Peppered with several subtle, and a few not so subtle, jabs at traditional advertising and branding, Ryan Holiday’s book “Growth Hacker Marketing” focuses on what he considers the new mindset marketing must adapt to. Ryan defines a “Growth Hacker” as someone who “doesn’t see marketing as something one does but rather as something one builds into the product itself.”
One of the biggest takeaways from this book that as a marketing researcher I can completely get behind is the importance of Product Market Fit. “The best marketing decision you can make is to have a product or business that fulfills a real and compelling need for a real and defined group of people—no matter how much tweaking and refining this takes.” Yes, yes, yes. So many executive level decisions are based on what they think customers want—what they assume customers want. Failure to do research in order to truly understand what the market wants, or to adjust to what the market wants, is the number one reason new products and companies fail.
For example, Instagram started as a location-based “check-in” social network platform called Burbn that allowed users to earn points for hanging out with friends. Sharing photos was simply an option. After realizing that most people were flocking to the photo sharing part of the app, the founders were willing to give people what they wanted by pivoting Instagram into a photo-sharing app and it took off like a rocket.
In another example of Product Market Fit, Ryan explains how in order to sync the product with the needs of customers Amazon works backwards. An internal press release is developed that announces the new potential product as though it was about to launch. It addresses the target market for the product and explains how it will solve a problem they have.
Growth hacking is best done early, but any product at any life stage can growth hack. In 2012 eBay partnered with Gogo—the inflight wifi provider—to offer free access to eBay on Delta and Virgin America flights, reaching thousands or bored potential customers with little else to do but access eBay. It’s not about traditional advertising, like with eBay, growth hacking is about identifying “out of the box” ways to reach customers who have unfulfilled needs.
Growth hacking involves engaging customers in ways that make using the product or service simpler, and more rewarding. For Uber it’s a coupon sent to a user who returned after not using the service for several months in order to retain them. For LivingSocial it’s getting the deal for free if three friends also purchase it. For Hotmail it’s inserting an email signature at the bottom of each email that turned every email sent into a pitch for new users.