Growth Hacking 101: Experts Share Examples, Strategies and Tactics Live

Sean Ellis, left, is the man widely credited with inventing the term growth hacker. He defined a growth hacker as "a person whose true north is growth. Everything they do is scrutinized by its potential impact on scalable growth." (Image source)
by stephen.zorio

By Stephen M Zorio

If growth hacking is a term you are not intimately (or even passingly) familiar with, you can be forgiven. The term itself didn't exist until 2010 when it was coined by Sean Ellis. And, using Google as a yard stick, it didn't gain critical mass until late in 2013.

While the notion itself is still somewhat nascent, the idea has been embraced by brands and marketers across the spectrum.

So what is growth hacking? How does it differ from traditional marketing and what can you accomplish with it?

Read on to learn what 
Dan-ya Shwartz, growth hacker at EverythingMeSara Marska-Maj, a growth hacker, web analytics and user acquisition specialist at Growth Republic; and Jacek Blaut, lead growth hacker and inbound marketer at Growth Republic had to say about the burgeoning business of growth hacking.

Q: Define growth hacking: What is the best way to explain it and how does it differ from traditional marketing?

For me, growth hacking is ... confusing for everyone not familiar with the term. I understand it as an approach towards company growth. By approach I mean looking at every step of the AARRR (user acquisition -> activation -> retention -> referral -> revenue) funnel. That's how it might be perceived different[ly] from marketing.  Of course, it comes with something else that makes it different from marketing. Growth hacking is a mix of technical skillset, marketing creativity and data analysis. -- Jacek Blaut

So let's say what growth hacking isn't in my opinion. It's not a technique, it's not something you can always define easily. It's a mindset and as Jacek said an approach. It's absolute focus on growth that in every case requires different thinking, tools, ideas, all based on analysis. -- Sara Marska-Maj

For me it's mainly a mix of skills and methods -- and this is why people get confused. Each GH [growth hacker] does things a little different. We are ALL focused on growth, we use our personal strength differently. -- Dan-ya Shwartz

Growth hacking IMO goes a little bit further than normal marketing. Thanks to the mix of skills (tech/data/content/etc), [growth hackers are] able to see more opportunities. The idea of a growth hacker (or a growth team) is to work cross-divisionally, meaning marketing, PR, product, finance etc -- Jacek Blaut

Q: What do you say to critics who contend growth hacking is little more than a buzz word?

Sometimes it is. The thing is that growth hacking seems to be medicine for all, so many people overuse it. They say that Airbnb grew only thanks to growth hacking (integration with Craigslist) but apart from that genius thing, it took them couple of years to grow. Nevertheless growth hackers and growth teams have real influence how startups grow. -- Jacek Blaut

This post touched off something of a firestorm in the growth hacking community.
by stephen.zorio

First, I agree with Danny Sullivan that SEO, SEM or social media marketing isn't growth hacking and if he thinks that's what we do, I'm not suprised he's annoyed. Growth hacking is so much more and yes, sometimes it contains SEO, SEM techniques, sometimes it doesn't at all. I don't think that if something was done before the term "growth hacking" was coined, we can't call it growth hacking. -- Sara Marska-Maj

Q: So now that we have a sense of what growth marketing is (and is not), can you cite some examples?

I really like Twitter, mostly because it's not only about acquisition (of course it was a result at some point) but more about directing people to A-HA moment. It is great cause it's based solely on analytics and the solution was really simple yet extremely  effective. A lot of people were signing up to Twitter but not many of them were active. Analytics showed that most active users are the ones who are following minimum 5 people on twitter, that's why new users are forced to follow few account as a part of on-boarding process. -- Sara Marska-Maj

My personal favorite from the past few years is LinkedIn gamification. Lets face it - endorsement was a boring feature and it became a fun game - IMO that's a splendid hack + the marketing email with the title "Your profile is one of the 15% most viewed profile of 2013" (loosely quoted) was an amazing email campaign. -- Dan-Ya Shwartz

One of my favourite is PayPal and how they used Ebay to grow. Once they discovered that Ebay is the platform they can leverage, they came up with this brilliant idea of their own bots buying various stuff around Ebay and then sending the seller an email (automatic) demanding payment option with PayPal. -- Jacek Blaut

Q: Is it imperative that growth hackers know how to code?

IMO the growth hacker should be able to code or should know what is possible to do with someone who does. When you have a growth team, there is no need for everyone to be able to code. The point is, some growth hacks are more technical, some not. There are more and more online products that let you work without coding (like Zapier). -- Jacek Blaut

I read code and write SQL and some Python. I agree with Jacek -- as long as you are aware of limitations or better yet, possibilities - you're fine. -- Dan-Ya Shwartz

Among the myths debunked in 'The Definitive Guide to Growth Hacking' is the notion that traditional marketers are not meant to be growth hackers.
by stephen.zorio

Some of the greatest minds in growth hacking, and even a person who created the term, don't code. It of course makes things a lot easier if he don't have to ask anyone to code what he wants, but I don't think it's obligatory. Although knowing what can and what can't be done is really important to even come up with right ideas for the product. -- Sara Marska-Maj

Q: What can companies reasonably expect from growth hacking? How effective are "one-minute" hacks?

One minute hacks are effective, but very often "one-minute" effective. What will make you grow is a long term strategy. The strategy starts with defining a goal, implementing the measurement for KPIs you want, and testing testing testing various ideas. -- Jacek Blaut

The biggest limitation of all is a product itself. Growth hacking teams can improve your product, they can have great ideas on how to grow it, but if the idea of your product isn't meeting the needs of your target group, then even the best growth hackers can't do much about it. -- Sara Marska-Maj

Q: How much failure is tolerable for growth hacking teams?

I LOVE failing. I think failure is what keeps me going. In the words of our Co-Founder and CMO: 'If 6 out of 10 of your ideas work, it's a miracle.' It's all about keep doing and keep thinking and never be afraid to get creative. Some ideas fail when still on paper and some fail after the users respond. I personally love that. -- Dan-Ya Swhartz

I don't think failure is acceptable at all. Just like failure in a surgery is not acceptable, but in both cases it happens, more often than we would like. It's a best way to learn a analyze your failure and fix your mistakes next  time. That's how we learn. -- Sara Marska-Maj

For more on growth hacking, including how to measure success, how to get your boss to buy in to the concept and more, check out the chat in its entirety.

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