In the marketing & growth world, “growth hacking” is probably the most misused (and overused) buzzword of all time.
Everyone is looking for that one hack, that one quick win that will solve all their growth problems.
The reality is, a magic button color or an exit pop-up simply isn’t going to cut it. Not to say that optimization is not important, but let’s just be real for a second. There are no silver bullets for real growth! Growth is a mindset – a process. It comes from winning a hundred tiny battles, not one “get-rich-quick” hack.
So if you’re reading this hoping to find a “one-size-fits-all” hack, this probably isn’t for you. However, If you’re actually trying to understand how you can build strategic, sustainable and compounding growth, you’re in the right place!
What is Growth?
“Growth” can refer to an increase in anything: users, leads, upgrades, revenue, profits. It’s the lifeblood of any business.
Growth is not something “owned” by marketers or the marketing team. It’s the responsibility of every single person in an organization: the engineers, the product team, designers and customer support.
It’s a hypothesis-driven experimental framework to everything that you do from developing new ideas, reaching a new audience or finding product-market fit.
What is Growth Hacking?
Since the terms “growth hacking” and “growth hacker” are often misused, it would be worthwhile to take the term back to its origins.
The term “growth hacker” was originally coined by Sean Ellis back in 2010. In his words, a growth hacker is “a person whose true north is growth. Everything they do is scrutinized by its potential impact on scalable growth.”.
So in other words, growth is the sun that a growth hacker revolves around. Every decision they make aims to influence growth, whether it’s by driving traffic or increasing revenue.
A famous example of a “growth hack” is Airbnb’s integration with Craigslist when they first launched, which helped them “hack” the need for users because they were able to leverage Craigslist’s existing userbase.
By allowing their users to post their listings directly to Craigslist, they were able to reach 10s of millions of users (and potential renters) on Craigslist.
New tactics started rising in popularity, from creating viral loops to employing simple onboarding and email marketing hacks that aim to increase conversions, registrations and/or upgrades. But these tactics quickly got saturated and their effectiveness dropped significantly.
However, the goal of growth hacking remains the same today: finding creative, innovative & low-cost strategies to achieve growth at every stage.
So Why are Partnerships the Ultimate Growth Hack?
I have to admit, I also fell victim to the lucrative promises of “growth hacking”. Desperately searching for that one hack that’ll solve all of our growth problems, I kept trying.
I tested tens, if not hundreds of “growth hacks”, from SEO hacks, getting reviews on G2Crowd & Capterra, exit popup hacks, gamification, pop-ups, viral loops and other tactics marketers raved about.
Some of these tactics did actually work temporarily but quickly proved not to be scalable and sustainable or simply weren’t good enough.
We didn’t have the customers, the revenue, the brand, or even the network. Nobody knew who we were. And that’s exactly why partnerships were perfect for us.
Not only did they help us get the exposure and generate the leads we needed in the short-term, but it also influenced our growth in so many different ways:
- Gave us the social proof we needed.
- Helped set us up as “thought-leaders” in our niche.
- Expanded our access to a broader audience (and a new audience).
- Provided more exposure, which as a result got us better partners.
Thankfully, I was able to successfully duplicate the same partnership tactics we used in a few different SaaS startups who all needed to grow very quickly but didn’t have the budget to do so.
The secret is the “compounding nature” of partnerships.
The “Partnership Compounding Cycle”
In the finance world, compounding is the ability of an asset to generate earnings, which are then reinvested in order to generate their own earnings. With compound interest, the longer you invest your money, the higher your earnings are going to be every year.
In the marketing world, we found that partnerships also have a “compound interest” nature, which is exactly what makes it the ultimate growth hack we’ve ever come across.
The compounding cycle of partnerships goes something like this:
- You partner up with Company X.
- This partnership gives you access to Company X’s audience.
- You nurture these leads and turn them into users.
- The exposure and association with Company X help build your brand’s credibility.
- The credibility you built helps you attract better partners.
So simply put, the more partnerships you do, the more exposure you’ll get, which in turn gets you more users and more social proof and as a result, you are able to partner up with better brands for better exposure and the cycle goes on and on.
To really understand this cycle, let’s look at a company that truly mastered partnerships to hack their growth at every stage!
Case Study: Supreme
Supreme is an American clothing brand established in New York City in 1994. It originally started as a niche skateboard shop and brand. However, today, Supreme is by far one of the most hyped clothing brands of all-time with most of their products reselling at 1200% over their retail price.
They can put their logo on literally anything and it’ll sell like crazy. Don’t take my word for it, here are a few examples:
The Supreme Nunchucks (reale value: $140)
Supreme Dog Bowls (resale value: $650)
The Supreme Brick? (resale value: $1000).
And the list of weird Supreme items goes on and on.
To understand how the compounding cycle of partnerships worked for them, let’s rewind to their first ever partnership.
In 1994, Supreme collaborated with the movie Taxi Driver, directed by Martin Scorsese. Supreme pushed out t-shirts which featured the main character Travis Bickle (played by Robert De Niro).
This partnership resulted in much more exposure than Supreme ever anticipated. They were able to leverage the movie’s success and audience to sell t-shirts all around New York City. This gave Supreme’s brand the initial push they needed. And it helped them see the value of partnerships as a growth engine.
More of Supreme’s Partnerships
In the same year, Supreme collaborated with Rammelzee, a NY-based graffiti artist who is very popular in skateboarding culture. Again, by leveraging Rammelzee’s reach, Supreme was able to get access to a broader audience, which gave their brand the authenticity they needed in their own niche.
The following year, Supreme collaborated with Dondi White. Dondi, like Rammelzee, is a graffiti artist they collaborated with to push merchandise that featured his art. The difference here, however, is that Dondi was popular in the hip-hop culture. This partnership gave Supreme access to a new audience and helped them establish themselves as leaders in streetwear and resulted in establishing Supreme’s “counter-culture” brand.
Now, we start seeing the compounding cycle in action. That year, due to Supreme’s rise in popularity, which was a result of their association with successful artists, they were able to secure a new partnership with a bigger brand in the streetwear world: Vans.
Supreme’s partnership with Vans in 1997 helped put their brand on the “mainstream” map. Now, only 3 years after Supreme was found, they are quickly becoming leaders in their industry, simply by leveraging the power of partnerships.
Supreme didn’t stop there. They decided to scale this process and used the momentum they got to collaborate with:
- Gucci (2000)
- Louis Vuitton (2000)
- Nike (2002)
- Timberland (2006)
- North Face (2007)
- Budweiser (2009)
Fast forward to 2019, Supreme is now a billion dollar company with one of the most loyal customers in the fashion industry.
They continue to leverage partnerships with hundreds of collaborations whether it’s collaborations with brands (Rolex, Playboy, etc…), artists (Prodigy, Kermit the Frog, etc…), celebrities (Kanye West, Drake, Lady Gaga, etc…) or even their own customers and brand evangelists.
Choosing the Right Partners
It’s important to note that there is no “one-size-fits-all” manual for partnerships. However, there are a few questions you can ask yourself to identify who the right partners are for you:
- Do they have a similar type of audience that my company has and wants to grow?
- Is there a competitive overlap? Are we offering the same services or targeting the same keywords?
- How many leads am I getting from this partnership? Is it large enough to be worth my time?
- Does this brand have a good reputation?
- Are the people you’re working with enjoyable to work with?
These questions will help you identify if a certain brand or company is the right partner for you. They are likely to be a great partner if they:
- Are an established brand in their industry
- Share a similar audience
- Are not a competitor
- Have a sizeable audience (email list, social following, etc…)
- Seem easy to work with and flexible
This means that you are likely going to settle for smaller partners if your startup is at an early stage, but as you keep this cycle going, your partners will quickly become the biggest names in the industry before you know it!
Types of Partnerships you can Leverage to Hack Your Growth
The type of partnership you choose to go with depends primarily on the product offering and audience you and your partner have. So in the case of Supreme, co-branded clothes and accessories made the most sense for them and their partners.
In our case, as a SaaS startup, we found that the three type of partnerships that made the most sense for us are:
A) Content Partnerships / Co-marketing
B) Link Building Partnerships
C) Strategic Partnerships
A) Content Partnerships / Co-marketing
Co-marketing partnerships are when two or more companies work together to promote a shared offer, usually a co-branded piece of content. This is very similar to Supreme’s “co-branding” partnerships.
There are various different types of co-marketing projects you could work on, but the most notable ones are:
- Video Series
- Newsletter Swaps
- Any other co-branded pieces of content
With these projects, the goal is to establish mutually-beneficial partnerships that would generate leads and add value to both (or all) parties involved. You would pool your resources and expertise to write a piece of content that resonates with both your audience and theirs.
We found that this type of partnership, in a lot of cases, is the beginning of a long-term relationship with that brand. The key here is to choose the right partner and to add as much value to them as possible.
By proving the value of partnerships to the partner and showing them your ability to deliver on a promise, they are more likely to expand that partnership in the future.
B) Link Building Partnerships
Link building is the process of getting external websites to link back to your website. Building backlinks to your pages have two main benefits:
- Helps drive referral traffic to your website
- Increases your site’s authority (which helps you rank higher on Google).
This process remains a vital factor in how search engines determine which pages rank on every keyword. As a result, the more backlinks you have from quality websites, the more likely you are to earn higher rankings on Google.
Link building partnerships could exist in a variety of ways, but we’ll look at the 3 main ways we built links to all of our blog posts and “boring pages” (homepage and other landing pages).
1) Link Exchanges (not recommended)
This is probably the most popular link building strategy used by online companies and blogs. It is a quick and simple collaboration where you add a link to your partner’s page in an existing blog post and in return, they would add a link to one of your pages on their website.
Even though this tactic still seems to work well, it does come with the risk of being penalized by Google if done too often.
2) Guest Posting
This is pretty much self-explanatory. You’d approach an authority blog in your industry and offer to write a guest post for their blog. Guest blogging gives you the opportunity to build your authority and your brand’s authority.
The blogs you write with are usually okay with you adding a link to your homepage in the author bio section. Also, in most cases, you are able to fit a few backlinks to relevant blog posts or your pages in the post itself.
[Note from Gail Gardner, Founder of GrowMap. Some sites do NOT permit you to link to your own content on your site. Others do not allow you to link to content you have written for any other site. Also, sites like this one use a plugin which nofollows links to your site in the bio.
They can allow a branded link in the description; however, DO NOT attempt to put anchor text, especially money phrase anchor text, as that link. See this link building guide if you are not familiar with anchor text.
Only link to your blog post(s) if they are HIGHLY relevant to the guest post you are writing. And be aware of Google’s warnings about guest blogging.]
3) The Guestographic Method
This is my favorite approach. This is a link building technique which uses infographics in a new way. With this method, you simply create an infographic on your site, find blogs that covered the same topic, share your infographic with them and see if they would be interested in either adding it to their blog post.
You can also offer to write a mini-blog post which will include that infographic. Because you are adding value to your partners by offering them something tangible vs. simply asking them for a link, you are more likely to find success using this method. Some sites do have a minimum number of words even for infographic posts, as this one does (700 words).
We also took this strategy to the next level by offering to summarize long blog posts on external websites with an infographic in exchange for a link to one of our blog posts. In that case, we ask them to provide us with an outline and we quickly create an infographic that has all their content on it.
Link building partnerships are usually quicker than co-marketing projects, but their effectiveness is also much smaller. However, the way we approach this partnership is exactly the same as any other type: it’s simply an opportunity to build a long-term relationship with these brands and expand our partnerships further.
C) Strategic Partnerships
This brings us to the last type of partnership that could help you hack your growth. This includes any type of mutually beneficial partnerships that you could create with other companies in your industry. The 3 main types of strategic partnerships we executed on successfully in the past are:
We mentioned Airbnb’s integration with Craigslist earlier in this post and how it helped them hack their growth. Integrations are a great way for companies to expand their product’s offerings and improve the customer experience significantly.
Affiliate marketing is a great way to partner up with the customers that love you or enjoy your product the most. By compensating them for their referrals, you are allowing users to become evangelists for your product.
Similarly, partnering up with influencers and brands in your industry and compensating them for their recommendations is a great way to drive more traffic & sales to your business.
3) Marketing/Publicity Stunts
This is probably the toughest type of partnership to execute on, but it’s a game-changer when done right. Collaborating with other brands with the goal to go viral or execute on a marketing stunt is often overlooked by most marketers, but not only does it reduce your potential cost by half, but it also doubles your chances of successfully executing on your viral campaign.
Of course, there are tens of other partnership types that could be right for your business. However, I only wanted to mention the ones we personally tested and successfully executed on in the past few years!
Growth is a step-by-step process. Achieving sustainable and scalable growth is the result of hundreds of tiny experiments, optimizations, and hacks.
Partnerships, however, can help you accelerate your growth by leveraging its powerful compounding nature. The more partnerships you do, the higher the effectiveness of each partnership is going to be to your business growth.
So whether you’re looking to build your user base, build your brand or simply increase your profits, partnerships is a sure way to influence every single factor around your business and skyrocket your growth!