The Building Blocks of Growth Hacking

The Building Blocks of Growth Hacking

The interest for Growth Hacking is on the rise, particularly among start-ups and marketing communities. While there is an ongoing debate about what is the definition of Growth Hacking and what exactly it entails, there is at least a consensus about its main objective: that is to assure growth for a start-up company. “A growth hacker is a person whose true north is growth” as stated by Sean Ellis, who coined the term in 2010, [1].

The Growth Hacking concept emerged and is sustained by one main driving force: Market a product or a service in a context of scarcity of financial resources. Indeed, while big companies and established brands can afford thousands or even millions of dollars in marketing expenditure, start-ups have barely a fraction of such budgets, and sometimes they have no budget at all. As a result, start-ups have to rely on innovative ways to market their products. Herein, “Hacking” the marketing system comes into play. Instead of using traditional and paid media such as TV, Radio, Newspapers, Billboards, Magazines and so on, Growth Hackers leverage, essentially, the power of the digital to grow the customer base.

It is true, when we hear the term “hacker”, what first comes into our mind is a highly skilled person who can break into a computer, a program or a network, but a “hacker” in a “growth” context refers to someone who does not stick to the traditional rules of marketing to promote a product to its potential consumers, rather, he or she uses the web and the available digital resources in a smart and creative way.

In Growth Hacking, the worlds of “marketing” and “product development” collide. The product becomes the vehicle of its own promotion. Indeed, instead of spending time to strategize a marketing plan for a ready-to-market product, growth hackers put every effort to enhance the features of a product so that a client sees a value not only for himself but also for the people who surround him such as family, colleagues and friends. To create the viral effect that helps accelerate the growth of their companies, growth hackers rely essentially on a lean marketing funnel which is a process that one can break into five phases, namely, acquisition, activation, retention, referral, and revenue [2].

  • The acquisition phase consists of getting people make an initial contact with the product or the service (e.g. browsing an ecommerce catalogue, getting informed about a cloud free storage).
  • The activation phase refers to the stage where a prospect makes full experience of the product (e.g. placing a purchase order, subscribe for a free cloud storage account)
  • Retention is the subsequent stage that refers to the actions involved to retain the acquired clients – and reduce defection – (e.g. making repeated purchases, using the cloud storage in a regular basis)
  • The referral phase relates to the incentives that the growth hacker puts in place or the features he embeds into the product to make an existing client tells others about it.
  • Finally, revenue, which may not be considered necessarily as a phase, is an underlying concept that refers to the monetization strategy and how money would be earned (e.g. Freemium, commission, direct sale, subscription, affiliation, ad revenue, etc.).

The lean marketing funnel, presented above, involves a number of practices that aim to get a potential customer moving from one stage to the other. These practices pertain essentially to the following domains which ultimately end up relating to each other:

  1. Email marketing: Email is “still” a powerful, cost effective and measurable tool that can be used to deliver targeted messages to specific audiences. With a strategy behind, it can particularly drive traffic and helps developing a long term relationship with customers.
  1. Content marketing is a tactic that is informative in essence. It refers to all the content that adds value to customers, promoting a product or a service in an indirect way. Content can take the form of eBooks, infographics, images, white papers, case studies, video, blog posts, press releases, webinars, articles, Quora answers, and so on.
  1. Social media marketing is an excellent avenue not only to diffuse and curate content, but also to engage with customers.
  1. Search engine marketing involves the variety of tactics that the growth hacker uses to position the content and services that are relevant to the company in search engines query results. A distinction can be made between SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) which refers to organic search and (Search Engine Advertising) which refers to paid search advertisements.
  1. Viral marketing: The underlying idea is creating a viral effect in order to increase awareness of the product either by spreading a marketing message through social media or deliberately build viral features into the product that helps spread the word (e.g. get free storage on referral)
  1. Gamification is a powerful yet flexible approach to create engagement and loyalty. It consists of embedding game mechanisms into a product. Gamification requires two main components: the task to perform or the challenge to take up, and the reward (e.g. offering perks on reaching an advanced level of usage)
  1. Product engineering and design: Hooking new clients requires a product that creates value, one that is appealing and offers a seamless user experience. Continuous improvement though testing is key. API (application programming interfaces) integration, visitor behavior analysis, A/B and multivariate tests, Heatmaps, are examples of technics that can lead to product refinement.
  1. Data analytics. Data, for growth hackers, is the gold mine. Intuition is great, but when it is coupled with insights generated from data, it gives rise to new opportunities for further development.


In a context of scarcity of resources and a changing market dynamics, entrepreneurs strive to put their start-ups on track. Growth hacking can help them thrive. Spotify, Pinterest and Dropbox, that were once start-ups are nowadays billion dollar companies thanks to the determination of their founders but also the practices that we tried to summarize in this article.


[1] Ellis, S. “Find a Growth Hacker for Your Startup”

[2] Patel N. & Taylor, B “The definitive Guide to Growth Hacking” Quick Sprout, LLC


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