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The Incredible Rise and Ever-Evolving Applications of the “Growth” Hacker

Steve Safarowic
October 19, 2020
Last updated on
June 13, 2024


Did you know that Buzzfeed started as a side-project and has emerged as one of the most successful viral sites on the internet today, boasting of 200+ million visitors and over 6 billion global content views? Despite such humble beginnings, it has amassed a massive active user base using growth-focused tactics, popularly known as growth hacking.

"Growth hacking" was once considered to be the "big kahuna" of all-things digital marketing related, especially in the startup world and the small business network.

When the concept emerged in 2010, spearheaded by Sean Ellis, the term was popularized on the notion that digital marketers could utilize data and analytics to “hack” experiments that would lead to supermassive growth.

While this idea works swimmingly, there is a catch to it: Marketing has always been about growth, and the idea of NOT using analytics for decision-making seems counterproductive and unnatural. So what does growth hacking truly entail? Is it solely data-driven? How else can digital marketers drive growth?

In this blog, I will address a few burning questions about growth hacking as a strategy and a concept:

  1. What is growth hacking, and does it only include data analysis?
  2. What are the top growth-focused strategies to look out for in 2020? What kind of technology, tactics, and new platforms should digital marketers be embracing to make informed, growth-focused decisions?
  3. What does the future hold for digital marketing in a time where it takes more than just ad spend and looking at analytics to make creative decisions?

Without wasting more time, let's jump right into it.

Growth Hacking: Meaning & Defining Characteristics

Here are my two cents on what any true-to-form growth hacking blueprint should constitute:

  • Growth hacking may be specific and focused on achieving goals; however, it is a 'broad, 'hybrid' concept in execution.
  • It is sustainable and scalable in approach while being platform-, technique-, and strategy-agnostic.
  • It is an ongoing process that includes extensive testing and periodic iteration of your product, sales, and marketing strategies.
  • It isn't a one-man-show; your teams, systems, tools, and processes need to be in sync and need to collaborate to drive organic growth.
  • To that end,  let's look at a holistic definition of a growth hacker by Andrew Chen, a general partner at Andreessen Horowitz:

“Growth hackers are a hybrid of marketer and coder, one who looks at the traditional question of, ‘How do I get customers for my product?’ and answers with A/B tests, landing pages, viral factor, email deliverability, and Open Graph. On top of this, they layer the discipline of direct marketing, with its emphasis on quantitative measurement, scenario modeling via spreadsheets, and a lot of database queries.”

Long story short, a growth hacker adorns many hats and capabilities from an engineer and coder to a marketer and product manager. That's exactly how vast the concept is with wide-ranging applications. Here's an interesting iceberg example of the "behind-the-scene" strategies that a growth hacker would need to work on to attain skyrocketing 'viral growth':

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Typically, growth hackers make use of the 'SMART' concept (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-based) to define the actionable steps they need to take in order to achieve the end-goal. Here are some examples of what this end-goal would look like:

  • Boost blog traffic by 10% by the end of December 2020.
  • Generate 1000+ organic leads from the [xyz] social media campaign.
  • Achieve 5,000 new monthly visitors while retaining the existing customer base of [xyz].

Handy tip: If you're just starting out and need to go back to the drawing board to map out your growth hacking blueprint, start by using tried-and-tested traditional techniques and integrate it with automation to achieve scalable results. The idea is to think outside-the-box while moving with momentum. Also, make sure to define what 'growth' means for you. It could mean more customers, revenue, retention, among others.

Digital Marketing 2020: Top-5 Growth Hacking Strategies & Techniques

First things first, it is important to know that the growth hacking techniques, channels, and strategies come in all shapes, sizes, forms, and applications. There is no standard template or a predefined list of what works to skyrocket conversion rates, boost customer acquisition, and drive scalable strategies (to name a few desired outcomes).

So let's look at the top-5 growth-focused strategies that go beyond the traditional aspects of digital marketing and encompass key elements such as technology, platforms, and a change in mindset to make informed and creative decisions.

1. Get Creative & Integrate your Product/Service with Relevant Social Media Platforms & Popular Apps to Boost User Engagement

If gaining early traction tops your list of requirements, you need to integrate your offering with another popular (and relevant) app so that you can piggyback off the users from the latter. That said, when narrowing down on the channels, make sure to factor in how your users are going to benefit from this integration. There has to be a value-add from the user's perspective. In other words, it has to have a practical benefit in order for it to fly.

Take, for instance, Calendly, which offers seamless integration with Google Calendar and your email marketing software. This makes sense as most people end up using Google Calendar in one way or another in today's era of virtual meetings:

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Integrating with popular apps allows your users to use simultaneous services from different brands and enjoy a seamless, automated workflow that benefits the company as well as the customers.

2. A/B Test Ferociously: Analyze, Iterate, Repeat

It is common knowledge that data-driven decision-making serves as the foundation for growth hacking. However, you cannot hope to achieve results if your data is outdated. Hence, as a growth hacker, you need to invest in software such as Optimizely that allows you to monitor numerous testing campaigns at one go:

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Once you've got into the groove of testing frequently, you can redirect your efforts towards analyzing the results. Think of it as a 'trial-and-error' method where you're constantly fine-tuning your tests to see what's sticking and what's not.

That said, it can get easy to get lost in the sea of tests and lose sight of the end-goal. So make sure to test and retest, and keep evolving as a product/service to keep your target audience connected and engaged. One brilliant example of a brand that's consistently rolling out new features and improving its core offering is Instagram:

  • Instagram's new feature allows businesses and creators in the US with a shop to use the new in-app checkout:

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The feature is brilliantly integrated with Facebook Pay (no surprises there) to leverage enhanced security and convenience.
Then, of course, there's the Live Shopping feature, which allows users to purchase items in real-time:

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The point we're driving home? There's a reason why brands like Instagram are dominating the social media landscape as it continues to test what's working, review the results, retest to see the impact, and finally give people exactly what they want and then some more.

3. Chatbot Ads are Ruling the Growth Hacking Landscape

"Facebook ads with chatbots boast of a 3x-5x higher conversion rate than other traditional Facebook ads.

AI-powered FB chatbot ads offer end-to-end automation, boost your audience reach, capture user information right at the beginning, and reduce the cost of lead acquisition with Facebook ads. How so?

To start with, the Click-to-Messenger Ads are mobile-friendly, interactive, and help boost conversion rate by capturing vital information which can then be used to communicate with users on Facebook Messenger.

For example, Mobile Monkey's chatbot-led FB Ad resulted in a cost per acquisition (CPA) decrease of 97%:

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What's more, chatbot ads have an 80% to 90%  open rate and a 20–50% click-through rate! You can be sure of generating quality leads, round-the-clock, with chatbot auto-responders - a feature that enables you to train your bot to respond to user queries privately in FB Messenger:

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In short, every user is noticed, answered to, and appreciated boosting brand value and loyalty.
Here's another example of a Mastercard AI chatbot that answers user's questions instantly and effectively:

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AI chatbots can review consumer behavior and analyze search patterns by using critical, real-time data from varied sources such as social media platforms and blog posts. All in all, businesses can get actionable insights into what their target user likes, dislikes, wants, needs, etc.

4. Use Social Media Automation to Stay on Top of your Social Media Presence

Social media marketing is exploding, and every growth hacking strategy is incomplete without factoring in your brand's social media presence. Here's how the process works.

First, identify which social media platform(s) is most preferred by your users and can offer the highest ROI. You could choose from a variety of platforms such as:

  • YouTube - The hub of online video marketing which is ideal for brands that have educative and creative content.
  • Pinterest is perfect for visually-aesthetic product-based enterprises.
  • Instagram, which is ideal for super-niche brands that like roll-out quality content and engage with users one-on-one.
  • Facebook is useful for brands with a solid ad budget in place. Facebook, in particular, also has social networking groups that your brand can leverage to boost user reach as well as engagement.
  • LinkedIn is perfect for B2B companies looking to network and expand their user base.
  • Twitter, which is best suited for brands who can drive succinct content, stay in the loop of the latest news, and like to use witty/trendy hashtags.

You can then draft a winning content strategy to gather more leads and boost engagement.

This may come across as a rather obvious strategy, but here's the twist in the plot: To stay ahead and organized across your social media platforms, you need to invest in a social media automation tool such as MeetEdgar. You can utilize this set of tools to automate the process of sharing relevant, evergreen, and valuable content in a recurring capacity:

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This can save a lot of your time and effort, while the tool promotes highly-engaging content on repeat.

5. AI for Hyper-Personalization

"By 2022, 70% of enterprises will be experimenting with immersive technologies, and 25% will have deployed to production." - Gartner

Brands are using the power of predictive analytics to analyze buying patterns and user preferences and preempt future needs. By diving into data mining, predictive modeling, and machine learning; brands can elevate their user experience and offer tailor-made experiences at scale. Some of the best examples of a hyper-personalized brand include Amazon, Netflix, Spotify, etc. All these brands make use of artificial intelligence to offer customized products and make relevant recommendations. Another example worth considering is Sephora's Virtual Assistant, which makes use of augmented reality (AR) and immersive technology:

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The ever-increasing adoption of AI technology points towards the fact that customers are ready to embrace new features that combine the power of personalization and real-time data to offer customers something that's truly unique.

"Where predictive analytics uses machine learning to predict what will happen, augmented analytics uses machine intelligence to boost human intelligence with the why, so we can work faster and smarter on ever-larger datasets.” - Bonnie D. Graham

The Future of a Growth Hacker: A 360-Degree Digital Marketing Perspective

All things said and done; it can be summarized that a growth hacker is many things:

  • They're digital marketers who need to have hands-on experience with social media marketing, CRM, and automation.
  • They need to be exceptional advertising executives who can get a grip on the nitty-gritties of paid customer acquisition (paid ads).
  • They need to have a coding and engineering mindset to understand how futuristic data analytics tools work and how they can study user behavior, boost conversions, increase interactions, etc.
  • They need to multi-task, plan tirelessly, and collaborate with your organization's technical team to understand which tools and software best align with your business goals.
  • They need to be equipped with in-depth knowledge and expertise on how to maximize customer journeys and expectations.
  • Finally, they need to apply the principles of psychology, marketing, and persuasion to sell smart, connect better, and convert users.

Check Out:Digital Marketing and Growth Hacking Course

Wrapping Up: Digital Marketing vs. Growth Hacking

In today's age of digital marketing, growth hacking has emerged as a novel idea. However, as we saw above, it is not a purely digital marketing skill.

There are many facets, skills, and applications that eventually come together to deliver that one idea that can skyrocket your business to unparalleled growth. So try these handy strategies and keep experimenting with fresh ideas to drive growth.

Finally, I leave you with some food for thought: "Considering the pace at which brands are innovating and exploding, are we entering a time where “GROWTH” is the new normal?" At this point, it is safe to assume that your guess is as good as mine.

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