If you’ve ever sat through a long sales meeting, you know the talk can be dry, the numbers fudged, and the coffee stale. But sales are the backbone of business, and sales growth is on just about every business owner’s objectives list at the beginning of a fiscal year.
Growing sales doesn’t have to be drudgery, and it definitely doesn’t have to be old-school. Boosting growth can be as easy as hijacking the marketing funnel to reach new customers in unexpected ways.
If that sounds like fun, you might be ready for growth hacking.
Overview: What is growth hacking?
Growth hacking is a segment of marketing that focuses on quick growth. Originally focused on small startups that need to grow quickly with few resources, it can be a smart strategy for small businesses. But you must be willing to put some time, research, and thought behind your outreach and promotions.
Growth hackers use creative, grassroots, low-cost strategies to attract and retain customers. Today, that means a focus on social media and email marketing.
Although growth hacking often falls under the marketing plan, the difference between the two is that growth hackers utilize the entire funnel, while marketers focus more on awareness. Growth hackers use data to drive “fail-fast” experiments that help them figure out what works so they can do more of it.
Although growth hacking first became a thing in 2010, it’s still going strong, appealing to the tech world’s penchant for agile methodology as well as the gig economy’s entrepreneurial spirit.
How growth hacking works
- Gather ideas: Brainstorm creative experiments for attracting new customers.
- Rank ideas: Prioritize ideas that have a high return on investment (ROI).
- Outline experiments: Identify the steps needed to carry out the experiment as quickly as possible.
- Work: Execute the experiment in 2 to 4 weeks.
- Study: Analyze the experiment’s results. If successful, implement your idea; if not, learn from what went wrong and gather ideas for what to try next.
For most of your growth marketing experiments, you should be able to leverage some of the sales and marketing tools and software that you already own. Because growth hacking covers the entire sales funnel, you can integrate the technology you use for acquisition, activation, retention, revenue, and referral activities.
That means your customer relationship management (CRM), marketing automation, and email marketing software all may play a role in various hacking techniques.
Additionally, if you outsource your marketing activity, it is easy to integrate your experiments with ongoing marketing campaigns, whether by tweaking copy, adding hashtags, or linking to new content.
Is growth hacking right for your business?
If you’re not sure if your SMB marketing plan is ready for growth hacks, ask yourself these questions:
Have you done your research? No matter how great your business idea may be, you need to do some legwork to make sure you understand your customer, competitors, market, industry, and marketing channels. The key to growth hacking is data-driven experimentation; without data, you have no basis for your experimental ideas, so every effort will be a stab in the dark. That kind of marketing is a waste of money.
Do people love your product or service? If not, you might want to tinker with your design or your business model first. The idea behind growth hacking is for customers to recommend your brand; if there’s fault with your deliverable, even the most innovative growth hacking experiment won’t produce groundswell — at least not the positive kind.
How big is your target market? Growth hacking is meant to get you in front of the most customers for the least amount of money. Because of its experimental nature, you may find yourself in front of lots of people who will never be interested in what you’re selling. That’s OK, though, because you’ll also reach a large pool of potential customers. But if you offer a niche product or service, your money is better spent on methodical, individualized outreach to potential customers.
Do you have the bandwidth to fulfill increased demand? If your growth hacking strategy succeeds and orders pour in, can you produce enough widgets to deliver those orders in a timely manner? If you offer a service, do you have enough employees to ensure you drive new projects and offer superior service to every client? If you are not ready to scale your business, growth hacking might not be for you.
5 growth hacking strategies your business can try
Growth hacking is less about budget and more about creativity. It’s also about understanding what your customers need and how you can help them.
You already may have tried some of the easiest hacking techniques without realizing it — starting hashtag trends on Twitter or launching a photo challenge on Instagram. All it takes is a little bit of time and some out-of-the-box thinking to find a hack that works for your customers and business.
1. Find influencers
With the rise of social media, “influencer” has become a legitimate career and life goal. Getting a mention or shoutout from one of these internet celebrities can gain your brand the loyalty of their hundreds of thousands of followers.
While big-name social media influencers may be beyond your budget, you can get your name floated to your target audience by offering bloggers some free stuff. Begin by following blogs in your market space and making thoughtful comments to build a relationship. You may want to link to the blogger’s posts from your website to provide them with much-appreciated backlinks.
Once they see you interact with them, you can reach out directly and ask them to do a guest blog post on your site or simply to review your product. To make it even easier, tag the products in your online shop “free for bloggers — contact us.” Most bloggers will review or at least write about your product, service, or website once you’ve sent them the product, which helps you get in front of their regular readers.
2. Double referrals
One of the easiest ways to get new customers is to have existing satisfied customers refer them. We’ve all received these emails or pop-ups on websites: “Tell three friends for a chance to win a trip to Paris” or “Recommend us to a friend and we’ll send you a $10 gift card.”
The best example of this growth hacking strategy was carried out by cloud storage provider , which offered users additional free storage for linking their account to Twitter or Facebook and posting about Dropbox on those sites. The hack resulted in 2 million invitations to join sent in a single month.
To make referrals even more effective, offer a benefit to the customer who refers you as well as the person receiving the referral. Not only does this incentivize the recipient to become a customer but you’ve taken your first step toward building brand loyalty.
3. Run contests
Sure, contests have been part of marketing strategy since the beginning of time, but growth hacking contests are not your grandma’s door prize.
The idea of growth hacking is to engage with potential customers in a way that makes your brand memorable and keeps them thinking about you long after they fill out a sweepstakes form.
Since most of today’s giveaways have high-price items as the winning ticket, feel free to make your contest a bit of a challenge. Have players earn points for completing tasks, awarding the top prize to the contestant who collects the most points by deadline.
This kind of game will keep players returning to your website or social media account regularly. Plus, you can incorporate tasks that surreptitiously recruit contestants to promote your brand, such as “Post a photo of your dog wearing our product and win 5 bonus points!”
Media company successfully employed this tactic when it was raising money to publish its first book. Using a tool called Upviral, contestants earned points for carrying out a variety of promotional activities, competing for three top prizes. The contest attracted hundreds of new backers, thousands of email subscribers, and four times the company’s Kickstarter goal.
4. Better, more personable content
If you don’t offer people a reason to hang around your website, they won’t. That means they might miss your Labor Day sale or the opening of your new location.
Give people a reason to interact with you, and they’ll come back to your site even if they aren’t ready to buy at that moment. In the past, this meant writing an entertaining, informative blog. And yes, that’s still a good draw if you have great info to share and a compelling writing style.
But growth hacking takes off when people feel like they have a personal relationship with you. Foster those good feelings by offering content that seems like it was created with them in mind. And remember, they want to do business with a person they’d want to meet for a beer.
So, offer them help with their most pressing problems or create a weekly video of yourself doing something wacky. Use your personality to build your brand’s personality, and customers will feel like they know you.
In other words, give the people what they want:
- Downloadable tools and templates to help them do their work better and faster (think reference infographics and calculators)
- Polls and surveys that automatically update once they’ve cast their vote
- How-to videos or animations
- Freemium versions of products or services you offer, which they can upgrade later
This type of content builds trust between you and your customers. Once they feel like they know you, they’ll believe they have a stake in your success, and the seeds of brand loyalty will have been planted.
5. Free cupcakes
We’ve covered contests. We’ve covered free stuff. Now we’re covering free food, because that’s the world we live in now.
And not just any food, but cupcakes. People like brands that like cupcakes. Cupcake giveaways actually showed up several times in the research for this story.
The greatest example of this growth hack is analytics software company RJ Metrics (now owned by Adobe by way of ). It gave away $50 worth of cupcakes, earning tons of social media mentions from people trying to win the cupcakes and many more from the people who won them.
Following the cupcake giveaway, the company attempted to award iPads, but that contest was not as successful, so it went back to offering cupcakes.
That’s right. Customers preferred a dozen cupcakes to a silly iPad. Priorities, people.
Fail fast, grow big
The more you incorporate growth hacking techniques into your marketing campaigns, the easier it will be to come up with creative experiments, and the more fun you’ll have doing it. It’s a cost-effective and impactful way to support any omnichannel marketing approach, and it allows you to try offbeat ideas from which you can quickly pivot if you find they’re not working.