Is Growth Hacking a Reliable Strategy?

by | Oct 15, 2015 | Growth hacking, Startups

If you’re in any way involved with a technology startup, fewer concepts are more polarizing than “growth hacking”.

The term was coined in 2010, but Aaron Ginn most famously defined the growth hacker as “One whose passion and focus is pushing a metric through use of a testable and scalable methodology.”

Sounds like a science, right? Not exactly; growth hacking is the effort of finding a way to “hack” or optimize for accelerated or accumulated online growth. It’s a sexy name now finding its way into job titles at hip startups across the country, but there’s no evidence to prove that growth hacking is a reliable process for continuous improvement on each product and service.

Silicon Valley has declared that coding and technical chops will now automatically make you a great marketer. “How do I sell my product?” is answered through A/B testing, landing pages, email deliverability stats, and viral factor.

Should marketing really become a team of engineers leading a team of engineers? Days of database queries and scenario modeling?

This is not to say that analytics and statistics cannot help us inform our marketing strategy. However, in the golden age of shiny software tools, it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture—the customer. Eventually, with a focus merely on statistical growth, a startup will fall off a cliff.

Sustainable growth programs are built on a core understanding of the value of your solution in the minds of your customers. Your “growth hacks” should actually provide a qualitative sense, allowing your client base to have the best experience possible and share that with more customers. Growth hacks built from this frame of mind are the ones that drive sustainable business – not the ones built on quick catch and release.

The Case for Growth Hacking

Every dollar counts, they say. Grow quickly—or you will be crushed by the competition.

It’s quite a stressful way to live and run a business, isn’t it?? It’s surgical, it’s as sanitary as antibacterial hand gel—but here’s why growth hackers think is the reason why their technique exists and does well:

  1. By studying website speed closely, you can improve conversion rates and therefore succeed in marketing.

Growth hackers are interested such minutiae as a 500ms page delay that drops website conversions by 10%. Again, what does this say long-term? How is this getting the customer closer to understanding why they need your product now?

  1. Make your homepage barebones—that way, your customers will understand what you need them to do.

Do you think your customers are really that simple? Of course, homepages are rich with images and copy and that’s their purpose—to direct the user where they need to go, showcasing different options. The idea that a barebones main website homepage with a simple call to action and a headline is effective is missing the point of customer engagement entirely.

This is understandable, maybe, for a landing page, but for the homepage of a company website? I think we’re trying to simplify too much in the name of numbers.

  1. It’s all about getting more users. And growth hacking can get you more users.

Is that really all it’s about? Are they the right users? Do they believe in your product? Will they become an ambassador for your product after they make the first purchase? Not necessarily. That first purchase may very well be their last. Artful marketing attracts users, but it pulls them in with a well-crafted message, engaging content and great customer service. Simply convincing someone to buy a product off of a landing page does not ensure that they will remember your brand and be attached to it enough to make another purchase in the future.

Common Sense Growth Hacking

Common sense growth hacking techniques include:

  1. Testimonials

Utilize the great things your clients have said about you. Post them on your website and social media profiles as applicable. Ask your biggest fans to rave about you on your Facebook page. There is nothing better than viral “word of mouth” in a consumer-driven market.

  1. Client Logos

Many companies put their esteemed clients’ logos on a special page or even within the footer of their website. We all know that buying choices are made upon influence—and if a successful client has worked with you, chances are, someone else will want to work with you, too.

  1. Use your social media and website analytics to inform your content marketing strategy.

If you know who your audience is, you can target that audience with specified content and boost loyal growth. If you know what your customer needs, and you meet that need, that’s sustainable growth in the most classic fashion.



The Flaw in the Growth Hacking Message

The understanding of numbers and digital marketing analytics alone will not necessarily prove you are a good marketer, nor will it ensure that your company or product will succeed. To insist that quick and especially sustainable growth is built by quantitative-based growth hacking techniques alone is missing the essence of marketing in the first place. Offer a great product or service, take care of your customer and staff, and you will be on your way to success, with no need to employ a professional growth hacker.


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