Growth Hack:Building An Audience with No Marketing

Le gasp! A marketing blog talking about a no marketing strategy for businesses? Say it isn’t so!


It will all become clear soon my friends. I am going to be talking about one of the buzziest buzz words out there in the business world; growth hacking. To get started, here are a few synonyms I found for it:

  • ninja
  • super marketer
  • Hustler
  • rock star

Thoroughly confused? Let me break down what growth hacking is, and why as a marketer, you should know about this.

What is Growth Hacking?

Sean Ellis, the guy who coined the term “growth hacker” explains it best this way,

“A growth hacker is a person whose ‘true north’ is growth.”

My favorite description comes from a Mashable article I read this week, “growth hacking has marketing goals, driven by product instincts.” So you can all breathe, I am still talking about marketing. You’ve heard of the term ‘lean start up’? Well growth hacking is the ultimate lean start up marketer. The soul purpose of growth hacking is to build up the audience of start ups.  Here’s the kicker though: growth hacking ISN’T marketing. At least not in the traditional sense. They are, in a way, a specialist marketer focused on growth alone; using whatever means necessary. That means using A/B testing, website analytics, API integration, among other means to get to the users. Growth hacking is responsible for how things like Facebook, Dropbox, and StumpleUpon got there impressive amount of users.

The reason growth hacking works is because of a little thing called Product Market Fit. This is making a product that is designed to fit a specific need for a very targeted audience. You are testing and tweaking that product until you find the perfect fit for that audience. Personalization at it’s finest. A great example of growth hacking is Zynga, a gaming startup that was one of the first to integrate with Facebook’s API.  Remember all those Farmville requaests and updates you’d see from friends on Facebook? That would be the work of Zynga’s growth hackers. 

AirBnb, a housing rental company, had their growth hackers ‘hack’ Craigslist, and have people who list their space on their site, also have an option to list it on craigslist. 10s of millions of users that they were able to gain access to, for a fraction of the cost. They were able to steer people from Craigslist to their site and boom! New users acquired.


Other startups who have used hacked their way to new users are:

  • Pinterest: with a staggering 70 million users, Pinterest’s “insta-follow” and easy integration where you can ‘pin’ anything on the web, has helped it to grow to one of the top social networks.
  • Spotify: Thanks to their integration with Facebook (they were one of the first), Spotify has been able to gain new users everyday; currently 24 million are active users.

Growth hacking is obviously not the only way to gain an audience; inbound marketing, SEO, among other techniques in a traditional marketing strategy can work just fine for companies.  Like Sean Ellis said, growth marketing isn’t a replacement for marketing, nor is it ‘better’. It is simply different than marketing. Meaning, you can use marketing tactics in tandem with growth hacking. Please note though that growth hacking works best seems to work best for start up tech companies that are looking to gain the largest audience as possible. Can you imagine McDonald’s using a growth hack strategy like Zynga? Neither can I. Always remember this with anything I post: it ALL goes back to your strategy, and what your goals are.

How You Can Do It

What does this mean for marketers. If you are looking to get into start ups, you need to be able to:

Get technical: Kind of a given, but you don’t want to think in the traditional marketing sense. The internet opens up thousands of opportunities, so you need to think more technical. Here is a great quote that captures how society has shifted,

“Instead of roads that lead up to local movie theaters, we choose to browse Youtube.”–The Definitive Guide to Growth Hacking, 2013

Being a part of the product creation, marketers need to look at each aspect of the product, and tweak the product in order to reach the greatest amount of people. This means knowing web analytics, product engineering, and utilizing a lot of creativity.

Know When Less is More: This tip comes from Kissmetrics; if you are utilizing growth hacking, more than likely people aren’t entering your site from your homepage. It will be some page shared from friends, or from some page you have SEO’d the crap out of. When these potential users get interested in you and click to get to your homepage, you want to get them signed up as quickly as possible. To do that you don’t need a complicated website. Look at Tumblr:


No home screen, no videos, nothing fancy, just a login/signup page. However, if you have seen any of those famous gifs or tumblr posts that have been circulating on sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Buzzfeed, you would need to sign in in order to see the full post. They have roughly 30-50 million users.

Think you would like to be a growth hacker? Think growth hacking is over rated? Let me know in the comments below!

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