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Buzzword buster: what is 'growth-hacking' and how can it build brands and drive business?

Join us in conversation with Mach49, which partners with companies to unlock venture-driven growth, as we explore the buzzword the industry is talking about.

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Market Insights

Helping brands to acquire and retain new customers, growth-hacking can be one of the most resource-light and cost-effective strategies when it comes to increasing businesses and building brands. It can also shift products and raise profile, as well as reach deep into the creative brains of colleagues to leverage some truly innovative thinking. 

The buzzword was coined in 2010 by Sean Ellis, the first marketeer at file storage and transfer service Dropbox, and refers more to testing and experimentation than the wizardry implied in its name. Like A/B testing on steroids, if you will. 

Partnering with global companies to develop their growth engines through everything from venture-building and investing to strategic partnerships and M&A, Mach49 is on a mission to develop meaningful growth for its clients, helping disrupt existing markets and create new ones.

Here, Managing Partner Kevin Ye and venture-builder Christopher Young reveal their seven top tips.

Tip 1

While it’s still very much a magical word, ‘growth-hacking’ has been successfully used as a clever strategy to completely transform many high-profile companies behind the scenes, such as Gopuff – one of the largest consumer delivery companies in the US – which went from a valuation of $40m to over £1b thanks to the transformative method.

In simplistic terms, growth-hacking is focused on a specific initiative, working backwards from a particular OKR (objectives and key results), then experiments into that.  

To bring the method to life, one of the most familiar success stories is Airbnb, which enjoyed growth-hacking through Craigslist. Every day, a colleague from the homestays website would copy their listings into the classified advertisements platform to drive traffic back to Airbnb, and it worked.

Tip 2

Crucially, there’s a difference between an initial growth framework and the actual growth-hacks. The ‘non-sexy’ growth-hacks, like the relatively simplistic CraigsList example you can imagine a college student doing, tend to be the ones that are the most successful. However, the key is always in the thought process, which in this case was identifying another platform as an opportunity, then executing the framework really well.

Tip 3

To implement growth-hacking in your own business, start by working your way down from a single OKR. In which part of your acquisition funnel would you like to accomplish something? You need to be hyper-focused so you’re not chasing a breadth of opportunities and getting too distracted. The narrower you are in your thinking, the more likely you are to devise specific hypotheses. Every growth-hack should work towards a concerted goal.

Tip 4

Next, shortlist your hypothesis, then have a conversation around the top five or 10 priorities. If they all require time and energy from a single team, that won’t be feasible, or if they create conflicting goals or outcomes because you can’t measure them at the same time, it won’t work.

Consider the three main restraints during the same process: time, budget and frequency. For a small company, the latter will always be the trickiest, as you may only get one experiment in a three-month period because your customer base will be more limited than a bigger operation.”

Tip 5

Don’t be afraid to kill an experiment early when the data shows it’s clearly not working. It’s about being confident in those indicative signals and moving on to the next. Similarly, if you’re seeing early success, don’t hesitate to shorten the initial time frame planned. 

You may have a growth-hack that’s wildly successful for two months before it peters out or something else gets prioritised, and that’s OK.

Tip 6

In terms of who’s responsible for growth-hacking within a business, it should always be a cross-functional effort, as it’s very rare you see someone dedicated to the role. The resource should be borrowed internally so the person can influence a range of things, from product to comms. The perfect growth-hacker is an individual who has clout across multiple functions of a business. It requires someone who is intuitive and analytical – skills not everybody possess.

Tip 7

What shouldn’t you growth-hack? Areas that are considered process-improving, things that are obvious and you should be doing already, and ideas that are already proven. This is the real test of having that structured framework.

The journey to growth isn’t always plain-sailing, but learning from the expertise of a specialist company can help founders create their own growth-hacks, experimenting to see what works for you and your business. 

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