Bloggers and tech gurus have been touting the term 'growth hacking' as the next big thing for marketing, claiming big budgets are a thing of the past and that all brands have to do is embrace a coder’s meticulous logic to open up a world of a billion new users.
That might sound far-fetched, but if you haven’t heard of growth hacking yet, it is time to put the idea on your radar. This is the secret sauce that fast-paced phenoms like Instagram (as well as other chiefly web-based brands) use to coat themselves in low-cost (or no-cost) marketing success. While more a philosophy than a methodology, the approach takes slices from customer service, engineering and PR to assemble communities of loyalists (read customers) who not only buy a product but broadcast praise on its behalf.
“Growth hacking builds the story and the business for you,” said James Giancotti at this past weekend’s Startup Saturday: Crowdfunding 2014 conference. Giancotti is co-founder and director of Bigcolors, a firm that specializes in helping startups crowdsource their investment needs. After working at firms such as JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs, he set out on his own and has seen how firms can flame out as well as flourish. He noted that for tech companies in particular, the growth-hacking approach is a good way to learn how to make a product more suited to their client bases because the technique’s nature is that it “has to be social aware.”
“Hacking is all about playing with things,” he says, “learning how to fail fast and discover the right formula.” But when you are growth-hacking a company, the day-to-day becomes about learning the psychology of traction and fine-tuning offers or positioning until it resonates with the widest audience.
The strange and ever-evolving flavours of Kit Kat candy bars in Asia could be looked at as an example of a brand growth hack. The experimentation builds buzz, loyalty and a community of collectors, one new product at a time.
Nike’s fuel band is another example of a large-scale growth hack. It’s a non-core product (a digital device from a shoe company? Who would buy that?), which has been instrumental to building customer loyalty. The athletic-gear maker has found both image and sales success via this non-traditional channel that it developed with sports enthusiasts in mind. The approach is decisively growth-hacky: It focuses on the customer’s lifestyle, uses technology to enhance something organic and adds a social aspect for sharing fitness data (plus everybody sees you wearing it). That keeps its user based plugged in and buying. Even if they haven’t seen an ad lately the wearable device constantly exposes consumers to the brand while building and reinforcing a relationship.
By definition growth hacking is a scrappy startup approach to marketing, which a distinct lack of budget forces on entrepreneurs. But the idea marketers with a budget can adopt is the way it looks at consumption as something that spreads, or can be spread. If you think about consumption as viral, does that change the way you go to market?
The industry talks a lot about the consumer journey but growth hacking puts its focus more on customer discovery. Put all methods on the table and think less about which channel to use and more about how to combine all the channels to feed a community. That’s more in tune with using a hacking philosophy to build growth.
Most, if not all, media agencies in Asia have themselves already touted hackathons as part of a formula for innovation and growth. That seems to be a step in the right direction, but the industry on the whole can still expand the idea and incorporate it into product development and market strategy, as well as messaging that goes out to the consuming audience.
While marketers can sometimes get overeager, believing their product is for everyone, that is not entirely the case But even with an FMCG item like toothpaste (which truly everyone does need),. Every product can fit a smaller niche. Growth hacking looks at wedging into narrow openings like that and then growing from the inside out. Satisfy a core with a great product, fantastic customer service and community savvy and you set off a cascade of growth that self perpetuates.
Instagram’s famous history of pulling in its first million users in only about one month’s time should encourage every brand that growth hacking has potential to accelerate business in new ways. Fusing technology with community offers brands a channel to hack into widespread success.