How To Engineer Virality For Your Startup

Growth-hacking is arguably the most important subfield of marketing for a modern tech startup. One of the reasons for this is that it offers a marketing framework that can drive a high return on investment with little resources, which is vital for early-stage startups because of their comparatively limited access to resources.

Virality is in the very essence of growth hacking. In order to achieve good results with little resources, you cannot afford to pay for big platforms. Instead, you need to rely on the people receiving your message to share it.

While many different growth-hacking tactics can help you achieve virality, the underlying principles are what is important.

1. Think Of Development And Promotion As One

In most traditional corporations, the division of labor and the traditional corporate structure put a strong border between activities like product design, development, and marketing. This, however, could be damaging to small startups. Pouring some of your limited resources into a product not worth selling (or in more technical terms promoting before product-market fit) is a great example of premature scaling, which is one of the main reasons for startup failure.

This is where growth hacking comes in. Since it doesn’t have its roots in traditional 20th-century marketing, it doesn’t look at startup marketing as something that exists in isolation. Rather, it considers the process of building and popularizing a product as one whole, and to achieve its goals it uses the digital tools of the modern age.

One of the strengths of a startup compared to a corporation is that it is flexible. It is easy to tweak a product when its level of complexity is still low.

So, if the thing you built is hard to sell, then from a growth-hacking perspective the solution isn’t necessarily to sell it harder or in a different way. Instead, it might be worthwhile to go back to product development mode and to make sure that what you are selling is something that solves a real problem that a real group of people has.

Once you have that (i.e. you have product-market fit), then selling your product to these people should feel natural and easy.

Building, selling, gathering feedback, iterating, and selling again becomes a repetitive cycle that leads to a better product and higher growth.

2. Build Something Worth Spreading

Even if a product is good, this doesn’t necessarily mean that people would be willing to use up their social capital to spread it.

To achieve this effect, you usually need to provide users with an additional incentive to do so.

One of the greatest examples of this is Dropbox’s referral program – users received additional storage space for referring friends. With the help of this program, Dropbox grew 3900%.

There are other ways to achieve the same effect, however. For example, if you are running a closed beta, then giving people limited invites that they can send to their friends gives them an additional incentive, as it creates scarcity and increases the perceived value of each invite.

Whatever the tactic used, the incentive for spreading should be built into the product (or piece of content). If your K-factor is more than 1 (i.e. on average each customer recommends the product to more than one other person), then your growth rates would quickly start to compound.

3. Focus on Conversion and Retention, not Attention

Last but not least, if you are searching for virality, your product needs to be able to not only incentivize but also capture and benefit from an ever-increasing popularity.

A good growth hacker doesn’t get fooled by vanity metrics like shares and website visits. Those things are great, but they are superficial. At the end of the day, the attention you are able to generate matters only if it leads to real business growth.

In summary, a growth-hacking mindset is a necessary one for a startup founder to have, because it is very important for both product development and marketing.

Instead of focusing on building a brand, focus on attracting and measurably retaining customers.

Instead of using an artistic approach with wide brushes, use a scientific one with precise tools and measurable results. Continuously build a great product, reach your audience, and incentivize your customers to stick around and spread the message.

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