To some entrepreneurs, growth hacking sounds like short-term, get-rich-quick business planning. But it’s definitely more than that.
Growth hacking means more than obsessively focusing on increasing the number of users your product has. Although this remains a defining feature of the growth hacking strategy, it doesn’t work unless you put plans in place for keeping those users engaged.
This is where user experience (UX) comes into play. A great UX drives the value that growth hacking offers and allows startups to quickly overcome barriers to success. In some cases, the UX itself is the product that’s being promoted.
Entrepreneurs, designers, and developers who neglect to take the UX into account quickly find themselves up against a brick wall. This is because they don’t have huge budgets to generate and deploy effective, above-the-line marketing campaigns like major enterprises do. They need to make the product – and the experience of using it – outstanding enough that users do this work for them.
As Sean Ellis, creator of growth hacking, says:
“The essence of the process [is] about understanding the value that customers receive from a product or a service, and getting really good at expanding the distribution and amplification of that value.”
Fortunately, there are plenty of examples of successful growth hacks to learn from. Let’s look at some of the most successful UX examples that growth hacking was directly responsible for.
Learn From Growth Hacking Success Stories
Hotmail has earned the distinction of implementing the first marketing technique that could classify as growth hacking. Hotmail’s idea was simple – add an automatic tagline to every outgoing email. A tagline that read, “P.S. I love you. Get your free email at Hotmail”.
But Hotmail’s idea has roots of its own. Its owners looked to the famous Tupperware parties of the ‘50s for inspiration. And Apple’s ubiquitous “Sent from my iPhone” signature is a play taken directly from Hotmail’s book.
But these strategies lack something important – they don’t actively draw data from users in order to improve the UX. We’ll have to look at other, far more successful companies for that step.
In its early days, Twitter was successful at attracting new users, but it had a hard time retaining them. Most of its users signed up for an account, played around for a few days, and never logged in again after that.
Twitter’s masterstroke was using user data to draw conclusions about what a successful UX looks like. Its UX analysts found that users who followed 5-10 accounts right after signing up were significantly more likely to become long-term users.
Once Twitter’s engineers figured this out, they added an onboarding stage for new accounts to immediately follow 20 other users. They then worked on adjusting features to ensure that new users were likely to get followed back, themselves.
Slack never had any salespeople. The company took a product-first approach to its growth. If you’re a Slack user, it’s virtually guaranteed you use it because a co-worker or business partner recommended it to you.
Slack’s onboarding process is not an obstacle to using the service. Instead of having new users fill forms with personal data to use the collaboration tool, the company has you talk directly to a Slackbot. You complete the onboarding process through the product itself.
Airbnb replaced Craigslist as the go-to web platform for travelers who didn’t want to stay in hotels. Craigslist offers bare-bones functionality, anonymous users, and zero UX. That’s part of what makes it successful in certain markets – but not at all desirable for travelers who desire a trustworthy, media-rich rental platform.
Airbnb used URL manipulation to gain visibility on Craigslist and showed users how simple the booking process could be. Airbnb’s platform visibility hack is the single biggest reason its target audience discovered the service.
But before you get any ideas, what Airbnb did could easily have landed the company in a courtroom. It was extremely careful about plausibly denying liability for its users’ actions (even though it encouraged those actions). But anyone who tries the same tactic today is unlikely to obtain positive results.
Start Thinking in a Product-First Way
The world’s most successful growth hacks share one thing in common – they all incorporate a product-first approach. A great UX with a high-quality product will generate interest in ways that even the biggest traditional advertising campaigns simply cannot.
Whereas mainstream advertising seeks to get as many impressions as possible, growth hacking focuses on the user experience to get the right product to the right people at the right time. That makes all the difference in the world for users.