Growth hacking is a term currently being bandied about by marketing and advertising folk. It’s one of those phrases that the average person would have a hard time defining, even though the meanings of both words being used is clear. And yet, growth hacking is all the rage and if you talk to a marketing person, they’ll suggest it for your business. So … what the heck is growth hacking?

Neil Patel, online marketing savant, says growth hacking is responsible for the exponential growth rates of certain startups, such as Airbnb. In 2009, Airbnb had 21,000 guest arrivals. In 2016, it had 80,000,000 guest arrivals, which was more guest arrivals than the company had from 2009 to 2015 combined. Now that’s exponential growth!

It’s safe to say that every company—including yours—would love to experience that type of growth. But how is it done? Why doesn’t everyone do it? How can you make growth hacking a part of your marketing strategy?

Companies have a lot to think about just to stay viable; however, according to Patel, the only thing a company—especially a startup—should focus on is growth. Nothing else matters. Patel gives an example of a company that unwittingly used growth hacking back in the 1950s: McDonald’s.

When the interstate highway system was created in 1956, McDonald’s had the foresight to understand that a huge number of people would be moving on those highways, many of whom would be hungry and thirsty, and thus the new highways would be a major resource for new customers. McDonald’s began positioning itself at interstate exits. Not only could hungry travelers quickly and easily get to each McDonald’s, but the sight of so many McDonald’s at so many exits would burn itself into a traveler’s brain.

Today, McDonald’s are in every town across America, but you can still observe the seeds that grew the company because there are still a lot of McDonald’s populating interstate exits. What was McDonald’s marketing strategy? It was simple and still works today—just replace the interstate highway system with the internet. McDonald’s envisioned customer flow—where its customers were going to be and where they were heading—and, according to Patel, companies today must do the same thing.

The analogy Patel draws is that today instead of highways leading to businesses, search engines lead to businesses; instead of roads leading to movie theaters, we browse YouTube; instead of local streets leading to our friends’ houses, we socialize by using Facebook, Twitter or Snapchat. Put your business where people are and determine where they’ll be in the future.

Another tip Patel offers is that businesses need to be scalable. Whether it’s Airbnb or Uber, the company has little investment and expansion is limited only by how many people want to rent their homes to strangers or use their cars as taxis. The company doesn’t have to double its expenses to double its size; it’s homeowners and car owners who increase the size of those companies.

To summarize, Patel has an eight-step process to growth hack any company:

  1. Make sure you create a product people actually want
  2. Before you do anything else, ask questions and get feedback. The classic example is New Coke. When Coca-Cola changed its formula in the 80s, just about everyone hated the new taste. A little market research would have instantly told Coca-Cola that no one wanted a change in the flavor of Coke.

  3. Don’t target everybody
  4. Ask, “Who would get the most benefit from this product?” Create a detailed profile of your customer and direct marketing only to that limited group.

  5. Acquisition
  6. Get your brand in front of as many people as possible as quickly as possible. If you must give something away to get new users, do it. Spreading the brand is crucial at this point.

  7. Activation
  8. How do you turn sign-ups into purchases? It’s a balancing act and you may have to experiment. Snag web visitors with substantive information, and then when they find your site essential, go for the conversion. If you entice people to sign up for a service or products, but they do nothing after that, you’ve permanently lost them as customers.

  9. Retention
  10. In the beginning, the drive is for new customers, but that mindset has to eventually change. Your best customers are repeat customers, so make catering to their needs a priority.

  11. Revenue
  12. Build the value of your product and expand your value to customers. Do a lot of A/B testing to see what drives sales. As Patel says, if people have an issue with shipping costs, try offering free shipping, or free shipping on orders over $20. Find the sweet spot where you’re satisfying your customers’ needs while maintaining a respectable ROI.

  13. Referrals
  14. People trust friends, family, celebrities and influencers … not necessarily in that order. Get your customers to refer your brand to others. Hire influencers to refer your brand. No one believes advertising. Everyone believes the recommendation of a friend, neighbor, or social media icon.

  15. Continuously improve your product
  16. Apple didn’t build the Apple II, like what they created, and then stop. They continued improving their computers and then moved into iPods, iPhones and iPads, with every iteration of every product improving upon the previous one. Each iPhone is better than the last by just enough so that people who spent $599 for an iPhone 8 a year ago are ready to pony up $1,100 for an iPhone XS.

For more on growth hacking, check out 12 Growth Hacking Techniques, The Guide to Growth Hacking, The 10 Commandments of Growth Hacking, and Growth Hacking Brand Awareness.

Of course, if you don’t have time to read all that, then maybe you should give McFadden/Gavender a call. We can provide all the necessary steps to get your company moving. Whether you’re a startup or an established company, we can grow your brand. Our team of experts work together to provide design, content, digital, social media, and public relations, all coordinating with your company to make certain we take your brand further. Contact us and discover all that we can do for you.