I recently finished reading Growth Hacker Marketing by Ryan Holiday. This is a book I would highly recommend to anyone in marketing, advertising, anyone who owns their own business, and all business people in general. As the title implies, Holiday talks about the merits and efficacy of “growth hacking” instead of traditional “Mad Men” techniques when it comes to marketing your product or business.
His basic argument is that in today’s modern, 21st century world traditional marketing techniques are largely overpriced, unaccountable, ineffective, and unnecessary. He points out that while costing small fortunes, traditional avenues like billboards and TV commercials produce questionable results—and the results they do produce are essentially unmeasurable. You can’t tell how many customers were created by a billboard. You can’t tell how much money that billboard made you or if it’s bringing in more business than it costs to have. Traditional marketing techniques are basically based solely on feelings, instincts, and vague notions of branding while being nearly devoid of measurable data.
He contrasts this to growth hacker marketing techniques. The growth hacker’s main tools are emails, blogs, pay-per-click ads, and other technology based methods. But growth hacking has no narrow definition. Holiday describes it as any technique that builds users or customers in a unique, creative, low-cost way. By making use of the things like blogs or clicks or internet referral systems you are able to track everything from what types of people you are able to turn into leads, to how many of those leads turn into customers or clients, how often those clients use your product or service, how likely leads or clients are to recommend your business to a friend, etc.
Growth hackers pursue users and growth using methods that are easily countable and verifiable. Their ultimate goal is to have a product which largely markets itself—or drives current users to market it for you. It begins with knowing your product and market and determining your product market fit. Find the niche for your product, use a creative method to make your product known to that niche, and let the customers do the rest. The examples he uses are companies like Facebook, Instagram, Uber, Airbnb. The emphasis is on flexibility, efficiency, and creativity.
So I was thinking of this as I was driving to Detroit today. Along the highway as I got closer to the city I started seeing billboards advertising the MGM Grand Casino located downtown. And as I was driving I was thinking to myself about how right Ryan Holiday is. MGM has literally no idea how effective those billboards are. They have no way of knowing which specific billboards are more effective than others, whether they are more effective closer to downtown or farther out in the suburbs, or the numbers regarding how many total people see the billboards vs. how many people decide to then come to the casino. They don’t know which demographics of people are convinced by billboards, whether the people convinced were just heading downtown for a night out or headed to a different casino but were then persuaded to come to MGM—literally nothing.
And it is similar when it comes to TV commercials (though with TV ads you do have a bit more control over which demographic you think you are targeting)—these companies are spending thousands or millions of dollars on ads and then have zero idea whether those thousands or millions are adding to their revenue or not. Although a giant gaming company can almost definitely afford large, expensive ad campaigns, waste is waste. The problem with old, broad techniques is that you are essentially making a product and then trying to convince the world that they should want it or should need it.
Much more efficient is to target a specific group that you know already needs or wants your product with precise marketing campaigns aimed at activities that you know your targeted group takes part in. The example Holiday gives is with Uber. They marketed their ride sharing app by going to a tech conference every year where they knew cabs were tight and they knew they would find enthusiastic supporters who would then take the app back home, rave about it to their friends, and market the product for them. That is growth hacking. Cheap, creative, and effective.
As opposed to using billboards a gaming company in an up and coming city like Detroit should be marketing the city. Their goals should be twofold, as should their target demographics. They need to be both pulling in people from the suburbs on the weekends, and appealing to people who want some place to go after a sports game or night out at the bars. Save your money from the billboards and use a fraction of it to build a blog that you fill with content regarding new bars, concerts, big sports games, etc. and then let your readers know that you have ten dollar minimums starting after that baseball game or after 2 am or whatever. Work with bars and restaurants to build readership by having them share it on their Facebook pages, target people coming down for concerts, and get your name out there and what makes you the best casino in the city. You could even have a coupon or deal system accessible only on the blog so you know how many blog viewers turn into customers.
Growth hacking is yet another example of how the world is becoming more efficient, cheaper, and more effective. Modern technology allows us to be more precise in everything we do. The days of sniffing around in the dark and going purely on gut instincts are over. Instincts are critical, but exponentially more effective when coupled with hard, cold numbers.