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I’m a big supporter of Growth Hacking. I’m myself a Growth Hacker, and I’ve been doing it way before it was brilliantly branded this way by Sean Ellis in 2010. There’s a lot of noise in the market regarding Growth Hackers, and many have the impression that this is the final evidence that moving fast is the end goal, and strategies are old fashioned ways to grow business.

Nevertheless, this is simply not true, and we will discuss this in detail.

What is Growth Hacking?

Growth Hacking is about deploying creative tactics and techniques with a low or non existing budget to quickly gain exposure and attract a large base of users. As any great strategy, Growth Hacking is about transforming a weakness (no money) in to an asset (agility and virality).

How they do it? Growth Hackers combine 3 key elements:

  • Creativity: Finding the opportunities where any one else has seen them, most of time exploiting “gaps” in social networks that allow us to spread our message quickly, using our initial users as delivery.
  • Analytics: Growth Hacking is about measuring and not guessing. We track everything and iterate based on data which, not always, is complete, but allows us to make the best choice.
  • Testing: In Growth Hacking we test everything, from campaigns, to targets, messaging, channels… it’s about finding where the gold is and then, exploiting the seam.

Is Growth Hacking a Strategy?

Many experts believe that Growth Hacking eliminates the need for strategy, as the frenetic search for gold makes impossible to follow any plan. This is simply not truth: moving fast has never a constrain for using strategy.

Good Strategies are flexible enough to adapt to a fast changing environment, and they accommodate the changes that we have when doing Growth Hacking.

Think about a classic Growth Hacking example: Airbnb. When Airbnb used Craiglist to use their user base as platform they had an strategy in place: focus on low budget lodgers.

Had their strategy been other (focus on revenue, quality or target a different segment) this very same strategy in Craiglist would have proved a failure.

The specific channel to exploit is not as relevant as the fact that they had a target user, a product, strategic goals, vision and they knew how to do it: without using any paid marketing. They where so convinced that Airbnb was what the market wanted (anticipation) that they didn’t compete on the red ocean, the created their own market.

How you are going to Grow is part of the plan (not the plan itself)

An strategy requires several elements. One of them is how we are going to grow our customer base, this is, the growth engine.

The gowth engine, as we learned in the Lean Startup, can be one of these 4:

  • Viral: Users are our referrers and share our message or product.
  • Sticky: Mainly in SaaS companies. Minimising churn and retaining users is our way to grow.
  • Paid: Classic marketing engine, I have a ton of cash and “Oh boy, I know how to use it”.
  • Hacked: It’s not in the book, but that’s another way to grow, finding the gaps in the system that noone else exploits.

Growth Hacking is about the HOW (how we will achieve something) but it’s not a complete plan.

Growth Hacking is part of your strategy, but not the end strategy

A Growth Hacker in order to succeed in achieving the maximum growth in the shortest time and with the lowest budget needs a cristal clear indication of:

  • What our target it
  • What is the main value that the product / company offers
  • What the landscape is like
  • What opportunities and challenges we are facing
  • What is the vision the company is pursuing.

Only with these answers we can make Growth Hacking a real engine of growth as part of a larger strategy.

Conclusion: Is Growth Hacking the end of Strategy

Absolutely no. Growth Hacking (as any tactic) just gets better when used under the umbrella of strategy. In order to find the best hack to implement it needs focus, and this focus is not incompatible with moving fast, at all. Strategies are about broad strokes, not specific details.

Strategies give us the bearing, the targets, while tactics like Growth Hacking are the creative solutions that make us achieve the main objectives.

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