Interview: Why Sean Ellis sees growth hacking and marketing agility as bedfellows

The godfather of growth hacking talks about how the principle has evolved over the last seven years and what marketers can learn from this emphasis on growth


Examples of growth hacking

Growth hacking is about a process of rapid experimentation across marketing channels and product development to identify the most effective, efficient ways to grow a business. Growth hackers are most commonly engineers and product managers, specifically focused on building and engaging the user base of a business. They have deeper access into the product in order to drive sharing, engagement and retention.

There’s no right or wrong way to tackle growth hacking, however. Ellis points out one of the most successful companies is Uber, which maintains a separate growth team. On the other hand, Freelancer.com has all staff except finance reporting into the head of growth.

“Both of these approaches work, where it tends not to work is when the CEO is not closely involved or when the head of product is not supportive,” Ellis says. “However you set it up, product and growth should be part of the same organisation. Uber is the exception; in most cases, if the product owner and engineering are not on-board with growth initiatives, it’s hard to find success.”

According to Ellis, the most powerful levers for growth sit in things like improving customer engagement and retention, referral programs and monetisation experiments.

“If you get a doubling of conversion rate or retention, it’s just as powerful as putting twice as many people into your customer acquisition funnel, which is where traditional marketing organisations focused,” he says.

Growth hacking is all about focusing on the fundamentals of how growth works and finding levers in the business model, then experimentation towards high-leverage areas. “What growth teams are taking is a qualified approach and bringing it to the rest of the company, to try and increase experimentation and be more scientific,” Ellis says.

This doesn’t mean ignoring the customer or human element, however, and Ellis says the most effective companies are the ones that bring together data and experimentation with customer needs, motivations and human and emotional drivers for known and unknown behaviour.

“Understanding customer needs and principles of behaviour are very powerful. The data and experimentation is all about improving results, but it’s easier if you truly understand the human element,” he says.

Finding the north star

A vital ingredient helping align teams behind growth is what Ellis and growth hacking aficionados call a ‘north star metric’. This is a key metric that employees make decisions on, and that can be communicated organisation-wide.

“It’s really hard to figure out what that is for each business, but getting it right is a huge part of being successful with growth,” Ellis claims. “The most powerful thing Facebook did was boil everything down to a single metric: The daily active user. All decisions were then made based on building and sustaining that number.

“You compare that to people with thousands of different metrics, who can justify any action because one metric in the mix went in one direction, even as others fell down. A lot of times, companies will change this [north star] metric two or three times before they find the right one and embrace that.”

From a tools perspective, what’s also helping growth hacking initiatives is the shift from event-based tracking to more person-based tracking, Ellis says.

“When you combine that with a qualitative understanding of needs, that’s where it is really powerful,” he says. “With products like Kissmetrics, Mix Panel and Amplitude, you’re moving more towards user-based tracking analytics solutions whereas Google Analytics is fairly anonymous on who you’re tracking.”

Ellis’ second piece of advice for those looking to harness growth hacking is to articulate what your short-term objectives are, at least for the growth team.

“The more people understand the short-terms objectives that are qualified, and in what timeframe, the more you can keep people on the same page,” he says. “It’s about being clearly defined, communicating and continuing to update people as you make progress against the goals.”

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia, or check us out on Google+:google.com/+CmoAu

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Show Comments

Latest Videos

Conversations over a cuppa with CMO: Craig Davis

​Leadership resilience, startups scaling up, marketing best practices, customer insights - these are just a few of the topics we manage to explore in the latest episode of Conversations over a Cuppa with CMO featuring Craig Davis.

More Videos

JP54,D2, D6, JetA1 EN590Dear Buyer/ Buyer mandateWe currently have Available FOB Rotterdam/Houston for JP54,D2, D6, JetA1 with good and w...

BARYBKIN ALEXANDER ALEXANDROVI

3-pronged marketing approach for property disruptor Brickx

Read more

Was really informative. Customer retention is very important for companies as retaining customers are simpler compared to making new ones...

Bhooshan Shetty

What lies ahead for the future of marketing post-AI

Read more

Good day sir / madamWe CLOSED JOINT-STOCK COMPANY AO KAYUM NEFT OIL COMPANY is one of theleading Oil & Gas trading companies in Russi...

BARYBKIN ALEXANDER ALEXANDROVI

3-pronged marketing approach for property disruptor Brickx

Read more

Good day sir / madamWe CLOSED JOINT-STOCK COMPANY AO KAYUM NEFT OIL COMPANY is one of theleading Oil & Gas trading companies in Russi...

BARYBKIN ALEXANDER ALEXANDROVI

Oath to fully acquire Yahoo7 from Seven West Media

Read more

Thank you for sharing your knowledge. Definitely bookmarked for future reading! Check this website https://a2designlab.com/ with lots of ...

Ryota Miyagi

Brene Brown: What it takes to be a brave leader right now

Read more

Blog Posts

Life beyond the cookie: 5 steps to mapping the future of marketing measurement

​There’s no denying there’s been a whirlwind of response to the imminent demise of the third-party cookie from all parts of the industry. But as we’ve collectively come to better understand the implications, it’s clear this change is giving the digital advertising industry the opportunity to re-think digital marketing to support core industry use cases, while balancing consumer privacy.

Natalie Stanbury

Director of research, IAB Australia

Ensuring post-crisis success

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed brands’ CX shortcomings and a lack of customer understanding. Given ongoing disruption, customer needs, wants and expectations are continually changing, also causing customers to behave in different ways. Just look at hoarding toilet paper, staple and canned food, medicinal and cleaning products.

Riccardo Pasto

senior analyst, Forrester

A few behavioural economics lesson to get your brand on top of the travel list

Understanding the core principles of Behavioural Economics will give players in the travel industry a major competitive advantage when restrictions lift and travellers begin to book again. And there are a few insights in here for the rest of the marketing community, too.

Dan Monheit

Co-founder, Hardhat

Sign in