Why marketers should stop worrying about ‘growth hacking’ in 2018

In 1972, a constitutional crisis rocked the United States. Watergate meant curtains for Richard Nixon, but that wasn’t the only legacy this previously unknown Washington hotel gave to the world. The suffix “-gate” has since been used to add instant scandal to any situation; it seeks to confirm, “This is serious, guys.” But, what does it mean? Nothing-gate.

Enter “-hack”, the 21st century’s “gate”. The internet is awash with articles on “how to hack the happiness molecule”, or “life hacks to help you relax”. If “to hack” was once widely understood as illegally entering a computer system, now it’s the edge suffix. It’s leftfield, disruptive, new. Except, the first “hack” in “life hacks to help you relax” is “breathe”.

“Growth hacking” sounds cool, something start-ups might do and, frankly, unattainable. But, as an industry, we need to put an end to the smoke and mirrors. As with most 21st-century “hacks”, there’s nothing new going on here.

What does “growth hacking” really mean?

“Growth hacking” is just marketing for results. Marketing that we know works, because the data tells us so. Marketing where the proof is in the pudding. Making decisions based on what works is not new, and should not be seen as revolutionary, despite the words of high-profile advocates such as Wired UK editor David Rowan and Hyper Island digital marketing expert Christina Andersson. It’s how businesses have always been run.

Using data to direct decisions and then optimising for maximum effectiveness, or growth, should always be the approach. We don’t need a cool name for it. As Michael Sugden, CEO at VCCP, eloquently stated, it’s the most annoying phrase in marketing. There’s no need for grown-up businesses to use it. Which is exactly why we never talk about “growth hacking” at AnalogFolk. We call it data-driven marketing – we say what it does on the tin.

Using data to make intelligent decisions

Whilst I’m a huge advocate for data-driven marketing, it’s important to note that it has a role to play within the overall bigger picture. The reality is that successful marketers need to balance the two worlds of:

1. Strategic long-term planning

2. Reactive and iterative, optimisation-based marketing (so-called “growth hacking”)

The long-term vision is what guides your roadmap to success. The specific items on that roadmap need to be reactive, where plans are continually updated and re-evaluated in “real-time”, based on data. This is data-driven agile marketing.

Setting the broad tasks or aims allows us to clearly understand how the vision will be reached. The way specific tasks are carried out needs to be flexible, based on the best possible outcome for the business, its customers and its potential customers.

For example, the vision could be building a brand that helps consumers, and is famous for doing so. Whilst a specific task within the roadmap might be to improve the “buy now” journey. The route for doing so needs to be iterative. How can any business create the best “buy now” experience without the data to compare between, for instance, a yellow button and a green button? When the best colour of the button is clear, the language within that button requires further consideration and testing. The list goes on.

For any business that doesn’t want to stand still, the planning of activity and continually improving should never end. Do it, learn from it, repeat it. Here are six strategies to help your business make it happen.

1 – Understand exactly what works, and what doesn’t

This can’t be underestimated, so information gathering is the key:

  • What type of content does the audience engage with across which channels?

  • Which email subject lines achieve the best open rates?

  • What are the audience’s pain points?

  • What are people seeking within the category and/or vertical?

Without this information, building a smart strategy is almost impossible. For any business, any size, it should be simple to find this information. For instance, speaking to a customer service advisor or sales teams will instantly shed light on audience pain points. The free tool Answer the Public is simple to use and even more simple to understand popular queries, giving helpful hints for activities such as content creation.

2 – Build briefs on insights

Armed with plenty of information about the brand and their audience, insights can be drawn, which are essential in enriching briefs. Retail giant Sainsbury’s constantly needs to cut through an ever-increasingly noisy marketplace.

Using data and insight to support the big brand activity for Christmas, our research highlighted hosting a party as a key moment in the festive calendar. The emotions tied up in hosting include notions such as “I want to enjoy the party myself”, “I want hosting to be stress-free”, “I want to be recognised for throwing an amazing party”. Enter the creative brief to tap into these emotions and genuinely resonate with the audience.

The next step is gathering data throughout the campaign which serves the emotionally appealing creative. Based on understanding the audience interactions with each piece of creative, we could ensure we served them the next squential creative. The end result: audiences were taken on a journey, beginning with them and what mattered to them, through to fun inspiration pieces, right through to the products that will make their party.

3 – Always test and learn

Dot com ground-breaker Booking.com lives and breathes data; it drives every decision. But this data isn’t just numbers in a spreadsheet. It is adventure and bucket lists; life-long dreams realised; reasons people travel. In recent years, AnalogFolk has been marrying Booking.com’s data with its audience’s passion for travel. Creating unique, universal stories – every day.

Primarily, Booking.com measures success through site visitation. That means that the creative thinking, editorial knowledge and research with Booking.com data, meticulously planned content must land at the point of consideration, with the ultimate aim of driving clicks. Relying on existing purchase data and engagement data gives a clear steer on audience interests, but a testing framework is essential to continuously improve every editorial output and lead the audience towards a click.

Any approach to testing must be built around a framework, with the hypothesis at the centre. A hypothesis always drives towards an objective, which will inform an action and lead to an insight. That insight can be used to direct the repeat version, which means the repeated version is always an improvement on the previous iteration. For Booking.com, this approach has resulted in consistent improvement in content effectiveness at driving clicks to the site.

4 – Appreciate the power of social proof

Monzo, the self proclaimed bank of the future, is the king of fast, efficient growth. Rather than being distracted by high-cost brand-building activity, efforts have been poured into making the product speak for itself. “A bank that’s as smart as your phone, featuring instant payment notifications and is actually easy to use.” The effect? “I want in.” Of course you, but so does everyone else, so join the queue. Your desire instantly increases, because it feels unattainable.

By inviting friends to join the queue too, you automatically jump up in the queue. An ingenious, cost-effective way to increase desirability whilst maintaining the brand’s wildfire growth. This also allows the brand to control its own scalability, track where new users are coming from, and uphold their nature of transparency by giving customers-in-waiting a queue number.

With 81% of consumers reading online reviews before making a purchase decision, social proof and online reputation are increasingly important. Brands going above and beyond, using reputation as the foundation to their growth strategy are those seeing fast and efficient advances.

5 – Contextualise experience

Customer centric comms and experiences is a no brainer. The consumer’s life being more important that your brand is no brainer. Yet, brands showing consumers that they understand this is surprisingly uncommon.

The best way for a brand to demonstrate that they understand the importance of an individual’s life, and want to absorb themselves within it, is undoubtedly through contextualising and personalising their individual experience. ASOS does this fantastically by showing you it knows you in the following ways:

  • The website will always land on men/women section, based last interaction

  • We recommend size x for you, based on previous buying behaviour

  • “Your edit” section, based on personal buying and browsing patterns

  • “Get it before it goes” email follow ups, and retargeting ads, both based on missed conversions

Essential note: without appropriate tracking in place this will never be achieved. Invest in a tracking and analytics audit. Without understanding how an individual has been behaving, personalisation is impossible. No brand will ever crack digital without sound data to base decisions upon.

6 – Learn from your audience

Conversion rate optimisation (CRO); the pinnacle of using data to inform decisions to fuel business growth. CRO solely focuses on increasing website visitors into customers. Heatmaps are a simple, low-cost, beginner-ready entry point to making the most of your website visitors. Adding a short code snippet to your site will immediately give quick visual insight around:

  • Hottest click spot, i.e. demonstrates where to place the the most important button

  • Typical visitor scroll length, i.e. demonstrates how to best condense information

  • Form drop off rates, i.e. demonstrates the fields causing stumbling blocks

Digging through a well-configured analytics platform will unearth much of this insight, but setup can be timely and complex. Heatmaps are easily accessible and give consumer insight to help direct layout decisions for making the most of visitors.

Marketing – like every other business practice – should be built around what works. Centred around the audience, what they want and how they behave. Understanding this is fundamental to lead a brand towards efficient and effective marketing. It’s the mindset that gives the cutting edge.

Surely you are constantly gathering data and assessing the impact of your efforts as you go though, aren’t you?


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