Shopify Inc. is one of the biggest growth stories in Canadian business right now.

Since entrepreneur Tobias Lutke launched the ecommerce platform startup in 2006, the company has achieved astonishing growth. It raised $131 million in an initial public offering last year. In its most recent quarterly earnings reported last month, revenue was 99 per cent higher than the same quarter a year earlier. Shopify is forecasting a 56 to 61 per cent jump in revenue during 2016.

In just a decade, Shopify has grown from five people working out of an Ottawa coffee shop to over 500 employees in four offices across Canada. There are now 243,00 online stores that have rung up sales worth $14 billion, all using Shopify’s platform and apps.

With numbers like that, Shopify is more than qualified to answer the question that keeps every Canadian business awake at night: what’s the secret to growing your own company as quickly as today’s most successful startups?

Shopify's Tucker Schreiber.
Shopify’s Tucker Schreiber.

Marketing is a huge part of the answer, of course. But cracking the code of high-growth marketing needn’t remain a secret. At the DX3 digital marketing, advertising and retail conference in Toronto, Shopify’s Tucker Schreiber willingly shared some of the company’s own marketing tips.

Joining him on Thursday was Jeff Goldenberg, who is (fittingly) head of growth at Borrowell, a peer-to-peer loan site based in Toronto that matches borrowers with lenders.

Here are their top marketing hacks to supersize growth at your business, whatever its size or shape.

1) Experiment

“Try out stuff you’ve never done before because you don’t know where all your customers are going to come from,” said Goldenberg, co-author of The Growth Hacker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Schreiber, who is a content marketer at Shopify, recalled how Hotmail’s co-founders asked investors for money to promote the new email service on billboards (this was back in 1996). Told billboards were too expensive, they turned to something that had never been tried before: adding a tagline at the bottom of every Hotmail email.

They originally considered the tagline ‘P.S.: I love you. Get your free email at Hotmail.’ Although they dropped the ‘P.S.: I love you’ part, they did use the rest of the phrase, embedding a link into it that automatically took users to Hotmail’s free sign up page.

Within six months, Hotmail grew from 3,000 sign ups per day to a total user base of 1 million. By the end of 1997 it had 12 million of the world’s 70 million email users.

2) Look for leverage

The Hotmail tagline is a great example of leverage. As Goldenberg described it, leverage occurs when something generates more money for your business than you put into it. It cost Hotmail absolutely nothing to create the tagline, yet it increased their brand awareness and user base exponentially.

“Try out stuff you’ve never done before,” Borrowell’s Jeff Goldenberg told the DX3 audience in Toronto on Thursday.

Some key areas to search for this kind of low investment/high impact marketing leverage include content marketing, social media (both paid and earned) and lead generation activities, Goldenberg said.

3) Try content hacking

Shopify is a big fan of yet another form of leverage.

“It’s something few companies have realized and it’s something incredibly powerful. It’s content hacking,” said Schreiber.

Consider how your business can generate content that not only promotes your brand but entertains or informs your users. While blogs are a popular content hack, Schreiber said podcasts are another way Shopify reaches its user base for little or no cost.

Podcasts also allow Shopify to “be the entertainment rather than the interrupter,” Schreiber said. That’s because podcasts still engage Shopify’s audience but don’t interfere with their overall listening experience the way paid ads can interrupt TV viewing or online browsing.

Photos and videos are other great content hacks since they’re easily shareable on social media and carry huge awareness potential if they go viral, said Schreiber.
A screen grab of Shopify’s June 2015 blog post explaining how an ecommerce site built by some of its staff generated almost $1,000 in revenue within three days.

4) Be your own case study

Shopify posted a blog last June describing how some of its own team members used the company’s platform to build a new ecommerce business that generated $922.16 in revenue within three days. By becoming its own case study, Shopify proved its own ecommerce builder works in a real life context.

“It demonstrates a confidence in our product in a real world way that we can relate to our customers,” Schreiber said.

The blog post was so popular that Shopify launched a contest to give away the new e-business. The blog post and offshoot contest helped draw 25 million page views to Shopify’s blog site last year, an all-time record for the company. Since contestants had to sign up by entering some of their personal contact details, the contest was also an opportunity for Shopify to collect data for future marketing initiatives.

5) Repurpose long form content

Remember that white paper you put out last month? Schreiber suggests spinning that sort of longer form content into Youtube tutorials, webinars, ebooklets, etc. It reaches people in various channels, keeps costs low and saves time and resources.

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