When Growth Hacking Doesn't Work

3 Reasons Why Growth Hacking Isn’t Working For You

Facebook. Netflix. Twitter. Airbnb. Dropbox. Uber. Growth hacking—innovative, inexpensive, and digitally based marketing strategies designed to build a large customer base as quickly as possible—is a huge factor in the success of these (and many more) start-up companies that are now household names. And growth hacking itself is growing rapidly too, as more and more companies see its potential for exponential growth and begin implementing its outside-the-box principles in their own marketing plans.

But—unsurprisingly, given its values of creativity and pushing boundaries—growth hacking can be risky. Sometimes attempts fizzle out before gaining any real traction . . . and before giving a company the much-needed boost it’s hoping for. Here are three reasons why you might not be seeing results from your growth hacking strategies, and how to prevent these pitfalls.

Pitfall #1: You’re Not Tracking and Implementing Analytics

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg famously encourages his employees to “Move fast and break things.” Like Zuckerberg, other growth hackers embrace a mindset of trial and error and experimentation, looking at failures as important steps along the way to success. The key is to learn as much as you can from all of your attempts, even if they crash and burn (especially if they crash and burn). Without adequately and accurately measuring the results of various campaigns, then using that information to refine your efforts, your growth hacking attempts will be shots in the dark.

Think of your growth hacking strategies as experiments. A well-designed experiment measures results and tracks data in order to prove or disprove a hypothesis, or to answer a question. It’s the same with trying out a new growth mechanism: you need to set a measurable goal (ideally one that’s time-bound) and track progress towards that goal.

Your analytics are the data from your experiments. Use that information to tweak your current campaign and to inform the next one. If your latest campaign was successful, how can you scale it up? If it struggled, what can you change next time?

Pitfall #2: You Have Lots of Visitors, But Not Enough Buyers

Perhaps you’re starting to see plenty of visitors to your site, but no corresponding bump in conversion (also called “activation”)—the numbers of customers actually making purchases or subscribing to your service. All that traffic is valuable in and of itself, but without enough paying customers, your company will quickly be in the red.

Just like in traditional sales, you can think of your customer conversion process through growth hacking in terms of a funnel. The mouth of the funnel represents growing awareness of your company and bringing a large number of visitors to your site. But that’s only the first step: you must then get visitors to become buyers or subscribers, and then long-term, committed customers. And customers won’t move through this funnel themselves; they need you to guide them.

How do you do that? Many quick-fix strategies for upping conversion rates lie in website design. Keep navigation intuitive and not too cluttered, and create copywriting that’s clear and approachable. Include brief customer testimonials and ratings as social proof backing your product. Particularly when designing landing pages—pages where customers are directed from social media or advertising campaigns—make sure there’s a single call to action with strong wording, such as “create your free account” or “start sharing now.” Explicitly include any relevant incentive or discount (“start your free month!”). And make a subscribe or buy link an obvious, clickable button.

Your onboarding (the process of signing up for an account with your site) is another thing to consider when looking to increase activation. This process should be straightforward and painless to ensure that visitors will continue all the way to the end. If onboarding takes too long or is confusing, they may bail before completing sign-up. If your site has a community component, integrate connecting with other users into onboarding. Make it easy and intuitive for new users to move quickly from creating an account to actually using it.

Pitfall #3: The Product Itself Isn’t Stellar

Growth hacking is all about catalyzing organic customer buzz around your product or service. But if your product or service doesn’t live up to the hype you are trying to create around it, your growth will suffer. Consumers need to connect with and believe in your company to become loyal customers themselves, let alone share your product with others.

If you’re looking at your metrics and wondering why your growth mechanisms aren’t going anywhere, consider whether your product is the best it can be. Growth-hacking guru Sean Ellis suggests that a startup’s initial spending should be about 95% investment in creating the product, 5% in marketing. It may be that you have jumped the gun on marketing and not put enough time or resources into developing your product.

Realistically and honestly evaluate your product’s strengths and weaknesses. What feedback did you receive from beta testers prior to launch, and did you thoroughly integrate that feedback into your product development? Did you do enough testing, or should you do another round (or a few more rounds)? Listen for red flags in the feedback you’re getting in reviews and on social media—what concerns do consumers have about your product? How can you address those concerns?

If your product itself is the problem, it’s best to take a step back and re-invest the time and resources you’re putting into marketing back to refining the product. Later on when your offering is stronger, you can once again reallocate spending to increase your marketing investment.

Remember, one of the guiding principles of growth hacking is that failure is valuable. A disappointing campaign can teach you a lot about your strategies, your audience, and your product. Be willing to approach even growth-hacking setbacks as opportunities.

What You Can Do Right Now to Improve Your Growth Hacking Strategy

Don’t let your next growth hacking effort go to waste. Do these three things right now to start making the most of your startup marketing strategy:

  • Review your analytics and look for ways to implement what you learn.
  • Look for ways to make call to actions on your landing pages more clear.
  • Simplify your onboarding process to avoid losing new users halfway through.
  • Determine one area where your current product has room for improvement.
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