Whether you work in marketing or you’re just on the lookout for creative ways to grow your business, chances are you’ve come across the term “growth hacking.” You might have even tried out a few “hacks” for yourself. Truth is, the term “hack” is misleading. It suggests we’re using programming skills to “hack” the system for faster growth, which isn’t quite accurate. I prefer to talk about growth marketing – a facet of marketing that uses scalable tactics and testing to grow a business fast. But how is this different from what any other marketer does? In most cases, the key difference between a “marketer” and a “growth marketer” is the range of their focus. As a general rule, “marketers” concentrate on things like brand awareness, website visibility, and new customer acquisition. “Growth marketers,” however, will look at every aspect of the customer journey – including (critically) what happens after someone buys. Image Credit Growth marketers will also use the product as the catalyst for growth, whereas marketers tend to look at customer acquisition more holistically. “Growth hacking focuses on product to move the needle.” Kate Harvey, Chargify Of course, the disciplines overlap, and the end goal for all marketers is the same – to grow a business – but this doesn’t mean marketers will automatically be effective at growth marketing. For that, you’ll need these three things:

1. Comfort with different channels

Many marketers have their preferred channels for driving traffic or new leads. They’re comfortable using these channels and they’ve gotten good results with them on more than one occasion, so they think, “Why rock the boat?” This is shortsighted, and when it comes to growth, massively limiting. Good growth marketers know they have to diversify the channels they use; that a hunger to keep trying something new is essential. What’s worked before won’t necessarily work again. Your product or audience might be different, or the channel itself could have changed (just think about how Facebook’s organic reach has declined over the years). Image Credit A good growth marketer’s arsenal will include a whole bunch of different channels. This might include everything from email and paid ads to viral referral loops and influencer marketing – and a whole lot more in between. They’ll constantly be exploring and experimenting with new channels, too. First off, they’ll use a mixture of experience and experimentation to establish one scalable channel that moves the needle. Once that’s in place and driving growth, they’ll test out new channels alongside it. If you want to be effective at growth marketing, it’s essential that you too get comfortable using lots of different channels concurrently and are able to keep pace with how those channels are changing (both in terms of the channels themselves, and the impact they’re having on your client or business).

2. Agility

Being able to switch between tasks and react fast to changing landscapes – in other words, to be agile – is essential for growth marketers. “Agile, in the marketing context, means using data and analytics to continuously source promising opportunities or solutions to problems in real time, deploying tests quickly, evaluating the results, and rapidly iterating. At scale, a high-functioning agile marketing organization can run hundreds of campaigns simultaneously and multiple new ideas every week.” Jason Heller, David Edelman and Steven Spittaels for McKinsey This is because growth marketing is a very experimental discipline. Most of the time you’ll be working on a new brand, and you’re not going to know how this brand matches up to different channels and how effective those channels will be at driving that brand’s growth. You can make an educated guess based on past experience and information other marketers have shared, but that’s it. It’s just an educated guess. A growth marketer’s job is to find out what actually works for the brand they’re growing, and to switch it up quickly when something fails to deliver. This means performing tests and trying out new channels in short sprints, while getting comfortable making informed decisions at speed. You have to be prepared to work on different tasks day-to-day and even hour-to-hour. You might be split testing landing page elements one day, working on top-of-the-funnel content the next, and reducing churn the day after that. If you’re not happy working on such a diverse range of tasks and swapping between them as needed, you’re probably not cut out for growth marketing.

3. A focus on the full funnel

A good growth marketer recognizes that not all website visitors or prospects are created equal – that each one has different pain points and is at a different stage of the buying cycle. Of course, we can’t create a strategy that targets each visitor or prospect individually, so we have to find some way of grouping them together. This is where the sales funnel comes in. Image Credit A sales funnel groups prospects according to their position in the sales cycle. At the top of the funnel are those that are aware they have a “problem” but they don’t know how to resolve it. These are also people who have never been exposed to the brand. For myself, a prospect at the top of the sales funnel would be someone who wants to grow their company, but has no idea how. At the bottom of the funnel are qualified leads – someone that is genuinely considering becoming a customer. This generally means they have made an inquiry, or, depending on the product, started a trial. Effective growth marketing considers the whole funnel. Focusing on a single stage is going to hold back a brand’s growth significantly. It either means you’re not working to draw in new potential leads, or you’re not doing enough to convert those leads into customers. That said, there’s a trick to targeting the sales funnel, something that can speed up how quickly you grow. When implementing a growth-based marketing strategy, most marketers start from the top of the sales funnel. That’s logical – get people to your site, and try to convert them later – but it’s wrong. Instead, try starting further down the funnel. Target those who are most likely to buy, and then try to convert them. To do this, you might use:
  • Paid ads (both in the SERPs and on social media – particularly Facebook).
  • Retargeting campaigns.
  • Drip campaigns.
  • Display ads.
Only once you have a steady stream of new customers from this strategy should you work your way up the sales funnel and target those at the start of the sales process (i.e. those who know they have a problem, but not how to fix it). To do this, you might use:
  • Blog content (especially 10x content).
  • Podcasting
  • Video content and guides.
  • Creating content for other industry sites (primarily guest posts).
Will you get results if you start at the top of the funnel? Yeah, probably. After all, the most important thing is to ensure you’re working on the full funnel – but you’ll get better results, faster, if you start from the bottom and work your way up. What do you think are the most important elements needed for effective growth marketing? Let me know what you think in the comments below.