Perhaps one of the most common phrases we hear in the startup community of that of ‘growth hacking’. The advice to ‘growth hack’ is often dished out to early stage businesses, usually at the same time as they’re being told to ‘make sure you go viral’.
What is growth hacking, and should we be taking the phrase seriously? Does it have any relevant of place in the business plans of startup businesses?
Under most circumstances, growth hacking is a very broad term that refers to going about marketing activities in a smart but unconventional way that catapults growth in certain metrics. Perhaps taking a readily available resource and utilizing it in a slightly different application to your own advantage.
A lot of people think of growth hacking as the opposite of conventional advertising and focused on inbound / content marketing, social media and SEO.
I’m cool with most of that. The ability to be smart, resourceful and innovative in how you go about building your business is a great ability to have, and it’s a mindset worth striving for. Thinking in terms of capitalizing on every opportunity and creating and exploiting resources to your advantage. Great.
Where I think it all comes unstuck is in the area of application or objective. What do I mean?
1- As advice.
I often see startups reaching out for advice and guidance on growth (as that’s what they’re all after, right?) and I see them being told in return to ‘make sure that you growth hack’ or ‘think about how you will hack your growth in the next stage’.
What does this even mean? How do I growth hack? What is growth hacking? How do I do it in a way that is specific to my business?
2- Vanity metrics.
The other issue with the whole concept is that it’s departed so far away from sound business objectives that it’s no longer credible. We have entered an age where we’re far more interested in Facebook likes, Twitter followers, social reach, website hits and user numbers. Now I know those metrics can be important, depending on objectives and the stage of the business, but they’re not everything.
What happened to revenue and profitability?
3- It’s just marketing.
Sadly, growth hacking isn't a particular technique or skill set that can be properly defined or learned. It’s just common sense, innovative thinking and…marketing. Activities such as using SEO, A/B testing and optimizing for user acquisition aren't growth hacking, and they’re certainly not new concepts.
So, stop putting growth hacking in your business plan as a route to exponential growth. It’s meaningless. Focus on understanding your customers, building a great product, converting more leads to clients and delivering something awesome.
And finally, this all comes with one caveat. The website www.growthhackers.com is absolutely fantastic.
Not because they’re drinking the kool-aid, but because the site is chock-full of smart marketing advice and stories of success / failure. They've built one of the best resources around for anybody interested in online marketing and growth, so go and check it out. It’s not growth hacking…that’s just what they've called their site!
Dunwiley offers business advice, coaching and strategy consulting to startups and small businesses. If you want to know how to grow your business, how to be more profitable or need another perspective, get in touch. We're based in Salisbury, Wiltshire but work in London, Hampshire and surrounding counties.
Drop us an email and say hello: we can be found at firstname.lastname@example.org