Why Most Of The Content You Read About Growth Is Wrong

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As growth continues to become a popular subject, more content on the topic is being published.  I think this is great.  The more quality content out there on the subject, the better for the startup community.   But as I read a lot of this content and watch others react to it I cringe on the inside because I know many of the readers are going to start chasing down incorrect paths.  Let me explain...

An Example:  The Minimal Homepage
I’m not going to call anyone specific out, but a good example is the multiple posts out there that say minimal home pages (often citing Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox as examples) always convert better.  Some even go as far to say that you are being lazy if you can’t find a minimal home page that converts better.  

Some of these posts contain some good points, but there is one problem. The core message that a minimal homepage is always the best converting method is just plain wrong.  

Here is one good counter example from some of the best CRO people out there:  Crazy Egg Case Study.  I’ve also worked on numerous projects (both consumer and b2b) where after relentlessly testing minimal home pages, they never converted better than long form.  I’ve also worked on projects where we have seen the reverse. 

The problem extends beyond the advice around a minimal homepage.  A lot of the content I've seen promises proven tactics, rules, or the “right” way to do things.  But there is evidence showing how common prescribed tactics actually performed worse (much worse!) for certain companies. 

My Point:  Inspiration not Prescription
My point to calling this out?  Don’t take anything you read on growth (including my material) as prescription.  Always, and I mean always, view it from a lens of inspiration.    

Your audience, business model, product, customer decision process, and channels are all probably different.  Your business is different, plain and simple.  

There is no one “right” way to do things.  Building a growth machine requires a never ending process of experimentation to find what works for your business and your audience.  

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying content about different growth tactics is useless.  I think it is actually quite helpful.  I purposely pay attention to businesses that are very similar and different from mine to generate ideas.  But they are just that, ideas, not rules.  

The most important thing is how you process the advice you read about growth and customer acquisition.  

4 Steps To Make The Most Of What You Read
Here are five steps I go through to make the most of the posts that I read.    

1.   Understand The Context
The first step is to understand the context of the tactic that is being discussed.  To do this I try to answer the following questions about the business/product being written about:

   * Who was the target audience?
   * What was the business model?
   * What type of decision process do their customers have?
   * What was the channel?  
   * What assets did they already have that they leveraged?
   * What is the stage of the company (Traction, Transition, Growth)?  

This process is helps break the tactic down into it’s building blocks.  The outcome is typically the focus of most content, but the building blocks are what are often make it successful.  Breaking it down to the building blocks typically helps me generate even more ideas because a lot of times it is a specific piece of a tactic that I might apply versus the entire whole.  

2.  Compare

Based on the first step, compare how your business is different and how it is the same.  Identify the assumptions you are making of why the tactic might work for you as well.  Getting a feel for the probability of success (link) is important in prioritizing what you work on.  

3.  Align With Your Priorities

At all costs, avoid a knee jerk reaction.  It is easy to see something that works for someone else and think you need to do it immediately.  Most of the experiment ideas I get are thrown into the backlog.  They might be useful, but probably don’t pertain to the current focus.  

That being said, part of the magic of growth is recognizing the opportunities that might produce high ROI but have a short life span.  Windows open and close (especially in paid acquisition).  Sometimes you need to jump, but use these bullets wisely.  

4.  Test Against A Control

When you do implement, ALWAYS test against a control.  Do not accept something as “working” just because it worked for someone else.  Be brutally honest with the success/failure of your experiments.   It is the only way to learn what actually works for your business. 

Build A Growth Machine

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