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A buzzword of increasing popularity, growth hacking is the process of using both conventional and unconventional methods to quickly grow a business. Coined by Sean Ellis, author of “Hacking Growth” and co-founder of GrowthHackers, the term “growth hacker” describes entrepreneurs and marketers who rapidly test a variety of strategies to increase conversion rates.
Andrew Chen expanded on Ellis’ description and helped popularize the term when he defined a growth hacker as “a hybrid of marketer and coder,” a person who answers the traditional question of “How do I get customers for my product?” with an assortment of strategies: everything from viral landing pages to market research to email campaigns.
Through growth hacking, brands can not only reveal new market opportunities through experimentation and rapid testing, but also make use of even the smallest budgets to drive growth.
While most entrepreneurs know the term—and many even understand its meaning—they don’t necessarily understand how to use the strategy without hiring an expert. And without some sort of investment, few startups have the budget to pay a professional, at least not initially. But when building a brand, time is often of the essence.
That’s why Visme contacted some of the best in the business to find out what growth hacking techniques they use to fuel the rapid development of a startup.
Meet our experts:
Leah Faul is a seasoned inbound marketing specialist, a HubSpot-certified content creator and one of the premier up-and-coming growth hackers in the industry. After several marketing internships during her tenure at Memphis College of Art, Leah learned to wear an assortment of hats and manage a variety of projects. She used that experience to help companies such as 3 Men Movers, Inturact, HelpCentral and Lean Labs experience tremendous growth.
Today, Leah is a brand ambassador for MugDiet, which recently launched on Kickstarter; lead digital strategist for Hotze Health and Wellness Center; and digital marketing director at 15000 cubits. Tenfold recently named her one of its top 75 SaaS influencers.
If you haven’t yet heard of Patrick, that’s sure to change soon. Although he only graduated from Penn State’s College of Business in May 2017, Patrick has been building his marketing resume for years. He was an Uber growth manager, where he helped launch the then-little-known company at his alma mater, and the startup Planted’s growth manager in 2015, before interning with Google in 2016. He even gave his own TED Talk—Holding Identity Accountable—while still an undergrad.
Since graduating, Patrick has worked with Remote Year, which offers young professionals the opportunity to travel across the globe for one year while working remotely, on the fledgling company’s admissions and sales team. In 2018, he will return to Google, where he will join the tech giant’s mobile business development team. Patrick was recently ranked Onalytica’s No. 2 Most Influential Growth Hacker.
Brittany Hodak is a master in entertainment entrepreneurship. Not only is she a notable Forbes contributor and keynote speaker, but she is co-founder of ZinePak, an entertainment company that works with some of the world’s most popular and influential brands, entertainers and properties to actively engage with fans. In April 2015, Brittany appeared on ABC’s hit show Shark Tank, where she and her co-founder received offers from four of the five Sharks.
Prior to founding ZinePak and watching it skyrocket to success, Brittany worked with Fathom Communications, where she was responsible for growing the company’s entertainment-marketing practice by more than 25 percent in less than a year. Brittany has appeared in several lists of promising entrepreneurs, including Advertising Age’s “40 Under 40,” Inc.’s “35 Under 35” and Billboard’s “30 Under 30” lists.
Based on my experience with growing startups and small to mid-sized local companies, the one growth strategy that I would advise 100 percent of the time would be influencer marketing. However, I would quickly follow that up by saying that it needs to be influencer marketing done right. It needs to be on the right platform, with the right influencer, leveraging the right initiative.
Influencer marketing confuses most business owners, leaders, decision makers, and sadly even marketers. When done right, you can achieve the growth goals of more expensive paid marketing campaigns with minimal investment.
It can be a symbiotic exchange of influence or it can be paid. In order to take the quid pro quo route and leverage influencers without paying them, you need to build your own network and influence into it to attract the individuals who can help you expand your brand reach, bring in new leads and convert existing ones.
Invest in your current users, know when they’re at peak satisfaction, and get them to become ambassadors and refer other people. This can be an extremely cost effective way to gain new users.
If you’re solving a particular problem for that first user, they will probably know a couple of others who have that same problem. You can give them some type of monetary incentive, but oftentimes, that’s not even necessary if they truly believe that your product solves a problem that they have.
All you need to do is make them feel like they’re appreciated and part of a community—start a Slack group or Facebook group with your ambassadors, give them the opportunity to meet the founders of the company, give them swag.
ZinePak’s most successful growth strategy has been one that costs nothing. I would encourage every entrepreneur to start practicing it immediately: asking existing clients for referrals. Almost all of our inbound business comes from word of mouth and referrals.
It’s an amazing way to grow, because all of the new potential clients are vetted and familiar with what we do already. To get started, simply ask your favorite existing clients if they know of anyone else in a similar space (NOT a competitor to them!) who might be able to benefit from your products or services.
Some companies offer referral fees, but at ZinePak we’ve found the overwhelming majority of our clients are happy to make introductions just because they’ve enjoyed working with us and are happy with the products we’ve created together.
The biggest mistake I see entrepreneurs make is going with a huge marketing agency and spending big bucks on a strategy based on assumptions about their target market. So often early stage startups and small businesses head to a costly marketing agency before they are ready for it because they have gotten funded and they think it’s “the thing to do.”
But at this stage of the game, they should to be iterating, testing, learning the marketplace, and making sure that they have product market fit. Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and place for large marketing agencies and some of them are very good, but too often an agency charges you big bucks to do the following:
The problem has nothing to do with this strategy or these items. There is a time and a place for all of this and they are very effective marketing tactics, however when done at the wrong time, they can WASTE A TON OF CAPITAL and precious time that you should be spending on customer success. Businesses in early growth stages need to follow the Lean Startup mentality and let their marketing grow as their understanding does.
It makes sense that as a business owner you would want to cast the biggest net possible, because you want to make your money back and get traction quickly. However, slowing down to confirm that you REALLY know who your decision maker is and what they are looking for will save you time and money, guaranteed.
Even if you know who your decision maker is, the more intimately you know them and what they are looking for will enable you to target them in a more unique and specific way than your competitor. This is as simple as A/B testing social media posts, blog posts, surveys, and tracking the traffic on your page. You can even use a free tool like a heat map to watch where people’s mouses are hovering and what catches their interest the most.
It’s just like when you want to have influence with people in person, you need to listen to them before you talk. Listening allows you to spend your marketing bucks on the things they want to hear in the places they actually are.
A huge mistake that entrepreneurs make when trying to grow their brands is that they try to be the Swiss army knife of whatever industry they’re in. Instead of doubling down on solving one problem, they keep adding on other things that they can solve rather than sticking to what they’re good at.
In the end, they lose their core value proposition and lose business to someone who chose to focus on solving the core problem and has a clearly defined messaging and marketing.
One big mistake I see—and one ZinePak made early on—is trying to be everything to everyone, rather than staying in the same lane. Instead of saying “yes” to everything and figuring it out as you go, figure out what you’re uniquely best at doing, and grow by doing more of that type of work. That will help you stay focused and gain a reputation for excellence.
The most effective unorthodox method of traffic generation my team has done was to combine traditional PR outreach, LinkedIn influencer outreach, and personal outreach to create referral traffic on a client website. The client created a unique display item that we then pitched to local companies for cross-promotion and then did media outreach for local inbound links and utilized targeted social paid and organic promotion to distribute the information to the public. The results were impressive.
Handing out physical flyers! I never thought that such an old-school method would have any impact at all, but if you have a target audience in a specific location and you tailor the flyer’s messaging to that group and location, you will be surprised how well you can get them to download your app or check out your website.
At the end of the day, having someone in person convince you to check out their product and sell you on the problem that you’re solving is much more effective than a targeted ad on social media.
As a B2B site, we’ve really never focused much on driving traffic to our website. Probably, the most unorthodox way we’ve ever seen a jump in traffic was from our 2015 Shark Tank appearance, which resulted in almost 1 million new unique visitors between the initial airing and re-run a few months later. That continues to be a great traffic driver each time it re-airs in syndication … both in the US and abroad!
To further answer our three questions, we also looked to some of the biggest names in the growth-hacking industry to see what they’ve been saying in the news and on their own blogs:
“The best growth hackers are constantly testing and tweaking new growth hacks. During this process it is easy to lose sight of the big picture. When this happens, growth eventually falls off a cliff.
Sustainable growth programs are built on a core understanding of the value of your solution in the minds of your most passionate customers. Your drive to develop growth hacks should be based on a burning desire to get this ‘must have’ experience into the hands of more and more of the right customers. Growth hacks built from this frame of mind are the ones that build large sustainable businesses.”
“The ROI you’ll get on [$1,000] in marketing spend isn’t worth it. You’re thinking inside a box with marketing budgets instead of out of the box—which can’t be the mentality of a startup marketer.”
Instead, Taylor explained that early-stage companies should focus on what they can do for free—or close to it—creating content, building an email list, growing a social media audience and optimizing the brand’s website.
“All these things can be done with little to no marketing spend outside of paying for some software. And a lot of marketing software you can use at least for one month for free.”
In his article, “5 Reasons Why Mediocre Copywriting Can Crush Your Startup’s Chance for Growth,” Neil Patel, co-founder of Crazy Egg, Hello Bar and KISSmetrics, wrote of one of the worst mistakes a startup can make.
“If you’re selling online, you’re in for a lot of competition. Copywriting, or salesmanship in print, is the key to beating your competitors.
Even if they are good with people in person and are persuasive, selling using the written word is a whole other ballgame.
When people are so close to their product, company, or solution, they get really locked into why their business is so awesome.
They go crazy talking about their product’s features, what went into building it, or even how much experience they have or where they went to school.
Your product may be awesome, but no one cares about your product. They care about their favorite radio station: WIIFM, or “What’s in it for me?”
The bottom line is you need to learn how to sell a good night’s sleep, not the mattress.”
“Growth hacking is not a magic formula. Growth hacking is not a few lines of code that you include on your website or your app to get millions of visitors or downloads overnight. If it was that easy, I would make an app in one day, put this code, get millions of downloads, sell the app and retire to French Polynesia.
Don’t focus on quantity, focus on quality. If you want quantity, buy downloads from click farms in India or Bangladesh. But, be aware that retention is as important as (if not more than) acquisition.”
Still unsure of where to begin? Check out some experts’ favorite growth-hacking tools on the web:
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Did you find our experts’ advice helpful? What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced when trying to grow your brand? Let me know in the comments section below.
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