April 19, 2016
Thanks to the wise words coined by Sean Ellis, “growth hacking” is now considered one of the most important initial steps a startup must take to succeed.
But before you focus all your energy on building a strong marketing team and establishing a strategic marketing plan, make sure your startup is poised and ready for significant growth.
Growth hacking needs to happen early on, but it’s not step No. 1. There are several logistical aspects of managing your startup that you need to take care of first – before you can really start benefitting from growth hacking.
Here are eight signs your early-stage startup isn’t ready to focus on growth yet:
1. You Haven’t Found a Great Product
If your product isn’t top of the line in your industry, you can compensate a bit with your marketing efforts. But the fact is, you won’t achieve the same level of growth as a startup with a high quality, impactful product – and you’re going to have to spend a lot more money on marketing to really take off.
If you haven’t taken the time to develop a product that is visually and logistically appealing, your startup definitely isn’t ready for growth hacking.
Look at examples of the best-in-class products in various industries (e.g. the Tesla Model S in the automotive industry) and see how you can situate your startup’s product to be just as impactful.
When it comes down to it, your product is the core driving force behind your growth hacking success.
2. You Don’t Have a USP
In the same vein, your growth hacking efforts will be stymied if your product or brand doesn’t have a proven unique selling proposition (USP).
More likely than not, there are many startups crowding your industry and jostling for position in their efforts to grow. The simplest way to break away from the competition is by making the effort to set yourself apart from your competitors.
Your USP is essentially a reason your product or service is different or better than your competitors’.
One of my favorite examples of a great USP in the online market is the site NerdFitness. Its USP makes one of many fitness blogs relevant and valuable to a certain subset of consumers: nerds.
Brainstorm ways to make your startup unique from competitors, and implement the best one before you start growth hacking.
3. Your Departments are Siloed
In the years before digital marketing, you could find many effective brands working with completely or partially siloed departments.
The product team, marketing team, designers, customer service team, and others did their separate parts to make sure the company reached its business goals.
Now, that kind of cookie-cutter business model doesn’t work. Especially for Internet marketing, barriers between these teams can create serious obstacles for growth.
If growth is the ultimate goal of every team in your startup, than the most effective method is for them to work together to achieve it. Marketers should play an active role in the business’ programming needs, while the programmers must have a clear understanding of the role of their efforts in marketing.
Design, customer service, and all other departments need to have a joint focus on growth from the beginning if you want to be successful with growth hacking in the long run.
4. You Don’t Have Solid Supplier Relationships
Growth hacking in the digital age requires working with a wide range of supplier services to successfully market and meet your business goals.
If you and your many suppliers don’t have clear expectations for the relationship, you may find them to be a hindrance to your growth efforts instead of a help.
Before you begin growth hacking, make sure you’ve developed solid relationships with your suppliers to derive the most payoff.
Some characteristics of startups that make the most of their supplier relationships include:
• Having a dedicated supplier management team;
• Working with diverse, high quality suppliers;
• Constantly reevaluating their supplier base;
• Maintaining reporting and spend analyses.
5. You Don’t Know What Your Growth Objectives Should Be
Few beginning startups realize that growth for growth’s sake isn’t an effective goal.
Before you start growth hacking, you need to have clear objectives that you can target individually, such as:
• A target number of new customers per week;
• A target number of marketing e-mails (or other content types);
• A set number of executive meetings to discuss progress;
• Quantifiable expectations for growth from partnerships.
If you don’t take the time to create measurable goals for your growth hacking efforts, you’ll never be able to understand how effective those efforts are.
6. You Haven’t Identified the Holes in Your Marketplace
There are hundreds of growth hacking tactics out there for startups to take advantage of – but an important point to remember is that your competitors are using some, if not all, of those same strategies to drive their own growth.
If you want to achieve serious growth that sets your startup apart from your competitors in the industry, you need to develop your own unique strategies to drive growth and use them in tandem with the better-known methods.
So before you start growth hacking, take the time to get creative by identifying the holes in your marketplace that your startup can take advantage of, even if only for the short-term.
A great example of a startup that did just that is Airbnb. It supercharged its initial growth period by taking advantage of Craigslist to post its listings.
7. You Haven’t Established a Strong Analytical Method
Developing and keeping up on your analytics will be just as essential for growth hacking success as the measurable goals you set.
If you don’t have a clear strategy to measure your growth progress, then you’re not ready to begin growth hacking.
Once you’ve developed your goals, get set up with Google Analytics, and figure out what other tools you might need to measure progress. You can use the data you gather for ultra-targeted marketing efforts that drive growth, such as:
• Determining the most effective paid traffic sources;
• A/B testing your CTAs;
• Determining what subset of users convert the most;
• Other methods to encourage incremental growth across channels.
8. You Lack Social Proof
Some marketers are so concerned with their growth hacking tactics that they forget to gather the basic tools they need to actually succeed at it.
Social proof is one of those tools. If you’re just starting out and don’t have a lot of customers yet, you need to make determined efforts to get social proof before you really start growth hacking.
Social proof is essentially endorsement from others that indicates your credibility and worth as a business. Every page of your website should incorporate some sort of social proof, such as:
• Media endorsements
• Customer statistics
• Case studies
Put these together before you start growth hacking to ensure your startup begins with a credible image and leverages the interest of the customer evangelists you’ve created.
Growth hacking is essential for startup success, but it should be far from the first task on your marketing list.
Cover all the basics before you try it, and pay special attention to these common signs that your startup isn’t really ready for growth hacking yet.
Know of any other important signs you shouldn’t pursue growth hacking? Leave me a comment below with your thoughts.
Aaron Agius, CEO of worldwide digital agency Louder Online is, according to Forbes, among the world's leading digital marketers. Working with clients such as Salesforce, Coca-Cola, IBM, Intel, and scores of stellar brands, Aaron is a growth marketer - a fusion between search, content, social, and PR. Find him on Twitter, LinkedIn, or on the Louder Online blog.