What is Growth Hacking?


Growth hacking. It might sound a little like it's another throwaway buzzword that marketers use that's trendy but has no real meaning. While there are lots of terms like that - terms I try to avoid - growth hacking isn't one of them.

Growth hacking is simply a broad, umbrella term for strategies that focus solely on growth. Almost any business can benefit from it, but it's especially effective, and important, for young start-ups who need to generate great growth fast but also don't have huge budgets to devote to it.

The basic goals behind growth hacking are simple. To acquire as many customers, clients or users as fast as possible on a smaller budget. That's it. Well, there's more to it than that, as you'll discover, but it's a real, viable practice, not just another bit of made-up marketing shtick.

What is a Growth Hacker?

A growth hacker is the person - or people - who brainstorm and execute the lower-cost strategies that lead both to rapid growth and eventual customer retention. Occasionally you'll hear growth hackers referred to as growth marketers, but that term really isn't fair, because growth hackers are not just marketers. There's a lot more to us than that.

A good growth hacker is somewhat obsessive, extremely curious and very analytical. We focus only on growth strategies, things that will grow the business. We are willing to innovate, to hypothesize, analyze and test. And then test some more.

The ideal growth hacker or growth hacking team understands how to identify the best channels to acquire clients, customers, and users, how to set priorities for growth, how to measure successes - and failures - and how to scale growth.

Growth Hacking in Action

Growth hackers follow a pirate code. Well, a pirate funnel anyway. The Pirate Funnel is a framework to divide a company or product to better show you where attention should be focused.

The Pirate Funnel was originally developed by Dave McClure, an entrepreneur and angel investor who founded the hugely innovative 500 Startups. It's called the Pirate Funnel because its crucial elements - Awareness, Acquisition, Activation, Retention, Referral, Revenue - when used as an acronym spell out AAARRR, which is of course a very pirate-y thing. This is essentially what it looks like.

The Pirate Funnel is also a very fitting term name because great growth hackers, like pirates, don't follow establishment rules easily and innovate with what they have and what they can obtain quickly and affordably.

The Pirate Funnel has, over the years, been tweaked and tweaked and every growth hacker develops their own version of it and then their own expertise and experience into the mix. It's an effective place to start however and a simpler way to explain the goals of growth hacking to those unfamiliar with it.

Growth Hacking Strategies

Most effective growth hacking strategies can be divided into three main areas:

  • Content marketing

  • Product marketing

  • Advertising

Within those three areas all the following lower cost strategies might be used in a growth hacking campaign.

Content Marketing

  • Creating valuable, shareable content via blog posts

  • Guest blogging

  • E-books

  • White papers

  • Webinars

  • Podcasts

  • Email marketing

  • SEO

  • Strategic product placement in forums, listings, and marketplaces

  • Influencer marketing

  • Social media marketing

  • Customer/consumer reviews  

Product marketing utilizes techniques for making your product or service more appealing to the target audience and might include.

  • Creating FOMO -  a fear of missing out - by access to a product appear more exclusive (by using an invitation-only sign-up system for example.)

  • Gamifying the onboarding process to make it more appealing, enjoyable and engaging

  • Offering referral incentives that benefit existing customers AND the new users they recruit

  • Affiliate marketing

In terms of more direct advertising some growth hacking campaigns benefit from PPC advertising to create immediate traffic. But it's not a must, especially as PPC is often an expensive, painful journey for smaller businesses that underperforms other growth hacking strategies anyway! 


Want to talk growth hacking? Contact me here to chat about what a content focused growth hacking campaign could do for you.