Tech Word for The Week is a weekly series where we look to explain commonly used words in the tech ecosystem in a simple, engaging way.

In times past, doing marketing was an entire different ballgame from what is obtainable today. Then, you had to pay traditional media outlets (such as radio, TV and newspaper) to do advertising which offered no result guarantee and was expensive.

Most startups can’t afford to do this old model advertising. Because they have to grow quickly to give returns to their investors they need a more focused, predictable, and effective marketing model. Over the years, some startups have embraced the use of digital marketing (which is more targeted) to get in the faces of their target audience.

Recently, growth hacking has become popular among startups. It was coined by Sean Ellis (marketing manager of PayPal) in 2011 when he was looking for someone to replace him. He wanted someone who had a deep knowledge in data, product, tech and marketing. To him, the word marketing manager did not wholly capture what he wanted.

The term growth hacking is usually associated with start-ups and small businesses. It’s the use of cost effective digital marketing strategies and frameworks to expand your customer base, sell products and gain exposure. The goal of growth hacking is to grow, expand, and retain an active user base.

There’s no cast in stone framework, strategies, tools or guidelines to how you can growth-hack your startup. It’s just experimenting with trends, challenge(s), and latest marketing tactics which will give your product more visibility. It’s finding unique ways to captivate, draw in, and grow your customer base.

At its core, growth hacking is using unconventional marketing and non-marketing tools, strategies, frameworks to quickly scale a startup outside traditional marketing.

It could be a single tweak in your product feature, a reward system offered to users, or a unique selling proposition which saves customers time. It has to be something valuable  to users which they wouldn’t get anywhere else. At its core, growth hacking is quickly scaling a startup outside traditional marketing.

Difference Between Growth Hacking and Marketing

Growth hacking is a subset of digital marketing. While marketing is concerned with generating leads and sales, growth marketing is focused on growing the business customer base. Growth hacking uses experiments, facebook ads, jumping on trends, but marketing is much more stable, and predictable for the long term.

Growth hacking uses a scientific approach to fast track the growth of a startup. It uses techniques such as marketing automation, direct response, homepage copy improvement, etc. which would lead to growth, visibility and sales. Traditional marketing takes a longer term approach such as SEO, audience interactions and building.

Some metrics growth hackers focus on include increased web traffic, social media engagements, viral contents, growth through referral reward, etc. Meanwhile traditional marketing measures: stable growth, brand awareness, and audience building.

Successful Case Studies of Companies who used Growth Hacking

PiggyVest

PiggyVest founders started with a goal to scale an idea millennials would accept. In its first year Piggyvest helped 450 users to save 21 million. They achieved this milestone without spending next to nothing on marketing.

Due to the founders willingness to try multiple things to facilitate adoption by users they were able to go mainstream quickly. By 2019, they had introduced features on the app which raised the numbers to 1 million users who have saved $80 million.

Some of the features were: Daily interest paid by Piggyvest to the user which they can see themselves, Quick Save - an automated direct debit feature which takes money from the user's bank account daily, weekly or monthly (according to the order of the user); a 5% deduction from user’s savings for withdrawing from their Piggyvest account before set time.

Dropbox

Dropbox executed a program that is one of the most effective growth hacking techniques in recent history. This program helped Dropbox to record a 3900% growth in 15 months. They were able to achieve this through a smart referral program that rewarded existing users of the platform for inviting their friends.

The product offered storage space in the cloud. So they rewarded people with more free space not only for referring to their friends but also for accepting an invitation. This means both parties of the referral program (the person who referred the product and the person who was invited) got a reward for using Dropbox.

Through this unique growth hack tailored to meet the needs of users, Dropbox were able to double their user base every three months  between 2008 and 2010, had 4million users in 2009 and positioned themselves as the undisputed leader in the cloud data storage space.

Hotmail

As one of the first newly invented webmail services in 1996, Hotmail needed to differentiate their product and draw clients in. They tweaked the invitation to subscribe attached to every message users sent  by adding a single line.

The message read - “This email was sent from Hotmail. Get your free account at Hotmail.com. P.S. I love you.” It didn’t cost Hotmail a single dime to introduce.

This single tweak attracted 9 million subscribers to Hotmail and made it a leader in the webmail services globally.  The company was acquired in 1997 by Microsoft.

Benefits of Growth Hacking

Although growth hacking takes a lot of iteration, experimentation and data driven research, here are some of the benefits it offers:

  • Reveals scalable marketing strategies.
  • It can be done at an incredibly low cost.
  • Makes the startup embrace a growth mentality.
  • It can be built around any product or service.
  • Offers a path to traction and exposure outside traditional marketing.

Closing Thoughts

It's important to note that you can only growth-hack a quality product/service. When users are truly satisfied with the product, they’ll refer your product/service to friends and family. Startup founders, growth hackers and growth hacking teams should be willing to try different techniques which would suit their audience.