What is growth hacking and will it work for your business?

Aja Stuart

If you’re looking to grow your customer base fast, as in, really fast, you might want to try your hand at growth hacking.

Growth hacking is where the skill sets of marketers, engineers and product developers meet to make a product go viral, seemingly on its own. It’s tricky. It’s techy. It utilises platforms like Facebook and Twitter, and it’s built into the success stories of many huge startups, such as Airbnb and Uber.

While there are various definitions for growth hacking, Michael Simonetti, Founder and Managing Director of digital agency, AndMine, breaks it down for us. “The root is basically using technology to find opportunities within platforms or data to take advantage of,” he says.

You use the platform to your advantage,” says Simonetti. “Like Facebook, for example. Growth hacking would try to exploit something in that system to boost advantage. There are ways and tools to farm your follower’s email addresses, and they can be reused for marketing. For example, you could retarget those people on Facebook.”

‘"The next step up is digital marketing. That uses data analysis and is more targeted."

If this is starting to sound a little edgier than you expected, you might be right to raise an eyebrow. Simonetti has a word of warning. “There’s laws in place for all of this that you can’t work around,” he says.

“As a commercial entity you need to pay attention to those rules. Growth hacking is essentially the safe, commercial version of illegal hacking.”

In a further step away from the old forms of marketing, growth hacking uses data in new ways.

“With traditional marketing, you broadcast marketing to a large group of people and hope people engage. It’s called shotgun marketing,” says Simonetti. “The next step up is digital marketing. That uses data analysis and is more targeted.”

“Growth hacking aims to leverage that data in a more sophisticated way,” he says. “It exploits an external data set over the top of the data of digital marketing. It’s not an everyday use of the platform.”

With laser focus on growth, one starts to wonder how existing customers might feel. Does service and customer retention suffer in the name of expansion?

“These are completely independent aspects of the business. They’re mutually exclusive,” says Simonetti. “There should be significant and ongoing importance on service, if that’s part of your business.”

"If you know the platform and data, those opportunities will jump out at you."

However, with that said, Simonetti also points out very successful startups that have forgone customer service altogether. “You can grow your business phenomenally with very little service, or no service,” he says. “Uber is a great example of this. In its first years there was no way to contact them. They didn’t have contact forms. There was no way to get in touch. That was how they ran it. But they had huge growth.”

“There’s a similar parallel between very good digital startups and growth hacking.”

So, how would a startup leverage growth hacking to go viral and skyrocket their customer numbers?

It’s challenging to do,” says Simonetti. “I recommend living and breathing the data platforms. If you know the platform and data, those opportunities will jump out at you.”

“Startups and small businesses can do this by the pure fact that they’re trying to improve their numbers. A lot of growth hacking ideas come from people trying to grow their businesses and figuring something out, then other people notice and start doing it too.”

“At some point the platform, say, ebay or Facebook, realise what’s happening and change their algorithm and that opportunity closes. The platforms have the control,” he explains. “It’s not the stability of your business. It changes from one month to the next.”

Understand the right data. Look at the larger trends in your data. And connect the data to sales."

If you’re ready to accept the challenge, Simonetti has three pieces of advice to get you started.

Firstly, Understand your data,” he says. “By that I mean, understand the right data. Look at the larger trends in your data. And connect the data to sales. Likes aren’t sales.”

The next trick is to pay attention. “If you see someone doing something well, google how to do it,” says Simonetti. “There’ll be articles out there on how to do that thing. Then do it.”

Finally, “Know the platforms. It’s an enormous learning curve, but it pays enormous dividends.”

Aja Stuart

Aja is Sydney-based writer and serial entrepreneur. She regularly writes about small business, entrepreneurship, and health and wellbeing. Her latest entrepreneurial adventure is yeahmama.co.