Growth hacking: the art of acquiring users without investing a single penny.
For years, every business from small startups to worldwide corporations relied on traditional advertising to market their business. They’d spend thousands or even millions of dollars on banner ads and TV commercials, just to get a 0.1% or worse conversion rates.
Eventually, people realized that this was a horrible strategy. They were paying a premium to shove their product in people’s faces to raise awareness. Not a very good way to start the customer relationship.
Over the years, Growth hacking has evolved to become the superior marketing strategy. Product, business, and marketing teams come up with clever ways to get acquire millions of customers at a low cost. The focus is on finding smarter marketing campaigns that allow the brand to spread organically.
Growth Hacking was a key component to the growth of many companies you know so well today. Airbnb, Twitter, and Dropbox all used growth hacking to achieve their massive scale.
Although each case is unique, there are a few common growth hacking methods that have been repeated over the years. These are tried and true techniques that have proven successful across several industries and brands.
I’m going to show you the five most popular growth hacking techniques, along with case studies of famous companies that have implemented them.
Airbnb and Piggybacking
Airbnb is a website that lets people rent out their empty rooms to complete strangers by posting a listing on their site. It’s like turning your home into a hotel to make some extra cash.
Naturally, people were initially averse to the idea. The concept of letting someone stay in your home seemed unsafe when Airbnb first came on the scene. To get the ball rolling, Airbnb employed clever piggybacking to get its first influx of users.
When hosts were filling out the forms to rent out their homes, they were shown an option through which they could have posted their listing on Craigslist as well. Since Craigslist was the most popular advertising site at the time, it was an easy way to increase the reach and awareness of the Airbnb brand. At the same time, this technique created backlinks from Craigslist to Airbnb, increasing search engine rankings.
Shortly after Airbnb implemented this, they saw a massive influx in user sign-ups, since their brand had far better advertising. They piggybacked on a much bigger site to pull in more users.
Twitter and User Investment
Like any new social media company, Twitter had a tough time acquiring its first users. The value in a social media platform is dependant on how many users there are. More users get you more signups, which give existing users more value since more of their friends use the platform.
Twitter took a look at their site’s analytics. Twitter saw that if a new user followed at least five accounts after signing up, then they were far more likely to continue using the platform. They would have already invested time and energy into following people. As a result, they were more inclined to continue using the platform.
Twitter changed its site so that on first sign-up, a user was prompted to select a few accounts to follow. They also added a “who to follow” section on the side of the page so that existing users always saw a list of new people to follow. Twitter is constantly nudging users to invest more and more into the platform.
This technique of nudging users to invest more into the platform early on led to massive growth for Twitter. If you can get people to invest more time and energy into your brand, then you have a chance to see the same growth.
Hotmail and Slick Placement
Like social media, email platforms also have a challenge with cold starts. More users mean more value, but you always start out with zero users. Hotmail had this challenge, but they overcame it with some very slick placement.
Any emails sent by a Hotmail account contained a message at the bottom of the page that read, “PS — I love you.” If you clicked on the message, there was a link that sent you to the homepage of Hotmail. Many people receiving the email would click that link and thus be prompted to sign up for a Hotmail email account.
This simple technique led to massive growth for Hotmail, with 12 million new email accounts. Less than two years after launch, Hotmail was acquired by Microsoft for a cool $400 Million.
If you place links strategically, where many clicks will be generated, then you’ll be able to get users to go to the page you want them to. Hotmail used this to great effect; the users who were already using their email service practically did the marketing for them.
Dropbox and Incentives
Perhaps the most common growth hacking technique for getting user sign-ups is to offer incentives. Dropbox used this to monumental effect.
The team at Dropbox knew that traditional advertising was expensive. Purchasing extra cloud storage was very cheap. You can buy a 500 GB hard drive on Amazon today for less than 40 bucks today.
Understanding the costs, Dropbox came up with a clever way to increase user referrals. If a current customer referred someone else to the platform, both users would get an extra 500 MB of storage space. That 500 MB of space was dirt cheap to Dropbox, and it got users interested in sharing. Imagine: It takes a few seconds to share a link on social media or send it to a friend, and then you get free stuff! Perfect execution by Dropbox.
To do the same, think of what free incentive you can give your customers to share your product. Giveaways, a free month, or any other free stuff can all work as long as it’s valuable for the users.
Sunny Co Clothing and Crazy Sales
A lesser-known yet wildly successful growth hacking campaign was the one executed by Sunny Co Clothing. The company offered a new line of swimsuits and wanted to come up with a quick and easy way to generate sales.
They made a post on Instagram that described a crazy sale: Everyone who shared their post and followed their page would receive a “free” swimsuit. You’d just pay $12 for shipping. The original price of the swimsuit was shown as $64.99, with the offer ending in 24 hours.
Within the 24 hours, Sunny Co’s Instagram following jumped from 7,000 to 784,000. More than 346,000 people had shared the post.
Sunny Co’s growth hack was clever. The word “free” gets a stampede of customers. The product wasn’t really free ($12 for shipping), but they were able to market it that way. There was also the discount, where the original price of the swimsuit was shown as $64.99. This may or may not have been the actual original price, but it does make it look like there’s a huge opportunity for the customer to score a discount. They also created scarcity by setting the offer to only last for 24 hours.
All of these things can be categorized under crazy sales. Get your customers excited with big discounts on a time limit. They’ll see it as an opportunity they just have to take advantage of. On top of that, be sure to attach a marketing hook to it like sharing on Instagram, so your customers do the advertising and marketing for you.