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Five lessons big brands can learn from growth hacking

The Singleton Consultancy
By Sean Singleton  //  Wed 11th December 2013
Borne out of the start-up scene in Silicon Valley, 'growth hacking' is a set of tactics and best practices that deal with the issue of online user growth, namely, by growing it, says Sean Singleton.

Growth hackers use a set of tools that they argue do not exist in the traditional marketing repertoire. Brands such as Hotmail, AirBnb, Groupon and Spotify are regularly hailed as success stories of this method. And in 2014 it is set to go mainstream.

Here are five lessons big brands can learn from the practice of growth hacking:

1. Test and experiment culture
'Start up culture is obsessed with continual optimisation of all stages of the marketing process (awareness, interest, acquisition, conversion, and so on) but also the product itself – i.e. what features should be added or removed. Most big brands talk about testing, but it’s not part of their culture or in their company DNA. The only way you can achieve on-going optimisation is if to build a structured testing programme.

''A testing programme allows you to test current actions but also create small experiments across a range of activities. We are currently going through a digital revolution and therefore the range of options of open to brands can be overwhelming. The best way to ensure brands don't miss a key innovation is to try lot of new things'.

2. There’s more to life than acquisition

'Clearly acquisition is very important and the end goal is a measurable change in some growth metric such as the number of customers, revenue, or return on investment. Therefore growth hacking recognises that you need to get people through a number of stages.

''For example: 1) visit website, 2) engage, 3) click through to the app store 4) download app 5) use app 6) share socially, and so on. Brands still need to ensure this journey is as seamless as possible, and one of the most successful examples of this is the growth of AirBnB'.

3. Embrace failure
'Failure is often how we learn as human beings. Both scientific and start-up communities recognise this basic truth, where as this is anathema to many big businesses. If you test and experiment a lot, then expect to fail more.

Liam Reynolds of True Up, the UK ’s first Growth Hacking agency and partner of Hometown London, believes that 80% of tests will fail, therefore big brands need to more open to failure. However the more times they experiment and fail, the faster they will hit upon those magic ingredients to real, significant growth'. 

4. Move quicker
'Speed of action is critical to the growth hacker. Start-ups move very quickly and are very agile. They can test and experiment lots of things because they move quickly.

Most big brands spend too long planning stuff, building and perfecting their marketing strategies without knowing whether something is going to make a real impact or not. It’s more important to just get something out there, even if its not perfect. It’s about learning and evolving real customer data rather than taking too long and then completely missing the boat. This also means that the path to success isn’t a linear one but instead made up of lots of smaller "pivots" as brands work out what options are going to be the most fruitful'.

5. Focus on data that effects results
'It’s all about results, stupid. Growth hackers are completely results-driven. Therefore data is the lifeblood of growth hacking. However its more about identifying and measuring the right data - the things that contribute most to customer growth. This isn’t about getting bogged down over analysing every last bit of information to find some insightful nugget, that maybe interesting but has no commercial value. Data is only useful when it becomes converted into 'what should we do?' recommendations.

'In many ways, big brands can learn more from the culture of growth hacking than from the tools and tactics, especially if it’s a brand that does necessary sell product online. Certainly big brands with huge e-commerce potential need to become more like growth hackers in mentality as well as their approach to marketing.

''Probably the most important lesson that big brands can learn is from themselves. At some point, they experienced significant growth due to innovation or outsmarting their opposition. For example, in 1950s McDonalds achieve huge growth as there were one of the first fast food restaurants to understand the dynamics of the new US interstate as a new way to reach customers. They quickly acquired customers by launching their ‘golden arches’ along highway exists. Now that is old-school growth hacking'.

Sean is the new commercial director of Hometown London and his article was originally published in Marketing.  
Growth Hacking
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