No growth hacks. No shortcuts.

On of these bars built their brand for years. Three are actively building theirs. None got if for free.

On of these bars built their brand for years. Three are actively building theirs. None got if for free.

I recently went to a networking event at an incubator in Seattle (you would have seen me uncomfortably nursing a beer and desperately looking for someone I knew) and the phrase “Growth Hack” came up about a thousand times. You can scan the LinkedIn feed and see it everywhere.

But the phrase Growth Hack and the idea behind it is 100% incongruent with my experience. At best it celebrates all the wrong factors that make a brand successful. At worst it sends a whole legion of marketers and investors chasing false expectations. But we love a unicorn, don’t we?

Having the privilege of working with clients across many industries I get to experience first-hand the work CEOs, entrepreneurs and innovators undertake to grow their brand first hand. Common denominators I see are dogged determination, unwavering faith, creative problem-solving, and endless hours of hard work.

Here are three things you are likely to be promised when opening a growth hack article:

You can create explosive, immediate sales by skipping traditional retail, and simply building your business on digital channels!

Be careful here. If we are talking about bypassing Target and going straight to Amazon, great. That’s a focused channel strategy, not a hack. But guess what? You are still selling your brand in a retail channel. That means you have to create demand, pay the margin and overhead (with Amazon it is around 30-40% after all the allowances, fees and penalties), you have to invest in their wrap-around marketing programs to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars if you really want to grow it, and you have to manage fulfillment. It is incredibly easy to underestimate the work and investment that goes into building and managing the Amazon channel. Yesterday I was talking to my former client and founder of Neoh Bars(shown in the picture on the right). They are spending energy, time and money to troubleshoot, manage and grow their Amazon business. No hacks here.

You can create a huge, loyal customer following of hundreds of thousands of customers at a really low acquisition cost!

Many new brands choose to build a marketing platform using click-bait reddit-type content served through platforms like Outbrain or even the Google Display ad network. Have you noticed the bait and switch content blocks at the bottom of the news article you read on your phone? How many of these advertorials did you click on before you stopped forever? Getting clicks is easy. Do the work to understand your target customer, and what’s meaningful to them. Then build a content plan that deepens your relationship. That’s hard work, not a hack. If an agency tries to get you to invest in a retainer or campaign based on exposure or clicks, slowly back out of the room.

You can create a meaningful brand by skipping over all the tired, old brand rules and following the data!

A half truth. There’s a Bellevue-based brand called NutPods that I follow. They are an almond based milk that has created a huge loyal following by correctly assessing and gaining early entry into the plant-based diet trend (by following the data). Then they gained endorsement from Whole30, providing them with a built-in tribe of customers who were looking for good food options. They all drank coffee but there weren't any diet-approved creamers. Guess what? This was not a hack or a short-cut. They created an on-point product that mapped to a meaningful trend, then found a tribe whose consumption habits aligned with the product. NutPods did not just flip the production switch and start counting the money. I guarantee it.

Todd Olsengrowth hacks