Ryan Holiday on Growth Hacking

Growth Hacking
Growth hacking really is a mindset rather than a tool kit.

“A growth hacker doesn’t see marketing as something one does,” writes Ryan Holiday in his book Growth Hacker Marketing: A Primer on the Future of PR, Marketing, and Advertising, “but rather as something one builds into the product itself.”

That’s interesting. The old way of marketing, which still exists in many forms, is to spend money talking about the product. But technology has changed things. Not only has it changed how traditional marketing is done, it’s enabled an entirely different type of marketing: growth hacking.

Holiday defines growth hacking as:

A growth hacker is someone who has thrown out the playbook of traditional marketing and replaced it with only what is testable, trackable, and scalable. Their tools are e-mails, pay-per-click ads, blogs, and platform APIs instead of commercials, publicity , and money. While their marketing brethren chase vague notions like “branding” and “mind share,” growth hackers relentlessly pursue users and growth— and when they do it right, those users beget more users , who beget more users. They are the inventors, operators, and mechanics of their own self-sustaining and self-propagating growth machine that can take a start-up from nothing to something.

One of the biggest benefits of the changing marketing landscape is that it addresses one of the biggest gaps. In the ‘old’ way of marketing, and I’m simplifying here, you’d run a campaign on radio and television and hope product sales would soar. But you’d have no way to measure the marketing return on investment.

“Marketing has always been about the same thing—who your customers are and where they are,” says Noah Kagan, a growth hacker at Facebook, Mint, and AppSumo.

“What growth hackers do,” Holiday writes:

is focus on the “who” and “where” more scientifically, in a more measurable way. Whereas marketing was once brand based, with growth hacking it becomes metric and ROI driven. Suddenly, finding customers and getting attention for your product become no longer a guessing game. But this is more than just marketing with better metrics.

That’s why this new form of marketing is more adaptable to the future.

Still unclear on what Growth Hacking is? That’s because it’s more of a mindset than anything in particular.

Growth hacking is not a 1-2-3 sequence, but instead a fluid process. Growth hacking at its core means putting aside the notion that marketing is a self-contained act that begins toward the end of a company’s or a product’s development life cycle. It is, instead, a way of thinking and looking at your business.

And here’s the key and it’s something that my friends in marketing have long complained of: they’ve been left out of the loop.

The new marketing mindset begins not a few weeks before launch but, in fact, during the development and design phase.

The best marketing decision is to have a product that fulfills a real and compelling need.

Growth hackers believe that products—even whole businesses and business models—can and should be changed until they are primed to generate explosive reactions from the first people who see them.

The best way to do this, argues Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup, is to create a “minimum viable product” and improve it based on feedback. If this sounds like something we’ve talked about before, you’re right. It’s a combination of the Minimum Effective Dose and disruptive innovation.

This is in stark contrast to how a lot of companies operate. Most people try to design and release what they deem is their “final” product. This is what we’re taught in business school. Identify a need and fulfill it with all the bells and whistles. But your customers don’t need all these bells and whistles. Need further proof? Just look at Basecamp which blows Microsoft Project out of the water, in part, because of what it doesn’t do. It’s simple. The guys at 37 Signals understand what people really need and do an awesome job of delivering on that.

Holiday argues:

Isolating who your customers are, figuring out their needs, designing a product that will blow their minds—these are marketing decisions, not just development and design choices.

How can you do this? Take a page from Amazon.

At Amazon, for instance, it’s company policy that before developing a new product the product manager must submit a press release to their supervisor for that item before the team even starts working on it. The exercise forces the team to focus on exactly what its potential new product is and what’s special about it.

A good idea is no longer enough. There are good ideas all over the place. The adage build it and they will come is one we see through the lens of availability bias. We see the winners and ignore the losers, our calculation of alternative histories is off. Today you need to acquire customers. How you do this matters.

And the old alternative, traditional marketing, looks less and less appealing. Who can afford a business model where marketing costs of up to $400 a person are the norm. It doesn’t scale. It’s not easily measurable. It’s much easier to deliver a good product and ask for referrals.

This is where books like Contagious come in. In that book, social scientist Jonah Berger explains that one of the most crucial factors to making something catch on is to make something public. “Making things more observable makes them easier to imitate,” he writes, “which makes them more likely to become popular. … We need to design products and initiatives that advertise themselves and create behavioral residue that sticks around even after people have bought the product or espoused the idea.”

Growth Hacker Marketing is a great primer on where marketing might be headed and how innovative companies are considering growth while they develop products.