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Growth Hacking 101: The Process & Techniques Used For Success

Cody Bollerman
Cody Bollerman

While the term “growth hacking” is being thrown around the online community as a buzzword, what does it really mean!? Here you have it.

While the term, growth hacking is being thrown around the online community as a buzzword, often with little explanation as to how it differs from conventional marketing, it is in fact a unique and valuable skill that is worthy of consideration for any business trying to initiate and sustain growth on a minimal budget.

As the processes involved in marketing a company or product continue to become increasingly complex, the ability to code and automate tasks across multiple platforms is being seen as a key attribute for a new brand of marketers called, growth hackers. 

If you've been wondering what growth hackers do, or how you can become one, the following guide should help you understand what growth hacking is and how it's being used by some of the fastest growing internet startups in existence.

Screen shot Growth hacking definition google results

What is Growth Hacking?

Growth hacking is a new type of marketing that involves taking a more hands-on approach to product development, task automation, user retention and integration with third-party platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

In essence, a growth hacker is a technically inclined marketer/product engineer who may also have a background in coding and development.

Their job is to use technical proficiency and creativity to reach a broader and more targeted audience by playing an active role in improving the features of the product/site and brand content to make it inherently more marketable. 

While a conventional marketer might be strictly involved in generating awareness or driving traffic to web pages, a growth hacker works to promote user retention and natural referrals by ensuring that the product/site features are useful and shareable, while also streamlining and encouraging word of mouth with inventive methods.

Growth Hacking detailed in 5 points on how to..

These Are the 5 Phases Typically Involved in the Growth Hacking Process:

1. Fitting the Product to the Market

In previous years, a marketer would be hired to advertise or promote an existing company, product, or service, after it had already been founded and finalized.

Nowadays, growth hackers are being called upon during the pre-launch phase to ensure that the product/brand is pre-optimized for the audience it is being geared towards.

Thus, the first step in a growth hacker's job is to identify which features and adjustments would make the product more shareable/likable to give the campaign a higher chance of achieving desirable results.

2. Conceptualizing and Implementing an Appropriate Growth Hack

Once the content/features of the product or brand have been preliminarily optimized, the next step is finding an actionable way to start the spark of word of mouth.

It is important to distinguish a growth hacker's approach from the conventional marketer's in this regard.

While the latter will continually focus on bringing in more traffic and users with an ongoing effort, a growth hacker will look for ways to ignite a chain reaction with minimal investment of time or advertising budget.

Oftentimes, this will happen in the form of tapping into a larger pre-existing platform like Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, StumbleUpon, or some other social site.

The difference between a growth hacker and a social media marketer is that the growth hacker will focus on finding unique ways to interface the product or site with other platforms using their coding expertise (we'll explain this more below with a few examples) while also incorporating several other schools of marketing in addition to social media.

3. Looking for Viral Boost Opportunities

Once a growth hacker has begun optimizing the product/brand content and has found a sustainable growth hack that will serve as a source of prospective users, the next step is to look for ways to grab viral boosts wherever possible.

During this phase, the growth hacker asks themselves, “Aside from improving the product itself, how can I get our existing users to bring in more users?”

Usually this is done by a combination of incentivizing referrals/likes and making it easier for users to share the product through their social accounts.

4. Analyzing and Optimizing Based on Data

Using creativity to attract the initial users is only the first half of the battle. To ensure that the entire effort isn't for naught, growth hackers also need to be scientific and thorough when analyzing user behavior, traffic analytics, conversion rates, and other metrics that can provide useful insight.

This pivotal step actually marks the beginning of an ongoing optimization of every aspect of the product/site to promote higher user retention and referral rates.

Thus, unlike many marketers who simply deliver leads on a platter, growth hackers are expected to stick around and continue playing a role in retention as well as sustained growth.

5. Rinse and Repeat

One of the more exciting parts about growth hacking is the opportunity to repeatedly find new approaches to generating additional growth.

The hacking doesn't stop after the first round of success. In fact, after gaining some momentum you'll have even more financial and industry leverage, as well as more metrics on which to base your next move.

As such, growth hackers have become known as a relentless group of marketers that use the rinse and repeat method to scale up results by repeating the previous four steps perpetually.

Reverse Engineering Techniques

Growth hackers aren't magical oracles that can pull creative marketing genius out of thin air with absolutely no research or effort involved.

To the contrary, most techniques are actually rehashed or modified versions of previous growth hacks that have been reverse engineered by examining case studies to connect the dots behind successful campaigns.

If a method is already working for others, that's a good sign it might be worth trying or at least looking into as a source of inspiration.

Reverse engineering is the process of examining all components (linking factors, social networking and content strategies, product features, etc.) in order to understand and identify the factors that are making the campaign successful.

Once you know how and why something is working at a fundamental level, you can take steps to emulate and improve upon it.

While all marketers should be using competitive analysis to an extent, growth hackers can take it a step further by digging deeper into the code and technical aspects behind certain design elements or features that have been incorporated into a popular product or landing page.

Advertising Hacks, Case Studies, and Examples

With the importance of reverse engineering explained, let's take a brief look at seven of the more notable examples of growth hacking that we've seen in the past:

1. Hotmail's “Get Free Email” Signature Link 

In one of the earliest examples of growth hacking, Hotmail added phrases like “Get Free Email with Hotmail” to the bottom of every email sent through their service.

This was a move recommended by the company's very first investor, and it wound up igniting word of mouth around the product at a time when email and the Internet were just gaining widespread commercial recognition.

This has been listed as one of the most iconic growth hacks ever

2. YouTube's Embed Feature 

One of the reasons why YouTube was able to spread around the web so quickly was its embed feature introduced in 2005, which has gone down as one of the most popular growth hacks of all time.

This simple hack made it possible for users to embed any YouTube video onto any web page with a few clicks and a simple copy and paste of an automatically generated embed code.

3. Spotify's Facebook Integration 

In 2011, Spotify pulled a landmark growth hack by partnering with Facebook to become the social megasite's default music service.

The company has since attracted more than 50 million users, more than 25 percent of whom are paying for the premium version of the service.

4. LinkedIn's Public Profile Feature 

LinkedIn was able to become the most popular professional social networking site by using the concept of peer pressure and transparency to coerce users into inviting and interacting with their coworkers, former employers, and clients in order to have a more complete and convincing public profile.

5. Airbnb's Post to Craigslist Feature 

In a brilliant move, Airbnb made it possible for users to post their rentals directly to Craigslist from the Airbnb website with a “Post to Craigslist” feature.

Andrew Chen reverse engineered this technique and published his findings in a detailed case study.

6. Dropbox Gives Extra Storage for Referrals 

After determining that paid advertising was costing more than the value of each new customer, Dropbox hacked growth by offering 500MB of free storage for every referral.

As a result, the company went from having about 100,000 users to having more than 4 million in about 15 months. 

7. Facebook's Initial Exclusivity 

While Facebook has been the platform of choice for many growth hackers, it is worth noting that the social site used a few nifty tricks of its own to get ahead in the beginning, including starting out as a closed network that was only available to college students.

This perceived exclusivity helped to generate a sizable following of students that desperately yearned to be “part of the club.”

In addition to specific case studies, here are a few examples of advertising hacks used by growth hackers:

The Content Skyscraper Method

Some growth hacks don't involve coding at all and are instead based on adjustments in content strategy.

The content skyscraper technique revolves around the principle that “most people don't want to know about the second-tallest skyscraper, they're only interested in the tallest.”

With this technique, you find an incredible piece of content (a guide, tutorial, resource) in your niche and treat it as the “skyscraper” you're trying to outdo.

Then simply expound and improve upon it to make your new skyscraper even taller, thus ensuring that your content piece is positioned to become the most authoritative on that topic.

YouTube Video Ads

You're about to watch a video on YouTube when suddenly an ad starts playing and it sidetracks you because, surprisingly, it's just as interesting as the video you were about to watch.

Next thing you know you've discovered a whole new product, event, YouTube channel, or brand. This is a common scenario on YouTube and it's one of the keys to the site's success as an advertising platform.

Remarketing with Facebook Ads

Facebook ads are already a great way to appeal to targeted audiences based on a wide range of criteria. One way to further fine-tune your campaign and improve conversion rate is to remarket your Facebook ads to users who have already visited your website.

Taking this follow-up based approach ensures that you're making the most out of all potential leads who have previously expressed interest in your ad content.

Why You Should Hire a Growth Hacker

Let's face it, the average marketer would not have been able to come up with and implement most of the creative solutions mentioned in the above case studies.

Nowadays, gaining the competitive edge means doing something that hasn't been done before.

Growth hackers are able to facilitate such revolutionary marketing moves on a regular basis by leveraging their skills in coding, platform integration, task automation and data analysis.

Even if you already have a marketing team that handles all of your outreach and promotion, adding a growth hacker to the lineup will only improve your abilities to encourage growth via cutting edge technical methods.

Image Credit: Fizkes / Getty Images
Cody Bollerman
Cody Bollerman Member
Cody Bollerman is a entrepreneur with a wide range of experience founding Cody Bollerman Digital as San Diego Based Digital Marketing Consultancy along with serving as an officer for a home remodeling company. Currently he serves a consultant for E-commerce and Wordpress websites ranging from small to international operations. He is also involved in an SAAS construction based suite to offer solutions to General Contractors. His passions include international travel, the entrepreneurial space, surfing and the building industry.