A Growth Hacker’s Perspective on UX


Sjors Mahler

February 11, 2016

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Why Growth Hackers and UX Designers should always work together

Over the course of the last few months I’ve been working as a growth hacker for Usabilla. And working in a company that’s crazy about UX design has taught me a lot. Most of all, it’s taught me the importance of UX in a company’s growth strategy.

Wait. What’s Growth Hacking?

Since Sean Ellis coined the term ‘Growth Hacking’ in 2010, it has become increasingly popular within the startup scene. Growth Hackers are at the crossroads of engineering, data science and creative marketing. A growth hacker’s true north is growth and the path that leads there is data.

A Growth Hacker’s perspective on UX by Usabilla

I hear you thinking: “Isn’t that what marketers do?” True, but the difference is that growth hackers validate every important assumption with data, not just theory. Think of growth hackers as lean marketers. In a lean business, decisions are backed up by data. Growth hackers do the exact same. We check for growth opportunities, ideate, rank our ideas, then we test those ideas, analyze the findings and finally execute. Quick and effective, and always with one thing in mind: growth.

The second big difference between growth hackers and marketers is that growth hackers cover not just acquisitions, but every metric in what is called the pirate metrics (AARRR!). These metrics are:

A Growth Hacker’s perspective on UX by Usabilla
  • Acquisition: attract customers.

  • Activation: make sure customers believe in the product. Make sure they get that wow-effect.

  • Retention: make sure your customers come back.

  • Revenue: your customers are activated and coming back. Next step: make sure you get revenue.

  • Referral: are your customers happy? Next step for growth: make sure they refer your product to their friends.

What do UXers and Growth Hackers Have in Common?

You’re reading this blog, so I’ll take it you’re a UX designer. Or at least interested in UX design. If so, the pirate metrics probably were somewhat familiar: the wow-effect, making sure your customers are coming back and making customers happy..

Even though it might not be a UX designer’s primary goal, user experience drives growth. Therefore, there should be no conflicts between UX and Growth Hacking. UX designers may have very different job descriptions but we very often have the same characteristics.

We both love data.

Even though growth hackers are slightly more focused on quantitative data and UX designers often prefer qualitative data – neither of us can work without data. UXers need data to see how and why the product is actually being used. Growth hackers need data to know which acquisition channels are working best and whether customers are coming back after they’ve signed up. Data is key.

Creativity and innovation is our fuel.

UXers need creativity to create intuitive solutions to users’ problems. Growth hackers need to think out-of-the-box and come up with inventive growth ideas and variations to A/B test.

We both understand our audience.

Both UX designers and growth hackers need to have a deep understanding of their users. UX designers need to know who they’re designing for and growth hackers need to know who to attract.

We’re both knee-deep in the product.

To find alternatives to traditional marketing, growth hackers often turn the natural use of the product into growth levers. Those growth levers can be either API integrations with other products, viral loops, backlinks, incentives or insights from usage data. To use the product as an acquisition channel, it needs to be very good. So good, that people are willing to voluntarily share it with their friends. This is where the UX designer comes in.

But can UXers work together with growth hackers? Their goals are very different, they have different educational backgrounds, they are part of different departments and report to different people. Yes, we can absolutely work together. Even more so, I think every growth team should have at least one UX designer among them.

Why Growth Hackers Love Good UX

1. UX reduces friction

There’s a very important lesson here: good UX reduces friction. Growth hackers can get people to sign up but what’s the value of that if they’re not going to stay? Conversion funnels don’t have to be fast or minimal to have a low friction, they simply need to be user-friendly and based on user research.

2. UX creates natural virality

So, a better user experience means that a bigger percentage of website visitors convert into active users. UX however, also has an effect on a company’s Net Promoter Score (NPS): the average score on the question “How likely is it that you’ll recommend this product to a friend or colleague?” Why is this important? Growth hackers love when their users refer a product to their friends. This is called inherent virality. Good UX is crucial to the intuitive nature of a referral strategy. Without great UX, a strategy to get more people to refer a product will come across as a bolted-on feature/forced action. With great UX, referring or inviting a friend will feel like a natural next step.

3. UX research helps you understand your target audience better

Good UX research means that you know who your users are. This is crucial information for acquisition marketers and growth hackers because in the end it’s about finding the right audience, not just ‘anyone’. A good UX department will know who your ideal customer is. They will also know who will love your product and who won’t. Growth hackers should always talk with the UX department about these profiles as it’s one of the most important keys to growth.

4. Good UX is the key to great first impressions

Growth hackers get people to sign up, UX designers make sure those people come back. The first time a new user interacts with your product will be the most attention you’ll get from your customer ever. That’s where the UX department comes in. Make sure you nail that first date with your users.

Saying it is one thing..

Proving it is another! Even though the value of UX design is difficult to define and maybe even more difficult to measure, it’s not impossible. The Design Management Institute and Motiv Strategies monitored 15 publicly held companies over the span of 10 years. After 10 years, the results showed that design-led companies outperformed the S&P 500 by 218%.

IBM is one of the companies where UX design paid off. In the book Cost-Justifying Usability, IBM reports that their $20,700 investment in usability resulted in a $47,700 return – on the first day. They then invested $68,000 in usability on another system, which yielded a further $6,800,000 in the first year. Since then IBM has invested another $100 million in usability.

I know, we can’t all invest $100 million in UX, but even smaller investments in UX can result in growth. Xerox, the printer manufacturer proved this by simply adding more whitespace around a call to action. They saw a 20% improvement in engagement, 5% more products added to shopping carts and 33% more purchases. Companies like Cummins Allison and Diapers saw an even bigger increase in engagement and revenue. And all it took was some extra whitespace.

Bad UX = No Growth

UX designers could learn a lot from the data-driven mindset of growth hackers. Growth hackers on the other hand too often forget that in many cases, an awesome product is the key to growth. If your product isn’t user friendly and doesn’t solve the user’s pains, your users won’t come back. And hey, what’s the point of attracting lots of users when you can’t retain them?

How intertwined are the growth and UX teams in your company? And who is your growth team reporting to? Let me know!

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