Growth hacking may be one of the few legal ways to build your brand in the age of AI. Essentially this involves “hacking” into work that already exists online and using it to promote your own brand. The most brilliant marketers today aren’t really hatching new ideas as much as they are hitching rides on someone else’s “stuff.” 


Big Data & the New Metrics

Big data is the tool that helps Growth Hackers find the fissures and loopholes in an online ecosystem to exploit. Today advanced metrics programs offer companies myriad ways to analyze the behavior of “people, not page views.” Growth Hackers hope this data will yield that killer insight, or what they call the “aha moment” that leads to a product breakthrough.

A classic application of the new metrics is how Twitter created “follower” functionality through the painstaking analysis of user behavior, StumbleUpon was created by analyzing the sharing behavior of a billion bloggers in bite sized chunks.

The use of data and statistics to improve processes and increase output is not new however. The difference between Growth Hacking and “continuous improvement” is the Growth Hacker’s obsession with the one or two metrics that will uncover the ideal “product market” fit.

The “Product Market Fit” and Viral Lift

Frank Drei, a growth hacker for StumbleUpon, explains that growth hacking has marketing goals “driven by product instincts.” He goes on to say that the goal is to find great, necessary and unique solutions to problems so that the product should largely market itself.

While online products can’t always “sell themselves,” they can be designed to promote themselves. The difference between spreading a headache and a hit is to design “good stuff” that is engineered to be easily—but not obtrusively—shared.

Growth Hacker Irvin Girgin says, “if your product involves sharing at its core, you should focus on optimizing and encouraging it.” DropBox grew by giving away free storage to users who shared their service, for example.

Customer Experience. Cheaper To Market.

Getting your first million users, however, is useless unless they stick around. The Growth Hacker will therefore focus on retaining users by optimizing the customer experience. Many times they will intone that “retention is more important than acquisition,” mainly due to a dislike of marketing.

In the words of Archie Abrams, Director of Growth at UDEMY, “It’s better to have 500,000 users, each spending $20 than it is to have 10 million users each spending $0.05. Companies that win find a channel like email, Facebook notifications or push notifications that can sustainably drive users back to their product.” In other words, marketing.

The tools in a “growth hackers toolbox” are common to online marketing—A|B testing, landing pages, direct email, DRIP campaigns, content marketing and etc. Add to this more expensive tactics like paid search and good video, and soon you are back to spending real money. This is because growth hacking does not obviate marketing but instead complements it on broader scale.

Lean Methodologies & Bite Sized Hacking.

The brightest minds within big companies realize that size tends to work against innovation. They also worry about spending big money on the next Edsel, Aztek or Google Glass. To combat this, many have created “Corporate Incubators” to grow bigger, better ideas from within.

It is no wonder, therefore, that such “Innovation Centers” embrace growth hacking.

Like growth hackers, they rigidly pursue data and metrics to produce ideas—both online and offline—that fulfill a potential market need. Like growth hackers, they carefully construct viral loops and feedback mechanisms reveal product flaws and establish KPIs—or Key Performance Indicators.

The T-Shaped Skill Set

Unlike the best “growth hacking” teams, however, many corporations still persist in hiring internal talent to staff their incubators. While there is nothing wrong with this practice, it invites complacency.

This is why Ideo—one of the world’s most successful idea incubators—looks for individuals that have both a broad knowledge base and a deep talent in one or two fields–or what they call a “T-Shaped Skill Set.”

Put another way, Growth Hackers tend to be polymaths with a particular talent. Whether they know how to code, write copy or craft marketing unusually well, what they all share is a talent for stealing things that already exist deep within the web and the world beyond it.