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Andrea Serventi
29 May 2018
Reading time: 5 min

Growth Hacking in 6 Points: From Theory to Practice

We’ve analyzed the world of Growth Hacking, from its origins to today: in 6 points we’ll explain how and why Growth Hacking got started, the funnel, the tools, the synergies, and 4 case studies.

They’re called growth hackers, but the name should not be misleading. They are well-rounded professionals who work with method, discipline, and systemic vision.

Growth Hackers have young roots and are currently on a constant rise because their work has resulted in some of the brightest business successes of the last decade.

Growth Hackers are masters of Digital Marketing, products, and data. They know the markets, processes, and relationships between brands and customers unbelievably well.

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From developing integrations to strategic support, from creating creative concepts to optimizing results.

They innovate with specific strategies tailored to individual businesses but guided by just one great goal: business growth.

Even though this definition may be accessible to everyone, what they actually do still remains unclear to many. We have dedicated this post to Growth Hacking in order to shed light on its methods, techniques, and tools: in 6 points we’ll explain how and why the practice was created, its tools, the funnel, synergies with the email channel, and 4 case studies.

#1 | The Origins of Growth Hacking

The origins of Growth Hacking can be clearly traced back to one name: Sean Ellis. Ellis is a famous U.S. marketer who has worked for some of the most important American startups such as Dropbox, Kissmetrics, Qualaroo, and LogMeIn. In July 2010, he wrote an article on his blog that became the manifesto of the discipline: Find a Growth Hacker for Your Startup. This is how the word was born.

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Silicon Valley was the setting for it all, in the cradle of innovation and start-ups from which many of the market’s current protagonists have emerged. But why the world of start-ups? Because they operate under conditions of scarce resources, time, and budget. Consequentially, in order to compete with the giants, start-ups needed to come up with alternative strategies.

And here’s where the Growth Hacker comes in: they move the competition from an economic playing field to a more varied one composed of many different aspects. For Sean Ellis, marketing is just one of the tools available to the Growth Hacker, who in fact addresses the problem of growth in an unconventional way.

#2 | Four Case Studies: Dropbox, Hotmail, Instagram, Airbnb

Even the giants were once children. For example, over a 12-month period, Dropbox saw its number of users pass from 100 thousand to 4 million. This unusual growth would be unthinkable using canonical marketing strategies. In fact, Sean Ellis had a hand in this.

When he came to Dropbox, Ellis set aside AdWords, the channel that was most used by the company, to try out a new strategy: encourage users to invite an acquaintance to Dropbox in order to get more free space. Thus, referral marketing was born. Even if it is considered a best practice today, at that time it represented a formidable Growth Hacking operation.

Another interesting case study is Hotmail, which came about when ​​two friends were tired of using corporate email to send private content, so they decided to create the first webmail. How did Hotmail grow big enough to be bought by Microsoft? The two friends discovered a little trick: they set up a function that automatically added a signature to each outgoing email:

PS: I love you. Get your free email at Hotmail

In doing so, each user became a Hotmail ambassador.

Instead, Instagram had a hard time creating an audience from scratch. The company had experimented with a technique known today as cross-posting. This technique consists of using the same content not only on its own platform of Instagram but also on other platforms, such as Facebook (which already had an enormous audience). Every photograph on Facebook presented the now famous words:

Posted via Instagram

But the most well-known and talked about case is that of Airbnb, which had the same audience problem as Instagram. Airbnb noticed that Craigslist (the largest ad site in the world until the advent of social media) had a weak point: in the classifieds section of those who wanted to rent a house, a bedroom, or a bed, it was possible to post an announcement without going through Craigslist.
Airbnb started posting ads with a small line at the bottom:

Do you also want to post this for free on Craiglist?

Those who found the announcement on Craigslist then found a small link that said: click here if you want to book. The user was then redirected to the Airbnb site. This was a very effective Growth Hacking operation to direct traffic from one site to another.

#3 | The Pirate Funnel

The Growth Hacker operates within a precise framework known as the pirate funnel, which is made up of 6 distinct phases. In this case, the name that will stay in the books is Dave McClure. McClure developed the most widely used model for Growth Hacking, describing the entire flow of a user within a business in six steps:

  • Awareness
    The user discovers the existence of the brand by landing on the site through banners, word of mouth, articles, and reviews.
  • Acquisition
    The visitor is transformed into a user by registering their email address, telephone number, and other data.
  • Activation
    The user actually starts using the product, service, app, or platform.
  • Retention
    The frequency with which the user returns to use the product or service.
  • Revenue
    The user becomes a customer. The level that’s most dear to many brands: when the client pays for use.
  • Referral
    The user is so satisfied that he talks about the product or service with others and suggests it: he becomes an ambassador.

#4 | Growth Hacking & Email Marketing

Is email hacking also feasible? The answer is yes, since Growth Hacking is a “process of rapid experimentation on the product and on the marketing channels“. Now let’s focus on experimenting with a specific channel: e-mail.

Intuitively you might think that email is effective above all at the upper parts of the funnel (i.e. the acquisition level), you should know that it’s also very useful for the lower parts. In particular, retention is for reactivating the user or bringing him/her back to the platform, be it an app or an e-commerce site.

One of the most frequent mistakes is not paying attention during the lead collection phase, ignoring who the leads are, and how and when the contact was collected. Not having this information necessarily leads a company to send equal, undifferentiated emails to everyone. The most obvious consequence? Poor trends in email performance.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Focus on content to cultivate the relationship, and think of selling only in the medium to long term.
  • Carry out A/B testing to understand which variants of emails get better feedback in terms of openings, clicks, and conversions.
  • Profile your messages in order to send relevant and personalized emails.
  • Automatized mailings to combine personalization and timeliness, reaching the customer during different phases of their journey.

#5 | Tools to Support Email Marketing

Enough strategy, let’s look more at what you can actually do. There are various tools that let you take a new direction and give new impetus to an email marketing strategy. Let’s take a look:

  • Good Email Copy
    This site is extremely simple and essential yet very useful: it is a gallery that offers sources of inspiration from large companies such as Slack and Pinterest, divided by category: welcome emails, product feedback, email confirmation, etc.
  • Really Good Email
    This site shows us excellent models for email design and content. You can also filter by market: fashion, e-commerce, retail, etc.
  • Email Drips
    A fundamental tool for finding inspiration to build flows: welcome emails, the email sent two days later, after one week, and so on.
  • Which Gmail Tab
    To find out if the email we are about to send will end up in the recipient’s inbox or in one of the secondary tabs (advertising or sponsors).

#6 | Tools for Creating Content

Now let’s move on to the instruments and tools that help the Growth Hacker produce content, from research on topics to keyword definitions. These are to attract actual and potential users.

  • Google Trends
    To understand how much a keyword catalyzes interest over time, i.e. a week, a month, or a year. Thanks to Google Trends, a brand can understand when is the best time to launch certain content or focus on a certain geographic area.
  • Answer the Public
    This tool provides very useful graphs based on the word you’re searching, for example all the questions people ask about a specific topic. These questions could easily be converted into real titles of content.
  • WordTracker
    Starting from the keyword search, the tool feeds back related words and topics with relative search volumes, as well as the possibility to filter by country and time period.
  • HyperSuggest
    If you enter a keyword, the tool will provide valuable information such as related themes. But with a plus: this is also valuable information for YouTube and therefore the video world or Google Shopping (very useful for e-commerce sites).

Summing Up

As explained, Growth Hacking means experimenting on different channels. In this post we focused on email, indicating techniques and tools that need a professional sending system like MailUp to be translated into practice.

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Andrea Serventi

I was born in 1986 in Milan, where I graduated in Modern Literature and started writing for online newspapers, magazines and TV news programs. Having now converted to marketing and the digital world, I am a Content Editor at MailUp: I read, listen, collect ideas, and write about what email marketing is and how to use it strategically.

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