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Growth Hacking: Not Just for Start-ups

Growth hacking in tech is hot.  Every entrepreneur knows it.    It's being credited as the new thing for tech start ups to drive exponential growth.  So what is it exactly? Essentially, it's the science of developing software that can sell itself. 

The thinking goes something like this. Early adopters are the new on-ramp to getting your product used, which in tech, is essentially the name of the game.  This means you need to have attributes that appeal to early adopters who will essentially drive the penetration of your product. In other words, you need to find the right combination of features that will essentially sell themselves.    

The fact is many of us marketers are handed a finished product by our product development teams. Growth hacking requires the marketing and development teams to work together to develop a cohesive growth strategy for a new product. If you're still depending on your sellers and your outbound marketing tactics to find 100% of your leads, perhaps you should consider whether you've overlooked the fundamentals.

Here are three essential product attributes to consider:

Design: The call to action here is to build a product that stands out from the crowd.  Average or expected functionality won't make people excited or get your product shared.  What is it about your product that's beautiful or surprising in some way?  Simple, clean, cool, edgy, new—these are the attributes that define something that gets noticed.  The product needs to be remarkable in some way. 

Findability: Are the channels in place to drive awareness of your product as customers search the Internet for a solution? Your product needs to be extremely findable on the web. This has become a science in itself. SEO, backlinks and API integration are the key here. The ability for seamless sharing between apps enables new products to grow on the back of more mature communities. Think Spotify and Facebook—they are essentially promoting one another’s products and users. If you’re building a phone app, you’re one click away from adding every user’s contacts into the app circle. Consider a revenue share or promotion with a partner.  This can become a powerful marketing machine.  

Shareability:  Is the product designed to encourage sharing?  This is a core attribute of the Facebook and Twitter model, in which early users attract their friends. The model is actually built around the user sharing with new users, which is fairly brilliant.  Each time someone comes to your site, they bring their network of friends to the product. Therefore, the product needs to have a wow factor or highlight the user in some way that can help it to become viral. You can also apply an offer to drive sharebility.  Dropbox uses growth backing by providing free storage space to users who add friends.

So ask yourself this: Does my product essentially sell itself?  Are there channels in place to drive awareness of my product as customers search the Internet for a solution?

If the answer if no, get together with your development team and your product marketing team and have a think on how you can drive natural penetration.  It might be through a feature, a beta that allows users to participate in the launch of a new product, or a sharing element.

To drive growth for a new tech product, you need to think like a growth hacker. 

8 Responses

  1. John McTigue says:

    It makes perfect sense to align marketing, sales and product development at the beginning, but I think your "findability" attribute is the most difficult and often overlooked. You can talk about SEO and backlinks, but both of these are driven these days by content marketing, and you can't just rely on your beta users to deliver that content. You need an in-house or outsourced content team to create blogs, social media updates, videos, webinars and downloads. This is a very expensive proposition for most startups, so they tend to fail in this respect. Yes, word of mouth in the user community is very important, but to generate significant lead generation outside that community requires comprehensive digital marketing, and that doesn't come without planning, budget and resources.

    • Hi John,  Thanks for your comment!  Very true that content marketing and lead generation can be expensive and labor intensive. Perhaps one solution is to build a network of entrepreneurs and influencers to support the initial product uptake.  I would agree there is no substitute for planning, budget and resources!

      • Michael Zino says:

        You have to build a small tribe of believers that first and foremost will help you refine the product in a way that is likely not visible to you. Real growth hackers understand the fundamentals of the AARRR metrics and design a well-rounded product that address these aspects. Technology is no longer an obstacle… traction is. That is the real terminology should be traction hacking… traction comes before growth.

  2. Ted Rubin says:

    Love the concept, and it will always work for tried and true entrepreneurs and those with vision for something new who do it on their own, or develop their own team. The problem with this as a growth strategy for an exisiting organization, even one whose roots are that of a startup that emerged this way, is that this is a disruptive strategy and one that will rarely find its way within a legacy organization… big and small. The good news is that even trying to think/innovate this way will lead to your hope of merging marketing and product development. Baby steps perhaps, but in the right direction.

    • Thank you Ted for your comment!   You make a great point that this would be difficult to execute for a legacy organization.   That said, I’m not afraid to try!

    • Ted makes a great point. Growth hacking in legacy organizations is a big challenge. How do I know? I am currently trying to growth hack at a large "old school" company and it's a big challenge. The challenge I see is that in some companies, the product managers are working independently from the growth team or marketing analysts. Another challenge is a verticle management structuture that slows down the process. This is not ideal for AB testing, which is a big component of growth hacking. 

  3. Hi Tammi, 

    Loved the article – you're doing an amazing job at explaining not only what growth hacking is, but how it can be used with finished products, and not just start ups. After all, it's never too late to make some changes to your product and/or marketing and increase your sales. I especially like the shareability point – I think that today, this is a very important aspect that most, if not all, businesses should take into account. Not only is it important to be shareable to be current, but, as you mentioned, it can also help you grow your community with minimum efforts on your part!

    • Thanks for your comment!  Yes, I often find a tech product doesn’t receive the attention a consumer good product might receive -. Now why is that?    Growth hacking may be tough to achieve for larger businesses but my hope would be some of these concepts can be applied.

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