Growth Nurturing > Growth Hacking

By Wednesday June 27th, 2018

When running a business, growth is important. Companies are often willing to mortgage a great future for immediate success, even if that success is short lived.

I’m here to remind you that sustainability matters.

What I mean is, it’s important to scale your organization in a way that is inspired, focused and repeatable, even if that means giving up a few customers in the short term. I believe in building a better foundation for the future, starting with a customer base that connects with your brand and values and isn’t just looking for the deal of the day. Something I’ve noticed a lot in the last 5 or so years is the increasing popularity of growth hacking.

“…a process of rapid experimentation across marketing funnel, product development, sales segments, and other areas of the business to identify the most efficient ways to grow a business.”

Growth hacking has become common practice in the marketing world since the term was coined in 2010 by Sean Ellis (full history and evolution of Growth Hacking if you’re interested). While the origins seemed productive and positive for the most part, over time the term and tactics associated with growth hacking have been cheapened to mean any kind of marketing that can be rolled out for little or no budget, and through some magical optimization processes can bring massive returns in short order. With headlines like “How I built an 8 figure business in 18 months” or “27 growth hacks to grow 20x revenue,” you know the snake oil when you see it.

While the lean mentality can be very positive, startup marketers have given growth hacking a bad name, as if the term didn’t have a bad enough ring to it to begin with. Self proclaimed growth hackers turn fast and furious to get the biggest bang for the buck, searching for the quickest wins possible, regardless of what types of customers they attract. Then, as the term is defined, growth hackers turn to rapid optimization, pulling hard on the levers that have shown any signs of success.

Here’s the problem with growth hacking…

Growth hacking tends to discard anything that grows slowly. Often smart and sustainable growth is slow. So one must decide whether a stronger relationship with a core group of customers that grows over time is worth the wait.

What I also notice is that brand voice, values and vision get pushed aside for growth hacks. Quality and consistency are lost, replaced by imagery and/or messaging that strive to elicit a response and some level of engagement, even if that interaction is not on brand. Clickbait, eye candy, call it what you want… do you really want this associated with your brand?

Growth hacking may be the fastest way to some sales, but may also prevent you from building a relationship with the customers you really want. I’m not against listening and optimizing (somewhat) rapidly, especially as you are trying to find product-market fit and understand your ideal customer, but growth hacking is not a sustainable approach once you’ve found an audience and are trying to build a brand for the long run.

We encountered a crossroads recently with one of our clients. We were in a position where immediate sales were necessary… there just wasn’t time to lose. It was a do or die time.

So, we jumped into frantic testing mode (caution: this is a bad move, and something we vow never to do at Brolik). The pressure was on and we had to do something.

In addition to a lot of product-focused video and photography that we had been using previously, we started testing some more bold imagery that we thought would grab people’s attention. Specifically, there was a seductive woman in the videos we started to use. It didn’t fit the brand and we knew it.

The more engagement we got on the posts with the seductive woman, the more potential customers entered the top of the funnel. The more momentum we had at the top of the funnel, the more opportunities filtered down to consideration and potential purchase.

People were watching the video in droves.

It was working…

And then, there was silence.

The people who spent time watching the video didn’t seem interested in the product we were selling. We were demonstrating the value of the product and creating offers and urgency to buy, but nothing was happening. These people simply weren’t interacting with our ads further down the funnel. They were just window shopping… I guess that’s what we’ll call it. Even worse, we were optimizing for an audience that wasn’t our ideal customer at all and we weren’t laying the foundation for a long term relationship.

The moral of the story…

When in doubt, do the thing that’s going to attract the customer you want, even if doing the right thing takes longer to bring the return you want. There’s nothing wrong with rapid experimentation, as long as you stay focused on the long term success of your business and don’t damage the equity you are building with your brand. It takes years to build a reputation and only 5 minutes to ruin it.

I’d prefer to set aside the growth hacking mentality and try something else.

With all of the talk of growth hacking, and the false and unrealistic expectations it has bred, what companies need right now is growth nurturing.

“…to support and encourage, as during the period of training or development; foster”

Growth nurturing, as it pertains to marketing, is the inclination to preserve the good in your brand, create a solid foundation for customer acquisition and retention, and work with partners that will lend a hand in executing on that foundation brick by brick along with the founders.

It’s not as fast, or exciting, but it’s going to create a more sustainable and healthy future for these businesses.

As a founder or business owner, it just takes some discipline, a little bit of patience and valuing sustainable growth over quick wins.

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About the Author

Jason is co-founder and CEO of Brolik, a digital agency in Philadelphia. As an entrepreneur, Jason is passionate about helping other business owners navigate the complicated journey of owning a business and developing marketing strategies to grow their brand.
Follow @jaybrew on Twitter or connect with Jason on LinkedIn or Google+