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Think Like a Startup: Growth Hacking Introduces New Marketing Hacks to Businesses

Do more with less! Sound familiar? This is a statement I hear in almost every strategy and planning meeting I attend on behalf of enterprise and startup clients alike. The idea of course is to accomplish great feats, beyond the output or achievements of years gone by, without the previous resources exploited over time.

Several years ago, I adopted a way of thinking to help me realize that how things are done today isn’t indicative of how they could be. As such, I’ve adopted a mantra of “constraint forces creativity.” Constraint isn’t defined by cash flow or edicts, but instead the restriction of the boundaries that confine us to customary processes and views.

Yes, there are times when you can, when you should do more with less. But doing more with less isn’t a mantra in of itself. It’s a representative of a form of administration that attempts to boost productivity while operationalizing processes and optimizing efficiencies. Yes, that was corporate speak. It’s nonetheless true however.

This is how organizations compete today without necessarily thinking about how these activities position them in the future.

Innovation and risk taking often carry too much of a cost to bear for some companies. It’s more than finances however. Exploring new solutions also presents a significant opportunity cost that may in fact signify doing more with more rather than doing more with less. This presents a catch 22 of sorts. If you effectively “do more with less,” you may actually deliver less with less. If you discover ways to creatively excel, the pervasive culture of optimizing and operationalizing business practices may not truly appreciate the extent of your (and your team’s) sacrifices. New ideas often die on the vine.

The Hacker Way

“The Hacker Way” is the ideology that Mark Zuckerberg has long employed at Facebook. It’s also the name of the road that leads to the company’s sprawling campus in Menlo Park California.

To succeed in business today, there’s indeed a hack for that…

Everything begins with a shift in perspective and culture. What if the entire organization or at least those with driving impact where empowered? Sometimes it takes learning from the lean and mean world of startups to get larger organizations back on track.

Startups are the new darlings of their industry. Twitter, Foursquare, Instagram, Pinterest, Uber, AirBnB, these are the forces that are disrupting age-old business models while creating entirely new markets. In the world of startups, unlike larger organizations, employees not only wear multiple hats, they’re empowered to excel on each front to help the organization gain momentum and ultimately grow. This is classic intraprenuerialism. This approach takes the elements that represent the defining pillars of entrepreneurialism and attempts to celebrate them within a larger ecosystem.

Intrapreneurs are the New Entrepreneurs

Intrapreneurs rethink and promote innovation in processes, product development, marketing, collaboration and anywhere and everywhere it’s needed or possible.

In the startup community, one of the most talked about trends in intrapreneurialism is the role of growth hacking. To be a growth hacker is someone who is specifically tasked to do more with less. The difference here is that growth hackers take it upon themselves to do more with less as they hack the way things are done to find a potent way of obtaining goals.

What is a growth hacker?

Growth Hacking is the art and science of creating awareness, traction, adoption, and advocacy using unorthodox and surprising means. It’s quite literally a hack for traditional processes to accelerate business.

In 2010, Sean Ellis introduced us to the role of growth hacker in his post, “Find a Growth Hacker for Your Startup.”

In his post Ellis recognizes the difference between Growth Hacking and traditional marketing and business development, “…the problem is that most startups try to hire for skills and experience that are irrelevant, while failing to focus on the essential few skills. Typical job descriptions are often laden with generic but seemingly necessary requirements like an ability to establish a strategic marketing plan to achieve corporate objectives, build and manage the marketing team, manage outside vendors, etc.”

If you’re unaware of Quora, spend some time there. Quora is the defacto Q&A hub for all things disruptive and bleeding edge when it comes to technology, trends and the people behind them. On the topic of Growth Hacking and what it is and isn’t, the top ranked answer comes from Andy Johns, “It’s the idea that an entrepreneur can take a clever or non-traditional approach to increasing the growth rate/adoption of his or her product by ‘hacking’ something together specifically for growth purposes. What people call ‘hacking’ today will become common sense to most in the tech world in the future because people are waking up to the fact that growth doesn’t simply come from having a good product.”

Of course when you hear the word hacker, you probably think of breaking into networks or hijacking computers to illegally access files and information. Hacking is though a method of bypassing traditional tasks to obtain a goal.

To compete for the future and ultimately relevance, leading technologists believe that the future of marketing comes down to technologists. Growth Hacking sounds intriguing, but at its root, it represents homage to programming and respect for the culture of online, social and mobile communities in order to influence different behavior.

In 2012, Andrew Chen, an entrepreneur and blogger based in Silicon Valley described the skillset that serves as the undercurrent of growth hacking in his noteworthy article, “Growth Hacker is the New VP of Marketing.”

This is a defining piece as it outlines the importance, the responsibilities and the potential outcomes when growth hackers assume the role of marketing, “This isn’t just a single role – the entire marketing team is being disrupted. Rather than a VP of Marketing with a bunch of non-technical marketers reporting to them, instead growth hackers are engineers leading teams of engineers.

Growth Hacking is intrapreneurialism enacted.

Chen continues, “Before this era, the discipline of marketing relied on the only communication channels that could reach 10s of millions of people – newspaper, TV, conferences, and channels like retail stores. To talk to these communication channels, you used people – advertising agencies, PR, keynote speeches, and business development. Today, the traditional communication channels are fragmented and passé. The fastest way to spread your product is by distributing it on a platform using APIs, not MBAs. Business development is now API-centric, not people-centric.”

People are the 5th P of Marketing and the Source of Growth in Growth Hacking

While I take exception to the last line being “API-centric” and not “people centric,” Chen’s bigger argument is that it takes technologists to hack technology to reach desired audiences to drive desirable clicks, conversions and outcomes. He’s right. But, he’s wrong about people. People represent the 5tH P of Marketing and it’s through empathy in understanding real world challenges that opens the doors to new opportunities. Said another way, people and their aspirations and frustrations should inspire you.

The key is programming journeys that deliver coveted experiences. And that’s what this is really about. Growth Hacking finds new ways of creating awareness and constructively handholding people into a dynamic customer journey that is thoughtful, productive, and meaningful…on any platform.

To succeed in business and continually compete for the future takes a culture of intrapreneurialism to spark innovation within. Remember it’s less about doing more with less and absolutely about finding or creating solutions when resources or opportunities are either constrained or inhibited by convention. Growth hacking isn’t just about finding new means for the sake of hacking it, it’s about discovering a means to an end when the various forms of other means produce mediocre or lackluster results.

Why settle when new frontiers have yet to be discovered?

WTF is now available!

Originally appeared in AT&T’s Network Exchange

Image Credit: Shutterstock

30 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Think Like a Startup: Growth Hacking Introduces New Marketing Hacks to Businesses”

  1. Nice article! Check out this presentation, on being an intrapreneur 🙂

  2. True Up says:

    Interesting article, especially about people being the 5th P. I like to think about the traditional approach being where product and marketing sit in two very separate spaces. Marketing’s role was to change people’s behaviour (usually unsuccessfully) to somehow match the product. I see Growth Hacking as this approach flipped. Its more about bending the product, marketing, experience and communications around the customer. So acknowledges that customer is king but that the route in is through data, tech and a healthy dose of behavioural economics.

  3. Mike Bailey says:

    Thought provoking articles and links, people will always be the centre of it all, whilst technology can deliver quicker and simplyfied solutions, it’s the people that have to create and code and ultimately implement them.
    Doing more with more is an interesting angle,indeed should the word ‘less’ ever come into the equation when discussing customer centric ideals.

  4. We’re hacking our sales process right now. You should have seen the looks on people’s faces when I told them there was a hack for that.

  5. Nima Vali says:

    Best quote in 2013 so far:
    “To succeed in business today, there’s indeed a hack for that…”

    Great post!

  6. This is on the money, but I have to take exception to the statement – “the entire marketing team is being disrupted. Rather than a VP of Marketing with a bunch of non-technical marketers reporting to him, instead growth hackers are engineers leading teams of engineers.” That’s a “throw the baby out with the bath water” statement and attitude. It ignores that marketers have their fingers on the pulse of online marketing as well as understanding how that works with offline marketing. Marketing is highly specialized…just like engineering. Discounting and discarding marketers with the assumption that their skill sets are easily replaced by engineers and algorithms is short-sighted.

    • briansolis says:

      Your impression isn’t the intention behind the words…your point is solid and it’s not against the point I introducing.

  7. The way companies market themselves will continue to change and evolve with the growth of new technologies and social networks, but at the core, great marketing will be about making a connection and reaching the right people for your product/service. Hopefully future digital marketing technologies will continue to make it easier to form the right connections.

  8. Fahim says:

    Constrained creativity is something Growth Hackers pride themselves on. I’m a big advocate of Growth Hacking (not just because that’s my job title!) but because the routes of marketing adopted by companies like Facebook, Quora, Udemy, Twitter and more weren’t because they wanted to NOT spend a huge proportion of their recent round of funding on marketing, but because they simply couldn’t. When you build a great product, why not make it inherently viral – and so good that you embed virality into what you’ve built? That’s the job of a Growth Hacker – taking a holistic view over the process of Product development, marketing, business development and engineer – this is what we advocate ourselves at True Up.

    Key takeaway for me – “handhold people through a dynamic customer journey”. Thanks for writing the article Brian!

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