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The Negative Side Of Growth Hacking and What Works Better

If there’s one thing that we as humans can all agree upon it is the beauty of the Pareto Principle, sometimes also referred to as the 80-20 rule. When defined simplistically, it refers to achieving the maximum outcome with the most minimal effort. It saves time while optimizing your reward. ‘Growth hacking’ might sound like something akin to the 80-20 rule. Doing less, getting more. Here is where we see the difference between the two- the Pareto Principle is about working as efficiently as possible by ‘doing less’, whereas growth hacking is about working less and ‘getting more’.

Perhaps that is a bit harsh but remember Sean Ellis, the entrepreneur who coined the term ‘growth hacking’, has said that it is best described as ‘experiment-oriented marketing’. Experimenting and trying new strategies is always encouraged, but there is nothing attractive about that phrase. It suggests hard work, numbers, trial and error, and lots of data. ‘Growth hacking’ sounds like something that anyone can learn to do, a pliable tool that any upstart can take advantage of.

In other words, it not only oversimplifies the process itself but it undermines the hard work of those who have successfully implemented experiment-based strategies. It’s easy to look at something like Dollar shave’s viral video and say ‘I can do that too’. But without any KPIs to track you could never replicate a successful campaign. Long term growth is sustained by careful planning and strategy, not a single stroke of luck.

You might now be asking yourself, if growth hacking isn’t going to help me grow my business then what will?

The Alternative to Growth Hacking

The alternative is simply to have an effective strategy. This is, of course, easier said than done, but it doesn’t have to be hard to understand. The word ‘strategy’ is rather intimidating, and with good reason- your strategy is what determines your trajectory. Creating a strategy is much more than identifying a goal and listing steps to reach it though, and this is the part that some people overlook. As you are crafting your strategy there are five key ingredients that you will want to make sure you incorporate:

  1. Establish Your Target Market and Ideal Customer Profile
  2. Consistently Sharing a Consistent Message
  3. Seriously Consider Customer Feedback
  4. Prioritize The Right Market Channels
  5. Have a Plan That Grows With You

It might sound simple and straightforward, but if it were really that easy then you probably wouldn’t be reading this. Fortunately you are, so let’s take a look at what each one of these ingredients looks like and how you can do it too.

Establish Your Target Market and Ideal Customer Profile

When trying to appeal to an audience remember that less is more. Which is to say, if you try to connect with every single person possible then you are immediately setting yourself up for failure. Not everyone wants or needs your product or service, and that’s not a bad thing! But somebody out there does. Who are they, where can you find them, and how can you connect with them? These questions are answered by having a clear target market with an ideal customer in mind.

First you want to make sure that you understand the difference between a target market and ideal customer, as the two are sometimes erroneously used interchangeably. A target market is a set of demographics that you want to reach. An ideal customer is a fictionalized version of the perfect client, a single yet fully fleshed out person. Your ideal customer is a member of your target market, but not everyone in your target market will satisfy the requirements of the ideal customer. For example, a target market could be single mothers between the ages of 25-35 who are gainfully employed. Your ideal customer could be a 30-year-old single mother of two kids, both of whom are under the age of 10, who pursued post-secondary education but had to drop out of school to raise her children and now works in the food service industry.

By marketing specifically to that ideal customer you guarantee that your message will resonate with someone. Other members of your target market will likely be attracted to it as well as they have similar interests, needs, and experiences as the ideal customer. It can also attract people from outside of your target market, but the point is not to focus on trying to draw them in too.

Your target market might be easier to identify than the ideal customer, but that’s not a problem. If you don’t know who your ideal customer is, simply ask. You can survey your current customers and check your social media engagement statistics. Or you can encourage them to volunteer very specific information about themselves using interactive content marketing. BuzzFeed is an excellent example of the power of interactive content marketing, since the majority of its success can be attributed to its addictive personality quizzes. Let them tell you who they are, what they care about, and what their essential needs are. All you have to do is tell them what pizza topping their personality matches with.

Consistently Sharing a Consistent Message

You know who you are trying to connect with, and that information tells you where to find them. Market research about your ideal customer will inform what you say, as it tells you how to speak their language. Now you need to actually connect with them, and make sure that they can hear you. This is not possible if you aren’t saying something clear, concise, and interesting.

Your message needs to coincide with your brand as well. You cannot advertise your product or service without introducing yourself, after all. Do you know who you are? Can you communicate your brand and identity as effectively as you can communicate your offer? This informs their decision to engage with you just as much as the message itself. If your brand does not feel authentic, sincere, or credible then those potential customers will look to your competitors instead. If either your brand or messaging is vague and inconsistent, it’s not going to be favored by any algorithms.

Seriously Consider Customer Feedback

Now that you have spoken to them it won’t be long before they start responding. How well your message resonates is mostly reflected in your revenue and profit. Your message is about more than telling them something though, it’s initiating an entire conversation. Their response can be found in those numbers, but it can also be found in the reviews and feedback that they leave for you. And much like your own very deliberate messaging, they’re speaking to you for a reason- they expect you to be listening.

Every survey, email, social media comment, or phone call is an opportunity to improve your business. Not every review is going to be helpful or constructive, but that doesn’t mean you should completely write them off. Again, whatever is being said is being said for a reason. What are they really saying when they write ‘0 stars, will never buy from this company again!’? Do not shy away from a chance to open up dialogue for more substantial feedback either, especially in a public place like a social media profile. Not only could it resolve the customer’s dispute, it improves your image in the eyes of anyone reading those reviews. Listening and responding are time-consuming activities but the data they yield makes it all worth it, and it helps build a necessary sense of trust and loyalty with your customers.

Prioritize The Right Market Channels

Just as you want to avoid having too broad a target market, your marketing channels should be few in number as well. Your ideal customer profile and target market is going to inform the channels that you choose, because they are more likely to engage with certain spaces than others. Are they blog readers, podcast listeners, or TikTok followers?

This isn’t to say that you should only use those two or three marketing channels, but you cannot spread yourself too thin. Create and manage multiple, but invest your resources into the ones which matter most. For example, blog content can be recycled into your email newsletter. Podcasts can be transcribed for white papers and ebooks. Content from your YouTube channel can be condensed into audio format and released as a podcast, a jingle, audio for a text-based ad to be featured as part of another business’ content.

Have a Plan That Grows With You

Plans cannot be set in stone. This might sound counterintuitive, but remember that stone can crack and crumble. Plans should not be open-ended, but they do need to be flexible. What works for you as a small business is not going to work when your team of fifteen goes to a team of fifty. Your plan needs to account for the growth which you’re trying to achieve with it. This is where we encounter yet another problem with growth hacking. Growth hacking, should it actually work, can skyrocket your business to the point where you don’t have the resources or knowledge to properly manage it. A growth strategy, ideally one made with help from a results based growth marketing company, helps you scale your business at an appropriate pace. Not only does this type of planning allow for flexibility when necessary, it’s sustainable by design, and that is always necessary.