Author Archives: Sujan Patel

The First Rule of Growth Hacking

growth-hacking

I don’t know if you’ve noticed lately, but the digital marketing space has been blowing up with talk about “growth hacking.”  From Neil Patel’s “Definitive Guide to Growth Hacking” to the entire Growth Hackers website, it’s clear that the term is making a strong case for being awarded the “Marketing Buzzword of 2014.”

But let me add my voice to the conversation.  In my opinion, the first rule of growth hacking should be… don’t talk about growth hacking!

Don’t talk – do.  You don’t need to hire a growth hacking expert to grow your business and you don’t need to brag to your startup buddies about how much you’re in favor of growth hacking.  What you do need to do – each and every day – is to implement the following principles that form the foundation of this new hot topic:

Step #1 – Identify strengths and weaknesses

Before you can begin hacking anything, you’ve got to know where you stand in terms of your startup’s strengths and weaknesses.  Let me give you an example to show you why this matters…

I’m currently working with Bridge U.S. – a startup that provides a TurboTax-like interface to help people navigate the U.S. immigration process.  It’s a really cool idea, and because we’re the only ones in the immigration space providing this type of solution, we have a big advantage in terms of capturing potential market share.

That said, we’re also facing two major weaknesses.  First, we’re a new company, which means that nobody has heard of us.  As a result, we have to do a good job at providing trust signals and answering customer questions about what our solution does.  And given that the immigration process is complicated enough on its own, we’ve got to answer even more questions to get potential customers to trust us with their business.

Because we know where our strengths and weaknesses lie, we can develop a growth hacking plan that focuses on our specific needs over a general growth process.  Clearly, in our case, focusing on minimizing churn isn’t the right fit for us at this time, as our energy and efforts are better spent on early education and maximizing our onboarding and customer conversion processes.  Your business might have completely different goals, but you’ll only know what they are if you take the time to figure out where you’re at now.

Step #2 – Define timeline and goals

goal-setting

One of the guiding principles behind growth hacking is the ability to make massive improvements quickly.  And when it comes down to it, you can’t do that if you don’t set a combination of goals and timelines.

For example, at Bridge U.S., our first goals are to get our software to a state where people can understand it by May 1st and to achieve a 3% conversion rate by June 1st.  By clearly defining what we want to achieve and when we want to achieve it by, we avoid the trap of taking weeks or months to test things that should be done much more quickly.  If we just set the goal of attaining a 3% conversion rate, we could still be working on this particular aim at the end of the year!

Use your own strengths and weaknesses to set measurable goals for your business, but then tie these goals to specific timetables as well.  Sure, you may not hit your goals according to the timelines you set.  But by giving yourself a “check-in” point at which you can reevaluate your progress, you’ll waste far less time than you will if you meander aimlessly towards your goals without a defined timeline in place.

Step #3 – Add analytics and tracking tools

So you’ve got goals and you’ve got timelines – now you need a way to measure your progress!

No matter what types of goals you set for yourself, there are ways to measure them.  Continuing with my Bridge U.S. examples above, our goal to optimize usability could be measured with everything from traditional marketing focus groups to online eye-tracking studies.  Conversion rate could be tracked with analytics programs like Google Analytics or KISSMetrics, or more complex marketing automation suites like Marketo or Pardot.

The particular tracking system you implement will depend on a number of factors, including your budget, your technical knowledge and the time you have to implement an analytics solution.  While more advanced solutions may give you tons of valuable data, keep in mind that the time needed to get them up and running could blow the timelines you’ve set out of the water.  Don’t risk compromising your growth hacking progress by wasting time implementing solutions that are more complex than you truly need.

Step #4 – Carry out experiments

science experiments

Experiments are the heart of the growth hacking process because they give you the data needed to make major improvements as quickly as possible.  As above, the specific types of experiments you’ll want to carry out will depend on the goals you’re measuring and the programs you’re using to track them.  But as a general rule, one of the best tools in your growth hacking arsenal is the split test.

Whether you use A/B or multivariate split testing, the core concept of this process is pitting two or more different versions of a screen, web page or other resource against one another in a live environment.  In the case of Bridge U.S., we could use split testing in combination with eye tracking or usability studies to determine how presenting different pieces of information within the program affects user understanding and adoption.

We could also use split testing when it comes to optimizing conversion rates, sending traffic to multiple landing pages promoting different benefits and features to see which sales messages resonate best with our audience.  Iterating these experiments quickly by replacing “losing” pages with new test variations would give us valuable information about our audience in a timely manner, increasing our ability to convert new prospects into customers.

Step #5 – Lather, rinse, repeat

Pay attention to that last point – the idea of iterating quickly.  Anybody can set up a split test, gather data from it and make a few changes based on the results.  But true growth hackers know that the first experiment is only the start of the process and that there’s never a true test “winner” – just another opportunity to pit a new competing alternative against the reigning victor.

At Bridge U.S., we’ve planned for 10 sprints consisting of roughly 3-4 days of development – 2 days for driving traffic and 1-2 days to analyze our CTR, gather feedback and make improvements for the next series of tests.  It might sound aggressive, but doing this is the only way we’ll be able to generate data and identify the winning combinations needed to meet the 30- and 60-day goals for ourselves.

Your approach might not be quite as fast-paced – or it might be even more so.  But whatever your situation might be, use our example to challenge yourself to drive change even faster.  If you’ve set a 2-week period for your experiments, what can you change to get the same amount of data in a single week?  Pushing yourself or your company to gather results and make changes faster is what makes you a growth hacker – not some fancy title or buzzword-laden statement of goals!

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7 Key Considerations for Scaling Your Content Team

scale

According to the Content Marketing Institute, approximately 92% of marketers are now using content marketing strategies and roughly 60% of B2B and B2C marketers anticipate increasing their content marketing budgets over the next 12 months.

If you’re one of these companies, know that simply throwing more money at your content campaigns won’t likely lead to the kinds of marketing gains you hope to achieve.  Instead, you’ve got to be thoughtful about the way you scale your content team.  Keeping the following seven considerations in mind as you grow your marketing initiatives will help ensure a positive ROI on your new expenses: Continue reading

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11 Rules to Add to Your Brand Guidelines

I think we can all agree that branding is important for growing businesses.  However, saying that branding is good and actually doing it well are two different things entirely!

Establishing a brand” isn’t just industry jargon; there are actual, concrete steps you’ll want to take to ensure that your brand is both distinct and memorable.  One of these steps is establishing a set of clearly-defined brand guidelines that dictate how you’ll present your company to the world.  If you haven’t yet created these all-important rules for your business, the 11 recommendations below should help you get started: Continue reading

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25 Tools Content Marketers Can’t Live Without

tools

There’s no doubt that content marketing has grown in popularity over the last few years to become one of the web’s most important promotional strategies.  And while I’ve always been a major proponent of this technique, it’s thrilling to see interest in this subject grow universally, as this surge in interest has led to the development of great new content marketing tools.

When it comes to these tools, the following are 25 of my favorites.  This list certainly isn’t comprehensive, but I hope it gives you the resources needed to take your content campaigns to the next level! Continue reading

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Are You Working Hard or Hardly Working?

busy work

If you read my recent “Hitting the Reset Button” post, you know I’ve made some pretty major changes in my life over the past few months.  But there’s one specific aspect of my story that I want to draw your attention to today – the fact that I was able to work 60+ hours a week and still feel like I wasn’t getting anything done.

Chances are that sentiment resonates with most of you.  The reality is that we’ve created a culture that rewards people for being busy – not necessarily for being productive.  See that middle manager running around the office like he’s late for the birth of his child?  Give that man a raise!   See a cashier bustling around a busy store trying to handle ten things at once?  A promotion’s in order!

When we use being busy as a proxy for being productive, we fail to identify situations in which habit and environment changes could lead to lower stress levels and more work being completed overall.  Let’s keep going with that middle manager example to see what I mean… Continue reading

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Don’t Just Build a Business – Build a Brand!

coca cola

When it comes down to it, the basic mechanics of building a business are pretty simple.  Offer a product or service that your customers either need or want, at a price they’re willing to pay (and that leaves you with sufficient profit margins).  Use marketing best practices to put your offering in front of your customers and then fulfill orders according to the terms you and your customers agreed upon.  Lather, rinse and repeat.

So why is it that some businesses take off while others languish – even if they’re selling similar products to comparable audiences?  The answer is branding. Continue reading

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17 Copywriting Tips to Boost Website Conversions

don draper copywriting tips

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but that doesn’t mean that the words found on your website aren’t powerful as well!

To see just how important they are, consider a research study from Carnegie Mellon, which found that changing the phrase “a $5 fee” to “a small $5 fee” on a sample free DVD trial program website increased sign-up rates by more than 20%.  That’s pretty powerful stuff for such a small change!

If you aren’t a great writer, don’t worry.  The science of copywriting has been studied for so long that many of its most popular tips can be applied even if you don’t quite understand why they work.  Give any of the following recommendations a try if you want to make a measurable difference in your website’s conversion rates: Continue reading

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Business Lessons Learned From One Day of Navy SEALs Training

Navy SEAL photo downloads

I thought I was tough…  I’m a fit guy who’s able to run 10-15 miles at a time and knock out 2,000 pushups in a day.  But recently, I had the privilege to train with the Navy SEALs for a day and in just an hour’s workout, I got my butt whooped.  Despite my sore muscles (and bruised pride), the experience taught me more about myself, my limits and my approach to business – not to mention how intense the SEALs are! Continue reading

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10 Startup Companies to Watch Out for in 2014

smartthings

Last year was something of a mixed blessing for growing tech companies.  While some young startups achieved multi-billion dollar valuations (for example, Snapchat and Uber), others struggled when it came to obtaining the funding needed to power growth (as evidenced by both Fab and Rdio’s staff layoffs).

Will 2014 be any different?  It’s tough to say.  The success of the recent Twitter IPO seems to have increased investor interest in social and tech IPOs, which could lead to more money rolling in to promising startups.  Given how fickle the tech investing world can be, it’s difficult to determine exactly where this interest will lead.  But based on current trends, I’ll be keeping an eye on all of the following startups: Continue reading

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Hitting the Reset Button (and Doing What Makes You Happy)

hitting the reset button

A few months ago, I woke up on a Saturday morning and found myself staring down a mountain full of work.  Sure, my inbox was empty, but I’d gotten so busy that I could no longer finish my work between the usual 9:00am to 6:00pm window I gave myself.  I had just wrapped up a 60+ hour work week and felt like I hadn’t finished anything – even though I was working weeknights and weekends just to try to keep up.

WTF, right??

For all of the changes I’ve made to make my days as productive as possible, I had to own up to the fact that my life was spinning out of control.  With the example of Buffer’s CEO Joel Gascoigne – who periodically fires himself from his company – in mind, I finally got up the courage to ask myself the tough questions I’d been avoiding for months.  What am I doing with my life, and – more importantly – why am I doing it?  If things are obviously this broken, how do I go about fixing them? Continue reading

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