By Ryan Gould
Some of the biggest examples of success in the digital marketing world come in the form of B2C brands that adopted a “growth hacking” approach to advertising. Simply put, growth hacking is the process of efficiently growing a business without spending a ton of money on advertising. Thus experimentation and creativity are key.
As a small business, you can still adopt some customer-facing growth-hacking strategies. Why? Because creative growth hacking can help any operation identify their sales funnel, streamline the process of creating one, and offer an improved customer experience that will in turn help you close bigger deals. This is particularly important in the world of e-commerce, so here are 10 growth hacking examples from successful brands.
1. Aweber: Testimonials
We’ll kick things off with one of the most powerful tools in an e-commerce marketing toolbox: testimonials. Testimonials are social proof that your product, service or offering are worth the investment, and can drive a huge amount of traffic, and ultimately sales. But implementing a testimonial program requires some finesse — Aweber, a popular email marketing platform, employed the tried and true growth hack of testimonials in a subtle yet savvy way. They used a “subscriber count” on their homepage that featured the names of the most recent users as well as the times they signed up for the service. This did two things: it helped build trust among those visiting the site for the first time, and it made those visitors feel like they didn’t want to miss out on the cool new service.
2. Buffer: Blog Strategy
The top dogs at social media management, Buffer, were looking to raise their game and stand out in a sea of 500-word blog posts. They decided to experiment with what’s known in some circles as the “3,000-word content marketing hack.” The experiment went like this: they didn’t publish any new blogs at all for an entire month, and then they distributed their social media strategies in a lengthy email course. The hack worked: all of a sudden they had 18,185 sign ups in six days.
Why producing longer form content can be an effective growth hack is simple: audiences appreciate comprehensive posts, longer posts attract more backlinks, and longer form pieces are easier to repurpose, thus making them sustainable. Your organization would do well to consider trying this long form blogging hack.
3. Evernote: The Freemium Model
Back in 2008, Evernote was an organization app on the brink of collapse. The company’s cashflow was down to three weeks and it looked like the lights were going to go out. That is until CEO, Phil Libin, got a message from a Swedish Evernote user who gave the company a massive infusion of cash.
These were the beginning days of mobile apps, but Libin was ready nonetheless. Soon Evernote was available in all app stores. They also offered two options: a freemium model and a business plan. The freemium model helped spread by word of mouth and they surpassed a million sign ups in 446 days. Then, in 2016, they reached the 200 million user mark.
Evernote did what all e-commerce operations dream of — reaching that one enthusiastic client with deep pockets. Their growth hack was then to let the users do the marketing for them.
4. HubSpot: Content Marketing
Everyone knows HubSpot as a popular software for inbound marketers. What’s interesting is that they took a comprehensive approach to growth hacking. Instead of merely relying on content marketing in the form of their popular website and blog (which would have been enough for many brands), they diversified. They published books about marketing, they launched free website and Twitter graders, they offered webinars, email tutorials and more. Inundating their audience with valuable free tools brought that audience to their website in droves, and helped to establish HubSpot as the marketing powerhouse it is today.
5. Moz: Forums and Free Access
In the world of e-commerce, your customers have high expectations but they don’t expect to have to pay for anything beyond the product or service your offering. This means any value-add to your customers must come with no cost and no hassle. That’s exactly what marketing giant Moz did when they followed the cardinal rule of growth hacking and got creative. To help attract an audience they created an advice forum for digital marketers. The login required to access this was the same for a regular Moz account. They also offered their free Open Site Explorer (now Link Explorer), that offers free link-building SEO tools to those who sign up for an account.
6. Optimizely: SEO
Now it’s time to look at growth hacking from a strictly SEO perspective — perhaps one of the most important marketing tactics in e-commerce. It seems like there’s no shortage of creative ways in which to maximize the effect of your keywords. Optimizely, a company that deals in customer experience optimization, decided to use their own expertise in this field to hack their SEO strategy.
The tactic was to identify their highest-converting AdWords keywords and build a strategy to see which would convert most organically. They leveraged PPC advertising and ran paid campaigns for at least four weeks to determine the keywords. Once they had the highest-converting words, they input them in a spreadsheet and segmented them into thirds (top-converting keywords, medium-converting, low-converting keywords). Once they had this data, they segmented again, and again, and again, until they had the absolute premium, organic keywords to use in their SEO strategy. It resulted in Optimizely becoming one of the top brands in its niche. You might just benefit from looking into the deeper aspects of your SEO game, too.
7. Pipedrive: Leverage Shallow Marketplaces
When you think of SaaS sales growth, the marketing strategies that typically come to mind are content, direct sales, and/or advertising. Fairly straightforward. But sometimes growth can explode completely out of left field, and from the unlikeliest of platforms. That’s just what CRM software company Pipedrive learned back in 2010 when they were a startup desperate to increase customer acquisition.
They had been appealing to prospects on the great overcrowded platform of Twitter for a while and with little to show for it. Then their paying customers spiked from 0 to 10,000 in a blink. What was responsible for the sudden growth? The Chrome Web Store. That’s right, their mobile app stood out in a shallow app marketplace. The lesson here is not to focus the bulk of your energy on standard outlets (in this case the cluttered iTunes and Google Play stores), and instead find those lesser-known marketplaces that will allow your service to be more visible.
8. RJ Metrics: Freebies
There’s no denying the consumer mindset that an add-on, freebie or discount makes a purchase or investment that much sweeter. How did a Philadelphia software company find marketing success beyond their wildest dreams? Cupcakes. That’s right, as an incentive to participate in a survey, they offered respondents the chance to win free cupcakes. They then chose 10 participants to receive the reward, and they were ecstatic. The winners even shared happy responses about the campaign on social media. RJ Metrics harnessed the momentum and implemented the giveaway in other campaigns. The result was that their conversion rate skyrocketed. It has to be the sweetest-tasting growth hack in the history of marketing.
9. Unbounce: Webinars and Influencers
Unbounce touts itself as “the easiest way to test custom landing pages… and improve post-click conversion rates.” They’ve risen to the top of their B2B niche by providing clients with highly responsive landing pages, popups, and sticky bar templates. But they didn’t get there overnight. Like many operations they were struggling to figure out how to hack their way to rapid growth.
Their solution was to take the tried-and-true marketing tactic of providing a webinar and come at it from a different angle. Instead doing a straight forward webinar filled with hard-selling, they instead contacted influencers in their marketing space and paired up with them to do 100% educational webinars. This engendered much good will among their target audience, and they sealed the deal by offering a free demo of their software at the end of the webinar. The result is that their webinars were a rousing success and became their #1 acquisition channel.
10. Zapier: Paid Beta
The idea behind Zapier was to create a task-automation service that democratized software integration. Basically, it allowed your average Joe or Jane to integrate various analytics platforms and marketing tools under one umbrella without coding. No surprise that it was a runaway success among less tech-savvy marketers out there.
Initially denied funding, the creators of Zapier growth-hacked their way from 0 to 600k users in three years with a bold tactic: paid beta. That’s right, they charged people for an unfinished product. But by going against the conventional wisdom that freemium was the best tactic, they got high-quality early adopters. And by combining that with unique content marketing and encouraging users to promote Zapier on social media, these early adopters became brand ambassadors. The lesson: you can growth hack your way to success with paid models. too.
If the above examples serve to illustrate anything, it’s that you can take the principles of consumer-facing marketing and use them to attract enterprise clients, especially with an e-commerce platform. You can focus anything to create your tailored growth hack, be it website design, the shareability of your content, email or word-of-mouth marketing.