Why growth hacking is harder than it looks

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Growth hacking is usually known as the sweet spot where engineering and marketing meet, where coding and customers combine to great effect. Or to put it another way, “a growth hacker lives at the intersection of data, product and marketing”.

That all makes a lot of practical sense, as you need to have a marketing mindset to focus on the right customers to grow your business. And as a growth hacker you also need to have the technical skills and/or know-how to put those hacks into effect and monitor their effectiveness, and adjust accordingly.

What I’d like to do benefiting from my own experience is to explore growth hacking from the intersection of growth hacker tactics and business strategy. Here my inspiration is not from data science or coding but from the day to day job of a 21st century marketer and why even the best ideas in the world don’t always work.And realising such failure can be for numerous reasons – it’s not just about just about the technical failure of a tactical approach in acquiring customers for example. But taking into account your startup team’s mindset and the objectives of stakeholders and investors, the obstacles to success include business issues such as how to convince the board, to back your growth hacker approach when it appears at first glance to contradict overall strategy.

Sure at one level it’s all about getting the desired product/market fit right (or not). And in this context all you really want to know how create a structured framework that focus these growth hacker techniques on the areas that will move the needle. That’s tricky enough. But bearing mind it’s said that most startups fail, and that learning from failure is good, then considering growth hacking within the overlap between business tactics and strategy, could make the difference between success and failure. Why? Because in reality that overlap is the space that growth hacking occupies. And if you (or your startup CEO) know that reality in advance, and use that insight to your advantage, you are less likely to fail as a result.

So sit back and enjoy the benefits of my hard won hindsight, examples where unknowingly my tweaks and hacks to grow a business have unintentionally strayed into the realm of wider business strategy and implementation:

Global imaging software startup MedicExchange.com

The challenge

At MedicExchange from its launch in 2006, we’d struggled to get significant traction with our customer base, despite initial professional market research and despite achieving a market value of $15m by 2007.

The ‘hack’
I secured key partner BioMed Central to provide free high quality scientific content, thanks to their innovative use of open access publishing.

In hindsight
My content hack didn’t make a significant difference as it attend to the wider issue of what customers wanted, it was still along the lines of what we thought they wanted.

eBay Inc’s Shopping.com

The challenge
Shopping.com, a hugely successful startup from the original dot com boom, had a strategy to grow revenue by conversions by improving the user experience, and by improving the social experience and engagement with online customers.

The ‘hack’
Along came Google Panda in the Spring of 2011 which had a big impact on search listings for Shopping.com and its sister site DealTime. After many global conference calls to figure out a SEO response I commissioned product guides in a ‘social SEO’ play.

In hindsight
Google Panda was just one part of the strategic issues facing the business, and a new CEO pivoted with a business focus which elevated the site’s B2B role connecting retailers and publishers, as part of the eBay Commerce Network.

In both these cases tactical growth hacks looked promising but ultimately failed to move the needle, set in the wider context of the business strategy and the market reality. Just as with social media marketing where the complaint of other parts of the business has often been “what’s the ROI of that?” then your growth hacking’s utility depends on linking tactics to your overall business strategy. That way it will flourish in the world of startups needing to use hacks to make the product/market fit, but potentially play a larger part in established businesses looking for smarter ways to connect with their customers.

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  1. Pingback: Why growth hacking is harder than it looks | Leicester Tech Startups

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