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Growth hacking: A guide to expanding your clients’ reach

What do Airbnb, DropBox and YouTube have in common? All used growth hacking on theipaths to mega-success. Call it a technique, a concept,...

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7 min read

What do Airbnb, DropBox and YouTube have in common? All used growth hacking on theipaths to mega-success.

Call it a technique, a concept, or a discipline. Whatever the label, growth hacking is here to stay. And by effectively adopting and executing its practices, your agency might forge its own path toward reaching new heights—for you and your clients.

What’s growth hacking?

Technically, growth hacking is a subspecialty of digital marketing. As its name suggests, it focuses on only one target: growth. Entrepreneur Sean Ellis launched the term and idea roughly a decade ago, advising startups to look for fast and inexpensive ways to boost customer numbers.

High speed and low costs remain the key ingredients. Growth hacking still primarily benefits early-stage companies hoping to generate rapid and robust expansion at a modest price. If your client can’t afford a standard ad spend but still wants to quantifiably establish their product’s impact, you have little choice but to find fresh lines of attack.

Growth hackers rise to this challenge by looking for opportunities anywhere—from SEO to social media to email campaigning. Although marketing is the core mission, the practice often involves other parts of the business funnel, such as product development and optimization.

Standard routines and traditions rarely apply. This is a field that champions novel thinking and strategizing. So get ready to explore and experiment.

The key benefits of growth hacking

While growth hacking continues to evolve, its virtues are now well established. Let’s summarize the benefits of thinking outside the box to help your clients boost their numbers.

Reduced budget

Think about all the money that companies spend simply trying to generate awareness in the marketplace. These expenditures alone can sink products before they’re even out of the gate. Growth hacking, by contrast, requires no big-ticket outlays. The whole point is to devise creative, minimal-cost solutions.

Streamlined resources

Marketing is typically a team sport with lots of players. Growth hackers, though, can fly solo or in small numbers. Growth hackers, often working on a company’s engineering or product-development side, can build and test their strategies leanly, without bleeding resources elsewhere.

Perfected ROI analytics

The singular mission of any strategy—growth and only growth—makes assessing the results especially straightforward. Launched and driven purely by data, growth hacks are designed to deliver faster and more accurate numbers than those generated by more traditional initiatives.

Heightened awareness

Because growth hacking doesn’t play by conventional rules, its practitioners are often looking at a product (and its market) from a unique vantage. Lessons learned and discoveries made in this area can in turn be passed on to the company at large.

Unprecedented potential

When a growth hacking strategy hits its target, it can hit very big (see the success stories below). Rather than slow-and-steady gain, your clients’ user base might well grow exponentially—conceivably anywhere from 10 to 50 times in size, within an expedited time frame.

How you can develop growth hacking skills

No doubt growth hacking is still a form of marketing. It requires an approach that goes beyond any single part of the product funnel. As Ellis himself stressed, even though this frontier has some familiar features, it’s different territory.

Here are 8 ways to start developing your growth hacking skills:

  1. Expand your perspective

  2. Understand your clients’ products

  3. Crunch the numbers

  4. Embrace automation

  5. Partner up and collaborate

  6. Lock your target

  7. Test early and often

  8. Commit all the way

1. Expand your perspective

Good growth hacking requires a mix of granular and global thinking. On the one hand, be ready to dig deep into data as you track leads, assess customer acquisition costs, and monitor revenue streams. On the other hand, keep a close and obsessive eye on the bigger picture, always looking for new tools and trends. Move past precedent and be ready to surprise yourself.

2. Understand your clients’ products

Before developing strategies and scaling your clients’ businesses, get a clear sense of what their product does and what need it fills. This is what’s known among growth hackers as the “product-market fit.” Sometimes the product just isn’t ready yet; sometimes its appeal is different than intended or expected. Be careful of putting the cart before the horse.

3. Crunch the numbers

At all stages of the process, the data must be your compass. Analytics should guide you from goals to strategies and on through to results. As you monitor your process, use the numbers to fine-tune your hack and plan out all subsequent moves.

4. Embrace automation

A major component of growth hacking is your ability to automate and repeat your strategy over time. Seek out the numerous available automation tools and programs that might aid in this process. If a given hack will require constant attention and customizing, you’ve probably got a design flaw that’s more trouble than it’s worth.

5. Partner up and collaborate

Through your research, you might discover businesses that complement yours. Stay open to forging mutually beneficial partnerships with other companies. Build up your professional network. You might devise joint initiatives and projects that bring in a whole new audience.

6. Lock your target

When you devise your strategy, make sure to set very clear goals, with hard deadlines and milestones. This way, you can isolate what is and isn’t working, and move faster when it comes to developing next steps. Avoid getting too attached to any one specific idea—while the target should be fixed, your approach to it should be flexible.

7. Test early and often

Experimental and creative by nature, growth hacks require thorough testing. Your best approach is to conduct tight and simple tests that provide both bottom-line answers (the raw number of users) and point toward further refinement. Iterative A/B tests—also known as bucket tests—are considered especially effective.

8. Commit all the way

Yes, growth hacking emphasizes a fleet and fluid approach. At the same time, definitive results rarely arrive overnight, and experiments (by design) often defy norms or expectations. If you hope to hit on an idea that soars, you better be willing to fail multiple times.

Breakthrough hacks that helped turn businesses into behemoths

The greatest success stories feature companies covering a range of products and services. The following list highlights breakthrough greatest hits from companies that applied the methods and mindsets above:


Growth hack: Offered a free photography service to take professional photos of their users’ homes, so listings would look more attractive and trustworthy.


Growth hack: Launched a friend-referral bonus that offered users additional storage if they enlisted new members.


Growth hack: Designed embed codes that made sharing videos simple.


Growth hack: Created a referral program that paid users up to $20 for every new member they brought in.


Growth hack: Attached a link to all sent emails offering free email to the receiver.


Growth hack: Gave away its Marketing Grader tool for free to anyone who signed up.


Growth hack: Used the tech sector to test-market services before expanding them for broader use.


Growth hack: Allowed users to beta test before the formal launch, making them brand missionaries before the service even hit the market.


Growth hack: Pushed contributors to use their real profiles rather than posting anonymously, building a motivated network of reviewers and affiliates.


Growth hack: Used early test results to rebrand their mission, prompting users to immediately select other accounts to follow—a proven way to keep customers coming back.

Remember, every blue-chip brand started small

The core tools of growth hacking are accessible to companies of any size, and are designed for those looking to find their footing in a crowded marketplace. With the right product and approach, the door to great success can open to anyone.

Here are 7 tips of the trade that can help you growth hack your clients’ brand:

1. Optimize the customer journey

Nothing beats a customer journey that flows. When developing growth hacks, make sure to explore the most hassle-free methods of bringing customers into the fold and keeping them there.

Consider designing home pages that easily prompt registration and membership, and featuring sign-up forms that are quick to complete. At the same time, devise an onboarding process that’s not only simple, but offers rewards and compelling reasons to keep returning.

2. Remarket

Remarketing—also called “retargeting”—is the term for sending ads to users who have previously visited your site. The process is known to generate sturdy conversion rates, and, just as importantly, help establish your clients’ brand in consumer minds.

3. Master SEO

By this point, if you’re not serious about leveraging SEO, you’re surely lagging behind your competitors. At every phase, you need to make sure that you’ve got search engines working hard on your behalf and constantly evolving your clients’ content strategy.

4. Consider PPC marketing

In PPC (pay-per-click) marketing, advertisers pay their publisher each time their ad is clicked. Data indicates that this is a strong way to boost conversion rates—PPC visitors are considerably more apt than organic visitors to make purchases.

On top of that, PPC is a great way to see how customers are responding to your marketing message and continue to test results.

5. Create fresh new-media content

Along with the written word, you now have a host of new media at your disposal. Launch a podcast, and invite guests who bring in followings. Produce a webinar that in some way involves your product, and consider cosponsoring it with a company that offers a complementary service.

Or pick up a camera. In a famous growth hack from a few years ago, Dollar Shave Club made a YouTube video trumpeting its razor blade-shipping service. The video presently has almost 30 million views, making the brand a household term.

6. Share socially—and smartly

Beyond formally creating material, you can intensify and diversify your approach to social media. Aside from the obvious channels of Twitter and Instagram post on subreddits or other hyper-specialized forums like Quora, an American question and answer website. Even if you don’t immediately convert customers, you’re still driving awareness to your clients’ brand.

7. Grab the spotlight

There is, of course, another way to move the needle. Make some noise. Achieving news-worthy attention might require making a big gesture. What’s that look like? It’s up to your creative imagination.


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