You’ve poured blood, sweat, and tears into a product that you know can change consumers’ lives.
The only problem? They don’t know that yet.
But how do you get your target customer to realize the value of your business on a shoe-string budget? As with any aspect of a startup, your low budget for marketing and brand awareness can be a great chance to stand out and show consumers how passionate, capable, and valuable your business is.
Growth hacking offers a strategy to do just that. If used effectively, growth hacking can build your consumer base quickly and cost-efficiently—just as long as you’re willing to put in the work to make it happen.
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What Is Growth Hacking?
The term “growth hacking” can sound a little sleazy—it almost implies that you’re getting customers through illegitimate means. Luckily, that’s not the case at all.
Growth hacking simply refers to the process of finding innovative, scalable, low-cost ways to build a consumer base using experimentation. It’s all about experimenting enough to find those minor tweaks in your marketing strategy that have unexpectedly huge payoffs. In other words, it’s what every startup must do to cut customer acquisition costs and get the growth they need to stay afloat.
In the same vein, a growth hacker is a professional who looks for ways to rapidly accelerate growth through a combination of marketing, automation, and data analysis. This term has also branched into growth marketers, heads of growth, technical marketeers, or data-driven marketers, but ultimately, they all mean the same thing.
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Growth Hacking and Traditional Marketing
Given the fact that some growth hackers are called “growth marketers,” it can be tempting to see growth hacking as just an offshoot of traditional marketing. While there’s some truth to that—both have the goal of customer acquisition—it’s important to clarify their differences to grow effectively.
The most important distinction is where they place their efforts. Growth hackers emphasize finding new paths to growth, while marketing teams tend to work on maintaining the strategies that have already proven to work. As a result, growth hacking tends to involve a much smaller budget—after all, low-cost solutions are the name of the game. Plus, growth hacking is much more data-driven, so it can require more technical skills to get started.
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Pros of Growth Hacking
Even though it was popularized by startup culture, growth hacking is so effective that it’s been implemented in several majorly successful businesses of the last decade.
Why? Two main reasons: ROI and cost-efficiency.
As we’ve mentioned above, cost-efficiency is the heart and soul of growth hacking. A growth hacker’s sole purpose is to find the most effective way to use existing resources to get customers. Plus, because growth hacking only requires one person, it’s much less expensive to maintain. If a company’s growth hacker finds just one successful new strategy every quarter, that can mean millions of dollars in the new revenue and saved marketing costs, allowing you to put every penny from investors to good use.
A natural byproduct of its cost-efficiency is higher ROI. After all, you’re spending less to get more customers, which is again underscored by how few employees you’ll continue discovering the best strategies. Plus, because they use data to meticulously calculate the best tactics, there’s never any question about whether data hackers are providing value to the company.
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Becoming a Successful Growth Hacker
A good growth hacker is usually a generalist. After all, their small budget will require them to do the majority of any technical work that’s required. So, having a basic understanding of landing pages, building websites, branding, HTML/CSS, running ads, tracking, and data analysis should be a top priority for aspiring growth hackers.
To be successful, you’ll also need to assess whether your personality fits the characteristics of the job. For instance, since growth hacking is all about building things quickly, seeing if they work, and discarding them as needed, a perfectionist would be a horrible fit. On the other hand, someone who gets restless in more predictable positions could find that growth hacking satiates their craving for discovering and optimizing absolutely everything.
Getting Started With Growth Hacking
All this discussion of low-cost innovation can seem just as intimidating as it does exciting. But by simply answering a few questions about your startup, you can be well on your way to targeting the pain points that are currently losing customers.
The first and most obvious step is identifying the weak point in your funnel. Take a look at the statistics currently available to you to figure out whether you’re losing customers at the awareness, acquisition, activation, revenue, retention, or referral stage of the process.
Next, find a metric you can use to track this stage. For instance, you may measure activation by the number of people who book a demo or awareness by the number of impressions you reach on social media.
Once you know which part of the funnel you’re targeting and how you’ll measure it, you can start developing ideas and small-scale experiments to find the quickest way to grow this metric.
Related: Qualified Research Expenses (QRE): A Complete Guide
Successful Growth Hacking Strategies
While there’s certainly no one-size-fits-all in the world of growth hacking, looking at success stories can be a great way to get your creative juices flowing. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of businesses that made a big impression using unconventional, low-cost marketing tactics.
Dropbox created one of the most famous examples of growth hacking through its unique referral program. The idea was simple: give users extra storage for each person they bring to the platform. Using this strategy, Dropbox was able to achieve a staggering 3900% increase in users in just 15 months, launching it straight into the mainstream.
In its infancy, Airbnb used Craigslist to post new listings with a link to its platform. Why? Because in the pre-Airbnb days, most people looking to rent a house started on Craigslist. By paying attention to where their target customers were and finding a simple, inexpensive way to reach them, Airbnb quickly became a household name.
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Growth hacking is a great equalizer for modern startup founders. When you invest in growth hacking, you’re opening the doors to competing directly with businesses that have infinitely larger marketing budgets pushing the competition to its creative edge.