Let’s clarify something: “Growth Hacker” is one of those trendy-sounding yet completely vague and self-important job descriptions that you roll your eyes at when it flashes across a LinkedIn profile. As a job title, yes it’s a bit much. But as a way of thinking about the skills and talent needed to help brands and products thrive in the marketplace, it’s a very important trend.
While mostly popular in the world of start-ups, the growth hacking culture is something that can, and should, be embraced by any digital agency serious about helping their clients succeed – along with any brand marketing team interested in the same. So what is growth hacking all about? A couple working descriptions might help (emphasis added):
“A growth hacker is a person whose true north is growth. Everything they do is scrutinized by its potential impact on scalable growth.” – Startup Marketing Blog
“Growth hackers are a hybrid of marketer and coder, one who looks at the traditional question of “How do I get customers for my product?” and answers with A/B tests, landing pages, viral factor, email deliverability, and Open Graph. On top of this, they layer the discipline of direct marketing, with its emphasis on quantitative measurement, scenario modeling via spreadsheets, and a lot of database queries.” – Andrew Chen
For agencies, a growth hacker mentality is required from the initial brainstorms through to project roll out and beyond. Most great campaigns or content programs today have elements that cut right across digital and social platforms, from YouTube and Facebook to email, paid media and the “traditional” Web. They often also rely on technical elements, such as platform-specific user sharing functionality (“What exactly does a ‘Like’ do?”), to drive viral reach and engagement – growth – at a scale beyond what just simple ad dollars can provide.
To make growth hacking work for you, it’s all about blending the skills and talents previously divided between marketing, sales, analytics, and software/digital development into one team that is singularly focused on organic growth of the project once it hits the marketplace. The trick is, short of opening up a bunch of job positions titled “growth hacker” (enjoy those resumes…), how do you build a team and mindset that reflects a growth hacking culture? Four ways: Get the right people in the room, goal them against growth, obsess with iterative learning and improvement, and of course, geek out whenever possible!
When the key thinking is done, whether it’s a brainstorm, a planning meeting, a “sesh” or whatever else you call it, go out of your way to bring in a mix of skills. You need the creatives, strategists, and account types of course, but be sure to also mix in an analytics specialist and a developer or two with a solid grasp of platform APIs. Don’t park them in a corner to only speak up when technical questions arise either. In a growth hacking culture the “big creative idea” is no longer the sole purview of the creatives or strategists – it should also erupt from insights into the technical hooks key digital and social platforms expose. Encourage them to lead, speak early and often.
Whatever the metric is that works best for your business to define growth – trial signups, sales conversions, qualified leads, refer-a-friend activity, or even just traction of your content across the Web – align everything your team does to that, and hold them accountable. Do not pollute their goals (and the project’s measure of success) with distracting metrics that don’t directly tie into growth. By the same token, rigorously evaluate new requests, content, features, or side efforts that arise by how they support those growth metrics. Just like in any digital project, avoiding scope and feature creep is key – just in this case, the filter to apply is “does it positively impact growth?”
A true growth hacking culture is obsessed with testing and measurement, and should forever be looking for ways to test and refine assumptions and tactics. A too-common flaw in many agencies involves an assumption that the creative process stops once the campaign or project hits the market. In reality, for digital efforts that’s where the real work begins and where agencies should be deploying their best and brightest analysts and creatives. True growth hacking involves a lot of assumptions about what will work, what might catch fire, and those assumptions need to be continually tested. This idea is a core part of the Digital Content Engine model for how Pace develops content programs, that I touched on in an earlier post.
“Creativity” within agency walls tends to get narrowly defined, but creativity is core to the idea of growth hacking – creatively approaching technical challenges, how to get the most out of API’s, creating experiments that push the edges a bit, and so on. I’m a big fan of encouraging teams to get as creative and downright weird as possible in how they approach technical opportunities – reveling in the code and the opportunities it affords to a creative mind in the support of a growth goal. Try internal-only side projects, just to see what works. Treat technical creativity and development just like you do (or should) other creative ideas in a brainstorm – encourage them, and go beyond to actually test them out. When it comes to growth hacking, everyone should geek out whenever and wherever possible.
I don’t agree with some bloggers that Growth Hacker is a single job or a suitable, if overly trendy, job title. It’s more appropriate to think of it as a type of culture to be instilled within your agency or team, one that mixes technologists, analysts, and marketers with a relentless focus on driving growth. But in today’s digital marketing and content environment, dominated by technically complex channels and platforms, it’s a culture you can’t afford to ignore.
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