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Growth hacking lessons from the Grinch?

Well, it’s true the term growth hacking wasn’t even around when the Grinch first careened down Mount Crumpit in 1966. The original version  version of the Grinch may be old school, but he has something to teach modern marketers about growth.

This time of year, there are dozens of holiday specials to watch, but few have obtained the classic status of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. The playful verse, brilliant music and quirky animation are as compelling today as they were more than a half-century ago.

The Grinch was was highly original even by lofty Suessian standards. He is perhaps the greatest holiday villain since Ebenezer Scrooge. The Grinch was a favorite of Theodore “Dr. Seuss” Geisel, who drew deeply on his own personality in creating the character. How is the Grinch like a growth hacker?

The grinch guide to growth hacking“A growth hacker is a person whose true north is growth. Everything they do is scrutinized by its potential impact on scalable growth.”  Sean Ellis

Growth hackers have their own true north, and so does the Grinch. Growth hacking involves using creative, innovative, and low-cost strategies to achieve sustainable revenue and growth, according to HubSpot. In this regard, the Grinch certainly has important lessons for growth hackers and digital marketers. Within a growth-hacking framework, here’s how the Grinch stacks up: 

He listens to his audience, and tries to understand their motivation. The Whos seem to be extremely happy, while he sulks in his frigid cave just north of Whoville. In the midst of his suffering , he formulates a hypothesis to test:

The Whos like Christmas a lot. The timely theft of all their Swag will make them miserable and all cry boo-hoo, which in turn will make the Grinch happier.

  • All that Christmas stuff wasn’t going to steal itself. He formulates a plan to test his hypothesis and hacks together a plan to execute on an accelerated timeline. Since his concept was a seasonal play, he knew there was little time to analyze market trends, financing and regulatory issues. He went straight to work, not even stopping to scrawl his idea on the back of a proverbial napkin.
  •  The Grinch bootstraps, making use of materials and staff he had on hand. No reindeer? No problem, he engineers his own solution. Choosing not to pursue seed money afforded him a degree of freedom he would not have had otherwise. Plus, going the time spent preparing for a pitch cycle or even a Kickstarter campaign means he would have missed a tight launch window and ended up among the many startups that never actually start up.
  • Has a wonderful, awful idea which didn’t scale. He knew that sometimes during the traction phase, growth marketers must take extraordinary actions to onboard their first customers. Some argue that the Grinch could have boosted productivity by hiring seasonal employees, but he managed to steal all the Who’s stuff using only existing staff and resources. Breaking and entering may not be a viable long-term strategy, but it opened up several professional opportunities for the Grinch in publishing, feature films and Christmas merchandise.
  • Builds trust. Although initially the Grinch’s head wasn’t screwed on just right, and his business model was a criminal enterprise, he was able to turn things around. At first, he is reviled as a monster not be touched with a thirty-nine-and -a-half-foot pole. He totally alienates the no-more-than-two cohort by lying to Cindy Lou Who regarding a customer support issue. Yet somehow, by the end of the show, he has mastered the know > like > trust > transact cycle. It’s not known whether the Grinch documents his results, but he does attend a team-building dinner, and even carves the roast beast. This is a far better outcome than spending Christmas in Whoville jail with a cellmate named “Max the Ax-Murdering Zax.”
  • Like a true growth hacker, the Grinch pivots his thinking when faced with new evidence. Say what you will about the Grinch, he listened carefully to his audience. Upon hearing the Who’s Christmas morning chorus, he is humbled and inspired to change his ways. In the process, he posts some jaw-dropping KPIs. His tiny heart grows three sizes, and he musters the strength of 10 Grinches plus two – a hefty 1,100% gain. That is growth hacking, right there. These Uber-numbers could serve as inspiration for stalled startups who can’t bear to leave their original concept behind to pursue a more promising business model.
  • Consistently delivers. Most of all, the Grinch is exemplary in showing commitment and consistency. Marketers justifiably have mad respect for Robert Cialdini, who illustrates the power of consistency in his Six Principals of Persuasion. People like to see consistency in their own behavior as well as others, and the Grinch nails it. He never just chills in his cave watching Bill Murray in Scrooged or blows off the campaign to spend the winter in Boca Raton. Like the Grinch, growth hackers need to be resourceful and consistently deliver whatever is needed for traction.

Though some would say the Grinch’s experiment actually failed, I think the learnings he gains and growth-hacking capabilities he builds belong in the win column. I can’t imagine getting tired of watching the Grinch have his annual epiphany. And it doesn’t hurt to have that reminder that maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.