Growth Hacker Marketing

A Primer on the Future of PR, Marketing, and Advertising

by Ryan Holiday

In this remarkably brief book, Ryan Holiday outlines a new strategy for growing products: building virality into the product instead of plowing money into expensive ad campaigns and launch parties. Holiday argues that by hyper-focusing on a core set of users, turning them into advocates for your product, and iterating with data, you can scale a product much more cheaply and effectively than with the normal marketing approach.

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Key Insights

Key Insight #1

People won’t talk about your product for free. To make your product go viral, you have to give people a reason to spread the word, like by giving free stuff to people who refer friends or by setting up an invite-only scheme that makes users feel important and “in the know” when they send invites.

Key Insight #2

Identify who your target users are and target your advertising at exactly the places they’ll look — that is, the news sites, forums, and conferences they frequent.

Key Insight #3

Instead of trying to get more and more leads, focus on converting the leads you already have — they’re easier to sell to.

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Key Quotes

“A growth hacker doesn’t see marketing as something one does, but rather as something one builds into the product itself. The product is then kick-started, shared, and optimized (with these steps repeated multiple times) on its way to massive and rapid growth.”

“The old way—where product development and marketing were two distinct and separate processes—has been replaced.”

“A good idea is not enough. Your customers, in fact, have to be “acquired.” But the way to do that isn’t with a bombardment. It’s with a targeted offensive in the right places aimed at the right people.”

“Dedicated and happy users are marketing tools in and of themselves.”

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Growth Hacker Marketing greatest strength and greatest weakness is how short it is, at just a few dozen pages. On the plus side, it’s a super-quick read and is dense with powerful insights about how to change your product development strategy — particularly from people coming from the marketing side who need to learn the new, internet-powered, data-driven ways of acquiring users.

But the booklet barely goes into depth, with just a handful of paragraph-long case studies about clever growth hacks that startups used. I was impressed by Holiday’s powerful new paradigm within a couple more pages, but for the rest of the book, I was starving for some meaty analyses and strategies for thinking up growth hacks. I had some other smaller gripes with the book, too: there was a lot of filler and time spent in Holiday complimenting himself, and some of the now-irrelevant startups the book picks as examples — StumbleUpon, Mailbox, Zynga — show its age.

Though, again, the book’s briefness saves it. If you have 30 minutes to spare and want to gain a new lens on product development, this book will be a great help. But a lot of the work — in thinking up growth hacks and putting them into practice — is left as an exercise to the reader. (Holiday does leave you with one very good, and very meta, growth hack at the end of the book: he offers free content — a “$58 value” — in exchange for your email address.)

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What You Will Learn

Growth Hacker Marketing is split into four chapters, each representing one “stage” of the growth-hacking process: getting product-market fit, finding a growth hack, going viral, and optimizing with data. Holiday offers a few brief case studies about successful growth hacks some startups have found, including:

  • How Hotmail went viral by putting “Get free email with Hotmail” in email signatures
  • How Dropbox grew by offering people free storage if they invited friends
  • How Reddit made hundreds of fake profiles to kickstart its messaging boards
  • How Uber offered free rides at SXSW, a conference packed with people in its target market (young tech-lovers)

The book also has a short example of how Holiday used the growth-hacking process to grow a bestselling author’s next book. It’s an interesting example, though not very relevant to the kinds of projects a typical PM or startup founder will work on.

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Who Should Read This

Many of the concepts in Growth Hacker Marketing are well-known to practicing PMs: lean methodology, how to achieve product-market fit, and the importance of metrics and iteration. But current PMs and startup founders will still find value in the idea of building virality into the product — it’s something you’ll start chewing over and seeing everywhere after you read the book.

The book is a better fit for folks coming to product management from the marketing or business side; it’s a great introduction to the mindset you’ll want to adopt as you join the tech industry.