First things first, let’s get this out of our system: startups need to grow. Of course, before that, they need good ideas, investors and a winning team; but at the end of the day, an emerging company needs to get bigger and stronger. Perhaps that is the reason for this new buzz that has been going around the marketing world for the past two years. Ladies and gentlemen, meet the growth hackers! In order to understand exactly who and what they are, you must first know what marketing changes and challenges the business world is facing today.
The instability of online marketing channels
Remember Delicious, Myspace or Digg? These are only a few of the countless examples that demonstrate just how fickle ‘lady internet’ is. Distribution channels and social networks rise and fall every second, and the chances of utilizing them during their short lived spells of popularity are slim. In addition, marketing channels sometimes change their target audiences. For example, ‘overnight success’ Pinterest is currently known as a social network that specifically targets art and design enthusiasts. So before you jump into every social network in existence, do a little bit of research. Check how long it has been around, how many users it has accumulated in that time, whether it targets all users or caters to a specific niche, and last but not least: what people are saying about it online. Many marketers do not bother with these homework assignments and find themselves investing in channels that are no longer relevant to their audience. A shame, is it not?
The marketing channels overload
Not only are today’s marketing channels anything but solid ground, their numbers are overwhelming. Try and think how many social networks, forums and other online platforms you can name; probably quite a few. The wisdom lies in knowing which channel is the right one for your brand, and where your target audience likes to hang out: are they facebook users? Or maybe they prefer LinkedIn? Wherever they may be, shooting in all directions is a waste of energy that, at best, gets mediocre results. The real challenge is finding the right channel with the right users, who, if approached correctly, can become profit-generating customers. Once you have found that ‘sweet spot’, concentrate your efforts on it. This is the place to note that when it comes to marketing channels, it is better not to exist at all than to exist and be silent. A social network profile has to be active and dynamic, continuously generating new content for its target audience. If your profile is a wasteland, either revive it, or shut it down completely. It is best to save your energies for channels with proven lead generation capabilities.
Marketing is king
Remember how we used to choose products based on their technical specs? The internet and social networks have long since changed all that by putting unprecedented power in the hands of the consumers. Today, the rules of the game are very different. More than ever, companies are focusing on marketing around their product, rather than promoting it directly. Sony figured this out a few years ago, when it tried, and subsequently failed, to sell its Bravia television series by emphasizing its impressive technical figures. Having seen that the strategy was not working, Sony quickly changed course and launched a new marketing campaign that had nothing to do with resolutions, refresh rates and other tiresome numbers, and instead, focused solely on color. “Color Like No Other” celebrated color, emotion and sensual experience, and was a wild success. Shortly after the campaign had been launch, the Bravia brand sales skyrocketed, regardless of the fact that the product remained exactly the same as in the previous, unsuccessful campaign.
Watch one of the campaign’s commercials here:
Speaking of Sony, in an impressive launch event that took place a few days ago in New York, the company unveiled its next generation gaming console, the PlayStation 4. In a surprising move that has stirred up quite a bit of discussion on the internet, Sony chose not to show the console itself, but to focus on the content, the social features, (a little of) the specs and, mostly, on communicating the message that the new console was designed with gamers in mind. It is hard to say at this point whether this move was driven by pure marketing considerations or technical constraints (rumor has it that the product’s design has yet to be finalized), but the bottom line is that the press conference was deemed successful by most of the gaming world’s media channels, and Sony’s message of wanting to reclaim the title of gaming industry leader has been received.
All these changes have led to the rise of the growth hackers. By now, you have probably gathered that we are talking about the new leading marketers of the 21st century. Not only are they smart, curious and have an insatiable thirst for knowledge; they are also daring and unafraid to think differently, experiment and try new things. Growth hackers are marketers who really understand the importance of growth. They know that in the 21st century, products do not sell themselves, no matter how great they might be. To sell a product one must reach the target audience and create added value, otherwise, it is a waste of time. Growth hackers have emerged as a response to the real needs of a changing marketing environment. As time passes, the challenges will become harder, the users will get smarter and more demanding and competition will become more brutal. But the growth hackers stand ready to face what comes, and they know that there is always room to grow.