It’s come to my attention that the masters-level marketing education I was taught in college has become all-but-irrelevant.

Sound like an exaggeration? Let me clarify exactly why it is not.

In graduate school, they taught us the classics: SWOT, the 4 P’s, STP, PESTE analysis… You know, “management” and “marketing.”

Four Ps

They taught how to plan and track a campaign that runs billboards, TV spots, newspaper spreads, and public relations.

But… There’s one vital concept they overlooked: growth hacking.

We were taught how to talk “to” customers, not how to “engage” with them. But for many of us, entrepreneurs especially, “talking to” prospective and current customers simply isn’t doing the trick. The baseline for today’s products is an engaging and personalized experience.

The verdict? That master’s level education is back-burnered, and we are essentially starting at square one, learning how to “market” our businesses by using growth tools, not marketing tools.

The core difference between growth hacking and marketing is this:

  • Marketing talks to customers and showcases product benefits in a positive light. The majority of the “marketing” taught in schools is the communications/messaging aspect of the business
  • Growth hacking is the intersection of product and marketing, and the compound effect created when the two work in unison. Growth (as the Facebook team labeled it, they didn’t have a “marketing” team during their primary rise) entails building a product that enables itself to scale. It has inherent features that enable sharing, rapid user expansion, or some other tool that can jump your customer base 10x, not 10%

Marketing is linear, growth is exponential.

facebook growth hacking

They’re also different because marketing assumes a “sales” position by telling people to buy. Therefore, it automatically causes the consumer to take a defensive stance, in order to not get “sold”. Let’s face it – no one likes being “sold” to. This is what school called a “push” approach: telling customers to buy your product.

Growth hacking does the opposite. Whether you create a social feature that helps or requires people invite their friends to gain the full value of the product, or you leverage another company’s customer base or marketing program for your growth – it costs a lot less than “marketing” or “media”. It utilizes a “pull” approach: create immense value for a succinct group and let new customers find you brand through word of mouth, social product features, or through a partner brand they buy from, and trust. No one feels “sold” when they seek out your product, or a trusted friend/business genuinely recommends something.

There is a certain elegance to letting others brag for you, whether you’re a person or a business. Growth hacking depends on this notion.

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A few examples of excellent growth hacking:

  • Uber creates ride splitting, so that friends can use Uber together without awkwardly asking for a few dollars to split a cab. No one wants to be that cheapo who says “do you have $3, bro?”
  • HotelTonight offers people their own coupon codes to share with friends, and they earn a commission when friends use their code
  • Dropbox gives both you and your friend free storage space (the key benefit of the software itself) by inviting a friend

There’s one kind of hack that is rarely mentioned, though. What about piggy-backing on bigger brands?

How to hack your growth through partnerships

As a startup, small business or even medium/large business, finding “budget” for media like billboards and TV spots is difficult – particularly for small business/startups, and difficult to justify from an ROI perspective.

Why not leverage someone else’s established marketing channels and loyal customer base? It may seem unfeasible, but if you construct your product with this in mind, it’s very realistic.

Here’s the hack: Build your product so that a medium/large (or maybe even small) partner can easily adopt it for their employees or customers, then give it to the company free (when you’re in your early stages).

  1. Be Open: Tell them “You can use our platform free, as long as we can track all metrics deeply and work closely with you to ensure it’s rolled out properly”.
  2. Be Persistent: If they’re showing resistance due to it’s “newness”, let them know they can have some influence over roadmap/features, so that you can both quickly adapt it as holes are found.

Today, let’s study HearYourNews App for iOS.

Here’s their deal: The HearYourNews App reads you the news in a beautiful British woman’s voice. Who couldn’t love that right? Listen so you don’t need to read – in the car (much safer than reading), on the bus, and while you work out.

For HYN – an ideal partner might be a local news outlet, say Politico, or The Washington times.

Remember – this hack requires you build your product so that the big brand can easily adopt it and share it out to their users or employees.

In the case of HearYourNews – their product is perfect for hacking. Big news outlets like Washington Post (sidebar: I have no attachment to Washington Post) want to engage their readers more deeply, and HYN is a perfect fit: provide free, on-demand article listening for their customers/prospects.

So as a startup, pursue a partner company that can benefit both themselves, and their customers by using your product.

If HYN gets Washington Post to put their app on its website, it will be exposed to over 1.85M people in one day.  That doesn’t account for eBlasts, social posts or PR. (WP.com)

Imagine the cost per acquisition for this hack versus running paid app download ads on Google or Facebook. Let’s assume a 1% conversion rate, with a $1 CPA. That’s $18,500 for a single day to create the same reach as what Washington Post can offer you.

Further – can you imagine the traditional marketing cost of reaching 1.85M in a single day with billboards or TV? It’s not even a consideration. Nor do either of these provide robust tracking metrics.

Build a strong product, period.

People rant about getting your beta, MVPs & Prototypes out the door. For now, those won’t do. There are certainly exceptions.

Sidebar: Isn’t Gmail still in Beta?

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For this growth hack, you need a real, reliable product. If you’re still in MVP, rapid growth may not be a good fit anyway.

If you want a legitimate partner, they’re going to expect the platform work as promised. So before proceeding, a few notes:

  1. Make sure your product is everything you promise and that it is smooth, reliable and somewhat desirable to look at
  2. Build your backend for scale: AWS, MongoDB or SQL databases are built for the long term and whatever else you need to grow rapidly
  3. Have a support platform in place, because the calls/emails will begin rolling in quick. Zendesk is a good place to start
  4. Pressure test your platform if possible – do extensive QA and genuinely try to break your apps before allowing random, unbiased users do

The last aspect of this is sales. You need to be able to sell them on the product vision. You can do this through a few methods, but the best way is with a truly visionary person (either you, your co-founder or some friend you can enlist), along with an opportunity scenario outlining the KPI’s you can drive.

Which hack do you believe is the best for growth? Let us know in the comments!

Thanks for reading.

JM

 Opinions expressed here by Contributors are their own.

Jonathan Maxim
Jonathan Maxim is an app designer, digital marketer and thought leader in the fitness and technology realms. After leaving his job at a Fortune 50 company, he merged his management experience with his passion for technology and innovation to create Apps that encourage fitness and wellness. Educated at San Diego State University first in Graphic Design and User Interface, he went on to gain his Masters of Business from SDSU as well. Currently he serves as founder and CEO of Vea Fitness, an app that rewards you for working out with monetary incentives.