So I was meeting this friend for a coffee. We sat down, started talking about how our businesses were doing, and then he asked me for a favour.
It was a simple favour. He wanted to pick my brain on how to increase the user base for his app, drive the app install numbers, and keep the CAC on the lower side. A big task, sure. But not overly complicated. We could have formed a strategy around it, based on what the current numbers looked like, what was the typical user persona that they had been witnessing and understanding a bunch of similar parameters. But then he added one more layer on top of his request.
“No, I don’t want you to come up with campaign ideas or marketing strategies. I want you to tell me a way that will go viral. Drive tens of thousands of app installs overnight. Maybe 50,000–100,000 app installs in a week.”
Needless to say, I was confused.
After trying to help him see that it’s not how virality works, I gave up. I walked out of there an hour later with a vague promise of ‘I’ll think about it.’
Even if I wanted to, I am not sure if I can tell you — with a 100% certainty — of a campaign idea that would go viral. I’m pretty sure PSY would never have thought that his Gangnam Style video (a song that was in Korean) would pretty much break every Youtube record ever when he uploaded the video 5 years back.
Sure you can create content, have marketing campaigns that you know would strike a note with your audience, but all that would give you would be a good conversion rate, and if your audience is talking about it then you get more organic reach, thereby reducing your average CAC. The phenomenon which is virality is what you see always after any campaign of yours has moved beyond a particular threshold (often in quite a short span of time). Malcolm Gladwell calls that threshold the tipping point.
In hindsight you can always look back and identify what was the tipping point for your Mega successful campaign, but there is no way anybody can identify that going in. If that were true, don’t you think that particular marketing agency or creative agency would have been the most sought after in the world? Well, for a month or two maybe. After that Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Coca-Cola and every other big firm would have gobbled up every single resource at that firm for top dollars.
You can build your campaigns around particular human emotions, you can build them in a way that evokes action, drives conversations, but whether the conversations will actually happen or not would depend on a number of more factors. And even if you do it all right, you would have just increased the odds in your favor. You would not have been able to set its success in stone.
Startups are chasing growth hacking today. And who could blame them? The idea of achieving hyper growth from little to no investment is way too lucrative for any founder to walk away from. Whether you are a bootstrapped startup founder, or someone who has been fortunate enough to get the blessings of an investor, the customer acquisition costs these days are bat-shit crazy. And with your marketing expenses eating up on a significant chunk of your overall money-in-the-bank, it is natural to look for ways to push it down. And the internet? The internet is full of success stories from Dropbox to Dollar Shave Club — businesses that turned things around and had hundreds of thousands of customers in a matter of months.
Every single time I have seen a discussion around growth hacking, they are all the same, and yet so different from each other. Depending on what the marketer’s personal views are on the matter, the potential and the scope of what growth hacking should entail changes drastically. The common element of course stays the digital route. Which is not really true, is it?
If you are a 80s/90s kid born in India, you would be familiar with the Happydent ad and the Surf Excel teaser campaign — both done on TV, and yet both achieved virality. (Though if we were to compare the results, Happydent left everyone else far behind.) People were talking about it, you could see the topic coming up in a dinner conversations.
I have nothing against the notion of growth hacking. It is a necessity in today’s startup ecosystem. With every single brand out there competing to get the attention of the same small set of consumers, CACs are not going down any time soon. If anything, we would witness more and more innovation on efficient targeting in marketing campaigns so as to give you better quality leads, and it would come at a steeper price. So, anything a brand can do to offset this rising acquisition cost would be an ingredient to the brand’s success story. My problem exists with giving it a name, and with approaching it the wrong way.
Look at any of the growth hacking success stories you have read about. They worked because they drove conversations. They worked because they were built around products people loved and would not mind talking about. Dropbox had just changed the way you could share photos with your friends and family, and it was as simple as having a folder in your hard-drive. So when Dropbox made the offer of giving you ‘extra free 500mb’ if you brought in a friend, people couldn’t resist. When a person I invited would ask me “What is this Dropbox you have just sent me an invite for”, I wouldn’t tell them what Dropbox was. I would tell them of how I use it, and how it’s ‘so cool’.
Same was true for Uber.
The growth hack for Tinder wasn’t the fact that they were organising frat parties, it was the fact that a girl holding a cup of beer would say — “I met this super cute guy through Tinder” when she is having fun with a group of her friends.
Be worthy of driving conversations about/around your product.
Now this. This is a challenge. How do you know what is it that will turn the fortunes in your favor? How long do you experiment? There are only so many new and innovative ways to market yourself that you can try; what if they don’t work? Does that mean your business can’t be growth-hacked? (Is that even a word?)
The thing is — Growth hacking can only be coined so in retrospect. You look back at a campaign and see the amazingly explosive results it delivered and you label it the thing that ‘hacked growth’ for your business. You can’t do a pre-emptive strike when it comes to growth hacking.
The same way you should approach marketing.
You may have heard of concentric circle approach to marketing. It goes something like this:
Actually, I believe in a concentric circle approach to building your marketing strategy. You can break down the process in few different steps:
That’s all that there is to growth hacking.
That is the one and only rule you need to remember about growth — be it in wealth or in business metrics.
You talk of it in terms of geometric progression or compound interest, the numbers show the same trend. Slow growth initially, but with time it starts growing by leaps and bounds.
Here is a chart showing the growth in your userbase across 52 weeks:
Virality follows the same rule. It is just that the ‘frequency’ gets higher. Instead of you achieving 10% week-on-week growth, you are growing 10% day-on-day, hour-on-hour, or even better than that.
I once read somewhere this quote from Einstein:
Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it. He who doesn’t pays it.
To be fair, my faith in that quote coming from Einstein himself has gone tremendously down after I tried searching for an image to go with that quote and came across this one (on the left).
But even if it wasn’t Einstein who said those lines, that doesn’t make it any less true.
To put things in perspective, look at the way Warren Buffet’s net worth has progressed with time. It took him almost 30 years to take his net worth from $1 million to $1 billion, and less than 30 more years to add $71 more of those billions to it.
BTW….If that chart wasn’t enough to convince you, this is a chart of growth from 5% week-on-week to 11% week-on-week: