In Conversation with… Mohamed El Hannaoui, Growth Marketer

October 14, 2019

I’m sure you’ll agree with me when I say that marketing is a fickle mistress. In 2016, a whopping ​76% of marketers​ agreed that the industry has changed more in the past two years than it did over the previous 50. And that was before innovative tech such as AI had even begun to make a sincere impact.

Part of what has marked the last few years in the industry, however, is the rise of small startups – particularly those making waves in tech – disrupting the industry at a startling pace, with experimental practices and growth marketing causing us to rethink what marketing is all about.

The impact smaller companies can make on the industry is something experienced Growth Marketer, Mohamed El Hannaoui, knows an awful lot about. I spoke with him about how the industry has changed in the last 10 years, what role AI will play in disrupting the next decade – and how startups can optimise their marketing efforts to challenge the big players in this new landscape where everything is up for grabs. 

“There has been an evolution of content consumption, changing the content people read and the media we consume drastically”

Caitlin: What are the most significant factors that have changed digital marketing over the last 10 years? 

Mohamed: I see four trends that have had a huge impact on the industry in the last decade:

  1. Personalised data-driven marketing that leverages big data and user-generated content to create unique experiences for individuals
  2. Online behavioural targeting and customer segmentation: Google and Facebook have big AI initiatives and the tools that marketers use today provide unbelievable amounts of information
  3. Marketing has become less aggressive, led by the growth of inbound marketing and social selling 
  4. There has been an evolution of content consumption, changing the content people read and the media we consume drastically


Caitlin: So, what factors do you expect will disrupt the next decade in marketing?

Mohamed: Marketing practitioners are aware that there will be increasing complexity in consumer purchasing decisions. Consumers use almost all online channels to make shopping decisions – from YouTube and Facebook to TikTok – and it’s becoming increasingly harder to both raise awareness and convince people to buy certain products using the traditional approaches. 

This is exactly where AI comes into play. There is no doubt that AI is shaping the future of content marketing and personalisation, and marketing automation, AI, machine learning and data science are a few of the leading factors which will determine the course of the industry over the next decade or so.

“It’s becoming increasingly harder to both raise awareness and convince people to buy certain products using the traditional approaches.”

Caitlin: With automation on the rise in marketing, how do you predict AI will change marketing over the next few years? 

Mohamed: AI is paving the way for next-generation marketing. The fast-growing capabilities of artificial intelligence will help marketers to identify hidden customer behaviour patterns that will be beneficial to generating personalised content experiences. 

Undoubtedly, AI has the potential to revolutionise the way we create personalised campaigns to reach potential customers in all stages of the marketing funnel.

Caitlin: How do marketing teams at startups work differently to more established businesses? 

Mohamed: Corporate marketing has been around for a long time and works extremely well for well-established companies. But obviously large companies have different agendas and budgets to startups when it comes to marketing.

In the early days at a startup, the marketing priority of founders is to make a profit and gain traction. However, they usually can’t afford to use the same tactics as corporate marketing teams, so they must come up with unconventional ways to survive and cut through the noise.

Marketing teams at startups tend to embrace the growth marketing mindset which involves focusing all efforts on achieving the “one metric that matters” (or OMTM). For example, this OMTM might be: number of leads, visit-to-subscription or customer lifetime value (LTV). To improve OMTM they often run multiple experiments simultaneously, trying to get the fast answers they need to decide on which channels, offers and story narrative they will be using. 


Caitlin: And what are the most common challenges marketing teams at startups face when trying to achieve that OMTM?

Mohamed: There’s a lot of challenges, but the ones I encounter the most are:

  1. Micromanagement
  2. Limited marketing budget
  3. Founders simply not trusting the marketing team and their judgment
  4. Finding and hiring the right talents
  5. Building an audience through consistent quality content
  6. Identifying the most profitable target market

Caitlin: What tips would you give a marketing team at a startup to help them unlock repeatable growth?

Mohamed: I see a lot of marketing teams that become obsessed with tactics, tools and tips, but unfortunately there are a lot of myths and misunderstandings around what growth hacking is, so they can often be working with the wrong guidance. 

“Marketing teams in the startup space need to know their customers intimately.”

My advice for marketing teams in the startup space is that they need to know their customers intimately. When it comes to acquiring new customers, the most basic starting point is to build the right marketing foundations and avoid what’s called ‘random acts of marketing’: tactics that are not aligned to a startup audience or business goals. 

Thanks to the advancement of technology, it’s quite easy to reach potential customers, but connecting and building trust has never been harder. Nothing else matters if you don’t know your customer’s deepest pains and problems. 


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