In a startup, growth is the fundamental needle that moves the future of a company. Not only growth of users brings in additional revenues, but also it can help identify new product improvements, provide real customer feedback, develop new unidentified profitable customer segment, and gain future funding from angel investors. Hence, within a startup, growth is inevitably one of the most important success factors, along with right team members, right execution, right products/services, right strategy, and right collaborations (from partners, employees, investors, advisers, and customers).
What is Growth really?
Growth is having a viable number of users that uses your products or services, creating future opportunities to make profit and widen your user base from few thousands to even few millions within short given period time. It is quantitative evidence of your customer demand, and it leads to your startup profitability in long term.
What are the 15 Methods of Growth Hacking:
- Unconventional PR
- SEM (Search Engine Marketing)
- Offline Ads
- Social/Display Ads
- Content Marketing
- Engineering Marketing
- Email Marketing
- Viral Marketing
- Business Development
- Affiliate Marketing
- Platform Marketing
- Trade Shows
(1) Blog Targetting
Several startups, including Reddit and Mint.com, started their growth thru targeting blogs or even writing their own blogs. Noah Kegan, the founder of Sumo.com, also the one of the early employees at Facebook, successfully acquired new customers through blogging on Mint and acquired 40,000 customers prior to the Mint.com launch.
PROS: Creates highly targeted content-driven traffic and often brings in the most relevant customers
CONS: You can’t control the contents of the article (tone, attitude, and word choices)
(2) PR (AKA Publicity)
Publicity is essentially press-release, or traditional form of influencing newspaper, magazines and TV. This strategy is often involves pitching to several journalists at top media companies (CNN, TechCrunch, Huffington Post, Wired.com, and others), and persuading to write your company’s products/services in their editorial or article. Based on the negotiation and persuasion skill, you can certainly achieve to push out an article through it and create certain level of interests and website hits. I’ve achieved this in 2010 while working at a small ecommerce company MyPhoneLeash.com, featuring its product at Wired.com and Gizmodo editorial, creating nearly 20,000 views without spending any advertising budget. It resulted in nearly 300 new product sales, accumulating to $6000 sales in 2 weeks.
PROS: If done correctly, it creates spike of sales, internet buzz, or customer flows into your website.
CONS: Takes large amount of outreach efforts, time-consuming, and often hit-and-miss effort.
(3) Unconventional PR
This involves exceptional stunts to drawing media attentions. Virgin CEO, Richard Branson is a well known business leader, creating both media attention and viral news among people. (You can read about it here: http://www.businesspundit.com/10-greatest-virgin-pr-stunts-of-all-time/ ) Another startup, CleanBottle featured a giant waterbottle man running next to Tour De France Bicycle Marathon, creating huge TV attention and lead to more than 200~300 bottles sales/day. (Read news here: http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/trending/Local-man-to-run-Tour-de-France-dressed-as-gigantic-water-bottle.html )
PROS: Often Easy to Conduct, Low Cost, Funny, Creative, and Engaging.
CONS: This is also hit-and-miss probability. Difficult to predictable growth result.
(4) Search Engine Marketing
Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is often used through an advertising bidding system, utilizing a list of keywords on search engines, including Yahoo, MSN, Google, to bring new customers.
PROS: Increases High Visibility, Fastest Reach, Creates large inflow of new customers, Measurable Results through Web Analytics
CONS: Very expensive, very competitive, difficult to maintain long-term growth, often have low marketing ROI in several keywords, user growth drops after finishing advertising, requires a large budget (between 500K ~ $1M)
Relevant Tools: Google Adwords, Google Analytics, Microsoft Advertising
(5) Offline Ads
This involves the use of local newspaper ads, magazines ads, radio commercials, TV Spots, billboard, infomercials, flyers, local and community ads. Not many startups have utilized this field since it can be limiting in its outreach. Yet, several startups have utilized this method in early stage, including SelfScore.com, and WP Engine, to acquire new customers.
PROS: High Level of Local Customer Targeting
CONS: Expensive per limited outreach
(6)Social & Display Ads
Probably most commonly used in 2016, social & display ads are using SNS Channels, including YouTube, SnapChat, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and several other new SNS, to reach large niche customers at powerful and scalable way.
PROS: Easy to Implement with real-time control of your advertising budget
CONS: Anti-sentiments of Brand can go viral; Malicious Cicks (Repeated clicks of the same ads by the same person), Hyper Competitive Environment (populated with several similar advertisers)
(7) Content Marketing
Content Marketing focuses on creating blogs, articles and reading materials (brochures, PDF Downloads, white papers) to attract customers. Hubspot Marketing team created more than +600 articles within 1 year, creating large inflow of customers.
PROS: Creates long-term funnel of followers; Can become a leader in specific niche content through sheer number of keywords and content ownership
CONS: Extremely demanding on the content marketer, must stick to writing articles everyday, takes long time to reach impactful customers
(8)Use of Computer Engineering Tools
Several startups, including Facebook and Twitter, utilized engineers as part of their growth. They created micro-sites, developed shareable widgets, login tools, and free web plug-ins to drive several thousand of new leads. It required user permission and development of widgets. Freemium, which is offering free products, was used quite often in SaaS growth marketing tool.
(9) Email Marketing
It focuses on building subscribers into your website through email sign-ups and it is one of the best ways to convert prospect while retaining and monetizing existing customers. You can follow up on new users to continue on using the product my e-mailing them of new product features, automating new messages (including try using our new features, or through news update, or asking product feedback).
[You can also read about Three Sources for Marketing Automation]
(10) Viral Marketing
It consists of growing your brand through you customer base sharing your products/services to new customers. Viral Marketing depends on specific content known as “Viral Coefficient” and needs to know viral loop. The formula for viral marketing is K = i*conversion percentage. (Where K stands for the number of additional customer, I stands for number of invites sent per user, and conversion percentage is the % of customers who signed up after receiving an invitation.
Viral looping requires three major steps:
- Exposure of your product to a potential customer
- This customer shares your product or service or website to set number of customers
- These set numbers of customers are exposed to your product, and some are converted into your customers.
This is somewhat similar to the Word-of-Mouth Marketing (Buzz Marketing) , and have been demonstrated in the early stage of Facebook growth, where college students shared FB to their friends and classmates. Additionally, the viral marketing is commonly used bit of tweaking in its content or design, including a little thank you or sign-up message. Hotmail is a primary example that used the tag line “Get a Free email account with Hotmail. Sign Up Now” at the end of each free user’s email messages.
The most famous example of Viral Marketing is “Dollar Shave Club”, which was shared across YouTube, Newspaper, Articles and news media.
Some of the most common items that have been tested in viral marketing are:
- Page Speed
- Text Links & Buttons
- Trial Period Before Sign-ups
- Easy Login (One-Click for FB, Twitter)
- Shorter vs Longer Sign-up Process
- Signup Form Length
Focus on providing low-friction, easy-to-install plug-ins & Make it simple to use.
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[Another relevant article is Video Marketing is a Powerful Marketing Method]
(11) Business Development
Large companies, including Google, Amazon, AOL and Yahoo, all depended on licensing to create contents desired by many consumers. The existence of the large desirable contents can power the company and its web properties. There are five major types of business development:
- Standard Partnership
- EX: Apply/Nike Partnership to create Nike+ Shoes on ipod or iphone app to track your runs and play music.
- Joint Ventures
-Complex and requires large investments for long period of times
-Spotify and Amazon Video uses licensing to build up their offerings to customers. They pay licensing fees to several music distributors and Hollywood movie film companies.
- Distribution Leads
-One party provides a product/service to the other in return promise for access to potential customers. This is how Groupon have attracted new businesses, sold their products and local deals.
- Supply Partnerships
-Several box subscription service startups, including TrunkClub, hellofresh, DollarShaveClub, utilize this strategy to build up their products offering. They receive low fixed cost supply of products and up-sell their products through their subscription boxes.
(12) Sales Strategy
This strategy often focuses on cold calling, along with direct-involvement of customers to attract new customers. Initially, you would pitch to potential customers, asking what their problems are, and give them the options to use our service after trial period or giving free company assessment. Most often, many companies are open-to trial and get practical feedback on the company’s problems and their solutions.
The most important part of sales strategy is asking the right questions, right audience and right timing. You often start with asking “Situational Questions” – How big is your company? What is the annual revenue? How many years in the industry and growth %?. You can also probe the company by asking “Problem Questions”, which should be sparring used and you ask these types of questions – “Are you happy with your current vendor? What problem does your company continues to face?”. Last, but most important question is the “Implication Questions” – “How does this problem impact your organization?”
When implementing sales strategy, this assumes your marketing and sales team are doing the same work. Otherwise, there will be a conflict of interest in here. Many B2B organizations utilize this strategy on their enterprise account-based marketing.
(13) Affiliate Programs
Affiliate program is largely used in several websites and often very used in creating a large level of promoters. By providing incentives to your customers, including percentage discount for every new paid customers signed-up or certain dollar payout per new leads, affiliate programs have been used in Tailopz.com on his Book Reading List links, Strinkingly.com (a startup focusing on 1 page Website Development Platform), Amazon Books, KarmaWifi, and several other startups. The concept is somewhat similar to Multi-level marketing, where you encourage your customers to be active brand ambassador, providing both tools and incentives to drive new users.
Some of the Major Affiliate Networks are:
- ClickBanks – You can list your digital products on ClickBanks to initiate Affiliate Marketing as low as $50 for the starting point.
- Commison Junks – This has the largest internet retailers in its network, hence it provides high quality affiliates, if done correctly.
- PepperJam – Encompasses several channels, including mobile, social, offline retails and prints.
- ShareASale – Networked with more than 2500 merchants, and require small cost of $500.
- LinkShares – Used by Macy’s, Avon and Champion brands
(14) Platform Marketing
This applies mostly to new mobile app companies. The existing platforms, including SnapChat or Instagram are often utilized. During the early stage of YouTube, YouTube provide its video uploads to MySpace website, providing MySpace users to click on YouTube videos and direct back to YouTube.com. This created a inflow of new users from MySpace to YouTube. This is often known as “piggybacking effect”, where you can provide a valuable product/service to an existing large SNS and convert those customers into your loyal users. As part of the network effect, this platform marketing is exploited by AirBnB, YouTube, Facebook and several other SNS.
(15) Trade Shows
The best example of Trade Shows are often used at entertainment industry – anime, movie, games, TV shows. BlizzCon, and ComicCon promote several games, movies and latest updates of new products. Twitch, a world’s largest gaming platform and SNS, uses trade show and event marketing to attract industry partners, continuing to engage both new customers and potential content distributors.
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