CMO Julian Weisser on What Content Marketers Can Learn About Growth Hacking Live

Growth hacking means product, promotion and customer success. It means ownership of more than just marketing. The practice is crucial to the scaling of the product and the company. Growth hacking is part product, part promotion, and the balance between the two changes frequently. -- DNADietPlans CMO Julian Weisser

Julian Weisser, CMO at DNADietPlans.com spoke to ScribbleLive’s Engage Magazine about his experience with growth hacking, strategies and how it fits into the marketing world. He participated in Engage’s live chat on whether growth hacking really works on Sept. 17, with Morgan Brown, head of growth at TrueVault and Qualaroo; Casey Armstrong, a full-stack marketer who focuses on customer acquisition; and Lincoln Murphy, a Customer Success Evangelist at Gainsight.


DNADietPlans CMO Julian Weisser



Q: What does growth hacking mean to you? Does growth hacking specifically mean distributing, creating a buzz and getting customers around your product, software or service?

Julian Weisser: Growth hacking means product, promotion and customer success. It means ownership of more than just marketing. The practice is crucial to the scaling of the product and the company. Growth hacking is part product, part promotion, and the balance between the two changes frequently. One moment I’m optimizing an email for shareability and the next, I’m walking through a product iteration alongside Kyle Billings, our UX architect, with the objective of inspiring DNADietPlans users to achieve their diet and fitness goals.

"Growth hackers build stickiness and engines of growth into their products while also promoting using more traditional marketing strategies."

The most important aspect of growth hacking is customer/user success. Imagine if a Dropbox user was unable to sync his or her folder or Yelp failed someone searching for a good vegetarian restaurant -- spending time promoting the product would have little impact. You need a product that is life-changing. This is ultimately what will cause a product to spread quickly. Going further, the user should be devastated if the product you’ve built were to disappear from their life -- that’s when you know you’re onto something!


Q: How does growth hacking differ from marketing?

JW: Traditionally speaking, marketers often worked to promote a product and business model that was already fleshed out. Growth hackers build stickiness and engines of growth into their products while also promoting using more traditional marketing strategies.

"Growth hacking is part product, part promotion, and the balance between the two changes frequently. One moment I’m optimizing an email for shareability and the next I’m walking through a product iteration."

Q: Why do companies and people use growth hacking tactics?

JW: Because shouting doesn’t work anymore and inbound marketing is only part of the picture. It is essential that teams think about how and why a product will spread.

Q: Is growth hacking here to stay? Will this become a new standard way of distribution or do we have a long way to go before it’s fully formed?

JW: The terminology may change, but the concept of building engines of growth into your business won’t. The methods of promotion and distribution will change as the platforms and channels do. The majority of the promotion I do for my blog Weisser.io is via Twitter, but there’s the possibility that a more effective platform comes along five years from now and my efforts are shifted to another method. I think this is one of the most exciting aspects about building and spreading something; there are always new tools to improve what you do.


Q: What has been your experience with growth hacking?

JW: I started out doing biz dev for a long-deceased sharing analytics startup out of MIT. From there, I co-founded a company, but we never found product-market-fit. That made it hard to do growth hacking -- first you need the seeds of an amazing product which you people will love -- without that, you’re dead on arrival.

After stepping away from that idea, I got into consulting and helped people do conversion rate optimization (sexy!). I stumbled into the DNADietPlans team by chance while I was meeting my friend Adriana Palma (who runs social media for Sony Music Centroamérica) in a coffee shop. I wasn’t looking to join a startup because consulting was going well, but the team (previously at Facebook, Harvard Med, NIH, etc) and the idea (DNA-based diet and fitness recommendations) were both too exciting to pass up.

DNADietPlans offers something truly compelling -- the ability to learn what your 'super foods' are based on your DNA. As one investor put it, 'When you see someone else’s food recommendations, you cannot help but want to know what yours are.' That is a growth hacker’s dream!

"Make an ask. If you don’t ask someone to give you their email or tell their friends they’ll be less likely to do so."

Q: If you were to name top strategies with growth hacking, what would a handful of those be?

JW: Make an ask. If you don’t ask someone to give you their email or tell their friends they’ll be less likely to do so.

Make it easy. If you ask someone to give their email address, make it an easy decision (be clear about the value they are getting in return). If you’re asking them to share with their friends make it as simple as possible (an example: 'click to tweet' links - try one out and read how to make them).

The biggest takeaway for aspiring growth hackers should be this: If you work on a product that you don’t believe will enables user success or delight, you are fighting a losing battle. Worse, if the product sucks, you might end up getting blamed for it not spreading even though it’s impossible to get something unremarkable to spread.

"Content marketing is just one piece of the growth hacking puzzle, so make sure you have a team working on the other pieces if that is your sole focus."

Q: Do you need to be a developer or have UX/UI skills to pull off growth hacking? If you’re a content marketer, what should you be focused on in trying to achieve growth hacking?

JW: You need to understand product and be able to get your hands dirty, but you don’t need to be an expert developer. Being able to communicate effectively with developers, designers, etc is crucial no matter what role you play in a startup. Content marketing is just one piece of the growth hacking puzzle, so make sure you have a team working on the other pieces if that is your sole focus.

"The biggest takeaway for aspiring growth hackers should be this: If you work on a product that you don’t believe will enables user success or delight, you are fighting a losing battle. Worse, if the product sucks, you might end up getting blamed for it not spreading even though it’s impossible to get something unremarkable to spread."

Q: Why are distribution skills and the ability to do well at it so critical? We talk about content marketers who must be able to tell a good story, write well, create engagement and build relationships.

JW: What makes ‘content' spread? Either it resonates with the person who encounters it, causing them to spread it, or there is an incentive for someone to spread it to their audience. Do both, and you’re really onto something!

Q: Why is distribution and growth hacking so critical as part of this toolkit?

JW: I’ll leave you with a popular quote by William Gibson (He also coined the term ‘cyberspace').: 'The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed.'

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