Learn from the Best: Lessons From the Most Iconic Growth Hacking Examples

Growth hacking is still one of the more controversial terms in digital marketing.

Some consider it to be somewhat shady and not exactly a long-term strategy to boost a brand. Others consider it to be the only way to compete in the modern market and get ahead.

In reality, growth hacking is a strategy like any other: it will work really well for some brands, while others won’t profit from it as expected. 

And while it’s true that some brands have certainly employed less than perfectly honest and straightforward growth hacking principles over the years, that doesn’t mean the tactic itself is inherently flawed. In fact, there’s a lot you can learn from it.

To that end, we’ve assembled a list of the most iconic growth hacking examples we could get our hands on. Here are all the lessons you can learn from them and apply to your own brand in 2020.

You don’t have to spend a fortune on marketing

Most businesses believe that they need to be investing huge figures into their marketing efforts just to gain enough traction and attract the right customer base.

However, Dropbox proves that this doesn’t have to be the case.

The company we now all know and use started out just like any other startup, with little money to spend on advertising. To overcome the challenges of budgeting, they came up with one of the most successful referral programs ever.

They offered an extra 250mb of storage space to any user who’d get a friend to sign up to Dropbox. This system quickly gained them a 60% increase in signups, and it cost them comparatively little – 500mb per acquisition.

Applying the hack: 

While we wouldn’t suggest copying Dropbox to the t, you can certainly come up with a referral program of your own. However, your marketing tactic doesn’t have to involve referrals at all – think in terms of ways to spread the word about your product without spending money on expensive ad campaigns and other digital marketing tactics.

You can leverage existing users to market your brand

Many companies fail to grasp the importance of user-generated marketing, in whatever shape or form it comes: content, referrals, word of mouth, and so on.

Take the example of Hotmail, who were the original proponent of user-to-user marketing.

They added a message (PS I love you. Get your free email at Hotmail) to the bottom of every email that was sent out from their platform. Considering that this was done at a time when not everyone had a personal email, and before we were all online to the extent we are today, this turned out to be an excellent tactic (though it might sound a bit cheesy).

This way, Hotmail turned every single email into an ad, which broke all possible signup records. They acquired 1 million users in 6 months, only to go on to acquire another million in the next five weeks.

Applying the hack: 

Never underestimate the power of user recommendations. Marketing messages coming from the brand itself are one thing, but when they come from satisfied users, potential customers much more likely to convert. Figure out a way to encourage your users to become your own marketing army without alienating any of them.

You can leverage the negative, too

Uber is a prime example of how you can turn something bad into something good. They have managed to turn the extensive legal battles they’ve faced in different countries and on different grounds into a way to gain loyal customers and local advocates.

What Uber also had going for them is the excellent service, innovative product, and the extensive local research they’ve done before moving into a new market.

In other words, you can’t expect to turn the negative into the positive unless you have the product or service to back it up as well. The only disadvantage Uber was facing was the competition, in the form of taxi drivers who were used to having a monopoly on the industry.

Applying the hack: 

If you’re generating a lot of negative coverage in the press or online, take a page out of Uber’s book: find a way to turn it around and help customers see things from your point of view. However, bear in mind that if you have done something wrong and negativity-worthy, this hack is not what you should be reaching for.

You can make people wait for it

Many digital marketers will advise you to put up a ‘coming soon’ page before you launch your website and start generating interest even before your product or service is ready to see the light of day.

Robinhood, a trading app for investors with probably the most creative name in the industry, has taken this principle a step further by creating a waiting list. They had everyone interested in their platform sign up for it, which would then show them social proof of their current position in the queue.

In order to get ahead, users could invite friends to join – which resulted in over a million signups to the platform in 30 days.

Applying the hack: 

Getting people interested and burning for your product, so much so that they want to tell everyone about it and get access to it as soon as possible, can be an excellent way to gain more users at the outset. You can make it as simple as “invite 5 friends to get 5-day early access.” 

The success of growth hacking

Hopefully, the examples above have shown you what growth hacking can do – help you launch a brand with more hype and more interest than other marketing channels can provide.

If you have an out-of-the-box idea you think you can leverage, do your best to take it for a spin as early on as possible. The more interest you manage to spark at the beginning, the faster you’ll be able to grow. 

On the other hand, if you’re not in a financial position to test out your ideas, you can reach for different flexible business finance options that can provide the funds you need early on. That way, you can set yourself up for a very profitable start.

The issue with growth hacking

On the other hand, don’t make the mistake of believing you absolutely have to hack something in order to make it. There are businesses out there who have made millions without ever having to apply unconventional tactics, and some businesses are simply not suited for growth hacking.

Instead of trying to force a triangle-shaped brand through a circle-shaped growth hack, focus on building a brand and a marketing campaign people can trust. Ultimately, that’s the essential hack you need to have in your arsenal.