Widely touted as a new marketing technique, ‘Growth Hacking’ is a way of achieving growth which could well shake up some existing business models.

Growth Hacking: "not a revolution in marketing but part of the evolution"

To obtain a better a grasp of the new trend, we quizzed Maxime Salomon, a blogger on the topic, and Clément Delangue, a Growth Hacker at Mention, a startup which has developed a web tracking tool, during the Startup Keynote session held in Paris in late May.

Could you begin by telling us about the concept of Growth Hacking?

Maxime Salomon: Growth Hacking is all about making sure that the target person hears about, understands and sees the value of a product. You can do this because of the quality of the actual product but you also need a powerful marketing strategy. Growth Hacking provides a link between product and marketing with the aim of achieving business growth. It’s about optimising your customer acquisition channels. Growth Hackers develop experimental growth drivers.

Clément Delangue: The term ‘Growth Hacking’ refers to a different type of marketing based on a set of resources and opportunistic actions designed specifically to speed up business growth. As a Growth Hacker, my benchmark is the increase in the number of users, which in turn means business growth. My job is to use a range of channels, which may evolve over time, in order to seize opportunities to acquire users and convert them into customers. At Mention, we use four main customer acquisition channels. First of all public relations. We do what we call ‘newsjacking’, which means infiltrating our ideas into a news item or a breaking news story, thereby getting people talking about the company by piggy-backing on other content. Our second channel is ‘content marketing’. We supply a huge amount of content, which is then relayed across numerous media channels. For example, we recently published an infographic which was distributed via many channels. Our third approach is ‘referrals’. This means providing added functionality so as to encourage our users to invite others to become users. Our fourth approach is community management. We use this method every day to transform current users into evangelists and promoters of our application. We create a relationship of trust, of community, which gives us a way to promote discussion, especially on the social networks. And this in turn helps us to acquire new users.

How do you see Growth Hacking impacting existing business models?

Maxime Salomon: I don’t think that there’s any structural difference. Growth Hacking simply gets the best out of traditional models. It follows on from the initial entrepreneurial work. You might compare it to throwing oil on a fire to make it burn faster, rather than to actually lighting the fire. First of all you need a product, some real demand. Growth Hacking works if you have a good product, good market positioning. Growth Hacking is basically about optimising what you have.

Clément Delangue: If we take Airbnb for example, this phenomenally fast growth has successfully challenged the traditional models of the hotel industry. Models which are thought to be unshakeable will have to adapt to changes in the real world and the toolkit which the Internet has made available.

Are we talking about a really new disruptive way of doing things?  

Maxime Salomon: Well, this way of doing things is not entirely new. In France what happened was that in September 2013, [Paris-based accelerator] TheFamily launched the Growth Hacking meetups, and these started to popularise the term and the practice. This way of doing things promotes growth, so it’s quite natural that entrepreneurs have become very interested in it.

Clément Delangue: Growth Hacking is not a revolution in marketing but part of the evolution. It’s one of the most important re-inventions in marketing in the last twenty years and it’s part and parcel of a company’s marketing toolkit. We’re talking about adapting what we do based on the new tools available. And this skill is now meeting the needs of a new fast-changing world, which is far more competitive – especially as regards the Internet – where the Marketing department is increasingly driven by tangible results. In the past there used to be only printed marketing materials, and it was very difficult to obtain results, to assess the impact of a marketing campaign. Marketing was more touchy-feely – more about “is our marketing helping to enhance the brand?” These days we have more effective web tools, we can say which publication brought in how many users and so which channel is most effective. This helps to ascertain the optimal channels and vary them in order to seize particular opportunities. The efficacy of Growth Hacking is based on the recent increase in the resources available to marketing departments, which are also much better suited to the world of today and business today.

So is Growth Hacking more suited to startups than traditional firms?

Maxime Salomon: For a long time it seemed clear to me that Growth Hacking was definitely something for startups. However, my opinion has started to change recently and now I’m increasingly of the view that Growth Hacking can be useful for large companies. It can be very useful to major firms because they already have a solid base, a business setup that has already created proven value. In a large company, it’s really a matter of optimising value.

Clément Delangue: Growth Hackers’ skills are perhaps even more useful in big companies because here there’s a tendency to lose sight of the need for growth, which is an essential goal for any company. But whatever the size of the company, the search for growth and innovation is crucial if you’re going to stay in business.

Where and how do you think the Growth Hackers of tomorrow will be trained?

Maxime Salomon: Growth Hacking is the point where developers and marketing people come together to work on achieving growth. I don’t think there’ll be any colleges which focus just on Growth Hacking. I think the people who get into Growth Hacking will mainly have an engineering background, or be marketing people with an entrepreneurial mindset.

Clément Delangue: Perhaps a combination of engineers and sales people. The innovation aspect is very important on the web. Colleges need to teach their students how to learn. This means focusing less on the actual techniques and more on the ability to learn new things quickly in a world that’s changing very fast.