No matter the industry, every CEO I’ve spoken to over the past 12 months has been worried about holding on to their market position or driving growth in an increasingly challenging climate. Innovation emerges as the de facto solution but the traditional approach often wastes time and money and achieves little else. If CEOs want to compete in today’s environment, they must rethink how they approach innovation.
One term has gained popularity among scrappy young startups: growth hacking. It has transcended its marketing origins to become a catalyst for propelling businesses. At its core, growth hacking is about breaking free from lengthy development cycles by creating minimum viable products (MVPs) and conducting lean experiments. Doing so means businesses can swiftly and cheaply test ideas, achieving success far more quickly.
While we’d all like to think our opinions and gut instincts are a good barometer of what will work, nothing can beat the success rates of data-driven decision-making. Growth hacking removes the opinion power struggle and replaces it with data. It’s reasonable to concede that businesses which embrace growth hacking will develop innovations with higher success rates because decisions have been validated with actual market data.
Yet the real magic lies in embracing failure as a stepping stone to success. Growth hackers understand that failure isn’t a roadblock but a valuable opportunity to learn, refine and iterate. This willingness to fail enables organisations to push boundaries, experiment boldly and ultimately uncover breakthrough innovations that set them apart.
How growth hacking can help you innovate
Innovation demands new ideas. But launching something that falls flat is a luxury no business can afford. For many companies, the potential success or failure only becomes apparent after spending months or years working on an idea. Growth hacking turns this on its head by frequently testing the concept through experimentation and short, agile development cycles.
Picture this: quick-fire experiments that validate ideas within weeks, allowing your team to progress confidently to the next iteration or pivot to something else. Combine this with innovation accounting, where you release small amounts of funding as specific questions are answered, and it’s a dream scenario. No more throwing big budgets at unproven concepts.
But that’s just the beginning. To keep up with fickle consumer demands you need current insights. Growth hacking uses real market testing to ensure your decisions are in sync with consumer trends. Established businesses can test ideas with their existing customer base. This way, decisions are backed by hard evidence, not wishful thinking, which is an advantage over startups.
Flexibility is the final ace card. While competitors are bogged down by bureaucratic red tape and rigid mindsets, growth hacking means you define and deliver MVP versions and iterations within weekly sprints. So you aren’t bound to outdated plans made a year prior.
This sounds great on paper. But when it comes to doing it, businesses struggle to match the fast pace of growth hacking with their slow corporate heartbeat. To overcome this, your innovation team needs a robust framework that allows them to make quick decisions, access budget and permits them to break things (within reason).
Partnering with startups is another way to embed the growth-hacking mindset in your business. These partnerships can fast-track your innovation team’s work by introducing them to novel ideas and technologies from other sectors and showing them the ropes when it comes to growth hacking on real projects.
Giving the innovation team autonomy and distance from the core business can also help ensure there are no conflicting priorities or (cough) opinions. But you need a way to bridge the gap between the innovation team and the core business. Otherwise, it becomes this thing that’s done over in the corner that no one knows or cares about. Often the answer here is to appoint an innovation advocate or ambassador who manages the relationship between the innovation team, core business and C-suite.
Practical growth hacking tips for CEOs
Unburden your innovation team
Rather than interfering, set objectives that make it clear who’s accountable for what and then get out of the way. The data will guide the team. To help this happen, provide your team with distance and space from the core business and give them the autonomy to make decisions.
Embrace new partners
Without execution, all you have is an idea. So don’t be afraid to seek external partners that can offer specialised skills, fresh perspectives and the latest technology you don’t have access to in-house.
Build a user research lab
No need for fancy gadgets or a huge budget. Apply the growth-hacking mindset and create an MVP research lab open to anyone in your company. Teams can use the space to conduct basic user research with customers and start gathering data to inform their decisions.
Change the pace
Put a stop to year-long projects in favour of rapid progress. Ask your teams to present one-month plans with bite-sized deliverables. Focus teams on asking the right questions and developing experiments that provide answers.
Growth hacking isn’t just for the startups that popularised it; it’s for established organisations seeking to compete and thrive. But to use it successfully corporations must find a way to embrace the principles of empowering teams, leveraging data and being unafraid to fail.
If you can achieve this, you’ll unlock new avenues of innovation, drive sustainable growth and position your company at the forefront of your industry.
Daniel Saunders is chief executive at global innovation specialist L Marks