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A recent VentureBeat article caught our attention. The topic? Growth Hacking. (Sounds very Silicon Valley, doesn’t it?)

Rising to prominence as an officially titled term and position, Growth Hacking is the idea that a dexterous person (typically trained in analytics) can scale a company quickly by focusing solely on growth. Growth hackers are able to promptly diagnose problems. They are experimenters and statisticians, but not necessarily brand people. As a result of some illustrious success stories of growth hacking (Twitter, Dropbox), the practice is replacing traditional marketing in high-valued tech companies who can throw the resources behind it.

Yet, as the VentureBeat article wisely recognizes, growth hacking is only a single, small component of what’s necessary for companies achieve widespread success. Not to discredit growth hacking, the practice is still a great task to focus on and creates essential positions. Most favorable to growth hackers are the scenarios where:

  • Something is already working, growth hacking can improve it. However, a stable and concrete foundation is necessary for growth hacking to properly diagnose problems –– most importantly, the product needs to be one that people already want and like.
  • Growth hacking is helpful for implementing small and meticulously tested changes when there is an already large or growing base.
  • Growth hacking mandates a substantial investment in both time and highly detailed processes and analysis to ensure success.

While useful, growth hacking is limited in its application:

  • It cannot make a poorly executed or designed product into a something that people will want.
  • Growth hacking won’t diagnose a product-market fit.
  • It is not a replacement or solution for good marketing.
  • It can uncover patterns in behavior, but a company cannot learn more about their customers through growth hacking.

If growth hacking can’t save your company, what do you do?

We’re not trying to discourage growth hacking – it is a valuable position to create within your organization. However, it has its place. There is simply no substitute for good ol’ fashioned strategy, market research, and learning more about your customers and how they will use your product. As the article identifies, “getting to product-market fit is just hard, disciplined consistent effort to talk to customers, uncover problems, and fix them.”

Below is advice of what to prioritize in your marketing “musts” for your company and some steps to take before you can get to that growth hacking position:

  • Always start with research. The qualitative kind. Test your product concept through focus groups. Talk to your potential customers. Use both qualitative and quantitative data so you get a big-picture view of the marketplace.
  • Research is necessary every step of the way –– as your business swells, continue test your marketing messages. Even with a fabulous product, the presentation of the product needs to strike a chord with customers. Through online focus group panels, live focus groups, brand ideation sessions and the like, you can ensure that messaging stays on-par.
  • Understand the customer journey. What characterizes the customer’s interactions with your product? Is your product entirely online? (Cloud-based folks, we’re thinking of you.) Map the customer journey to see where people have difficulty interacting with your company.
  • Always monitor your analytics. Here, growth hacking can play an important role. Remember to address issues before they spiral out of control.
  • Talk to your customers – and we’re not referring to surveys – to understand how they’re using your product, what they’d like to see changed, and what additional features they’d like added. It’s important to facilitate an on-going discussion between you and your customers –– it’s not enough to write to them annually. Again, in-depth interviews or focus groups are the perfect platforms for this.

Good marketing can’t be replaced by technology

Even the best growth hacker can’t replace what a good marketer can – and what does a good marketer do? They are constantly keeping the pulse of how customers talk, think, act, and behave. The best Big Data in the world is not a sufficient replacement for good marketing.

So go ahead – create that growth hacker role – but make sure you have a well-equipped marketer at the helm, ready to lead the charge.

Interested in going beyond growth hacking to accelerate your company’s growth? We are a top San Francisco market research firm, and we’ll give you the customer insights that will address problems before your growth hacker needs to step in.