In a high-level meeting between the CEO of a fast-food chain and a series of PR executives, the question was asked of how to fight a wave of animal welfare criticisms. Many suggested placing articles in papers or a strong advertising campaign. However, according to Robert Phillips in ‘Trust Me, PR is dead’, someone simply suggested treating the animals better.
In the age of online activism, public accountability and data-driven stories, this rings true now more than ever. It’s not what you say, it's what you do that people care about. The ability of PR to control a story has long lost the battle to the likes of Twitter, as recent Pepsi, United Airlines and Sean Spicer stories show. Even when not in crisis, several now-billion-dollar companies shunned PR in favour of growing organically online.
And the same is true for innovation. It doesn't matter what you say about your product, or the advertising behind it, what matters is what it does. If you have the right product, you can rip up the PR rule book and it will sell itself.
When launching a new product or service, it's likely the marketing budget will be zero. The focus will, or should be, on developing the right product, rather than the right message. So how do you take that budget of zero and turn it in to a positive?
In 'Growth Hacker Marketing: A Primer on the Future of PR, Marketing and Advertising', Ryan Holiday describes it as such:
"A growth hacker is someone who has thrown out the playbook of traditional marketing and replaced it with only what is testable, trackable and scalable. Their tools are the emails, pay-per-click ads, blogs and platform APIs instead of commercials, publicity and money. While their marketing brethren chase vague notions like "branding" and "mind share," growth hackers relentlessly pursue users and growth - and when they do it right those users beget more users, who beget more users."
Marketers are great at understanding traditional and established products. There is a clear message to get behind and pursue. However, growth hacking is a fantastic way to launch a disruptive, innovative product. Ensuring your product grows quickly and organically ensures market dominance and will leave traditional providers struggling to adapt. A product that grows slowly with a message won't have the same impact as one that explodes and lets its disruption speak for itself.
Rely on your customers
While it may feel like growth hacking isn't for you, or doesn't work, just look at the companies now thriving having initially shunned traditional marketing. Airbnb, Spotify, Uber, Evernote, Deliveroo, Dropbox and Slack, to name just a few, all went from no users to millions in the space of a few years. All of these became industry leaders because their disruptive product was shared by customers.
Airbnb didn't start as Airbnb, but rather AirBedandBreakfast.com, offering short-term living spaces, breakfast and networking opportunities. Thanks to customer feedback this was refined into what 150,000,000+ people have used to date.
Similarly, the likes of Evernote, Uber and Slack all focused on the building blocks of their products, with the help of customer feedback, and grew. Soon, their customers were marketing their product for them because it had disrupted the market and was the best available.
Why pay a marketer to promote your company when your clients will do it for you?
Growth hacking 101
Having launched a disruptive product or service, you need to get it noticed. Business is now digital, there is no way around this, but rather than fearing online space, embrace it.
The best products all have fast and simple websites. Studies show that a one second delay in page response can result in a seven per cent reduction in conversion. It's essential to keep your web pages clean and fast to keep people engaged. You might have the best product in the world, but if no one can load the web page, it won't go far.
Once engaged, the data you collect can go a long way. For instance, an email address can be utilised to drip feed new content or information, while clever programmes allow you to connect to that address on Twitter. All of the above help you build a relationship with the client which can be exploited for feedback or to further spread the product.
More than this, Twitter can be a fantastic platform for discovering new clients - through hashtags, conversations or lists - and striking up conversations with relevant sources by tagging them in posts. This can be time-consuming but securing a retweet from just five people with 1,000 followers can go a long way.
Finally, make information on the product easily shareable. A clean and slick information page can draw in new users, while a share button - embedded on the page or email - means it can reach a vast network of people; nothing puts trust in a new product like a recommendation from friends.