Holiday Sounds Off On Growth Hacking

Ryan Holiday, a marketing strategist/partner for StoryArk and, author of the bestseller “Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator” and “Growth Hacker Marketing: A Primer on the Future of PR, Marketing, and Advertising,” explores the future media landscape via growth hacking.

Where did the growth hacker mind-set come from?

RH: The growth hacking mind-set came about because start-ups with limited resources were forced to exploit the system to acquire their first users. Some of the fastest-growing brands in history from Facebook to Twitter to Dropbox used scrappy hybrid coder-marketers known as “growth hackers” to scale their businesses. Obviously, Hotmail was one of the first companies to really explode using these tactics, so it’s not exactly new.

In this approach, anything—no matter how unusual—that gets customers is marketing. Regardless of the industry, companies are following their lead and breaking out of the shackles of antiquated notions of what is or isn’t marketing.



Is it a generational trend?

RH: Only in the sense that it is most often applied using the many new tools that the Internet has made available: email, open data, social media.

How do you see the future of traditional media landscape being rewritten by growth hacking?

RH: Traditional marketers have always considered themselves artists. However, this sentiment is also responsible for some appalling ignorance and waste. One Harvard Business Review study found that 80% of marketers are unhappy with their ability to measure marketing ROI. Not because the tools aren't good enough, but because they're too good. Marketers are seeing for the first time that their strategies are often flawed and their spending is inefficient.

The tools of the Internet and social media have made it possible to test, iterate, track and improve product development and marketing to the point where these enormous gambles are not only unnecessary but insanely counterproductive. The old way -- where product development and marketing were two distinct and separate phases  -- has been replaced.

Is PMF a sum of market research + product development + testing + product optimization? Or is it more than that?

RH: Product Market Fit is a holistic approach to business.

Growth hackers believe that products -- even whole businesses and business models --  can and should be changed until they are primed to generate explosive reactions from the people who first see them. It means doing whatever is required: changing out people, rewriting your product, moving into a different market, telling your customers “no” when you don't want to. In other words, everything is now on the table.

Is there a place for paid advertising in growth hacking?

RH: Growth hacking is about maximizing ROI -- about expanding our energies and efforts where they will be most effective. There is a place for paid advertising. Email marketing, rich media ads, YouTube prerolls, even television or newspaper ads can all be effective means to an end. Like direct response marketing, growth hacking is channel-agnostic.

What are some of the habits that can help aid a growth hacker?

RH: The best way to become acquainted with growth hacking is to go directly to the source. By that, I mean train under a real growth hacker. No marketer, traditional or otherwise, learned how to do what they really do in school. They learned on the job.

But if you don't have the time or the access, start with these books, then continue to read widely. Thankfully, growth hacking isn’t some proprietary technical process shrouded in secrecy. In fact, it has grown and developed in the course of very public conversations. There are no trade secrets to guard. Leveraging community intelligence and making connections is a key component to being a growth hacker.

Are growth hackers those who welcome obstacles with virtue or try to find short cuts?

RH: Growth hackers welcome obstacles. But as Seneca said, “love of bustle is not industry.” Efficiency is better than effort, and efficacy is better than both.


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