Growth hacking is a set of tactics pioneered by startups, using nontraditional (and often inexpensive, since startups are typically constrained by limited resources) marketing techniques to grow business as quickly as possible.
While this growth-above-all approach is especially crucial in a company’s earliest stages, companies large and small, established and brand-new can implement elements of growth hacking. Here are some dos and don’ts to keep in mind.
DO Set Specific, Actionable Goals for Growth Hacking
Your growth hacking goals should be specific, attainable, and measurable. A goal that’s too broad or vaguely defined is actually counterproductive. It’s hard to know where to start, and it’s difficult to see which pieces of your growth strategy are driving results. Rather than setting an unwieldy goal, break down a big goal into smaller, actionable tasks like a to-do list.
Ideally, these tasks should have a target number and an end date. Instead of “increasing site traffic,” for example, Neil Patel and Bronson Taylor of Quicksprout suggest a goal like increasing site users’ own content creation by 2%. To attain that goal, they set several subgoals including sending email campaigns to promote their content creation feature and making users’ content more prominent on the website. For their site, that increase in content creation then led to an increase in overall traffic—meeting the original goal, but in smaller, trackable steps.
Use the acronym S.M.A.R.T. to help define growth goals: your goals should be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.
DON’T Neglect Your Analytics
The best growth hacking strategies come from an experimental approach. To recap the scientific method from elementary school science class: you make observations which lead to a question, make a hypothesis about the answer to this question, create testable predictions, collect data, and then use your data to measure how accurate your hypothesis was.
In a growth hacking scenario, trying out a new growth mechanism is your experiment. For instance, maybe you’ve seen from analytics that your site traffic is high, but that your conversion rate (number of visitors becoming subscribers or buyers) is a low percentage of visitors. Maybe a two-way referral program would prompt more customers to make the leap and buy. Make realistic predictions about what will happen when you offer the referral and plan how you will measure results. Analytics are the data which shows you the success (or lack thereof) of the experiments that are your marketing campaigns. They tell you what’s working and what isn’t. With analytics, you’ll be able to track whether (and how much) your activation rates improve with the referral program.
DO Offer a Free Trial
Many big-name companies such as Netflix and Hulu have had success with offering a free trial period to new customers. Others, like Dropbox, give customers free access to a “lite” version of their service. In either case, a free test run can get customers hooked on your product or service —to the point that they’ll be willing to pay for it later.
DON’T Release a Product Without Testing
One of the major values of growth hacking is speed—but don’t be so eager to get your product or service out there that it’s not ready for prime time when consumers access it. You want to discover your product’s flaws yourself (and have opportunity to address them), not have your customers find them.
Once you’ve done significant testing in-house, beta testing can help you continue to refine your product, as well as getting customers interested early on and build word-of-mouth buzz about your product.
DO Reward Customers
Everybody likes to be rewarded. You can offer your customers incentives for taking the plunge from free trial to paid service, signing up for your mailing list, sharing your product with their social networks, referring a friend, writing a review… Any customer behavior you’d like to encourage can be given a little friendly push with incentives.
These incentives may take the form of discounts, giveaway entries, percentages back on referrals, points earned towards freebies, and much more. Be creative; come up with incentives suited to the personalities of your company and your audience alike.
DON’T Wear Out Your Growth Mechanisms
Know the limits of your growth mechanisms. Some will only work for a short period of time, or at a specific phase of your service or product: incentives for early adoption obviously only work in the early stages. Keep testing your methods and adjusting accordingly. As the effectiveness of a particular strategy fades, phase it out in favor of something newer.
DO Invite Feedback from Customers
Analytics give you mostly quantitative information about how customers are responding to your product and your growth strategies. But customer feedback gives you qualitative information. Build a feedback feature into your site, or set up customer surveys with a tool such as Qualaroo, Survey Monkey, or Yotpo. For a more engaging experience for your customers, schedule live chats or Q&As on your social media channels.
Even the unfortunate but inevitable event of a customer quitting your service (or even your mailing list) can be an opportunity to request their feedback. Exit interviews (via the same survey tools you have set up for reviews, as a pop-up on your site, or built into your mailing list unsubscribe tool) can tell you what’s causing your customers to jump ship and give you a point of reference for improving customer satisfaction.
DO Have Patience
Growth hacking requires a lot of trial and error. Many of the growth mechanisms you attempt won’t yield staggering results. But the ones that don’t work well can tell you just as much about your business and your customers as the ones that do. If at first you don’t succeed, be willing to try again (and again), and use analytics to continue fine-tuning your approach. It’s also important to give each strategy a little breathing room (a few weeks minimum) to gain traction and show results.
You also may never see a “breakthrough” moment in your company’s growth—but that’s okay. Consistent incremental growth over time is valuable, too.
What You Can Do Right Now
- Review your current analytics and look for new ways to measure growth.
- Set actionable goals for your company’s growth this month, this quarter, and this year.
- Create a survey for current customers to determine what’s working and where you can improve.