, focus your efforts there. Otherwise you can devise the ultimate marketing hack, and there’ll be no one there to see it.

If you’re doing acquisition like nobody’s business, but having trouble moving initial customers down the funnel, open the hood on the Activation Stage. Focus on devising a marketing hack that works it’s magic there, and so on. You get the picture. Mattan Griffel has a sweet slide deck with more on this here.

So, slap your logo on the side of your vans, spiff up the stores with a fancy new signs, and dust off your web site…… then, really get down to marketing! May these marketing hacks and resources give you inspiration.

What’s YOUR favorite marketing hack? What’s the most effective marketing hack you’ve ever pulled off for your business?