BOTW #3: Growth Hacker Marketing Review

Everybody has been throwing this term of Growth Hacker Marketing around with the rise of the startup culture. I needed to get to the bottom of what it actually means. Ryan Holiday, the former VP of Marketing of American Apparel wrote this concise and example filled book, which explains it perfectly in my opinion. I love practicality and this book is oozing with it. Essentially this book is the go-to-guide on how to take nothing to something. This book even has a step-by-step guide on how to growth hack anything, which I will be going through in this review.

Everyone knows what traditional marketing is, it’s the Mad Men world where marketers use traditional channels to communication, sell and promote their companies’ products or services that may not even be what the consumer wants or needs. Traditional marketers have always defined themselves as being artists because they create campaigns and they hope will stick with the consumer regardless of the product. The mindset of a growth hacker is vastly different as they don’t see marketing as someone does, but rather build into the product itself. How Ryan defines it is:

"A growth hacker is someone who has thrown out the playbook of traditional marketing and replaced it with only what is testable, trackable, and scalable. Their tools are e-mails, PPC ads, blogs and platform APIs instead of commercials, publicity and money. While their marketing brethren chase vague notions like "branding" and “mind share," growth hackers relentlessly pursue users and growth and when they do it right, those users beget more users who beget more users. They are the inventors, operators and mechanics of their own self-sustaining and self-propagating growth machine that can take a start-up from nothing to something."

Noah Kagan the founder of AppSumo breaks this definition down even more. He says “marketing has always about the same thing – who your customers are and where they are”. Growth hackers just focus on the “who” and the “where” more scientifically. It’s driven by the metrics and the ROI. When data scientists meets design fiends meets marketers. A huge 3 headed monster that will grow company exponentially.

There are 4 key steps of Growth Hacking:

1.       Product Market Fit

As I said before, Growth Hackers view marketing as something they build into the product. Marketing a product that people actually want and need is just so much easier than the alternative. You have to start off with a MVP “Minimum Viable Product” and then make modifications with the feedback you get from users.

The story of Instagram was that they started with a Foursquare like app called “Burbn” that you can optionally take pictures with filters. What they found out after they got investment money was that people were gravitating towards that photo filter feature so they scrapped everything else and focused on that. What happened next was incredible, they had 100,000 users within the first week and within 18 months was worth $1 billion dollars. Always focus on the product and it will sell itself. 

2.       Finding Your Growth Hack

In traditional marketing, the goal was to get as many people as possible to become aware of your product or service and hope they will convert into actual customers. What a growth hacker’s way of thinking goes is if they can just get those first 100-1000 key people on board and they will become the “ambassadors” of the product who will spread the word for free. An example is what Dropbox did where they created demo video and posted it on key blogs such as Digg, Slashdot and Reddit which drove hundreds of thousands of people to their page and waiting list grew by 70,000 almost overnight . Now they have over 100 million users. Here are 6 quick tips on how to spread your idea.

1. Reach out to sites you know your potential customers read with a pitch e-mail. "this is who we are, what we're doing and why you should right about us"

2. Upload post to Hacker News, Quora, Reddit 

3. Start writing blog posts about popular topics that get traffic and indirectly pimp your product

4. You can use the Kickstarter platform for exposure and get your first users with cool prizes

5. Use service like Help a Reporter Out

6. Find potential customers one by one and invite them to your service for free or with special incentive

The traditional marketing ideal of “Build it and they will come” doesn’t apply anymore. Sean Ellis the CEO of says to “focus on customer acquisition over awareness. Only after a certain scale does it make sense to focus on branding and awareness”

3.       Virality

Viral is the keyword nowadays as people just want their content, product or whatever to reach the masses at super speed. People think that virality is just luck and random but there is an actual science to it. People are very predictable and you can use that psychological knowledge to create something that will be worthy of being shared. Professor Jonah Berger wrote this book called "Contagious" and goes in depth into key 6 principles that attribute to the virality of content. The first principle is Social Currency, which growth hackers all aim to acquire and is people sharing their product/service/content because it makes the consumer look good too. 

There are two main tactics talked about in this book that helped achieve virality for Groupon and Spotify. Groupon executed a simple refer a friend program where they would get $10 for free and Spotify did an integration with Facebook. Spotify smartly piggybacked on an existing audience to gain exposure. This demonstrates another one of Jonah Berger's principles which is Public. This principle states that we share things that we see people using or doing. Here is a video of Jonah Berger explaining his STEPPs at Google.

4.       Customer Retention and Optimization

It is a lot easier and profitable to try and optimize and retain your existing customers than it is to try to acquire new ones. Twitter didn’t launch off the ground right away, they had good press and signups but no one was using it. There was a definite gap in knowledge and Josh Elman tweaked their on-boarding process by adding a mandatory following of 10 users and also suggested users. This enabled the user to get jump started on the service and have an idea on how it works.

The role of a growth hacker in this sense is to optimize the incoming traffic for success. “Retention trumps Acquisition”


With all of this change in the marketing landscape traditional marketing is not dead but there is a definite changing in the mindset of marketers in all industries. We live a data filled world and it has never been more easier to measure, analyze, test and modify in order to be strategic with launching new product/services. With this mindset and the steps to growth hacking I believe that you can growth hack anything.

Ryan Holiday's personal example was he growth hacked a book, which is probably the most archaic product out there. The 4 Hour Chef was a marketed under this framework and was extremely successful hitting the #1 spot on the NY Times Bestseller List. Utilizing feedback on each chapter on the book (PMF), to promoting on various channels like Epic Meal Time and blogs like LifeHacker (Finding Your Growth Hack), to offering a special sample of the ebook through BitTorrent (Virality). 

“Growth hacking is more of a mindset than a toolkit” – Aaron Ginn

Get this book here