Mohamed Abdelbaki | October 28th, 2020

From buying a turmeric shot to boost your immune system to wrapping your favourite beverage with wet paper towel for a faster chill, it’s human nature to look for the fastest, cheapest or easiest way to achieve our goals. And for businesses, especially start-ups, finding quick ways to attract new customers on a limited budget could be the difference between success or failure.

Certainly, if your business is centred around an online platform, building your user base as rapidly as possible can help keep costs down, increase revenue, and possibly raise more capital. But it’s not just for young businesses: large, established companies are also looking at new ways to grow and retain customers. This has perhaps been most obvious in recent years in the banking and financial services sector, with virtual banks and fintech companies racing to convert customers to the new online business model.

But how you work towards achieving that exponential growth is the hard part. That is where growth hacking comes in.

What is growth hacking?

Growth hacking is typically associated with mass user acquisition. The aim is to scale a business quickly and cheaply, using the scientific process of testing an idea, measuring empirical results, and adjusting as necessary. For instance, to encourage new-user registrations, a business might offer a referral incentive to existing users. Success is easily measured by tracking the number of new users acquired. If the hack is successful, the decision is then either to scale (perhaps by increasing the incentive) or expand it across more platforms and channels. If it's unsuccessful, the company goes back to the drawing board for a new idea.

The e-commerce space is fertile ground for growth-hackers with the focus often on Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO), the practice of achieving a higher rate of conversions (i.e. sales from visitors). Simplifying the check-out process like Amazon’s 1-Click checkout, integrating with a local payment app, or even a simple website design tweak making for an easier user experience are all types of growth hacks.

However, growth hacking is not infallible. Expecting growth hacks alone to deliver stellar results consistently is unrealistic. It won't help if you don't have a quality product with a clear value proposition that addresses a real need. To be sustainable, hacks must also be coupled with a well-thought out marketing strategy. If your viral TikTok video managed to pull a few thousand users to your platform, but your users end up having a poor experience, they’re likely to desert you, and no number of videos can fix that.

What underpins successful growth hacking?

Growth hacking is a supplement to, not a substitute, for, the following vital aspects of any growth strategy:

1. Understand your objectives: What is it that you are trying to achieve? And how does that translate into a user action - that is, do you want your customers to do that contributes to, if not achieves, the objective? Is it to sign up to your platform or subscribe to your webinar/newsletter? And importantly, what metrics will you use to measure success?

2. Understand your client personas: It’s important to understand what interests your customers, what values they hold, what content they use and how they engage with it. The more information you have, the easier it becomes to make the connections, and uncover growth hacking opportunities. But the groundwork must be done to understand their idiosyncrasies before hacks will present themselves.

3. Develop a coherent marketing strategy: Finding “hacks” is great, but what are you going to do in the meantime? Growth-hacking is primarily a set of tactics that cannot and should not replace a properly developed marketing strategy. Build out your strategy and then employ growth-hacks in your marketing mix where possible.

4. Be realistic: Short-cuts are great, but they’re not going to apply to every business model, service or product.

What does this mean for marketers? They will need to work even more closely with product and sales teams, and together stay vigilant for faster, cheaper, and smarter ways to grow.
At the same time, growth hacking only works as part of a well thought out marketing strategy, and when the product, service or user experience meet customer expectations. Ultimately, that’s the hard truth about growth hacking.

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