Growth hacking explained: what it is and how can it benefit you?

Growth hacking explained: what it is and how can it benefit you?


Is growth hacking just another digital buzzword or the best way to achieve real competitive advantage? Sophie Elizabeth Smith takes us through the fundamentals.

Within a digital landscape that is evolving at a staggering pace, marketers are confronted with an expanding spectrum of terminology. What does “synergy” bring to mind (besides a dystopian sci-fi film where robots take over the world)? And what is “snackable content” exactly (besides being somewhat hunger inducing)? As the digital industry endeavours to define its constant progress, the buzzwords are growing increasingly elusive.

Growth Hacking – Just Another Buzzword?

No! Growth hacking is not just another intangible concept. In fact, it’s an incredibly simple one. Sean Ellis, the Founder and CEO of Qualaroo and ordained Godfather of Growth Hacking, offers this explanation:

A growth hacker is a person whose true north is growth.

Digital is a battleground on which marketers are fighting to achieve competitive advantage. There can be uncompromising targets, constraining budgets, limited resources and a surplus of competitors against a backdrop of advancing tools and platforms. A conventional approach to marketing is no longer enough. The only way to survive, is to adapt.

Does Growth Hacking Replace Digital Marketing?

Growth hacking is not a substitute for digital marketing. In fact, far from being separate entities, growth hacking and digital marketing are intrinsically linked. The shared mentality behind both is an emphasis on experimentation, creativity and measurement in order to accomplish goals.

In startups, growth hacking is a discipline that can be cultivated within a marketing team. In larger organisations, there can be a separate, cross-function growth contingent. Either way, growth hacking and digital marketing are two very complementary specialisms; it’s no coincidence that a quick LinkedIn search generates a multitude of profiles whose titles include “Head of Growth and SEO”, or “VP of Growth and Analytics”.

Growth hacking and marketing share the same fundamental principles, and can even share the same metrics; increased engagement, increased conversion, increased retention. The key difference between the two is the scope of their goals.

A marketer could use engagement rate to analyse an overall goal of building brand awareness. A growth hacker, by comparison, could set a goal of increasing social sharing by 50%. To put it simply, marketing activities can have a broad focus that encompasses any part of the funnel, whereas growth hacking depends on setting highly defined, achievable goals in order to reach a specific, singular outcome… growth, in case it wasn’t obvious enough!

Growth Study: Nasty Gal

In her adolescence, Sophia Amoruso was a self-described college dropout and “crust punk”. Her failed attempt at stealing a George Foreman grill and inability to pay for medical bills to treat a hernia indirectly impelled her to buy a copy of Starting an eBay Business for Dummies and start selling vintage clothes online under the name Nasty Gal Vintage.

Amoruso spent time developing relationships with vintage sellers and painstakingly searched for inventory in the mustiest of warehouses. She used Google to research flourishing fashion trends and decide what stock she would buy and re-sell. She sourced models through Myspace and paid them in hamburgers to model her merchandise. Amoruso recognised that her eBay listings received more clicks when their titles included descriptive keywords about the garments, and the images were well styled and photographed, allowing customers to envisage how to wear the clothes.

Amoruso was kicked off eBay after using it to promote her independent e-commerce site. Four years later, revenues had reached over $100 million. To date, Nasty Gal has customers in over 150 countries and two brick-and-mortar stores in addition to a thriving e-commerce site that has expanded into selling original designs. Sophia has also strived to build her personal brand, with her efforts culminating in the release of the New York Times Bestseller #GIRLBOSS, which is both a personal memoir and candid business guide for aspiring entrepreneurs.

So how did Nasty Gal achieve such phenomenal growth in such a short period of time?

  • A Polished Product Line: Amoruso’s meticulous approach towards picking and presenting her merchandise was accompanied by the recognition that she was selling an aspirational styling service as well as the garments themselves. This emphasis on the product had a direct (and positive!) impact on Nasty Gal’s gross profit margins.
  • Testing and Optimization: Amoruso tracked clicks on her eBay listings and experimented with which models she used and which styles of clothing she would buy.Similarly, if a listing didn’t perform well, “I wouldn’t touch anything like it with a ten-foot pole ever again.” This allowed her to significantly refine her approach to marketing and selling Nasty Gal’s products.
  • Brand Building: Amoruso has leveraged social media to instil in the Nasty Gal line her own sense of style and personality, creating a relevant, relatable brand that has a combined following of 3 million users on Facebook and Instagram alone. This is a valuable and powerful platform for acquiring new customers and engaging existing ones.

Can I Implement Growth Hacking In My Team?

Behind any effective growth hacking activity is a rigorous, structured process that’s rooted in iteration and scalability. Whether you’re a startup or large organisation, B2B or B2C, this process can be customised and incorporated into a successful growth strategy.

  1. Perfect Your Product: Analyse the needs and preferences of your target market and use this data to enhance your product. Growth hackers call this the “product-market fit”. It’s important to make sure your offering is as strong as possible before using it as a catalyst for growth.
  2. Set Measurable Goals: A growth hacker’s success lies in defining precise, actionable goals that will feed into the overall goal of growth. This will limit the temptation to broaden your focus and maximises the time you can spend on testing and refining your approach.
  3. Test Your Approach: Growth hacking is underpinned by creativity and experimentation. Testing is essential for gauging what will and won’t work for you. Keep your tests lean and simple and record the data so you can implement the best combinations to enhance your growth.
  4. Analyse Performance: Analytics are essential to staying on track with your goals. As you chart your progress, this data can also be used to adjust and adapt other areas of the process accordingly, from your product to your goals.
  5. Optimise: Whether this involves implementing an entirely new approach or refining a previous effort, there is value in the “learning-by-doing” concept. Success, like most things, will come with a little bit of patience and practice.

Sophie Elizabeth Smith
Resource type: Articles | Published: 2019