Ex-Head of Site Optimization at Staples on Growth hacking in eCommerce
Breaking down what growth hacking brings to the table along with some traditional and new approaches within eCommerce.
Growth hacking is an innovative form of marketing that originated at start-ups to exponentially drive a product’s usage and customer base. Ingenious marketers intuitively combined marketing, product engineering, and analytical skills in order to rapidly drive results. This fusion of integrated marketing and product strategy has become synonymous with the creation of “viral loops” within the customer experience so that one cohort of users will drive the acquisition of another cohort.
Consider for example, how apps or products you use will broadcast your activity to your Facebook friends, or how Dropbox will offer free storage for friend referrals. However, more broadly speaking, a growth hacker looks at the end-to-end customer experience holistically to understand which segments, marketing journeys, and product features within the funnel can be optimized for growth.
Case studies highlight success stories hailing from freemium and social media models where the potential to create viral loops is higher. However, there is a lot more friction in the user journey for online retail businesses where customers are being asked to part with their money.
Growth to us put simply, means getting a paying customer to buy repeatedly. A secondary growth loop could be built around lead generation or collection of email addresses. Since marketing teams have always been focused on acquiring and retaining customers, what does growth hacking bring to the table?
The answer lies in how teams are set up and the methodology they apply.
Marketing and Product working together on growth roadmaps to hit common KPIs
Traditional organizations are set up so that product owners and marketing teams work largely separately. Marketing specialists will work on their channel plans, while product owners improve the user journey in their area of remit. Growth teams, however, are multi-disciplinary, bringing marketing, product, analytical, and engineering skills under one roof to understand which parts of the customer journey can be optimized for growth.
Growth roadmaps are different to marketing channel plans or product roadmaps in that experiences are designed instead of siloed products or media buys. Secondly, the journeys and product features worked on are those that will directly drive growth.
Commitment to experimentation
Growth teams continuously A/B test - their output is not tied to campaign planning cycles or release schedules but incremental, validated steps. Enabling the appropriate infrastructure for rapid testing is, therefore, a key prerequisite to driving fast results.
Focus on growth KPIs
Marketing will traditionally look at the ROI of marketing campaigns, and eCommerce product teams will focus on the KPIs relevant to their area of remit (conversion and a variety of usage events). While these metrics are still relevant to growth teams, especially those tied to the acquisition and activation of customers, a large part of their focus needs to be further downstream on metrics such as Referrals, Lifetime Value, Revenue, and Retention.
Traditional approaches to growth hacking within eCommerce
Friend referral programs
If we were to apply a traditional loop approach, the most obvious application would be friend referral programs for buyers. However, exponential growth synonymous with this discipline is likely to occur further out in the funnel. In this case, we are dealing with a subset of users (converters) with an inherent friction in the loop, as the friend being referred the offer needs to make a purchase (as opposed to signing up for freemium software for example).
Content marketing and lead generation
Focusing on high-quality targeted content circumvents the friction further down in the funnel, and a growth team could generate rapid results when focusing on content shares or emails captured as a KPI. However, the downstream impact of this activity is highly dependent on the quality of your content marketing efforts which are time-intensive, as well as the efficiency of your email or other lead conversion funnels.
New approaches to growth hacking within eCommerce
In evaluating growth opportunities within online retail, my approach has been, instead, to pick product features that are inherently marketable. What can I build that can be used to acquire, convert, and retain customers, therefore providing a scalable opportunity for growth?
Product recommendations surface as a great opportunity when viewed under this lens. They can be flexibly used throughout the user journey (on and off-site) and are highly targeted, meaning customer experiences can be created and optimized at scale for all key growth segments (non-users, new and casual users).
Growth teams lend themselves to this product feature that calls for close collaboration between analytics, marketing, and product specialists.
Growth teams could also focus on trigger marketing as a holistic product feature. These messages are very powerful in nurturing relationships and influencing conversions both on and off-site, touching all growth segments. Pre-defined events or conditions can be used to automatically engage with a new or recent buyer via email or push notifications based on website activity or purchases from a mobile app. There is a lot to be optimized for growth within this area, and a wide variety of customer data can be activated.