All too often product teams and marketers find themselves anxious for growth, frantically searching for levers or hacks to jump start lagging adoption numbers.

Everyone is searching for tips and tricks that will unlock quick and easy growth - just try a Google search for "marketing hacks" or "growth hacks" and comb through the 81,400,000 results and you'll find a myriad of tips to drive massive, instantaneous growth. In a world where we all look for immediate satisfaction through vanity metrics in our daily lives - likes, retweets, story views - it's no surprise the latest marketing trend is growth hacking. In fact, the term "growth hacking" was coined in 2010, closely coinciding with the proliferation of Facebook and other social media platforms that sit in our pockets, craving our attention.

To be clear, growth hacking is not a trend that will go away anytime soon. We'll continue to see more articles, podcasts, social media posts, and updated LinkedIn profiles mentioning these terms. While I do see merit in (and have personally experienced the benefit of) growth tactics such as A/B testing and experimenting to drive traffic, sign ups, or sales; these are short-term techniques that should never come at the expense of foundational product marketing work. Quickly attained, vanity growth is not sustainable. A tree doesn't grow branches without first forming a trunk (I made this phrase up but it feels right). So where do you start?

Building your foundation

I recently spoke with a handful of startup founders who were, for the first-time, dipping their toes into marketing in the hopes of driving adoption and revenue for their new businesses. My advice was likely frustrating to hear. There is pre-work to do. Before you activate outbound marketing channels, build content, or enable sales teams, you MUST have a thorough understanding of your customers and their pain points. Here are four steps to get started:

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  1. Conduct market research. Sure, if you have budget to hire a third-party for market research then go for it. However, the internet is powerful. You'll be surprised at just how much data and information is freely available on a variety of market segments. Understand the total and addressable size of your market segment, competitive companies and products, and size your opportunity.
  2. Conduct voice of customer (VOC) research. If you are launching a new product and already have customers then you likely have email addresses and phone numbers - use them. If you are a new business and without customers, you'll have to do some outreach via LinkedIn or send emails using free prospecting tools like Clearbit. Generate a list of questions that dig into their roles and responsibilities, goals and values, challenges, and buying behavior. You should use both qualitative (in-person or over the phone interviews) and quantitative (surveys, email responses) data to substantiate your hypotheses.
  3. Develop audience personas. Now you have data. Find similarities in responses and begin to develop groupings. What makes them different? What do they want or need? Use whiteboard sessions, stickies, and paper to tangibly build out your customer personas. Once complete, build slides or one-sheets to represent each persona. Finally, prioritize them. Which personas are the most important to grow your business? You won't be able to satisfy all.
  4. Create and test messaging. Now that you have identified your core audiences and have tangible personas created using quantitative and qualitative data, you can start to create messaging. Try developing language that speaks to your personas' aspirations, solves their pain points, or presents a problem that your product or service eliminates. Generate messaging variance and begin to test with your customers or intended audiences via surveys, emails, and interviews. If you have a website or have willing sales teams, try A/B testing so you can measure direct results. This process should never stop entirely, continue to test and iterate on messaging as you learn more about your customers.

Once you follow the above steps, you should feel comfortable and confident that you understand your customers and can begin launching marketing channels, and yes, testing growth techniques that you so anxiously have been wanting to try.

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