Growth Hacking
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This handbook teaches you to attract customers to your site then get them to buy.

It is widely recommended within Silicon Valley — because it actually teaches growth marketing to a professional level. It doesn't waste time with self-evident advice and marketing clichés. 

If you're skeptical of marketing advice, know that I am too. This handbook is unique in that I have four years of diverse data: I've run thousands of experiments to grow twenty different — that's the key — startups for my growth agency

Scroll down to learn which growth strategy will likely work for your company. And for an in-depth orientation to growth hacking.

Who should read this

This material applies to companies of every size and vertical.

I cover both introductory and advanced B2B and B2C tactics. Marketers of every skill level will encounter a lot of new material.

This handbook is dry, however. So I recommend bookmarking it and reading pages as they become relevant to your work.

If you're brainstorming startup ideas+

It is important you read this handbook before deciding which startup idea to work on.

It will save you months or years going down the wrong path. Because you must first assess whether your idea is suited for profitable and scalable customer acquisition. 

In this handbook, you'll learn which ad channels you can expect to acquire users from, and how to increase their rate of conversion. To increase your profit and stay alive.

If you can’t foresee this handbook's strategies working for a startup idea you're considering, you’ll have a tough time building a high-growth business.

If you care about that.

If you're a manager+

It's critical that managers know what growth marketing entails so they can facilitate it.

Don't treat growth like a black box of engineering and marketing. It's your most important business function.

This handbook will show you how to prioritize the most profitable and the easiest to implement growth marketing projects. Plus, it'll shed light on a growth marketer's skill set so you can properly assess hiring candidates.

(Many companies unknowingly hire “growth experts” who are actually brand marketers only experienced with creating brand voice and generating buzz. Brand marketers often lack knowledge of user acquisition and conversion optimization. This handbook will help you avoid unintentionally hiring them.)

Growth hacking definition

Growth hacking is simply data-driven revenue maximization.

Growth "hacking" is actually a silly term. (It also goes by performance marketing or growth marketing.) I'm using it because it helps this handbook rank higher in Google.

Practice what you preach, right?

In reality, growth is not a series of "hacks." It's a rigorous methodology consisting of experimentation, data collection, and leveraging human psychology. All in pursuit of maximizing revenue — not raising brand awareness or "generating buzz."

Growth hacking versus traditional marketing+

Growth marketing differs from traditionally undisciplined marketing in that growth focuses on clearly measurable and directly profitable marketing projects.

For example, growth rarely concerns itself with billboards, radio ads, conferences, and other hard to measure channels. (Try attributing a customer to the billboard they saw before signing up. And try doing it when you have multiple billboards in the city.)

Instead, growth leverages the scale and immediacy of the Internet to start small and discover where customer acquisition is measurable and therefore capable of being proven financially viable. It does this through continually optimizing every component of the customer's lifecycle.

Growth marketing knowledge

This lifecycle includes the ads they see, the website they then interact with, and the product they ultimately buy and engage with.

In other words, growth marketing involves three key disciplines:

Growth marketers must be familiar with all three disciplines. Or, at minimum, a team of growth marketers must collectively span these disciplines.

However, this knowledge alone is not enough. They must also possess three key skills.

Growth marketing skills

To competently span these disciplines, a growth marketer must be:

Creativity and reflectiveness are skills that this handbook will help develop.

So let’s quickly elaborate on resourcefulness. It entails being aggressively proactive:

If you're new to growth marketing, you can listen to my podcast interview.

When to hire brand marketers

Counterintuitively, "brand marketing" is typically ineffective at shaping your brand. Its often only effective at keeping your message consistent and self-censored. (And most companies don't need to exercise this restraint early on.)

Why? Because long-term public perception is the result of having a product people love. Consumer love begets organic brand building via word-of-mouth, and word-of-mouth supersedes whatever messaging a company pushes through their marketing.

So before you hire a brand marketer, hire another product manager.

Once you're a mature company, you can consider hiring someone to focus on the aesthetic and tonal consistency of your marketing. This will help you stay singular and differentiated in a crowded market. 

But, before that point, brand marketers mostly slow down growth with arbitrary constraints. Consider how if brand mandates that marketing materials must have red backgrounds and white text, growth won't feel empowered to experiment with ad design to assess what the data says are the best aesthetics to encourage ad clicks.

About Julian Shapiro

I spend hundreds of hours researching interesting topics. Then I write concise yet in-depth handbooks. For free.

I release them online because books have to hit high page counts, which results in filler content that annoys readers.

There's more to it if you want to learn more about me.

The growth funnel

Before you dive into this handbook, I want to orient you: I want you to understand which growth tactics are likely to succeed for your particular company.

To do this, I must first introduce the growth funnel: the customer's full journey of interaction with your company. 

Acquisition → Conversion → Engagement → Revenue → Referral

Growth marketers know how these steps relate. For example, to spend a marketing budget efficiently, steps later in the funnel should be optimized first. Consider how Engagement performing better means every dollar on Acquisition goes further.

Let's introduce each funnel step.

It's fine if some steps don't apply to your product. 

I. Acquisition

An acquisition "channel" is a place you source potential customers from. For example, ads, content marketing, and sales are all acquisition channels.

There are two types of channels:

This handbook covers the most popular paid channel: Ads. It also covers two unpaid channels: Content Marketing and Sales.

As we'll learn, many companies find that only unpaid channels are viable for them.

II. Conversion

When potential customers are intrigued by what they see (on your site or in-person), some of them "convert" into registered users or purchasers.

Conversion events are the business-critical events along your product's growth funnel. For example, a website visitor can first convert into a user. Then, after using your app for a week, they might convert into a paying customer.

This handbook addresses conversion via Landing Pages, A/B Testing, and Making Ads.

III. Engagement

When a visitor converts into a new user, handhold them through your product experience until they're a confident user. Confident users become repeat purchasers.

This handbook covers engagement via User Onboarding. (Optimizing your in-product experience falls under "user retention," which is outside the scope of this handbook.)

IV. Revenue

Your average revenue per customer can be maximized through reducing costs, improving your conversion rates, optimizing pricing, and up/cross-selling products.

Pricing and cross-selling are outside the scope of this handbook.

V. Referral

Make your product so good that customers do your selling for you. You don’t need to be a viral social app to accomplish this. Many B2B companies grow (albeit slowly) through word-of-mouth alone.

This handbook covers referrals at the bottom of the User Onboarding page.

See the bottom of your screen for quick navigation links.

Succeeding at acquisition

This guide focuses on the first two steps of the funnel: acquisition and conversion.

So let's now introduce the stark realities of acquisition.

Succeeding at paid channels

First, most companies never get paid acquisition channels to work. If they did, more companies would be successful. Because paid acquisition lets you scale big fast.

Specifically, most companies do not profitably acquire paying users through ad networks such as Facebook Ads, Instagram Ads, and Google AdWords. 

Why? Consider the criteria that determines ad channel success:

To succeed at ad channels, your product must cross a threshold for all three criteria:

Unfortunately, you won't know whether you cross these thresholds until you spend a statistically significant amount of money on each potentially viable channel. This is often roughly $1,000-$3,000 USD per channel.

If you fail these thresholds, you'll be relying on word-of-mouth, content marketing, PR, sales, and other channels that cost less per acquired customer. (But that scale slowly.)

This is completely fine. Successful paid acquisition isn't necessary. It's just very helpful because it lets you easily scale.

Succeeding at unpaid channels

Here's the criteria for success for the four most effective unpaid channels:

You can browse this handbook using the links at the bottom of your screen.

The importance of unpaid acquisition

Even companies that get ad channels to work don't often get them working at scale for very long. Eventually, ad audiences saturate and diminishing returns kill profitability.

So, you must plant seeds for other channels to succeed in the long-term:

This bring us to the minimum viable growth methodology every company must pursue.

The universal growth methodology

  1. Build an amazing product that naturally encourages word-of-mouth. 
  2. Kickstart word-of-mouth with a bit of paid ad traffic. Even if temporarily unprofitable.
  3. Next, spend the majority of your growth marketing resources on optimizing your growth funnel: increase conversion at every step. Do this through A/B Testing, and do it on the test audience you're acquiring through paid ad traffic.
  4. With your profitable and streamlined funnel in place, it's time to scale. Aggressively test every potentially viable acquisition channel. Some channels that were previously ruled out may be newly viable if your product or your market has changed.

The right growth tactics for your company

With our universal growth methodology in hand, we're missing one last thing: What my experience running growth for more than twenty different companies has concluded is the right tactic for your type of company.


If you sell to consumers:

Don't be overwhelmed by all those links. You can ignore them for now. This handbook will walk you through most of them over the coming pages.


If you sell to businesses:

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Homepages that compel visitors to sign up.

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