How did companies like Uber, Airbnb, and Dropbox have rapid growth while going against tough competition?

Ryan Holiday would say it’s because they use a new set of marketing strategies called growth hacking. He explains how in his book Growth Hacker Marketing: A Primer on the Future of PR, Marketing, and Advertising.

I recently finished reading Growth Hacker Marketing and wanted to share a few takeaways from the book.

Around 2013 Ryan started seeing a trend in the way new starts where experiencing rapid growing. These startups weren’t using tradition marketing techniques, and the people behind these ideas weren’t your tradition looking marketers. They where Engineers. And they started going by the name Growth Hackers.

What The Hell Is A Growth Hacker?

Growth hackers are defined as “someone who has thrown out the playbook of traditional marketing and replaced it with only what is testable, traceable, and scale-able”. Other markets chase vague outcomes like ‘branding’ and ‘mind share’. Growth hackers focus on improving one metric. It’s normally active users but can be almost anything that’s measurable. They use tools like e-mails, pay-per-click ads, blogs, and platform APIs. They avoid commercials, publicity, and spending large amounts of money.

Growth Hacking Is Not Only For Techies

Just because it’s called ‘hacking’ doesn’t mean it’s only for the techies. The importance of coding skills and the ability to target highly interested users is emphasized in growth hacker marketing but it’s not everything.

Holiday points out that, although growth hacking techniques are often associated with technology startups, well established companies in other industries can also benefit from this type of marketing. They just need to have the right mindset; specifically, focusing on gaining actual customers instead of simply generating leads.

Growth Hacking In 4 Deceptively Simple Steps

The steps to pull of a successful growth hack seem very simple on the surface. When seeing them on a list you would think everyone should know them. But like most things, the execution is the hardest part. Here are the four steps with a few of my favorite quotes from the book.

1. Create A Product People Really Want

If you haven’t made something that brings value to someone else, you need to keep working until you do. You want a snowball you can roll down hill not something you need to push up hill.

The race has changed. The prize and spoils no longer go to the person who makes it to market first. They go to the person who makes it to Product Market Fit first.

Product Market Fit is a feeling backed with data and information.

Product market fit isn’t just a problem for the development team to figure out. It’s the first and most important step of successful marketing.

Today, it is the marketer’s job as much as anyone else’s to make sure Product Market Fit happens.

Marketing as we know it is a waste of time without PMF [Product Market Fit].

Why, because it’s easier and cheaper to market something that someone wants.

2. Find Your Growth Hack

Users have to be pulled in. A good idea is not enough. Your customers, in fact, have to be “acquired.” But the way to do that isn’t with a bombardment. It’s with a targeted offensive in the right places aimed at the right people.

Not every shoe fits. You’ll have you have to search for the growth hack that will work best for your startup.

Today, as a marketer, our task isn’t necessarily to “build a brand” or even to maintain a preexisting one. We’re better off building an army of immensely loyal and passionate users.

This means that our outward-facing marketing and PR efforts are needed simply to reach out to and capture, at the beginning, a group of highly interested, loyal, and fanatical users. Then we grow with and because of them.

You want to find your early adopters, and do it as effectively as possible. By focusing on the extremes the middle will take care of itself. Which leads to step three.

3. Go Viral – Turn One Into Two And Two Into Four

Virality is not an accident. It is engineered.

To make that clear: you should not just encourage sharing but create powerful incentives to do so. If your product isn’t doing that right now, why would anyone share it? But if you do it right, people will advertise your product and feel like they are the ones getting something out of it!

We need to design products and initiatives that advertise themselves… if you want to go viral, it must be baked into your product.

You can’t just expect your users to become evangelists of your product—you’ve got to provide the incentives and the platform for them to do so.

4. Close The Loop – Retention And Optimization

Test, test, and test again.

What’s the point of driving a bunch of new customers through marketing channels if they immediately leak out through a hole in the bottom?

Today, analytics make it clear whether new users from your marketing initiatives actually stick.

Remember: metrics are somewhat relative depending on what you are trying to accomplish. Figure out what your most important metric for growth is and focus on that. Don’t listen to or judge yourself on other people.

Everything can be improved. The reality is that your product is probably broken in at least one way. A growth hacker uses all available information to figure out where those problems are and then does something about them as soon as possible.

The role of the growth hacker is to ruthlessly optimize incoming traffic for success.

The Proof Is In The Pudding

Holiday credits the exponential growth of Hotmail to a simple growth hack in which a line was added at the end of each message that encouraged the recipient to sign up for a free account.

He also drew from his experience with Tim Ferriss, the bestselling author of The 4-Hour Workweek, as well as several other expert interviews with growth hackers, including Noah Kagan, the CEO of AppSumo.

far too many of us in the marketing world, decades away from a world of traveling salesmen and mail-order catalogs, have lost sight of this fundamental reality. We forget the function behind the form and miss out on new opportunities because we can’t see what’s in front of us.

Anything that gets customers is marketing. Cheaply test your concept, improve it based on feedback, then launch.

Growth Hacking… Everyone’s Doing It

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Now that I know more about growth hacking I see them everywhere. Your favorite startup is probably using growth hacking tactics. It might be your time also.

We weren’t able to cover everything from the book in the post, but I would recommend that you check it out. For the full details you can pickup Growth Hacker Marketing: A Primer on the Future of PR, Marketing, and Advertising on Amazon.

What growth hacking technics have you seen recently? Let me know in the comment section below.