An effective long-term marketing strategy should be built on a foundation that supports sustainable growth. While there are many growth hacking tactics that can be used to jump start growth, many do not provide growth for the long-term. In this article, we'll explore optimization techniques you can use to generate sustainable growth.
Eric Ries, author of "The Lean Startup," talks about building an "Engine of Growth." He refers to it as the mechanism start-ups use to achieve sustainable growth. This excludes all one-time activities that generate a surge of customers but have no long-term impact. These types of tactics can be used to jump start growth, but cannot be used as a model for sustained growth.
Ries points out that that sustainable growth is characterized by one simple rule: "New customers come from the actions of past customers."
Here are 4 primary ways to drive sustainable growth:
- Word of mouth - A natural occurrence that happens as the result of the enthusiasm of satisfied customers.
- Side effect of usage - The desire to use a product or service, sparked by seeing others successfully using it first.
- Funded marketing & advertising - Marketing & advertising that is funded by revenue generated from service or product sales. Not outside sources such as investment capital.
- Repeat purchase or use - Products or services that are designed to be purchased repeatedly.
Whether you're in a start-up or have an established business, it's essential that you are focused on building a "growth engine." There are many areas in your business that can be optimized to help you build sustainable growth around these four basic drivers. Here's a list of 10 optimization techniques that I find extremely valuable to build your foundation.
10 OPTIMIZATION TECHNIQUES FOR SUSTAINABLE GROWTH
1. STRATEGY BEFORE TACTICS
Lead first with your philosophy, your goals and then with a well-thought-out strategy to achieve them. Even if you're a start-up, you'll want to have a solid framework before setting out to grow your business. Check out my Trello goal setting template. This can be used to help you set your personal and business goals.
“BY FAILING TO PREPARE, YOU ARE PREPARING TO FAIL.” - BENJAMIN FRANKLIN
2. PRIORITIZE AND EAT THAT FROG
With your goals in place, you'll need to create a list of action items that will need to be completed to help you reach your goals. In many cases, you'll have quite a few action items that will need attention, so prioritizing them by level of importance is key. I'm a huge fan of Brian Tracy's ABCDE method which you can learn by watching the video below. Brian goes over what he calls the method of "Eat That Frog," which is the process of tackling your biggest, most important task first.
3. CREATE A "STOP DOING" LIST
Remember the old phrase "Less is More." I believe there is a ton of truth to that statement. As business owner or team leader tasked with building sustainable growth, it's easy to get caught up in the daily tasks of "working in your business" instead of "working on your business." The goal should be to figure out how to do more with less, optimize your time and always make time to work on improving your business.
"TIME IS OUR MOST VALUABLE ASSET, YET WE TEND TO WASTE IT, KILL IT AND SPEND IT RATHER THAN INVEST IT." — JIM ROHN
So, before you start adding more items to your "To Do List," I recommend creating a "Stop Doing List." Chris Ducker, in his book "Virtual Freedom," provides a great exercise called the "Three Lists To Freedom." It will help you create a solid "Stop Doing List" and it works like this:
1. List all of the tasks you don't like doing.
2. List all of the things you struggle with.
3. List all of the things you're doing every single day that you shouldn't be doing. (This is the most important list to create.)
Once you've created your "Three Lists To Freedom" you can start to make decisions about whether you should continue to do these things, delegate or hire someone who can do them more efficiently or stop doing them all together.
4. BUILD A REPEATABLE AND SCALABLE PROCESS
Providing a "custom solution" can be a great way to build your business. However, it's best to figure out a way to make your custom solutions tailored to a specific market to make them repeatable and scalable.
“REPETITION IS THE MOTHER OF LEARNING, THE FATHER OF ACTION, WHICH MAKES IT THE ARCHITECT OF ACCOMPLISHMENT.” - ZIG ZIGLAR
Companies that build a repeatable and scalable processes can optimize their time and deliver a better product or service, because there are no longer any unknown inefficiencies. Many products and services can be offered at a lower cost, due to the efficiency of the process. Building a repeatable and scalable process can be used to help support the "Repeat purchase or use" method of sustainable growth.
5. FOCUS ON HELPING RATHER THAN SELLING - ZMOT
Consumers are no longer at the mercy of being sold to. Instead, internet technology has empowered consumers to do their own research and make their own purchasing decisions. They will most likely choose the company that is the best at showing how they provide the most value for the time and money. This is also known as the Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT). This shift in consumer behavior has fundamentally changed the way companies should handle their sales process. The focus should now be on helping consumers by being great listeners, communicators and teachers.
At INBOUND 2014, Marcus Sheridan revealed the greatest content strategy, which is "They Ask, You Answer!" What I love about the strategy is the simplicity. The key is to be obsessive about capturing your customers' and prospects' questions.
YOU CAN EITHER ADDRESS THE QUESTIONS OF YOUR PROSPECTS OR NOT, BUT KNOW THIS: SOMEONE WILL - MARCUS SHERIDAN
This is a great optimization technique you can use to support the "Word of Mouth" model for sustainable growth — not to mention the amount of time savings that can be achieved by consistently directing your clients and customers to your educational content.
6. BUILD & OWN MARKETING ASSETS
Unlike traditional advertising methods such as radio, TV, print and billboard advertising, where you rent space for a period of time, your website, blog and content offers can be tremendous at providing sustainable growth. The best part about creating this type of content is that once you build it, it never goes away. Instead, it becomes an asset to your company that can be used to generate growth consistently throughout time.
This is a great optimization technique that works well for the "Funded marketing and advertising" method of sustainable growth. While it may still be a profitable investment to do paid advertising, in many cases you can generate more qualified leads by building marketing assets first.
7. RE-INVEST IN YOUR PRODUCTS, SERVICES AND CUSTOMERS
Another great optimization technique for consistent growth is to re-invest back into your products, services and customers. Re-investing in these areas helps support the "word of mouth" and "funded marketing and advertising" models of sustained growth. Focusing on delighting your customers is the the best way to get them creating "buzz" about your brand.
The internet has also empowered marketers to have the ability to listen to conversations happening on social networks and respond to them in real-time. Being responsive is a great way to re-invest back in your customer service. The more you're able to learn about your customers, the easier it is to delight them. Sometimes, it's as simple as just reaching out to them to make sure they are completely satisfied.
8. DELIVER THE OPTIMAL USER EXPERIENCE
Odds are, you may be thinking about figuring out new ways to generate more traffic to your website. You may feel that if more people just saw what you have to offer, they'd buy your products or services. This is most often a false feeling. The reality is, you must get people to your website that are actually interested in what it is that you have to offer. While I'm not discounting the importance of Search Engine Optimization (SEO), it's better to optimize for the overall user experience first. Check out "There Is More To Call To Action Phrases Than You Think" for some additional inspiration.
This process really starts offline first. Make sure your optimizing the customer experience to the best of your ability. Then conduct research to find out what's really important to your buyers. Then, develop your website to deliver the best user experience first, meaning that you're making it easy for your prospect to find the information they are looking for. If you've done well at optimizing the user experience and have followed the best practices of on-page SEO techniques, it's likely you'll perform well in search.
9. ELIMINATE UNCERTAINTY
When you're faced with challenges or something fails, it's best to eliminate uncertainty as to why it happened. Eric Reis, in "The Lean Startup," explains his brilliant process of the "5 Whys" technique, which provides a process to find the root cause of the problem. While following this process is a great to way to improve your business in general, it can greatly impact the "word of mouth" and "side effect of usage" methods of sustainable growth.
10. BUILD, MEASURE AND LEARN
To consistently improve your sustainable growth models, focus on discovering new ways to improve your products, services and on delighting your customers. Another lesson from "The Lean Startup" that Eric Reis recommends is to start by setting a specific set of hypotheses, with a goal of proving or disproving them as quickly as possible. One of the most important hypotheses always includes these questions: What will the customer care about? How will they define the quality of our products and services?
While this activity is designed for start-ups, I believe that established businesses can benefit from using these lean methodologies as well.
THE FUNDAMENTAL ACTIVITY OF A START-UP IS TO TURN IDEAS INTO PRODUCTS, MEASURE HOW CUSTOMERS RESPOND AND THEN LEARN WHETHER TO PIVOT OR PERSEVERE. ALL SUCCESSFUL START-UP PROCESSES SHOULD BE GEARED TO ACCELERATE THAT FEEDBACK LOOP. - ERIC REIS
There are many optimization techniques that can be used to support sustained growth in your organization. It takes proper planning, organization, management and discipline to stay focused on activities that add value. It's knowing that you're working on the right things.
What are some of the optimization techniques you've found to drive sustainable growth for your business? Please share them with us in the comments section below.