Ultimate Guide to Growth hacking [2021 Update]

We all know that growing a business will take time, and when a business fails to grow, it can significantly impact the business’s health and even existence. 

This is why people simply love the idea of growth hacking: the idea that if we can find a secret behind a company’s growth and use it to accelerate growth in revenue and profit, we can achieve scalability. 

In this guide, we will discuss the concept of growth hacking, some important growth hacking techniques to implement, and other actionable tips to quickly and effectively grow your business. 

Let us begin by discussing the concept of growth hacking. 

What Is Growth Hacking

Growth hacking has been a major buzzword (along with life hacking) since the start of 2010, and it is still here to stay in 2021 and onwards.

The initial concept of growth hacking is based on the reality that all businesses are faced with the issue of limited capital available, so we can either grow the business or maximize profitability, and it’s very rare we can achieve both.

With that issue, growth hacking as a field in marketing is entirely focused on using the available resources for growth and conversions alone instead of areas like PR, communications, brand building, and other marketing fields.

Growth hacking started out as a technique for early-stage startups with limited capital to get massive growths on limited budgets as quickly as possible. Yet, nowadays growth hacking is also implemented by big enterprises and established businesses. 

However, the goal of growth hacking remains the same: finding low-cost techniques (the hacks) to acquire and convert as many customers as possible. The main philosophy here is actually pretty simple: when a business grows to have a bigger cash flow, it can perform better in overcoming virtually all challenges from finding new capitals to convincing new customers. Typically, only when the target growth is reached do other forms of marketing are implemented. 

The best growth hacking methods are always data-driven: by finding and analyzing data, we attempt to find hacks to boost customer attraction and conversion, achieving growth as fast as possible. Growth hacking is the reason startups like Uber and Airbnb can grow their customer base and revenue within just a few years, and you can also implement them for your business. 

4 Key Stages to Growth Hacking

As we have discussed, the main objective of growth hacking is to grow the customer base and revenue of the business. 

To achieve this, it is very important to set clear priorities based on data to find hacks that can effectively acquire new customers and scale the business. We can generally divide a growth hacking campaign into four different stages: 

  1. Lead generation: converting strangers/website visitors into qualified prospects/leads
  2. Conversion: convincing the prospect to purchase the product, converting them into actual customers
  3. Retention: encouraging customers for repeat purchase and reduce churn
  4. Advocacy: encouraging the converted customers to refer your business to other people

Some of the growth hacking techniques would focus on one of the stages, and some on the others. 

As you can see, all four of these growth hacking stages are focused on one thing: your target customers, so a key factor in determining your growth hacking success—or lack of it— is whether you understand your target audience: their needs, pain points, and behaviors. 

Who Are Your Target Audiences

You won’t effectively grow your customer base and revenue unless your product or service is a good fit for your target audience. Obviously we have to make sure that there are people who actually want our product or service: the bigger the target audience is, the better your potential for growth. 

So, you really need to understand your target audience:

  • Demographics data like their age and gender, where they work, education level, and so on
  • Their online activities, where they look for information and which social platforms they are active in
  • Their objectives, both in using your product/service and their life goals. 
  • Pain points: how your product or service can solve their challenges

With this information, you can start to develop your buyer persona and we’ll use your buyer persona to custom-tailor your growth hacking tactics. 

Understanding Your Sales Cycle

A very important factor to consider in your growth hacking strategy is the fact that different products/services will have different sales cycles.

If, for example, it is a fairly affordable consumer product like a chocolate bar, then the sales cycle should be very short: you stumbled upon the chocolate when you are in a 7/11, and you ended up purchasing it. However, if you are looking to purchase a $10,000 Rolex watch, then the sales cycle might be much longer and might involve a lot of research. 

As you can see, the price point is usually the main factor in determining how long the sales cycle, but that is not the only factor. While sales cycles might vary greatly between different products, in general, the process can be divided into three stages: awareness, research, and conversion:

  • Awareness is when the prospect either aware of their problem/need but is not yet aware of the existence of the product, or vice versa, they know about your product/service but don’t realize that they need it.
  • Research: in this stage, they are aware that your product/service is a potential solution for their pain points, and here they are evaluating other solutions. They might check for reviews and compare your product with your competitors’
  • Conversion: the prospect is finally ready to buy your product/service and might just need a little more convincing

Figure out your product’s sales cycle and which of the stages are the longest: this is where you should focus your growth hacking strategy. 

Key Preparation: Optimize Every Touch Point For Conversion

This is a very important foundation for your growth hacking tactics—whatever they are—, make sure all touchpoints are optimized for conversions: 

  • Make sure it’s easy to find out about your product/service on all social media platforms
  • Make sure your websites and landing pages are conversion-optimized
  • Make sure it’s easy for them to contact you, and provide several options for them to engage with you. Make sure they are all as simple as possible
  • Make sure it’s easy for them to find your brand’s social proof, whether it’s a page dedicated for success stories, pinned social media endorsements, and so on.

In short, list every possible way people can interact with your business, and make sure they are all seamless and easy to interact with. This is why conducting regular A/B testing is very important in implementing growth hacking. 

Structuring an A/B Test

Above, we have discussed that we have to ensure all touchpoints are optimized for conversion and growth hacking, but we won’t know the reason why something isn’t working unless we compare it with another variation. 

In A/B optimization testing, we are going to test out whether changing a minor element would affect engagement and conversion, and while you should ideally test everything, you should start with your website and especially the following areas:

  • Your landing pages especially opt-in forms 
  • Your homepage
  • Contact us page
  • Product listing pages

A/B testing is a scientific approach to measuring audience engagement and the key steps in structuring a proper A/B test are: 

  1. Ask a key question (i.e. would changing an image on my contact us page improve engagement?)
  2. Make a hypothesis about the answer
  3. Formulate your A/B test based on the hypothesis and validate the variations
  4. Start collecting data
  5. Compare the data with your hypothesis
  6. Tweak your test based on the result
  7. Retest as needed

Here are some important factors to consider when designing A/B tests for growth hacking: 

  • KPI: how will you measure your result. For example, if you are testing the effectiveness of your CTA, so you can measure the number of clicks to the CTA. If you are testing the effectiveness of your opt-in form, on the other hand, check for the number of signups.
  • Degree of variations: how different should the version A be from version B? You can change a lot of elements, or just one. In general, the more granular your test is (the smaller the changes), the better, but it would be more time-consuming since you might need to run more tests. 
  • Timeline: very important, determine the scope and the timeline of your tests.  If you are testing variance in small elements, then the timeline should be fairly short, but if you test a lot of differences, it can take days and even weeks. You can use VWO’s A/B Split and Multivariate Test Duration Calculator to help calculate how long you’d need to run the test. 
  • Sample size: you can use a sample size calculator to calculate how many people are needed to ensure the validity of each A/B test.
  • Target audience: it’s very important to determine the subject of your test so your test is going to be accurate. If you’ve developed your buyer’s persona, then this part should be relatively easy. You might also need to segment your audience for specific tests, for example, you can segment some part of your audience as your A group, and another as the B group. 

Effective Growth Hacking Techniques in 2021

Before we discuss the growth hacking techniques you can implement, we should discuss the main principles you should always embrace for all your growth hacking techniques: 

  1. Impress: both your team and target audience should experience something special with each technique, or else it won’t be a ‘hack’. 
  2. Repeatable: it should be easy and clear enough to repeat a working technique again and again, and it shouldn’t be a one-time thing (with some exceptions)
  3. Shareable: in this world of social media marketing, it’s quite obvious that your growth hacking technique should be shareable. It’s also important to collect feedback from each growth hack
  4. Easy: both easy enough to implement and easy for your audience to interact with it. Make sure it’s as seamless as possible
  5. Secure: test everything so it is secure for both your business and your audience’s privacy. 
  6. Iterative: again, remember that you are going to continuously improve and re-optimize each tactic
  7. ROI: each tactic should help you save money, resources, and/or time whether directly or indirectly. If not, you should avoid it.  
  1. Automated Email Marketing/Drip Marketing

Even in 2021 with all the new platforms, technologies, and marketing channels, email marketing is still a very powerful marketing channel that is still growing, and also a very important aspect of any growth hacking strategies. 

The reason is fairly simple: even with all the social media platforms, websites, and other clutters of the internet, more than 90% of us still check our email inboxes daily, and more than 70% of these consumers will make a purchase after receiving a related promotional email. In fact, email marketing still maintains a very healthy 4,000%+ ROI.

So, how can we effectively utilize email marketing as a growth hack? There are two key facts we should embrace: first, is that email is a very effective medium in generating conversions (purchases). The second is that email marketing is both accessible and affordable for any business. So, it is an especially effective hack in generating revenue growth. 

There are three key factors in ensuring your email marketing is ready for growth hack: 

  • Your email marketing is only as strong as your email list/database. Again, knowing and understanding your target audience is very important
  • Personalization is key. Nowadays, using the first name in the subject line is the norm, but personalization should cover more than that: each individual audience should get the message based on their position on the sales cycle/customer journey
  • Automation, so we can send the right message to the right people at the right time

First things first, you have to collect email addresses in all possible channels. Don’t be afraid to ask for email addresses on your social media, as simple as including your link on each Tweet or Instagram post. 

The key to getting more email addresses is something we know as a lead magnet: offering something valuable (read: perceived as valuable by your audience) for free in exchange for their email address. The common practice is to offer a downloadable ebook, but today the practice is fairly saturated. 

Be creative, and offer something your audience will be interested in. Again, don’t be afraid to experiment and A/B test everything: offer videos, webinars, free trials, and other offers related to your offer. 

Remember that consumers receive a lot of emails per day. On average, an employee receives 121 emails per day, and obviously, not all of them are going to be opened and read. So, your job is to offer them something they can refuse so they are willing to give them your email address. 

Also, make sure that it’s as easy as possible for them to submit their email address. It’s already hard enough to convince them, so don’t add the extra possibility for them to bounce.

The next thing is about personalization and automation. This is where having good email automation software will help. In general, the goal of automation and personalization is: 

  • Make it look like the email comes from a real person, and convince them that it is a real conversation just for them alone
  •  Allowing and encouraging them to reply to the email
  • Responding to the replies when necessary
  • Sending different emails based on different triggers/actions. For example, we send them an appropriate email when they just abandon their shopping cart
  1. Listen To Customer Feedback, Improve, and Show It

On this day of social media, gone are the days when we can launch so-so products with a big marketing budget and win big. With how people can read reviews and listen to influencers’ opinions, it’s much easier for our audience to conduct their own research and know everything about our product/service. 

So, listen to your customer’s feedback, improve your product/service, and let your audience know that they are heard. 

You can, for example, run a beta test (or send sample products) for your existing customer when you are about to launch a new product. Make sure the experience is shareable and encourage them to share the experience on their social media. With this, you can build anticipation for the new product, even before it is launched. 

Then, collect feedback from those who have tried this product/service, and use the feedback to improve the product. Publicly announce that you listened to your target customers and make improvements. 

By building anticipations and showing your audience that you do care, you can effectively build a community and grow your customer base even before the product launch. 

  1. Reward-Based Campaigns To Encourage Engagement

A rather ‘cheap’ but effective trick is to run giveaways, contests, or other reward-based campaigns to attract your audience and encourage growth. 

Everyone obviously likes prizes or free stuff, and in running contests and giveaways, the key here is the offer itself. If the offer is too cheap, then you might not attract too many of your ideal customers. On the other hand, if the offer is too expensive, you might attract prize hunters who aren’t really an ideal fit for your brand. 

Besides, remember that the goal of growth hacking is to spend as little as possible and grow as fast as possible. So, finding the right balance of the value of your offer is extremely important. 

Another important factor is to ensure you are attracting your ideal audience and not people who are only interested in the prizes/giveaways. It’s very important to focus on aligning these prizes with your brand. 

It’s always good to offer something directly related to your product/service whenever possible. This will assure you are attracting the right audience.

4. Collaborating Instead of Competing

A very effective growth hacking technique for virtually any product is by partnering up with other companies/brands that complements your product/service. 

The basic idea is very simple: by teaming up with other brands, you gain access to their customer base and have a chance to convert some of these into your customers. On the other hand, if you find a good fit that can really complement your product, you can amplify its value and maximize your chance in converting customers. 

In short: you provide more value for your customers while opening new doors to potential new markets. 

Another great way to implement this tactic is to partner up with businesses that can amplify your reach, like social platforms, review sites, or other similar businesses. Partnering with these can help amplify your product’s reach for consumers, and also can help in other promotional aspects like shared content.

Last but not least, this approach can help in amplifying your product’s social proofs, especially if you are a fairly new brand/product. The idea is if a product with higher social proof (better reviews, better endorsements from famous influencers, etc.), it can boost your product’s credibility. 

If, for example, a brand new product was suddenly mentioned by Microsoft, then we will obviously think that this new product is notable and is worth checking out. 

Obviously getting these partnerships can be easier said than done, but getting just one partnership with the right brand can significantly boost your brand’s credibility and hack your growth almost immediately.

Always be on the lookout for these opportunities: build relationships with partners, influencers, and even competitors, and always think of how you can help each other. Remember, you should also think of how your product/service/brand can provide additional value for theirs and don’t solely focus on your benefits from the campaign. 

Here are some tips: 

Follow your biggest competitors

Don’t avoid competition, but embrace your competitors as opportunities to collaborate. Remain aware of the changes in your competitive landscape, and be on the lookout of opportunities both to stay ahead of your competition and also collaborative opportunities (they are rare but possible). 

Discover all social media conversations and other digital conversations around your competition, including where your target audience (and theirs) hang out. Also, check your competitor’s blog and other content platforms so you can create better content and also look for opportunities for shared content. 

Last but not least, track their link profiles especially their backlinks profiles. Seeing who they link to and which sites offer backlinks to theirs can provide more insights on their marketing approaches and new opportunities for you to build new relationships. 

Influencer marketing

One of the key growth hacking techniques to boost your product’s social proofs is through the help of influencers. In this world of social media marketing, collaboration with the right influencers is no longer a secret growth hacking trick, but a necessity for success. 

However, not everyone is using influencer marketing right.

The secret, above all, is finding the right influencer to collaborate with, and this can be easier said than done in today’s social media ecosystem. You have to find an influencer with the right number of (real) followers, the right audience, and the right budget. 

Again, build relationships with the key influencers in your niche. This can significantly help in lowering your budget and will also help the effectiveness of your campaign. 

Quora and HARO

A key to building your relationships to achieve growth hacks is to establish your credibility and your position as the expert/thought leader in your niche. 

You can use platforms like Helpareporterout (HARO), Quora, Medium, and other similar platforms to display your expertise. Answer questions, help journalists, publish your articles and engage with others so you can slowly but surely build your rapport. 

While this approach might be time-consuming, this can be quite effective in the long run. Spend just a few minutes every day and be consistent. Consider this as a long-term investment. 

5. Engaging Your Audience Everywhere

Arguably the best growth-hack method we can have in this world of two-way social media communication in all possible platforms. This doesn’t only mean major social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and even LinkedIn (if you are a B2B business), but also sites your customers frequently visit, forums, and other platforms.

Here are some tips: 

Solve a problem and show it

Here is one fact we should embrace in digital marketing: most people are surfing the internet looking for solutions for their problems. A good food, albeit simple, is a solution to a problem. On the other side of the spectrum, saving the planet is also a solution to a problem.

To effectively engage your audience, you have to help them solve their problem easily and immediately. By doing so, they are more likely to come back for more. The idea is that eventually they will be convinced to purchase your product or service. 

So, when publishing your content, engaging your audience in social media, or any other interaction with your audience, aim to be a solution for their problem. This is how you can establish your position as the expert in your niche for this particular problem. 

Leverage your customer’s impatience and create urgency

It’s very common for people to expect things to happen instantly online, and they tend to get impatient. This is why the latest studies suggested that people will leave a website if it loads more than 3 seconds

With this fact, most people will do anything to save more time online, and we can leverage on this fact. This is also why time-limited offers are always effective as a growth hack. 

We can also offer something like a “golden ticket” as a growth hack. The idea is to offer something valuable with a queue-based system (this can be your product itself, if it’s an attractive product people are waiting for). Then, we show our audience how many people are ahead of them in the queue, and offer a queue jumper (the golden ticket) in exchange of their contact information or even a purchase of something. 

So, create something valuable and urgent, and capitalize on their impatience. 

6. Turn Customers Into Advocates

The most ideal way to achieve real growth hacking is to turn your loyal customers into advocates and let them market your brand for you. In such cases, we can really achieve exponential growth where one customer can bring in another customer or even more. 

People are more likely to purchase something recommended to them by someone they know. This is why customer advocacy is very important if you want to accelerate growth. 

So, how can we achieve this? There are two main prerequisites for this: first is that the product/service you are selling must actually be good. If it is something really amazing or game-changing, then it’s a bonus, but at the very least it has to be decent. 

Second, you have to provide good customer service. Nobody would want to recommend a brand if they are not satisfied with the service. Nowadays, this will also include responding to online reviews and social media mentions, even and especially if it is a negative feedback. 

Here are some tips you can use: 

Offer incentives for referrals

Once the prerequisites are covered, you can offer incentives for your customers and even those who haven’t purchased your product/service to get referrals. This is what we know as affiliate marketing

The key to successful referral marketing is the incentive itself: if it’s too cheap, you might not attract too many referrals. If the incentive is too much, you can otherwise ruin the quality of the referrals. So, finding the right balance here is very important. 

End Words

Above, we have shared six of the most effective growth hacking techniques available in the market today. They are all very effective in achieving growth in a fairly short time with a relatively little investment. 

However, remember that using these growth hacks doesn’t mean you should neglect the basic brand building and content marketing, which will be useful in building your brand equity in the long-term.

If growth hacking helps you get more customers and grow your revenue, you still need strong inbound marketing and brand building to sustain your growth. This is how you can achieve long-term success. 

About the author

Mike is a lead SEO strategist at Nine Peaks Media. With over 10+ year of experience in SEO and Inbound Marketing, he helped hundreds of B2B and SaaS businesses rank on the first page of Google.

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