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29 February 2024

Growth hacking explained: the 4-step process to become a growth marketer

Nowadays you can no longer go around growth hacking (or marketing, but we'll get to that later) – just ask Google. The internet is full of growth hacking articles, tools and tactics. If we take a quick look at the search volume on growth hacking, we see that it’s been getting an increasing amount of attention worldwide since 2012.

Google trends of the search term "growth hacking"
Worldwide Google trends of the search term 'growth hacking'.

The term growth hacking was first introduced by Sean Ellis in 2010. In truth, the practice has been around much longer. It helped companies like DropBox, Uber and AirBnB transition from budding startups to multi-million dollar enterprises in just a few years’ time. Much of it comes down to the use of resource-light and cost-effective tactics and processes of continual ideation, prioritization, testing and analysis – with a continuous focus on the one metric that matters most: growth.

The term was first used in the start-up scene, where resources are scarce and where growth is the only way to survive. There’s a misconception, however, that growth hacking is only useful for startups. In fact, every company can benefit from it, although a minimum requirement is your product market fit. Growth hacking requires that you have a product that’s not just good, but that also matches the needs of who you’re selling it to. Once that’s in place, you’re good to go.

How to get started with growth hacking? For more practical insights, we sat together with Nicholas D'hondt, growth expert at our new spin-off Upthrust, which answers the need for operational digital marketing talents.

There's not one magic hack

It’s important to understand that growth hacking is not something magical. There’s no holy grail of growth hacking techniques that magically produce growth. What works for one company might not work for another. The big success stories of companies like Spotify and Uber didn’t happen overnight. They wouldn’t have found their silver bullet without hard work and without following an intentional process.

Therefore, if you go beyond the buzzword of ‘growth hacking’, you’ll find a meticulous step-by-step process of ideation, iteration and scaling. That’s why we prefer to talk about growth marketing instead of growth hacking. It doesn’t start with one magic hack, it starts with a mindset of continuous experimentation. You could say that growth marketing is growth hacking grown-up.

Let's break it down: The growth process in 4 steps

Now you have the right mindset in place, let’s break this growth marketing process down in 4 steps: narrow, test, track and scale. Consider, however, that implementing growth marketing doesn’t happen overnight, and usually isn’t limited to one single success.

Instead, it’s a sequence of small successes and failures, with the focus on scaling up quickly yet efficiently by learning from mistakes, while wasting as few resources as possible. By repeatedly going through these 4 steps, the ultimate goal is to have a continuously improving growth machine. So, let’s break it down:

  1. NARROW: Break down your goal & metric

First things first: you need to define what growth means for your company and break your main business goal down into smaller actionable goals. It’s impossible to hit a homerun and achieve a lofty goal like increasing annual revenue by 10% without the execution of various micro-goals. Some examples:

  • Create 5 content pieces per month
  • Increase monthly blog traffic by 20%
  • Increase number of leads from inbound by 10% in Q1
  • Get 5% of existing customers to refer you within one month after purchase

Thus, the road to your main goal is paved with different SMART goals; meaning they have to be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-based. Choosing the right metrics that match your goals and that drive positive change are key in this phase. These help you identify actionable improvement areas and give you a direction for implementing optimizations throughout the process. Typically, growth marketers stand out by their strong focus on the efficiency with which growth is achieved.

Marketing metrics tracked by teams employing growth hackers

  1. TEST: Set up minimum viable experiments

One of the essentials of growth marketing is rapid experimentation. Once you have defined your micro goal(s), it’s time to set up your growth experiments. These growth experiments are minimum viable tests  that you set up in order to define the growth lever(s) on which you can build your growth.

As with any other experiment, you should define your hypothesis before executing the  experiment. This helps you to be critical about the experiments you carry out and to not lose sight of your objective. A good hypothesis should include your current situation, your proposed changes, and your expected outcome. Below is an example by Craig Sullivan of how you could structure your hypothesis: 

  1. Because we saw (data/feedback)
  2. We expect that (change) will cause (impact)
  3. We’ll measure this using (data metric)

Before you start this phase of rapid experimentation, keep in mind that it’s best to run one experiment at a time and keep them simple. This way you can better see the impact of that specific experiment. Also make sure you’ve installed the necessary analytics beforehand, so you can properly track the data needed to support your hypothesis.

  1. TRACK: Identify your silver bullet

With your hypothesis clearly defined and your analytics in place, you will be able to measure your success and find out what works best and what doesn’t. Be ready to fail and to learn from it. Every experiment will lead to additional data and insights that can be used to optimize future experiments. For example, if you tested out two different CTAs on your landing page and none of them improved CTR, you learned that these are not the words that will work to urge your customers to get to know more about your product.

  1. ITERATE & SCALE: Close the loop

It’s essential to not just accept the first improvement of your metric and call it a day. In this phase you double down your resources on your wins, optimize your experiments, and repeat. Growth marketing is a process of continuous experimentation. As stated very nicely by Eric Thomas from the Growth Tribe, “fall in love with the process, and the results will come.”

With these 4 steps to guide you, it’s time to get into the growth marketing mindset and start your rapid experimentation process. Keep in mind that failure is your friend. Be patient and celebrate small successes.

Now that you’re on board, do not forget to consult
our list of top 10 growth marketing tools that will help you to improve your marketing ROI.

References: Huffington Post, Medium, Medium - SaaS Growth StrategiesMedium - The Startup and Quick Sprout.