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

And oh, it is.

Growth Hacking, as an official titled term and position, rose to prominence around five years ago. The idea is that a talented person (usually trained in analytics) can focus solely on growth and thus scale a company very quickly. Growth hackers are able to diagnose problems fast. They are statisticians and experimenters, but not necessarily brand people. And because of some very prominent success stories in this role (Dropbox, Twitter), growth hackers are replacing traditional marketing in well-funded tech companies that can throw the resources behind them.

However, as the article so wisely points out, growth hacking is only one, pretty small piece of the pie for companies to make it big. It is a great position to create and task to focus on. It especially works on these types of situations:

  • When something is already working, growth hacking improves it. Growth hacking is great for diagnosing problems, but there needs to be a solid foundation in place, and most importantly, a product that people already like and want.
  • Growth hacking is great for making seemingly small, meticulously tested changes on an already large or growing base.
  • Growth hacking requires a lengthy investment in time and highly detailed processes and thinking to make it work.

Here’s what growth hacking won’t accomplish:

  • It can’t turn a product that’s poorly designed or executed into a product that people will want.
  • Growth hacking won’t diagnose a product-market fit.
  • It is not a solution or replacement for good marketing.
  • Growth hacking won’t teach a company about their customers – like, who they really are. It may uncover patterns in behavior, but that is an entirely different solution.

Okay, so growth hacking won’t save your company. What to do?

We’re not trying to discourage growth hacking – it is a valuable, valuable position to create within your organization. However, there is simply no substitute for good ol’ fashioned market research, strategy, and keeping a constant pulse on who your customer is and how they will use your product. As the VentureBeat article so wisely points out, “getting to product-market fit is just hard, disciplined consistent effort to talk to customers, uncover problems, and fix them.”

Here are some steps to take before you ever create that growth hacking position, and some advice to keep prominent in your marketing must-have checklist in your company:

  • Start with research. Always start with research. The qualitative kind. Talk to your potential customers. Test your product concept through focus groups. Pair your qualitative data with quantitative data so you get a big-picture view of the marketplace.
  • As your business ramps up, test your marketing messages, through – you guessed it – more research. Even if your product is fabulous, how you present it needs to strike a chord with customers. Online focus group panels, live focus groups, and brand ideation sessions are terrific ways to make sure your messaging stays on-par.
  • Understand the customer journey. Is your product entirely online? (Cloud-based folks, we’re talking to you.) Map the customer journey to see where people are getting hung up.
  • Monitor your analytics. Always monitor your analytics. This is where you can bring in the growth hacking position. Address issues before they spiral out of control.
  • Talk to your customers – and not just with surveys, and not just annually – to understand how they’re using your product, what they’d like to see changed, and what additional features they’d like added. Again, focus groups or in-depth interviews are a perfect platform for this.

All of the technology in the world can’t replace good marketing

Even the most skilled growth hacker can’t replace what a good marketer can – and what does a good marketer do? He or she is constantly keeping the pulse of how customers think, behave, talk, and act. The best Big Data in the world simply isn’t a replacement.

So go ahead – create that growth hacker role – but make sure you have a wise, well-trained marketer at the helm leading the charge.

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