growth hackingGrowth hacking is more than a buzzword. It’s an innovative, sensitive approach to increasing revenue in the startup world. However, like many trendy terms, it’s often misunderstood. What is the act of growth-hacking, and what does it entail?

Entrepreneur Gigan Biyani points out that a “growth hacker is really just a marketer.” However, these experts aren’t traditionally working with well-established brands, market positioning and budgets, a growth hacker is faced with the unique challenge of achieving “astronomical growth” with extremely limited resources amidst an environment filled with uncertainty.

Does Growth Hacking Actually Work?

In short, yes. Growth hacking isn’t a one-size-fits all strategy, but organizations who manage to to wrap their hands around truly effective plans have experienced absurdly fast, accelerated growth. Online education platform Treehouse is an oft-cited example of a successful growth-hacking strategy, thanks to the efforts of founder Ryan Carson.

Carson’s growth-hacking tactics included the creation of a blog that served as a tool for “marketing through thought leadership.” Carson also participated in idea validation via Twitter, sharing his wireframes directly with high-profile web professionals for commentary. Perhaps most importantly, Treehouse implemented an aggressive approach to combating normal customer churn. By introducing a gamification element to the learning system and allowing students to unlock badges, Treehouse effectively increased engagement, increasing their revenue 38% in just 7 days!

In short, growth hacking is sharp marketing for startups. The principles used to run a highly effective growth hacking campaign can benefit well-established brands. In this blog, you’ll learn how real-life brands have applied digital marketing principles to exceptional ends:

1) Content Marketing

The tactic of “start a blog” isn’t always sufficient for effective growth hacking, especially for brands in highly saturated niches. While high-quality blog content is absolutely crucial, organizations should consider a slightly more innovative approach to content marketing.

A famous example is the fitness brand Crossfit, who directly asked their blog readers years ago to “post their scores” from daily workouts in the comments section of the blog. This transformed posts about daily workouts into leaderboards, introducing elements of competition and viral engagement with the brand’s content marketing.

Some other, innovative approaches to a content marketing strategy could include:

  • Introducing required shares for your highest-performing content assets
  • Use HARO to connect with press for free PR
  • Directly ask high-quality guest bloggers for expert content
  • Investing in fewer, higher-quality blogs with a higher word count

2) Search Engine Optimization

It’s crucial to be pretty aggressive when it comes to SEO, particularly in highly saturated niches. One of the best SEO tactics we’ve encountered comes via personal finance site Mint’s lead designer Jason Purtoti, who shared some of the brand’s tactics via Quora.

What was their approach? They built “a lot” of landing pages. In fact, they built an absolutely insane amount of landing pages. Mint developed a landing page around “every personal finance-related query on Google,” and tailored their content to cater towards young professionals, a market segment they felt was being neglected by their competitors.

Other viral or highly-aggressive SEO tactics can include:

  • Required social sharing to read content or gain free trial access
  • Rewards or contests revolving around social shares of content
  • Viral content marketing
  • hacking case studies/content for different user segments
  • Continual optimization/updates to existing content assets

3) Email Marketing

Many growth hacking success stories revolve around the smart utilization of email marketing for customer retention and acquisition. Virtually all entrepreneurs know and understand that it’s much cheaper to retain a customer, even an unhappy customer, than it is to generate new revenue.

Max Teitelbaum, the co-founder of online advertising service WhatRunsWhere, poured an excess of effort into customer retention via email in the early days of their business. Spending an estimated two hours a day on the efforts, Teitelbaum handled all customer support, with a particular focus on finding out who was cancelling and why. As a result, the organization managed a 25% retention rate.

Not all companies can afford such personalized customer retention efforts, and it’s simply not a scalable solution for many of the rest. However, your email marketing efforts should take a similar focus on being as personal as possible, with particular effort towards maintaining high satisfaction with your existing customer base.

4) A/b Testing Analytics

Great growth hackers understand that everything is iterative, which is why they use A/B testing marketing analytics to maximize conversions like a never-ending cycle. Ensure your website, emails, and landing pages are optimized for viral customer acquisition, and never cease testing for conversions.

Refer to Neil Patel’s infographic on the anatomy of the highest-converting landing pages to ensure you’ve got your basics down before you begin testing. The world’s most effective landing pages should always include:

  • A “clear and concise headline”
  • A descriptive hero image or video
  • Easy-to-consume benefits of your offer
  • A call-to-action
  • Testimonials and trust elements

Remember, you only have 5 seconds maximum to convince your prospects to become leads before they “bounce” away from your website. Growth hacking means optimizing relentlessly for conversions, and continually A/B testing to ensure you’re converting the maximum percentage possible of website visitors into leads.

5) Viral Customer Acquisition

Not every growth hacking success story involves a viral campaign or a highly-popular piece of content that spread across social media like Wildfire. However, many of the sharpest growth hackers attribute their success to achieving virality in one or more pieces of content.

One particularly famous example is Dollar Shave Club, the razor home delivery service who came out of total obscurity in 2011 after their humorous promotion video racked up some 4.75 million views on YouTube in just three months. Within 12 hours of the deeply funny video’s debut, the service had 12,000 subscribers. Even more astoundingly, the musical video commercial was the brand’s only attempt at marketing the new service.

While not every startup can even dream of the same success Dollar Shave Club saw from their single video clip, the lesson is pretty clear. Viral marketing can work extremely well, and your chances of success are much greater if you’re willing to invest in absolutely top-notch content. Case and point: Dollar Shave Club’s commercial was directed by advertising expert and professional Comedian Lucia Aniello.

To go viral, your chances of success will probably be significantly greater if you’re willing to pay for top talent, even at the risk of a greatly diminished marketing budget for other forms of outreach.

Common characteristics of viral-ready content can include the following:

  • Extremely intriguing or eye-catching titles or headlines
  • Bite-sized; packaged in a highly-consumable format like video
  • Ready to evoke emotion, such as humor or warm feelings, in the viewer
  • Broadly appealing; relevant to your ideal customer but able to be shared broadly

5.5) Paid Acquisition

Growth hackers aren’t opposed to paid acquisition, but they’re incredibly smart about how they approach this tactic. Within the space of growth hacking, paid acquisition is often tied to influencer outreach, and paid promotion of the product or service by individuals who already have the right audience.

PPC doesn’t make fiscal sense for all organizations, but that doesn’t mean it’s out of the question. Exceptional growth hackers consider pay-per-click advertising as one means of paid acquisition, while exploring other, more viral methodologies that may resemble one or more of the following strategies:

  • Paying for social influencer promotion via Triberr
  • Providing deep discounts to industry influencers
  • Participating in co-branding partnerships for advertising/promotion exchanges
  • Paid placement in high-profile email newsletters
  • Promotion of paid advertisement and deals via additional paid advertisement
  • Placement in daily deals sites, like AppSumo or Rewardli
  • Paid reviews

What works for one startup certainly won’t work for another. The world’s best growth hackers are endlessly shrewd, aggressive about finding unusual opportunities for organizational promotions, and abundantly creative. Hacking your company’s growth may require a far different SEO strategy than the explosive landing page build outs that accelerated Mint’s revenue. However, the right mix of the methodologies listed above is almost sure to help grow your brand.

What are some of the more fascinating growth hacking success stories you’ve encountered online? Share your favorite case studies and related tactics in the comments!

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