Growth Marketing Strategies with Aurelie Guerrieri from Akila One

Jul 17, 2017

What are the best marketing strategies for delivering mobile growth? In this episode, we speak with Akila One’s Chief Growth Officer Aurelie Guerrieri on how growth marketing has changed over the years along with her best tips on how to grow your company.


Aurelie Guerrieri is a leading global catalyst in mobile advertising and a champion for gender diversity. She is the founder and Chief Growth Officer of Akila One, a boutique growth consultancy. Silicon Valley CMO and McKinsey trained, she has helped blue chips and rising stars alike create growth strategies for 8-digit revenue expansion and successful exits. Aurelie is President Emeritus of Women in Wireless, an organization she grew to 12,000 members worldwide. She is a sought after public speaker and contributor to media publications, and creator of the popular Mobile Native column in The Drum. In 2016, she was named one of 25 Mobile Women to Watch by Mobile Marketer. Aurelie is the author of The Mobile Native’s Guide to Marketing – find it on Amazon!

MOBILE GROWTH: We’re here with Founder and Chief Growth Officer of AkilaOne, Aurelie Guerrieri! Hi, Aurelie!

AURELIE: Hi, how are you?

MOBILE GROWTH: Doing awesome. I just want to let everyone know that you have a new book out, available on Amazon, titled “The Mobile Native’s Guide to Marketing.”

AURELIE: Yes, very exciting!

MOBILE GROWTH: So everyone should pick it up, because this interview’s going to be awesome and amazing. But first, to kick it all off, tell us a little bit of how did you get into growth marketing? Give us a quick career trajectory to what led you here.

AURELIE: Well, at first, there was no notion of a ‘separate growth’ role. I was working at ad tech companies, first digital, and then mobile, and delivering hockey stick growth was commended – you just showed up to work to deliver growth. I was building new businesses at QuinStreet; I joined when there were fifty people and I left when there were five hundred and the company was about to go public. There, I happened to be the one called upon to turn around slow growth business units, to launch new ones, then I jumped into the mobile frame they sent me, which quickly grew to become the leading mobile content provider in the US, with revenues over a hundred and twenty million dollars, which wasn’t bad back in 2009.

And fast-forward a few years later, my business AkilaOne helped mobile app network partner get acquired by Cheetah Mobile and then I launched Cheetah’s global app platform. So the common thread in all these roles was that there was a new frontier, there was no blueprints, everything was [about] to be invented. At the same time, it was very murky waters, full of vaporware and shady actors, so I loved it, it was very thrilling! In 2012, when I started my own company, AkilaOne, I put together all the roles I’d been successful at, and that I had enjoyed – and typically that goes together! And I realized the common thread was growth.

So, now, that’s what I do at AkilaOne. We help blue chips and rising stars alike create growth strategies for significant revenue growth and for successful exits.

MOBILE GROWTH: And is The Mobile Native’s Guide to Marketing your first book?

AURELIE: It is technically my first book in English, although I have written The Mobile Marketing book in French last year, which has been published in France.

MOBILE GROWTH: Great. Do you think you’re going to be an author in the future as well, and produce more?

AURELIE: I tremendously enjoy the process. It was not something that was on my bucket list to write a book, but I got invited to write it by a publisher, and it turned out, I had a book in me. That was a really amazing and fantastic discipline, to put all of my thoughts together, to go from the strategic side of marketing all the way to the tactical side of marketing, but to also look into the theory of marketing, which is something I never really paused to think about. All the research behind what makes the users transact on mobile, which are things that intuitively and on the job, you learn as a marketer…But understanding the psychological motivations, the marking motivations behind it, was really very powerful. So I hope the book is helpful for everyone who’s either interested in marketing or hoping that marketing can drive a lot of revenues for their company.

MOBILE GROWTH: And speaking of marketing, let’s talk about growth marketing, specifically. In what ways do you think growth marketing has changed over the years?

AURELIE: So, without going back to the dark ages of marketing, you know the mad men, boost field, creativity that didn’t really have much tracking…What we’ve seen in recent years is a dizzying array of innovation that was brought by digital, and that makes the job of a marketer incredibly hard today. With all the tracking comes accountability, so anyone from the intern to the CEO can see your successes, but also your failures. With all that tech comes the jargon and the confusion and technical resources and time sink.

But with all these new channels and ways to interact with consumers, we finally have true one-to-one marketing channels. So it means that the marketing creativity can be unleashed. A good marketer today is part creative, part analytical, part technical, part knowledge based, basically an all-around unicorn! The flip side of that is that marketing has clearly moved from a support function to a core function, also known as line function. Which means that CMOs are now straight in the succession line for a CEO role, and my friend at Foundation Capital calls this the decade of the CMO, so it’s very exciting times for marketing.

MOBILE GROWTH: In some of our conversations together before this podcast, you’ve mentioned that growth hacking is dead, can you please explain to our listeners what your thoughts are on the demise of growth hacking?

AURELIE: Well, I take issue with growth hacking, because I think it’s reductive. It reduces the success of some companies to having lucked out into a marketing channel no one else knew about. It’s reductive, because there was a huge amount of work that went into building an awesome product that people love, and although some marketers can be a bit overconfident and tell you they can sell anything, the truth is, it’s very hard to keep up the charade long enough when you’re selling a bad product.

I remember some pretty dark days, slinging mobile comp and subscriptions – it’s really the equivalent of marketing purgatory. So growth hacking is also reductive, because it makes it seem like there’s a handful of channels and techniques, mysterious ones, that guarantee success, and if you haven’t found them, as a marketer, you’re really stupid, and you’re missing out. Oh, and by the way–all of those initiatives are supposed to be free, so if your marketing team needs a budget, then they’re really not that good. All of that, I think, is really missing the point of what it takes to deliver growth, and this term has been really overused, and even Shaun Ellis, in his original post of defining growth hacking, was very cautious about using the word. He stressed that it was really important to understand the underlying philosophy. I would add to that, that it’s equally important to understand the context – the context in time, the context in situation, the context in marketing strategy.

MOBILE GROWTH: So, if growth hacking is like an ideology, and, I guess, is dead, then how should one look to rapidly grow their newly launched business or product?

AURELIE: So I have a very un-sexy word: It’s ‘disciplined.’ And what I mean by that is–

MOBILE GROWTH: No!

AURELIE: [laughs] –Is that as an early startup, you should already have the discipline to create a marketing vision, a very long-term, broad marketing vision, but then really focus on spending time and money on only the few pieces you need at that specific moment in time. There’s a lot of temptations; temptations are high to write that post on Medium, to speak at a panel, at a conference, launch a chatbot, code a skill for Alexa… And I think it’s really important to ask yourself, how does it all fit in your evolved strategy? How does it contribute today, and in the future, to your users? To your product? To your investors? The discipline of focusing your limited resources on three to five key initiatives is probably not as sexy as ‘hacking,’ but I can tell you that revenues and profits are sexy. For example, chatbots – we all heard about chatbots last year, and within six months of being launched on Facebook, over 30,000 chatbots were created, and a couple months after, Facebook reported a 70% failure rate. So 70% of the chatbots failed to answer the user’s question.

90% of the companies who launch a chatbot think their chatbot could be more intelligent – isn’t that the whole point of a chatbot, being intelligent? So everyone rushed in and very few people thought through the actual user experience; and in some cases, it could be quite damaging to the brand. I’ve studied a few e-commerce chatbots that were particularly tone-deaf, and without throwing anybody under the bus, I will say that, if I’m a regular customer, I’m really thrilled that your chatbot is giving me shipping estimates and order status and easier returns, but if you use it for marketing purposes, please make sure not to promote a product that I would never buy. You have all my purchase history, please use that.

So I think that’s a lot of what’s missing in those early marketing initiatives, thinking through the entire user perception, and the entire user experience. The second aspect to that is, while you’re still in MVP mode, yes you should leverage rapid prototyping, but also be careful with what’s going to happen with the users not only during the user experience, but after you’ve run your tests. For example, if you published a really awesome infographic and you use it as a lead generation tool to collect email addresses, what are you going to do with those addresses, if you don’t have a bare-bone content strategy and SURM in place in order to keep those relationships alive?

If right now, you’re balking at creating that content strategy and implementing it, you’re right, it’s much easier said than done. But in this case, I’d advise against collecting email addresses at that point, that would only gather dust, and instead use the same original piece of content, the infographic, for another marketing purpose. Maybe to get some press, maybe this is development, why not attach it to all of your cold emails, right? So, I think those are the strategies that are very important to keep in mind as you are an early stage startup. The last one that I would like to highlight is, growth hacking has historically advocated finding product integrations, via APIs, that leverage existing platforms to grow your userbase quickly. So, for example, plug into somebody else’s user base leverage: Facebook leverage, LinkedIn leverage, Craigslist, etc., etc. API into that and then siphon off those users and grow your own userbase. There’s a couple of challenges with that; it creates a lot of legacy code, and a lot of cost of implementing and maintaining APIs. But also, from an investment standpoint, when I help clients look for investment, is [to understand] that savvy investors are always asking about your propitiatory audience, and they’re always very leery of borrowed users from other platforms; if that platform suddenly cut the link, as you become bigger…And so, these are things that need to be thought about as you are implementing your early marketing strategies.

MOBILE GROWTH: Wow, great information. Thanks for that! I actually want to circle back and touch on a follow-up to the bot idea. I noticed that bots are, like you said, on trend, they’re all the rage. I went to a marketing conference recently where the speaker was talking about bots, and how his bots were amazing, and when I went to his Facebook page, his bot didn’t work! So, he’s probably one of the 70% [failures you spoke of]. Do you have any best practices for people that are trying to use bots, like maybe use them for specific things, or have the bot introduce what they can and can’t do, identify itself as a bot, or anything like that off the top of your head?

AURELIE: I want to start by saying I’m very bullish on bots, despite all the concerns. I do think that messaging as a whole is going to be a very, very powerful way in the future to break down the app silos. It’s very difficult today to navigate from one app to another in the Appstore; the Appstore acts very much as a silo, and the messaging is very powerful. To [be able to] cut through all of that and provide a way for users to jump from one activity to another in a seamless fashion, [such as] WeChat in China, that’s been in the best practice, and everybody has been trying to emulate it from Facebook to What’s App to Viber. That includes embedding APIs, embedding pages, and embedding bots, to execute various scenarios. So I’m very bullish on bots, and I would say continue developing bots, continue refining the use case. The key question to ask is, what is my bot for? And does it require intelligence? If it’s a bot that is for customer service and you have 90% of your customer service interactions that are pretty standardized; [for example,] people call to ask, where is the store, or what’s the status of my order? Things that are very much fully in [the realm of], you know, if/then statements, then it’s relatively easy, although I always hesitate to call anything that’s technical “easy” as a marketer, that’s burnt me more than once.

But it’s relatively simple, I guess, to create those scenarios, to map those scenarios and create a bot that would answer those scenarios. So in this case, go for it, and be clear that your bot is purely for customer support, which is I think the vast majority of the use cases that we’re seeing today. If you want to be more adventurous and use it for marketing purposes, I think this is where intelligence plays a role, and that survey that shows 90% of the companies are unhappy with the level of intelligence in their bots doesn’t surprise me, because today, there aren’t a lot of AI platforms that provide enough intelligence to deliver a valuable experience. Frankly, you know, I’m a big proponent of IBM Watson, but not everybody can afford that. So if you can’t afford a really good AI solution, I think you have to be very clear as to what your bot can do, but I would even tone that down one level and say, if you can’t code an all-singing, dancing bot, what is one function that is really cool and viral and engaging, that you could do, and then stick to that?

MOBILE GROWTH: So it’s almost like the Pareto Principle — figure out the 20% that will give you 80% of the results, just focusing on the core.

AURELIE: Exactly!

MOBILE GROWTH: Okay, so we talked about some startups and some growing companies, let’s switch a little bit and talk about some of the larger companies. Obviously, they don’t want to get into a plateau mode, so how can some larger companies pursue some continued growth?

AURELIE: So, I think you know, from what I’ve said, don’t take it as an advocation – advocating for marketing strategies developed through a long syndication process, [that it’s a] marketing plan set in stone for years to come. Quite the contrary. I think one of the skillsets of the marketer today is to be able to alternate between that 30,000 feet view, where are we going? What does the product deliver? What do we stand for as a company and as a brand? How should I build and shore up my team, etc. And balancing that with being able to deep dive into very tactical and technical marketing tools, which keywords are we optimizing on? What’s the online to offline tracking situation? What is the user flow on iPad versus iPhone, etc.? And deliver all of that at 200 miles per hour. That creates a huge challenge for bigger companies, and that translates into balancing innovation and scaling. Each of those are difficult on their own, and both are often incompatible together. It’s, you know, the age old innovator’s dilemma. On the innovation side, I found that isolating teams that are responsible for the cash cows (and what I mean by ‘team’ is marketing, product, and tech team, from those teams that are responsible for surfacing new sources of growth, a marketing, product, and tech team – works really well.) So ‘cash cow’ is your core existing business that you want to keep growing, and ‘new initiatives’ is obviously anything that has to do with innovation. So this frees up resources not only for innovation but also mental bandwidth. I think it’s really important to be realistic and say, you can’t expect a marketer to imagine a new voice-activated ad if they’re in the midst of optimizing a multimillion dollar campaign on Facebook. Their mental attention is all focused on making sure they don’t screw up, and they don’t lose millions of dollars right there. So you can’t hope that they’re going to be creative at the same time.

That helps with innovation – isolating those teams. On the scaling side, I’m really, really thrilled to see how big marketing span has gone for some of the largest mobile players. Top game developers, QuinStreet, Machine Zone, etc. routinely spent hundreds of millions of dollars per year. So, that implies a level of sophistication that demands bringing some skillset in-house, rather than outsourcing those two agencies, and that also requires building our integrating sophisticated RI tools. Sometimes, as a big company, you’ll find that commercial tools don’t answer the exact need your business has, and my recommendation is, don’t be scared of building your own solution. At QuinStreet, for example, before tools existed, we were spending millions of dollars on FCM each month, and so I had to build the first SEM building tool. I took inspiration from stock market trading, and that was way before marine software was invented, and you couldn’t shy away from that technical investment, because that meant money, and that meant profit for you.
At SendMe, I built an LTV predictive model that was so accurate it actually enabled us to outbid every single competitor in the market, steal all of their media traffic, and then acquire them all. So today, you can see companies like Machine Zone, who have built the skillset and tools, and are now looking to leverage it outside of their core business, both as a separate offering to hedge against the cyclical nest of gaming, but also to feed the data beast and improve their algorithm with even more experiments.

MOBILE GROWTH: Awesome! Well, we talked a lot about being efficient and very effective and streamlined, so let’s say someone contracts you to build their brand through growth marketing, best practices. How would you most efficiently and effectively go about that, and your first steps?

AURELIE: That’s very interesting, because oftentimes, growth hacking is a little bit at odds with brand building, right? When you’re constantly looking for the next marketing bust, it’s easy to lose sight of the core brand messaging and how you want the product to impact your users’ lives.

So at the same time, I’m not advocating for a huge brand and press budgets, we’ve all seen how that story ends for many former tech crunch startups. What I’m saying is that there’s a way to systematically consider every single dollar you spend, every amount of time, every resource you spend, every effort you spend in marketing, beyond a myopic single purpose.

So, I like talking about the fact that performance marketing can turn into branding, and something that I call brand format, that’s really a multi-use, double-dipping ROI. It’s true growth marketing, because it forces you to ask yourself the question, will it scale? Does it represent who we are? Does it add a stone to what we’re building?–Before undertaking any new marketing initiative. So, strategically, that means marketers need to have the discipline to think about messaging before they engage into any kind of growth marketing. Then, that messaging can be reinforced, broadcast, and publicized at every single marketing interaction – from each banner that gets designed, to each push notification, to each public speaking appearance by one of your company leaders. And tactically, that means that as soon as a brand starts spending significant money in performance marketing, they should consider how that spend influences their brand perception. It’s what I call, make the right impression from the first impression, right? Companies like Lyft, Expedia, Amazon, are very good at this. Yes, you want to spend marketing dollars, they want to measure the ROI on a performance basis, but also double-dipping, and making sure that they’re building up their brand. So even if there’s no particular ROI to that user interaction, say somebody saw their banner and didn’t download the app – that means controlling the creative, controlling the contacts, controlling the quality of the placement, which are typically not things that you get to do as a performance marketer. But if you’re spending enough, then you get to dictate the roles and engagement.

MOBILE GROWTH: So, let’s pivot slightly into partnerships. Partnerships can make marketing efforts stronger, obviously, so how would you advise a marketer to know how to cut through some of the clutter, of snake oil charlatans and used car salesmen, and identify some reliable potential partners?

AURELIE: Come on, this is a million dollar question!

MOBILE GROWTH: Right? So, you’re going to give me a two million dollar answer?

AURELIE: I won’t name names. I’ll only do this after a few drinks! So, basically, we live in a world where every single one of these companies promises to do every single thing, every single buzzword, the tech of the moment. So it’s incredibly hard to figure out who to trust and who to work with. And actually, worse than that, studies have shown that most marketers are completely confused by terminology, and not even sure how to assess providers. For example, programmatic advertising has been particularly confusing, they’ve been spouting new terminology every month, it seems, and new providers are a dime a dozen, so DSP’s are becoming DMP’s, SSP’s are also mediation layers. There’s now a first look at programmatic direct, and server-side had a bidding… you know, makes your head spin. So, first things first, find a source of information that demystifies the lingo, look for an unbiased source, don’t look at vendor sites because they will oftentimes have a spin on things. You can find those online, you can buy a book, I happen to have one that has a lot of that covered.

MOBILE GROWTH: Available on Amazon!

AURELIE: Exactly, thanks Louis, for the pitch! Then, map your specific needs against those features. Then comes the hard part, figuring out who is trustworthy, who isn’t, and who really has algorithms and technology, and who has vaporware and a bunch of people peddling… That is frankly very hard to assess. You will be able to get a better sense from referrals and through reference interviews. Always try and do the pile ups. You’ll be surprised how hard most of these technologies are to implement, even though most of those vendors will tell you it’s really quick, it’s only a cut-and-paste, in your code. When you do the pile up, you will get a sense for how hard the technical implementation really is.

MOBILE GROWTH: Now, you’ve worked globally to help companies expand internationally outside of their particular geo. Is there any advice for an app that’s looking to expand their UA into international territories?

AURELIE: I absolutely love that you UA folks are typically the most adventurous when it comes to international expansion. I think it’s the byproduct of always being looking for growth, finding pockets of users you haven’t targeted yet – hey, how about this country? Unless that’s just because UA folks love traveling, I don’t know! There are tons of opportunities internationally. I’m super excited about China of course, Asia overall, obviously huge and fast growing markets. Europe is still monetizing very well and makes a solid contender, and other countries might be very relevant to specific products, based on lack of local competitive offering. However, there’s a bunch of pitfalls to expanding internationally, from the tactical pitfalls like language and cultural context and local competition, local regulation.

The types of phones that are most popular there, the types of connectivity that you have access to – there’s strategic pitfalls, how do you manage remote relationships with your partners? Remote employees, as you start growing – how do you communicate priorities, company cultures? These employees – how do you ensure everyone is delivering the same user experience around the world? Very, very hard challenges, so I love helping companies navigate those challenges.

Oftentimes, actually, covering the challenge is half the work – sometimes you will look at users in a country and you would think that, you know, users are not very engaged, maybe they don’t like your product, and you think it might be cultural, but when you start digging, with some help of people who know the local market, you realize that the traffic source you’ve used to acquire those users you thought was clean in app traffic is actually a social media incentive scheme. And you had no idea, because clearly you couldn’t see your placement and understand what that sight was about, or that app was about.

Or you think your salespeople, the salespeople you’ve hired, are bad because they can’t seem to close a deal, when actually, they’re just completely confused on your valuable position and a vision for the company, and it’s not easy to sell a product that you don’t understand the differentiation of. So, lots of really interesting challenges that I have worked with companies on over the years there.

MOBILE GROWTH: So maybe, when you’re starting to think about international expansion, should you go towards the countries that are similar to the one that you’re expanding out of first, to try to dab your toe in the water?

AURELIE: That’s usually the modus operandi of people who have no plans of working with local resources, right? And so, yes, you can – that you can typically manage remotely. What I would say is that if you want to be competitive and you want to essentially have an aggressive expansion strategy, figure out first where the pockets of opportunities are, and then find the local support of people with local knowledge, even if they are in your country, to help you be successful there. You shouldn’t ignore a country because it’s just too different from yours.

MOBILE GROWTH: I’ll give a self-plug here: We have Mobile Growth Europe and Mobile Growth Asia, respectively in Berlin and Bangkok to help you, which are international expansion ideas.

AURELIE: Excellent!

MOBILE GROWTH: Regarding that, f you’re in one country and looking to expand, especially into a country that may be completely different than yours culturally, language wise, and other, do you suggest maybe doing a test to see if it’s viable, or do you suggest just going all-out and, if you’re going to make the move, then just go for it?

AURELIE: So, you will already have some data, because users will find you from these countries, even if you’re not marketing to these countries, right? You’ll have a sense for the size of the userbase and the engagement of the userbase. That will be very imperfect data, because that’s clearly anecdotal data. I think it depends on how strategic that country is to you, right? I mean, let’s take the example of China. China is obviously a huge market, very, very exciting, extraordinarily difficult to penetrate, right? If you’re Uber, you have to try. You have, obviously, a lot of money, you can afford to spend a billion dollars – they did spend, it’s rumored in their Chinese expansion. That didn’t prevent them from failing massively and having some really challenging episodes of fraud and other issues and finally getting out of the market. But you have to give it the good ol’ college try, even if you don’t know, [because] it’s very far and you don’t really understand the culture and there’s local competitors.

If you are a local business that serves the US only, and that has a lot of growth potential in the US, by all means, make sure you are focusing your local growth first and foremost, right before you start divvying up your meager resources and spreading them too thin. But I think there are some countries that you just cannot ignore, or that you have to make a very conscious decision of saying, I am going to forego a big part of growth by not being in this country? Where can I get the same amount of growth elsewhere? It’s all a question of ROI on your resources.

MOBILE GROWTH: All right. I’ve got one last question for you, but it’s a real fun one: If you had the magic wand of Aurelie, and you could change one thing in marketing today, anything, what would that be?

AURELIE: Oh, would I love to have that! I would give the gift of hyper-growth to all marketers. It is such a fantastic feeling, it needs to be shared.

MOBILE GROWTH: And could you explain hyper-growth?

AURELIE: Really fast growth, the kind of, you know–

MOBILE GROWTH: Hockey stick growth?

AURELIE: Hockey stick, hanging on by the edge of your seat kind of growth that is extremely exciting and motivating and amazing.

MOBILE GROWTH: Well, I don’t want to take too much more of your time. You have been awesome with the information that you’ve shared. I do want to remind everyone that Aurelie’s book is titled: The Mobile Native’s Guide to Marketing, you can get it on Amazon, and many other places, and I’m sure you’re partnered with a few events, and will give it to some attendees there. Be sure to check out Aurelie. Thank you very much for your time, and I appreciate it!

AURELIE: Thank you!