According to ex-Marketing Director of American Apparel Ryan Holiday, “A growth hacker is someone who has thrown out the playbook of traditional marketing and replaced it with only what is testable, trackable, and scalable.” That’s all very well for small companies and startups who are able to fail fast with little risk. But can established companies afford to try a new approach?
Growth hacking starts with startups
Growth hacking is mostly associated with startups. It’s considered a quick and dirty way of testing ideas and growing audiences with small budgets. And there are plenty of success stories from well-known brands that started with a growth hacking approach.
For example, in 2010 Airbnb created an integration with Craigslist (at that time, the most common platform for alternative accommodation), allowing users to advertise their listing on both websites through Airbnb. What set them apart from other listings though, was the quality of the photos they shared. After launching the Airbnb photography programme with just 20 professional photographers, revenues took off.
What are the key elements of successful growth hacking?
To be successful, growth hacking requires companies to replicate the conditions of startups. In particular:
- Agility. Operating in a lean way makes changing direction if something fails easier.
- Experimentation. Starting with a blank slate requires extensive experimentation to find out what actions see most success.
- Innovative thinking. Without millions in the bank, thinking outside the box is essential
- Data driven mindset. Using data to learn how to avoid failure and increase success is crucial.
- Customer centricity. Obsessing about customers is key to success, as without them, you don’t have a business.
You can see these features in some larger tech companies like Amazon. Their ‘Day 1’ mindset is all about “…being constantly curious, nimble, and experimental. It means being brave enough to fail if it means that by applying lessons learnt, we can better surprise and delight customers in the future.”
How can large enterprises replicate this?
Whilst it’s easy to recognise what’s needed for growth hacking, it’s harder to take action. Large companies aren’t set up in the same way as startups, so need innovative solutions.
For example, encouraging more collaboration across teams – bringing people with different skills and perspectives together can spark new ideas. Or introducing more agile ways of working, such as including decision-makers in all phases of development, to identify and fix problems sooner.
Some large companies also look to create SkunkWorks – a specific team, separate from the main research and development department, created to work on innovative projects. This removes the constraints short-term business requirements, allowing more ambitious thinking.
IBM has been successful in encouraging an innovation mindset. They have a formal growth stack which includes standard tools for analytics, messaging, project management, A/B testing, etc. They also have a programme to help product teams understand growth theory.
And this, ultimately, is the key to success. Empowering employees to think in a more innovative way, and provide the tools and resources for them to experiment without fear of failure.