Importance of growth hacking for startups

Growth hacking techniques such as social campaigns, content marketing, CRM automation, and influencer targeting have helped startups succeed much better than traditional marketing.
Written by Srinivas Kulkarni, Contributor

"Growth hacking" has been a buzzword in the last few years among startups across the globe. It has allowed for lean startups to drive great marketing at a low cost.

Growth hacking is a marketing practice used by technology startups where products and services are marketed well at low costs through analytical thinking, usage of social metrics, and other creative techniques, as opposed to traditional marketing such as buying advertising through billboards, radio, television, or print ads, and stand-alone PR. Growth hackers simply do well with techniques such as content marketing, analytical marketing, A/B testing, SEO, using creative social media strategies and planning through Google and Facebook advertising, and primarily focusing on low-cost and innovative alternatives to traditional marketing.

Today, since social is big, growth hacking revolves around many such techniques within the web, as it allows for a "lean" launch that focuses on a "growth-first", budgets-later approach. A growth hacker is someone with a rare combination of the right marketing and technical skills. Someone who can come up with smart marketing hacks and also track the results to optimize their resources to the fullest.

Some of the popular startups across the world that used growth hacking over traditional advertising were Airbnb, Craigslist, Dropbox, Quora, and Facebook. They now have billions of users as customers without ever using traditional marketing such as TV, print, and radio ads. They used a variety of techniques such as communities on the web, private mail lists, launch pages, exclusivity, and feature-driven sales to reach out to the right consumers. In fact, a classic case of growth hacking as mentioned in this article is Hotmail; people received emails with a signature stating, "PS I love you. Get your free email at Hotmail" and wanted a personal email for themselves.

Some of the techniques that spur growth hacking are:

  • Targeting niche communities via web forums

  • Private email lists

  • SEO/SEM and organic search

  • Content marketing

  • Guest blogging and podcasts

  • Social campaigns

  • Social bookmarking and seeding content

  • CRM automation and engagement via loyalty campaigns

  • A/B testing

  • Getting influencers to be early adopters

  • Media planning via Facebook and Google ads

A good growth hacker will understand that there are many channels and avenues that they need to focus on, but at the fundamental level, they will be of two types: One that results in traction immediately, and the other with steady but slow growth. Fast growth will come from campaigns, exploits, discounts, etc, and temporary tactics that have to end after a given point of time, while slow and steady growth can be driven by SEO, social sharing, and social bookmarking.

But essentially, you have to try out a lot of different things in order to find out what works best for you and keep on trying it. It helps you scale your growth a lot faster. A growth hacker tries out multiple things, discards dead ends, and then moves on. Measuring is key, so if your tactics are measurable on a tangible format, then growth hacking becomes a lot easier.

A lot of growth hacking techniques as above help in creating desire for the product, campaign, or your idea so that you get the first users to share it among their networks without really putting a gun to their head in a way. Or even including giveaways to serve as incentives. The most scalable approach is to get those initial users to do your marketing for you, and if they are influencers, then you have certainly taken the big step already.

One major benefit of growth hacking is that you get a lot more by paying a lot less. But what you need to understand is that to be able to reap these benefits, a lot of the tactics that you use should be done according to what your business needs. You need to be able to find the right product/market fit and the best way your target audience would adopt your product and then go all out.

With growth hacking techniques, specifically analytics and data that you have, you shall get a better insight directly from consumers and users to enhance your product better. There's also an added advantage of being on the top of your competitors if you get things such as organic search, SEO, and SEM right. If you are active amongst social communities as a brand or an entrepreneur, you have more resonance with your audience, and that adds to your growth. Of course, word of mouth has always been a great way of reaching out to people. With growth hacking, you can do that a lot faster and better.

Typically, lean startups can take the most advantage of growth hacking. But that doesn't mean that well-funded startups cannot use it, or, if you have huge budgets, you splurge it on mainstream media or other forms of marketing alone. Take, for instance, Red Bus, Flipkart, MakeMyTrip, and Cleartrip. They didn't adopt traditional media immediately; they went through digital media and used other growth hacking techniques to resonate among the major chunk of their target audience. They understood that well and used growth hacking better. So, I'd say there should be an element of growth hacking not just in terms of techniques, but also in attitude with all startups.

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