When starting a business, it is pretty easy to become overwhelmed. The digital age of the Internet has changed the marketing landscape tenfold, and even longtime seasoned marketers are being forced to adapt to the new technological advances in order to remain competitive.
Nowadays, the key difference between a good startup and a great startup is whether or not the business has mastered a set of tactics called “growth hacking” — namely, strategies such as search engine optimization, social media integration, and more.
A relatively new term, “growth hacking” refers primarily to innovation in online businesses. Because of its low cost, growth hacking is especially useful for startups with a low budget. The term was coined in 2010 by entrepreneur Sean Ellis, who recognized a void in the startup industry.
Traditional marketing skills are successful at pushing products and services in established businesses, but the skill set may or may not be technologically oriented enough to develop growth without external resources. In contrast, growth hackers will identify a niche in the industry and develop a way for a product to sell itself. In other words, growth hackers and marketers can be the same, but the words are not synonymous.
Growth hackers are technologically savvy, results oriented, innovative growth promoters. Elon Musk (CEO of Tesla Motors), Jeff Bezos (CEO of Amazon.com), and Richard Branson (Virgin Group Founder) are all entrepreneurs and business investors who can be identified as growth hackers. Thanks to their innovative strategizing, each of them have risen to the top of their respective fields. There are several notable, creative investors and entrepreneurs in society using growth hacking techniques to drive the future of trade in unprecedented directions.
Let’s look at 10 growth hacking concepts and best practices you can use to see a difference in your startup or established company:
1. Be Accessible
Accessibility to a wide user group enables businesses to successfully develop their products. With the adoption of mobile devices and abundant competition in almost every industry a company that can offer several touch points in trending platforms to enhance connectivity will see an increase in user adoption.
Case in Point: Spotify is now worth more than $10 billion, and the company has only been around since 2008. It successfully used a multi-pronged approach to encourage users to listen to its free platform. Now it has 12.5 million paying customers who are brand loyal to Spotify’s pricing model, features, and availability of music.
Spotify is one of only a few products that features both free music and a premium service to let listeners choose what they want to listen to when they want to listen to it. The company partnered with Facebook as its exclusive music service in 2011 to further expand Spotify’s accessibility. As an established company, it is now leveraging its model to enjoy further mobile growth and international brand recognition along with exploration into cutting edge platforms and partnerships that spring forward every day.
2. Listen to Users
Online companies are subject to user commentary whether they want it or not. Some companies choose not to pay attention to the information, and others only do damage control. The companies that really listen to what’s being shared in online forums, however, are the ones that can answer calls for improvement and directly impact their user base in a positive manner.
Case in Point: TractionVC helps entrepreneurs attempting to grow a business. The company regularly emails messages that best benefit the average business model. Business owner or leaders can take the information and use it how they see fit.
The company launched on December 15, 2014 with an initial conversion rate of 0.8%. Then, the developer started reading comments directly associated with his product and implemented the majority of recommendations, and conversion rates increased to 5.2% within the month. This is an example of a relatively simple way companies can make a meaningful difference in their development just by taking note.
In some ways, users who comment online are crowdsourced growth partners. Although the open-forum style of the Internet can be worrisome, smart business owners should take advantage of the precious feedback given and improve. Even just responding to comments is a big way you can expand you social media presence, and consumers will appreciate the fact that they are truly being heard.
3. Find Your Niche
Even if you think your company is more mainstream than “niche” oriented, take another look. There is most likely some aspect of your business that feeds into a specific field. Leveraging that industry in a different online forum will translate into expansion for your main product. It doesn’t have to be a complex strategy: choose a relevant topic of interest and become an expert in it. Create a blog, write guests posts, or otherwise gain traction as a thought leader. Create a login for your primary website that will allow the user to participate in special insider forums or receive added benefits just by virtue of signing up.
Case in Point: Moz is an SaaS company offering analytics solutions as a subscription service. While its purpose is useful, it can be hard to promote. So, the company created an online forum for marketers that provides advice and tips. To use the tool, users have to create a login, which also works on Moz’s main site. The value-added service of the info hub helps the company advertise its primary product, leading to an increase in conversion rates.
Niches don’t have to be limiting or exclusive, and finding your own niche can benefit your business greatly when used appropriately. Combine technology with effective marketing tactics to find an audience ready and willing to help improve your business.
4. Prospect Nurturing With a Twist
This concept is all about serving potential clients at the appropriate time with the right content. Prospect nurturing does require intimate knowledge about what your target market is looking for, so do some research beforehand! Promotion, re-engagement content, educational and training tips, and targeting prospects who engaged with your brand are all traditional forms of prospect nurturing.
Case in Point: The Naked Wines CEO created a promotional nurturing campaign that benefits wine customers who receive orders via mail as well as independent winemakers starving for capital. With careful research and consideration, Naked Wines has established a win-win promotion that nurtures both target groups.
As part of its promo, the company includes $100 gift cards with purchases from various virtual vendors. Many who use the gift cards become “Angels” whose $40/month fee goes straight to winemakers. In return, customers receive orders at a savings rate of 40-60%.
5. Use Scalable Tactics
Start small with any tactic you choose to implement. The ones that catch on in a scalable way gather momentum on their own and lead you to higher conversion rates. The trick is to make sure you have the infrastructure in place to accommodate growth so back-end difficulties don’t slow you down.
Case in Point: Social media companies are great examples of scalable efforts that have the potential to skyrocket to success. Facebook started out small, but used sharing techniques and other tactics, along with a model for hiring new engineers to maintain the platform, to develop a viable, scalable plan that supports its growth.
6. Rethink Your Content And How It Is Presented
Modern companies cannot disregard the information they present online. Relevance and precision are vital in content. The more quickly you can get a message across to the user, the more likely he or she is to react. Visual stimulation, such as infographics and video, has gained traction in driving conversion rates. Headlines tend to carry more weight than content, so craft yours carefully.
Case in Point: Upworthy uses powerful visuals and intriguing headlines on its main site to capture attention. Twenty-five headlines or more are produced for every post to ensure the topic is considered from all angles. The result? The site is categorized as viral news and has thousands of followers.
The concept of viral marketing takes this concept to the next level by focusing on grassroots efforts to get an ad or video seen. With social media, every “Like “ or “Share” means more visibility, so all measures must be taken to maximize publicity. An important aspect to remember is the nature of social media is on your side – it’s completely free to post something on digital platforms such as Facebook or Twitter! Because it is a low-cost and low-risk endeavor, make sure you have engaging, creative and interesting content.
7. Leverage Alternative Platforms
This tactic is advanced and may require programming skills to fully take advantage of it, in some situations. However, if you and your team can creatively devise a way to promote your product through another platform’s community for free, you’ve essentially accessed a larger market. On a much smaller scale, interacting with other businesses who have large followings on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook may provide you with enough visibility to enjoy the same kind of cross-community marketing.
Case in Point: Airbnb is a company that allows travelers a way to connect with others who have extra rooms available wherever they roam. The company now features hosts from over 190 countries. When the company started, it reverse engineered Craigslist so its site could take advantage of the community and build a user network.
Today the integration is no longer available, but Airbnb had enough time to leverage Craigslist’s community to see significant growth. Many tactics of this nature can only be used for a finite period of time, since a host company generally will not approve of your business piggybacking and will find a way to shut it down. To avoid this, always proceed with caution and ask yourself questions such as, “If I were the host, would I approve?” Be diplomatic and avoid completely relying on the host company for your success — create a backup plan in the event your chosen platform is taken away.
8. Embrace Change
Your job as a growth hacker or vendor is never done. The marketplace is evolving at an increasingly rapid rate, and a company that expects to remain viable for years to come must change with the tide. Use analytics, your current user base, and competitive intelligence to stay informed about the next big thing. Companies unwilling to adapt to the future will die or someone with vision will acquire them.
Case in Point: Twitter suffered from a lag in use shortly after it launched. People tried the product for a few days, but didn’t return. Many were leaving the network without interacting with anyone. So, Twitter analyzed its data and found out that users who followed 5-10 others within the first 24 hours after opening an account were more likely to become long-term tweeters. Twitter reformatted the platform to encourage this kind of behavior and augment growth. Now it is bigger than ever, but if it had not evolved after that initial obstacle, Twitter might not be a household name.
9. Integrate Into Other Platforms
This form of relationship is more symbiotic than the parasitic technique in #7. Many platforms welcome cross recommendations. Two or more sites will benefit from the increased traffic of using one central touch point to get started. Put a button, badge, widget, or other link to increase traction.
Case in Point: Google is almost like a governing body. Its analytics, webpage rankings, and search capabilities are a hub for company integration. Now you can put all your enterprise information, including social media page buttons, in the knowledge box on the right hand side of search results page. The pins are relatively new, but provide easy access to a website or relevant online page.
10. Make Smart Suggestions
Always be engaging, and remember to prompt users to act on your website. Instead of stationary CTAs (calls to action), include pop ups when visitors click on certain areas of your page. Recognize that some ideas may negatively impact a user’s experience, and deter them from your website; for example, pop up advertisements that may interfere with your website’s goal. Streamline the user experience and make it enjoyable to ensure people come back.
Case in Point: YouTube grows through pooled videos, so it encourages users to share every time they visit. By suggesting other videos a person may want to endorse, YouTube created a “viral loop” in which viewers burrow through content and are more likely to recommend what they find as it becomes more relevant. The site also makes it easy to insert content and share it across multiple platforms. Providing easy-to-use tips for embedding and navigating other actions is how YouTube encourages higher growth levels.
In a Nutshell
Although growth hacking suggestions may also focus on generating business through innovative programming, there are several other ways to creatively promote meaningful growth. Basically, you don’t need to be a programmer to be successful in growth hacking.
Try some of these tactics in your marketing and startup strategies this year, and analyze the results compared to your past numbers to determine what is effective in your market. Every company is different, and it may take a few unique strategies to land on one that works for you. Don’t discount the power of technology – it is absolutely essential for any smart business owner wanting to remain competitive. Like mastering any craft, all you need is some perseverance and dedication.
Featured Image: amenic181 via Shutterstock