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It seems like growth hacking is the latest marketing buzzword.

And for good reason. It's the mindset and methodology that's been used by famous Silicon Valley startups to achieve phenomenal growth. 

But now growth hacking is something marketers everywhere are attempting to understand and use to grow their own businesses.

So what exactly is growth hacking?

It’s still a new term for many and it can be easily confused with traditional marketing.

But there are a few key differences that set growth hacking apart from traditional marketing efforts and understanding how to adopt a growth hacking mindset could help you uncover new opportunities to drive more traffic, sales and most importantly, repeat customers to your business.

But before we dive into how to do that, let’s take a step back and establish a working definition of what growth hacking really is.

Growth Hacking: A Definition

Growth hacking is all about finding creative and clever ways to use your product, or other technology and content, to get more users or customers - all with the goal of achieving sustainable growth.

Typically, growth hacking strategies are inspired by data and analytics. Creativity is required to figure out how to use that data to get more customers.

In other words, coming up with ‘growth hacks’.

To help clarify this concept, here are a few definitions from some smart folks around the web:

A growth hacker is a person whose true north is growth. Everything they do is scrutinized by its potential impact on scalable growth. - Sean Ellis (Tweet This)

Growth hacking isn't the best term, but it describes a new process for acquiring and engaging users combining traditional marketing and analytical skills with product development skills. - Josh Elman

Growth hackers utilize analytical thinking, product engineering and creativity to significantly increase their company’s core metric(s). - Gagan Biyani

A growth hacker finds a strategy within the parameters of a scalable and repeatable method for growth, driven by product and inspired by data. - Aaron Ginn

It's the idea that an entrepreneur can take a clever or non-traditional approach to increasing the growth rate/adoption of his or her product by "hacking" something together specifically for growth purposes. - Andy Johns

Growth hacking is just: GET USERS! - Gary Vaynerchuk

Traditionally growth hacking has been applied to software startups and online services as a way to help them get more users. But there’s no reason a growth hacking mindset can’t be adapted to ecommerce to help drive more sales for your online store.

Here are three questions to help guide your ecommerce growth hacking strategy and get your creative juices flowing.

How Can You Use Your Online Store as a Primary Means of Distributing Your Online Store?

While this might sound a little confusing, what we’re really asking here is how can you create ways for your online store to automatically drive new traffic to itself?

In other words, you want to look for opportunities to bake distribution into your website, the purchase process and your products themselves.

A classic example of a company who has done this brilliantly is Dropbox. To help them with their growth strategy they brought on Sean Ellis (quoted above).

Sean knew he needed to get Dropbox more users and he did that by incentivizing people to share the service with their friends and followers in exchange for extra free storage.

The result was rapid growth that built on itself as more and more people use the service.

So, how can you do something similar with your ecommerce website?

Try and think of every interaction point someone has with your business and ask yourself if there’s a way you can insert a distribution mechanism.

For example, you could add a link in your order receipts and confirmation emails that takes customers to a page on your website that offers an incentive if they share your store with their friends and followers. That incentive could be a discount code or a free gift with their next purchase.

Services like Pay With a Tweet will allow you add a 'viral share' button that blocks access to the incentive until the user shares your store (or product) with their Twitter followers or Facebook friends.

Another option is adding distribution mechanisms to your actual products themselves. For example, when you order a pack of business cards from Moo, they include a little ‘pass it on’ card that you can give to a friend so they can get a discount on their first order.

They also include a word game to make the distribution card more interesting and sticky. 

Baking these distribution incentives into the shopping experience could lead to more traffic and sales for your store if done right.

Where Are Your Potential Customers Congregating and How Can You Reach Them There?

Whether it's online or offline, right now there's someplace that your potential customers are gathering.

Figuring out a way to tap into these places with technology or by other means could allow you to drive a ton of traffic to your store.

In fact, AirBnB got their first major traction using this exact growth hacking strategy. They created their own software that automatically cross-posted new AirBnB listings to Craigslist. The Craigslist posts all contained links back to the original posts on AirBnB.

By going to where their target market was congregating, AirBnB was able to drive loads of traffic to their site and get the word out about their service to potential users.

How can you adapt this tactic to your business?

Think about where your potential customers are currently gathering online. Then try and think of creative (and ideally automated) ways to reach them there.

More advanced (and grey hat) approaches like creating email scrapers and auto-posting software may require coding skills that the average online store owner probably doesn't have. But if you're comfortable with the ethics of these types of strategies you can always use services like oDesk to find someone to create relatively cheap hacks and scripts for you. 

But if that's not your cup of tea, don't worry. There are plenty of other creative ways you can tap into places where your target market hangs out.

Dodocase is a company that makes beautiful iPad cases and they are a great example of an online store that used this approach - even before they were ready to launch their product.

When the first edition iPad came out, they hired street teams via Craigslist to handout postcards with individual coupon codes to people waiting in line at Apple stores in major cities. Here's an excerpt explaining the strategy from and interview Dodocase founder Patrick Buckley gave on Mixergy:

We went on Craigslist and we found people in different cities to basically go out to Apple stores and hand these out. We gave everyone a code so we could track who sold what and we gave them a commission on whatever they could sell. So, they only got paid on what orders they could generate so there was very little risk for us. We were able to get college students and people who were just enthusiastic and energetic about a new Apple product. So they went out and they evangelized our product before we even had any product. We made basically two cases at that point. And that just snowballed, really. I think we spent about $500 on marketing and that’s it.

What Free ‘Attraction Strategy’ Content or Technology Can You Create?

This strategy is all about creating high quality tools, resources and content that has independent value that gets people to visit your site and nudges them to buy your products in an under the radar way.

In other words, giving something away for free and selling something related. 

Moz is a great example of a company who uses free tools as a way to attract people to their site and get exposure for their paid, premium SEO tools.

To use a previous example, AirBnB has done a great job of this with content by creating really compelling neighborhood guides in order to try and connect with people who are still in the research phase of their travel planning and maybe haven't decided where they are going to stay yet.

When it comes to ecommerce, Luxy Hair has marketed their hair extension products by creating high value video tutorials that offer hair styling tips. Their YouTube channel has amassed over one million subscribers and over 150 million total views.

What kind of resources can you create for your audience to attract people to your website and grow your business? 

Connecting the Dots

When it comes down to it, applying a growth hacking mindset to your ecommerce store is all about being scrappy and creative. Start with your existing data, see what's working and what's not and try and figure out clever ways you can 'hack' growth.

And if you have any ideas or suggestions, or have already tried some of these strategies, please share in the comments.  


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