On Marketing Technology
MTS: Tell us about your role at SweetIQ and how you got here. (What inspired you to co-found a martech company)
About 7 years ago, I connected with Mike, my co-founder, where he introduced me to this intriguing new world called location-based marketing. Back then, iPhones and Google Maps were starting to really take off, and we saw an emerging demand for solutions to help businesses leverage local marketing to attract hyper-local consumers. We decided to embark on a journey to help businesses redefine what local marketing meant for them, and use it as an effective tool for driving true and measurable conversions to their stores.
As co-founder and CEO, my focus is to set direction and ensure our plans are getting executed. I also dig quite deep into product and technology as it is the core of who we are as an organization. I am very proud of the world-class team we’ve built at SweetIQ that has allowed us to grow to 150 employees, expand our presence in the US through offices in LA & Chicago, and sign-up major brands representing well over 100,000 brick and mortar locations across North-America.
MTS: Data is Either the King—Or a King Maker. We have heard this a lot from the industry? How do you think Data should be treated in 2017 and beyond?
I disagree with that statement… Data is only meaningless if you can’t make sense of it. In fact, I often find the term “Big Data” being thrown around without much thinking behind its significance. Big Data literally just means a very large amount of information. But without systems to analyze it, machine learning to grasp it, and data scientists to decipher its meaning, it’s not very useful. At SweetIQ, we tend to think a lot more about insights rather than data. It’s quite “easy” today to acquire data, but a lot more difficult to generate relevant insights around it.
In 2017 and beyond, we are finally seeing the emergence of machine learning and AI to help organizations use “big data” to turn it into relevant and action-able insights. This trend will not only continue, but will accelerate towards getting us to the point that decision making will be based on real-time insights. Imagine a world where you can make marketing, staffing, inventory, and promotional decisions – and change them on the fly – based on access to real-time information on who is around you, what they are looking for, and how much they want to pay for it. This will change the retail landscape as we know it.
MTS: Given the massive proliferation of marketing technology, how do you see the martech market evolving over the next few years?
Consolidation. Too many players, all offering very minute nuances as product differentiators but claiming theirs is the best solution. Marketers are getting far more sophisticated in their needs and their requirements to have more centralized solutions that perform several functions. Very large players in the space will start acquiring best in breed technologies, and we will see the emergence of a limited number of mega-marketing-cloud solutions that offer an all-inclusive, all-encompassing product.
MTS: What do you see as the single most important technology trend or development that’s going to impact us?
Attribution and accessibility of real-time analytics and insights. Being able to make decisions based on very relevant and up-to-date information, and understanding the impact of these decisions via true attribution is probably the single most interesting development the marketing industry will have seen since the introduction of PPC.
MTS: What’s the biggest challenge that CMOs need to tackle to make marketing technology work?
Really invest in them. Many CMOs buy a piece of marketing technology and expect it to simply accomplish their objectives on its own. However, they neglect to put resources behind it and, though counter-intuitive, technology still needs to be run by humans who are thinking about the results that need to be driven. From there, they can adapt the technology based on the results driven.
MTS: What would be your advice to CMOs when they start planning to invest in Marketing Technologies?
Do your research, and do it really well. Our industry for example, like many others in marketing technology, has a small subset of contenders, but many many pretenders. It’s easy to use marketing jargon to “fake” being able to deliver the results the CMO is looking for. Reality is, most can’t. Just because they can integrate an API with Google or Yelp doesn’t mean they can manage listings properly, or optimize them to generate a positive result. If the provider doesn’t have the technical background, the team, the experience, and the funding, you’ll be in for a disappointing ride.
MTS: How do you see Programmatic affecting People-based marketing and location analytics ecosystem in next 3 years?
I’m a technologist by trade. After having spent most of my career building technology solutions that focus on automation, I can unequivocally tell you that we’re still far away from programmatic being 100% automated. These solutions still need a human element to provide oversight and the creative touch that a machine just can’t deliver…yet. We’re getting close though.
With the emergence of AI and machine learning, those lines are starting to blur, and it will be quite interesting to see how this starts shifting over the next 3 years. I doubt very much though that we’ll get to that 100% automation level in the next 3 years, or even 5. That being said, I think the days of human-only marketing are very quickly fading away, and agencies who don’t have their own software will die.
MTS: Do you think all marketing technologies, as a combination, can still solve challenges in data management, customer experience and attribution?
Every business is different. The digital marketing strategy for a Sports Shoe Retailer is very different than that for a Restaurant Chain. Marketing technology platforms provide key components that will solve for different needs within the digital marketing strategy. They can, however, get a CMO very far in decision making, turning insights into actions, and measuring true impact.
MTS: A lot of martech companies are preparing for an IPO. What are the factors that CEO considers before filing an IPO?
While public markets are bullish on tech IPOs, especially in 2017 after a disastrous IPO year in 2016, I personally have concerns around the level of interest investors have in marketing technology IPOs. Since marketing is a constantly evolving vocation with ever-changing trends, it makes it difficult to predict how future-proof these organizations are.
Platforms like Snapchat will perform well because they own the medium and the consumer. Martech companies have mass reliance on platforms like Snapchat to deliver results, and if these mediums decide to change the rules of the game (look at how often Google changes their algorithms), Martech providers must adapt which costs time and money and creates uncertainty.
MTS: What Start-ups are you watching/keen on right now?
I’m excited about companies pushing the envelope, trying to re-invent the traditional ways things are done. Companies like xAd (though not really a startup anymore) are doing some exciting things in attribution. SoCi is doing very cool things in social. ThirdShelf is trying to re-invent loyalty. There is a lot of interesting development going on.
MTS: What tools does your marketing stack consist of in 2017?
MTS: Could you tell us about a standout digital campaign? (Who was your target audience and how did you measure success)
Our marketing tends to be a lot more offline than online. During NRF this last January, we sponsored a bus tour of NYC with ~40 CMOs / VPs Marketing, taking them on a journey to visit the 5 most innovative retail stores in Manhattan. That event was extremely well received, we connected with these prospective leads in a very powerful way, and walked out of this event with 1000%+ return on our investment. As with everything we do, we try to be out of the box.
MTS: How do you prepare for an AI-centric world as a marketing leader?
We’re in a unique position in that (a) we have access to a tremendous amount of data that we have been mining for the last 7 years, and (b) we are headquartered in Montreal where there is a tremendous amount of AI brain power. We have invested considerably into machine learning over the last few years, and have a few exciting projects under development, all tied to my earlier points around creating accessibility to real-time insights, and powering actionable recommendations. I think all marketing leaders should start thinking about investing in AI or, at the very least, start learning the basics to prepare for when it becomes more mainstream and relevant – which is not very far away.
MTS: One word that best describes how you work.
Relentlessly. Companies die when they become complacent, or when they don’t have a real philosophy guiding the principals of their software and the problems they are trying to solve. We will not stop until we have solved location-based marketing and online-to-offline attribution.
MTS: What apps/software/tools you love using for your daily life?
I don’t know that I’m married to anything specifically. I change quite often as my focus changes over time. I’m mostly between email, Evernote, InVision for product iterations and design, JIRA to keep up with what’s going on with the team, Hubspot for everything sales and marketing, visible.vc for our dashboards, and Slack for communication.
MTS: What’s your smartest work related shortcut or productivity hack?
It’s a little boring, but very effective: standardized reporting and dashboards. We built a bunch of systems for collecting metrics from every department, and as such, I’m able at any time to look through our dashboards and see exactly how we’re performing, identify areas of concerns, and make sure they’re being addressed with our leaders. Beats having 10 meetings a week to get the same information.
We speak a lot about Hi-Vis (high-visibility items) that have an outward impact that help focus our team. We run a weekly company-wide huddle every Monday for 15-20 minutes that allows us to share information and keep a pulse on how everyone is feeling about things. I share my calendar and notebooks with key employees so they have access to my whereabouts and thinking (I write a lot), and allows us to remain sync’d even when I’m travelling which can be extensive at times.
MTS: What are you currently reading? (What do you read/watch, and how do you consume information?)
One of my investors, Roland, got me into podcasts and audio books a while ago, and I’ve been hooked ever since. I like listening to a lot of TED talks and have become a fan of Tim Ferris and his podcasts about startups and the tools of the most successful and productive people in the world.
Currently listening to the book “The Age of Absurdity” which talks about how we’ve really bastardized the meaning of happiness and studies the historical philosophies of stoicism and hedonism. I tend to focus my attention mostly on science, current affairs, and matter-of-fact type of material. I am reading to my 5 year old daughter a book on particle physics. Very informative for me, and very effective at putting her to sleep!
MTS: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
It was advice disguised as criticism: “You don’t know what you don’t know”. Simply meaning that I wasn’t really ready for the journey I was about to embark on. So, I had the choice to either embark on it with someone who knows the things I don’t, or quickly learn those things so I don’t stumble along the way. I always keep this advice in the back of my mind.
MTS: Something you do better than others – the secret of your success? (You may mention your community events, CSR activities, as well)
Unwavering focus. When I set my mind set on a specific objective, direction, or goal, the world could be ending around me, and I’ll still be working towards getting it done. It’s almost obsessive, but I don’t stop until I get there, and I’m grateful to have a team around me that operates in a very similar fashion.
MTS: Tag the one person whose answers to these questions you would love to read:
SweetIQ drops pins for businesses where it matters. Our Local Marketing Hub gets hundreds of big businesses listed on search and discovery sites like Google, Bing and Foursquare. Our local products and services helps enterprises connect with consumers by elevating brand awareness through reviews, consistent local content, keyword monitoring, and tracking the entire customer journey from search to sale.
With three straight years of +300% growth, and an increase of over 100 employees, SweetIQ is on its way to changing the local search marketing and listings industry. Headquartered in Montreal, we’ve expanded into the US with offices in California and Chicago.
Mohannad El-Barachi is Executive, technologist, solutions architect, project manager, and developer, wielding a wide range of experience in the Information Technology sector.
About the MarTech Interview Series
The MTS Martech Interview Series is a fun Q&A style chat which we really enjoy doing with martech leaders. With inspiration from Lifehacker’s How I work interviews, the MarTech Series Interviews follows a two part format On Marketing Technology, and This Is How I Work. The format was chosen because when we decided to start an interview series with the biggest and brightest minds in martech – we wanted to get insight into two areas … one – their ideas on marketing tech and two – insights into the philosophy and methods that make these leaders tick.