Marketing directors, digital managers and executives are always looking to find new ways to maximise the results of their marketing efforts. More often than not, this usually arrives at a couple of answers - spend more or put on a promotion; both of which are lack lustre approaches. Sometime they can work, but ask the majority of people in digital marketing if they have ever heard of the term “growth hacking” and you’ll be looking at a lot of blank faces.

So What Is Growth Hacking?

Wickipedia tells us that “growth hacking is a marketing technique developed by technology startups which uses creativity, analytical thinking, and social metrics to sell products and gain exposure.”

In 2010, the entrepreneur, investor and CEO of Qualaroo, Sean Ellis was credited with coining the term "growth hacker". Billion-dollar companies like Dropbox, AirBnB and Uber are the epitome of growth hacking today but, as far back as the dawn of the internet, growth hacking has helped the meteoric rise of the web's most defining launches and exits.

To use an early example, two decades ago, the founders of Hotmail, Sabeer Bhatia and Jack Smith, sold their email company for $400m just two years after they first raised $300k to start it in 1996. So what growth hack did Hotmail use? Well, it was extremely simple; they encouraged people to sign up to their product with the following message:
“PS: I Love You. Get Your Free Email at Hotmail”

This quirky yet unobtrusive request was present in every email sent by Hotmail's users. During that first two years, the service grew to 12 million accounts. In one instance, Bhatia apparently sent an email to a friend in India; within two weeks, over 300,000 people had signed up to the service!

They were pitching a free service which was new to the world, not just online, but the execution was outstanding. Growth hacking is about doing the simple things brilliantly and driving growth at every opportunity. It is a methodology, a science, a way of life for the new era of marketers in the fast paced digital world.

The methodology of growth hacking can be applied to pretty much any marketing channel. The term, however, was born out of the start-up world, where founders of fledgling companies bootstrapped their business plans and went in search of creative ways to drive organic growth.

Attributes of a Growth Hacker

Successful growth hackers share the following attributes; they always question how they can improve their product /service, the constantly assess how they make their website experience better and they regularly evaluate how they can drive more traffic and do so more efficiently.

A growth hacker also needs to understand a large number of marketing channels and tools to help them succeed. It’s about finding new areas of opportunity and hitting them hard before anyone else capitalises on them. They will need to understand Excel to a highly proficient level, to dive into data and understand how they can use it to seek out new opportunities. They also need to know SEO, PPC, Social and how to build scalable growth.

At the heart of all of this is their insatiable hunger for multivariate testing. Never content to do nothing, a growth hacker uses data to prove success and hypothesis.

Growth Hacking in Practice

The most successful companies of today have this ethos at the very core of their operations. The ecommerce giant,, spent $3.02bn on R&D in the last 12 months. A famous story, based on research by, shows that a reduction in site speed by just one second would cost Amazon $16m in annual revenue.

It’s not just your marketing strategy that can affect your sales revenue. Who is responsible in a company’s structure to monitor site speed and correlate it with sales performance? Most companies do not even consider this.

Adopting a growth mind-set will change your outlook on marketing. If you are struggling on the budget front, you can still achieve targets by thinking creatively and making your entire strategy and website better.

I bang the drum to my team members to "do the simple things brilliantly". Many people forget the basics and this results in a death by a thousand cuts. So what can you do? The answer is test, test and test again.

I am a big advocate of Google Content Experiments. It's free for starters, and you access it directly from Google Analytics.

A Great Example of Growth Hacking

One of the best growth hacks I have ever seen was the inspirational story of AirBnB and how they developed a “back-door” capability to allow their users to re-post their listings on Craigslist, which at the time had a significantly larger user base.

The integration was far from easy; it had to overcome several hurdles for AirBnB to make it work. Huge feats of technical engineering were required, far surprassing the traditional marketer.

It was technically against Craigslist’s guidelines and some would consider it spam, but it was certainly one of the core mechanics which helped drive AirBnB to a billion dollar valuation.

The Future Of Growth Hacking

Although born out of the startup world, the growth mindset will and already is integrating with the marketing strategies of established companies. This new era of “growth marketing” will take the techniques and apply them to current campaigns to ensure traditional media spend and digital advertising budgets realise their full potential. Many large brands are a victim of their own success and often overlook the few percent that they could improve each month by advocating the growth mindset into everything they do.

Emerging platforms are the real opportunity in the market and the savvy growth marketer will regularly seek out new ways to exploit traffic and drive users to their brands. Video platforms like Periscope and Meerkat (which delivers live video snippets to Twitter) are already seeing massive growth. Brands must be flexible and dynamic enough to adopt these new technologies and be prepared to go beyond the comfort zone of their current marketing plans; always asking how they can improve what they are doing at every step.

If we fast forward another 2-3 years, those companies which do not have growth teams within their marketing departments will be left behind.


By Gary Taylor, Digital Director of tmwi. 

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