If you own a business and have been on the internet in the last 5 years, you’ve probably heard the term growth hacking. Being in the business of growth, I hear about it all the time. I hear it tossed around in strategy meetings, I hear it tossed around when talking about the famous role “growth hacker” and I hear it all the time when my clients ask me about why our growth hacking strategies are better than that of one of the thousands of marketers and marketing agencies that claim to be expert growth hackers.
I am covering lots of information; you can skip down to any section if you'd like:
I’m not here to tell you why we’re the best. (If that’s what you’re here for, please book some time on my calendar for us to talk, via Zoom Video, 1-1 about GGI’s vision and problems we solve. I’d love to.)
In my opinion, growth hacking is more of a methodology than it is an actual set of tactics that result in business growth.
Instead of giving you the same boring history of how the terms growth hacking and growth hacker originated in 2010 by Sean Ellis, I want to talk about what growth hacking really looks like in 2020. A decade later.
For us, it looks like this flywheel here:
When I think of growth hacking, I think of strategic, agile growth with a plan that allows for a constant pivot to reach the best result possible. A process that allows for iteration and collaboration amongst experts who know what they are doing and know how to execute actions that result in feelings of wonder by the end-user.
To me growth hacking is far beyond the digital marketing aspects of a company. Rather the elements and processes that help with the creation of an almost magical employee and customer experience that users long for and expect.
You can thank amazing companies such as Disney, Apple, and Airbnb.
It’s beyond just marketing.
It’s about what happens inside and outside of everything that is your business.
As Brian Halligan shared in his recent Inbound2019 speech:
“There’s a new species of disruptor. One that focuses less on the product-market fit, rather more so on the experience-market fit.”
Watch for yourself, It’s great:
If growth hacking is changing in the coming decade, let’s take a look at what it has been up until now.
A job description on Study.com describes a Growth Hacker as “[a role that is] often responsible for overseeing all technical components of marketing campaigns.”
For many, growth hackers are just a fancy way to reference modern-day marketing.
So do you need a marketing degree to become a growth hacker?
Not one bit.
You need to understand growth.
Expert growth hackers and strategists understand what happens beyond all of the social media, SEO, content marketing, inbound marketing, influencer marketing and [INSERT HOT MARKETING TERM HERE]; the list is never-ending.
I'll dive in more about what a growth hacker is later in this article.
For now I want you to consider how much of these hot marketing trends are actually getting in your way and causing more friction than they are momentum in your business?
The truth is….
Growth hacking in 2020 is a bit different.
Though it will still call for an expert level marketing strategy, it will also call for a more holistic approach to growth. One that aligns sales, marketing, service, people, and technology.
By now, having a mobile-optimized site that helps the end-user is not a suggestion, it’s an expectation. By the user, by major search engines, and simply, people who care enough to choose where they spend their money.
Tactics like content clusters and working to get featured snippets are important, but they aren’t enough to create sustainable growth and solidify your position in the market. They are an expectation from users who are educated about how they invest their dollars.
It’s easier than ever to start a company, but more and more challenging to captivate someone’s attention enough to get them to buy from you multiple times, use your product often, and choose to become a part of your community both on and offline.
The future is about coming together.
And people want brands to be a part of that story.
2020 is a year of incredible social responsibility.
We can’t expect growth hacking to remain the same in an era of constant change… can we?
With community comes, experience.
People crave positive experiences.
Originally, growth hacking was born because companies wanted big returns, with little investment.
Who doesn’t want that?
The only thing is that users are getting smarter and what has worked in the past, isn’t working the same way it is today.
You may have heard that Instagram is removing likes from their social posts.
Though I’d love to believe this is due to the rising anxiety and depression rates amongst social media users, I’m more of a believer that it has to do with the declining engagement rates on social media. Humans are meant to stay connected. I’m afraid liking and commenting a couple emoji’s doesn’t cut it for.
It has been said many times that the main metric for growth hacking is growth, but at what cost?
Take a look at GAP Inc for instance. They pollute hundreds and thousands of tons of wasted plastic each year. Why is that necessary? It’s not. These two guys are fighting for what’s right and I love seeing that we have a future generation of people who care.
Or fast fashion. It’s crazy to believe that an entire garbage truck full of clothes is burned or sent to the landfill every second. Is killing our planet what it takes to grow?
Not only is it important for companies to think about the cost of goods and the cost per customer acquisition, but it is also equally important for companies to consider the social and greater impacts their company’s product will have on society, our planet, and humanity as a whole.
Sounds a bit intense, but think of Uber. or Google.
There's a reason so many now say “I took an Uber” or “Google it.”
If our new social slang isn’t enough. How about the implications of brain-machine interfaces? Read more about all that here.
It’s scary and it’s happening.
For companies to grow better in 2020, they will need to consider their perspectives and take a look at why they exist and get specific about the implications their existence has on the rest of the world and their communities.
The customer is smarter than ever.
Part of the reason at GGI we love inbound so much is due to the compounding nature of building assets and creating sustainable stages of growth within your organization on a macro and micro level.
I like the idea of sustainable growth.
2020 is a year of social responsibility.
Your customers do.
Care enough to do things well and do them the right way.
When reading articles like one’s on the Washington Post, it’s interesting to see how we as a society talk about growth. It’s nice to see that our economy has been doing well, but when will we realize that growth goes far beyond the bottom line?
A profitable company is a bi-product of doing things exceptionally well.
Startups are looking to grow. And they are looking to grow fast. All companies want to be profitable and make money. The great news is that it’s never been easier to start a business.
Coming into 2020 there are thousands of tools and platforms that can help entrepreneurs with limited resources do quite a lot to get a business off the ground.
Companies with resources can make quite the dent if they are well organized and execute on a strategic plan of action.
Though it’s easier than ever to build a business. It’s never been harder to be found online and it’s never been harder to disrupt the attention of the millions of users online daily.
With so many people making noise, it can feel tough to stand out and get your business in front of the eyes of millions. Though this is true in most cases, growth hacking allows for a continuous iterative growth strategy that focuses on impact at the lowest cost possible.
At GGI, we define growth hacking as the execution of a well-defined growth strategy while doing the easiest, cheapest, and most impactful things first.
A growth strategy provides a list of actions and a roadmap along with an additional analysis of how all the Marketing, Sales, Service, People, and Technology come together.
Pretty simple, if you ask me, but it can get a bit complex, quickly. With a never-ending to-do list, it can be easy for teams to get bogged down with unimportant, not urgent, low impact tasks.
Minutiae that simply drains time from you and your team.
Have you ever sat at your desk all day, got “a bunch” done, then ended the day not quite sure as to the impact that your hustle had for that day? You’re not alone.
Startups are hungry and it’s tough to find enough time, people, and resources to do everything that you’d like to in the time that you have to do it. It’s a strange part of online marketing: There’s always more to do. Whether it be email marketing, inbound marketing, social media, or search engine optimization when thinking about the exhaustive list of marketing channels, the list of “things to do” can grow quickly and can be hard to get rid of quickly.
Many startups lean on agencies, like Gray Group International to help them hack growth and get to their results quicker and with a lot less friction in their growth flywheel.
I said “Growth Flywheel.”
When thinking about online growth, we want to consider it like a car.
Who has the fastest car?
The fastest car gets from point A to point B quicker than the rest and can keep momentum a lot better than the beat up hoopty your parents made you drive back in high school.
Growth hacking in alignment with a robust growth strategy is the key to removing friction and adding momentum to your growth so that your company can get to the next level quicker and faster than your competition.
A growth strategy that doesn’t consider growth hacking in a holistic manner and only focuses on marketing is missing out on the opportunity to reach more customers and get more people using their products for a lower cost per acquisition by tapping into the power of customer advocates.
Advocates are the promoters of your company who can’t shut up about the positive experience they’ve had with your business. They exist as both internal and external customers. And they are the root of the most powerful form of marketing.
Word of mouth.
We’ve all heard of it and we all know it, but for some reason, so many of us are tied up in the jargon of digital marketing that we forget that positive experiences lead to people who share their experiences.
When you boil it all down, advocates can’t shut up about their positive experiences.
When pitching to a group of investors, they always want to know that you have product-market fit. To get product-market fit in the early stages of your startup can be a serious challenge. VC’s aren’t looking for false promises and assumptions about important metrics.
They are looking for real growth strategies to solve real problems with a product and tactics that will result in real, sustainable growth long-term.
If you want real, sustainable, long-term growth, remember that it was built on a foundation of trust and positive relationships.
Regardless of whether you’re in B2B, B2C, or B2E; you must remember that people buy from people, not companies.
Take a look at the unicorns in Silicon Valley for instance. Whether you think about Uber, Airbnb, Snapchat, or any of your favorite successful startups; what do they all have in common? (Other than ridiculous amounts of funding…)
They all have specific strategies that they implemented in the early stages to grow their key performance metrics for their business that helped them resonate with their target audience. The impact of the network effects in these successful startups is a testament to the power of how people share their experiences.
A company who understands what their audience is feeling understands how to remove themselves from traditional marketing tactics and implement modern-day growth hacking techniques that result in more users buying and participating in their product.
Successful startups have hit the silver bullet and understand how to achieve the Aha moment of sustainable growth.
In my opinion, digital marketing and other forms of marketing are ⅕ of the growth hacking conversation.
Growth hacking in 2020 goes beyond just marketing and will continue to call for growth hackers who are experts in building companies that goes far beyond marketing.
You may be asking why I don’t love to refer to a growth hacker as someone who only understands marketing.
At GGI, we are of the belief that there are 5 main pillars of growth in a company's growth flywheel.
Your product, service or goods that generate revenue for your business are important. Especially to people who experience problems you solve. Your company’s ability to align your sales team, the processes and tools that support them to sell more is more important than ever.
The relationships your company builds with its customers is the foundation of your success. How you paint the picture and tell the story is what captures your audience and helps them trust you enough for them to give you their money.
The satisfaction you bring to your customers is a key element to how they feel supported and how they are encouraged to engage with your business post-sale; which when done properly results in more of item number 1 above.
The internal and external customers are the backbone of your organization. These are your soul and the people you serve. Treat them well, help them grow and nurture relationships that matter. This will keep them coming back and telling their friends and family.
The tools and technology infrastructure used by your company has never been more important. With thousands of SAAS platforms to manage everything from marketing automation to vendor analysis, a frictionless tech stack increases efficiency, productivity, and profitability.
For more on each of these pillars, check out our "What" page where we outline different elements of sales, marketing, service, people, and technology.
This may seem like a lot for one role, and you’re right.
The future of growth hacking is what can be referred to as a “Comb shaped expertise.” A collective of people who operate as a team with individual t-shaped expertise.
The bottom line: one or even a few people can’t do it alone.
It depends on the project and the desired goal, but the cost of hiring 20 in house experts for sales, marketing, service, people, and technology is expensive and out of most company’s realm of possibilities in the early stages.
This is another one of the many reasons companies choose to grow better with growth agencies like Gray Group International.
You’re able to maximize the value of a full team of experts and state of the art technology resources for less than the cost of 2-3 full-time employees.
To understand business growth, you must understand how the 5 pillars work together to add momentum to the business flywheel.
A flywheel that is spinning, like the one shown above, can either have momentum or friction. Momentum adds force and speed for a smooth spin while friction does the opposite.
As your flywheel experiences more momentum, the easier it will be for your company to grow.
To add momentum you first want to make sure you clearly understand your metrics and goals.
What are the goals that you are after with your company?
Why do you exist?
As you’ve probably heard a thousand times, it’s important to have S.M.A.R.T goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-targeted, but what else?
In addition to having a clear eye on the prize, you must also understand the steps necessary to get to the prize.
In the modern-day digital landscape, there are so many things to consider:
Is your business posting, consistent, valuable, and engaging content on the main platforms that your users are already on?
I don’t care what you say about new up and coming apps like Snapchat and TikTok; there are millions of users on those apps daily and if your business isn’t already sharing on those platforms, you better get with it. Just like there was AOLl once upon a time, then we saw an era for Myspace, there will be a future beyond Facebook and if you are resistant to change, you may want to challenge yourself by looking at the radical reduction of conversion rates for tactics that worked well just a few years ago.
Getting found online has always been important and being on the first page of Google is something that I’ve heard about from almost every business owner and CEO I’ve ever spoken with. Though it is important to get with it when it comes to inbound marketing, and optimizing your website for a strong online presence, marketing strategy has become far more complex than what strategies looked like 5 or 10 years ago to get on the first page of Google.
The marketing channel that never dies: Email. Though we all want to get far away from our email, statistics show that users are still utilizing email marketing channels to make buying decisions about desired products. Though it’s harder than it was before to get high open and email deliverability rates, email marketing is an integral part of digital marketing and it’s here to stay, at least for now.
When wanting to get past all the noise, advertising strategies also play an integral role in growth strategy, but is the secret sauce in Advertising?
A few years ago... maybe.
In 2020? Not one bit...
Advertising is important, as most of the marketing channels, but users are smarter than ever, and with the rise of Adblockers, users know better than to fall for un-engaging paid online advertising strategies.
Bad online advertising is dead.
Advertising is a great way to increase and nearly force brand awareness by putting your company right in front of the desired target audience, but it is costly and often advertising tactics do not produce conversion rates that they did in the past resulting in a higher cost per click and cost per conversation.
I do believe that most good growth campaigns have some paid advertising elements, but they definitely should not be comprised fully of only paid promotions or promotions that disrupt or interrupt the user.
Create ads that make people want to come to you.
Something like this:
Now I get that we aren’t all Lacoste and not everyone has the budget for a film like the one shared, but in 2020, a new iPhone and a plan can go a long way.
This video of Selena Gomez was shot on iPhone:
With all of that in mind,
If it isn’t social media, email marketing, or advertising? Then what?
There is no excuse for mediocrity.
Do great or don’t do at all.
Companies who understand how to break the mold of the traditional ways of doing things are the ones who are tapping into the missing experiences that users are truly looking for.
Companies like Uber, Carvana, and Amazon are disrupting the outdated consumer experiences and introducing “WOW” moments in the buyer and customer journey’s that users weren’t being exposed to previously.
When I used to work with Apple, I remember thinking distinctly about how Apple was so successful because they completely put the user experience on its head when it came to not only their products, but how people purchased, and experienced their products.
It’s no surprise when I was 14 I chose to wait in line at the Apple Store to be one of the first to get his hands on the new iPad.
I remember the feeling of being celebrated with a “clap-in” as I walked into the store after waiting nearly 24 hours outside.
Apple made me feel special, they made me feel seen, they put a huge smile on my face, and because of that, they earned a life-long promoter. An advocate that not only waited in several other lines for other product launches, but also an advocate who made Apple his first career, and still to this day shares with everyone he can about the life-enriching moments I was fortunate enough to experience as both an internal and external customer of their company.
Apple understands what it means to be an experience disruptor, and they have a clear understanding of what “WOW” moments do for the average lifetime value of their customers.
My businesses all run on Apple products and because of those special moments, I’ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars there since my first experience as a teenager.
For those of you who don’t find value connecting with younger audiences, remember that they too, will grow up, and they will be the ones who choose how to invest in the future.
Regardless, it’s in the “WOW” moment.
Growth Hacking in 2020 is all about the “WOW” moment.
Check out what Tim Hockey, CEO of TD AmeriTrade has to tell us about “WOW” moments.
What are the stories your customers are sharing about your company?”
We’ve all heard of the amazing stories about incredible customer experiences.
About employees who went above and beyond to make a customer smile.
The team member who did the right thing because they knew it was the right thing to do.
We’ve all heard about the amazing workplaces.
The “I wish I had your job” conversations.
In 2020, we get to remember that it’s never been easier to share those stories.
The internet thrives on those stories.
If you’re curious about why you may not be hearing about these stories in your company, you probably need to look for the missing “WOW” moments.
If you’re with the times, your company is already taking advantage of the immense opportunities online, but are they doing enough to positively disrupt the user experience and create an experience that results in “WOW” and drives your customer towards advocacy?
Most articles you read about growth hacking talk about the tools used, tactics deployed, and focus on digital strategies that are simply not enough to drive exponential revenue growth.
The truth about growth hacking in 2020 is that companies need to do more by removing friction from their growth flywheel and unlocking the missed potential that lives in the missing “WOW” moments in their customer and buyer journeys.
If you’re looking for sustainable growth, you need more brand advocates.
The way to gaining more advocates is by “WOWing” your users with an unforgettable positive experience.
One common misconception is that “WOW” moments and experience disruptors have to be difficult and expensive.
As Rory Sutherland states beautifully in his TED Talk “Sweat the small stuff.” We need more people focussed on the simple, inexpensive problems that need to be solved.
“What is happening in the world today is the big stuff, actually, it’s done magnificently well. But the small stuff, what you might call the “user interface” is done spectacularly badly.”’
“And the fundamental problem is we don't actually have a word for this stuff. We don't know what to call it. And actually we don't spend nearly enough money looking for those things, looking for those tiny things that may or may not work, but which, if they do work, can have a success absolutely out of proportion to their expense, their efforts and the disruption they cause.“
“WOW” moments don’t need to be expensive, complex, or nearly impossible for them to make an impact and drive exponential revenue growth.
For us, we believe that it requires a level of empathy that is often unseen in corporate businesses. A level of empathy that is required from the people building the business that truly puts the company in the user’s shoes and makes the journey to solve the problem they have that your company solves a seamless and frictionless experience.
Some people think that growth hacking only applies to startups. Being that growth hacking is a data-driven iterative process, companies and corporations of all sizes can benefit from curating purposeful disruptions that drive growth.
These disruptions are beyond the realm of marketing, but take a holistic company-wide approach to locate the opportunity for growth. Those organized expressions of tension can allow companies to truly pivot and iterate in ways that are testable and drive more revenue.
Established businesses have the opportunity to learn that in business, there is value in reading between the lines. So many businesses only focus on the bottom line and they neglect things like compassionate leadership, employee engagement, and other opportunities for positive experience disruptors in their organizations.
A successful business in 2020 understands that what happens in between the top line and the bottom line is where the secret sauce for growth lives in the business; in the operations.
Creating a culture of curiosity at every level is crucial to unlocking maximum growth potential.
Growth hacking is important because it helps us navigate this new world of rapidly growing companies that we’ve created in the past 50 years
2020 and beyond will heavily rely on social responsibilities from individuals as well as brands alike. With these massive platforms, at what point are leaders taking time to reflect on the greater impact.
Up until now, the main metric for growth hacking has been growth.
Growth is important. The cost of not investing in growth is deadly for most companies.
However, it cannot be growth at all costs.
It can’t all be about wealth and power at the expense of others, can it?
I prefer to believe that’s not the right way to win in the modern age.
Companies have responsibilities. It’s more important than ever that consumers and investors are aware and conscious of where they invest their money.
If you found this article and were hoping to find more tactics, then I’ve finally got to what you’ve been waiting for.
This article is not intended to be a complete guide for growth hacking in relation to marketing tactics.
Here are my top 23 digital marketing tactics
There are literally hundreds of tactics and techniques that a business can deploy depending on their business goals. If you’re looking for more, check out Wishpond’s “Growth Hacking: 100 Hacks, Strategies and Techniques.”
I love Sean Ellis’s reference to a growth hacker being a person whose true north is growth. Everything they do is scrutinized by its potential to impact on scalable growth.
I think everyone should be a growth hacker. Every role should think in that way.
Companies who are thriving are creating a culture of learning and open space for employees to take radical responsibility and experiment within their roles and at times, even outside of their roles.
Have you heard of Richard Montañez? He’s famous for being the Janitor turn PepsiCo Executive for inventing the Hot Cheeto and driving billions in revenue for the company.
Do you have a pocket of untapped billions in your company?
Having people in every part of the organization looking for tensions that add friction in the growth flywheel is a secret weapon of sorts.
Imagine everyone in the company always looking for ways to impact a more sustainable approach to growth.
The real question is, why don’t they?
Because traditional and social conditioning has programmed us to keep our mouth shut and believe that our choices and actions on a small scale don’t matter that much.
It’s a shame, but I said it.
(Shit should I delete this?)
Aaron Ginn’s definition of a growth hacker is a great one: “mindset of data, creativity, and curiosity."
As I mentioned when starting this article, growth hackers do much more than manage marketing campaigns.
Examples of Growth Hacking by “WOW” moments:
Typically “WOW” moments are disguised in moments of friction. According to Holacracy, tension is the feeling you get when you feel a gap between where you are and where you could be.
What are the gaps that you and your team feel in your business?
What could you do differently to add momentum to your flywheel
You’ve heard me talk about friction and you’ve read about the importance of creating a culture of curiosity in our organizations.
How do we create a culture of curiosity within our organizations?
We welcome feedback and open discussion around tensions that cause friction.
Have I mentioned I love the flywheel analogy?
If you aren’t welcoming these difficult conversations for improvement, you are impeding your flywheel from spinning freely.
Trust the people in your company to help you and the rest of the management see things differently.
Do this by focusing on the processes.
At Gray Group International, we are experts at helping companies build a solid foundation for real growth by finding and curating the missing “WOW” moments in your buyer and customer journeys.
If you’re looking to take your business to a new level of exponential growth, reach out for us to chat about how we can help you get to the next level in sales, marketing, service, people, and technology.
I don’t usually meet with people for free, but because you took the time to read this article, I’d love to give you a free 1-hour consultation on your buyer’s journey and growth hacking strategy at no cost.
My calendar is limited, so schedule your time today, before I book the rest of my available slots for this year.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about this article. Comment below and let’s start a conversation about growth.
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