I hate the term “Growth Hacker.” It just sounds like one of those Silicon Valley buzzwords that make you want to puke every time you hear it. But it has allowed some very nerdy marketing start-ups to differentiate themselves and create success for their clients. The science and results behind Growth Hacking can’t be argued. It works. And it works well when the data is there to support its efforts. So we may as well own the term (until a better one comes along) and make it clear what it is.

Growth Hacking is not a new practice, just a new term to describe emerging data mining practices and multi-tiered campaigns to support growth.

The term “hacker” can be a little misleading. By one definition, it means rogue programmer. However, I believe a “hacker” is someone who thinks outside the box, disregards the rules, and discovers new ways to solve problems. In this way, a Growth Hacker needs to be as creative as they are analytical.

Below is a list of the primary tactics most Growth Hackers utilize. But by definition, if this list is set in stone, they are not a true Growth Hacker.

Viral Acquisition: Leveraging built-in product features to encourage existing customers to share your product with potential customers. This represents the lowest cost of new customer acquisition and is the foundation of Growth Hacking.

Data Mining: Even the smallest company has data on its current customers or at the very least an idea of whom they want to target. Analyzing this data and cross referencing it with other data can help create a very targeted and high converting potential customer base. This represents the 2nd lowest cost of new customer acquisition.

Paid Acquisition: There are many types. To name a few, search engine marketing, Google AdWords, Facebook ads, display ads, mobile ads, radio, TV and others. There is also affiliate marketing; or providing incentives to third-party marketers who then promote your product for you and take a cut of the revenue. But the cost of customer acquisition can be higher and sources limited.

Call Centers/Sales Teams: Leveraging outsourced low-cost labor to help support a startup’s efforts could be considered Growth Hacking. These workers can do anything from massively e-mail your prospective customers to create hundreds of SEO-friendly pages. In these cases, I would consider it a form of Growth Hacking.

Content Marketing: Leveraging blog posts, info graphics, and viral videos to increase brand awareness and site traffic. Turn those visitors into customers.

E-mail Marketing: If you believe a Growth Hacker’s job is not just to increase new customers but also to engage them or encourage them to spend more money, then e-mail marketing is a significant part of their arsenal.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO): What most mainstream SEO articles talk about is very different from what startups do for SEO. Startups that use SEO effectively build scalable, long-term infrastructure that creates tens of thousands or millions of pages. But beware; Google is discounting “content farms” so make sure it is done right.

A/B testing and Analytics: Though this is not a customer acquisition method, there is no doubt that heavy data analytics and A/B testing helps a growth hacker improve their acquisition and conversion funnels.

A Growth Hacker really is just a marketer, but one with a different set of challenges and tools to work with. Because growth hacking customer acquisition costs are less than other media, small companies and start-ups are some of the first to utilize this modality.

  1. Startups and small companies are organizations with extreme uncertainty. At a startup, you may not know who your core customer base is, why they buy your product (or whether they will at all), what marketing channels will work the best. Most of the time, larger corporations have all this figured out. So while startups are trying to both design software and make it stable, corporations are trying to make their software run faster.
  2. Startups are designed for astronomical growth. Startups intend to grow at 20 percent month over month (or more), while corporations are satisfied with 5 percent year over year. As such, corporate marketers deal with the challenge of: I’ve got a mature business that already has significant market penetration. How do I eke out another few percent and keep the business growing? Startup marketers, by contrast, need to figure out how to 1000x their numbers but from a much smaller base.
  3. Startups don’t have access to the same resources or brand equity. Self-explanatory: you have less money and are less well-known at a startup than at an established company. This means you must both educate your prospective customer as well as acquire them without significant budgets.

If your start-up or small company is looking for big growth, Growth Hacking is the place to start. If your medium to large sized company is looking for ways to cut costs and augment your existing marketing efforts, Growth Hacking should be part of your plan.