A growth hacker is a new job title that focuses on the marketing and user growth side of product development. The role falls somewhere between that of social media manager, marketer, engineer, and salesperson.
The term “growth hacker” was coined by Eric Ries in his book The Lean Startup to refer to a startup employee whose primary focus was growing their company’s user base by leveraging low-cost paid channels and creating viral components into their product or service. Because this function straddles the line between engineering and marketing, there has been some debate about whether or not growth hacking should be considered a proper engineering discipline. In response to this question, Erik Benson wrote a piece titled Growth Hacking isn’t Growth Engineering, argued that a growth engineer should be defined as “a person who has the analytical skills of an engineer and employs them to grow a product.”
The role of growth hacker generally falls into one of four buckets:
1. Growth Hacking Inbound Methodologies:
Growth hackers who use inbound methodologies to achieve growth have an analytical mindset and generally enjoy solving complex problems. Their process is similar to that of many conversion optimizers as it consists of trying new things with a hypothesis and analytics to measure the results. The toolsets utilized by growth hackers are many, but some mainstays include search engine optimization (SEO), content marketing, social media, email campaigns, etc.
Typically these growth hackers will work within a marketing or business development teams at startups. While much of their advice can be applied to established companies looking to grow through acquisition, such as Facebook ads for e-commerce stores, they are not usually building the product that generates the users/visitors on which they focus their attention.
They are also not focused on metrics that founders could traditionally prioritize, such as net revenue or bookings growth. Instead, growth hacking Inbound methodologies rely on engineering the viral effect of sharing to drive growth. It can be achieved through user incentives for referrals, personalized landing pages generating more conversions, and a tester/feedback loop in your product to improve the onboarding experience, often leading to sticky users. For example, “growth hacking techniques could be used by a business owner (or its marketing team) to increase social media engagement as measured through the number of likes or shares.”
2. Growth Hack Outbound Methodologies:
Growth hackers who use outbound methodologies have sales/BD backgrounds and focus on driving growth with cold traffic. The toolsets utilized by growth hackers are many. Still, there are mainstays which include paid advertising using Facebook Ads and Google Adwords, SEO, PR campaigns, content promotion on social media channels, and webinars for lead generation.
Typically these growth hackers work within sales or business development teams at startups or established companies looking to drive users through acquisition, such as e-commerce stores. These growth hackers tend to be problem solvers in that they create their user/visitor acquisition channel rather than focusing on optimizing an existing one. They often focus on metrics that founders could traditionally prioritize, such as net revenue or bookings growth.
Growth Hacking Outbound methodologies rely on engineering the viral effect of sharing to drive growth. That can be achieved through user incentives for referrals, personalized landing pages generating more conversions, and a tester/feedback loop in your product to improve the onboarding experience, often leading to sticky users.
For example, “growth hacking techniques could be used by a business owner (or its marketing team) to increase social media engagement as measured through the number of likes or shares.”
3. Growth Hacker Philosophy:
It has been argued that growth hackers are essentially marketers who bring engineering discipline and measurement to their function. However, growth hackers also tend to have skills in things other than traditional marketing such as analytics, technology, design thinking; metrics-driven decision making; persuasion psychology, and copywriting. Ultimately, it has been argued that growth hacking is simply a mindset, and if one can grow themselves, they can “hack” anything.
4. Growth Hacker Traits:
Many elements of growth hacking are similar to creative problem solving, such as utilizing your understanding of the target market, their needs, and typical customer lifetime value to create an innovative solution that captures their attention.
Growth hackers should have a user/visitor first mindset with empathy towards the end consumer and not just revenue or profit separately from the user experience. A growth hacker must understand business models and how startups scale to disrupt markets by making products more valuable with marketing; some businesses use a freemium model where you try out the product for free if you choose but don’t have to pay.
The term growth hacker also goes hand in hand with the concept of “lean startups” or agile development: a method for developing products and services based on the MVP (minimum viable product) business model, which allows validation of demand before significant investments are made into building out a marketable product.
The goal is to avoid spending large amounts of capital on promoting a product that turns out to be hard to sell. Growth hackers don’t want customers; they want repeat users over time who engage with their product.
A growth hacker may create multiple persona’s such as ideas buyers, customer satisfaction surveys, solutions sellers, funnels from top sources, and more using marketing automation to optimize user behavior for maximum conversion rates from visitor acquisition through engagement/onboarding and eventually, the sales funnel.
Growth hackers can utilize tools such as Google Analytics, Mixpanel, Kissmetrics to allow them to correctly measure the growth of users acquired through several channels to determine which methods work best for their product while using customer feedback and surveys such as Net Promoter Score (NPS) from Qualaroo or even Twitter polls to ask questions to users about how they think the product could improve.
On top of this type of user/visitor engagement growth, hackers will also utilize things like content marketing, paid advertising through Facebook Ads or Reddit Ads, among others, with SEO optimized landing pages that are highly targeted towards specific terms relevant to their market on websites like Medium or GrowthHackerscom.
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How To Learn Growth Hacking?
The growth hacker mindset is also characterized by an understanding of technology and the ability to quickly iterate products to determine what works or find that “breakthrough idea” that will take their product mainstream.
For example, a growth hacker may use creative landing page copywriting along with Facebook Ads to acquire users for free but effectively A/B test the copy until they can achieve conversions through this channel while utilizing other media simultaneously to get a high volume of users as new minimum viable product features and updates are pushed out.
Additionally, growth hackers often leverage social networking such as LinkedIn, Twitter, or even Reddit to acquire users due to the viral nature of sharing specific content on these platforms via shares, retweets, and votes.
Growth hackers are also concerned with the idea of “growth” throughout all aspects of their business, not just customers but also potential employees.
The growth hacker mindset is less rigid than that of the startup founder and more focused on solving specific problems through creative ways to acquire new users for growth and use a product with little or no capital investment upfront.
A growth hacker will be thinking about how they can utilize user feedback such as surveys to determine which features are most important to users, what information should be prioritized when building out a new feature, what questions should they ask potential beta testers to validate demand before building anything out, etc.
Growth hackers might use things like user interviews or even improvisational theater to find holes in their product through user testing and feedback before trying to market it.
The growth hacker mindset has undoubtedly made a significant impact on how startups build out products over the last few years, which is why many traditional marketers have been quick to label them as buzz words or things that don’t exist.
However, the reality is that while some companies genuinely do hire growth hackers, others might simply be claiming this title to make themselves appear more valuable than they are for fear of being labeled as “not technical enough” by someone who’s not familiar with what growth hacking is or how it works.
If you’re looking to pursue a career as a Growth Hacker, stay focused on technology, keep up with the latest trends in startups and be prepared to be a jack of all trades.
Growth hackers are an integral part of any startup. While they still require technical knowledge, growth hacking is less about making sure that things work correctly at scale than problem-solving and creativity to acquire new users for growth.
The growth hacker is primarily responsible for helping a startup achieve explosive growth through product and marketing efforts. They are an individual who takes a scientific approach towards finding the most effective ways of acquiring new customers at the lowest price.
Growth Hacking has been around for quite some time, but only recently has it started to gain mainstream attention – thanks to Sean Ellis, Founder & CEO of a now-global marketing agency called Qualaroo. Ellis’ keynote on growth Hacking at Google Ventures Disrupt Conference held last year can be seen here, while his mid-2014 interview with Forbes is here. In short, Ellis is considered as the “father of Growth Hacking” or the “Father of Growth Marketing,” depending on what you read.