We've all heard the stories of companies like Facebook, Uber, Airbnb, and how they experienced huge growth (seemingly) immediately. But how exactly did they do it? What made them so successful?

The answer is growth hacking, a term coined by Sean Ellis in 2010 after he incited huge growth at DropBox, Eventbrite and other startups. Growth hacking is a fast-paced experimentation process intended to result in huge growth. This process has contributed to a number of startups' success, but it isn't just startups that can benefit from it.

Marketers today are concerned about their progress more than ever. Thirty-nine percent of them believe their marketing strategies are ineffective. As a result, traditional marketers have noticed growth hacking and they want in. But often they're approaching it in the wrong way.

I recently sat down with Morgan Brown, chief operating officer at Inman News and co-author, along with Ellis, of the new book "Hacking Growth." Brown shared his thoughts on the biggest misconceptions of growth hacking, how marketing teams can implement growth hacking in their organizations and how growth mindset leads to new opportunities and success.

What Growth Hacking is Not

These days, growth hacking has been applied to everything from PR to social media. "Most people think of it as these tricks or silver bullets that you need some magical pixiedust to be able to deploy, but that's not really what growth hacking is," says Brown.

So many businesses see growth hacking as a quick fix or magic solution when it actually needs to be a strategic, data-driven process. It's not something you'll find in a listicle of hacks.

Traditional marketers have a wide focus that includes budget, conversions and more. But growth hackers are focused on growth and only growth. This is why startups have been so successful with it. They couldn't be concerned with anything else besides growth. If they didn't grow, they'd crumble.

Startups do not have the resources that other companies do, which forces them to be more creative in what they do. Out of this creativity comes growth hacking.

Ellis says growth hacking "is now something that's more applicable to companies of any size, and it overlaps with the need for a lot more agility. The channels through which we acquire clients change so quickly, that if you don't have a really agile team and process in place to move in and out of those and coordinate efforts across all customer touchpoints, you're going to have a really hard time staying the same size, let alone growing."

To implement growth hacking in your own organization, you need to think like a startup. It's time to get into that growth hacker mindset, and get your employees in that mindset as well.

Transforming Your Business

Driving growth doesn't begin with your strategy or a test. It begins with your team and ensuring they are organized in the right way and have the right mindset to take on growth hacking. Often, that means breaking down silos.

According to Brown, "The very first thing you have to do to instill that growth mindset is break down these silos that exist in organizations and get marketers and product people and engineers and designers working together to solve problems and run down the biggest growth opportunities regardless of where they are in the customer lifecycle."

At Web Profits, we embody this idea by transparently working together to ensure growth marketing success. Without silos, we are better able to communicate and innovate.

Traditionally, marketing has been responsible for the promotion of products, while the product team handles the product itself. Often, these teams work separately, handling their own areas without co-mingling. But for growth hacking, a close relationship between these two teams, as well as other teams in your organization, needs to exist.

"The product experience often holds the biggest opportunities for growth," says Brown. He cites some of these opportunities as customer retention, referrals, user experience and more.

Often, when companies think of growth, they immediately think of new business and attracting new customers. But this is not always the most successful way to achieve growth. Sometimes the solution to powerful growth is right under your nose.

Brown says a great example of this is the software company LogMeIn. The company was investing heavily in paid media and getting a lot of downloads, but users were not actually using the software after downloading.

It turns out there was a misconception that the software was not free, when in fact it was. Once LogMeIn was able to clear up that misconception by changing the copy on their landing page, they saw huge growth. The answer wasn't drawing in new customers; instead, it was fixing the user experience.

Instilling a Growth Mindset

Once you have broken down silos and found ways to work together to identify those areas of opportunity, you need to spread that growth mentality to the rest of your organization. The best way to do this is through your executive leadership.

"Most successful companies have executive leadership that makes growth a priority," says Brown.

With your executives setting the example, the idea of growth will spread throughout your company - from the top down. But what if your executives don't have a growth mindset? All is not lost.

Brown gives the example of Bittorrent. The company implemented growth hacking on their own, without executive buy-in. When they started seeing huge results, the entire organization, including executive leadership, took notice and shifted their focus.

Identifying Growth Opportunities

Putting growth hacking into practice is not a simple task. "Growth hacking is not about throwing a bunch of stuff against a wall and seeing what sticks," says Brown. It's about identifying opportunities to engage, innovate and increase your audience.

Finding these opportunities requires creative, strategic thinking. We often have so many ideas, but not all of them will be right for our business.

"Most experiments fail," says Brown. "The first thing is, it has to be okay to fail. You have to be allowed to experiment and test ideas...If people are afraid to fail, they're not going to test new things, you're not going to get any innovation, you're not going to get any breakout growth, you're not going to discover anything new."

Brown recommends prioritizing your initiatives based on what you think will have the biggest impact on your company's growth. But you must first understand your company and what actually matters to its growth.

There are plenty of resources out there about how to do growth hacking. But the truth is, what works for one business will not always work for another. Instead of copying someone else, learn from other companies' strategies and figure out how to apply that same growth mentality to yours.

Ready to instill a growth hacking mindset in your organization? What are the first steps you will take? Let me know in the comments below:

Published on: May 3, 2017