Mobile Heroes Uncensored by Liftoff brings you the latest industry news, entertainment and insights from across the app marketing industry. Hosted by journalists John Koetsier and Peggy Anne Salz, we go in-depth with brand and performance marketers at the forefront of marketing.

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Nov 16, 2022

Cradle To Grave, Literally: Success in Sim Games With Candywriter

What mobile game literally has a tombstone in one of its promo images? A super-successful one, actually: BitLife, which has tens of millions of installs and millions of reviews.

In this Mobile Heroes Uncensored, we chat with BitLife maker Candywriter. Specifically, with VP Gabby Bradford Pigott. Our focus: mashup games: what drives success, and what works best for ad-based monetization.

We also chat about ad partners, managing waterfalls, and balancing user experience and monetization.

31 min

John Koetsier: What would life be like as a cat or as a dog, or perhaps even a simulated different human being? Welcome to "Mobile Heroes Uncensored." My name is John Koetsier. Our co-host, of course, is Peggy Anne Salz. And today, we're chatting with somebody really interesting. We're chatting with somebody who has apps that are, it's not quite the Sims, but it's almost in some way.

I checked out one of their apps, and I looked at their App Store images and one of them said, "Hey, start a life. Make choices, face the consequences. Live your best life and die happy." I thought, "Wow, I haven't seen an app before that said, die happy." So, this is kind of cool. It's super successful.

Has over a million and a half reviews on iOS, over a million on Android, and yeah, it does have a gravestone in its app promotion images, and it's not even about Halloween, I don't think. Just when you think it could never be surprised again, you see something new, Peggy. Who are we talking to today?

Peggy Anne Salz: Well, it is a one in a lifetime app, isn't it? And you know what, John, even cooler, when you download it outside of the U.S., right? Different choices and the ones for Germany in particular are not about making massive change or choices, no surprise, right? Very, very cautious. So, it wasn't quite...

John Koetsier: Go to school. Do your homework.

Peggy Anne Salz: Yeah, like this...

John Koetsier: Follow the rules.
Peggy Anne Salz: Makes you think of "Seinfeld." You know, take a risk, leave your hand off of the escalator and go for it. But no, seriously. So, we have Gabby Bradford Pigott, she is VP partnerships Candywriter, which is the mobile games developer and publisher behind this very interesting app with a sharp focus on casual and mashup games. That's a new category for us, right? It's a mashup.

Now, she's a bit of a mashup herself because she began as a supply side account manager at Chartboost. Later moved to the client side at Candywriter. We've had this before John, it feels like déjà vu.

And there she ran ad monetization for five years and now leads partnerships for the studio. And since moving to the client business, Gabby has negotiated deals, managed strategic relationships, partnerships, and established a data-driven process that benefits the company. Her colleagues call her a wizard and quote, "A true gem."

John Koetsier: Wow.

Peggy Anne Salz: As one put it, when Gabby speaks, people listen. That's the emphasis on the exclamation point here that is in the LinkedIn profile. So, I think we just pull up a pew and listen in. Welcome Gabby.

Gabby Bradford Pigott: Hi. Thank you. So glad to be here.

Peggy Anne Salz: I'm so forceful, Gabby.

John Koetsier: I know, I know. We're super pumped to have you. And I mean, like, we should just push play right now. We don't have to say a word. I mean like, just sit back and...
Gabby Bradford Pigott: Yeah. What do you want to know?

John Koetsier: Exactly. Well, we want to know something about mashups. And it's funny because Peggy was talking about that and we're recording this Thursday, October 27th. I'm not sure when it will air, but Halloween is just around the corner.

I had to think, you know, the, "Monster Mash," you know that song, right? Hopefully that refrain is going through everybody's mind right now. So, mash ups sound pretty cool. We've seen that, right? Match three plus a battle game or something like that.

And Peggy and I have talked to a bunch of people doing stuff like that. You've got an app called BitLife. It's an interactive text simulator game. Talk to us about it.

Gabby Bradford Pigott: Yeah, so, BitLife is a super popular, wildly entertaining, if I do say so myself, app that you can play on your phone. Basically, you have an age button that's presented on the screen, and you press the age button and you're able to experience a life from infancy basically until you decide how long you want to live.

So, you're presented with a various amount of choices, and then you get to actually live out your consequences based on those choices. So, you know, for example, if you're an infant and maybe you're two years old and all of a sudden, your mom comes home with a new baby, and you're presented with a choice, do you kiss the new baby? Do you walk away? Do you, you know, stomp around for a toy?

And you get to actually select a choice. And if I say, "Yes, let's kiss the new baby," that relationship with my sibling now will be a positive one depending on how it moves again throughout my life. But I can have different relationships with my mom, with my dad, with peers, with school mates.

And it's not just relationships, right? It's also careers and how you decide to either work hard or maybe slack off. There's all sorts of things that can happen within your life, but it's all text-based. So, you're reading a lot of interesting, entertaining verbiage on your phone, and you progress through it. It's super fun and never a dull day at Candywriter. I'll say that.

John Koetsier: Gabby, this is super interesting. I mean, I have such a range of thoughts as I hear you say that. First of all, the text-based. I mean like, you know, this is almost harking back to like 20, 30 years ago when you played text-based game, you know, and I enter the Dungeon. "Will you pick up the pick X or not," right? Or something like that, right?

And yet you're doing it here on mobile devices for kids and it's super, super successful. That's really interesting. I want to hear you say why you think that is true. But I also am super interested, just, it seems like it could be more than a game.

And I don't want to read too much into it, but it seems like, you know, maybe if you get a chance to role play life before you do life, you might make smarter choices. I have no idea. What are your thoughts?

Gabby Bradford Pigott: Yeah, actually that's something we've heard a lot from our user community. You know, maybe if they're a little bit older and they're progressing through a life, you know, and they say, "Man, I wish I would've made this choice."

There actually are some very, you know, real thoughts that users share with us on social media that kind of makes us feel good about creating this game that can be helpful. You know, a helpful tool for people to figure out, "Okay, well if I do this, then what?"

Of course, it's gamified and there's a lot of comical elements to it, but it is kind of interesting that, you know, maybe you wanted to go to a school, right? And you're kind of figuring out, "All right, I'm doing all these extracurriculars. I'm doing what I can to get into a great university. Where do I apply? What should I do after that?"

You know, "What kind of jobs will be available for me?" And they're very real. That life is based on real life. And sometimes you get into that university and sometimes you don't, and you need to pivot and figure out what else to do.

So, yeah, these are very real things that users have to navigate and they can choose to fail every class and never go to school and, you know, do whatever they want to do or they can choose to, you know, live their best life and scare them out.

John Koetsier: But is there an undo button? Is there an undo button?

Gabby Bradford Pigott: There is, of course it's a game.

John Koetsier: I love one of those for real life, Peggy.

Gabby Bradford Pigott: I know.
Peggy Anne Salz: You still got me thinking about "Dungeon and Dragons," John, why make me go there?

John Koetsier: I don't know, super geek. Once a geek, never... always a geek.

Peggy Anne Salz: Well, it is an awesome game. I'm thinking about it. I'm thinking, "Yeah, then I can actually go back and play the bass again," you know, and see what would've happened. Would I be in the Foo Fighters? Who knows? It's a thought. It's a thought.

Gabby Bradford Pigott: Who knows is right.

Peggy Anne Salz: That would be a life goal. But anyway, your life goal. I'd love to hear about what you've done with it because you've played it, right? It's your game. What's the most outrageous thing it's told you, Gabby?

Gabby Bradford Pigott: Oh man. I mean, there's so many different things that you can experience within BitLife. I think one of my favorite updates that we made to the game, was royalty. So that you could be born a royal and experience like a royal life.

And I guess that's maybe more of just like my American Western view on royalty, right? Like, how fun to be a princess. Such a classic answer there. But it's super fun to be born a royal and to experience life there, and, you know, have servants and maybe it's not necessarily the most wild thing, but it's kind of the most amazing thing I think you can experience within BitLife from my perspective.
Peggy Anne Salz: Very cool. Sort of Downton Abby meets digital or something like that, right?

Gabby Bradford Pigott: Yeah.

John Koetsier: Exactly.

Peggy Anne Salz: So, Gabby, you were at Chartboost, and now you're at Candywriter, but it did a little bit of life simulation ourselves here. With your career, if you could go back, what would you tell your younger self to do or change?

Gabby Bradford Pigott: Yeah, that's a great question. You know, and it's always kind of a dangerous one, right? Because you want to believe that the choices you've made have landed you in the right place for yourself right now.

And playing in what ifs can be a little... it's attractive definitely, but it is a little dangerous. You know, I think looking back, I would definitely encourage myself to be bold and to make big choices. Because as a young person, that's your opportunity to do that, right?

You don't, you know, you have no one to be responsible for besides yourself. There's no family, there's no child, you know, you get to kind of live adventurously and live boldly, and I think that's something I would encourage my younger self to do.

John Koetsier: I love it. I love it. It makes a lot of sense. Talking about living boldly, one thing we ask a lot of people on the show is how you balance user experience and ad monetization.
It's such a challenge and everybody has to figure out their own way of making it work or failing at it in their app. And we've all had experiences with apps that we loved and then they made some changes for ad mon and we didn't love as much. How do you approach that?

Gabby Bradford Pigott: Yeah, such a great question. And it's something we're continuing to observe and discuss every day. There's no easy answer, I don't think, or one recipe that fits all. You know, because you're always going to have users that are going to complain about ad monetization and seeing too many ads, right?

And then, you're going to have users complain that your IEP packages are too expensive. And you know, you just have like a wide spectrum of users and so you try, you try your best. I think, you know, in this day and age everybody sees ads. You know, if you're commuting to work, you see ads on the subway or, you know, billboards.

If you're in New York City, right? Times Square, that's the mecca of advertising. It's everywhere. You know, you watch tv, your streaming device, there's ads everywhere. And I think realizing that ads are a part of our everyday experience, kind of helps rationalize introducing ads into a game.

I also think it's really important to build your apps around ad monetization so that your users are exposed to ads, like, from day one instead of pushing out a product and then, you know, three months down the road adding ads and users are like, "Whoa, this is not what I signed up for, right?"

So, if you can build like that ad monetization mechanic within the game, I think you're also at a really good spot to at least start, you know. We, of course, offer both in-app purchases and you know, straight ad monetization. We have different ad experiences for our users as well, those who pay, those who don't.

And, obviously, introducing types of ads like rewarded video for example, that users have to opt into, that's their choice, right? "Hey, I want to watch this ad for this type of reward," is also a really positive feedback loop for your users as well.

John Koetsier: It's kind of funny because this and many of your other games, not all of your games are simulation games. And it started me thinking what's an in-app purchase for real life? And we have them. You know, 20 bucks to get at the head of the line at the restaurant, right? In-app purchase, right? I don't know, being more wealthy and being able to take a shortcut or hire somebody to do this or that, that's in-app purchase, right? Interesting when you think about our lives as a simulation, Peggy.

Peggy Anne Salz: You are full of business models John. Coming up with like maybe we can like, you know, meld it, the digital-physical world. You do the choice on the app and then you do it in the real world. You got me going here, got me going.

John Koetsier: That awful word that somebody created phygital, right? Physical, digital. I hate that word so much.

Peggy Anne Salz: Phygital?

John Koetsier: But yes.

Peggy Anne Salz: I haven't heard that one.
John Koetsier: You never heard that one?

Gabby Bradford Pigott: I have not.

John Koetsier: Phygital.

Peggy Anne Salz: That's bad. That is really bad. I just think of fidgeting. Okay. You have talked about the feedback and what that does to improve the experience, but you also have like this really cool community. You said it yourself, Gabby, they tell you, you know, "Hey, can we have these choices and we'd like to see, you know, what would it be like if we went to this school?" So, you're getting... there's a loop going on there, and they're giving you cues around what you can emphasize or monetize. How do you actually tap into this?

Gabby Bradford Pigott: Yeah, so, great question. On social media, definitely Twitter and Reddit, you know, I think those are very vocal user communities that play BitLife, and they will screenshot something in the game, right?

And they'll say, "Hey, I would love to see X, Y, and Z." Oftentimes, we will ask our user base, "How do you feel about a certain, you know, scenario or what do you think about this feature that we're trying to play with?" And they're kind of our beta testers, if you will. Just ideating together.

And I think it's a great way to put a lot of love into your community, right, that's playing your game and that's made us successful. And it also gives them a little bit of power to say, "No, this is what we want," or, "Yes, this is what we need." And so, it's a really fun way to interact with our players. Of course, there's the app store reviews as well, but I do think that social media allows for a little bit more like unfiltered, you know, uncensored, hey, hey, conversations.

John Koetsier: Interesting, interesting. I've left a few pretty uncensored app store reviews as well, but yes, you can have a bit more of a conversation over time on social.

Talk about rewarded video, super popular obviously and works because somebody is actually asking for it in a sense. How have you used that in your apps?

Gabby Bradford Pigott: Yeah, with BitLife, it's not a traditional game, right? It's not like a word game where you need a hint. So, you watch a rewarded video for an extra hint, you know, kind of a thing. But in BitLife you might watch a rewarded video to have more happiness within your life or to escape from prison or to have better relationships.

And it's not necessarily like a one-to-one kind of currency exchange, but really, you watch rewarded videos to improve your life in some way. And that's how we found to be the most successful integration for BitLife. Again, it's atypical because there is no like hard currency to say, "Yes, I want to hint." And the hint is valued at a 100 coins, you know?

So, we did have to think kind of outside the box even when we were designing BitLife, like, "How are we going to do this?" Because our users going to get it, you know? And they did of course. And we've refined what that strategy looks like over time. But in general, you know, introduce shorter video placements to give users that little edge, you know, within their life to make it that much more successful.

John Koetsier: I think what she's saying, Peggy, is that they've added drugs to the sim life.

Peggy Anne Salz: I was just sitting here thinking how brilliant that is, John, think about it, right? Learned behaviors. You've created a core loop where if you watch an ad, you're happy, you know, and then you start to associate watching ads with happiness. I mean, how smart is that?

John Koetsier: Or dangerous.

Peggy Anne Salz: Or dangerous? But for her it's like, "Oh yeah, I love my ads. My ads are going to make me even happier." So, it's like brilliant move.

Gabby Bradford Pigott: Thank you. A little maybe diabolical, but it works.

Peggy Anne Salz: So, it makes us happy, but it also makes money. Let's talk about it, uplift. What does this format rewarded video translate into, you know, for example, higher revenues, you know? What does it actually bring you beyond making, of course, all your users happy?

Gabby Bradford Pigott: Yeah, so, rewarded video again, so great because users opt into it and users will watch the entire duration of the video to receive the reward. And from an advertising perspective, a user acquisition perspective, advertisers, depending on the type of campaigns they run, are looking for high quality users, right?

Users who watch ads, users who are high-retention, and typically, you're going to find a lot of that within video ads. And they will target users who watch rewarded video because they are high-quality, they complete ads and they're invested in your game as a result. And so, from an advertising perspective, that's really attractive for them.

So, they might actually bid a little bit higher, and a higher bid with a higher conversion rate will lead to a higher eCPM for you as a publisher. A higher eCPM for you as a publisher, will put a little bit more money in your pocket. So, they're again, another positive feedback loop there that's been so helpful for us within our ad monetization.

John Koetsier: I think it's all just a simulation. I think you're just adding in-app purchases there for publishers or for advertisers. I'll stop, I'll stop, I'll stop. I want to turn to a different kind of ad, and I want to say it was about 10 episodes ago, I was shocked out of my mind. I think Peggy was as well.

We had somebody from Liftoff on to talk about a report that they did. They looked at all the ads like literally billions, maybe trillions of ads over. I think it was three months, six months or something like that. And what was most successful. And the humble, the humble and long-lived ancient banner ad was still the number one ad type.

And I was like, "Are you serious? Are you literally serious?" I was like, "That cannot be. How is this possible?" You also use banner ads. You also use interstitials as well. How are they working for you? What works about them?

Gabby Bradford Pigott: Yeah, so banners I think in this day and age are a pretty passive ad format. I think users are really used to them on websites, on laptops, even, you know, browsing websites on their phones. There're banner ads everywhere, right? That's how the internet is paid for, is through advertising and essentially through banner ads. And I think everyone's really used to them.

And, you know, originally there was a lot of concern over banners being so annoying, you know. And while I do think there is truth to that, I think it's a passive annoyance. That's kind of the best way I can put it. It doesn't interfere with gameplay. It's at the very bottom of the screen. You can click or not click. It's not going to jump out at you and say, "Hey, watch me." It's just, it's on the screen. We find that a lot of brands like to buy on banners, you know, Ford or Pepsi or big brands in the industry.

John Koetsier: Interesting.

Gabby Bradford Pigott: And those brands, sometimes have really high CPIs and that translates to pretty decent CPMs for us. So, not only is it a passive ad format, but it's also essentially passive ad revenue for us as well.

John Koetsier: I really like that insight you gave there about what kinds of brands buy those. They're the kinds of brands that I'm not buying a car every day, you know? I'm not buying a car every week or every month, but I might buy one every three years or something like that. And that's build-up of brand awareness, and just being in my life.

Peggy Anne Salz: That's what it is. It's the whole billboard thinking. And that came across on our show before as well, you know. It's the whole idea if I see it 20 times, it'll stick. And so, if I see it 20 times here, it sticks. And then I'll make a life decision between a Ford and...

John Koetsier: Exactly.

Gabby Bradford Pigott: Tesla.

Peggy Anne Salz: For you. I was going say a Maserati for me, but a Tesla for you.

John Koetsier: Wow, wow. I feel like this is unfair. I want to restart, redo. What is interesting for me as well though, about that, is I think we're starting to see ad formats that maybe banners will evolve into where you're seeing ads that live, I want to say in the furniture of the app, like in the architecture of the app, like on the wall as you're walking past maybe in an action game or something like that, right?

Or other places like that where the banner is evolving to become part of the universe of the app. And we're seeing that, you know, with audio ads as well that are like playing as you play the game. So, that could be an interesting evolution towards the future.

Gabby Bradford Pigott: I agree. It is something we talked about as well to figure out if we could put in these native placements and what that would look like within BitLife. You know, I think it has to be specific to the game design because it can't fit in every game, and it might be a little obtrusive. You know, because users aren't walking past. There is no imagery, you know?

John Koetsier: Yes.

Gabby Bradford Pigott: So, like, even though that would be such a great idea, would it make sense for BitLife? And those are things that we're also trying to evolve with, you know, as the industry and ad monetization evolves as well.

Peggy Anne Salz: So, you're all about ad mon, and that means making sure everyone is buying and doing it aggressively and doing it at a price that makes sense. What's a rule of thumb for you that you follow to make sure that all the networks that can buy are doing it?

Gabby Bradford Pigott: Yeah, so one of my best tips is an exercise that I run across our apps to look at the demand set that's buying. There's lots of tools you can use now to figure out what that looks like. If you use a mediation company, lots of times the mediator will actually give you that insight to say, "Oh yeah, Gamble's running this ad at this frequency, here's the CPM," all these great metrics.

And you know that Gamble's not only running that ad, but you know, AdColony is running that ad. Or someone in the digital turbine family. Or you know, that AppLovin's running that ad, or Unity, for example. Oftentimes, you will find gaps between the networks, and you will see that your top advertisers on... again, for example, Unity are not your top advertisers on, for example, Gamble.

And so, what you do is you download all that data, you find the holes and you tell your ad network, why aren't these advertisers buying? And they have to find an answer. It's either maybe they're not buying it all on that network, which could be fair, but it could also be maybe we're on a block list or maybe there's a lever, a special, you know, kind of lever that the ad network can pull to ensure that that advertiser spends.

So, it's pulling advertiser data, sending it to your ad networks and utilizing your ad networks to be your partners, you know, and to help you grow in this way.

John Koetsier: Super interesting to peel back the curtain and see some of that stuff. You also do run a Waterfall. Talk about how you manage it.

Gabby Bradford Pigott: Yeah, so waterfall optimization is constantly evolving. We do use a mediator for BitLife, and as a result, we have various bidders, real time bidders, plus we utilize networks that don't support bidding yet. So, we like to call those just traditional networks.

And with the traditional networks, you set up a whole bunch of different line items throughout the waterfalls at various eCPM prices. So, you have the waterfall that's kind of hard coded in a way, right? From the top prices, 500 bucks, whatever you want to say, to the very bottom, $1, okay? And you have all these various prices in there.

And then you have the bidders who are actually responding to each ad request and saying, "Am I actually going to bid for this user at $500 CPM? No way. I'll bid at $12." Something like that, right? And so, you have bidders, traditional networks and you optimize in a way that tries to introduce more competition into your stack, right?

So that it's not like you just have one price at 500 bucks and one price at $1, and then the bidders. Because then you'd be kind of pigeonholing yourself here. So, instead, you ramp up prices, you add in prices every few dollars, and you try to inject more competition into your waterfall, so that the bidders say, "Oh, well I want more impressions at the CPM, I guess I have to bid up."

And that kind of helps jump up a lot of different ad monetization metrics. But, yeah, it's an ever evolving process, and it definitely involves looking at your data consistently and trying to figure out how you can get more out of the networks that are in your stack.

Peggy Anne Salz: I love that. Giving them choice. It's like there is a deal there. It's almost like a Chinese menu, we'll get here, here, here, anywhere. There's no getting away. There's a deal everywhere. That's the best practices. What was your biggest mistake and what did it teach you?

Gabby Bradford Pigott: Yeah, it was so fun.

Peggy Anne Salz: You can share with us Gabby, you're like, "Oh, I don't know. I talk about my biggest mistake," your next biggest mistake.

Gabby Bradford Pigott: You know, I've made a lot of mistakes, for sure. I always make mistakes. I am not perfect, but I think one thing that's really taught me is, when you do make a mistake in waterfall optimization, for example, there's IDs that are associated with each line item, right? And if you put that in incorrectly into a waterfall, maybe that line item won't serve or it'll serve at kind of the wrong price point. I've made those mistakes before, and there is a revenue impact to waterfalls when things are not appropriately set up.

And that's not a good feeling. That's something you need to correct ASAP. That kind of puts you on high alert, right? When you're touching your waterfalls to be meticulous, to be cautious, to check your work. And they sound like really basic tips, but they do have a revenue association with them. And so, just being really methodical with my work is definitely something that my mistakes have taught me.

John Koetsier: This reminds me of like transferring crypto in crypto cryptocurrency wallets. It's like, "Do I have that number right?" Because like 30-digits long.

Gabby Bradford Pigott: Yes.

John Koetsier: "Am I sending my money to nowhere?"

Gabby Bradford Pigott: And don't forget your password. Yeah.

John Koetsier: Exactly, really challenging. Very cool. Hopefully sometimes if you make a mistake, it's a happy mistake and it results in more revenue. I mean, and then...

Gabby Bradford Pigott: Yes.

John Koetsier: It was on purpose.

Gabby Bradford Pigott: Yes.

John Koetsier: And then it was on purpose. You did that. It was strategic, all that stuff.

Gabby Bradford Pigott: It was genius. Yeah.

John Koetsier: It was genius. Pure genius. Okay, we're going to end here. We ask every person who comes on, "Mobile Heroes Uncensored" this same question. What is your least censored opinion about mobile marketing or ad monetization, something related to your job?

Gabby Bradford Pigott: Yeah, I think that we're at a really interesting point within ad monetization right now. I think there's a lot of mergers happening, a lot of acquisitions happening, and they're going to change how we as ad monetization, you know, managers, strategists, go about monetizing.

I don't believe there's going to be any major changes in like, you know, the ad formats, but I do think that a lot of the big players in the space that are merging are going to change how... like the tools we have available to optimize.

Perhaps things might become more automated, but maybe they'll be less negotiating, you know, kind of behind scenes. And that could be both good and bad, you know? And, yeah, I think it's just a really interesting time. And right now, things kind of seem stable, but I do think in probably six months or so we're going to see some big shakeups to the industry.

John Koetsier: Interesting. Big shakeups coming. The robots are coming, good stuff.

Peggy Anne Salz: Well, this has been a great show, John. One of my favorites. We've simulated our own show.

John Koetsier: Where's the in-app purchase for our show? Come on, there's got to be one. Where's the rewarded video ad for our show, Peggy?

Peggy Anne Salz: I don't know. We got to work on that, John. I want to see the text simulator for it, you know. "Do we want John and Peggy to get on today at all?" "Yes, no, maybe."

John Koetsier: Exactly.

Peggy Anne Salz: Lot of opportunities. Lot of options. It was just a delight. Thanks so much, Gabby.

Gabby Bradford Pigott: Thank you, Peggy. Thank you, John.

John Koetsier: Thanks, Gabby. Have a wonderful day.

Nov 16, 2022

Segmentation That Sparks Joy, With Geoff Hladik at FlipaClip

If segmentation sparks joy in your life, you might need to get fitted for a straitjacket. Or maybe you’re just super passionate about mobile marketing, engagement, monetization, and retention.

We think the latter applies to Geoff Hladik, who leads revenue and growth at FlipaClip. At least we hope so, because this is the second time we’ve chatted with him and we’re almost related now.

In this episode, hosts Peggy Anne Salz and John Koetsier chat with Geoff about:

  • Becoming a Mobile Hero
  • Audience segmentation (shocking, I know, given the title)
  • New paths for revenue and user growth
  • Engaging and activating creators
  • Flaws in measurement models
  • And more …

26 min

Geoff Hladik: I would say the key thing that we have identified as a critical component for success for us from a measurement standpoint would be understanding the life cycle from the moment a user installs our app and beyond. And in particular, the first few hours and the first few days because that's where we see the majority of critical needs analysis to be addressed.

John Koetsier: Does segmentation spark joy in your life? Do your eyes light up when you think of audiences? Does adjusting ad logic and frequency cause your heart to skip a beat? Well, you might be insane, or you might have what it takes to become a Mobile Hero. Hello, and welcome to "Mobile Heroes Uncensored." My name is John Koetsier, and we're joined of course by our co-host Peggy Ann Salz. Today is kind of Groundhog Day at "Mobile Heroes Uncensored," sort of, Peggy will explain. Peggy, who are we talking to?

Peggy Ann Salz: That's right, Groundhog Day, here we are because we have Goeff Hladik. And if the name is familiar, it's because we featured him not long ago, it was episode number 57. Geoff is one of a kind in many ways. As you'll recall, he heads up monetisation and growth at FlipaClip, a powerful fun tool that makes frame-by-frame animation easy. It's also an app that won Apple's App Trend of the Year in 2019. Maybe coming back that would be a really cool part of the Groundhog feel here. His career started in digital advertising sales at AOL, Amazon, moving then into mobile marketing space where he's been since 2012. And since then, he has also staked his claim in the publisher business as he puts it. He is on the quest to find the balance between engagement and growth. Geoff, what a mission. Welcome to the show. Welcome back to the show.

Geoff Hladik: Thanks, guys. Thanks, Peggy, John. It's good to be back, it's good to see you guys.

John Koetsier: It's good to have you back, and you know what, I mean, Peggy, I must have heard this before because we had Geoff recently, and you did an intro to Geoff like you do an intro to every single guest. You do your research, and you intro them. I had to just do a double take there because you said, moved into the mobile marketing space in 2012. 2012, that is a decade ago, that's an eternity ago in the mobile ecosystem. That's a really long time. I mean, the iPhone was released what, 2008? Announced 2007, released 2008. So, it was like, you know, the App Store came what, 2009 or something like that, right? 2012 is really early, you've seen a few things, Geoff.

Geoff Hladik: Definitely. Yeah, I guess I hadn't thought about it from that perspective, but certainly yes.

John Koetsier: Sorry, apologies.

Geoff Hladik: Well, it's good, but I think about it, I see people who've been there for a lot longer than that and they just know so much. I guess there's still a lot to learn.

John Koetsier: You know what, there's still a lot to learn because they keep changing everything. What the heck? Wow, all your knowledge is outdated after a couple years, everybody's a newbie all the time. So, you are now a Mobile Hero, that is cool. Did Peggy and I have anything to do with that? I mean, like did showing up on the show, did that do it?

Geoff Hladik: I think so. I think that was it.

John Koetsier: He's sucking up, wow.

Peggy Ann Salz: What was your response, Geoff? I mean, you made the grade really faster than most. I was like, "Wow, look who we're having back." We didn't even put away the prep docs and the folders yet, and there you are again.

Geoff Hladik: I was really surprised I guess, and humbled. Some of the past Mobile Heroes are people that I really look up to, and look to learn from on a regular basis and sort of always have, so it was definitely surprising. But I think a lot of the Mobile Heroes, a lot of the work that is done is really helpful and critical to at least me, like the lunch groups, the Mobile Heroes events. I mean, they're super invaluable to myself because I'm able to learn just so much from everybody because there's just so many people who know more and they are doing different things, and they're working on different projects, and there just is a lot to learn.

Peggy Ann Salz: So, the program, you said it yourself, brings together marketers, Ad Mon specialists, brings them together. Usually, it also is about recognising their accomplishments. That's what this show is about, amongst other things. So, I have to ask you, what's your biggest accomplishment to date?

Geoff Hladik: Well, I think for our company, I guess from a high-level standpoint, in all honesty, I would say it's a challenge to keep pace in an incredibly complex technical ecosystem. I mean, mobile is super hard, it's very hard. And it's competitive, and it's full of brilliant people who are developing, you know, business practices that are really hard to understand and keep up with, especially considering the industry, at least from like a personnel standpoint, and just the amount of companies in it is pretty small. I mean, we may generate a lot of revenue in large user bases, but we are sort of operating in silos a lot of the time. I mean, unless you're in, for instance like SF or something, but if you're outside of SF you can be siloed.

So, I think quite frankly keeping pace is a great accomplishment. And then from a product standpoint, I think that our team, we have done a great job building products with a very forward-thinking mentality as it relates to remote configuration, and custom logics for, could be anything from ads to LiveOps or like our content. And so that we are able to... And we may not use all the features and functionality today, but we've thought of the future I would say, very well, so that we're able to kind of adapt and grow quickly once we get to the point where we can use these features. And that definitely kind of ties into what we're talking about today.

John Koetsier: Perfect, perfect, perfect. You know, when you were saying that there's some really challenging stuff that's hard to understand, it's almost like you were thinking of my past couple days reading SKAdNetwork 4.0 requirements and the details on Apple's developer site, the documentation. There are some things in there that you go and you're, "Oh man, scratch my head, what the heck?" But let's talk about joy because, you know, we're very joyful people, aren't we, Peggy? So, joyful. Apparently, you're passionate about audience segmentation, it sparks joy in your life. I don't know if that's pharmaceutical enhancement as you do that but talk about segmentation and what makes you happy about segmentation.

Geoff Hladik: Yeah, I mean, I guess it is kind of nerdy, but it is a lot of fun, I guess for us. It has been sort of accidental or a natural progression in a sense whereby our app doesn't have a blueprint for success. We have a solid competitor out there, but it's a pay app, so they have a different monetisation and growth model, and there are some competitors out there that are working against us, but by and large, there's not really a formula for us to work with the likes of which other apps and gaming companies might have. And as a result, you know, we have to kind of try to learn what our users are doing and what they have been doing just to better understand how to build products and how to market them and how to monetise them. And what we found pretty early on was we just have just a vastly different user base. I mean, we've got a ton of COPPA compliant, you know, under 13, we've got a ton of 13 to 17, a ton of 18-plus and it's pretty evenly distributed, even actually more skewed for the younger demographics.

And with that came like... Some of them don't monetise as well as others, and like COPPA, everybody knows doesn't monetise super well by comparison to like 18-plus. And they are...I mean, also we have a global audience, we're not just tier one. Since we have sort of a growth engine whereby our creators make content, share to the social ecosystem, and then that drives awareness and people want to do what they're seeing out there like creating animations, and like cool memes and movies so then other people go and download. So, we're working with a truly diverse user base and they monetise differently, and they use the app for different purposes too. So, I mean, different users can use the app for purely animation, some use it for memes and trends that are totally, radically different than what the animators use it for. So, breaking all this down and trying to identify the right paths to move forward for, is kind of how we got here to this audience-segmenting universe that we spend a lot of time in today. It's just fascinating to see what is actually happening and I feel like we're still just barely scratching the surface.

Peggy Ann Salz: It does spark joy in his life. You can hear it, John. He's like, "Yeah this is great and we love it and we love breaking it down." Maybe I want to go to that question. You brought it up, and talking about how segmentation, you know, uncovers opportunity, you can understand your audience, why is that more important now than ever? Why do growth specialists need to do this?

Geoff Hladik: That is a good question. So if you take our use case aside, times are always changing and evolving, so much like hardware for phones improves every year, or I guess it used to, I'm not sure how much it improves nowadays, but if you know what I mean, it...

John Koetsier: Hundreds of dollars' worth, Geoff, hundreds of dollars' worth.

Geoff Hladik: But, I mean, much like hardware evolves, software evolves, and people's expectations evolve. So, there are great apps and games that just continually push the envelope and they just make better, and better, and better products. And that puts you in a situation whereby if your product isn't evolving at the same rate of pace, you may not meet the needs of your user base. So, one thing is for certain, at least for us, is just we have different users and they have different expectations, and they need our app for different purposes. So, understanding what their needs are at a user level allows us to better identify roadmaps for product and monetisation and growth. So, that's one thing. And then the other is competition. So, I mean, the competition is crazy out there. If you are not keeping pace with either product and engagement strategy or monetisation, someone might do a better job than you, they might make more money per user because they're seeing different trends with their user base. So, they're able to extrapolate more revenue per user there, and then they can go back and turn and build better products and, you know, grow their user base larger. So those are the two that I would highlight.

John Koetsier: It's really interesting if I kind of look at myself through your lens. Because I have a feeling, like I'm a huge disappointment to Canva. I mean like Canva must look at me and go, "Why is this guy using our servers?" I do like one thing on Canva, I make thumbnails for YouTube and I have my one thing set up there and it's always kind of hard to get to even though it's the last thing I've worked on I've got to scroll down the page to get there. And once I've done it, then it's like three steps to save, it used to be one, because at first they asked me to share. I'm not going to share, sorry, this is for one purpose, you know, and so they're having a hard time monetising me, and I feel bad about that in a sense. But you've said that breaking your audiences into segments can identify new paths for revenue and user growth. What's the most interesting thing you've discovered about that?

Geoff Hladik: I will say that we actually looked at Canva a lot as a side note in terms of product strategy since they're sort of in similar ecosystems. But, I mean, I would say one thing that we've learned, I would say the key thing that we have identified as a critical component for success for us from a measurement standpoint would be understanding the life cycle from the moment a user installs our app and beyond, and in particular like the first few hours and the first few days because that's where we see the majority of critical needs analysis to be addressed. The majority of our purchase behaviour happens within the first hour or two, if we are able to make changes, you know, to core or like identify, you know, ways to adjust core event-driven KPIs that we know are like super successful to our business, for us like someone completing their first movie that they've made is a really critical KPI.

So, if we are able to make that happen faster or at a higher percentage per user for a certain audience segment, that's a really big deal for us. Likewise, with, you know, maybe like secondary event-driven KPIs that tie into retention and so forth, just like basic engagement. And when we look at them really from the second somebody installs the app, within the first few hours, and then the first few days after that, so when we are testing new features and functionality, it is monumental to see how it impacts somebody almost immediately out of the gate. Yeah, I would say that's really where we place our emphasis.

John Koetsier: Interesting.

Peggy Ann Salz: Of course, that's know, it might feel like a prize, it might feel like an accomplishment, but of course, audience segmentation is never static, right? Ongoing, and you enjoy that, Geoff, but some marketers might not, and they want to understand the small changes you can make in a user journey that can have a huge impact. Sometimes you can't even see it in your core metrics. You've tweaked something, you can't quite see it later. What do you measure or analyse, examine, to make sure your audience segmentation is really on the money?

Geoff Hladik: I would say going back to the relative reporting component of how these KPIs are changing at specific points in the life cycle. And, you know, what we do is we break down our key core KPIs that, as I mentioned, is event-driven that really identify whether or not a user has completed through the basic life cycle of their journey at least one time, which is a core indicator of retention and engagement for us. And from there we will look at the secondary key metrics that are tied to basic life cycle monitoring and, you know, retentions and basic engagement and then revenue patterns associated. So, we can come up with like a theory for maybe a possible change that we want to make within the app that we think will improve X, Y, Z, and put the hypothesis in place in terms of the goals and outcome that we expect, and then we'll test and execute it.

And then we will start to assess those like key metrics that I mentioned, and really we are looking for, in a lot of cases, trends that we weren't expecting, because if we start to look at like all of the basic events that we could possibly think of that are happening immediately upon impact once someone installs, a lot of times we see stuff that we weren't planning on seeing, whether that's behavioural based or revenue based. And then we're able to kind of open that up and pulling that thread, and start to say, "Well, maybe there's more opportunity here or maybe more opportunity here." That's kind of how we get started down certain paths once we've opened up a door for something that we want to look into.

Peggy Ann Salz: So much effort, John. And then you break his model, you know.

John Koetsier: Exactly. I must be so disappointing. But I can only take so many subscriptions, I'm sorry. You know, my wallet can only handle so many subscriptions, there is a limit. It's interesting Geoff, as we're listening to you speak because you are the head of both revenue and growth. And you mentioned that maybe you're not Downtown SF, well, you know, nobody is, it's kind of a dead zone right now, nobody's there anymore. But also, you mentioned that, you know, maybe smaller organisation, different type of organisations than some of the big games, in some places those are very separate things. And Peggy and I have had conversations with people that, "You know, hey, we need to bring these together, we need to think about these together because we need to bring the right users who will convert in the right way, and we need to treat them the right way when they come in. We need to know what they're interested in, what ads they saw and what tweaked their interest to come in." Being the head of both kind of gives you a nice holistic perspective on that, and you can do things that are the best for the overall business, not just KPIs in one part of it, correct?

Geoff Hladik: It's interesting because being a smaller team, there's positives and negatives. So the negatives are that we don't always have the resources to necessarily move as fast in certain capacities, and/or analyse data sets for instance or prioritise where we should, like all of the data that we are seeing. But at the same token, we do have the ability to move pretty quickly when the time arises or for stuff that we deem as super low-hanging fruit. And part of that has to do with the way that our app is designed and built. It is so forward-thinking, we have a lot of remote configuration. We've built it in a way whereby like, while we may not be using everything, we can adapt, we can move fast once we're there. And we don't also have, you know, certain internal bureaucracies to go through. And then there is also the component whereby you can see, you know, like both sides of the spectrum and we aren't in silos. But at the same token, you know, it would be obviously nice to have a lot of the resources that some of the larger companies who do have more established teams like that are kind of operating in silos. So, yeah.

John Koetsier: Everybody has something to complain about, "I don't have all the resources the big team has." Then you're in the big team, "Oh those idiots over there, they're doing the wrong thing." Yeah, I know.

Geoff Hladik: But yeah, having it being smaller, you can be a little bit more nimble and you can move faster and that is one thing that we're learning internally, is like move faster. You know, we know things we can just try them. We don't have to be afraid of breaking something because if we break it we can fix it, or we can adjust it.

Peggy Ann Salz: I love it. Fix it, adjust it. And remember it was the nimble mammals who won in the end, right? Big dinosaurs, who needs those, want to be small nimble. You have a certain optimism because I was reading in your blog and you write this and it just would make everyone very excited. And I quote, "There is low-hanging fruit everywhere for improving user experience, MAUs, and revenue." Now that sounds in like everywhere, you said everywhere, but you said it yourself at the top of the show, you need to focus. So, what questions do publishers, do growth specialists need to ask themselves before they jump in there with both feet and try to win or try to find opportunity everywhere?

Geoff Hladik: Yeah. I mean, well. I guess every...

John Koetsier: Geoff is going like, "Why did I say everywhere? Why did I use the word everywhere?"

Geoff Hladik: Yeah, I mean, every team is different, every company is different. You know, you just kind of highlighted how larger corporations definitely have larger teams and they might be set up differently, like product versus monetisation, versus growth and, you know, having their own requirements and like working models. But, you know, I think if at a high level I would, in a non-technical sense, I mean, a handful of questions like, you know, do I have ideas or theories to improve our business or our business unit? And that may sound silly, but everybody has ideas and sometimes they're really good and sometimes they're not, and sometimes they don't work. But at least if you try to bring them to the table and test them or at least bring them up to your team, you know, you're making an effort that might help change your business unit, your KPIs and so forth. So, that's the first one. And then I'd say...

John Koetsier: Ideas spawn ideas, right? Ideas spawn ideas, so.

Geoff Hladik: Yeah. And then the second would be like, do we have the technical capabilities to deploy and measure? That is a big one. And, you know, start small, kind of get comfortable, try not to be overwhelmed, and then from there you can kind of really figure out your path of where you're looking to focus on. And then prioritise and then get a little bit more granular and get organised. And in the end, the last one is...I think this is also a big one, is just not to be afraid because there are a lot of just models that are set in place and people, you know, I am afraid of like breaking things or changing things. But you have to kind of be bold sometimes and be willing to risk maybe some revenue or some user experience issues, or retention in order to see what works and what doesn't work. And then sometimes the hypotheses that you have might be right or might be wrong, but maybe you've learned something totally new, and then it's just like amazing. So, I would say to not always be afraid and to be a little bit bold at times.

John Koetsier: I like that a lot. And that makes a ton of sense. I often think and say that what defines the organisations or companies or brands that win is the rate at which they learn. And if another company might be smaller than you, might have worse of market positioning, worse product, whatever, worse marketing, if their learning rate is faster, they're going to catch you, right? And so, if you can make your learning rate as quick as possible, you can improve faster, you can get better faster, you can win. Let's end here, Geoff. This is "Mobile Heroes Uncensored" and so we want something uncensored, we want something really blunt, you know, your opinion uncensored, on any aspect of mobile marketing that you are passionate about. What is your least censored opinion in mobile marketing?

Geoff Hladik: The least censored opinion in mobile market? I would say things are getting competitive and they have been, you know, I guess for a long time. And there's been these ebbs and flows of consolidation in like change that seem to have happened every couple years, where there's like a burst of it. But lately, it's more competitive than ever, and that probably makes it a lot harder for people jumping into the game like new entrants. But for others, it's harder to kind of hold on against some of the larger established players. I think that it might be hard in the short term for some companies but I think in the end maybe change is good, you know. Maybe Apple's changes might work out for the better. Maybe we just kind of enter a new phase over the course of the next two years and everybody's better off because we are focusing on some of these things that we're talking about for user experience and privacy and so forth. So, I mean, I'm not saying it's easy now and good now, but maybe it would for the better.

John Koetsier: I think that's a great answer to least censored opinion. Maybe Apple's changes are for the better. It's great.

Geoff Hladik: I don't know if that's the...

John Koetsier: No, it's all good. I actually do think SKAN 4 will help. I think that there's some tweaks that we just saw in the last couple days that will not help, but that is for another podcast. Geoff, it has been such a pleasure having you part two, and thank you for taking this time.

Geoff Hladik: Thank you, guys. Thank you, Peggy. It's great to be here.

Peggy Ann Salz: Thank you, Geoff. And I hope it sparked joy to be on our show.

Geoff Hladik: It did.

John Koetsier: And I hope it sparks joy for our listeners. If it does spark joy, let us know, that'll be great. Hit us up on Twitter, you know what, we're always looking for other Mobile Heroes, even if you're not officially crowned a Mobile Hero to be on the show. Have a great day. And thank you to all listeners. We really do appreciate you. Hope you're enjoying it. Let us know on social if you are.

Peggy Ann Salz: And let us know if you want to come, and we'll have you on the show. If you're a Mobile Hero or you know of someone who is, then fill out the interest form over at

John Koetsier: Also, Liftoff have a Slack for Mobile Heroes and people in the mobile ecosystem. There's a link on the screen, and if you're listening to the podcast, it's at It's pretty cool, there's smart people there. And you know what, they probably need you too.

Peggy Ann Salz: And you have probably been completely blown away by all the insights on this show, and you want your transcript, and you can have it because the transcripts are over at Liftoff's website. Go to, click on Heroes and then click on Podcast.

John Koetsier: I actually personally love transcripts because I read way faster than people talk. So that's a great way to get insights really, really quickly. Until next time, this is John Koetsier, thank you so much for joining.

Peggy Ann Salz: And this is Peggy Ann Salz, signing off for "Mobile Heroes Uncensored."

Nov 2, 2022

Top Trends in ASO Today With AppTweak’s Simon Thillay

Every mobile marketer needs good ASO. The last thing you want is to acquire users, have them hit your App Store or Google Play listing, and say … nah, maybe not. So getting your app store optimization right is critical.

In this Mobile Heroes Uncensored, we chat with AppTweak’s Head of ASO Simon Thillay. He chats with hosts John Koetsier and Peggy Anne Salz about custom product pages, in-app events — the kind that people participate in, not the kind you track for KPIs — and how he sees ASO evolving.

Check this episode out to make sure no marketing dollar gets wasted at the very last step in the funnel. And why endurance skating and mobile marketing are similar!

27 min

Simon Thillay: The two main similarities between endurance skating and growth marketing in a way are, first, getting to learn that grinding through things is important. You will never have results that come out of nowhere. It's not just there's suddenly a magic button, you have to go through the effort, sometimes the pain that go with it. But if you put enough into it, it's definitely worth at the end.

John Koetsier: Is your ASO holding your app back, or worse, sabotaging your user acquisition campaigns? Hello, and welcome to Mobile Heroes Uncensored. My name is John Koetsier. We're co-hosted, of course, as usual by Peggy Anne Saltz. And today, we're chatting about ASO, App Store Optimisation. Sometimes I think it should be Google Play Optimisation. I mean, doesn't Google get anything here? No love for Android?
ASO has felt a little bit stagnant over the past couple years maybe. We've been talking too much about SKAdNetwork and privacy, I'm not sure. But there's some really cool new developments recently. Custom product pages, of course, which have been around for a couple months. There's also in-app events. And no, that's not the kind that you use for your KPI reporting. Plus, as paid is getting tougher, there might be a recession going on. Anybody heard about that? Organic looks more and more appealing. Peggy, who are we chatting with about ASO?

Peggy Anne Salz: Indeed, it does, John. And that's why we're talking about ASO. And we brought in Simon Thillay. He is head of ASO at AppTweak where he also leads an international team of ASO experts providing analysis and insights on advanced ASO for top apps across a variety of categories and countries. But before that, interestingly enough, he was into growth marketing in a big way because he was the growth marketing manager at the music app Deezer, and the client of AppTweak at the time before joining AppTweak to work his way up the rank. So, I guess you could say seeing was believing, he joined, he's in there.

John Koetsier: Perhaps. I'm also a customer.

Peggy Anne Salz: Yes, exactly. So, I was going to say he's been drinking the Kool-Aid. It's been real for him, a real deal. And he's also a speaker at mobile growth and industry conferences and webinars, as well as co-author of a pretty massive book, The Advanced ASO book 2022. Interestingly enough, his career doesn't just start off with a crash course in growth marketing. He has a parallel career as well. Get this, John, in-line skating where he has hit some amazing milestones, including 535 kilometers in 24 hours. I won't mess with him.

John Koetsier: That's huge, wow.

Peggy Anne Salz: Indeed.

John Koetsier: Impressed.

Peggy Anne Salz: Great to have you, Simon. We're already impressed. We could stop right here.

Simon Thillay: Thank you for having me. I hope I can impress some more and maybe a bit more, but marketing because those skating days, they're not completely behind me. But that milestone I was 28, and so I want to get new ones.

John Koetsier: You'll have to be amazing, honestly, in this to beat that. I mean, that was a high. I mean, that many kilometers in 24 hours, that's amazing. Fortunately, there's great stuff to chat about. And I want to start here. We're going to get a bit into your personal story, where you've come from, what you've done as well. But I want to start with two big things in ASO. Maybe let's start with custom product pages. How has that changed ASO?

Simon Thillay: I will say, interestingly enough, depending on how you do it, not at all, or completely, on paper, custom product pages are just regular store pages for us. So, if it's about how to just design creative, we have the same guidelines from Apple to respect the same technique designs that you can explore.
As a quick mention, I'm sure we're going to talk about Apple. You did say you wanted some love for Google Play, so I'll mention there's also custom store listing, sorry. Because in the end, Apple and Google mostly fight about names and not really about features this day. But the bottom line is, yeah, for ASO, it's not really changed how we're going to design creatives itself. What's really changing is more is that it's bringing new opportunities to play nicer with the UA team. I think in the past there's been a lot of let's each stay in our rooms and hopefully, when the CMO calls us, be nice to each other. But now it's a lot of being able to work together again.
And I think what to me changes but I know is still very new for most people doing ASO, is that it's a new way to bring out the user insights you get out of ASO. I think as a whole, a lot of people don't think ASO is also supplying a lot of user research, and this is where I can start promoting AppTweak of course, but I will get to that I'm sure.

John Koetsier: That's really interesting. I mean, one of the things that custom product pages or custom product listings, I think you said, one of the things that's super interesting to me about that is that I can be very specific. Because I may have different kinds of users in my app, I may have different demographics or segments or whatever, and I can be super specific and I can also tailor my ads for exactly that custom product page, and that should be generally better. But I haven't ever heard of doing user research or getting user data from ASO.

Simon Thillay: So, let me give you an example then, because this is something I've actually done with one of our clients. Early enough when custom product pages were released, you could already use them with Apple Search Ads. We've gotten more ad networks to allow custom product pages now, but at the time, I think ironSource and ASA were the only two.
But one thing that we identified, we just went through their reviews and ratings and we spotted that in the positive reviews people were mentioning how their free-tier offered more options than the free-tier of competitors. And that was a great way of building a custom page that could then be used to target using ASA keywords of competitors especially if you were to look for a certain competitor and free, suddenly there was an option of placing the ad and say, "Well, you know, this is not the one you expected, but for free in this one, you'll have this benefit."

Peggy Anne Salz: So, another take on review mining, right?

Simon Thillay: I think review mining has been part of ASO, at least in my opinion of I've not waited for someone to tell me that ASO to go into that. And it's always been great to come up with creative IDs because in the end, one of the best ways to know how to advertise your app in the store in particular is just to show what people already say about you.

John Koetsier: I like that, Peggy. I like that a lot. You know, I haven't thought a lot about reviews lately. Obviously they're important for your ASO, obviously they're important for your ranking and everything like that, but review mining to get good insights about your users, super, super interesting. Maybe one more thing we'll hit here, Simon, before we get into your personal story, is in-app events.
And obviously that's a confusing name because we've always thought in the mobile industry about in-app events, like, oh, somebody subscribed or somebody bought or somebody finished a level or something like that. But this is very different, and it's actually a super interesting way of doing user acquisition, correct?

Simon Thillay: To some extent, I will say it's much more familiar to everyone in gaming if we call it by the Google name, which is Liveops. And what both Apple and Google do is just allow you to promote any Liveop you already have in your app on the store. And so here, I think that what's really interesting is just that on the gaming side, it's not changed a whole lot because people were already doing it, it's just been an additional opportunity for visibility.
So, it's always good to take, it's extremely cheap to do. So, even if you don't get a whole lot out of it every single time, I would still encourage people to do it. And on the app side where people were less used to doing that, more have started thinking about gamification or other ways to promote content and to activate more seasonal content as a result. And that's a great way to learn about engagement. So, I think there's been mostly an impact on the app side for smaller developers who were not really very active in engagement before. And so I do have one slide with some stats to show which categories are active, what kind of event to select so we can go over that as well.

Peggy Anne Salz: I'm going to look forward to that. I mean, that's later on, but that's just a thing, getting your head around what an in-app event looks like for apps that aren't games. So, it's going to be a challenge. It's going to require some out-of-the-box thinking. But I do want to get to your personal story because whatever you're doing in your job, it always comes from someplace else. And my cat wants attention. Get down here.

John Koetsier: And the cat makes appearance on Mobile Heroes Uncensored.

Peggy Anne Salz: Absolutely.

John Koetsier: This is just another type of uncensored moment.

Peggy Anne Salz: Cat wants attention. We want to give our attention to you, Simon, not to the cat, although probably...

John Koetsier: We kind of want to see the cat, honestly. I mean, where is the cat?

Peggy Anne Salz: Cat is now going to spite me.

Simon Thillay: He gets loose on the...

John Koetsier: Oh, okay.

Peggy Anne Salz: Oh, yeah, social media moment. Getting back to you, Simon. So, thinking about what you've done, you know, you're a sponsored athlete, that is pretty cool. And we've had a few guests like you. Remember John, we had Amy, CEO, Mattel163? And they draw from the excellence in sports. We had Annika ages ago. You know, how do you draw from sports to excel in business? How do you do it? You've got a personal story, tell us about it.

Simon Thillay: Well, to be honest, I'd say that, first and foremost, it's just a question of personal balance. I'm sure everyone who strives for professional excellence also needs an outlet, and sports just happened to be mine. And yeah, I think especially when you work in growth, it's extremely exciting but also a bit overwhelming at times. There's always something happening, you need to keep up with everything.
And so whatever your outlet is, I think that sports, for instance a great way to stay both physically and mentally healthy. So, that's kind of where it started for me and then the drive to go for competitiveness, I guess it's just one part of my personality. And in here I'll say the two main similarities between and endurance skating and growth marketing in a way are, first, getting to learn that grinding through things is important. You will never have results that come out of nowhere. It's not just there's suddenly a magic button. You have to go through the effort, sometimes the pain that go with it. But if you put enough into it, it's definitely worth at the end.
And the second fact I think is also an appreciation for the people around you, and that's something that's super specific to endurance sports. The person I admire most in a way in my discipline and who's one of the persons I followed into the discipline always told me that, "In endurance, alone, you go faster, but together, you go further." And when I look at how in growth marketing we have great communities that are not afraid to share IDs and to challenge each other to push the discipline further, I think there's a similarity here that's always extremely to be appreciated to the fullest because you don't get that in all industries.

Peggy Anne Salz: I really love that.

John Koetsier: That's great.

Peggy Anne Salz: That is really it. I mean, when you think about it, when you go to these events, you see it, John. I mean, this is a tribe because you can't learn it anywhere else, you have to learn it from each other. And they learn it, of course, from our show for that matter.

John Koetsier: There's no mobile marketing school? Come on. There's no University of Mobile Advertising?

Peggy Anne Salz: No, we have it.

John Koetsier: What the heck? What's going on here?

Peggy Anne Salz: We have it. That's what it is, it's here. And you were talking about how you have to keep up on things, you know, it's constant. And that's the same thing with trends. I'd like to understand at AppTweak a little bit more about the company, but also the trends you're seeing. You see a lot of things going on and you also capture that or even report on that. Share some of that for us.

Simon Thillay: So, about the company quickly. AppTweak is an App Store acquisition tool composed of four main parts, I would say, is it's ASO-intelligent. It's been the core historic component of the company since the beginning. And it still has great innovations today, but also ad intelligence, was featured around ASA and more, as well as app and market intelligent for high level marketers.
And concretely, what I really love at AppTweak is that there's a combination of a very user-centric approach. As you mentioned, I actually started as a client of AppTweak and I was convinced enough to think the company was worth a shot for my career, and I've been extremely happy since I've joined. And the other part is the importance of data. So, when we're going to look at trends, for instance, AppTweak basically works as the biggest store intelligence tool you can find.
We try to track everything that goes on in the App Store and in the Play Store. We do not play favorites between the two. And you can find information that's very simple at first. What are the apps that are available in each country? What are the keywords they target? What are the creatives that have reviews and ratings, etc.? But then there's a layer of data science, actually there's multiple layers of data science.
And one very exciting one that was released recently has been a system we call Atlas, which basically aims to reverse-engineer each store. And what we can do with it is basically scan through all the stores, all the keywords that are available and start comparing apps and comparing keywords. So, one thing we've been able to do for instance was compute a relevancy score for each keyword relative to an app and find some interesting outliers such as the fact that if I ask you what's the difference between the word run and the word running is, I'm pretty sure you'll tell me it's just a grammatical difference and there's not much behind it.
But when we look at how a store algorithm understands each word, and that means each string of letters in the end, what we find is that run in the mind of a store is associated to games, to games like Subway Surfers, Temple Run, etc., whereas running is associated to the activity and therefore, to the apps that support outdoor running usually. So, Strava, Run Tracker, and so on will be the big difference. So, that's kind of just one scratch that we can get out of it.
We can also look at how to better classify apps. I think that if you still look at the app categories that are available in the store, you can easily spot how they're way too broad these days. So, if you want a quick trivia, how many different types of app do you think are in the lifestyle category on the App Store today? I just looked at the top 10 before the recording, so I got a quick trivia for you guys.

John Koetsier: I think Simon's putting us on the spot here. This is really, really tough. I have seen it before that there are wildly different apps in what's supposedly called lifestyle.

Simon Thillay: It's only the top 10. So, how diverse do you think the top 10 is?

John Koetsier: I would say very, but I don't know. I need the data.

Simon Thillay: So, the answer is actually five as of today in the U.S. I'm sure it'll change at some point. You'll have social networks, you'll have dating, smart homes, real estate, and even things about, for instance, coupons and promotions. So, this one is a particular case. I'm sure if we look at different categories it's not always going to be as crazy, but it just shows you how if you play by the App Store rules or rather the public rules, you will have way too much diversity to make a whole lot of sense of what goes on in the store. And that's where we try to instead have our own classifications by reverse-engineering how algorithms rank apps and then look at how we can find better trends which could be about how do they do creatives, what's the average rating to be in the top of the category, how often are you being featured and so on.

John Koetsier: I can see how that's important. Do you remember, Peggy, it's years ago now, Twitter moved out of social networking I believe into news or something like that, right?

Simon Thillay: Exactly.

John Koetsier: And in social networking, they were always, like, fifth or fourth or seventh, or something like that. Facebook was ahead or, you know, maybe Snap got ahead if Snap was around at the time, or others were ahead. But in their new category, they could lead, which was interesting.

Simon Thillay: So, I will raise you on that because I think part of the move was at the time especially it was extremely marketable on LinkedIn to claim you were number one in your category and that was a great way for them to just claim the number one spot. Honestly, I think it's a vanity metric. But what's more interesting when you look at that is you can see how certain apps are not really in the category they claim to be in. And one of my favorite example is YouTube. If you look at YouTube, they still categorize as photo and video could make sense. But when we look at what are all the apps that rank on the same keywords and all of that, we find that they're an entertainment video. And it makes sense because that's where Netflix is, that's where Disney, HBO, etc., and that's the same kind of consumption that you get out of it.

John Koetsier: That is really cool stuff, Peggy. It's kind of laying bare the bones, the substructure beneath the App Store and the Play Store. Now, Simon, you have some data for us and you've got some slides.

Simon Thillay: So, there we go. So, for the brain behind Atlas, couple of cool numbers is just AppTweak tracks 6 million apps over 20 million keywords, and that's across 66 countries, 20 languages in both major stores. And that leads to cool representations of like what you see here, which would be a subset of keywords. Each color is one app. These are just a few apps and all the keywords they rank for. And so we can see how close or distant each app is to the other.

John Koetsier: It's like the galaxy of apps. Interesting.

Simon Thillay: And just things in here. I think we have 12 apps in here only. So, once we add the rest of the 6 million, it looks absolutely crazy. I think we can definitely break some data visualization tool. But it's extremely interesting to just dive into these clouds and try to find the insight. So, here there's the example of how we use it for the relevancy score.
So, I've already explained how when we look at run and running, suddenly an app like Strava will perform very differently on both words. And so, for running, it ranks number three organically. It's extremely relevant to target the keyword running. But if you look for run, it's not in the top four, it's actually not even in the top 50. So, that's one application we have.
Another would be when trying to break down the category in what we call at AppTweak AppDNA. So, this is the example I gave you was a top 10. And one thing that we currently do at the category level and that we are going to bring to these appDNAs soon is going to be benchmarks in metadata practices. So, it will be helpful to measure how active people are around using in-app events, how many of your competitors actually use a video in the App Store, and many other things.

Peggy Anne Salz: So, that is expanding our mind in all directions. I couldn't resist it as a segue because ASO is expanding in all directions. He loves my jokes. Now, you literally...

John Koetsier: Love is not quite the word, but go ahead, go ahead.

Peggy Anne Salz: I got that through really quickly, John. But you literally wrote the book on ASO with feature right before all the Apple changes, now Google. So, that is a task. So, what has been the most frustrating thing about ASO? What is it right now? We know what it was with the book. What is it right now?

Simon Thillay: Well, actually the book should tell you what it is right now because we sort of wrote it and wrote it again because we caught Apple and Google announcing their new features as we were getting ready to release it, so we went in six more months to write about that as well.
But I think what ASO is, is actually what you want to make it to be. It's the catalyst, the accelerator for your marketing strategy, your growth strategy overall. So, there's no one answer for this. And it's more about also the most frustrating thing about ASO, which is that there's still people who expect it to be a silver bullet made out of keywords, and it would be just so easy if it was the case. But we're progressively getting everyone on board with the fact that it's much more than that and that not everyone should expect keywords to be the one answer for them, but there's always one way to make basically ASO sort of the fuel to your rocket.
So, if you're going to prioritise paid UA custom products pages, custom store listings, they're going to be great to help you do that, the user insights as well as we mentioned. If you're going to go for referrals, there's also great ways to empower that. I still have a pet peeve with Apple App Clips. Almost no one uses them, but I'm still convinced there's value if you invest in that, and so on. So, there's really a lot in ASO. And yeah, I think in the end it's all about saying it's part of growth, it's a subset of growth, and you should have different perspectives on it.

John Koetsier: Let's end here with two quick questions. First off, briefly, what change do you see happening in ASO on the horizon, perhaps coming into 2023? What's the biggest thing that you think will impact the world of ASO?

Simon Thillay: I think it's the outside world. It's the fact that the economy's not looking the best it's ever looked. And so, how it's going to impact marketing and ASO as a result is mostly people trying a lot of different things. And I think usually it's a good thing, but there's also a need for some focus. And so what will be important in 2023 is to make sure you hit the right focus and you don't vary in direction every other month.

John Koetsier: In other words you're saying it's a little bit like SEO. It's not something you can just do, boom, see the results of, and tweak every... You got to keep going with it, you got to keep chugging. Okay, finally, question we ask every guest. What is your least censored opinion about well, marketing or maybe ASO?

Simon Thillay: Well, I hope I don't get in trouble for this one. And I think it's okay to say because everyone knows it anyway. It's just that we need a better balance of powers between Apple and Google and the app developers. To be specific, I do think that people often don't give enough credit to Apple and Google for some of the services that are part of their stores and the 30-person commission that everyone loves to complain about.
But on the other hand, there is also the fact that there's a lot of opacity around some of the policies and a lack of recourse against some of the things that are being made. And so in here, I know some talks happen behind the scenes, that's obviously a good thing, and I just wish that these were topics that were easier to bring out to the open.

John Koetsier: Totally understandable. Sometimes opaque decisions and sometimes people just left with no recourse but to go public. And if they have a big platform, then maybe something happens, and if they don't, then maybe nothing does. Simon, thank you so much for this time. It has been fascinating and interesting.

Simon Thillay: Thank you for having me.

John Koetsier: And thank you to all listeners. We really do appreciate you. Hope you're enjoying it. Let us know on social if you are.

Peggy Anne Salz: And let us know if you want to come and we'll have you on the show. If you're a mobile hero or you know of someone who is, then fill out the interest form over at

John Koetsier: Also, Liftoff has a Slack for mobile heroes and people in the mobile ecosystem. There's a link on the screen and if you're listening to the podcast, it's at It's pretty cool. There's smart people there. And you know what? They probably need you too.

Peggy Anne Salz: And you have probably been completely blown away by all the insights on this show and you want your transcript. And you can have it because the transcripts are over at Liftoff's website. Go to, click on heroes and then click on podcast.

John Koetsier: I actually personally love transcripts because I read way faster than people talk, so that's a great way to get insights really, really quickly. Until next time, this is John Koetsier. Thank you so much for joining.

Peggy Anne Salz: And this is Peggy Anne Saltz signing off from Mobile Heroes Uncensored.

Oct 26, 2022

Huuuge Games, Huge Automation, and Hugely Human Advice

It’s never been tougher to make it in user acquisition and growth, but Huuuge Games director of marketing creatives Misha Syrotiuk makes it work in two diverging ways: more automation, and more human connection.

In this Mobile Heroes Uncensored, we chat with Misha about the amount of automation needed to remove some of the drudgery and grunt work from creative creation and campaign optimization. But we also chat about the advice he’d give his younger self: investing in the human relationships that make the business run and enable needed growth.

In addition, hosts Peggy Anne Salz and John Koetsier discuss how Misha feels about Android vs iOS, creative testing, AI-enabled art workflows, and the best career advice he can offer.

28 min

John Koetsier: How does a 20-year-old games publisher stay fresh, stay young, stay vibrant? Welcome to Mobile Heroes Uncensored. My name is John Koetsier and we're co-hosted, of course, as always by Peggy Anne Salz. Today we're chatting with one of the icons of the Mobile Game Suites. I'm going to have fun with their name later. They were born in, not 2020, 2002, 20 years ago in Poland, and now have offices and studios around the world, Tel Aviv, Las Vegas, Helsinki, London. How popular is that Las Vegas, you know, office? I got to go visit them and I don't know, we'll see. Peggy, who are we chatting to?

Peggy Anne Salz: Can I say that it is a huge company. It's Huuuge Games, right? You wanted to play with that. I know you did, John, you were wanting to think about it.

John Koetsier:
You just stole my thunder Peggy. Thank you.

Peggy Anne Salz: I stole your thunder. Oh, no. It's Huuuge Games with a huge guest. We have Misha Syrotiuk, is director of growth at Huuuge Games, as you said, international games developer publisher, focused on social gaming. But Misha started his career in e-commerce, then moved to free-to-play games. He's an experienced marketer with a demonstrated history of working with social casino, match-3, hyper casual and casual games, covers all the bases there. He's based in Warsaw, Poland, but he's been a road warrior recently speaking at MAU, PGC Helsinki, making the rounds at all the cool shows and the parties, because I met up with him a couple of times. And he's making a comeback today because he was a Mobile Hero back in 2019. So he is back for non-core. It's great to have you, Misha.

Misha Syrotiuk: Hi guys. Thanks for having me.

John Koetsier: We are super pumped to have you. I mean, what is that Mobile Hero again? Is that re-hero or are you know, do you come back as a hero win?

Peggy Anne Salz: Reanimated or something like that, yeah.

John Koetsier: Hero times two, you know. Exactly. It's Mobile Heroes, the sequel. I don't know.

Peggy Anne Salz: The sequel, I like that.

John Koetsier: We're going to find that one out. But, you know, Peggy already did it, so she totally stole what I was going to do. But I mean, listen, in the games industry, in the mobile space, you see Huuuge Games all the time and every time I see it, I want to say huuuge. I mean, does everybody have that. Is that just weirdos like us? What's going on here, Misha?

Misha Syrotiuk: Everyone does it. And I must admit this is a great name for the company, especially that it's spelled with three Us. So, it doesn't give you any other option to pronounce this name. And every time I'm using English for work or for non-work related reasons, I hear the word huge, it's always automatically associated with my company. So it's a good branding name, let me tell you that.

John Koetsier: Nice. Love it. I absolutely love it, cool. Well, let's talk about you and kind of your origin story. You've had a pretty cool kind of progression of your career as Peggy talked about, what got you started and what's kind of the wildest journey, detour shortcut that you took?

Misha Syrotiuk: Yeah. So, I started mobile market in 2013. I actually just finished my school. I went for exchange, I came back and I just went for the friends gathering where I met my next boss. And he just happened to be hiring for the mobile startup that we were selling audiobooks. And it was the year where Facebook just announced the mobile app install campaigns. Twitter didn't even have the app install product yet. So, it was really kind of doing the things that now there is a lot of automation that is doing it for you, but at that time it was physically creating campaigns and optimizing that. And that's where I met another friend of mine who later introduced me to Huuuge Games and he was in the company when the company just got first round of funding, and they were looking for somebody to join the marketing team. I was the third person hired in the marketing team. And, I guess my secret here, or maybe how I...what's the detour that I took, is really joining the fast growing startup that has a lot of growth opportunities. So, that's what enabled me to be at the role that I am today because of just doing hard work that all of us are doing anyway. It's much more rewarding to do it in startup if anyone is interested in growing their career possibilities because they are just right there, there is another round of funding, another growth is coming, the team is getting bigger. And if you're interested in being team leader or later grow as individual in the professional ladder, that's the place to be.

John Koetsier: This is the one tip, Peggy, that you got to give to people who are just coming out of school. Pick a company that's going to win. I mean, you know, you don't have ...there you go. It's easy.

Peggy Anne Salz: There you go.

John Koetsier: No problem. Pick a company that's going to win and you're going to be successful.

Peggy Anne Salz: Well, one thing you said about your journey back in 2019, when we first spoke, Misha, you were into mobile marketing because you said it pushes you to your limits. Now, either you love it or you're a masochist. I haven't figured that one out, but what's the best part of that? What do you mean pushing to your limits? What's so enjoyable about that? Maybe it's just a question.

Misha Syrotiuk: Yeah. No, I love it. I love the innovation in mobile games and mobile marketing, that's what pushes me to do new things. It's never boring. The next day you come to work, there is something new happening, some new game genre or some new game company. The companies that are currently big, when I joined Huuuge Games in 2015, nobody knew about TikTok, nobody knew about ByteDance. The media channels that we were using that time were, you know, a lot of ad networks and Facebook, and Twitter, and Google, and today, there's so many new names that they were not existing just five years ago. Imagine what's going to happen five years from now. When I joined my studies, mobile devices were not existing. I started studying in 2006. iPhone was released in 2007. So, my current role of being director of growth at the mobile gaming company was non-existent just when I started studying in the university. So, my sister currently, for example, that is studying, I don't know where she's going to be working when she will finish in 10 years from now. She'll probably going to be doing something that is not yet being innovative. So the best thing to be in the place that we are is all the innovation that is just around us.

Peggy Anne Salz: So that's the exciting part, but everything has a downside. What's the most frustrating part of being in mobile marketing right now?

John Koetsier: I know...

Misha Syrotiuk: Well, I guess...

John Koetsier: I'm going to jump in on Misha. He's so excited about the innovation of ATT and iOS 14…

Peggy Anne Salz: Yeah, exactly. It makes...

John Koetsier: Sorry, Misha.

Peggy Anne Salz: It floats his boat. Absolutely.

Misha Syrotiuk: But I'm going to take it a little bit on the higher level. That is true, actually. So, because there is so much innovation, so much changes, there is relatively little stability, if you were to be in some other marketing field. If you were to work in traditional FMCG or any other big, big production company, the marketing would be the same as it was 20 years ago. But in the current field that we are, there is relatively little stability. If you want to do the same thing for the next month or years to come, you should be somewhere else. Right here you should be okay with coming to work and almost doing something else that you were doing yesterday because there is a new privacy policy and new regulations or new devices being available. Everything is just not as stable as maybe our parents are used to be.

John Koetsier: So, you joined Huuuge Games, I still want to say huuuge. But you joined Huuuge Games and you're now head of growth, what's that look like? What's your daily routine like?

Misha Syrotiuk: Yeah. So, actually when I joined Huuuge Games, I was responsible for doing marketing campaigns for the only game at that time that we had at the big scale, Huuuge Casino. Currently, we have more games. And up until July of this year, I was responsible, as you mentioned, for the growth area. So, majority of my team members were the UA experts, the user acquisition experts, that were responsible for growth of our newer titles. So, we were investing a lot of time and money into building our own games and publishing third party games, but also acquiring studios. So, we had a separated team that was focusing only on growing this newer franchise. Now, we did a little bit of restructuring and currently my role is taking care of non-user acquisition parts of performance marketing. So, what I mean by that, I'm responsible for creative performance and creative production teams in Huuuge Games, but also for the organic growth teams. So, that is also known as app store optimization team. So teams that are taking care of the performance marketing, but not from the paid perspective. So non-user acquisition teams and this individuals are based in our three offices, in Warsaw where I am as well, and Tel Aviv, and in Amsterdam, in the Netherlands.

Peggy Anne Salz: So knowing you, you must be pretty happy because you have been focused on creative before it was cool. You're always talking about, oh, there must be something about ad creatives, how to optimize them. You're very deeply into them, but how do you approach it currently?

Misha Syrotiuk: Yeah. So, creative optimization, we approach from different perspectives. So, first of all, the reason why marketing creatives exist is that they should help marketing campaigns be successful, meaning acquire the right users at the right scale, meaning grow in scale. Now, not all the media channels actually require marketing creatives. For some of them, like TikTok Mention or Facebook, marketing creatives are really important and really needed. Without them, you can't even go forward and they have to be refreshed all the time to acquire the right users because those are the discovery channels. But there are other sort of channels where marketing creatives are advised but not necessary. And those, I can give the example of incentivized game ad networks where the marketing creative could be uploaded to highlight to the potential user, this is what the game would look like but it doesn't have to be. And there are a few other channels like that. So the role of marketing creative is to make sure that the channels that have been optimized or have been used have the best marketing piece of material that is needed.

Peggy Anne Salz: Mm-hmm. So, as you said yourself, sometimes you have to refresh the creative, sometimes you don't. It's a choice, it's also a challenge. How do you handle that challenge?

Misha Syrotiuk: So, the biggest challenges that we have currently in our teams, actually, is manual operational work. That's what I can call the biggest challenge.

Peggy Anne Salz: Drudge work.

Misha Syrotiuk: And what I mean by that...

Peggy Anne Salz: Is what you're saying?

Misha Syrotiuk: Yeah. What I mean by that is, and it's not only in my team but in many other teams, right? We have a lot of manual work. And the example of this manual work that I feel shouldn't be, is when we have a new marketing creative being created. So, marketing artists spend time on actually creating this piece of art and takes days, sometimes weeks, then this marketing creative is being manually tested on different channel with different methodologies. So, again, somebody takes it, uploads it, verifies it, spends money. And then the third step here is taking this creative that is assuming is successful, and again, applying it into business as usual campaign and manually pushing it on the highest scale. So, there is a lot of manual work, a lot of people involved, and I do feel that we can do much better.

Peggy Anne Salz: Sounds like drudge work, as I said before, I understand it, I hear your pain. What would you tell a platform, a company, for example, maybe Facebook that to do or change, if you could, if they were listening? And, of course, they're listening to our show, so do it. You have the stage.

Misha Syrotiuk: Yeah. And I do think Facebook is a great example of the company that implements a lot of automation into their campaign, into their existing, actually prior to 2015, I believe, or even 2014, on Facebook, you could only do mobile app install or very basic optimization campaigns. Currently, you can select the right optimization you want. So there is a lot of automation that system does for you. But answering your question, I would love if there is a piece of material being created and we can put it already on our business as usual campaigns, but knowing that before the tool will take this creative and spend a lot of money on it, to make sure that it's acquiring the right users, we want to make sure that that creative is actually tested.

So, the sort of automation that could be, in my opinion, for Facebook is that when I apply a new creative, the system first will spend certain amount of money or it through certain amount of days, or maybe under certain threshold of impressions, just to make sure that it makes sense even to allocate bigger budget. And there will be, of course, some sort of numbers that we have to meet, and assuming that we meet the criteria, this then will push the creative to the level that all of us are happy with. So, instead of just grabbing it right away and spending everything as possible, the system could automatically verify, all right, it makes sense, give us the green light. "Hey, you're good to go, now hit the button and it will go skyrocketing." And instead of what it is today, which means if it spends, you don't know if it's spending good or bad, it's just spending, and it may be actually wasting your money.

John Koetsier: That makes a ton of sense. It kind of reminds me of the early days of UAC on Google. And you could spend a few hundred thousand dollars, maybe even 5 or 10 times that, before you really got dialed in and trained the system on what you wanted, what you needed. Let's talk a little bit about Android. We already hit on ATT and iOS 14.5, 15, 16, now, but you said in prep with Peggy that Android is your favorite playground. What do you mean by that?

Misha Syrotiuk: Yeah. Actually, I don't even remember saying that, but it is true, Android is the favorite playground or it is today. It used to be another system. And the reason for that is that Android is not having so much privacy regulations yet as iOS has. Android inventory is also slightly cheaper and there is more possibilities to do creative things, as of today. So what I do mean that it's a favorite playground is that it allow us to test our marketing hypothesis in the more cost-efficient way. So if we have a new product today, if we were to develop a new game or publish a new game, we would first verify that it's very well tested on Android OS, where it would be, again, cheaper and we can measure it more, everything that we need. Or if we create a new marketing creative and we want to do a test campaign for this specific creative, we would verify it on Android first and then we may re-verify it on iOS if needed or not needed. But we would go with that operation system as it just allow us to track everything we need.

John Koetsier: It's super interesting, Misha, because, let's say, five, six years ago, even three years ago, people would often launch first on iOS, and then go over to Android. Now you're seeing a push towards the opposite. I like that you said and maybe re-verify in iOS because I've heard different things from marketers. In some verticals, what they do on Android, hey, that translates very well to iOS and other verticals, not so much. So, they have to be careful about that as you are as well. Talking about testing, what's the smallest change that you've ever made in campaign that delivered the biggest uplift?

Misha Syrotiuk: Yeah. Actually I want to give the example of maybe even not that small change, but we were working with one game some time ago that is on PVP, so, player versus player, a battle arena kind of game. And we realized that for this specific game, we have a lot of younger male audience that we want the game to be attracted to. And by doing marketing research, we actually decided to go a lot with influencer campaigns instead of just a regular Facebook or Google UAC, etc., because we realized that our potential audience will be discovering those kind of products via watching YouTube, etc. And that's not really a small change, but there was...we did, of course, test influencer versus regular campaigns and influencers did win in terms of cost and scale, and performance, because this was the right fit of the creative to the right product. So, I guess the conclusion here is, we can't take what's working on one game genre or one operation system, even one country and apply somewhere else. It could be that completely the same country but different game genre would be not performing the same on different media channels.

Peggy Anne Salz: Mm-hmm. So, making that match is just one way to have impact, to have uplift. Overall, you know, creative testing is a constant with you and your team, even some influencer testing as well. In any case, it never stops. It's always ongoing. Now, you love it, obviously, but that might not be the same for your team, right? So how do you keep them as curious and motivated as you keep yourself? What is your tip there?

Misha Syrotiuk: Yeah. I don't think I have one tip here that would make everyone happy. I think my biggest theme is, "Never stop learning." I try to make sure that my team members would always be challenged, challenged by either operational work, or the future possibilities that they have, or the new creative format that exists there. So, we don't want the team or the individuals to be doing their work in a routine way. We want to make sure that there is always new...innovation is always there, is always present. And one of example of this innovations actually that we as a company did few years ago is, we saw that playable ads were becoming...more and more networks are using them. They make sense to promote your game like that. So, we decided to acquire a company that is based in Amsterdam that was called Playable Platform, that were a relatively small company of 10 plus people and they were experts in doing playable ads. So, instead of us working with a vendor that is doing playable ads, we decided just to have a team in-house that would be completely responsible for that. So that's how we are never stopping learning, that we don't even rely on somebody, we just are teaching our team by either expanding our skills or by bringing somebody who's smarter than us.

Peggy Anne Salz: Great segue, because I was going to ask you about, you know, all of the ways you approach this, all of the ways you motivate your team, it's all trial and error at some level. What's the biggest learning from all of this?

Misha Syrotiuk: Yeah, I think, our biggest learning is something I will be repeating myself today a few times, but to invest in automation and try to eliminate as much manual work as possible. Because in the manual work, this is where the motivation will be decreasing, the innovation will be decreasing as well. But if we can bring as much automation as possible, we can actually focus on and innovate more things that we haven't innovated yet.

Peggy Anne Salz: Mm-hmm.

John Koetsier: I love that you're talking about that and I got to talk about AI. I've been playing with DALL·E, I've been playing with Creative Diffusion, a couple other things like that and creating AI-generated art. Do you see a future here for the ad industry, for mobile marketing industry?

Misha Syrotiuk: I do, and I don't know if that's a positive or a negative statement, but I do believe that humans, we are not going to be doing the job that we are doing today in maybe 10, 15 years. Just like what? A hundred and fifty years ago, there was a job that, I don't remember the name, but there was a person standing in the elevator pressing the button, right? And making sure that elevator will be going up and down. So, today we are doing jobs that could be eliminated in some time from now, we'll be innovating, we'll be doing other things, and we'll have AI creating ad materials for us, running campaigns, optimizing, and humans will be having other jobs.

John Koetsier: It's amazing if you think about it, in the dawn of pre-digital age, the printing press, there was a job that…a typesetter, right? To actually put different letters in place in order to print, right? And that, of course, got automated out. The images that we're getting right now out of DALL·E and Creative Diffusion are mind blowing. They're insane, they're incredible in some cases. In other cases, they're just laughable, right? A person with three fingers and one is malformed or just really, really odd things like that as well. Text is really odd on them, but I almost guarantee, somebody right now, maybe 10 or 15 somebodies, is taking an engine like DALL·E or Creative Diffusion, or some of the other open-source ones and they're applying it to ads, and they're applying it to learn how to make ads. What's cool in an ad, what works in an ad and just add a lot of automation there. How do you see media buying changing in this era of AI and automation?

Misha Syrotiuk: Yeah. I see this automation not only being at the one media partner, but on the old media channels combined, right? So, for example, today if we operate as a company in 10, 20 media sources and we have people who manage budget for different media sources, for different games and different countries, that we may have just AI shifting budgets, automatically uploading creatives, pausing campaign, pausing budget, based not only on the short-term goals which could be the CPI, or CPA, or ROAS day seven, but it could be also based on the LTV. If your LTV of 12 month is getting higher or lower, AI can make actions right away. I don't think it's going to happen tomorrow or next year, it'll probably be another 5, 10 years when we'll be at that level, but that's something for sure that is coming, just a matter of time.

Peggy Anne Salz: So, Misha, you've given us a lot of advice, you know, what to do about automation, what to do about creative, how to optimize it. Staying with all that advice, you've also done some pretty crazy things. I happen to know a few of them, but it's also taken you to 40 countries and counting. What advice would you give to your younger self?

Misha Syrotiuk: I feel I would give to my younger self advice to keep investing in human network. And the reason for that, again, we talked a lot about automation. I feel a lot of jobs will be done by machines and not us, but a lot of reasons why we may or may not be successful would be because of the networks that we have. And it would be maybe easier or harder for us to get somewhere if we know or don't know people. So, I was lucky enough to be living in few countries and traveling in few more countries. And currently it helps me a lot in doing my job, but also in general, being a decent human being and just knowing things that are happening around...

John Koetsier: A recent, decent human being. Absolutely.

Misha Syrotiuk: A recent, decent, yes. So my number one advice would be invest in human network. My number two advice would be do work for technologically advanced company that is having people that are smarter than you, so that you will be always pushed to the new heights and never be at the comfortable level. You will always be pushed for innovation.

John Koetsier: Misha, I love that advice. I love that advice, Invest in your human network. Honestly, I don't know of anybody better at that than Peggy. She's really, really good at that. That's one of the reasons we're talking to you today. So that is great advice though for young people, especially young people in tech, you don't think of that too often. You think, "I'll do my job, I'll have fun, I'll enjoy myself, I'll be incredible, my job will do amazing." And that gets you to a certain level, and that's great. But having the human network, guess what? Some people aren't smart enough to pick the right company to start with. And I mean that as a joke, right? I mean, sometimes you just pick a company that fails and you've got to go someplace. You need help and you need connections, and you need somebody who cares about you. And the way you get that is by caring about other people, and investing in that network before you need it. So that is great, great advice. So, Misha, let's end here. What is your least censored opinion about anything in the field of mobile marketing or mobile advertising?

Misha Syrotiuk: Yeah. So, my least censored opinion is that, you have to be technologically advanced to be good in mobile marketing. And I don't necessarily mean that you have to be CTO or you have to know how algorithm works, but you have to have some sort of tech background. Either you just read a lot of blogs and you understand it, or you take some classes in school, or you currently take some additional classes, going to Coursera, etc. It will help you progress faster and understand things faster as well. I was having a few managers in my life, they were so much more technological advanced than me, and that's the reason why they were my manager, and they now currently hold C-level functions, and not me because I'm not at the level that they are. So I will be trying to get better in the technological aspect of mobile marketing.

John Koetsier: Excellent, excellent. Love it. I think if I kind of read between the lines there, you don't necessarily need to be a coder, but knowing a little bit about it is good. You don't necessarily need to be...

Misha Syrotiuk: Exactly.

John Koetsier: …a data scientist, but knowing a bit about that and being able to handle, and take care of your own in terms of data and everything is good. Love it. Love it, love it. Misha, this has been a real pleasure. Want to thank you for taking this time late in your evening in Warsaw. Thank you so much.

Misha Syrotiuk: Thank you, guys. It was a pleasure. Thank you, Peggy. Thank you, John.

Peggy Anne Salz: And I have to say, don't worry about it, Misha, we'll have you back or someone will have you back in a couple years and you'll be at that C-level.

John Koetsier: Could be, nice.

Misha Syrotiuk: So, I have to go back to school.

John Koetsier: Excellent. You are in school, every single day.

Peggy Anne Salz: He is. He sleeps and drinks it, John. That's one of the things I like about him. But no, awesome to have you.

Misha Syrotiuk: Thank you, Peggy. Thank you, John.

Oct 12, 2022

Agency Day: M&C Saatchi, Apex Growth, and Neil Patel Digital

Blockchain and gaming? Check
IDFA, ATT, and Privacy Sandbox on Android? Check
Influencer advertising on TikTok? Check

Today is agency day on Mobile Heroes Uncensored, and we’re chatting with three all-stars. Jonathan Yantz at M&C Saatchi Performance, Dave Riggs from Apex Growth (used to be Customer Acquisition), and Eddie Yoon at NP Digital (yeah, that’s Neil Patel’s company) join Peggy Anne Salz and John Koetsier to talk about all the hot stuff.

From multi-million dollar monthly budgets to startups just beginning to scale, there’s something for everyone. And … we get each mobile hero’s hot take on their most uncensored opinion in mobile marketing.

40 min

Eddie Yoon: I think the really strong pull there is that it's almost universally agreed in the gaming market that you have to have some type of rewards benefit that keeps a long term retention rate. And it's becoming much more difficult with existing rewards that have been duplicated so many times already, so they're looking at the next big thing. And I think that's going to be a marriage of some type of currency that's unique to the system, some type of free-to-own NFT that's completely backed by the company, but starts to earn some type of rewards depending on the actions that you take in the game.

John Koetsier: It is a super special day here at Mobile Heroes Uncensored. Usually we're chatting with mobile heroes, and guess what, today we're doing that too. But usually we're chatting with one or maybe two, today, we have three, and also, usually we have single brand mobile heroes working for one particular company. Today is Agency Day and we're chatting with people who have a slightly different perspective. They got multiple clients, some are high volume, some have different needs, some are medium or lower volume, they've got varying challenges. So, welcome to Mobile Heroes Uncensored. My name is John Koetsier and our co-host, as always, of course is Peggy Anne Salz. Peggy, who are we chatting with today?

Peggy Anne Salz: Well, we got a crowd, don't we here, John? I'll start off, as you’ve said, all from agencies. We’re celebrating agencies in this particular episode. I'll start off with Eddie Yoon, who is Senior Director, Paid Media at NP Digital where he leads the paid social and creative departments. And NP, in case you didn't know, John, stands for Neil Patel, right? The digital marketing thought leader of the same name. This is the agency that he founded.

John Koetsier: Absolutely.

Peggy Anne Salz: Throughout his career, Eddie has managed more than $1 billion spend on social media ads. And he knows what works from both sides because Eddie, like many in this space, was a veteran in the gaming space. So he's a gaming executive with over 10 years of marketing experience and mobile app industries, and here he is in an agency. He's excited about Web3 and blockchain and gaming, and we're going to be excited to hear more. So welcome, Eddie.

John Koetsier: You know Peggy, it's amazing. There's not many people who have D2C, direct to consumer, B2B and mobile app marketing experience. That's pretty cool.

Peggy Anne Salz: He rolls it all into one, and wait till you hear about the future of Metaverse later, John, all of it here. And we have Dave Riggs, co-founder Apex Growth. Now, Dave is a programmer turned marketer, and co-founded a digital marketing agency Apex Growth, formerly known as Customer Acquisition. And he and his team of performance marketers, data analysts, creative strategist, product managers, he's brought them all together to help clients including Shopify, Amazon, you have a long list. I won't get to it all, Dave, you'll probably tell us about it. But you're offering them of course, paid marketing, conversion optimisation, reporting analytics assistance. It's a lot to juggle, I was thinking, but Dave is a pro, John, because he can literally juggle five objects at once. And that includes three flaming torches.

John Koetsier: And corporate names.

Peggy Anne Salz: And corporate names.

John Koetsier: I was familiar with Customer Acquisition, and I had to do a double take there for a second with Apex Growth.

Peggy Anne Salz: Yeah, he's there. And his colleagues, did a little research, right, in LinkedIn they say they have lucked out by having the opportunity to have him as a manager and a mentor. And I would say we lucked out too, John, because we have him on our show today. So welcome, Dave.

Dave Riggs: Thanks for having me.

Peggy Anne Salz: Finally, Jonathan Yaantz, or John, just to confuse you, John: John and John. Managing Partner M&C Saatchi Performance, of course, a digital marketing agency, telling the human side behind the data. Jonathan brings a decade-plus of experience with media strategy and execution across the entertainment, education, retail and hospitality industries. He also specialises in user acquisition, ROI, consumer engagement, and he's here today to provide us insights into how to get the best and the most out of current and emerging platforms, while of course navigating our privacy landscape. And it can test your mettle. And Jonathan, I think is up for the challenge because his colleagues say of him, and I will quote, "He will not stop until his work reflects the very best of his abilities." So we know, John, he's going to give it his all today. Welcome, Jonathan. Welcome, everybody.

Jonathan Yaantz: Thank you, all.

John Koetsier: So pumped to have you all. Thank you all for joining. Wow, Peggy, take a breath. That was the longest introduction ever.

Peggy Anne Salz: I know, but you've got three amazing people, you just have to do it.

John Koetsier: That is true.

Peggy Anne Salz: Usually, we have one amazing person, but no, we have to tell these stories, John.

John Koetsier: Yeah, 3X. Welcome, Dave, welcome, Jonathan, welcome, Eddie, super pumped to have you guys. The amount of expertise right now in this virtual room is off the charts. I want to start here, it's something that you have all dealt with for the past 18 to 24 months, and you're going to be dealing with, frankly, for the next few years, we're talking about privacy, we're talking about App Tracking Transparency, ATT, we're also, we're not even mentioning right now, but you know what, Privacy Sandbox for Android is coming up. How have you guys stayed effective in this? Maybe Eddie we'll start with you.

Eddie Yoon: Yeah. I think in terms of the privacy measures, I mean, the team has adapted in terms of just going back with Apple kind of rolling out all of those big updates. And I think that's allowed the paid media teams to kind of optimise down the entire funnel, whether it's making sure that the data and the analytics are also providing another resource to have additional data but it's also kind of been a blessing in disguise, because it's allowed all of the teams to work together. So it's brought the marketing teams, the product teams, and the data teams together and helped build a more cohesive funnel. And in turn, relaying that data back to the product team, it's also allowed them to build better products and to have the clients just think outside of the box. Maybe there's different ways to have more revenue streams or to have more upsells.

So it's usually led to more out of the box thinking. In terms of how to adjust with privacy measures, I think that's going to be an ongoing trend in the future that a lot of paid media teams shouldn't really be afraid of, because at the end of the day, it loops back to the basics of marketing. Is the creative performing well? If it's performing well, you can still kind of look at just the ground level engagements. Go back to the customers and see what works. And then relay that back and just make sure all the technical side is working well, and just making sure that you're staying as close as you can to the internal and external dev team. So overall, I think, it's something that's not going to go away, but if teams can adapt, then there's always going to be thriving businesses in all markets.

John Koetsier: Dave, let's turn to you. Eddie is making lemonade out of lemons, and doing pretty well. How are you adapting?

Dave Riggs: Yeah, you know, it's one of the tactics that we've used, to Eddie's point about thinking out of the box is, like a web-to-app funnel. So instead of sending traffic directly to the App Store for iOS, we can send it to web, where we're able to track things better, do cohort reporting, and then have that web traffic go into the app funnel. That actually works well for one of our clients. Another case with...this is a little bit of an extreme example, but with one of our clients, we just pretty much shut off all iOS, and then redirected all of our effort into Android and web, and really spent some time increasing the monetisation of web and Android. And Android users were a little bit lower quality in terms of the revenue, but they're also lower cost. So by focusing on bringing down that cost, but bringing up the revenue, as well, we could take our iOS dollars and move them over to Android and web, and do that pretty effectively. And then the last thing is, with one of our clients...

John Koetsier: Well, thanks a lot Dave. You're one of the guys who drove up the costs on Android, perfect.

Dave Riggs: Right. We did, actually, with one of our clients. I mean, it literally was over a million dollars a month, we took iOS and moved it over to Android. And so I'm sure that the other guys are doing the same thing. But really with the main thing is also with incrementality testing, too. And so we spend a lot of time really trying to understand the true value of users, and that also helps, with, yeah, iOS also.

John Koetsier: Did you find that the extra trackability and measurability of going the web-to-app step outweighed the loss in just extra clicks and conversion from those steps?

Dave Riggs: It took some time. And it was painful for a while because, you know, like you said, you're basically introducing an additional layer of friction. But we spent so much time with conversion optimisation. Over a quarter of our team are engineers and product people, and so we just spent a lot of time building out these flows and running tests and then we got it to work in one case.

John Koetsier: Nice. Jonathan, same question to you. How have you adapted with ATT?

Jonathan Yaantz: Yeah, I think similarly with Dave, we also did go quite the incrementality testing route. That has definitely proven pretty effective. It's definitely a longer term play. You have to constantly to some degree re-evaluate. However, when you're able to isolate, Geos is typically one way we go about it that can at least inform you quite a bit. I think the other two key areas are definitely around creative testing as well as App Store optimisation for us. So on the creative testing side with losing a lot of retargeting, lookalike type models, we really are going after a much more broad audience who we have less control over exactly who they are. So we do a lot of testing to start to figure out different mini segments, different pocket audiences, who at least are responding. And we can draw some conclusions based on the creative we're serving that, oh, they might be someone who would react well to this type of thing. So what do we do with that? What's the next variable? Then we tweak down the line.

And then with ASO just, it's a bit obvious on the mobile side, but, of course, just making sure that the App Store listings are your landing page and they're just as important as a website. And so making sure that we're constantly testing and evolving there, especially as Apple's slowly been rolling out some additional things around custom product pages, eventually, the Today tab coming up, and things like that.

John Koetsier: Super interesting, Jonathan, and that probably has an impact. I mean, you talked about broader targeting, because you can't micro target. You know, that probably has an impact on what kinds of apps can be successful or how an app needs to appeal to an audience to be successful.

Jonathan Yaantz: Yeah, exactly. Especially if you're considering going from an ad on social directly to the App Store. And we'd want to make sure that there's some kind of parity there. So is it broad targeting with a broad landing page experience, for lack of a better word, when you get to the App Store or we're starting to work on using those custom product pages to at least better align the creative without disrupting the overall organic presence on your App Store?

Peggy Anne Salz: Love to hear more about that. But I will move over to you, Dave, for just a moment, because you are working with huge companies, huge budgets, multi-million dollar monthly budgets, eye watering budgets. Well, how are you advising them on this, on the privacy challenge, but also how to scale?

Dave Riggs: You know, again, I think it's, you have to think outside the box and really focus on some of the web-to-app flows, or to Jonathan's point, really focusing on creative. Creative testing is really important. The incrementality testing, so running campaigns in California versus Florida, and kind of seeing the different effects and trying to isolate it via different geos. Those kinds of tactics work quite well. Really, there are not a whole lot of other options, you got to work with what you have.

Peggy Anne Salz: Interesting. I'm thinking about the differences between California and Florida now. Totally different creative, totally different worlds, I would think. Eddie, you're looking at gaming customers who are scaling. You know, he's at the multimillion dollar level, you're looking at startups, a little bit scrappy, also very exciting, you know, the next big blockbuster title is out there. What's your advice to them?

Eddie Yoon: Yeah. There's been a lot of very interesting trends in the mobile app gaming space. I'd say, looking at the last five-plus years, that's kind of when you started seeing, like, a lot of the inspiration games that looked at the early Candy Crushes, they looked at the other Match 3 games. I think the era of taking an aspect that already exists and twisting it is going to be much more difficult in the near future. Because there's so many companies around the world, they're already looking at the App Store, they've created near duplicates, pretty much just change the title and introduce new characters. I believe that over the next 5 to 10 years that the strongest companies are going to implement some aspect of blockchain into their existing platform, whether it's going to be natively integrated, or on the tech side on the back end.

But what's happening right now in the market is that there's a big divide. There are the enthusiasts who already understand crypto more for the financial benefits, the potential benefits there, but there's also the gaming enthusiasts, the traditional game executives who come from the world of creating console games, PC games, mobile games, who are looking very seriously into this. And they're testing right now whether it's going to be implementing an existing blockchain or creating some type of native currency. But I think the really strong pull there is that it's almost universally agreed in the gaming market that you have to have some type of rewards benefit that keeps a long term retention rate. And it's becoming much more difficult with existing rewards that have been duplicated so many times already. So they're looking at the next big thing.

And I think that's going to be a marriage of some type of currency that's unique to the system, some type of free-to-own NFT that's completely backed by the company, but starts to earn some type of rewards, depending on the actions that you take in the game. And once they start doing that, they will probably have the most loyal fan base. And they will be able to create any types of games beyond that. So they're really trying to create the next, almost the 2K series. Like we talked to 2K fans, some of them have been playing for years and years and years, and they just will play every single title after that, and the next mobile app game is trying to do the exact same thing.

John Koetsier: Super interesting, Eddie. I think we should have a whole show on that exactly. This is a note for the future, do a show on blockchain. I mean, obviously, it's one thing for a company to whatever you earn, whatever you buy, whatever you own in one game that we own, you can also use in another game that we've also published. It's also very interesting to think about, can I take something from Clash of Clans over to Candy Crush? Does that make any sense? Is that even possible? Does it work? Is it potentially a tie-in between two different publishers? So much to dive into there. Probably can't get super deep into that right now. But I want to turn to Jonathan, still sort of on the privacy thing right now, but we know Privacy Sandbox for Android is coming. We know that's happening. What are you thinking? What are you doing right now? Are you doing the Dave Riggs strategy? Get all the Android right now, shift millions over there while we have GID, or what are you changing with Privacy Sandbox?

Jonathan Yaantz: Well, I would be lying if I said we didn't do the "Dave Riggs" move to Android in the early days in preparation for iOS ATT. But I think now we've learned a lot over the last year plus at this point, that can definitely be likely directly converted into how we approach what Google will roll out. Since, of course, it seems to continue to get pushback, I believe the latest is now 2024. Now is the perfect time, I believe, for every brand to be focusing on it. So what can we do, whether it's from a testing standpoint, to learn as much as we can about our user flow, optimise it as much as we can while we have data? If you're a new app that's starting out or whether you're doing a full rebrand, if you have that anywhere in the pipeline, try to do it now and try to learn while you can. Of course, similar to web with cookies going away, etc.

But I think if we start to look at what we've learned so far from iOS and from SKAN, and how that's going to continue to evolve, we can probably assume that Google will also iterate over time. Because SKAN 4.0, very different than what the original looked like. And so we'll probably assume there's some iteration of privacy thresholds. So how can you build that into your model now, in order to gain some learnings? Because that was definitely one of the early days, kind of everyone scrambling in a sense to reach those thresholds and figure out, oh, we have to move up funnel in order to get the volume in order to get some kind of information. So just really basing everything you've learned so far from ATT to Privacy Sandbox, and making those assumptions that will be similar enough, that's probably the best way now, because it's a bit too far off to really know the ins and outs nitty-gritty.

John Koetsier: Jonathan, super, super smart. I remember in the early days, when Apple had said, hey, SKAN is coming, ATT is coming, it's not quite here yet, but it's coming. And I was literally begging with people, hey, do other forms of measurement, do lots of modelling right now, see how it works. Even though you don't have to use SKAN right now, see how it works, and compare what you're getting with IDFA, and do some learning there, so that when it absolutely hits and it's the only thing, you're actually way ahead of the curve. Dave, are you doing anything like that for Privacy Sandbox for Android? Are you doing more MMM or other things like that?

Dave Riggs: I think one way to stay ahead of the curve is really focus on conversion and monetisation as well. And so when you're restricted by the ability to attract users, you're going to need a higher converting app. Eddie brought up some interesting points, because I do believe there is going to be a lot of Web3 integrated into gaming later, the proliferation of being able to give tokens or currencies very easily. So by increasing monetisation and really focusing on your funnel inside your app, making sure that everything from the install to the registration to whatever events you're targeting is really, really clean and really, really focused, when privacy restrictions come later, you know, in 2024 or whenever for Google, you're going to be a little bit ahead of the game because your app monetisation has to be higher. So we try to advise our clients to do this. As you'd imagine, our clients take a long time to get certain things like this done, but it's really important to be focusing on conversion and monetisation, because that's going to help when tracking starts to go away.

Peggy Anne Salz: Loving this conversation, so constructive, John, you know? So different from the conversations that were, like, well, we don't know what we're doing or we're just experimenting. No, there is a strategy here and there's the acceptance, right? Precision, targeting, maybe history, but we're going to get on with it. We have to reach specific segments, niche audiences, and hey, that's where the ad creative takes the lead. And you said that yourself, Jonathan, you're very focused on that. It's not just letting the ad creative take the lead, it's having the ability to pick the winner, right? And then support them. Maybe with Paid, maybe Spark Ads on TikTok, for example. I'd like to understand more about how you determine if an ad has what it takes to be a viral success in the first place.

Jonathan Yaantz: I think there are two things to unpack there. First, I think in the viral sense, is definitely something that I think we're personally a little less focused on now, just because I think there's a huge relevance of when you get people to share, but just want people to maybe have the mindset of expecting more conversations and sharing, and less so, oh, I have this meme of the moment and then you're just a blip in that moment and long forgotten. I think it's building a community and people talking and sharing eventually, ideally, organically. That's really able to help, at least from a performance media standpoint.

And I think on the other side, that is kind of exactly what we do for TikTok when we're engaging creators. We typically have them...have a variety of them post organically, start to see how they're following reacts, what their engagement rates, their comments, their shares, all of that looks like, and then start to choose the winners. So whether that's, they surpassed the average and so therefore, we'll add them in a Spark Ads and rotate them in. The Creator Space is actually something that we have an ongoing sort of evergreen presence and strategy with for a variety of the brands we work with. So, kind of having that pipeline ready to make new creative, whether it's based on the next upcoming season, getting ready for fall, getting ready for holiday shopping, and just starting to get ahead of the curve and have them ready to go. I think that's been really helpful.

I think it just really ties into the word of mouth. That is something that we've been seeing in media and marketing and PR for years, and this is kind of how it looks for a younger generation. Of course, they've realised that these people are being paid. I think that everyone understands that at this point. But when you're working with those smaller to more niche influencers, who have a truly engaged following, because they feel like the person they're following gets to have a say in the brands that they work with and kind of curate the brands they work with, and that makes it feel more authentic, even though there's a transaction involved.

John Koetsier: And especially if they actually do the creative themselves, like, they need to get a bit of a brief or they get an idea, but they actually create something themselves and do something really cool. We've seen very cool things like that. And Peggy and I chatted with somebody, I think about a month ago or so, who said that on TikTok, they got more organic distribution than paid distribution with their ad, which was really, really cool. Eddie, I want to turn to you. We talked a little bit about scaling here or there. You did a blog post on the Mobile Heroes Uncensored blog for Liftoff, and you have a checklist about finding ad creatives at scale. And you scaled some of your clients to eight figures a month, which is pretty significant. What are your top do's and don'ts for that?

Eddie Yoon: Yeah. I'd say there's a lot of different ways, the ones that we focus on is definitely the hook. So within the first two to three seconds, we determine, what's the actual story that's working to engage the user? Sometimes it can be clickbaity, sometimes it can be actually reflective of what's going on, but you have to capture the user within the first couple seconds. So we generally see a significant drop-off. So from that two to three second mark, we tracked the velocity of KPIs. So we tracked the users that hit at least 3 seconds, and whoever reached 5, 7, 10 seconds, how fast did they actually click on the ad? How fast did they convert in terms of installing? And then, how fast did they open up the app and then trigger the first revenue event? So we started pulling that data, and I've seen a lot of the teams build almost proprietary reporting platforms that show the exact velocity of users, and they mapped it to the LTVs. And they were able to create very strong lookalike audiences of whales. And they cut up those audiences, and then they use that to inform the next batch of creatives.

But I'd say the two types of creatives that have worked extremely well in the gaming industry, and it's very interesting that it still works, is almost a creative that does not even reflect the accuracy of the game itself. And I'm sure that everyone here on this panel has seen a lot of different titles, where they're almost creating new games just to show in the ads, because they work so much better than actually showing a video of what the game really is, right? And it doesn't make sense when you look at that, but it worked so much better. And then the focus becomes, how can you optimise that? The second one, and I'll echo what John was mentioning, was just working with a lot of micro-influencers. Just understanding the type of flight that you can have in terms of the micro-influencers, and then some of the larger influencers. I've seen that work extremely well.

But I do believe that kind of ties into the whole community that's about to move forward, where there's going to be a lot of users that will eventually be picked out from certain titles, who will eventually become influencers. And I think that we'll start seeing maybe one or two really large figures, whether they're known in the gaming community or outside of the gaming community, that will probably announce that they have an exclusive deal with a gaming studio. And that will start to shift a really big thing in the industry where the largest gaming studios will start to incubate an influencer hub. And they'll have a Creator Studio, and they're going to have partnerships with all the ad platforms. And that's going to give them a significant advantage over the next two to three years until other titles figure out how to adapt to that.

John Koetsier: Eddie keeps dropping these thought grenades on us. And I love it.

Peggy Anne Salz: Yeah. I heard it in prep, he's got the whole idea now, the creator hub, and like these master creators that are going to have these deals that we'll be watching for, John. I'm still trying to digest the one thing, though, the show a creative that's not quite the game.

John Koetsier: Yeah, I think there's some risk there, obviously, if somebody gets in the game, and is totally different, but obviously, it's working for some. The thing that I want to dive into just for a moment, Eddie and others chime in, if you're doing similar things is, you know, you talked about the analytics of seeing how long somebody is actually watching an ad. I mean, we're not just talking click-through rate, we're not just talking viewability, we're not just talking conversion rate, you're actually checking in-ad analytics of how long somebody's watching, what's happening when they click, and you're correlating that to LTV and ROI, it sounds like. That's pretty significant. What kinds of technologies are you using for that?

Eddie Yoon: Yeah. I'd say the popular tracking platforms that I believe that everyone has pretty much used up until this point, like Adjust, Kochava. But there have been teams that I've seen where they use that as a reference point because those platforms, they're great, of course, but they use those as a reference point to actually benchmark what they're building internally as a proprietary system. I've seen a lot of brands start literally just showing a dashboard, where they're focused on just a couple key metrics. What's the daily active users? What's the retention rate? What's the actual growth of the company in terms of revenue? What's the ROAS? And then right next to it, they have the velocity of every single one of those figures on a month-to-month basis, on a quarterly basis, even a daily basis if they're really focused on a soft launch.

But the reason that they're focused so much on the velocity is that because if they don't catch that quickly, then they won't be able to determine which ads could potentially go viral. And sometimes that can be a really strong indicator, especially if they're doing rapid testing with a significant amount of budget. It's allowed them to just have multiple ad accounts that are focused on much smaller budgets. So instead of traditionally spending maybe like tens of thousands of dollars, I've seen them be able to calculate with pretty high statistical significance and finding some of these winners within $500 to $1,000 spend. So that's something that I've seen and I definitely have encouraged other brands and the data teams to really look at because it's entirely possible. Whether the strong indicators are click-through rates and install, but definitely triggering the first significant monetisation event in the app, that's a user base that should be scrutinised very early on.

John Koetsier: Dave, any thoughts to add there?

Dave Riggs: Yeah. I mean, he's absolutely right that, for us, the average watch time is extremely important. So what we found was one of my clients, Pluto TV, they were putting the brand kind of messaging right up front for the first two or three seconds, but the average watch time for a lot of our Facebook campaigns was, like, three or four seconds. So they were missing all of the great content. So what we did is we flipped it around and we went right into the titles, the actual shows that were...and that made a huge difference because you got to have a thumb stopper. I mean, people are going through their feed so quickly. So that first two or three seconds, I mean, honestly, the first one to two seconds is so important, and so we found to really make sure that first couple seconds is so super punchy, and we'll stop their thumb, and that's helped with us a lot.

John Koetsier: Thumb stopper. Hey, Peggy, maybe super glue.

Peggy Anne Salz: Yes, seriously. But I'm letting this know, think about, John, the velocity. This is a new sort of blended metric, we said at the start, you know, a couple shows back, actually for months that marketers would have to come up with new metrics. They would have to invent them to make sense. The velocity and the number of seconds it takes to the first monetisation event, I see that, but for brands, Dave, I'm trying to imagine what it is that we tell you, a winner or a loser, because there isn’t really a monetisation event.

Dave Riggs: You know, with what...

John Koetsier: Well, not immediately.

Dave Riggs: Yeah, not immediately.

Peggy Anne Salz: Well, not immediately. You know, he's lucky, Eddie's got the game. That will happen, you know, we are hooked and we are moving. We're not going to move so much necessarily on a shopping app or a fintech app.

Dave Riggs: Yeah. I mean, when you talk about Shopify, I mean, we've got, you know, a 14 day trial. And so oftentimes, we have to wait for that to hit. But really, the way we do it is we find early events or early indicators that are proxies to LTV and we optimise toward those. I can't go into exactly what those are for Shopify, but bottom line is, you want to make sure that you're really tightening that feedback loop, and so you're finding some kind of event or something early on, before the actual monetisation event that is highly correlated to LTV.

John Koetsier: Super cool. I'm looking at all the things that were topics that we have left that we want to cover. We had like 30 minutes budgeted for this time, and we're way the heck over already...

Peggy Anne Salz: You know, brand performance, either.

John Koetsier: I know. I know. I know, we have so much else. I know that you guys want to talk about more, I know Eddie wants to talk about Web3 and gamification, we want to talk to you about that. I know Jonathan, you want to talk about connected TV, Smart TV and Roku. And Dave, you got lots to talk about, about automation and You know what? I want to talk to all you guys about all that stuff. Can we book you back and have a specific conversation about those things, so we can actually get in depth on those things because there's so much more to talk about. I'm seeing a nod from people, so I'm thinking that we can do something like that, Peggy, I think that'd be cool, because then we can go deep in those rather than give somebody 30 seconds to chat about something. Awesome, awesome.

What I want to do is I want to move to our last thing, and this is Mobile Heroes Uncensored. Guess what? And you heard the last word right. It's uncensored, right? So we are looking for your least censored opinion about mobile marketing today. Nobody needs to be afraid of getting fired, you know, won't have...least censored opinion. What is it? Eddie, we're starting with you.

Eddie Yoon: User acquisition teams are getting very lazy, that's what I'll say. And the reason I say that is compared to about maybe seven, eight years ago, they had to use a lot of sophisticated practices in terms of the technical side or launching a variety of campaigns. It's not really their fault, because the algo has kind of learned from all the human actions, and it's taken those and created automated platforms, especially on Meta, and even on the other platforms. But I have noticed that the culture of user acquisition has kind of relied too much on the algo, and it's almost a self-fulfilling prophecy. It's led to the headlines that have said, "Hey, are machines taking over? Is the user acquisition field, kind of, like, not needed anymore because the system is doing that?"

I will disagree with that for the longest time and I still keep on reeling this back to the team that we've done countless tests with black boxes and running against the algo, the human has won almost 99% of the tests, because there comes a time in a certain round of testing where the decision, it can't be objective. There has to be human element in the decision because the machine will only look at the numbers. The human will make the decision that can actually lead to a certain type of growth or product development that can shift the company that no machine can ever do. So that's kind of my biggest thought on the industry right now, where I encourage the user acquisitions teams, and even paid media teams to not rely so much on the algo because you still are the ones that created it, and we're not going to Skynet yet. And there are so many more things that we can definitely do to kind of combat that.

John Koetsier: And Eddie swings for the fences. I love it, love it, love it. That's awesome. Guess what? That algorithm is owned by somebody, that black box is owned by somebody, and that somebody is not you, and it's optimising for something. And some of that is good for you but some of that is good for somebody else. And the percentage might differ. So interesting. Dave, returning to you, your least censored opinion on the state of mobile marketing right now, something in mobile marketing or mobile advertising.

Dave Riggs: Yeah, I mean, this applies to mobile advertising and web advertising, actually. But UA teams are really not spending enough time on conversion and monetisation. And a good example of this is that we have some clients that are spending over a million dollars a month, but their landing pages and their App Store pages have not changed in literally two years. And so they're just spending all this money, in some cases at almost, like, a brick wall in some cases where it's just, the traffic is not working for you if you're not investing in the conversion and the monetisation. So I would advise these teams to...let's take, if you have a million dollar budget, carve off $100 grand, move that into a team that's going to be focused on engineering and conversion, optimisation, ASO, whatever it takes, that other $900k is going to be way more profitable if you do this right.

John Koetsier: Love it, love it, love it. I mean, Peggy will sign up for that $100k, I'll sign up for that $100k. I bet you I can change something that hasn't changed in a year...

Dave Riggs: You're hired.

John Koetsier: You know what, I'll...

Peggy Anne Salz: I'm surprised that people are flushing it and not noticing it. So that's a shocker, Dave.

John Koetsier: Absolutely.

Peggy Anne Salz: So, we've got UA teams who are lazy and we've got UA teams who aren't just optimising for conversion. Jonathan, what are UA teams doing? No, I'm just kidding. Continue with it...

John Koetsier: No, go ahead.

Peggy Anne Salz: Jonathan, let's get them.

Jonathan Yaantz: Well, I will definitely agree with Dave, there are many an app that I've seen whose at least App Store page has not changed in a year. And it's still the same right now, fall imagery that it was showing this time of year ago. So 100% on that one. I would actually say for myself, when I started into this space, getting this wealth of data and so many things to play with, etc., I could never picture myself in the future actually being like, oh, well, it would be fine without all of this, let's go back to basics and let's reinvent the wheel and just challenge ourselves because it's better. But you know what? At the end of the day as just someone who scrolls through the same apps we all do, I don't mind it. I don't mind that there's a bigger focus on privacy. I think it's definitely something that I feel very strongly about now, as more things have come to light, I would say. So, didn't expect to be standing here today saying that, but just really pushing ahead and taking care of consumers I think will earn brands trusts in a longer way anyway.

John Koetsier: Love it. Love it. Love it. We said it last show, we're saying it again. The three-martini lunches are coming back, baby. So we'll see how that goes. But Dave, Jonathan, Eddie, this has been a ton of fun. Thank you so much.

Dave Riggs: Thank you.

Eddie Yoon: Thank you.

Jonathan Yaantz: Thank you.

Peggy Anne Salz: Thank you. And thanks again that you're going to come back, because we didn't even touch the really super cool stuff. So I'm psyched, I'm pumped, as John would say.

John Koetsier: Awesome. See you guys soon. And thank you to all listeners, we really do appreciate you, hope you're enjoying it. Let us know on social if you are.

Peggy Anne Salz: And let us know if you want to come and we'll have you on the show. If you're a Mobile Hero or you know of someone who is, then fill out the interest form over at

John Koetsier: Also, Liftoff has a slack for Mobile Heroes and people in the mobile ecosystem. There's a link on the screen, and if you're listening to the podcast, it's at It's pretty cool. There's smart people there, and you know what? They probably need you too.

Peggy Anne Salz: And you have probably been completely blown away by all the insights on this show and you want your transcript. And you can have it because the transcripts are over at Liftoff's website. Go to, click on Heroes and then click on podcast.

John Koetsier: I actually personally love transcripts because I read way faster than people talk. So it's a great way to get insights really, really quickly. Until next time, this is John Koetsier. Thank you so much for joining.

Peggy Anne Salz: And this is Peggy Anne Salz, signing off for Mobile Heroes Uncensored.

Oct 5, 2022

Ai-Driven Marketing Is the New Data-Driven Marketing

Is data-driven marketing actually impossible today? Do we have too much data … so much we have to shift to AI-driven marketing?

In this Mobile Heroes Uncensored, we chat with Mobile Hero Agustin Ochoa, a former Googler and now Performance Senior Manager at Winclap, a growth marketing consulting partner. Ochoa chats with hosts John Koetsier and Peggy Anne Salz about events to pay attention to — hint: far more than most do now — and how AI is better than humans at certain things like that.

We also chat about when sacrificing marketing efficiency for growth makes sense, the “event stack” he evangelizes, and the kinds of data you need to be collecting for optimal effectiveness.

27 min

John Koetsier: Data-driven marketing is so yesterday. Welcome to "Mobile Heroes Uncensored." My name is John Koetsier. Our co-host, of course, is Peggy Anne Salz. And, hey, should be a good one, she's on meds. She's been super sick. She's going to say crazy, uncensored stuff. But don't make her laugh because then she'll just cough. So hey, let's see how it goes. Mute yourself, Peggy, if you're coughing.

Peggy Anne Salz: I will indeed, John. Thank you.

John Koetsier: Awesome. Today, we're chatting about the shift away from data-driven marketing. That sounds insane. That sounds crazy. It's a bit of a surprising thing. But the replacement isn't about no data. It's also not about complete guesswork. Instead, it's about AI-driven marketing, at least according to today's guest. And, Peggy, who is today's guest?

Peggy Anne Salz: Well, it's a hot topic, and we've got a top guest for this, John, because we are chatting with Agustin Ochoa, performance senior manager at Winclap. And Winclap is a growth marketing consulting partner with a singular goal, to help the mobile app community move from data-driven marketing to AI-driven marketing, so getting to learn to love AI. And no one is better at the helm than Agustin, who leads the media buying team, where he's responsible for more than 25 performance specialists. Data is his profession and his passion, because, before Winclap, he was at, where else, the data place, Google Argentina, in the DoubleClick team. So he learned it from Google, now the Google Marketing Platform. And before all of that, he started in the world of digital marketing as a freelancer while studying, so providing Google Ads and Facebook Ads services as a student, that's pretty cool, working his way up through an agency as part of the programmatic team, working with DSPs, and now, coming to us today, John.

John Koetsier: Welcome, Agustin.

Agustin Ochoa: Hey, thank you very much. Thanks for having me. It's good to be here.

John Koetsier: It is good to have you, and you know what, we're going to have some fun here. But first, let's get into your origin story. You came from Google to Winclap. Tell us about that. Tell us about what pried you out of the warm, comfortable offices of Google.

Agustin Ochoa: No doubt, having worked at Google prepared me in a great way for what I do professionally. I mean, being part of a company that provides one of the largest technology stacks for marketers gave me opportunity to get to know the industry in-depth where I was able to see first-hand the pains of large advertisements across multiple industries to know what questions are asked and which still have no answer, how to manage big marketing budgets, how can technology push the limits, the importance of data, among many other things. As Peggy said, I worked in the DoubleClick team. I experienced rebranding to GMP. Then I worked with marketing projects leveraged on Google Cloud. I was also in the sales team, working with large retailers. Today, I apply all this knowledge in Winclap. We are a growth partner. We help our clients scale by combining media, tech, and creatives to maximise growth in a healthy way. And I am leading the media part within Winclap.

Peggy Anne Salz: I mean, I hinted at it before, and it came through in prep really, Agustin, really strong. You love data. And Google is certainly a company where you can push the envelope and learn a lot. So what was the coolest thing or learning or shortcut you learned then while you were there but yet you still apply to your work today?

Agustin Ochoa: It's a good question. I worked a lot with data, and one of the main learnings I had and really learned the hard way is the need to estimate the impact of projects that involve data, I mean, in order to correctly choose how to allocate time and resources, to maximise the impact on the business. I think that, nowadays, I mean, we are collecting more and more data, and it is easy to get lost developing many things that are not necessarily going to have an impact or that often fail to materialise because we spend one year working on this, and then we have another great idea, and we just drop this one and grab another one. So I have seen cases where companies want to innovate, but they don't have a solid technological base. So they don't track correctly or have incomplete data or fragmented data, but still, they want to do predictive modelling. So that's why I think it's key to understand where to put effort and resources, but at the same time, it's the most difficult part sometimes, especially with so many changes going around.

John Koetsier: I love that. I love that. I mean, if you don't have a solid technological background or foundation on which to lay your data and to build up from there, it's impossible. You might as well consult the magic 8 ball. You might as well take out your crystal ball. You might as well throw darts at the wall, and it'll be just about as good. Okay, we got to talk about the elephant in the room. You say we're moving from data-driven marketing to AI-driven marketing. First of all, what do you mean by that?

Agustin Ochoa: I think we already see AI and machine learning involved in many aspects of marketing. I don't know. We see it from ad platforms with increasingly simplified and automated campaigns or standardised predictive models that are already included into some analytics tools, to custom solutions to close the loop between online and offline ML predicting next best offer, chatbots inside banners. I mean, we are seeing this, and I even see AI in the optimisation and design of the media mix. For example, at Winclap, we developed an AI tool for budget allocation that allows us to maximise efficiency, because we know that scaling mobile apps at double-digit growth rates requires a lot of testing, optimising 1,000 campaigns on several channels simultaneously, and technology can help us with this. So in this case, and in a nutshell, the goal of this tool is to make budget allocation decisions based on data, leveraged on AI, putting us out, human intrusion, while saving valuable time. So in this way, we ensure this growth with efficiency.

John Koetsier: It sounds wonderful, and I'm sure it is. I guess one challenge that I always think of when I hear stuff like this is who owns the AI and who owns the insights that come from it and who owns the improvement that is in the AI engine as a result of the advertiser's dollars, right? I mean, if you're advertising with Google or Facebook, their AI is learning. If you're using a creative optimisation platform, their AI is learning. And as an advertiser, I want to be getting smarter as well. How does that fit?

Agustin Ochoa: It's very important to have at least a reliable partner to work on this and have their own technology, AI, and data. We have our own technology team who works on this, that they make predictions, they test. I think that there is a lot of work to do. I mean, of course, it's more easy to just rely on AdTech giants such as Google and Facebook. But I think it's important...

John Koetsier: Let the machine do it.

Agustin Ochoa: Exactly. But I think it's important to spend time, resources, and work hard to create your own tools, mainly in this scenario, changes, data privacy, and so on.

John Koetsier: What does that do about the marketer's role? How does that change what a marketer is and what a marketer does?

Agustin Ochoa: I think this challenges marketers. We are seeing and protecting data more and more fragmented. And another thing that is very common, at least from my experience, is that we think the marketers, data is also fragmented sometimes with different CRM systems or disconnected data sources. This is more common than we think, and I believe that this new scenario of the industry forces them to look inside and see what they have. I mean, I believe that having a strong first-party data strategy now is becoming more important, and I don't know if all marketers are prepared for that.

Peggy Anne Salz: You mentioned also that marketers are going to need to increasingly make more of their own tools and sort of be in charge of their AI themselves. Did I hear that correctly? And if so, I have to follow up to ask, you know, what's that going to demand of marketers. You talk about their role, but what are they going to have to be even better at?

Agustin Ochoa: I think it's important to know the technological capabilities of the marketing technology stacks in order to refine what we do. For example, talking about something very common in user acquisition and in mobile apps industry, which is events, for example, right? I mean, we optimise toward different events. And sometimes, at least in my experience, I've seen some advertisers limit themselves to what they can measure from an MMP or analytics tool, and sometimes they forget what they should be measuring. We should dedicate effort to have, again, a strong technological foundation that allows us to remove those limits. Where we are looking for sales, frustrations, leads, or specific in-app events, technology allows us to go further. For example, to import, I don't know, custom events that better respond to a business objective, I mean, we can do this. Not all of us do it, but technically, it is possible.

John Koetsier: That's really interesting, right, because what you're basically saying is that, for most MMPs or maybe analytics packages, they're looking at 3, 4, maybe 7, 10, maybe 15, 20 events, limited number of events that indicate revenue potential or advancement, you know, maybe subscription opportunity, or something like that, a sale of some kind. What you're saying is that there's way more events happening, and if you look at that pattern of events leading up to those large events, you can predict better what's going on, who you've got, and the value of your users.

Agustin Ochoa: Exactly. For example, if we closed a sale by phone or in a physical form, whether we optimise for lead generation and not for closed deals, I mean, technically, it is possible. I've worked with travel agencies, for example, that optimise their campaigns for profit instead of transactional value of the sales. So they import the margin of each attributed transaction according to the negotiation with the suppliers. So they have a better impact on the business. We can think about something similar for marketplaces that pays different fees to its sellers. And at the same time, I also work with banks that optimise their credit card campaigns for applications, and they don't look at whether they are given a premium card or a basic card. So are all those conversions really worth the same? It's not difficult to understand the expected value of such a product. And not to mention whether cards are activated or not. That's another topic.

Peggy Anne Salz: You really are deeply into events. In fact, you call it, what you're working on and developing, an event stack. And we're talking about, you know, some of the obvious events that you had optimised too. But how do you know the really key events, the ones that really matter or get a marketer to their goal?

Agustin Ochoa: It's all about setting the right events and looking at the right indicators, and for that, I think it's important to remove those limits that sometimes we have with our current tools. So I think it's important to always think about the business objectives and how I can maximise the impact with marketing campaigns on those business objectives.

Peggy Anne Salz: You're telling us about how to choose the key events, and it depends on the objective, it depends on what you want to be looking at, what kind of platform you've built. What about the biggest misconception about key events and the best approach to choosing them, optimising these events, that really move the needle? What don't marketers understand?

Agustin Ochoa: Well, I've seen a lot.

John Koetsier: It's a long list. He has to think hard.

Agustin Ochoa: I've seen a lot. For example, user acquisition strategies that are just looking at metrics such as a CAC or a CPA or campaigns that only look at ROAS, for example. I mean, I'm okay with those metrics, but I believe that the true success of marketing campaigns is in the LTV:CAC ratio, and it's important to analyse it in different time frames for different channels in order to obtain actionable insights. And of course, those are not easy metrics to look at. But again, I think we should put effort on this. And sometimes, again, ROAS or CPA or CAC are great metrics but are efficiency metrics and not necessarily growth metrics. I mean, you can have a very good ROAS, a very good CPA, but a small campaign that doesn't scale. So when you look for growth, you also look at volume. And you may sacrifice efficiency to grow faster and spend bigger budgets. For example, if you sacrifice 15% efficiency to gain 30% more sales, that's interesting, and you should consider it. There is a chief evangelist at Google that says some advertisers are looking for efficiency and others for growth. Some will grow a bonsai and others a sequoia. And these last ones go big and very maximum profitable growth, and they're okay if some things are not perfectly optimised. And I mean, whichever strategy we pursue, it's important to understand both approaches and make decisions with these in mind.

John Koetsier: I love that. I think that's really interesting. I think that there's a difference between efficiency and effectiveness. And we often strive for high efficiency, but if we lose effectiveness as a result, with the bigger goal of growth, I think that can be a challenge. I think that is such an interesting shift in the industry as well because we had years, Peggy, we're going, it's not about just your click-through rate, or it's not about just how many installs you got, or it's not about how many people actually opening up. It's the other things, it's the ROAS, it's the LTV, and other stuff like that. And now, here's another level of graduation in thinking, right, this LTV:CAC ratio per channel. That's really, really interesting to look at and something that I don't think most people are automatically getting.

Peggy Anne Salz: Well, and understanding that trade-off, John, as well. I mean, it's interesting how he says, you know, you have one or the other, and you have to make that choice. That choice sounds very different than it has been up till now.

John Koetsier: Yeah, yeah, yeah, agree.

Agustin Ochoa: Totally. And this also impacts, I mean, the payback and the cash flow of your company. So it's really important to have this in mind and not just be guided by abstract metrics, but also, always, we should be thinking about the business objectives.

John Koetsier: Love it. Love it. And yeah, people like to get paid, so cash flow matters. There's a word that popped up in your pre-call with Peggy, and that word caught my ear. And it was omnichannel. And we've been talking about events, but maybe let's zoom out and get a bigger view of our customer. It's actually really challenging right now, especially on iOS, but even on other platforms. It always was challenging, but frankly, with more and more privacy, fewer and fewer identifiers that are available and fewer that will be available, with third-party cookies going away, sometime, eventually, maybe in 50 years, I don't know, Google will finally do it. Who knows? We'll see where that goes. GAID is going away, right? So it's getting harder and harder to have that 260-degree view of customer. How are you helping customers get at least a more comprehensive picture of who their users, their players, and their customers are?

Agustin Ochoa: In an omnichannel approach, it's important to be customer or user-centric, and I think it's also important to understand the pros and cons of being just multi-channel or omnichannel. I mean, if we want to improve the LTV of a client, we must deliver a consistent experience across the different touchpoints, and I think there are some key aspects around that. The first one, for sure, is first-party data. As you said, John, mobile advertising IDs and cookies are disappearing. So it becomes more important for advertisers to develop a strong first-party data strategy, because you can use it as an input to acquire new users or to re-engage existing ones. Definitely, CRM data provides valuable insights for marketing campaigns. So that's one thing. Another thing that I am seeing is that, in this content, publisher data is also more relevant, because they know their users and audiences very well and can provide valuable insights for advertisers. So I'm seeing more attractive solutions coming from publishers, and I think it will continue this way. And at the same time, of course, we have contextual targeting solutions for privacy-safe audiences, panel audiences like TV, and other tools that will continue to help us as they are being developed.

But another key aspect, I think, in terms of being omnichannel and relevant and consistent with the users and customers, is the personalisation. I think that creatives and messages are key to successful campaigns. Either through contextual or audience targeting, it is always important to be relevant. And I'm seeing that, every year, creatives set up major lever for optimisation, and we need to test, analyse that fatigue, adapt the creative to the channel where we are communicating to the placements, to users' context. We need to use different strategies from animation to user-generated content. For me, it's key to have a good creative strategy to scale. I can say that it's personalisation with creative analytics and a lot of testing. For me, that's a key, not just in an omnichannel approach, and almost in everything right now in marketing.

Peggy Anne Salz: What do you need for this approach? And you're talking a little bit also about the trends. You're looking ahead. So I'd like to stay with that for a moment. Let's talk about that. Your work with clients at Winclap, you know, it's your job to see around corners. It's your job to see trends, just like the ones you've been sharing, personalisation, creative optimisation. What's the one thing advertisers should know about? What's coming up next that will change their strategic planning today?

Agustin Ochoa: I see a combination of three forces that challenge the industry, especially mobile performance advertisers. The first one is, of course, data privacy and all the changes that are happening. Secondly, the global macroeconomic context of recession and inflation. I mean, we can't escape that. And thirdly, the changes in user behaviour as social norms return to pre-pandemic patterns. The time spent on digital product decreases. This is happening around, and we see this in data, I mean, with game developers reporting drops in app installs in the first half of the year, Netflix reporting a drop in subscribers, Google decelerating its year-over-year growth in advertising revenue for some products. I think it's our reality right now, and this brings very interesting questions, such as, "Are the benchmarks we have been using still value? Are the predictive LTV models that were created with data from the last two years still accurate? Or, I don't know, can we expect the cohorts to continue behaving in the same way?" We are not sure, and that is why I...

John Koetsier: No. No. No. The world changed. People changed. The economy changed. Patterns are changing.

Agustin Ochoa: Exactly. And that's why I think that, right now, it's essential to have a solid measurement strategy. Not only do we have to be sure that we are tracking and measuring the right events, but also, incrementality testing, media mix modelling, and channel macro analysis are also key today and we must constantly measure, because everything is so changeable that we cannot make decisions based on a study of a year ago, for example. So I think that's the challenge right now. And if we apply this methodology to channels, placements, creatives, audiences, we would be able to scale efficiently. But if we simply recycle creatives and strategies and fill the platforms with money without analysis or measurement behind it, it will be a guaranteed failure.

John Koetsier: Platforms like that, they'll fill them with money.

Peggy Anne Salz: You promised you won't do that.

John Koetsier: I promised Peggy I wouldn't make her laugh. Now, she has to go on mute. Peggy.

Peggy Anne Salz: So true. I love it when you are brazen, John.

John Koetsier: It's all good. It's all good. I think we're coming to a close here. Peggy's meds will only last a certain period of time. So sorry, Peggy, making you laugh again, go on mute again. Let's finish up here. Two questions, quick answers. What's the best advice you have for mobile marketers right now?

Agustin Ochoa: My best advice would be, as I just said, to have a strong data and measurement strategy. I think that's a game-changer today.

John Koetsier: Excellent. It's also something that is easy to say and hard to do.

Agustin Ochoa: Exactly.

John Koetsier: Really, really, really hard to do. Okay. Last question, what is your least censored opinion about mobile marketing today?

Agustin Ochoa: My least censored opinion about mobile marketing, okay.

John Koetsier: Yes, this is "Mobile Heroes Uncensored," so we need something uncensored.

Agustin Ochoa: Don't rely on Google or Facebook, and it's important to unlock new channels, for example.

John Koetsier: Absolutely. And if you just rely on those, you just go in the black box and see what goes on, see what comes out. You know, it's really, really challenging to actually intelligently grow. I think we'll call it there. Peggy has made it like a trooper through this session, and it's wonderful. Thank you so much, Peggy, for struggling and continuing, with the help of a few pharmaceutical compounds. And thank you so much, Agustin, for joining us.

Agustin Ochoa: Thank you very much.

Peggy Anne Salz: Yes, thank you, Agustin. Despite the pharmaceutical compounds, I did get a really interesting grasp of events and thinking about them. And I hope that everyone else thinks about them as differently as well. So thanks for sharing.

Sep 28, 2022

3 Billion Kisses from Brazil: The Story of Wildlife Studios

3 billion app downloads is no small feat. Wildlife Studios, however, has achieved that and has very quietly become a top 10 games studio on the planet, beginning in Brazil and expanding across the globe.

In this Mobile Heroes Uncensored, we chat with Carolina Guimarães, Senior Director of Performance Marketing, and Anel Ceman, VP of Ad Monetization, about the twin challenges of UA and monetization.

  1. Get more quality users as cheaply as possible
  2. Monetize them without destroying the game experience

And … we get both Carolina’s and Anel’s uncensored opinions about ATT and privacy, as well as their biggest hacks for automating the more annoying and mundane aspects of user acquisition and monetization. We also get Anel’s take on what to measure in a mobile game – pretty much everything – and Carolina’s identification of the single most important KPI.

31 min

John Koetsier: What can we learn from an app publisher that's not based in Europe, it's not based in North America, it's born in Brazil, and it's now global? They've got multiple game development studios and over 3 billion app installs. They're now one of the top 10 game studios on the planet.

Welcome to Mobile Heroes Origin Stories. My name is John Koetsier. Our co-host, of course, is Peggy Anne Salz. And Peggy, who are we chatting with today?

Peggy Anne Salz: Well, John, you're not the only one with jokes, right? Because we have, I've been waiting a year to say this, we have a wild couple from Wildlife. Okay? Yes, yes. Horrible. One of the world's largest mobile gaming companies, as you've stated, and a lineup of games that have been downloaded an eye-watering 3 billion times across the planet.

So, we have a dynamic duo as well. Maybe that's a better description. Two mobile heroes, dynamic duo. Yes. I'm full of puns this evening, John. It's the end of my day, and it's Friday. It will not stop.

John Koetsier: It's like 10:00 your time so I'm going to cut you a little bit slack. Just a little bit. You got one more pun in you before you're out.

Peggy Anne Salz: All right. We have Carolina Guimarães. She is Senior Director of Performance Marketing at Wildlife Studios. She studied computer engineering and developed software for two years before joining the leading management consultancy, Bain & Company. So, she has product and marketing, and that led her back to marketing and to performance marketing, because she oversees many areas there including paid and organic UA. Carolina, great to have you.

Carolina Guimarães: Great to be here. Thank you a lot for having us. Such a pleasure being part of this group.

Peggy Anne Salz: Speaking of group, we got another one, right? So, we have Anel Ceman. He is VP of Ad Monetization at Wildlife Studios. Now, he started in the telecoms industry and transitioned to digital marketing in around 2014. Since then, he also worked at Outfit7. Remember Outfit7, John? Four years.

John Koetsier: I remember Outfit7. I liked Outfit7.

Peggy Anne Salz: Yeah, I did some interviews there. I remember them. Great game studio. He was there before joining Wildlife in 2019, and he's scaling their live game portfolio and also building their in-house ad tech platform. So, Anel, great to have you here.

Anel Ceman: Thank you, everyone. Thank you for having me.

John Koetsier: We are so pumped to have both of you. It's awesome. Carolina, none of us can say your last name because we don't speak Portuguese, we're not Brazilian, we're not even from Portugal. Say your last name for us.

Carolina Guimarães: It's Guimaraes.

John Koetsier: Excellent. Guimarães.

Carolina Guimarães: You just need to use your nose a little bit.

Peggy Anne Salz: Guimarães.

John Koetsier: That is the first time I've been told I need to use my nose while speaking, but I will remember that. Awesome.

Carolina Guimarães: That's the secret.

John Koetsier: We are super pumped to have you. We're super pumped to have Anel as well. I mean, like, Anel, super glad you came out of telecoms. I mean, like, boring, boring, came to mobile, much more exciting. Games, even the best part.

I want to know a little bit about Wildlife Studios. You're massive, you're huge, you're global, 3 billion downloads, but I didn't know too much about you before I started prepping for this. Tell us the secret. How'd you grow to 3 billion downloads, where'd you come from, where are you going now?

Carolina Guimarães: So, Wildlife was created in 2011 by two brothers from Brazil, Arthur and Victor. They had traditional jobs, like financial markets, consulting, and they loved games. And they decided to create a gaming company together. So, they went back to their parents' house and started coding, searching on YouTube, "How to make great games," and then they made our first game, "Racing Penguin."

After that, this story just gets nicer. So, our third co-founder, Mike, who is the CTO today, joined the company one or two years after they created it. And together they started creating many games. Back in the days, mobile was being born and many of the games were paid, then we started doing free games.

So, with that, the company grew profitably from scratch without any external investment. And over the years, if you look at the games Wildlife created, you see games in many different genres. So, today, some of our biggest games, Tennis Clash, that's sports games, Zooba, Sniper 3D, we have colouring books.

So, we have games in literally a lot of different genres within the mid-core casual space. And in order to grow that games, what we did in the back of it, was to invest a lot in technology, a lot in our marketing, in our central engineering. And a couple of years ago, the dream grew again and we said, "Okay, so how can we launch even more greater games?"

And that's when we started setting up our independent studios. So, if you Google us, you're going to see, I think, we have four publicly announced studios that are working on top of our platform, of our technology, and that we're going to use our marketing capabilities to bring even more fun to the billions of players out there.

John Koetsier: Nice. Nice. I think we almost got some insider information there too. There might be more coming. There's four publicly announced. That's great to hear.

Peggy Anne Salz: Yeah. And a great strategy.

John Koetsier: That's good.

Carolina Guimarães: We didn't say anything.

John Koetsier: We didn't say anything, didn't reveal anything. I have no comment. Absolutely. Well, great to hear. Thank you so much for that intro.

Peggy Anne Salz: And a solid strategy, John. I like that. You know, platform plays always win. Carol, speaking about platform and product, you are seriously focused on product. I have to say, when I was reading that, you know, in your bio, software engineering, you know it inside out. Have to say more power to you. Woman to woman thing, John. Don't worry about it.

John Koetsier: I wouldn't Peggy.

Peggy Anne Salz: You're seriously focused on product...

John Koetsier: Right over my head.

Peggy Anne Salz: Right over your head. I think that's amazing because you really get in there and you really understand it. And you know that a great studio starts with a great game, or in your case, many great games. You lead performance marketing. How do you work with product?

Carolina Guimarães: You're selling me better than myself, Peggy. I should hire you to consult me for that. Thank you, a lot.

John Koetsier: Peggy's the hype master. There you go. You've been hyped.

Carolina Guimarães: All right. But you're right, Peggy. I think product is very, very important and we're trying to be very, very close to the game team all the time. And for marketing, this is very important. Every time that there's something coming up on the game that the players are going to love it, we want to take the most out of it to showcase to the players why they should come to our games. So, if there's a new feature, if there's a partnership, we recently have a great partnership with the [inaudible 00:07:12] horse tournament.

We should use it in our creatives, we should decide which campaign should run based on that, and so on and so forth. So, for us, really understanding the games' roadmap and what's coming, and how can we use it to market the games, it's super important. So, we're basically talking to the game team every week.

Peggy Anne Salz: Cool.

John Koetsier: Nice, nice. I also like, and you kind of went through your list of titles and stuff like that, I also like that you didn't focus on the hyper-casual. You focus on games that have some staying power that people might play for months, maybe even years or something like that. And now, I want to turn to you. You lead Ad-Mon. How do you interface with product and game development?

Anel Ceman: So, we work very closely actually. And it depends on, like, which game that we're working on. Is it live or not? So, if the game is, like, in early stages, for example, in pre-production, we need to figure out, okay, what's the ads monetization strategy? Like, where do we want to place the ad formats, which ad formats, like, where could we place them so we are not spamming with ads? And for the games that are live, basically, we are looking for, okay, how can we improve the user experience, how to increase engagement, what are, like, some of the opportunities? So, like, we need to work with game teams, like, very closely.

And I think what's unique to Wildlife is because we have, like, so many different genres, you are working on, like, very different strategies for each game. So you need to, like, tailor-make the experience for each game basically. And this is, like, the most fun part of the job.

John Koetsier: Interesting. And that'll serve you well because as Peggy asked earlier, and you talked about, you're building a platform, right, for many studios. Carol was talking that is really interesting. You're going to get good at a lot of different genres, not just one, keeps a job interesting, as you said, and improves your skills.

Anel Ceman: Yeah, for sure.

Peggy Anne Salz: I described you as a dynamic duo. But I'd like to understand a little bit more about that interplay because, you know, he wants to show ads, you want to make an ad experience. How does that work? What does each of you focus on in that relationship? What makes it work for you?

Carolina Guimarães: Oh, that's great Peggy. So, our activities, they are very independent. So, we could spend weeks without talking to each other in a sense because I'm in one side of the activity, that is, I'm trying to show ads out there and Anel is trying to get people to show ads within our games. So, we can run very independently without needing each other to do our jobs.

But I think the nice part is how we can learn from each other. Because from time to time... First of all, there is a positive cycle. If Anel does a great job at showing ads and bring more revenue to the game, our games is worth more, so I can pay more to show ads in other places. And I bring more players, with more players, Anel can show more ads, and that cycle reinforces itself.

So, in that sense, there's a lot of opportunity to learn from each other. So, he can tell me which types of segments of devices or players are doing really well with ads, so I can use it on my end to try to bring more of those players. So, we have this positive cycle. And, of course, there's times that performance goes down or even performance goes up, and then they say, "Oh, who owns that? Is it that Anel's doing a great job showing ads or is it Carol there bringing fewer players and therefore the revenue is suffering?" Or the other way around. Who should get the kudos?

John Koetsier: Success has a thousand fathers, failure is an orphan.

Carolina Guimarães: That's what they say. Yes. So, yeah. When that happens, when we have to explain performance, the good news is that data is always our guru. So, we go back to the data, we study it, and we, most of the time, can get you an answer.

Peggy Anne Salz: Cool. The single source of truth wins in the end. And it helps in any discussion, any debate. Anel, what does that look like for you, from your perspective? What makes this relationship work, and how does it work? What makes it successful?

Anel Ceman: So, we're very similar with what Carol said, right? Like, we are trying to reinforce the flywheel effect. So, if I can extract the maximum value out of our games without hurting user experience, like, the LTV will go up, right? So, then she can use that to buy more users. And then, on my side, basically we can translate that also with collaboration, for example. If something works well on my side, I can say, Carol, okay, like, this segment or this country, or this ad format works really well. Maybe try and target that specific segment on your end, right? So, there's like a collaboration in that sense.

And then other than that, is, we try to play a lot of games, right? Like, just playing a lot of competitors, figure out how everything works, who is doing well, who is doing bad, and then, like, learn from that and figure out how we want to use that in our games.

John Koetsier: That makes a lot of sense. I like playing games. That's fun and you learn a lot and you also see a lot of what other people are doing. And you also see all the errors and mistakes in your own when you do that sort of thing. Anel, what's the biggest challenge you two have faced?

Anel Ceman: I think the biggest challenge is probably getting this flywheel effect to work, right? Right. So, getting high enough LTV that you can buy profitably, so you can grow the user base. I think that's, like, the biggest challenge for any game studio. Like, specifically on the ad monetization side, the biggest one is how to find balance between how much ads do you show and the user experience, right?

So, not to show too much ads so you hurt user experience, which formats do you use, what frequency. And then finding a sweet spot, for example, for the price, right? If you charge too much, you won't get filled. If, like, price is too low, then you're like leaving money on the table, right? So, like, how do we find this balance globally in all segments, in all formats, on, like, millions of users, right? So, I think that's the hardest part.

John Koetsier: One more thing there, Anel, what's your biggest time suck? You're big on automation, right? What have you been able to automate in user acquisition and ad monetization?

Anel Ceman: Yeah. So, I think we are in a good position because we have our own in-house adware platform. So, that means we have a lot of flexibility to do things in-house. And that means, let's say, whatever is manual work, like, on ad monetization it's a lot of it. For example, a process called waterfall optimization, a lot of it is, like, very tedious task. It's manual, it's time-consuming. So, basically, then, we build the technology around it to automate how fast can we actually do these things. And then also to eliminate, like, human errors and just, like, speed up the whole process. So, then me and my team we can work very effectively just because our tools are set up in a way that kind of gives us, let's say, advantage versus someone that doesn't have it built in-house.

John Koetsier: Love it. Love it. I always prefer automated errors to human errors. Peggy, I mean, it just goes so much faster. That billion dollars goes away really quickly.

Peggy Anne Salz: I want to stay with data for a moment and stay with what you're doing, Anel. I mean, first of all, building in-house, that's exciting. But at the end of the day, even if it all comes down to data, it all comes down to measurability, you know. What you measure, you can improve. Now, you've said everything should be measured. I mean, first of all, let me be clear. Do you really mean everything or what are the most important things you need to measure, your top metrics?

Anel Ceman: Yeah. No, I really mean everything, right?

Peggy Anne Salz: You really're one of those guys, huh? Okay.

Anel Ceman: There's this famous quote, right? Like, what gets measured gets managed, right? So basically, let's say, for us, we are a very, like, data-driven company. So, in Ad-Mon, like, every decision that we make there is like an A/B test behind it. Just because we need to be very careful when we optimize things, and we are doing it on a large scale.

So then basically, let's say the most important, usually, yes, you optimize for lifetime value, right, as a gaming studio. On Ad-Mon, let's say ARPDAU. So, the average revenue per daily active users, is like one of the important metrics that we measure. And then you need to balance out between, okay, eCPM and fill rate. Like, do I have, like, high eCPM and low fill rate? Then my revenue will suffer, right? So how do I get the balance between those two?

And you need to do this without hurting long-term retention or the user experience, right? So that's why, like, it's tricky to find this balance. So, like, we need to constantly test, measure, track, so it's just continuous monitoring of everything.

Peggy Anne Salz: Makes total sense, and part of that is powering that flywheel, right? When you are doing what you need to be doing and getting those results, it's a plus for you, Carol. So, Carol, weigh in a little bit on here for me. You know, the top metrics that matter to you.

Carolina Guimarães: So, for us, in the end, there's one metric that's above them all. Like in "The Lord of the Rings," is the ring that rules them all, it's our long-term profit. So, in the end, what I want is to create a machine that transforms the lifetime value of the user in the game to long-term profits. So, I want to bring profits to the company. And to do so, similar to Anel, I need to balance volume and profit. So, if I increase bids, I can bring more users in, but then I can start paying more for each user. So how do I find that balance that I...when should I stop? When I'm at the highest absolute profit that I can bring to the company and I should stop increasing bids.

And this is the challenge, and this is the part that we're always measuring, trying new things, trying a different angle, trying a different segment, so that we can build this growth machine.

John Koetsier: It's pretty funny to hear that. That's pretty amazing. I love it. I had to think though, when you're saying, you know, you're trying to build a machine to maximize profitability, I mean, have you considered counterfeiting?

Carolina Guimarães: Oh my God.

John Koetsier: Just print the cash. Okay. Joke, joke, joke. If any government's listening, that's just a joke. No, no, nothing going on here. Carol, let's stick with you. You've got to work with a lot of partners in user acquisition. You've got to work with a lot of ad networks, DSPs, whatever it might be. How do you do that effectively?

Carolina Guimarães: Oh, that's a great one. So, the key word there is partner. And, I think, the nice thing is that both of us have a very similar goal, that is to grow and to scale the activity. So, for me, one of the most useful things is the frequent meetings that we have on results. So, each partner, we stop and look back on what went well, what didn't went well, what other people in the industry are doing that we could do as well. And then on a weekly basis, we have these goals that we want to improve on a weekly basis. We work tactically on that with our partners.

And for me, the key of doing this partnership well is that it should be two ways. So, I expect the partners to come prepared to those meetings, to bring a presentation that's tailored to our needs, to our activity. And at the same time, I expect my team and myself to come prepared to this meeting as well with nice questions, telling them that's how we see your activity compared to other networks, that are the things that we want to hear about, and so that we can both take the most out of this time together.

John Koetsier: Well, what we've learned here today Peggy, is that Carol's not a Buddhist. Because the key to happiness is not having expectation, right? So, you've got high expectations for your partners. That's wonderful. That's great. What about you Anel? You've got partners too, right? You've got to sell ads. How does it work for you?

Anel Ceman: Yeah. It's very similar. So, for us, like, the partners are really important because, let's say, first, we need to integrate them into our system so they're able to buy ads from us. And then we need to work really closely with them because let's say on our side, we only see half of the picture, right?

Like, we don't know who the advertisers are behind it, how much they're paying, what are the prices, right? So, we are doing what would be called price exploration. Like, where do we, like, balancing out. So then basically we need to work weekly with them. It's like, okay, where are you, for example, in the waterfall? Like, this is performing well or not?

Like, can we increase the price, can we reduce it? Like, let's say, where can we tap to, like, additional pockets of revenue, so to balancing out? And this is, like, just ongoing thing and having long-term partners and also let's say verified partners or partners that are trustful, right? Because we have also a lot of fraud in the industry or, like, let's say technical problems and so on. So, we need to be careful who do we work with, and we are always looking for long-term partnerships where we can scale through time and then build on a relationship.

Peggy Anne Salz: I like that. Long term partnership because that's different from what it was for so many years. And actually, both of you were saying the same thing. You know, you come to these meetings, Carolina, prepared to ask questions. He's prepared to work with partners and answer their questions to have a long-term relationship.

I want to go to something entirely different now. You're mobile heroes, that's why you're on the show, but, hey, you are also characters in a comic book. And that is pretty exciting. So now it's, like, a whole different realm here. Tell us about that. Tell us about what it was to see...well, I'll give it away a little bit and we'll see it in visual anyway. I mean, Anel a lion with claws, that is so cool, I have to say.

Anel Ceman: Yeah. No, I think that's really awesome because when you're a kid, you want to be a superhero. And then it's, like, good when you see, for example, a comic book with... So, my superhero is called Lionel, right? So, it's a lion, my spiritual animal, and then he is flying a kite and jumping all over the place, because kite-surfing is one of my passions. So, this was like really cool and fun to see. And, yeah, my superhero is already flying with me because I put the stickers that I got from the amazing team at Liftoff on my suitcase. So now I can identify my suitcase on the airport and he's flying with me.

Peggy Anne Salz: That is so cool. I love it. I love these stories, John. When people know, they're mobile heroes and it's like, "Hey, this really made my life." He's got stickers. You won't lose him at the airport. Carolina, you have a different type of character. Tell me about that. It has something to do with your inner self. What's the thing with the brush?

Carolina Guimarães: Yeah. So, the fun story is that they asked us, "Oh, tell me some fun facts about you. We're going to have a surprise." And then I didn't put so much filter in it and I said, "Okay, I like to do this stuff," etc. And then the brush is because I've been doing a lot of watercolour in my free time, so now my superpower is my magical brush. And it was so funny to look at the comic book. Half of me was like, oh my god, one day I'm going to tell my kids that I am a superhero. I made it. And then the other half of me I'm thinking about, oh my god, all my co-workers are seeing my sticker. I'm so embarrassed. You know those teenager feelings that you're being exposed? But it was very fun. I love it.

Peggy Anne Salz: Love it.

John Koetsier: That is so cool. Peggy, give us some context. What is this comic book? When is it coming out?

Peggy Anne Salz: Comic book is out now and I'm going to check it out...

John Koetsier: It's out?

Peggy Anne Salz: Yes, it is out now. It was released. By the time we are out, it’s out, and you can get it. You can download it on Liftoff's site, and, you know, you open up, check it out, read it online, on mobile. And they're fun. And this is one of many. And I have to say, John, this goes back a little while, but I have to also say I share the joy here, right? Because in the very first Liftoff comic book...

John Koetsier: I knew this was coming.

Peggy Anne Salz: ...I was a journalist. They do a press conference about, like, the end of the world is coming and how to fight the monster. I can't remember it because it was, like, you know, five, six years ago, but in the crowd, you can see myself holding a microphone.

John Koetsier: You were there Peggy.

Peggy Anne Salz: I thought, isn't that cool? It's like this little...

John Koetsier: You were there.

Peggy Anne Salz: Yeah, I was there. I was there.

John Koetsier: You were there. You're in the cannon.

Peggy Anne Salz: I was there.

John Koetsier: You're noteworthy.

Peggy Anne Salz: And there's another thing I always wondered about John, while we're at it, you know. In one of the comic books, the villain that they have to stop is named Peggy. So, I'll leave it there.

John Koetsier: Ooh. Maybe you're two face.

Peggy Anne Salz: I wasn't in the comic book, but there are so many Peggy's, you know.

John Koetsier: Maybe you're two face. Good side. Bad side.

Peggy Anne Salz: That's it.

John Koetsier: Okay. We have to draw this to a close.

Peggy Anne Salz: Just having some fun, John.

John Koetsier: Exactly. We have to draw this to a close because, you know, it's like, I don't know, 10 p.m. or some awful hour for Anel in Cyprus and Peggy in Germany. So, we got to do it even though Carol and I are having a great time. It's still our morning. I'm in Pacific Time zone.

It's the great time of the show where we try and get our guests fired. Well, not quite exactly, but we do ask them for their least censored or most uncensored take on anything in mobile advertising and mobile marketing. Carol, let's start with you. What is your least censored take on something in mobile ad tech, mobile gaming, mobile marketing?

Carolina Guimarães: Oh my god, this is hard. So, I must say that although I understand all the trends towards privacy, and I think it's great for the humanity, it's a nightmare for us advertisers. It's hard. I've been having a lot of extra work because of that, and I guess all my peers as well. It makes everything harder. And on top of that, I'm getting shittier ads.

John Koetsier: Exactly. Wonderful. Carol, you're a superstar. Literally, you're actually in the comic book. Anel, your turn. What is your least censored take on something in mobile ad tech, mobile marketing, mobile gaming, whatever it might be?

Anel Ceman: Yeah, it's very similar to Carol's, right? The privacy thing, for example, for me, my goal is to tailor-make the, let's say, ad experience for the user to fit, let's say, that person really well and, like, improve their user experience. And now, you are very limited, and you can only do it in the segmented way, right, in the contextual way. So that means a lot of users, like Carol said, get shittier ads. I thought that's kind of, like, the hard thing. And, of course, it causes a lot more work because then we need to split everything into like two parts, which is, like, just double the workload on, for example, iOS.

John Koetsier: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Excellent, excellent, excellent. You know what, this was a lot of fun. Thank you so much both of you for participating, and you know what, having some personality and being open and human and real, and also telling us about your experience. Thank you so much.

Carolina Guimarães: Thank you, a lot. It was such a pleasure being here on this conversation and interacting with a hero.

John Koetsier: Exactly.

Peggy Anne Salz: It was, I have to say, a plus one here. It was really fun, very insightful, and in the end leaves a huge impression. Because, hey, we don't just have Mobile Heroes, we have comic book celebrities, John.

John Koetsier: Awesome. Thank you so much.

Sep 21, 2022

From Zero to $2 Billion, Chatting With Smartnews Advisor

Apple’s app tracking transparency was great … if you were primarily monetizing via ads on Android. In this episode of Mobile Heroes Uncensored hosts John Koetsier and Peggy Anne Salz chat with long-time SmartNews marketing leader Fabien-Pierre Nicolas, now an advisor.

We chat about ad monetization, using old-fashioned linear TV for mobile user acquisition ads, and automating hyperlocal organic and paid reach on Facebook. And, of course, as always, much, much more!

24 min

John Koetsier: What can you learn from a marketing leader who helped take a startup to a $2 billion valuation? Hello, and welcome to "Mobile Heroes Uncensored." My name is John Koetsier, and of course, our co-host today, as always, is Peggy Anne Salz. And today we are chatting with a special someone who's helped take a news app into a global juggernaut. It aggregates over 3,000 global sources, has tens of millions of readers, has raised hundreds of millions of dollars, and has achieved the highest monthly user time among all news apps. That's incredibly impressive. Peggy, who are we chatting with today?

Peggy Anne Salz: Well, I love unicorns, John, so...

John Koetsier: Do you?

Peggy Anne Salz: I do indeed. It's always an interesting story. And today, we're going to have that and more because we have Fabien-Pierre Nicolas. He's an advisor for SmartNews, the news curation app. You're telling us about helping users find quality news beyond the filter bubble, really important. He has a long track record at SmartNews. He was their VP of marketing, and before that, the head of marketing. Today, he's an advisor, but hey, he's also a co-founder of a startup in stealth mode, we might hear about it, and an advisor to Million Victories, a gaming company. And before all of that, well, Fabien was VP of marketing at App Annie, now Held positions at Perfect World entertainment, Ubisoft, L'Oreal. You name it, it's there. And again, doing my research as always, his colleagues sum him up as very simply and succinctly, "If there's anything you should know about Fabien it's that he will throw himself wholeheartedly into his duties, 100%, maybe 200%, meet his high standards and he will advocate for your growth." And he is the person any company needs to scale and get ahead. That's why we have him on the show. Fabien, no pressure, right? Welcome to the show.

Fabien-Pierre Nicolas: Yeah, no pressure at all, but hopefully, you know, the French accent doesn't prevent your listeners from hearing me. And I know it's always the challenge, despite, you know, spending 15 years in Silicon Valley, the accent is not going away.

John Koetsier: It's all good. We like the accent. It's charming and you're very understandable. You know what, Peggy does the research, sometimes I do as well. I just clicked through to LinkedIn, just half a moment during that long intro, and it said something like 19, maybe it said 29 experiences that you've got on LinkedIn. You have jumped around a little bit, my friend, and you have worked for a lot of places. How the heck did that all happen?

Fabien-Pierre Nicolas: Well, you know, at the very beginning of my career, I was always dreaming about the video game industry, but first you get to, you know, prove yourself. So, I had, you know, different jobs to support myself through school, which I'm sure, you know, it's the experience of many people in the U.S. and in Europe, school is expensive, right? But ultimately, I was able, when I completed my MBA that L'Oreal Finance to say, "Hey, what do I truly want to do to pass on the job at L'Oreal and focus really on video games," which was one of my core passion. I was reading about video game entrepreneur when I was 12, 13 years old, dreaming about Silicon Valley, and so I joined Ubisoft. One thing I noticed through the career at Ubisoft in France and then in the U.S. is more and more of the gamers were coming to focus group to discuss about their favourite game, you know, Far Cry or Splinter Cell, or something.

And they were bringing their phone, and more and more as they were answering the question and discussing with the moderator they were playing. I was like, hmm, something is happening there. Something so powerful that those gamers are willing to step away from talking about their favourite game. That's when I essentially joined the mobile scene, you know, late 2011, where the free-to-play was starting to rise. And that was frankly like the other trend that we're seeing is like, you have a generation that doesn't want to pay the 60 bucks, you know, price tag anymore upfront, like you'd like to first enjoy the product before they commit some money to it. And I was essentially always sort of following and embracing what the consumer was doing was sort of, you know, how I was defining my career.

And after 10 years in gaming, I think part of me know, I became a dad and I started having the ambition to join more mission-driven companies. And so that's when I joined SmartNews versus other opportunities in mobile games because once you have been for many years in mobile games, you always have more opportunities in mobile games. You know, quality information mattered, to me, and luckily, that was the mission of the company. And I felt that could make the U.S., which was my daughter's country and then became my country. If it could be at least marginally trying to improve the state of the country, that was, you know, after 2016 election, so be it. And that's why, you know, I joined SmartNews. And then now my new venture is about diversity, equity, and inclusion, which again, like this mission-driven aspect, is something I want to add following the consumer path.

Peggy Anne Salz: Love that path. It goes everywhere, John, it just shows serendipity is awesome, right?

John Koetsier: Absolutely.

Peggy Anne Salz: It all fits together at some level. I want to continue with the startup, right? Listened to the podcast over at the "Business of Apps." You were there talking about your startup, having to do with diversity, inclusion, and deals with changing companies biases on topics like racism and sexism. Now, that sounds really cool. It sounds like a technology that's very relevant. What will it do exactly? What can you tell us about this?

Fabien-Pierre Nicolas: Yeah. So, you know, I had to deploy with my colleagues at SmartNews a D&I solution after everything that happened in 2020. We started with like traditional training and that wasn't enough to truly affect the way people were thinking and behaving. So, we started looking at platform. And one thing I realised is that there was a pretty big gap in the market, where a lot of those, you have traditional training companies who tend to cater only to people already convinced that change is needed, and it's really hard to do when you have a remote workforce. Then on the other end, you have those platforms that were built, I will say in a way that's not very engaging. So, macro learnings, like you commit five hours and you're going to be a better ally, or five hours, you know, about this topic. The problem is in the modern workforce, I don't think we all have five hours to sit in front of very long lecturing video.

John Koetsier: No, we don't.

Peggy Anne Salz: No.

Fabien-Pierre Nicolas: So, we were like, okay, let's do quite the opposite, let's build SaaS platform so you could deploy to everyone, but let's as well, focus on micro learning. So, each topic is going to be, you know, 10 to 15 minutes journey, all in. Each video is like 30-second to minute and half, right? So, it's a lot more like TikTok generation.

John Koetsier: It's the TikTok of HR. It's the TikTok of learning, love it, corporate learning.

Fabien-Pierre Nicolas: Yeah. And so as a result in the funnel, we have 93% people that complete the training that they start, which is very important because you create all these data points, where there is like polls, there is videos. And as a result, HR team could say, "Hmm, we have 30% people in this business unit or within this specific team, let's say sales that report seeing sexist behaviours. Let's act on it and do a follow-up to prevent the risk before it materialised," because lawsuits are expensive, re-staffing staff who are churning, right? If you are different and you don't feel included in your team, you're going to churn, it's expensive.

And last but not least, the damage to your brand reputation is extensive. I mean, we've seen in gaming, right, Ubisoft, Activision, Riot Games, all hit by big lawsuit, but as well, simply by a lot of angers, right, from their fans, because they were like essentially discriminating against specific categories of people. So, my take is that there is something big to do. And luckily, I think even though we're a bootstrap so far, might be raising soon. There is I think such a strong demand that we've closed many like major clients, like both scale-up company, but as well, you know, major banks in Europe, and, you know, a bunch of like really large companies that just want to change that.

John Koetsier: Very, very, very cool. And you're right. Those lawsuits are not only expensive, they're bad PR. It's bad for people. People don't want to work in an environment where they don't feel valued, where they don't feel safe, where they don't feel comfortable. So, you lose good people from that. And we've seen as well in some of the biggest potential mergers, some of those issues come up, including one that Microsoft was recently involved in and that imperils the future of the company. Want to turn to SmartNews. You spent over 5 years there, you got users in 150 countries, around 20 million monthly average users. Talk about your user acquisition strategy there and your monetisation strategy, how'd it work?

Fabien-Pierre Nicolas: Yeah. So, of course, you know, there is a Japan side and the U.S. Side. So, I'm going to focus on the U.S. side, which was the fastest growing in the last like three or four years. Japan we're sort of arch leader in the news space. A lot of their acquisition is offline, with like partnership and TV campaigns. And, you know, the offline is almost half of their acquisition. But focusing on the U.S., I think coming in this space, and that was my first experience with in-app advertising as the revenue driver. So, we don't have any other source of monetisation, it's purely based on ads. Some of them where we would have to share with publishers, some of them where it’s in our UI, and we just skip, you know, the entire revenue. And so, as you could imagine, the ad monetisation means everyone monetised, right? Almost everyone get ad serve, if they're at least based in the U.S., but the problem is your LTV really accrues over a long period of time, and typically, is like lower than when you're looking at like mobile games, because games, all those categories, which was more my experience before.

So, I was like, okay, we need to optimise on click-through rate. We need to achieve an extremely high click-through rate, so we could have a low CAC essentially, and create profitability. So, that was first sort of the high-level mandate, achieve a high click-through rate to have a low CAC. And then the other aspect was it's a numbers game. You need to achieve really large number of users, right, when you have ad-driven business model. So you can't be like very happy with a small number of people because by definitions, you know, the LTV is low. So, I was like, how do you have as well, large scale? And so, from this logic, I look at the landscape.

So, on the Facebook side, we build a lot of automation technology, leveraging the content from within the app, the news, targeting it, including, you know, hyperlocal campaigns. So, we have 3000 local pages, let's say San Francisco news, they're going to show you things that are San Francisco news that people click on, and in turn they then install the app. So, that's for the Facebook side. With Preloads, looking at the market, you know, Android is much bigger than iOS. iOS having Apple News on every devices, and Apple being pretty aggressive at promoting that. So, I was like, okay, you know, Preload is an iPhone or Android channel, but at the end of the day, when you have a very broad use case and you can't pay too much, it's a really solid channel. So, it really helped with our growth, ironSource, Digital Turbine, with our partners and, you know, all the big carriers like AT&T, T-Mobile and so on, they work with everyone in the U.S. at this point.

And last but not least, you know, TV. People tend to again, think of TV as like a high cost channel. But when you think about your persona and your users, there is obviously a clear news use case on TV. And so, we advertise CNN, Fox news, you know, MSNBC, and we were very successful as well with the debates. So, we did the Democratic debates sponsorship, and you could generate like 10,000, 20,000, 30,000 install in a few minutes just because of an ad that's well placed. So that's some of the channels we've used. You know, there is a long list, but that's the main ones.

John Koetsier: I want to follow up just for a moment there because it's ad-supported as you were saying. And Peggy and I were recently chatting with somebody who said that with AT&T and SKAdNetwork, there's been like a 10-year jump in CPM. And I didn't really fully understand what she meant by that, to be 100% honest, and we didn't really get a chance to dive into it and dig into it. Have you seen a change in what's happening with your monetisation via ads after AT&T?

Fabien-Pierre Nicolas: Yes. You know, can't comment on the specific specifics, but, you know, in short iOS, CPMs took a big hit, right, because when you finish and you have a lot more sort of unqualified traffic, if you could think of it this way. And Android went the other way around, which for us since three-quarter of our user base in the U.S. is on Android, was actually a plus, we ended up benefiting from the change.

John Koetsier: Maybe that was it. Maybe she was mostly Android, Peggy, and maybe that's why she said it was like a 10-year jump for her, and it was just better monetisation.

Peggy Anne Salz: That must have been it because a negative to a positive, I couldn't figure it out, but this makes perfect sense. You had a great time. I want to get back to the product, because we're talking about how you monetise it and the market dynamics, but at the end of the day, you know, you also pride yourself on a great app being beyond the filter bubble, solving that. It's a great product and you have been driven by product first, but then you switch to consumer-driven. What do you mean by that and why the shift?

Fabien-Pierre Nicolas: Yeah. So, the shift was, you know, when you are based in Japan, there is a very, fairly homogenous country and culture, right? So, if you essentially have a pool of talent inside your company, that's diverse enough, you have the capability to typically build for the country at large, right? Then sort of I’ll hold the key inside and finger in the pulse, there is always, you know, specific age group and so on, who might be underrepresented in your company, but overall, you could build a product for the entire country. But in the U.S., the diversity of the consumer with all the belief, you know, the location, like the lifestyles, the origin, the country of origin, right? It's a country that's built as a giant melting pot, makes it really hard to just base on your workforce, you know, understand what the consumer wants.

So, the mental shift that I help policy level and our company do with my team was really around saying, "Hey, you need to go and engage qualitatively, quantitatively with the consumers. You need to understand how it's sort of divided up in the market. You need to pick who you want to go after, and you need to understand their pain points and build from those pain points." You can't say, "Well, I think they want this," right? You have to truly listen and engage with them. And so, you know, that's the switch we had to do essentially with the methodology behind it.

John Koetsier: I love it. I love it. There's product led growth, and there's also growth that's led by understanding your customers. And you already talked about being super hyperlocal. That's an extension of this as well. One of the thing that you said recently is that you borrowed from big tech to make SmartNews the app it is today. What on earth does that mean and what did you do?

Fabien-Pierre Nicolas: The way I see big tech and to name names like let's say Facebook, but it's the case as well at Snap and a series of those companies, is they're always looking both, you know, at their competition, and they're looking at their consumer, you know, emerging demands, and they're trying new features all the time to meet that. So, looking at the competition, I think the most famous example is, you know, Snapchat was taking off with their Snapchat stories and you had Facebook be like, "Hmm, that looks great. How about we add that to Instagram, and to Facebook," right? And as a result, it sort of like blocked Snapchat further growth in the U.S., right, by delivering on this customer demand of something very visual, you know, very short that you could publish quickly to all your friends.

And this is something we've adopted as well. We constantly look at our direct competition, but as well indirect and say like, should we, you know, deploy this feature because they've deployed it, and will that add value essentially to our current consumer base? That's the first aspect, right? It's more like benchmarking. But the other aspect is really the consumers. So, to describe specifically around local, we initially say, okay, local news, you know, we build it, we aggregate all the sources, we categorise it. That was like a pretty long effort, but then we're like, okay, what's next? And I think, you know, asking customers, discussing quality focus group and doing survey, we assess that crime was top of mind, right? When you think local, you are like, is my family safe? You know, am I safe? Should I avoid this specific location, was really top of mind, and it happened to be when you watch evening news, often crime stories tend to lead, right?

Then you add weather. It's like, you know, weather could impact what I wear, could impact if I do this activity or this one. Same thing, right, as well often, news and weather tend to be linked in a lot of like newspaper, TV, all this news space. And then, you know, people were sharing a lot of other needs, but were like, okay, let's add those two offerings, went to the product, we partner with AccuWeather for weather data and build this like weather map. And for crime as well, we partner with a company named SpotCrime that aggregate all the PD reports from everywhere. And we build a crime map so you could, especially if you go to a new city, right, maybe you don't know the bad areas to avoid, you could just spot that very quickly.

Peggy Anne Salz: Smart. That is so smart. I'm just thinking about that. Even just overall, you know, the hyperlocal focus, because that's what the larger companies in media can't take from you. You know, they'll do their larger takes on the bigger story, but when you've got local, that really does pay off and it's part of the secret, but not all of it because you had a presentation at MAU, and I was there, and you discussed the six-step process you have developed to succeed. Now, there's six-point plan. We won't go into all six, but I would love it if you would share one of the more innovative steps in the six-point plan.

Fabien-Pierre Nicolas: Yeah. Well, I think the key new things for me as well was really point number four to say, you know, no good campaign plan survives to the contact with the enemy, and you know, that's a saying in the military space, but I think it's very true as well for the age we live in. And so, in this case, 2020, as you know, was like a major...we were like, "Hey, you know, there is election in the U.S., Olympics for Japan, very clear plan. We're going to execute. We're going to win those two key moments." COVID happens, George Floyd death happens and all those moments. And so, in this situation, companies could just stick to their guns. Well, Olympics was cancelled, probably be hard to stick to our gun on this one, but on saying election and only election, or you could embrace the change in consumer demand, right, and be reactive to it. So, if there is one thing for me, at least I've learned as a marketer in the last three years, is you either embrace this change in consumer demand and win, and we more than doubled our scale in the U.S., or if you miss out, you know, you are left behind, you're left in the dust. We've seen a bunch of competitors like Flipboard and so on, not provide COVID data, not provide a bunch of things in a timely manner, and as a result, you know, I mean their decline have continued.

John Koetsier: Yeah. I love that. That's super smart. I see that all the time as a journalist. I can say, I love this topic, I care about this topic. I'm writing more on the topic and, you know, crickets. And then something happens and it's big. And the whole world is excited about you write about it, and boom, off you go, right? I mean, it is what it is. We have to bring this to a close, you've got a hard stop. Peggy has wine waiting for her. We cannot come between Peggy and wine. So, I'm going to ask you for your top...

Peggy Anne Salz: No. Don't do it.

Fabien-Pierre Nicolas: Me coffee, you wine, you know, it's just a time difference.

John Koetsier: I'm going to ask you for your top three tips for mobile marketers, perhaps in the news space coming into, you know, the end of the year here.

Fabien-Pierre Nicolas: Yeah. Well, I think my first key tip is you really need to reconnect with the audience and become more holistic marketer because we're moving away from deterministic attribution. It's a matter of time for Android, it's already the case for iOS. So, think on who is really your consumer, how could you add value and target them and stop just sticking to managing a funnel because that's not what marketing is, right? It's great that you have this knowledge, but actually, you know, it needs to be much more than that.

I think the second topic will be when it comes to, you know, the upcoming, the next year, I think there's sort of key themes who are starting to emerge, right? I think key themes both starting to emerge in the population. There is opportunities around those key pain points. And I think make sure your app could embrace it through some of the features you are shipping. It is I think extremely important, right? We know inflation and it's going to be a key matter. We know there are going to be a lot of polarisation around the election, but you know, it's something you could leverage in marketing as well. If anything, to offer maybe an escape from that back to some of the people through product. Yeah. That will be, you know, my second tip.

And the third one is, especially if you're a leader, if you're a manager, nurture your team, care about them, it will pay back like big time. I think it's really mission critical, especially now with more distributed team, you should be evaluated by your company and your capability to level up people and provide the data, be a multiplier. Don't be the person that just, you know, check in with them on the progress of work, like help them achieve their goals, and they will help you, you know, and your company to achieve yours.

John Koetsier: Love it. Love it. Love it. We see your family behind you and your hard stop is probably related to that. So, we better let you go. Thank you so much for this time.

Fabien-Pierre Nicolas: Thank you, John. Thank you, Peggy. It was really great chatting with you two.

Peggy Anne Salz: Lovely Fabien and good luck with the company in stealth mode, I'll be watching for it.

Sep 14, 2022

How Mattel163 Took UNO and Skip-Bo to 250M Users: Globalization Is Localization

What can 250M users and 30 billion games played reveal about mobile games, winning IP, and monetization?

In this episode of Mobile Heroes Uncensored, we chat with Mobile Hero Amy Huang, the CEO of Mattel163. She’s led the company to take iconic games like UNO and Skip-Bo mobile, leading to a quarter of a billion users and 30 billion games played. If that’s not enough, she’s also an accomplished rock climber.

Hosts Peggy Anne Salz and John Koetsier chat with Amy about focus, growth, hybrid monetization models, and going global via localization. 

27 min

John Koetsier: What can 250 million users and 30 billion games played reveal about mobile games, winning intellectual property, and monetisation? Welcome to "Mobile Heroes Uncensored." My name is John Koetsier. Our co-host, of course, as always is Peggy Anne Salz. And today, we're chatting with a woman who leads an international studio developing and marketing games you know and you recognise. She also has a very dangerous personal sport, which helps her identify what to focus on personally as well as professionally. Peggy, who are we chatting with today?

Peggy Anne Salz: Well, John, today we have Amy Huang. She is CEO of Mattel163. And the name says a lot because it's a joint venture between the iconic toy company, Mattel and the Chinese internet giant, NetEase. Fast forward from that point, more than 250 million downloads to date, as you said. Mattel163 is the name behind some of the highest grossing, most engaging mobile games ever developed, name like for example, UNO, John. You know that one, right?

John Koetsier: Absolutely.

Peggy Anne Salz: Absolutely. We all do. That's the whole point. Great IP, Skip-Bo Mobile, many more to come soon. Maybe she'll tell us about a few. And Amy is the founder of a company, but also a mover, a shaper. She started interestingly as a management consultant and facilitated the joint venture that would become Mattel163. She has a passion for connecting people, for connecting players around the IP, the gameplay they love, but she also is into rock climbing, which is a metaphor for what she loves most, right? Moving onward, upwards, staying motivated every step. Welcome, Amy. Great to have you.

Amy Huang: Thank you, Peggy. Thank you, John.

John Koetsier: Amy, we are so pumped to have you and you're in for a great show. You know, last time we recorded, Peggy was hopped up on drugs. She was getting over an illness. This time, I'm going on literally 20 hours without sleep. So, I mean, it can't fail to be interesting, exciting, and maybe good for the blooper reel. But we'll see how it goes.

Peggy Anne Salz: It's going to be uncensored this time, for sure, John.

John Koetsier: Exactly. Hundred percent. Amy, I got to ask you first. Mattel163, what's the origin of the 163?

Amy Huang: Great question. 163 is the original name which NetEase started back in the late '90s. It was one of the first internet portals in China. Do you guys remember when we used to dial up the modem and it would beep in the background?

John Koetsier: Yes.

Amy Huang: So, 163 was the call-up name for NetEase. So that was its very beginning in the '90s.

John Koetsier: Love it. I love it.

Amy Huang: So, when we created the joint venture, we thought that we could combine the names of the two parents and 163 we thought has more of a global carry. And it's a nice blend with Mattel.

John Koetsier: So, it wasn't just that the domain name was available. Excellent. Good, good, good. Well, let's start here. Peggy mentioned that you climb on rocks, you climb mountains, you love rock climbing. I mean, that's pretty cool, it's also kind of dangerous. How's that connect to what you do at Mattel163?

Amy Huang: Well, this joint venture was started about five years ago. So, I was doing investments for NetEase in the gaming sector and we met Mattel along that process. So, at that point, NetEase was looking to go global and Mattel was looking to go digital. So, it was a perfect marriage between two partners, if you will. But it's a great thesis and we've proven that over the past five years. But in the early days, you know, when you have the idea sketched out on the board, it takes a team to execute it and to bring it into real life. And those very early days were a journey in the dark without a map. So, we had a vision of what we wanted to achieve. We have these great IPs. People have been playing these games for decades in the physical space, but how do we transform it into the digital space?

So, there were a lot of unknowns, unproven thesis. And during those days, I constantly needed that personal motivation and that energy to propel myself forward so that I can lead the team onward and in the right direction. So, rock climbing came to me as a sport that continuously challenged you to reach new heights. Every time you complete a route, there's a fresh new route. It never ends, just much like our life and much like professional achievement. So, I think it's a great sport for me, and it really keeps me grounded, focused, and gives me that energy to reach new goals.

John Koetsier: And there's a lot of incentive to hang on.

Amy Huang: Sure. If I don't do the Free Solo like Alex does.

John Koetsier: I love that. I love that film. That's awesome.

Peggy Anne Salz: So, let's talk about gaming and what you like about that, because again, you're motivated, you have the incentive, you're in there, and you started at a management company. So, a management consultant to found the world-class game development distribution company we have today. What drew you to gaming?

Amy Huang: So, management consulting was my first job out of college. That exposed me to a lot of the problem-solving skills, business issue analytics. So, that's a good foundation. I got into gaming about 10 years ago. So, when mobile was just taking off, I was in the investment space for NetEase on the gaming side. So, I got to meet a lot of founders, producers, engineers, people with all kinds of backgrounds: large companies, small companies. So, I got to see first-hand what makes a great studio makes a great product. And we invested in over 30 companies around the world, some of the top talented producers. And also learned through that process, running a successful game studio is not just about having that simple creative idea, there's a lot of business thought, strategy, and team management to it. So, I think all of that experience contributed to my position today, and allowed me to use that knowledge to apply it to Mattel163.

John Koetsier: Talk about intellectual property, IP. I mean, you've got some amazing IP. I got to imagine there's a significant chunk of the world that's played UNO, there's a significant chunk of the world that's played Skip-Bo. How do you take that and build a game out of that? And why is that critically important?

Amy Huang: So, UNO has been around for 50 years. We celebrated its 50th last year, and Skip-Bo is 53 years old. And our other title, Phase 10, is one of the top grossing card games, is celebrating 40 years. So, there are decades of the generational play. But in the past, it's all physical, right? It's family night, game night with people in the same room as you. So, in the digital space, we have to translate that to the phone, to a mobile device that you carry around, whether it's landscape or portrait mode. That's easy for users to access and can be played with shorter duration. For example, Phase 10. It's more of a niche card game, but it's highly addictive. The traditional game takes about an hour, hour and a half between four to six people. But on the phone, we've adapted it so that each round takes one to two minutes. Three minutes max, if you're a little bit slower. And there's no pressure. You can engage with it, you can put it down. If you're waiting in line, you need to check out, you can flip to another app to pay for your groceries. So, it's very easy to adapt to your everyday life while providing that entertainment.

UNO, as we all know, it's hugely popular everywhere in the world. You can show it to anybody and people will recognise the brand. And what we've done with that game is, on top of the traditional gameplay, we have 2v2 team play where you and I can see each other's cards, and then Peggy and another player, they can see each other's cards. So, we can play in a team mode. So, we've added a lot of new gameplays that you're allowed to do on the digital side, which wasn't really able to be achieved on the physical card. So, I think what we've done is take a continuation of the traditional, that classic gameplay and elevated it even more, expanded the game modes, the variations in the digital space so that people can have more fun. So, we're lengthening the lifespan of these games and hopefully, people will be able to enjoy them both offline and online.

Peggy Anne Salz: I love how you're blending those worlds. And I mean, it starts with it, always starts with a great product, great gameplay, and you've brought board games from the physical to the digital. The games are successful. I mean, I'm reading just that one stat, pretty impressive from Skip-Bo, for example, 3 million downloads during the first week after launch. Unpack that a little bit, Amy. What goes into a super successful launch like that?

Amy Huang: The IP itself certainly helps. We precede the launch with pre-registration at the platforms. On Google's side, we have a lot of featuring support with Google, both on Google and Apple. And we do a lot of promotions on social media ourselves. So, it's a combination of the infrastructure that we build and the partners that we work with that helps to promote the games.

John Koetsier: I really like that. I mean, it's a lot of work to make it look effortless, to make it look like boom, viral success. There's a lot that goes into that behind the scenes. Very, very nice. You talked about that a little bit about the IP that's been around for half a century and reinventing those games for mobile. It's pretty interesting actually because I've seen a bunch of games like that as well, and it's really neat how you can play it completely digitally where you're completely remote from your family members or your friends, or you can play it in person. And everybody is... You kind of feel like, well, we're all on our devices, but we're actually all together as well in the same room. It's kind of a neat dynamic.

Amy Huang: I tell you one story. A friend of mine, she's a German lady who has two daughters. They live in China, her mother is in Germany, and she has a sister in other country. So, they actually do weekly family chats and then they will actually... They love UNO. They will actually play UNO on FaceTime using physical cards. So, each would draw from their deck and then they would play with each other digitally but yet physically, until I told her, "Hey, you know what, we created this mobile app UNO and you guys can use it to play with your family members, and you can create a room mode where you can chat with each other as you're playing." So, our company's mission statement is connecting the world through play. And that's what we try to do with these games.

Peggy Anne Salz: So, let's talk about how you make the games into a business. And a big part of that is the monetisation mechanics. It can be a bit of a balancing act because you have your user experience and you have your monetisation strategy. Now, you've adopted a hybrid monetisation strategy that combines in-app advertising and in-app purchases. First of all, just that combination. Why is that?

Amy Huang: That's a great question for game monetisation. In the early days of mobile games, people focused more on pure IP, so in-game purchases. But for most games in the market, over 90% of players, actually, they don't pay. You have that small pool of paying users that contribute to the overall gaming revenue. For that 90% or so players who don't pay yet they will like to stay in your game and enjoy that experience, what can you provide to them? So, to incentivise, one of the incentives for them is that they want to be able to have that booster to help them advance in the game yet they don't want to spend the money. So, you let them watch ads. It's a great way for us to monetise off of those non-paying users, and at the same time, allow them to enjoy and experience in the game that rewards them coins or boosters for the time that they spend watching those ads.

So, it's a great combination, this hybrid monetisation strategy to have. And like you said, Peggy, it's important to balance out, how much ads do we let them watch. It's not unlimited amount of ads. Then they will get very, very fatigued after watching 20 ads in a span of an hour. So, we have to control that very carefully through frequent A/B testings and just calibration of user retention, user engagement metrics to see if we're at where we want to be. So, it's a constant monitoring process and it changes with the DAU change, with the game progression. So, it takes a lot of backend data analysis for us to keep it in a good balance.

Peggy Anne Salz: And it's great because you keep that in balance, you do your fishing, you get your whales, you get your minnows, nobody gets away. It covers the gamut. Just wonder if you could give me a little look into how you consider what you consider when you're looking at ad monetisation elements. So, you're making certain that you're getting that right time, right reason, it's appealing to the right massive fan base. A little bit more you could share there?

Amy Huang: Sure. So, when we start development of each of our games, we design the economy with both IAP and IAA. That's the ad monetisation design at the launch, at the beginning of the game. So, it's considered the total part of the economy. And we have two different routes for paying users and then for non-paying users. So this allows us to look at it holistically as we design the game on the outside. At what point do players have a need for this certain prop or this certain item in the game? And that's where we can add an ad space for them to look at reward ads. So, these are all designed very carefully initially, and that certainly helps as we grow our titles. Like we launched Skip-Bo at the end of last year, we can watch the ad group grow gradually postlaunch, and then we continue to tweak the balancing of the economy throughout.

John Koetsier: So, I heard something really interesting. You're entering Esports. Talk to us about that.

Amy Huang: So, last month, we launched UNO All-Stars Wildcard Series. So, we invited 16 of the top YouTube Esports players around the world. And mostly, a lot of them are from North American. So, they participated in three weekends of UNO tournament and we had a lot of them watching them play out with each other. And at the end, LilyPichu won the championship for the first-ever UNO Esports tournament. The positioning is very interesting. And as we were running the tournament, we found that we had a lot of viewership on YouTube actually by the third weekend, which was the finals. UNO Mobile Esports was the number two livestream game. So, right behind Minecraft. We were ahead of Lego Legend, ahead of PUBG, ahead of Free Fire. So, we were just totally blown away. We were like, "Wow. So many people are into UNO Mobile, and are watching people play UNO." And we realised that listening to our community, our players, people think that Esports is such a hardcore thing, right? You mention Esports, you think about all these hardcore shooting games. But UNO is a group classic. Anybody can get into it. Anybody can be a champion of the game. So, I think that's a great way for people to get into Esports without feeling threatened. It lowers the barrier.

Our champion and the second place winner, they were both females, which is great. And a lot of our players, they were like, "I think I can beat that person." And we're going have a community tournament in early December allowing our global base, like the user base to participate in the tournament. So, we're very excited about building up on this Esports game for UNO and taking that to our audience, to the top influencers. You know, just create a lot of fun. There's a slogan attached to our Esports series. It's unpredictable fun, which I think essentially captures the spirit of UNO. You have the wildcard, you have the reverse. So, it's taken Esports in a more light-hearted, in a fun, casual direction, which I think is great to the sport.

John Koetsier: I really like it. I absolutely love it. I mean, when we think eSports, we think shoot them up game or something like that, we think hardcore, we think 17-year-old, 23-year-old males. I look forward to an Esports champion being 63 or something like that, which you could imagine. In UNO, that would be cool. And we know that half of all gamers, maybe more than half, are women. And so you had two female champions there. That is very, very cool.

Peggy Anne Salz: Great.

Amy Huang: And if you think about Esports, most of these players, they train seven, eight hours a day. But if you think about our game UNO, you've been playing since you were 5 years old, right? You've been training all of your life for this. So, I think it's definitely a all-inclusive game for everybody around the world. I can't wait to do more with Esports UNO.

Peggy Anne Salz: That is very cool. I was reading the article of the winner and she's like, "Oh, it's something I'm going to tell my grandchildren about." So, it just becomes a great accomplishment, but not like this hardcore heavy feel to it. So, they're inclusive, they're universal, they're fun. That's what your games are. But at some level, there's also got to be a cultural fit. And John, you and I, we've done a show about how marketers should approach overseas markets, grasp the opportunities there, think in the other direction as well. So, we've had those insights there. What about you, Amy? What are your suggestions for companies that want to find their fit with overseas markets as you have?

Amy Huang: You know, we're very fortunate in that we work with IPs titles that are very culturally relatable or easily adaptable to a lot of different regions of the world. However, as we've grown to this current stage, we've run a global operation for all of our games, meaning we have a single server for the global market. But as we are growing to our fifth year and beyond, we need to work on providing more localised events and in-game experiences to our users. So, we're going to be investing more on creating the customised content. So recently, I was talking to somebody and they had this great phrase, "Globalisation is about localisation." So, providing that tailored localised experience will be very important to our game operationally going forward. So, we're going to be focusing on each specific market, have a different version for that market, and have a team dedicated to not just designing the gameplay, the event, and also providing very localised marketing support for that region so that we can speak and relate to the players more personally.

Peggy Anne Salz: That would be very interesting to watch as you localise, as you make your game relatable to all the regions, to all the countries, because again, a global game, universal appeal. Let's look at the future of what you're doing. You started with your first foray into Esports. Very cool. What other platforms do you see coming around the bend or see in the future which will have an important role as you expand both your community and continue to evolve the IP?

Amy Huang: Yes. So far we've just been on mobile. We're very excited about just the growing presence of games on cross-platform. So, that's one of the directions that we're headed towards. For us, the ambition is really to capture a player's attention, their timeshare, on whatever screen device that they're using. So, whether it's in the car, on the phone, on the go, or at home, we want to be where the screens are at. So, it's very important for us to grow and adapt with the industry. Right now we're in this Web2 universe for the most part, but Web3 is coming, whether it's on AR, VR, or whatever new technology platform. We need to be there. So, our team has a dedicated group that's focused on analysing the new technology for these new platforms, make sure we're ready to capture the market, enter in a market when we have the product ready for that.

John Koetsier: Really interesting thinking about augmented reality, UNO or Skip-Bo, that can be cool. Maybe I can circle around and see somebody else's cards in a virtual environment. We'll see. I have anti-cheating protection. Well, this has been very, very cool. Let's end here with your top tip. What's your top tip for mobile marketers heading, well, we're closing out 2022 almost, right? We're heading into 2023. What's your top tip right now?

Amy Huang: '22 has been a challenging year, I think, for a lot of us in the mobile game space. People are going back to their normal lives post-COVID, and just the whole global economy isn't doing so great. So, I think for our team and I think just looking forward, we need to be more versatile and just be more on our toes about where the market trends are, where the player sentiments are so that we can change and adapt with the market. And I think that's one of the things that we've learned through the past four, five years is that your player group, the user base will change over time as the game matures. As the market changes, economic conditions change. And how do you adapt to that? We engage in a lot, a lot of user research, whether it's through in-game surveys or community feedback or calls and interviews with our players. So, that connection with our players and using that feedback to give to the dev team, that's a very important part of the game design, iteration process for us. And I cannot stress that more for any game development company in the world because you need to provide the right kind of experience for your players and that's how you build success.

John Koetsier: Yeah. I was going to say, as you enter unknown territory with the economy and all that stuff, avoid the cliffs. But of course, the rock climber is actually looking for the cliffs. So, that would be really bad advice in your case. Thank you so much for taking the time. I know that...I don't even know what time it is for you. I'm assuming you're in China right now. Is that correct?

Amy Huang: Yeah, it's 1:30 in the afternoon, so.

John Koetsier: Oh, okay. Okay. Well, it's 10 p.m. for me. It's some ungodly hour of the early morning for Peggy. We made it all work. Thank you so much for making it interesting.

Amy Huang: Thank you. Well, you both look great for early morning.

Peggy Anne Salz: Yeah. We all want what John has after 20 hours looking like that.

John Koetsier: I was up at 2 a.m.

Amy Huang: I really hate working around the global clock to fit my time, but really appreciate this. Really enjoy talking to you both.

John Koetsier: Who needs sleep? Who needs sleep? Well, thank you so much. It's been wonderful.

Sep 7, 2022

20M Views on TikTok, and a New Approach to “Uncomplicated Attribution”

Apple’s SKAdNetwork has accelerated 10 years worth of CPM growth in just a year, according to our guest and Mobile Hero, Giulia Porter, VP of Marketing at RoboKiller.

In this episode, we dig into what that means, how marketing a utility differs from marketing a game, and a new approach to channels and attribution in the age of privacy. Plus, hosts John Koetsier and Peggy Anne Salz chat with Giulia about the TikTok video on her app that got 20 million views, kickstarted a huge number of app installs, and that they didn’t even know about until they saw the avalanche of new users.

27 min

Giulia Porter: The CPM growth that we're seeing in the last two years, I think, has basically accelerated what we believe would be more like a decade's worth of CPM growth, had SKAdNetwork not introduced.

John Koetsier: Are you getting a lot of voice spam lately? How about text spam? I'm getting a ton of that lately, from people I don't know. They're asking me if I had a great day, if I need a friend, if I knew what happened to their package, all that stuff. Welcome to Mobile Heroes Uncensored. My name is John Koetsier, our cohost is Peggy Anne Salz and today we're chatting about spam. Voice spam, which is bad enough, text spam, which is becoming an epidemic. And we're chatting with a mall marketer who has a solution who could make it all go away. Peggy, who is she?

Peggy Anne Salz: Wouldn't that be grand, John, but we're very close today, because we have with us, Giulia Porter. She's VP of marketing at RoboKiller, which is owned by Teltech Systems. And that is the app that eliminates spam calls and texts. And, Julia, is a mobile growth leader, passionate about performance marketing, branding, and data science at her company. Interestingly, she's also the daughter of a lobster fisherman. And so, I can't resist the opportunity to fish for some answers around how we can get...yes.

John Koetsier: Ouch.

Peggy Anne Salz: Yes. Had to do it. Yes. Fishing for answers about how to get new value out of old marketing channels, here with Julia. Welcome, Julia.

Giulia Porter: Hey, Peggy. Hi, John. Thanks for having me.

John Koetsier: Welcome. Welcome. Welcome. We'll probably have a few more cheesy jokes, but I mean, I'm looking at RoboKiller. I was thinking Skynet one, you know, or .1 or something like...not quite. You were a mobile hero way back in 2020. Peggy and I just chatted with...what was it? Fantasy from Call of Duty: Mobile, and he was, like, so pumped about being a mobile hero. It was like one of his life's ambitions. Has your life changed since you became a mobile hero?

Giulia Porter: A lot has changed since 2020. I'd say being a mobile hero could be included in that for sure. It was a great experience overall and, yeah, glad to be here again.

John Koetsier: Excellent.

Peggy Anne Salz: It's one of those life-changing events since 2020, John. It's what she's telling us.

John Koetsier: Just one of them, exactly. COVID, becoming a mobile hero, you know, hey, it's all at the same level.

Peggy Anne Salz: There you go. Well, we talked about RoboKiller just a little bit, but let's just zoom back out to talk about the differences between marketing an app like RoboKiller versus, say, a game, or a banking app or some other type of app. What are the differences there?

Giulia Porter: The main difference is that RoboKiller is a subscription service, so in order to use the service, you do need to pay for a subscription. We offer a number of different options for people, and then do offer a seven-day free trial to test out the services.

So, in terms of just your objectives and mobile app actions, and the audience profile that you're targeting, it can be a little bit different. So, really, it's the marketing funnel up until the point of monetization, and then, of course, you know, there's different monetization models with ad revenue, which we don't really focus on, versus subscription revenue, which is way more obviously retention focused than getting people to continue to come back and pay us each, each month or each year, depending on the plan.

John Koetsier: It's also interesting, right? Because in a lot of cases, like if you're marketing a game, you're hitting the entertainment segment, right? It's fun. Whereas you're hitting a pain point, right? A pain point of annoyance. A pain point of, "Well, that really sucks." A pain point of, I pick up my phone and, "Oh, one of those again." right? No, it's not my significant other, it's some rando from some, obviously, different area code. So, that's got to be a bit of a change too as well, right?

Giulia Porter: Yeah, great point. It is so funny, just...I know that everyone talks about the difference between subscription apps and gaming apps or ad monetized apps, but every single app category still has a little bit of a nuanced difference to each of them. And RoboKiller is in the utilities category and so, you know, our goal, of course, past getting people a subscription, is to stay useful to people, which can be challenging. Especially because, in RoboKillers instance, some people sometimes get a lot of spam calls, and then some people, other times, don't get a lot of spam calls.

And so what value are you providing in-between, kind of, those ebbs and flows really matters, of course, in the amount of money that you make per user. And so, that's always been, you know, a unique challenge, I think, in the utilities category. Especially for a recurring subscription service.

John Koetsier: That is a challenge, right? I mean, not only to continue to be helpful but also to continue to let people know, in subtle and non-annoying ways, that you are being helpful, right? How many spam calls you disabled, how many spam texts you got rid of, all that stuff, in your case, and different things for different utilities. Well, there's additional challenges as everybody in mobile marketing knows in the past couple of years, especially the past year with SKAdNetwork on iOS. How's that changed your growth tactics?

Giulia Porter: I think, first and foremost, I think many marketers would agree that SKAdNetwork has accelerated, both for iOS and Android, just the cost of advertising. The CPM growth that we're seeing in the last two years, I think, has basically accelerated what we believe would be more like a decade's worth of CPM growth, had SKAdNetwork not been introduced. You know, it just takes a lot more to be playing in the same spaces, and so, you know, that's obviously come with a lot of unique challenges that it seems like every mobile marketer is facing these days.

John Koetsier: That is interesting. Accelerated by 10 years. So, what you're saying is that the costs are significantly higher. Have you done anything like maybe gone to the web? I mean, we were recently chatting with somebody who moved to the web and they said it was a 50% discount on advertising there, but of course, there's its own challenges, right?

Giulia Porter: I think what a lot of people don't totally think of, is that web is not unscathed from SKAdNetwork as well. Before SKAdNetwork, a lot of our web traffic was on mobile devices, which were people using, you know, desktop apps on their phone. They also have to prompt for app tracking transparency, which is, you know, basically SKAdNetwork, obviously.

So, you know, your web performance, isn't unscathed. It is a little less competitive from what we're seeing out there, and it is part of our marketing strategy. I wouldn't say, you know, it's anywhere up there with apps in terms of kind of revenue performance, but I think what we're finding is...Initially, we were like, "Oh yeah. At least there's web." And then, I think, as we started peeling layers back to SKAdNetwork, we were like, "Oh wait. Our web traffic's like 70% mobile and, like, that means there's no idea if they're there either." So yeah, like that, you know, it's been untrue.

John Koetsier: True, true. But you can capture a cookie and then you can also do some interesting things on the landing page. Yeah. Some places. Exactly. Maybe it's a mobile browser inside an app as well, wrapped inside FaceBook.

Giulia Porter: Yeah. But what we're finding there too, I think, on the cookie front, outside of obviously cookie consent, is the rise of privacy-focused browsers that, you know, are trying to get rid of cookies in their own way, as well. Tracking, in general, is just overall more complicated, which we've accepted. I think now we're just trying to, kind of, plan the new world and try to figure out how we can manage our customer acquisition costs while, you know, keeping revenue moving in the right direction.

John Koetsier: Interesting.

Peggy Anne Salz: We talked about that new world, you know, because you have to think of your tactics, you have to change your tactics. What of the channels and changing those? You have to find new people to use your product constantly. Where have you looked?

Giulia Porter: Everywhere.

Peggy Anne Salz: Everywhere?

Giulia Porter: That was the point. The first thing that we found in SKAdNetwork when that first came out is, of course, you know, most mobile marketers, particularly subscription services, but also other apps gaming, you know, everywhere, we're focused on in-app events for campaign optimization. You know, obviously, SKAdNetwork was designed to significantly slow down the amount of signals campaigns were getting in a given timeframe, and that really matters for campaign optimization. And so, what we were seeing was just scale for the channels that were very easy to, kind of, toggle up and down when we needed to, from a revenue standpoint, became much different in terms of turnaround times there.

And so really what we started looking at is, of course, you know, where are we currently operating? What is that doing? What are we able to do moving forward in these channels? And then starting to think about, okay, if we can't get X amount of scale, you know, on Google ads, for example, where else might we get that?

And so, you know, we started looking at, of course, kind of that next tier of self-reported ads networks, SANDS partners, on digital. And then we've previewed this, but we've started to actually look outside of digital and start thinking about, you know, how can we bring a mobile approach to more traditional methods of advertising?

So, looking at traditional TV buying, of course, CTV, and OTT connected TV is super-hot so, you know, that's on the list as well. But also channels like direct mail which has been really interesting. And so, that's been a new and exciting challenge really in the last, like, 12 or so months for us where we've gotten to kind of reinvent how we do performance marketing on some, kind of, traditional offline channels and bringing a mobile touch to that.

Peggy Anne Salz: You're going forward by going backward a little bit. You know, TV, print, direct mail, they're having a movement, that's clear, but how are you approaching them to just make these old channels a bit more new? A bit more sort of mobile-focused than they have been. Because you're combining that, but how?

Giulia Porter: Yeah. So, I think, first and foremost, the approach that we've taken is just keeping the performance marketing element alive, right? You know, I think when marketers that are specifically experienced in digital think about TV ads, they think about big-branded Nike campaigns and that it needs to have this aspirational message and you don't need calls to action and, you know, just show people living their lives. Like, that type of stuff.

What we've found is that you don't need that in those channels. You can still bring a direct response approach to exactly the way marketers, particularly in mobile, have been treating digital for a while, which is, I believe, one of the reasons digital's been so effective for mobile marketers to date outside of, of course, all of the previous optimizations you could make with the SKAdNetwork.

And so, first and foremost, just bringing that direct response approach to channels like TV channels, channels like direct mail, where you don't need to have a big sexy message and you don't need to be Nike. You know, you can still throw in your creatives, the app experience, and pretty standard problem solution messaging and see great response rates. And so, that's been a really interesting finding for us, and it's kind of held true across all of these new traditional channels that we're working with.

And so, that's been a great finding. Of course, there's fun things that we've been doing that have mobile touches to them. So, for example, in direct mail, we're obviously offering QR codes in those, so that people can scan on their phone and then actually just open the app with a link in the app stores, of course.

So, trying to think about, okay, you know, this is what this needs to look like. You know, most people are getting. Taking a look at old ads and seeing those are getting directed to the website, how can we get more people into the app stores directly? What do we show visually, etc., how do we design our calls to action to do that? So yeah. So, I think that's been a fun challenge for us recently.

John Koetsier: We have to pause here a second, Peggy, because this is a bit of a moment. This is a bit of a sea change, right? Just think about this from the perspective of 18 months ago. Maybe 24 months ago, but even 18 months ago. I mean, you had IDFA, you had GAID, and you basically ran your campaigns and it was very trackable. You had cohorts that lasted for months and months and months, quarters, years. You had all kinds of in-app events, you could report in-app events back to platforms. All this stuff, real-time optimization. Now, not only do you have to learn SKAdNetwork, which is challenging, and frankly most companies, most brands, most mobile markers don't 100% get how to actually maximize data value you can get out of there. You know GIAD is going away. It's been promised that it's going away, Google will probably delay it a few times, just like third-party cookie, but it's going away, right? And like Julia's doing here, she's exploring direct mail, she's exploring QR code, she's exploring TV, and so she's got to figure out SKAdNetwork, a whole new way of measuring on mobile. She's got to figure out measurement on a bunch of different platforms, and then somehow, she's got to take that whole ball of wax and collapse it down to one thing, like you say, "Hey, you know what, we're winning or we're losing." This is not easy.

Giulia Porter: It is not easy. I can tell you that. I'd say one thing, kind of within that, so, all really good point, John. I think looking into traditional has helped us to uncomplicate some of our mobile attribution. You know, previously when you had all of the features that you were describing in mobile marketing, prior to the last two years, you know, it was easy to make your mobile attribution very complicated, very quickly. Where you're getting down to, like, the creative level performance, which of course was really valuable for marketing campaigns.

We've moved away from trying to figure out every single SKAdNetwork value in our conversion results frankly. We're just finding that, you know, the concept of an organic conversion, especially with the way that we receive attribution data these days, basically, doesn't exist, right? Or, of course, there are always going to be organic conversions, but trying to track down that granular level single conversion isn't working for us and frankly, it's not a great use of our time.

So, what we've more moved to, as we've adopted more of these immeasurable channels, like TV, like direct mail, you know. Certainly, there's ways to get partial attribution, like promo codes, QR codes, etc., but we've moved away from that and just started looking at, like, our blended performance of just how many marketing dollars did we spend this month? How many actions did we drive that we were targeting? What's the total cost on that? You know, is that increasing or decreasing based on what we've changed in our portfolio this month? And that's just given us a lot more freedom. I've talked to a lot of marketers who are killing themselves over trying to restore what once was, and my advice to them is just stop wasting your time.

John Koetsier: Next thing, Peggy, will be having three-martini lunches again.

Peggy Anne Salz: Yeah, really. This is madman all over again. We'll just say it's toasted and we'll be done.

John Koetsier: That sort of sounds a bit media mix modeling-ish.

Giulia Porter: We haven't gotten there yet either. I think we're kind of enjoying a moment of uncomplicated attribution. We might be heading in that direction. I know there's been some chatter there across the industry, but, you know, right now we're just kind of enjoying the uncomplication of being able to look at, just, total trial signups, total spend, what's the margin on that and making tweaks to what we know. You know, of course, we're changing any given month and seeing what that does.

Of course, it's, you know, not as accurate, but I think our thinking is just, we're not going back to that world so what's the sense of, you know, trying to recreate it?

Peggy Anne Salz: That is so smart. I mean, just think about that, John, just straight at you, you know. Enjoying uncomplicated attribution.

Giulia Porter: I think our data scientist would probably disagree with me.

John Koetsier: Trademark that. Uncomplicated attribution. There we go.

Peggy Anne Salz: I'm still just getting my head around that actually.

Giulia Porter: Media mix modeling is very interesting. I think, personally, it's something we might explore in the near future. You know, I think, at some point, it will make sense to kind of...if this is the new world and it's not going away, you know, there's always benefit in trying to go deeper in your attribution modeling.

You know, we certainly have attribution frameworks. I'm not saying that we don't, but in terms of really what the business is measured on, we're really looking at our overall performance. But of course, you know, as we add more of these channels into the mix, like TV, like direct mail, that are kind of always on campaigns, we do understand that's going to get more complicated. That these channels are doing quite well for us, so, you know, they're not going away anytime soon.

And so, I think, one thing that's interesting too, is in these types of networks, the targeting that you have available is better in a lot of instances. Where direct mail, you know, you can target specific households with specific age ranges, if you really want to go in that direction. And I think a lot of people don't realize that that still exists in those worlds to a degree, of course, you know, everything's not as accurate these days, but there's just a little bit more control in that way. And through some, like, uplift analysis and stuff that we're doing for certain tests, we're seeing LTV differences in those channels, in a positive way. And so, that's a good sign that we might still be able to continue to improve margin here. And, of course, do think media mix modeling can help with that in the future for sure.

Peggy Anne Salz: Yes. We're talking about the old channels becoming new again, back to basics, uncomplicated attribution. I'm going to keep that one in mind. There's a t-shirt of the franchise in that actually, John. But let's look at the new channels, Julia. You know, TikTok, I read it, I saw it, pretty cool. RoboKiller going viral on TikTok with 20 million views. Tell us about that video. Tell us about that whole experience.

Giulia Porter: It caught us quite off guard. We just had a lot of installs one day and we were like, "Where is this coming from? It's wild, track it down." We didn't really have a presence on TikTok outside of some, you know, TikTok ads tests we've been doing. And just through a couple of searches across like every single social media platform, we did find that someone had just posted about an experience they had with RoboKiller. RoboKiller has a unique feature that, if you want, we will intercept your spam calls and play funny recordings that will trick telemarketers into thinking they're talking to someone when it's just a bot that has this hilarious scenario. So, the Tiktoker who posted had a funny interaction where a telemarketer who had called him got our bot that is area 51. And she thought that she had called area 51 and they were trying to trace her phone number. So, it was a very funny skit that had played out and it got a lot of love on TikTok.

Obviously, I think, you know, that's definitely a TikTok piece of content, so glad it got on there. And yeah, it's been really interesting to, kind of, ride that. Have seen, of course, some other brands...haven't seen a lot of mobile apps get to that level on virality, which, you know, certainly we're lucky and grateful for, but, you know, in terms of control over that, that certainly was not anything we did.

John Koetsier: Julia, you just made every mobile marketer who's struggling in the trenches trying to increase downloads like 0.1% absolutely hate you. You know, you just woke up one morning and boom downloads are through the roof, and what happened? Oh, so nice. It's amazing.

Giulia Porter: I would like to offer an alternate perspective on that. Where now I'm getting questions on how we can repeat that?" So, you're better off having that, not to experience that, because of course virality is virality because it is uncontrollable.

John Koetsier: Here's the good alternate explanation. The good alternate explanation is one that Peggy and I have been actually hearing about a little bit, and that is product-led growth. And that is having the foresight and the creativity, and the insight, and the sense of humor to take a risk and put something in your app that is kind of funky, kind of fun, kind of interesting, kind of cool. And you know what, somebody found it and did something cool with it and you guys were the beneficiary, so that's pretty awesome.

Giulia Porter: Yes, definitely. To your point on product-led growth, I mean, I definitely know that's a big topic of conversation, really post-SKAdNetwork, was a big topic of conversation at MAU this year, where, you know, product-led growth is definitely part of the solution to the future of mobile.

I like the touch that you added, John, on sense of humor, because, I think, obviously, to be on TikTok you should have a sense of humor, and, you know, trying to think about how you can incorporate that. And, of course, just, you know, frameworks for a product-led growth overall. But having a little fun with it too, I think is a nice point as well.

Peggy Anne Salz: I'm just thinking the whole time, Julia, now, what do you do for an encore?

John Koetsier: I know what you do for an encore. I know what you do for an encore. Julia, you get a bunch of funky, cool, B-list celebrities, maybe comedians, to do some more of those scripts for you in response. I mean, they get, I don't know, some good comedians to do something, that'd be amazing.

Giulia Porter: Yes. Yeah, that's something we're exploring. We do have an Ice-T answer bot. We've done that kind of here and there. Of course, we don't have budgets, like I think Calm and Headspace, that are doing a lot more talent, which is quite impressive in terms of who they're featuring in their apps for guided meditations, would love to be able to do that for sure. Obviously, there are some crazy class associated to that type of talent, but it's definitely something we're exploring now.

Peggy Anne Salz: So, your example shows paid and organic really work well together. I'd like you to walk us through what works and the metrics you need to watch to know that you are on the money.

Giulia Porter: Definitely. So, yeah. You know, in terms of our approach to just monitoring performance on a monthly basis, of course, we're looking at, you know, our spend mix, right? We do try to isolate, particularly in traditional channels, if we're launching a direct mail test. We're trying to hold off on any sort of other testing, kind of, in that same offline bucket, so that if we do see signals like increases in installs, increases in our subscription signups, we can, kind of, understand, okay, you know, it's very, very likely that that came from this new direct mail campaign test, for example.

And so, we are trying to make sure there's not too much overlap in terms of the new things that we're adding on top of kind of our core, both digital and traditional, performance. So, we're able to see signals of uplift largely, and, of course, we're looking at, you know, just traffic volume within that and what the costs are. So, we're looking at, of course, our upper funnel metrics. So, you know, what are the impression costs there, the CPM, of course, how that's kind of converting into installs. So, how many installs are regenerating. Again, like I said, we're looking at uplift there too to see, okay, well, this many people were, like, that much more interested in downloading our app and that's a good signal. And, of course, there's a cost profile to that, cost per install, and then we're taking one step further in looking at our trial uplifts.

That's kind of where marketing ends and we're handing it off to product to go out and convert those trials to subscriptions. But of course, we're looking directionally and knowing that attribution is not perfect. Okay, you know, how much of our trials kind of came from our core stuff? Like, how much is Google? How much is Facebook? How much is Apple Search? In addition to that, based on anything else new we are doing, that we're seeing uplift outside of...or, you know, sometimes when we move things on TV. We see an uplift in apple search ads because people are searching in the app stores. So, it's helpful to kind of look granularly and then big picture, and then, of course, like I said, there's cost profile to those cost per trials that we're looking at as.

John Koetsier: Love it. Okay. This has been amazing. We have to come to a close. Two quick questions for you with two brief answers. First one. What's your top tip for growth in a privacy-centric ecosystem?

Giulia Porter: I would say, first, focus on first-party...we're calling it first-party demographic data, or just first-party understanding of your users. I don't want to call it first-party attribution data, because it's not. I think the other real challenge with SKAdNetwork and privacy, moving forward, is the information that we'll be getting just on our aggregate audience of understanding, okay, we're in this Facebook campaign and this many people between the ages of, you know, X and X, saw this ad rate. Like, a lot of that's going away. And so, you know, in order to be a good marketer, you need to understand who you're marketing to. And I think one thing that I'm encouraging marketers to do is really figure out a way to get that.

You can still get that through your user base, it's just you have to do it a little more traditionally where, you know, surveying and maybe customer interviews are on the horizon. With privacy that's getting lost, but there are ways to make sure that doesn't get lost with working with, you know, your product teams, your UX surveying teams, etc.

John Koetsier: Mm-hmm. That makes a lot of sense. And, Peggy, now I have heard that from a bunch of people who are super amazing data-driven marketers, that they're doing some surveying. All of their customers. Gentle touch, easy, you know, 1, 2, 3 questions, not a big deal, not a heavy lift, but just doing some surveying and it's so old school in some sense, but it's also sometimes your best, best data.

Okay. Second and last brief question. What is your least censored opinion about anything in the mobile marketing world?

Giulia Porter: Oh, wow. That's a little broad. Stop tracking down SKAdNetwork values. Yeah, I think I already mentioned that, but my advice to marketers these days is you're not going to get it back to the accuracy that it once was. So, just look at aggregate. It's not worth your time.

Peggy Anne Salz: Yep. Move on. That's what you're saying.

John Koetsier: Excellent. Excellent. Well, thank you so much, Julia. This has been a true pleasure, and really do appreciate the insights.

Giulia Porter: Thanks so much for having me.

Peggy Anne Salz: I have to do a plus one here, Julia. There are so many good tips and advice in this show. If marketers are smart, John, they're just going to listen, make notes, you know, get their transcript, I don't know, but this is one to write down.

John : Absolutely. And guess what? There's a full transcript on the Mobile Heroes Uncensored website so it's easy to search. Thank you again, Julia. It's been great having you.

Giulia Porter: Thank you.

John Koetsier: And thank you to all the listeners. We really do appreciate you. Hope you're enjoying it. Let us know on social if you are.

Peggy Anne Salz: And let us know if you want to come and we'll have you on the show. If you're a mobile hero or you know of someone who is, then fill out the interest form over at

John Koetsier: Also, Liftoff has a slack for mobile heroes and people in the mobile ecosystem. There's a link on the screen, and if you're listening to the podcast, it's at It's pretty cool. There's smart people there and you know what? They probably need you to.

Peggy Anne Salz: And you have probably been completely blown away by all the insights on this show, and you want your transcript. And you can have it. Because the transcripts are over at Liftoff's website. Go to, click on Heroes and then click on Podcast.

John Koetsier: I actually personally love transcripts because I read way faster than people talk so that's a great way to get insights really, really quickly. Until next time. This is John Koetsier, thank you so much for joining.

Peggy Anne Salz: And this is Peggy Anne Salz, signing off for Mobile Heroes Uncensored.

Aug 31, 2022

8M MAU With $0 in Spend

How do you get to 8 million monthly average users with $0 in marketing spend? That’s the core question we ask Geoff Hladik, Head of Revenue & Growth at Visual Blasters. Part of the answer: product-led growth.

Hosts John Koetsier and Peggy Anne Salz also chat about getting featured by Apple, the pros and cons of building an app for kids, and when Hladik plans to turn the paid user acquisition on.

29 min

Geoff Hladik: We can identify the vast majority of the users that we lose in the first 3 minutes. And if they don't do X, Y, Z within the first few minutes, we know that there's a high likelihood that we're going to lose them.

John Koetsier: Imagine achieving eight million monthly average users with zero dollars in paid user acquisition spend. Does it sound too good to be true? Does it sound something like would make you jealous? Absolutely, make me jealous. It certainly sounds too good to be true, but let's find out. Welcome to "Mobile Heroes Uncensored". My name is John Koetsier. Our co-host, of course, is the amazing Peggy Anne Salz. And today, we're chatting with the growth leader behind a recent Apple top pick for app of the year and a viral sensation. Peggy, who are we chatting with?

Peggy Anne Salz: Well, we're uncovering a story that not many have heard of before, John, so, it is exciting. We're digging deep into Visual Blasters and our guest is Geoff Hladik. He is head of revenue and growth. And as you pointed out, his company won Apple 2019 App Trend of The Year for their animation product FlipaClip, and he's going to tell us how to make an app that's not just a crowd-pleaser but gets Apple's attention, and you know that isn't easy. Before joining Visual Blasters, he held BizDev positions at AdTech companies, including Inmobi, AerServ, Appodeal, and Fiksu. So, he's seen it from both sides. He leveraged his experience in digital advertising to work as an account executive at a string of companies you will have heard of, including AOL and Amazon. So it's great to have you, Geoff.

Geoff Hladik: Thanks, guys.

John Koetsier: Hey, if I hear Visual Blasters, I'm thinking like pew, pew, pew or something like that. So, give us the two seconds on Visual Blasters.

Geoff Hladik: Yeah, absolutely. So, Visual Blasters, and we've been around for I think probably about six or seven years. I've been with the team for about three and a half or so. We produce an app called FlipaClip. We're the leading 2D animation and design and what we call trace-over-video.

John Koetsier: Love it. Love it. Love it. Creator economy. Here we go. We're teaching the kids young. So, maybe let's start here. We've all heard or seen the evidence kind of in front of our eyes most days. We're in a bit of a recessionary period, so budgets are getting tighter. Organic growth sounds great, users you don't have to pay for. You don't have to spend $100,000 a month to get growth. How have you made it happen?

Geoff Hladik: Yeah, that's a great question. And I think it probably goes back. I think since the inception of the company, our founders kind of like built our business with a focus solely around products and our community. I guess product first and then the community came second. So, the product itself lends itself really well to generating content for a wide variety of creators. And what that allows us to do is listen very closely to what their needs are and digest and dissect comments and feature requests and complaints and so forth. So, we're able to really focus on honing in on the exact needs of what everybody's looking for. And then on top of that, or I guess really below that, is analyzing user-level metrics as it relates to how certain tweaks to products and monetization efforts and so forth, impact our core KPIs.

John Koetsier: Product-led growth. That's a bit of a buzzword lately.

Peggy Anne Salz: Now your product FlipaClip, you won Apple's Trend of the Year Award 2019. The question I alluded to earlier, how did you get Apple to recognize your product like that?

Geoff Hladik: Oh, that's a very good question. So, I mean, I guess I would say off the cuff I don't necessarily know. I had only been with the company for probably about six months when that hit, and we had seen pretty substantial or at least sustained growth in 2018 and 2019 year over year. I mean, nothing like the COVID boom that all of us saw, which was quite impressive. But as it relates to catching the eye of Apple, I don't think that we really know. I would say that I do think that there's somewhat of a different approach between Apple and Google in terms of how their editorial teams keep a closer eye on trends and specifically maybe analytics and user sentiments of certain apps. And I think that they must have picked up on a few key I'd probably say insights, maybe just because we have long user sessions, maybe some of the comments that are showing up and the retention rates and so forth. I don't necessarily know. That's the best guess that I can come up with.

John Koetsier: That's good. I like it. Like in six months after you joined. I mean, that's going on the resume. Obviously, causal relationship right there, right, Peggy?

Geoff Hladik: I will say one thing, though, which we've seen is once you have established a relationship with Apple, it does open a lot of doors for future opportunities to collaborate with them, which is pretty interesting. And then that kind of helps us just keep the train going in terms of focusing on product and community and making sure we're just delivering the best possible user experience that we can.

Peggy Anne Salz: You got their attention. You also have the attention of children as well, because I have a colleague, and when I told him, "Oh, I've got this interview coming up," he's like, "Oh, yeah, you know." He has three children. They all use FlipaClip as a learning tool in their elementary school in California. So, it's really interesting. How did you manage that? How did you get into that market? Because they certainly love you.

Geoff Hladik: Oh, man. Well, that does make us feel really good to hear that. It's always great to hear. Are you asking specifically like in schools, for instance?

Peggy Anne Salz: Exactly.

Geoff Hladik: Like, from an educational standpoint?

Peggy Anne Salz: Because that's a's a hard one to crack.

Geoff Hladik: So, very good question. I mean, I would say we don't have an official schools product yet. It's sort of on the roadmap. It's there. And what we've seen is just, like, a tremendous adoption of FlipaClip in educational institutions from, like, second grade on up through higher education. And we get a lot of requests, quite frankly on a daily basis, for an official version. And we're working on it. We do have a few beta versions out there that are being tested. We're integrated with Apple School Manager, and we're working on integrations with Google, but we don't have an official product that has been released thus far. They're actually still using the public domain version.

John Koetsier: Which is pretty neat.

Geoff Hladik: And it's not necessarily tailored to schools. And so, it's one of those things whereby there's a lot of opportunity there for us, but we don't necessarily have the bandwidth to kind of jump into it full tilt because we're still working on a lot of core infrastructure projects with the main B2C version.

John Koetsier: Love it.

Geoff Hladik: Yeah, it's really exciting, though. It's a lot of fun. What we do is we actually get on a lot of calls with teachers in schools and talk to them and hear them out on a quite regular basis. So, we're kind of taking their feedback right now and hope to deploy something in the very near future. It's in the works.

Peggy Anne Salz: Let's just stay with that feedback for a moment because you have an audience that is a tough one. It is mostly under the age of 13 and tastes change with age. It's not just static. It's a tough one. And a lot of other concerns, like parents. You've won over my friend. He's a parent, but that's not always an easy one either. So, how have you adapted your product to evolve with your audience demographic?

Geoff Hladik: Oh, yeah. That's an interesting question. So it's a blessing, I guess, to have the ear of the next generation. But it's also a challenge to market and monetize. So on the one hand, we've got the next generation who's way more technically advanced than us and they're super forward-thinking and they know what they want and they're going to let us know. But on the other hand...and it's great for us because, if we're able to do a really good job from a product and communication standpoint, maybe they'll be with us for a decade, which is wonderful, but it is certainly a challenge to work with in some capacity. And we've got COPPA, we've got FERPA, and a host of other things to work with there from a privacy and data standpoint.

So what it does require us to do is be pretty aggressive on our privacy approach, specifically as it relates to the technical side of things and how we're managing data and how we are segmenting the COPPA users versus the non-COPPA users. So I mean, we're pretty bare-bones when it comes to the use of third-party data. It's really limited just to our monetization models for in-app ads and our content production. And we don't sell any data. I mean, we've got a really rigorous onboarding workflow. Technically speaking, we've got an age gate. We use a CMP and various workflows and safeguards. Users are split and separated into two different sections. We've got different remote configurations, different ad stacks with entirely different ad units and waterfalls. So, I would say it's definitely not easy and we work with our legal teams a lot and our third-party advisors in order to ensure that we're going above and beyond. But that's certainly a challenge, and there are some limiting factors there from just a revenue and communication standpoint. But at the end of the day, they are the future of our app. So, we're fine with maybe having a little bit of a different approach for that audience than some of our other users.

John Koetsier: What is interesting about that audience, and Peggy and I have interviewed other people before who have hundreds of millions, if not billions of installs, and significantly target kids as well. It seems to be a virality factor when you have kids. Is that something that... I was wondering well, I know COPPA, Child Online Protection Act, Privacy Protection Act maybe. You said FERPA as well. What is FERPA?

Geoff Hladik: Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act that plays into schools and a number of other attributes of privacy.

John Koetsier: We got to get to the big issue here, the really interesting thing, right? You've got the 8 million monthly active users haven't spent a cent on paid user acquisition. That just doesn't happen. I mean, it almost never happens. I mean, you basically…you've got growth consultants, you've got mobile growth experts who are always... You know, if you want to grow today, you're spending money, and that's almost always the case. So, let's dig into that a little bit. How'd that work and what delivered the most uplift for you?

Geoff Hladik: Yeah, that's a good question. It's probably the best question that we ask ourselves on a daily basis. I mean, so there's a couple of things there. So number one is like the app itself acts as what we call a growth engine, and that's kind of the term that we use internally. So, it's quite simple. Actually, our creators come up with simple or brilliant or funny art or content or music, or whatever it may be, and then share it either directly with their friends or to social channels, you know, TikTok and YouTube and so forth. And from there, it inspires would-be creators to install the app. So that's the first thing I guess I would say. And then everything that we do is kind of centred around trying to make sure that our product, A, is doing the best job that it can from a functional standpoint, and then B, trying to fuel people's ability to actually work with that product and then they'll organically share it from there.

John Koetsier: So, everybody wants that viral loop. Everybody wants that product-led growth, that app-centric growth where it's just it's building, it's growing on itself. The snowball is rolling downhill. It's really hard to start that. How do you go from zero to one on that?

Geoff Hladik: Yeah, that's a great question. So, I would say it really definitely starts with product, and it's not going to be the best fit for everybody. But for us, because of the fact that we provide an opportunity for creators to express themselves in just a number of different methodologies, it is a little bit easier to achieve like a high...we call it the K-factor where, like, almost a one to one, meaning every install drives a new install. But it definitely boils down to product. And then, that's the user experience coupled with I would say a strong sense of community with our creators.

And what we end up ultimately doing is spending a lot of time listening to what our creators are saying. We'll pick apart their reviews and their complaints and their suggestions. And then, we'll take a look at our product roadmap in terms of, like, what we know, like our core infrastructure where our core infrastructure gaps are, and then, what we need to do in order to meet the needs of the communities. And then we'll try and slot in or prioritize where we can make the best bang for our buck in terms of delivering for them. And at the same time, we're also doing a number of things on the marketing and engagement side of the business in terms of CRM and generating the right kind of content that will help them from an educational standpoint to continue to allow them to maintain a high level of engagement, whether it be the contests that we run or any kind of social campaigns that we're running or partnerships with other companies.

And then at the bottom, we're doing a ton of analysis from a user-level standpoint in terms of trying to identify where the best trends are within the app to try and improve user experiences, which would be centred around a core set of KPIs that are specific to our app, meaning like the basics of LTVs and retention curves and...

John Koetsier: Sure.

Geoff Hladik: ARPDAU and so forth. But those are all critical to our analysis. But what we really try to focus on is breaking down our audiences in terms of those core KPIs that allow us to reach that K-factor, allow us to improve somebody's ability to create content and then share the content.

John Koetsier: That's actually really, really interesting, Peggy, because typically when we ask growth marketers about metrics, we get pretty much the same things. You get a lot of LTV, you get the ARPDAU that Jeff was talking about, you get your CPA or CPI. You get a lot of those things, all the stuff that's based on how much do I spend, how much am I making. And what Geoff is telling us is that their metrics, they got those, but they're really focused on the metrics around how is each user bringing in another user, how is what they're doing in the app actually helping it grow? That K-factor that he mentioned. Was that a specific design decision? Was that a specific product or even company decision to focus on product-led growth and virality over paid user acquisition?

Geoff Hladik: Actually, no, but it became evident in time. So I mean, the business has always focused on... I mean, it was a hobby at first for our two founders who started the business. And I think that it's continued from the standpoint of we're product-obsessed, I guess, and user-experience-obsessed. But we did, of course, eventually identify the growth engine component and then map out the funnel that leads to essentially sharing content. Those metrics, they're certainly still evolving, but we do have a couple of key core KPIs that we really focus on, and we try to break them down across a variety of different stages of the funnel so that we know we're able to continue to try and improve, A, user experience. Because if we improve user experience in the sense whereby, like, now people are making content within the app, like those main components which just sounds kind of basic of a KPI. But if somebody makes a movie within our app, that's a great sign. If somebody completes a project, we know that there's a high likelihood that they're going to share that with their friends. So, focusing on some of these early-stage metrics really drive a lot of downstream as well. And then what we do is we kind of go...get a little bit aggressive and do a lot of user level audience building for, like, the first few minutes of a user's first session, meaning we can identify the vast majority of the users that we lose are in the first 3 minutes. And if they don't do X, Y, Z within the first few minutes, we know that there's a high likelihood that we're going to lose them. And it's different for each age group and device type and geo. So, there's a lot of focus on trying to improve the user experience for the first few minutes so that it leads to higher completion rates for, like, building a movie, which then improves our K-factor and so forth. So, there's a lot of analysis that goes on.

John Koetsier: We don't hear that from every marketer, Peggy.

Peggy Anne Salz: No, it's so encouraging. I'm thinking the whole time, John. It's, like, first of all, I am overjoyed to hear the word K-factor. There was a time back in the day when I was writing...I was actually writing a book about mobile apps, "The Everything Guide to Mobile Apps", and I had a lot of people get on me back in like 2015 saying, "No, no, no, K-factor isn't part of this. It's like this intangible, and we don't want to deal with intangibles." So long story short there, it's just encouraging to see that come back, and it's also very interesting to see it come back in a product-led growth model. So now, it not only has cred, but it brings value, because you're going to lead product-led growth, as of course Geoff pointed out, by listening to your audience, by understanding your audience. And I'd like to say maybe some kudos for thinking about the event you want to lead people to. We have a lot of people, John, who don't really know that yet, to think what event is going to create the more valuable user, the more valuable LTV. If you don't do something within the first 3 minutes, then you know what you need to aim for, so.

John Koetsier: And you know what's so critical about that in the era of SKAdNetwork on iOS and the coming era of Privacy Sandbox in Android, you got to know those factors really quickly. You got to know those core KPIs that you want to measure. And if you can get ones that are highly predictive of a valuable user, you know what's going to happen. I think that's relevant to your next question, Peggy, which might be about some sort of paid going on.

Peggy Anne Salz: Yeah, actually, that's exciting, because if you think about it, he's nailed the flywheel, right? So you can just give him an award and let him go. But no, no, he's eying paid UA. I have to ask the question, why?

Geoff Hladik: It's certainly a natural progression. And, I mean, yes, it's wonderful to have such great organic growth that we have. But there's, of course, always times where we are like, "Oh, we wish we were also doing UA because we could have a slightly different approach in terms of like who we're bringing in from, I guess, a revenue generation standpoint."

But up until now, I mean, we've really just been trying to focus on so many different core aspects of the business, trying to improve all these different infrastructure gaps that have existed that will help us kind of, like, get to this next level of UA, because we...I guess I could say, since there's been such a tremendous focus on product and user experience, coupled with that of a strong sense of community with our creators, it's taken us a bit of time to roll out certain aspects of our core infrastructures, services, and products. Like, our monetization models aren't fully fleshed out yet. There's still a lot of work that our marketing and engineering teams are doing for onboarding, engagement, improve key KPI benchmarks. We feel that we need to continue to improve some of these products and monetization models before we can run UA, and we're getting a lot closer to this. For instance, we don't have a subscription product, and we're not willing to release one until we've got what we feel would be a fair product offering or product suite that would meet the needs, the expectations of our users, which sounds quite crazy...

John Koetsier: No, that sounds really refreshing.

Geoff Hladik: ...but it's something that we're able to do. Yeah, I mean we could just dump subscription in right now, but what we think would happen is we'd be kind of gouging our user base and the community wouldn't respond well to it. So, we still have a lot of work to do there. We're not that far off, but I would say until we get there, until we're comfortable with our services and our product offering, we're not going to roll out subscription. And also, there's just a little bit more on the onboarding and engagement side of the business we're focused on. But once we kind of get there, that's when we're likely going to turn on the UA engine and start to focus on higher LTV users. And at the same token, we could also look into targeting creators who might help with K-Factor and so forth. So it's kind of...there is certainly some opportunity there. But it's definitely on the roadmap, but we're just not ready yet and we're kind of fortunate enough in the sense that we don't have to do it in order to scale.

John Koetsier: I love that thinking. There are so many people who just jam a subscription into their app because, hey, subscriptions are the new next thing and, hey, I can get a customer or user and I can profit from them for a year for my flashlight app, for my crap mobility app, right? And so, I'm really super glad to hear that you're investing significant effort on building something that has huge value, which is what you need actually to be sustainable anyways for a subscription. Now, I want to ask what you can tell other app marketers. A lot of app marketers that Peggy and I chat with, they're rolling the ball uphill. And, as they roll the snowball uphill, it's still gathering more snow and getting bigger, and it's getting harder and harder to roll uphill. It's getting harder and harder to find pockets of good new users. It's getting harder and harder and more expensive to acquire them. All that stuff. You've gone the opposite route. What is your tip for other app marketers wondering how they can maybe achieve some of this similar success?

Geoff Hladik: I keep saying this, but, like, our obsession with product is really the first thing that we focus on. But everybody is also always focused on product and user experience. But I do mean that from...not going for short-term gains I guess I would say and be willing to kind of ride it out a little bit. But if that isn't something...

John Koetsier: Possible? Something that fits in your KPIs for your next year's bonus?

Geoff Hladik: Yeah. I mean, for us, we've definitely been spending a lot of time, at least I have been, on, like, audience building, like breaking down our creators' behaviour as I was mentioning, like early on in their sessions. And then A/B testing different experiences in order to drive better performances for certain KPI. And then, you can...with those learnings, we could roll out different experiences. There's live ops. Our content team can adjust different experiences. And I mean, from a UA standpoint, you can also deliver different experiences based on the users that you're bringing in. I mean it's not something we're currently doing, so we're not on the UA train yet, but it's how we're looking at our user base from a very granular standpoint. And it's super helpful for us because what it allows us to do is move fast. There is a lot of low hanging... I guess if you lump everyone into one audience and deliver the same experience, whether from, like, a content or a monetization standpoint, you're missing out on a lot of low-hanging fruit that can have tremendous impacts on your overall growth and bottom line. So, I mean, I would say don't lump everybody into one bucket and try to understand where the differences are between them because there's a lot of opportunity to improve growth there.

Peggy Anne Salz: That tells us context matters, right? And context is many things. It's your audience. It's the fact that some of them will be going back to school soon. We're in the dog days of summer, yes, but fall is right around the corner. Winter is also coming, right? And I don't mean to say that in the Game-of-Thrones way.

John Koetsier: You're just really hot in Germany right now. You're hoping for winter.

Peggy Anne Salz: Winter is coming and the fan in me thought of that, but it's not that far away, and all the marketers are thinking about it. So, on that note, thinking now, that low-hanging fruit you're telling us about that is connected to context. What is your top tip for marketers who want to prepare now for that season?

Geoff Hladik: I think, in particular, it's sort of an interesting time from a growth and a monetization standpoint. I mean, there's obvious challenges right now in the current UA landscape, there's economic challenges out there from a monetization standpoint. We are seeing things a little bit lower than the prior year, at least most publishers are. So that kind of means that maybe some of the efforts from a marketing standpoint are going to also impact the monetization side of the business as well. Maybe things are going to be a little bit flatter coming in Q4, so that means there's going to be a need for a lot of creative ways to improve supply on the monetization side, improve supply from like a growth standpoint in terms of a new user standpoint. So, I would just say try to better understand your audiences and don't be afraid of trying new things. We're apprehensive about things that might hurt our community, but we're also not afraid of jumping into something that might pay dividends, I guess.

John Koetsier: Love it, Geoff. Love this session. It's been an unconventional "Mobile Horeos Uncensored", Peggy, and it's been a lot of fun. We've talked a lot about product and onboarding and other things like that. Thank you so much for your time, Geoff.

Geoff Hladik: Thank you, guys. Great chatting with you.

Peggy Anne Salz: Plus one from me, Geoff. Thanks so much for such a methodical approach to this. A lot of that to unpack, really food for thought. Thanks so much.

Geoff Hladik: Thanks, guys.

John Koetsier: And thank you to all the listeners. We really do appreciate you. Hope you're enjoying it. Let us know on social if you are.

Peggy Anne Salz: And let us know if you want to come, and we'll have you on the show. If you're a mobile hero, or you know someone who is, then fill out the interest form over at

John Koetsier: Also, Liftoff has a Slack for Mobile Heroes and people in the mobile ecosystem. There's a link on the screen and if you're listening to the podcast it's at it's pretty cool. There's smart people there and, you know what, they probably need you too.

Peggy Anne Salz: And you have probably been completely blown away by all the insights on this show and you want your transcript and you can have it, because the transcripts are over at Liftoffs website. Go to click on Heroes and then click on podcast.

John Koetsier: I actually personally love transcripts because they read way faster than people talk, so that's a great way to get insights really, really quickly. Until next time. This is John Koetsier. Thank you so much for joining.

Peggy Anne Salz: And this is Peggy Anne Salz signing off for "Mobile Heroes Uncensored".

Aug 31, 2022

Nothing Is Impossible in Mobile Games

Can you make better games by understanding player psychology? By knowing what people’s primary (and secondary) motivations are in mobile games? According to GameRefinery’s Joel Julkunen, absolutely. And understanding these motivations has led, he says, to multiple hit games over the past few years.

In this Mobile Heroes Uncensored, we chat with Joel Julkunen. He’s played over 500 games, and that’s a core part of his work, believe it or not. From that and a huge amount of data from thousands of games, he’s found 12 key player motivations that determine what kinds of games we like and which we don’t.

And that can help game marketers and designers build and market the right games to the right people.

26 min

John Koetsier: How would you like to play games for a living? Hello, and welcome to "Mobile Heroes Uncensored." My name is John Koetsier, and our co-host, of course, is the amazing, the wonderful Peggy Anne Salz. They were chatting with somebody who is also kind of amazing, also kind of wonderful. It's somebody who plays games for a living. And I'm not talking about, like, a beta tester that plays the same game again and again and again, over and over until it basically work. I'm talking about somebody who plays lots of games, professionally played 500 games, over 500 games, actually. Peggy, who is this person?

Peggy Anne Salz: Well, he's got to be a great games fan, John, I'll tell you that. We have Joel Julkunen. He's head of GameAnalytics at GameRefinery by Vungle. GameRefinery, of course, by Vungle provides feature-level analytics, market insights, and benchmarks to the mobile gaming industry. We've talked about that before on the show as well. Now, Joel, our guest today, he leads the analytics department and has a significant role in developing the algorithms and the statistical models used by the company. He's been playing games, yes, over 500 of them ever since he could hold an 8-bit controller, whatever that is. Don't quiz me. He'll tell us all about it because he loves it so much. So, he's getting paid to test games. It's a dream career. And Joel has also built up a stockpile of the dos and don'ts marketers need to know as well as the trends today in the mobile game market. So, he is going to come here. He's here with us speaking about the trends, and above all, the 12 gamer motivations. Great to have you, Joel.

Joel Julkunen: Thanks, Peggy. Great to be here.

Peggy Anne Salz: So, what is that controller? I have to ask. I just have to ask.

John Koetsier: Yeah. Okay. Go for it.

Peggy Anne Salz: I got to know what it is.

Joel Julkunen: NES 8-bit. So, the first Nintendo console that hit at least Finland back in like 1989 or 1990. So, all the Super Mario Bros and those, so, one of the first kind of commercially successful consoles that took over the world back in the day.

John Koetsier: Nice. Nice. So, let's talk about understanding player likes and dislikes or wants and their needs. Obviously, that's really critical if you're building a game, right? You can see what people are doing in your app, you can see your surveys, you can ask questions, all that stuff. You developed an entire framework. Why?

Joel Julkunen: Yeah. Good question. Play motivations, I think, have been in the focus of research for a long time. And we do have several different taxonomies floating around at space. Even before us, a couple of decades before us, that kind of try to depict the nuances of player motivations inside the gaming industry.

But then, we noticed that when we start working with ours, is that none of these kind of taxonomies that were currently in the market were aimed purely for mobile games. And, of course, as we know, mobile games are very different from PC and console world. And, of course, as we in GameRefinery, we specialise in analysing game features and mechanics of mobile games. We wanted to create a framework that would tie player motivations to these game features, and then understand which individual features and mechanics drives certain player motivations. And I think, in my opinion, our solution is very fitting, and is to understand for anybody who kind of takes a look at it, and it's an actionable framework, especially aimed for the mobile game industry, as I said, with special focus on linking these motivations to gain features and mechanics.

Peggy Anne Salz: Now, your model, you don't just talk about that linkage. You have developed the motivational drivers and covering each one of them, you know, covering a player root motivation. So, you've basically come up with a taxonomy for the human race, if you want to put it that way.

John Koetsier: As far as games are concerned.

Peggy Anne Salz: As far as games are concerned.

John Koetsier: Maybe not true love or ultimate purpose or meaning, but...

Peggy Anne Salz: Yeah. But, you know, they do describe us as people. Some of them are pretty cool. But before we go into them, I have to ask the question, why only 12?

Joel Julkunen: Yeah, we get that a lot. So, is this 12, like, the defining number of human motivations? Well, actually, the results, or how we ended up in 12 motivation drivers, is a result of a lot of statistical analysis , surveys, data sampling that we did when we started creating this taxonomy. In essence, these 12 motivation drivers are the ones we found out have meaningful link to mobile games and their features and the reasons why players told us why they play these sort of games or why they avoid playing some other ones.

And it was basically just kind of finding a suitable number of these motivation drivers that are enough to cover the whole human motivation spectrum well enough, while still being kind of understandable and not being too fragmented or having kind of overlapping set of factors. And, of course, we understand that no taxonomy model can perfectly catch every single thing as of human or player motivations. But I think our approach during these past years when we have been using it and our clients have been using it, it has proven itself to be a flexible, and it works really well on an individual game level and also at scale.

John Koetsier: Key take away, Peggy, find a 12-step program.

Peggy Anne Salz: Yes, 12-step program and at scales. What would you want more? We will talk about it because thankfully you have grouped the 12 into some groups that we can talk about, into some pairs. But can you at least name the 12, list them?

Joel Julkunen: Yeah, of course. For example, we have social motivations. We have two different ones like working with others or then competing against others. Then in kind of mastery, so being able to master something, getting some enjoyment out of that. We have kind of improving your playing skills, becoming a better player, or then kind of completing milestones or reaching certain thresholds in the game, a level-uping your character, or whatever.

Then, we have certain management motivations like strategic planning, or then resource optimization, just very much the kind of key thing in many of the strategy games. Then, we can jump to expression motivations, where we have, like, a role playing and emotions, like, immersing yourself to the game, being able to be somebody else while playing, or then we have this kind of customization and decoration expression motivation, meaning that some people want to decorate their building or their character and show it off to other players.

And then we do have, like, exploration, so discovering new worlds, but also collecting treasure. And then, the last two, we have kind of based motivations, like other one is kind of escapism, thinking and solving, meaning that you kind of like working on puzzles, for example, or doing things slowly. And then, on the other hand, on the same kind of family, we have the excitement and thrill, so, maybe you want to shoot stuff, getting that kind of adrenal spike, or you want to play, like, poker games or slots games just to get the thrill of winning, for example. So, to quickly run through all of those 12, those basically were those. But, of course, each one of them can be then kind of discussed in more detail.

John Koetsier: It's almost like I want to see player profiles. I want to see personality profiles from that. I want the Myers–Briggs of mobile games, right? Where do you fit? What do you like? That is really, really interesting. Personally, I hate puzzle games. I solve a lot of problems in my ordinary life, in my work life. And when I have downtime, I want to chill and shoot stuff, right? So, that'd be interesting to just see different player profiles. Peggy, we should get tested. I'm legit saying this right now. We should totally get tested one of these days and just go through it and see which ones we are. And then we can have a Myers–Briggs personality profile based on which mobile games you like. I'm almost serious about this.

Peggy Anne Salz: I think you gave him an idea, John, actually, if you think about it, you know?

John Koetsier: I know. I know.

Peggy Anne Salz: How do you find out which one you are?

John Koetsier: What kind of gamer are you? Exactly. I mean, this would be huge. It'd be incredible.

Peggy Anne Salz: Brings me back to my women's magazines? You know, what kind of date are you?

John Koetsier: Hey, is there a women's magazine for mobile gamers, maybe?

Peggy Anne Salz: Oh, God.

John Koetsier: We'll figure it out. Okay. Let's talk about this jigsaw puzzle. Let's talk about these 12. So, you can model what's going on in a game, and maybe we can even start to model what kind of gamers there are. What's kind of the accuracy rate? You know, how are marketers and developers using this?

Joel Julkunen: We have mentioned a couple of times that this kind of hit game jigsaw puzzle, if you have to have to understand several factors in the big puzzle that is making a hit mobile game, for instance. And with our combined data sets of game feature trends and features and data, together with our play motivation and architect data, our service users get a very good view on not only what is trending and working in the current mobile game space, but also why your players stick to your game or move on to another one. And if there are certain motivation drivers, your game is not at the moment answering to you, but could be with the right feature changes. In other words, we help game developers and game companies to create better and more enjoyable games for their audience by basically increasing their knowledge and understanding of not only the games and their mechanics, but also the players.
And you asked about accuracy rate or hit rate, at least based on our clients results, the results that they have gotten using our data, it's really, really good. Of course, it's always hard to define that if you have, like, a motivational profile for a game, let's say that you estimate that you have 78% players, or your player base being, like, let's say, expressionist players, it's hard to say if the right answer is, like, 78% or 72% of what it is. But looking at the kind of big picture, I'm really confident in our accuracy, and so have been our clients.

John Koetsier: Excellent.

Peggy Anne Salz: I want to stay with that big picture for a moment. Let's look at, like, the various stages of game development and where you can apply the motivational groups. You know, you're marketing to match personas. You're also developing products to match personas. Where is what you are providing the most valuable? How can marketers, but also developers, use it? Where in that game development continuum is it the most valuable?

Joel Julkunen: I would say that their motivation should be considered in all of the stages of mobile game development. As we all know, mobile games are like fluid products. They're not steady because once it's ready, then it's kind of done because you have to think about your feature roadmap months and years ahead, think about what kind of new stuff you're bringing to the gamers to keep them kind of enjoying your game.
So, of course, play motivations and understanding your player archetypes or your audience archetypes is especially crucial when you kind of start prototyping and mapping the markets, and it's a kind of how lucrative a certain sub-genre, for example, what you need to think about when you create the first blueprints of the game? But then, moving on when the game is launched, when you start the marketing campaigns, you have to understand what drives your players and what kind of creatives, like ads, you want to create.

And then also we have a lot of data about how important it is to link the motivations that you communicate through the ads that they match your actual game. So, also working that the game teams work together with the marketing teams as a kind of seamless couple.

And then, when the game is already live and maturing and you are kind of ramping up the live ops, it still remains a very, very important part, understanding what kind of live events you're going to run or create. Are they able to attract new types of players to your game through new types of motivation drivers?

For instance, if you want have a casual mastery game that doesn't usually...or let's say that those games don't usually kind of take the competitive motivations as the main drivers. But we have seen this trend that competition and competitive elements are rising as a motivation. So, now we can see that many maturing mastery games are driving more and more competitive events. So, they're not changing the laid-back casual nature of mastery games, but they are using these live ops event, or kind of limited time events, to keep kind of small piece of competition to the player base that they have identified that also likes competition.
So, really, really long answer, but it's really important in all stages of the game development and its life cycle, but maybe with a bit different angle in all of those spaces. But we can have another podcast about that. I'm really happy to discuss those.

John Koetsier: I think we'll need one. I think we'll need one. But that's a great segue, actually, because we're seeing more of these crossover-type games, right? Where there's multiple types of...I don't want to say core loops, because they kind of have one core loop, but there's multiple loops in there. And that not only appeals to different types of gamers, but also it kind of honours what you were talking about earlier, where, you know, I might be 65% shoot-them-up type of gamer, but sometimes, I like to solve a few puzzles, and I could build a few of those things. Are you seeing that more and more? And is maybe that a kind of result of people thinking about these types of player motivations?

Joel Julkunen: Yeah. I think you hit the nail in the head. Usually, what we found out is that many players have kind of different motivation patterns. Sometimes, you might want to play those shooting games, and then you like the puzzle-solving. Of course, you have to do that in a lot of new games. But there are lot of other motivation drivers that can be kind of secondary motivations to you. And the key thing is for the developers and game companies and the marketers to find what are the kind of hidden motivations or maybe kind of secondary motivations or stuff of their player bases. And then, for example, with the different kind of live ops and live events, they can start adding more those motivation drivers to their games. And not only, like, drive the re-engagement of their current base, kind of triggering their secondary motivations, but also attracting new audiences.

A good example of this might be, like, couple of years ago, mastery space, it's already like four years ago... Anyways, Playrix games like Homescapes, Gardenscapes, they started to track Candy Crosses and Kings Hegemony by introducing these kind of meta layers to the games that you customise your garden, or you build up your mansion or your parents' mansion, meaning that they started to kind of bring more these expression motivations to the table, because they had probably identified that many of the players that play these mastery games also like to play this kind of decorative, you know, games.

That was the first wave. Then the second wave was Project Makeover a couple of years ago. You know, it's kind of the same thing. They brought up the kind of expression customization, like fashion meta layer to the game, because, again, they saw that, hey, there's kind of overlap between these genres and then how the players...what they like to do.

And now, we are seeing a bit the same with this kind of competitive. Like I mentioned earlier, the competitive aspects in mastery games that, hey, many of the players who play these games like a small amount of competition every now and then. And now, for the past year, we've seen these top masteries introducing more and more competitive games. So, it's like adding some flavor with new motivation drivers too, for example, live events that seems to be a really winning recipe, but, at the same time, not unbalancing or kind of alienating your current base by kind of mixing the game too much. Like, we don't want to see probably eSports Homescapes.

John Koetsier: No, we don't.

Joel Julkunen: Yeah. Maybe we do.

John Koetsier: But someone probably does.

Peggy Anne Salz: There's always one.

Joel Julkunen: Six months from now, we are going to see some PUBG mastery and it's going to break the market.

John Koetsier: That's really interesting, actually, because it also kind of parallels a bit of a change over time away from the hyper, hyper casual, you know, the game where you acquire a player, they play for a few days or a week, you make your money back, and you keep consistently churning that audience and churning that audience. I mean, that's harder and harder to do, at least in iOS right now, right? Targeting the right people and making that economics work. And so, making your game a little more complex by adding layers to it makes it more attractive, but also makes it a larger property that people stay in longer, can do more, adds retention. I might be getting into your question here, Peggy. I'm not sure.

Peggy Anne Salz: I know. I was going to skip to another one, actually, John, because now you got me going.

John Koetsier: Go for it.

Peggy Anne Salz: I have to do it because, you know, hidden motivations, boy, I hear that. That's exciting. So it's 12 motivations, but there's hidden ones, maybe like the 35 flavours, like, Basking-Robbins here. I don't know.

John Koetsier: Oh, wow, Baskin-Robbins. I want some ice cream.

Peggy Anne Salz: Well, it's hot here, John. So, I'm obviously thinking about ice cream after this. No, but seriously, there's a lot going on there. And when you talk about how we can view this, one thing is about understanding the player motivation. But, to your point, John, you could even start to think up sub genres and even predict the next thing in gaming, you know. Maybe it is that eSports plus Homescapes. What does that do there, Joel? I'm just curious. How can they be applied to predict the next big thing?

Joel Julkunen: Yeah. Predicting the future is always hard as we know.

John Koetsier: Come on.

Joel Julkunen: Making a prediction is not hard, but getting it right might be a bit harder. Anyways, yeah. For example, with our data sets of the features, we can follow how features are trending inside different genres and in the mobile game markets. And on the other hand, we can also see that when these games are adding these new mechanics and new meta layers, for example, and changing the games little by little, we start to see feature trends. And as we have tied those to the kind of motivations, we can also see little by little motivational shifts.

And a good example would be this competition, right? The competitive aspects that I mentioned. We started to see the first signs to kind of...a bump in that motivation and it's amount, especially in casual games in, like, I would say 18 months ago or so. And I would say that even if I said that having the kind of flat prediction is hard. But if you have the right data at your disposal, it's that much easier because you can start to... They don't happen usually, like, overnight. We have some exceptions to the rule like Pokemon GO, for example, back in the day, or stuff like that.

But usually, these shifts start little by little. I mean that if you follow certain genres for a couple of months and you start to see the increase of, like, competitive new live events or features, and then you start to, kind we have it on scale, we have a dozens and dozens of masteries, or hundreds of masteries, under scope, then we can see these patterns. And if you are one of the first ones to pick up with these and you start to see the attraction, then that's, of course, how you beat the market and how you can be the forerunner in this extremely competitive space. So, it's hard, but our data at least helps you to do it right.

John Koetsier: That's actually a really good segue, because if somebody wants to dig deeper into these 12 motivations, where can they do that? How can they do that?

Joel Julkunen: We have of course. If you look into our service,, you can create a free account. You can read. There's a lot of material, a lot of our blog post that you can check out and start researching. And, of course, then if you get more interested and want to maybe dig even deeper into data, just shoot us an email and then we figure something out. So, that's how it all starts.

John Koetsier: Joel, tell us your top three tips for gaming, marketers, maybe even gaming developers related to these 12 motivations.

Joel Julkunen: These motivations and understanding them is becoming more and more important. As everybody knows, it's a really competitive market. There's lots going on, it's harder and harder to get the edge, and I mean your competitors. And now, with the user acquisition getting harder by the day with all the changes we've seen in the past year or so, I think the first and foremost is understanding, kind of, having...even if it's not our framework, but that's, of course, it's a great start, but understanding and splicing your target groups based on the motivation.

So, understanding, like, why they actually play. You can even do a service to your own group players anyways to understand why they play, why they churn, for example. That's, of course, for the game devs. Then if you are in the marketing team, then, of course, like I mentioned before, we've seen a lot of good results when the marketing materials, so creatives, ads, all that, is tied to the actual gameplay, meaning that they communicate the same or trigger the same motivations that the game actually then adheres to. So, working together with the game dev. So not being in your own silos, so marketers doing the other stuff and game devs doing the other things. So being able to work together.

And then, I would say the third one, I would just say, be bold and brave. So, in mobile games, what we've seen over the years is that nothing is impossible in a sense that let's say, like, competition in masteries or PvP, player-versus-player gaming in mastery. Four years ago, somebody would have said, "Oh, it's not going to work. They don't want to do it. The players hate it. They are not like PUBG or counter-strike players."

But then, if you do it right, all this mixing and matching has proven time after time that it works. So, don't be too bound by your own prejudices relating to your sub-genre. For example, if you're doing, let's say word games, take a look at what other casual games are doing. Even better, take a look what mid-core games are doing and see if there's something that you can use to help you make an even better game. Like, if you look at 4X, like the hardcore strategy genre, what they have been doing in terms of motivations and kind of introducing new mechanics to more casual audiences is that they have Lords Mobile, for instance, one of the most successful 4X games. They have tower defence, or line defence play mode, which is really easy to approach, much easier to approach than the 4X army building and worldwide PvP. So that way, they are able to kind of catch more casual players early on to the game. And they'd be interested about the game whilst also offering those hardcore strategy players some casual, more easy, laid-back stuff. So, maybe those three. A little long answer, but I hope it helps.

John Koetsier: I think he's telling game marketers to play more games, Peggy.

Peggy Anne Salz: Play more games. And another thing that resonates here, right? Push the boundaries, mash it up. You know, don't be limited. I think that's the most inspiring message here. And certainly, if we're going to stay with motivations, John, then I am motivated to have him back at some point to tell us about live ops.

John Koetsier: Absolutely.

Joel Julkunen: I'd be happy too.

John Koetsier: I'm motivated to figure out, you know, a player profile based on these 12 parameters and doing a Myers–Briggs of players. I actually, I don't know what I'm going to do with that, I don't know where I'm going to take that, but I think that would be a cool project. Maybe it's even a book project we should do together, Peggy. I'm just thinking out loud. This is insanity. Who knows? But wouldn't it be kind of cool, "The Meyers–Briggs of Mobile Play?" I don't know.

Peggy Anne Salz: It's really cool and the timing, John, timing. Just as Joel said, I mean, this is now the time. You really have to engage your audiences. There is no way around it. Nailing that player persona, if you will. So, yeah.

John Koetsier: Absolutely, and building the right game for them. Joel, this has been a ton of fun. You know, while we're having fun, we're laughing, and we're actually creating new ideas as we're having conversations. It's a good conversation. Thank you so much. It's 7:00 pm, actually, 7:30 pm Your time in Finland, and you're still in the office. What a trooper. Thank you so much.

Joel Julkunen: Hey, thanks for having me. Thank you.

Peggy Anne Salz: Thanks, Joel. Absolutely, awesome conversation.

Aug 17, 2022

Going Global With Your App

Why stick with a potential audience of millions if you could have billions?

It’s not the right move for every app, but for apps that don’t rely on geographical boots-on-the-ground in terms of inventory, warehouses, or fulfillment, going global can unlock runaway growth. But there are a few things to keep in mind, says Bessie Byeon, Senior Director of Global Marketing at Liftoff.

In this episode of Mobile Heroes Uncensored, we chat about her recent guide to scaling mobile apps overseas.

27 min

John Koetsier: You want a market of 6.7 billion potential users, or just a few hundred million? Hello, and welcome to "Mobile Heroes Uncensored." My name is John Koetsier. Our co-host today, of course, is Peggy Anne Salz, as always. Look, picking the right target audience for your product is absolutely critical. For some apps, it's perfectly excellent to target an audience of just a few thousand people in a very specific vertical. For others, you want millions, for others, billions. All other things being equal, why not go for the billions? Today, we're talking about global expansion, going big, baby. Peggy, who are we talking to?

Peggy Anne Salz: Well, John, today we have Bessie Byeon. She's Senior Director of Global Marketing at Liftoff, and she's based in APAC. And she combines, in her career, marketing, product management, commercial strategy into a successful formula that drives results for B2C mobile apps and B2B SaaS products. More importantly, though, she's hands-on in both cases because she's seen marketing from both sides. She started as a gaming app marketer, worked on blockbuster titles, and that helps her help app marketers across all genres, and to your point, going global, because she's here to talk about an eBook produced to help marketers do exactly this. It's called the "2002 Guide to Scaling Mobile Apps Overseas," which is a primer for marketers looking to grow their apps in new markets. And we'll talk about that as well. And again, John, I do my research, her colleagues describe her as a lively lady who put her best effort forward in her work. It is never boring with her around and when working together. So, I think we're in for an exciting show. I'm going to strap myself in for this one. Welcome, Bessie.

John Koetsier: Strapping yourself in, wow.

Peggy Anne Salz: Absolutely. This is going to rock us.

John Koetsier: Wow, welcome, Bessie, welcome.

Bessie Byeon: Thank you. It's good to be here. Thanks for having me.

John Koetsier: Hey, it's a long-distance one. You're in Singapore, I'm in Vancouver. It's 10 p.m. for me. It's 7 a.m. for Peggy. It's 1 p.m. for you. Wow. We are struggling today. We are working it. We are putting in the extra effort, but it's all for you and, of course, our audience. Bessie, let's start here. Why should apps consider going global? I mean, you know, I'm doing well in the states, you know, got my audience here. I've got 20 million DAU or something like that. Everything's going pretty well. I'm making some money. Why should apps consider going global?

Bessie Byeon: You know what? It's a really good question in a sense because, have you seen a lot of apps recently that are actually not global? If you look at probably 10 years ago or 12 years ago, and Peggy mentioned it, you know, I started out as a gaming app marketer, and 12 years ago, I remember apps were not global. People were trying to figure out, "Hey, what do we do with App Stores, Google Play?" I mean, Google Play, for a while, wasn't even out before App Store, right? And everyone had to figure out, "Should we go global? What does it even mean?" And fast forwarding now, it's actually pretty hard to find apps that are not global. And I think it is because, you know, apps are not bounded by their geographical kind of limit. Your users are, chances are everywhere, anywhere. You're probably going to find similar kind of affinity of users that you find it in home market. It really has kind of unlocked opportunities for, you know, marketers, app developers everywhere to being global. So, I guess I kind of reversed that question back. Why shouldn't apps be global?

John Koetsier: Absolutely. Absolutely. Especially, of course, if they're gaming apps, right? And maybe not delivery apps where you don't have resources or local, you know, people, boots on the ground or something like that. But you started out as a gaming app marketer working on blockbuster titles, and they're some of the best examples of apps that do go global. Why is that?

Bessie Byeon: I guess the question back is, why are apps so...? Some apps are so successful globally, right? I think it comes down to first, you usually don't see any apps that are not successful in their home market that consider going global. You have to be pretty successful. You need to know the product category that you are in inside and out, and then you start looking outwards. And I think we're going to get into a pretty much, you know, quite a bit of detail in the report, the first thing that comes out is localisation. You know, localisation is the foundation...

John Koetsier: Now, you, of course, were a gaming app marketer, you worked on big titles. What did you learn about marketing on a global scale from your experience?

Bessie Byeon: I think as a marketer who's going to be very successful, not just in their home market but globally, you have to be very well versed with your product, right? Just because you are in user acquisition doesn't mean the only thing you should know about are media channels and mixes. But chances are your job is likely to be very complex, and you have to really understand the entire kind of life cycle of your product. It intertwines so that you can, you know, really roll out marketing campaigns that are in tune with, I guess, your product life cycle, you know, with the right goals and, you know, at the right time. And it all, at the end, connects to whether can you bring the users, the right users at the right time, right?

Going back to mobile games, I think mobile games are really a good example of you really having to understand where your product development stages are. And, kind of, throwing back to my earlier days of the experience, you know, I had apps where you would really start from the dev stage phase for certain, I guess, target markets and segments. And you have to work with them to, kind of, implement features, you know. And you kind of look at the market and then say, "Hey, do these features actually make sense for these set of users?" Because they're going to be pretty different depending on which market you are in. And understanding that is the key to having the marketing campaigns or, you know, strategy be very successful. And ultimately, you know, it comes down to KPI being revenue over time. And, you know, 12 years ago, that was true, 10 years ago, that was true, and it still remains to be true.

Peggy Anne Salz: So, you've worked with a lot of marketers, Bessie, and a lot of that went into the eBook we'll be talking about. So, drawing from that, from your experience, talking about what they need, they need life cycle approaches and campaigns, where do marketers you think struggle most? And how do you work with them to scale?

Bessie Byeon: The part that they probably struggle and kind of going back to my earlier point there, right? How do you bring users into your app that would actually provide and bring greater value over time? How do you scale your user acquisition strategy to actually get more users with, you know, higher lifetime value? In the industry, you hear about LTV, everyone talks about LTV. Ultimately, where the struggle becomes, you may be getting really high-value users, but maybe 10 of them only. And the question really becomes, how do I bring 100 of these users? And I think that becomes a real struggle for any marketers anywhere.

Peggy Anne Salz: So, it really boils down to what everyone's talking about, you know, high-value users from the get-go. That's one of the pain points. That's where you are addressing this with your eBook. I'd like to just step back for a moment, though, and understand the inspiration for this eBook at this time.

Bessie Byeon: Right. And I think at the beginning, Peggy, you put it really well, little background, kind of, here, right, because my role evolves know, all across global market. I am kind of lucky to be in a very unique position to see notable trends just popping out anywhere and everywhere, right? And we've noticed apps from China, and they are becoming more and more successful. So, it's not only within their own market, right? Chinese market is huge, but I think more importantly, outside of their home base. So, in fact, and I look at market data all the time, if I drove in a little bit of data points, in Data.Ai, and it was pretty, you know, shocking to see the stat. You know, over the past 10 years, Chinese developers have nearly doubled their market share in global app downloads.

So, we thought, "Hey," going back, "Games apps, they are borderless, you know, they're global." And we thought we have perfect examples and, you know, "Mobile Heroes Program," these marketer communities, and we have amazing Chinese Mobile Heroes that are so successful overseas. So, if they are so massively successful expanding, you know, outside of their home country, we should really share, you know, what they're doing it, how they're doing it. You know, what are the real kind of fundamental tips that we can actually share with the rest of the marketers? And, you know, our Liftoff research and insights team, you know, they work together with our Mobile Heroes here and, you know, really put together best tips and, you know, insights into this report.

John Koetsier: Cool. Looking forward to getting into some of those and also talking about some of those breakout apps as well. Of course, everyone who wants to go global, wants to go global just sort of automatically, accidentally, virally, like put it on the App Store, put it on Google Play, put it on local third-party android app stores, and boom, success just happens, just comes. But for most, you're saying you have to build a strong local team from the very start. Why?

Bessie Byeon: It may be almost sound like a kind of stating the obvious, but it's because different markets, you know, they have different conditions, users aren't going to accept, you know, the same marketing tactics with the exact same product. And drawing back to, I guess, our report and one of our heroes there, and I believe the gentleman by, you know, Kevin, from Asia Innovation Group, you know, he talked about, "Hey, you really need to have the local teams there because it provides and it lays a foundation for you to gain speed and scale when you're ready to roll them out." And thinking about kind of having local teams, localisation strategy early on, it really provides ability to move really quickly and smoothly when they're ready to go.

John Koetsier: It's interesting, right? I mean, because you have to have local teams, you also have to listen to them. I mean, because they have the local knowledge that you need in your app. You know what? It may be great for where you are, and maybe the core loop and everything that, you know, the basic mechanics and the levels and they'll all work, but some of the art is deeply disturbing to people in a certain market, or some of the names just don't work or something like that, right? So, I guess that's all part of localisation as well.

Bessie Byeon: That's right. It's really about understanding and localising your product. I mean, you're not going to completely revamp your product, your app entirely, but it is about, "Hey, how do we tweak here and there so that it's actually aligned with whomever that's going to be using your app?"

Peggy Anne Salz: Makes me think of a story I'm going to share, which isn't often I do that.

John Koetsier: Story time.

Peggy Anne Salz: Yes, it is. Because it makes me think of a story way back, it was for Pocket Gamer a while ago, and it was a company. It might have been Supercell going global with some sort of game, and it was like a total hit. And it was a man wearing a green hat in the game. And they were like, "Why is this not working in China?" Turned out that a man in a green hat is a sign for adultery in China.

John Koetsier: I think I recall this story.

Bessie Byeon: Oh, boy, we don't have that.

Peggy Anne Salz: John, seriously? And I was like, okay. So that tells us, you know, localisation is more than language. It definitely is. Well, how do you see it, Bessie? I mean, we don't have any more men in green hat games. Maybe they learned a long time ago that doesn't work. But what does it include, and what should marketers be prioritising?

Bessie Byeon: I think, as John mentioned, our styles is one thing. And I think there was this great example, actually in our report, right? So, one of our marketers that were featured in the report, and they were releasing basically certain features within the game that had to do with, you know, little gifts and statutory facts, right? And they could, you know, adapt it to specific cultures. And I'm going to take India as an example. Apparently, you know, in India, there's this big holiday kind of festival that's called Diwali, and it's themed around blessing and exorcism, interestingly. So, they would've kind of put those content in there to draw the users in.

And on the other hand, you know, you have different kind of holidays, you know, centred around religions. So, if you had any virtual gifts fit within the game that had to do with alcohol, they would automatically remove them during the holidays. I think it's aligned with what you said, Peggy, being sensitive to their local culture. But I think another thing here also is an interesting idea about how users actually behave. So, it's not just a cultural affinity or cultural kind of preferences, it has to do with, how are users in certain markets actually...? You know, how do they actually play the game?

Another example, I think it was from Aviagames, one of the heroes has mentioned it. If you are actually launching a game in Japan, and Japanese players are very sophisticated, you know, they're very used to, and they can adapt to complex features within their game, so they naturally come to the game with really high expectations. So, you'll have something a bit of, kind of, a sloppy feature that you had, that may have worked elsewhere is not going to fly in Japan. The team in Aviagames, they had to ask their local colleagues and to actually optimise some of this gameplay so that it matches that high expectation. So, understanding what are users’ kind of expectations when they play the game in different markets, would really be a game changer when you go global as well.

Peggy Anne Salz: Just thinking about that, make something more complex, because...

John Koetsier: Exactly.

Bessie Byeon: I know, right?

John Koetsier: It's a puzzle game...

Peggy Anne Salz: Because it's like, no...

John Koetsier: ...but it's not a puzzle game.

Peggy Anne Salz: No, we have to really up our game, literally. It's interesting that it's not just about the game, you're talking about a nuanced approach overall, and it extends to advertising as well. Maybe you can share interesting, unforgettable ads you've seen in new markets.

Bessie Byeon: We look at creatives all the time, right? Both from the marketers that we help them. And I always kind of look up for, "Hey, are there any interesting story of creatives?" So, I'm going to share something with you that's actually not particularly for new markets, but I thought it was super interesting. As you know, at Liftoff, we have creative experts, right? They work with, you know, hundreds of our advertising marketer to optimise their creatives, you know, test them and so on. And I learned that in so many markets, failure ads work so well. John, Peggy, have you seen those? You know, those are kind of gameplay apps, so they mimic gameplay, but you will see like big fail sign, you know, someone's trying to kind of...they're trapped in some water tank.

John Koetsier: Tombscape, Gardenscapes does that all the time. And it's...

Bessie Byeon: That's right.

John Koetsier: obvious, the virtual player may play in the game, makes an obvious error, and it says fail. And you're supposed to feel like super superior, and like, "I could do that. I'll get the app and show them," or something like that, I guess.

Bessie Byeon: Yeah. So, actually one of our creative analysts, you know, at Liftoff, they actually looked into psychology, you know, behind it, because, you know, statistically speaking, they realised 8 out of 10 best performing creative ads actually were these failure ads. And so, they thought, "Hey, you know, what's going on here?" And when you look at these ads, like John said, these gameplays fail not because the task at hand is so complex, it's because it was a dumb choice, right? And it turns out, psychologically, we usually predict everything with knowledge that we have, right? And we take actions to better predict and avoid surprises. We actually take a lot of time to try to avoid the surprises in our daily lives, and these gaming ads are kind of unpredictable. So, we are kind of surprised when we look at this gaming ad, "Oh my God, that was so dumb, you know, so why are they failing?" And that makes them kind of curious and, I guess, motivated to take action. And here to take action being, "Hey, I'm going to, you know, click on this ad and install the game." And it has worked over and over again.

John Koetsier: That is so interesting.

Bessie Byeon: And every time they see it, they will install that.

John Koetsier: That is so interesting. I think car manufacturers need to take some lessons from that psychological insight because you can always tell it's a car ad without even, you know, knowing what...they haven't seen a car or knowing what brand it's for. Okay. We finally got to this point. I want to ask you about breakout apps in China that you think are going to come to the west because new markets, new opportunities, they go both ways. You said, "Hey, there's Mobile Heroes in China here doing incredible things." What are some of the apps that you think are going to become breakouts elsewhere? And maybe even shed a little bit of light on some of the tactics that you're seeing in China that might work elsewhere as well.

Bessie Byeon: John, I wish I could predict the future, right? It's almost like a stock market...

John Koetsier: I'm sorry, we only have guests who can predict...

Bessie Byeon: ...with the...

John Koetsier: ...the future.

Bessie Byeon: Right?

John Koetsier: we're going to have to kick you off now.

Bessie Byeon: Yeah. So, you know what we do? Because I can't predict the future, I rely on market data, right? And so, I feel like I'm kind of know, meeting the expectation here. But you've all heard of the app called SHEIN, and that has been like the, you know, highest-performing, kind of, fast fashion app. So, everyone knows, you know, what SHEIN is. I want to call out another app called CIDER. You may have heard of this. It's a Beijing-based app. I think it was just founded a couple years ago, 2020. And I looked at, you know, Data.Ai for another, you know, sort of, market data resource that I look at, and we saw basically massive jumps over 6 million months period of time, in terms of downloads, right? And in some markets like France, Germany, so these are, you know, key kind of Tier-1 European market, we saw over 1,000% growth in downloads. It has already started to make a wave in the U.S., as well.

I'm not a fast-fashion kind of a shopper, so it's hard for me to personally connect to a lot of these apps, so I kind of research them around. "Hey, you know, why are they gaining such a big kind of growth shares everywhere?" And another kind of research study, you know, from Kantar, they basically mentioned, "Hey, they're really into building a community." And then one of the key kind of differentiator they've been trying to put out is reducing inventory waste. And, of course, shipping anywhere have made it really a favourite, you know, for generation that are already kind of digitally native. So, I thought that was really interesting. And you know, there's another example that I wanted to share with you. And this app, and I believe I am pronouncing this correct, Kwai. And this is a short-form video app. Have you...

John Koetsier: I haven't.

Bessie Byeon: ...heard of this app? They've been around for a very long time, actually. I think they may have been around since like 2013 or so. So, it's been like 10 years. So it's not a new app, however, they are sometimes called a kind of competitor to TikTok in some markets. I wanted to call this out because, as a marketer, it's really interesting to watch how their kind of growth and expansion strategy have unfolded, right? So, ever since the release, like I said, you know, they've been around for close to 10 years or so, they kept a really low profile, but they made a strategic choice to expand to emerging markets. So, you know, those markets are like Indonesia and Brazil. And as of last year, I according to the company themselves, they basically said, "Hey, we have actually over one billion users across, you know, their domestic and international versions of their platform."

And I think what's really, you know, interesting here is, why are these...? One, it's a great example of an app that's really targeting kind of Tier-1 countries, U.S., you know, Germany. And they look at how are their target audience. And here it is, Gen Z, what their behaviours are like. And, you know, they're putting out messaging and positioning, "Hey, we're reducing waste. As fashion, you are going to get great style really fast anywhere. But we're going know, this is a community, you're reducing waste."

So, you know, on one end, you have these apps. And another app, short-form video, you know, we know why TikTok has been so successful. They're taking similar approach, but they're targeting completely different markets, you know, to begin with. They're not saying, "Hey, we are going go to the U.S. and trying to beat TikTok out of their market." They're basically saying, "Hey, I looked at, you know, across the globe, and we saw big opportunities elsewhere, and we are going to gain market shares there." So, you know, those two, I thought it was kind of an interesting story to get there.

John Koetsier: It's interesting. It's kind of the Rocket Internet story from Germany and Europe from the past decade, where they'd see something that worked really, really well in a top market, the U.S., and copy the model and launch it in Germany or other markets or something like that. Really, really interesting. Over to you, Peggy.

Peggy Anne Salz: I was going to ask a different type of question. Because we're talking about the apps that are successful, and we understand, I'm understanding, you know, community is one or, you know, addressing our motivations. That's about the app. You work with the marketers, these are apps that punch above their weight. So, at some level, it's also not just about the Chinese apps, it's about the app marketers themselves. What makes it possible, do you think, in their approach to do so well, to be successful? Is there a different mindset or something you can share from working with them so intimately, so closely?

Bessie Byeon: We speak to these Mobile Heroes all the time, right? Trying to also uncover their secrets to success. And, you know, I think it all comes down to ultimately this, speed and scale. I've mentioned this earlier, and, you know, some of these successes expanding outside really come down to the real fundamentals of them, right? And it's the speed of vigorous testing. You know, the number, and amount, and the math, the pains that they take on to test, and also the speed of kind of setting up operations and launches, from soft launches to real launches. And, you know, it goes back to that having the foundation of kind of local teams, localisation that was set up so that they can really scale them quite fast when they're ready. That becomes really the key to, I think, them being very successful there. They are fast in evaluating whether their largely domestic apps, you know, to that point, fits the overseas markets, and where really, right? And how can they attract users? See, what's their market fit based on their positioning of their know, product? And once they determine these, setting up team resources, it comes right away. It's quite incredible to see how fast they can move.

John Koetsier: Super interesting. Well, let's start to bring it to a close here. And Bessie, maybe we can get this from you, your top tip for app marketers who are looking to go global.

Bessie Byeon: I think it comes down to two, right? If you know more about a product category than anywhere else in the world, and you can launch it in, you know, any other markets, why wouldn't you? And I think that's basically the spirit of expanding overseas, you know. A, you really need to know about the category that they are in. And I think the second part of it is also, you know, kind of, a top tip is mobile-first approaches. And it kind of sounds weird because we're talking about mobile apps, you know, users on mobile, but you'd be surprised some of these apps because...and of course, you know, web to app is still very important, and, you know, we see a lot of users there. But I think one of the reasons why we see a lot of apps from China becoming so successful, it's because a majority of Chinese users within China, the first time they ever use internet is through a mobile device. So, it comes to them very naturally to provide the best mobile-oriented experiences, right? And it shows on their marketing strategies too. Having a very mobile-first oriented approach, and translating that, and making sure that your marketing campaigns are aligned to that is, I would say, another tip that we can take away from this.

John Koetsier: Wonderful.

Peggy Anne Salz: Mobile-first, you know, you think about it, it's so obvious, but it's so core here. You just woke me up to that thought that it needs to have that approach, that understanding, speed, and scale. So, many, very simple, but very, very strategic tips here. Overall, it's all in the eBook. And, Bessie, I know people are going to want to find it, read it. Where can they get the report?

Bessie Byeon: It's at, at our resources page. It'll be right out there.

John Koetsier: Thank you so much, Bessie. Thank you so much for taking this time, and really appreciate the insights.

Bessie Byeon: Thank you for having me.

Peggy Anne Salz: Again, plus one here as well, Bessie, especially because you are on the ground literally and brought those insights with your team into this eBook. Thanks so much for sharing.

Aug 10, 2022

Why Soft Launches Are Getting So Ridiculously Hard

From crazy success to favorite flops, we chat with veteran DoubleDown Interactive marketer Faith Price. Price tells us about soft launches, MVPs, app store featuring, and advice for a younger self, and talks about how getting the “grand tour” in marketing gigs was the perfect set-up for what she’s doing now … and maybe our privacy-safe future.

Hosts Peggy Anne Salz and John Koetsier also quiz Price on one of her favorite success stories in mobile marketing: a declining game turned around by smart product development and smart marketing.

31 min

Faith Price: One of the things I love most about gaming is I think it's at the forefront of mobile marketing. I think because gaming did apps first, you know, and we have millions, right, I think we've. . .there’s probably more gaming apps than, like, almost all other categories combined. We try things first.

John Koetsier: Is the soft launch in Canada or New Zealand or Australia a thing of the past? Hello, and welcome to "Mobile Heroes Uncensored." My name, of course, is John Koetsier and our co-host today, as always, is Peggy Anne Salz. This is an Origin Stories episode where we go in-depth, one-on-one with mobile marketing experts, but we're also going to talk about what she really cares about, what's top of mind for her right now, and that is soft launches and how they are changing. Peggy, who's the mobile expert we're chatting with today?

Peggy Anne Salz: Well, John, today we have Faith Price. She's the Director of Growth Marketing at DoubleDown Interactive, where she manages the UA team, but also ASO, SEO, ad monetization, a lot, a lot, and much more. And she's a fan of geek culture, so, one of ours, perhaps, John.

John Koetsier: Nice.

Peggy Anne Salz: One of the tribe. A good fit in marketing games, landing her first job at a small company marketing tabletop games. Then she took a detour into e-commerce, managing affiliate programs for, Expedia,, gathering great know-how to market, monetize free-to-play games.

So, it all goes back in the circle. And she did return to her gaming roots, joining Big Fish Games in 2014, and then DoubleDown Interactive in 2018. And research, John, always have to look at it. Her colleagues are continually impressed by the passion she pours into her work, the dedication with which she advocates her titles, and the care she puts into fostering professionalism, warmth and camaraderie in the workspace. So, we're gonna have a warm welcome, indeed, for Faith.

Faith Price: Thanks so much for having me. It's just incredible to be able to talk with both of you about mobile marketing and the space.

Peggy Anne Salz: Right.

John Koetsier: It is 100% our pleasure. We're super pumped to have you and you know what, maybe we will diverge a little bit into geek culture. I just rewatched "Ready Player One," and they were testing Nolan Sorrento, and he had the ear bud, right, you know, and they're feeding him all the information about drinking tab and playing old games.

So, we'll see if we can do some of that testing, too. But I’ll probably fail. Hey, let's start here. You've done kind of, I don't know, it's the new grand tour in tech companies, right? You've done the grand tour; gaming, e-commerce, travel, and back to gaming. I kind of wonder, what did you like best about each? And then, maybe why did you go back to gaming?

Faith Price: So, you're right. I have made a few little detours around the industry and they've been at different points, I would say, in e-commerce and the whole mobile space. So, it's really been interesting to see how everything has developed. I would say that I started first in e-commerce. And one of the things I really liked about that, is you get to flex a lot of different marketing muscles.

Because the space I was in, especially with something like that has such a wide, I would say, stretch of different types of products and appeal to a lot of different demographics, is that we get to test all sorts of different, like, from sweepstakes, to promotions, to working with the manufacturers, lots of different marketing messages, trying to appeal to lots of different groups of people. And so, it really was a chance to try a lot of new things, right?

While gaming is fun, a lot of times your game appeals to mostly…to, like, one specific demographic, one age group, only a couple sets of motivations. And so, it was just an interesting challenge to be able to try all sorts of different things to find yourself aligned with the different seasons and the different. . .like, what users were going through, whether it was a back-to-school, or the holidays, or Mother's Day, right? Like, there's all sorts of different motivators. And so, that was really, I think, very interesting. Yeah.

John Koetsier: You got to try so many different tactics and everything. You're super well-prepared for this privacy-safe future of SKAN 4 and everything. You don't know anything. You've got to try everything and use coupon codes and all this old-school non-technology.

Faith Price: Yeah, I don't know if anybody's prepared for SKAN 4 but it certainly…I think is a good background. And then going into travel. I mean, travel is very aspirational, right? You get to tap into people's hopes, into what they sort of dream about doing. You get to tell stories. We got to explore a lot of different cultures and sort of the touch points there as to what was important to them, and how do we fit into their life that way. That was really interesting and I think it was helpful as well.

Then you come to gaming, and one of the things I love most about gaming is I think it's at the forefront of mobile marketing. I think, because gaming did apps first, you know, and we have millions, right, I think we've…there’s probably more gaming apps than, like, almost all other categories combined. We try things first, right? Like, we try the different types of marketing. First, we try the different, I think, types of technology first. I think gaming really is the innovator when it comes to mobile marketing.

Peggy Anne Salz: Just thinking what they call gamer. . .I'm also in the Mobile Marketing Association, and they call them the perfect performance marketers. So, hats off to gaming, absolutely. All the other verticals are like, you know, packaged goods are like, "Whoa, they really have nailed it." And you've done a lot. And this is Origin Stories. And we hear what you've done, we know where you got started, but what started that spark? Is it the geek-ness or is it the interest in games? Where did it all start for you?

Faith Price: As I like to say, I sort of just fell into marketing. I actually had a psychology and art education background and ended up being hired for a company that made tabletop games. And I just liked the aspect of analytics, plus creative, plus working with designers and developers, solving problems.

I think when I started out early, it wasn't in the digital space, necessarily. That wasn't the biggest component. We worked with a lot of retailers. And so, it's always like, well, you're never really sure what's driving things. Like, you couldn't pinpoint exactly all of the analytics. And so, once I got into mobile, I just had fun, right? Like, you could come in, you could track everything. You could track your creative, impressions, clicks, instals, revenue, like, you could track everything, and I loved sort of having that as your playground. And so, I don't know why. It just really. . .it's something that fascinates me and interests me, that I like to figure out how to optimise. And obviously, it's been much more challenging over the past year or so, I would say, as some of those data points have become a little more muddled, but it's still just one of the things I love.

John Koetsier: It's funny because I think you're the second marketer that Peggy and I have chatted with in the past, I want to say weeks, but it might be months, who has a psychology background. And that is interesting.

Faith Price: Part of marketing is understanding motivations, right?

John Koetsier: Exactly, exactly.

Peggy Anne Salz: It is a perfect fit. I mean, it's all about user behaviour. We're doing it now, John, you know, looking at player motivations and really looking at this part of the puzzle, you know, those missing pieces. So, you are really perfectly prepared, in a way, for what you're doing in marketing. You have a degree in psychology. And John, you know, you and I were talking to people about player motivations, and user behaviour all plays a role in there. So, you're well-prepared, better prepared than most. But let's just imagine. . .oh, she's modest. She doesn't take it. Let's just imagine you could tell your younger self something about what you do now, what would you tell it?

Faith Price: I think I would tell them to do more exploring, right, and be more intentional. Like I mentioned, I fell into marketing and then I just. . .from there, the marketing I was doing was fairly diverse as well because as a small company, you don't have a separate email team, you don't, you know, have a separate events team. Like it's all. . .

John Koetsier: Or tech support.

Faith Price:. . .it's all one person. Yeah. "Oh, you want a newsletter? Great, go write it. You need a catalogue, figure out how to lay it out." Okay. I think it would be, do more exploring, but also be intentional. Maybe, you know, figure out what is going to be next and try to keep up with it, get more information, be better, I guess, self-educated on what's coming along in terms of different types of marketing. Because it is different from when I started out, right? Like, paper catalogues are not a thing anymore. Like, the last 15 years, the marketing world has changed. So, I think that would be my advice.

John Koetsier: I wonder, if you could go back in time a little bit over your career, what's your favourite success story in mobile marketing?

Faith Price: I think my favourite, and it's not from a company I've ever worked at, is actually "Merge Dragons!." I was trying to think about all of the apps that I've seen, and, like, what's been super successful. And there's a number of ones right, like, if you look at Seriously with "Best Fiends," they did amazing things and continue to do amazing things with social media. But "Merge Dragons!" is interesting to me because they took the concept "Merge," which Gram had done as a really simple, hyper-casual title. They added interesting layers to it, but they knew enough to stop and not make it too complex, which if you've ever worked with apps. . .

John Koetsier: Hard to do.

Faith Price: Sometimes, you have to stop. And it was. . .and I remember when it first came out, and we were all excited, like, it's got "Merge," it's got, like, a storyline, it's got, like, progression, beautiful visuals, like, that's key too. And it was really big for a while, and then it wasn't. People stopped playing it. We stopped talking about it. And then they put in really good LiveOps. They figured out a way to sort of invigorate their game, which is hard to do midstream. Like, I've watched a number of apps come and go. Like, hardly anybody talks about "Heroes Charge" anymore, for example, which was all the rage in, like, 2015. And…

John Koetsier: Once you start that downhill trend, it’s so hard to get back up.

Faith Price: Exactly. And so, I think it's really interesting to me that they found a way. And there's a lot of titles that have spun off from it, I think, "EverMerge" right now from Big Fish is one that's doing really well that shares this similar space. But to me, it's really interesting that, first, they were able to find sort of a new concept, spawn a new genre, and look at a title, figure out when it was getting into sort of maybe a decaying sort of stage in terms of DAU and do something new and interesting.

And I think if you look at a lot of the current games, they do follow a similar LiveOps process of doing weekly events and putting in different types of tracks to follow. So yeah, I think that's a really interesting example of an app that's tried something new, been successful and figured out how to keep it fresh.

John Koetsier: I love it. I love it. And it gives some hope to mobile marketers who maybe have a game that is, you know, in a sort of steady state phase or slow decline phase where you're just losing a few thousand DAUs every single month. And you're just wondering, "Hey, what can I do? How can I change this? How can I switch things up, reinvigorate?" And there's hope. There's possibilities for doing it. And actually, there's actually really good hope there because when you start a brand new thing, you're starting at zero, right? You've got to build it. But if you have something that's already working, you have a base, if you can find something that your base loves, and others will come in, very cool. Second question about going back in time a little bit, what is your favourite flop in mobile marketing, mobile gaming?

Faith Price: So, I'm not going to say the name of the game, because first of all. . .

John Koetsier: Come on.

Faith Price: . . .nobody would know what it is because it doesn't exist anymore and it never made it to worldwide launch. But there was a title I worked on, and it was in soft launch/development for maybe four years.

John Koetsier: Ouch.

Faith Price: And when I was working. . .which is not a good sign, right? Not a good sign. But what's interesting to me and had some key takeaways was it was brought. . .the first time they were ready to soft launch it, they brought it to my team and we worked with the developers. They said, “Okay, here's the demographic for the game. It is, you know, like, a 15, 16 plus, all the way up to 35, mostly male, people who used to play Magic.” So, people who've liked games like "Magic," "Hearthstone," maybe, you know, moved on from it, gave us, like, the artwork they wanted to use. We did all of the. . .sort of the creative under their approval. We ran out the campaign. And then we started getting the feedback from them, "Well, 60% of our users are under 12, why are you not targeting the right people? This is the wrong campaign. Why are, you know, like, what's going on? Like, all of the people you're getting for us are not the right people. They're too young." And we were like, okay, well, let's take a look at things. And we said, well, let's take a look at, for example, the organic data. And the organic data held up as well. It said that 60% of organic users were under the age of 12. And so, we had some discussions back and forth. And what really came out of it was the developers, like, they have an idea of who their target audience is, but that's not always the reality. And so, as marketers, like, we have to be able to have those conversations to say, this is who you want it to be.

John Koetsier: This is the reality.

Faith Price: But based on your design, your artwork, like bubble-gum pink, might not be like the 25-year-old male aesthetic.

John Koetsier: Who'd have thought? I mean, like, wow, slam dunk in my opinion.

Faith Price: Oh, and I came out of the tabletop gaming industry. So, once it hit soft launch, I took the game to my friends who used to design "Magic" and said, “Hey, who do you think the demographic is?” And they're like, “Well, here's three reasons why we think it's grade-schoolers.” So, I was able to give that feedback as well.

John Koetsier: So it eventually flopped.

Faith Price: But yeah, I think, it never made it to worldwide launch.

John Koetsier: Wow, wow, wow.

Faith Price: It went through several rounds of soft launch.

Peggy Anne Salz: Let me interject for a moment. I'm going to have to
come in from the sidelines because I'm listening to this. . .John, think it with me, all right. It's a hit with people at the age of 12, but it's a flop. Why couldn't they just turn it around and make a blockbuster with an audience of 12-year-olds?

John Koetsier: Make sense to me.

Peggy Anne Salz: I just. . .

John Koetsier: Maybe not as monetizable, I am not sure.

Peggy Anne Salz: It didn't have to be a flop.

Faith Price: It's one of the challenges, I think, no matter what app and what category you're in. I think for marketing, there's the. . .you have to be able to have those discussions with the development team about, like, what they want to do and produce and what they've actually produced. Right? And can you align and say, "Does it work for the business?"

John Koetsier: Those are very comfortable, very easy conversations. I mean, you just tell them, you know, "Sorry, you're clueless. What you thought you were doing wasn’t what you were doing. What you actually accomplished is the opposite of what you're attempting to do." No problem whatsoever. You can have a great beer after that, after work that day.

Peggy Anne Salz: I want to stay with soft launch for a moment because you, obviously, have. . .

John Koetsier: Yeah, the perfect segue, right, Peggy?

Peggy Anne Salz: Perfect segue and a great anecdote because there used to be a blueprint for it. We've heard it many, many times. You launch in countries that are like the country that you really want to launch in, but cheaper. So, we all go to Canada, John, or used to. Fine-tune your game until you have commercial success, launch with a bang. That was pretty simple. What has changed? And why is it perhaps more challenging now than it used to be?

Faith Price: I mean, I think a number of things have changed for soft launch. Obviously, you know, sort of the big elephant in the room is the IDFA changes in the ATT prompt and all the privacy challenges. But I think competition has changed. Like, it is so competitive in the stores right now. There's over a million apps. I know from, like, some of the things I've seen in the industry, chatting with other people too, like, if you bring out a new title, without any marketing around it, like, you will get maybe in the low double digits for instals each day. Like, it's really hard, I think, to bring out something and not have marketing around it, right? The App Store and the Play Store have changed as well. When I was at Big Fish, we brought out one of our big sort of mid-core titles.

We were able to. . .like, the editors in the App Store really liked it and it was a really smart-looking title and it was a great title. And we were able to get featuring. But even now, like, featuring has changed. The way you get featuring, the number of titles that get featured, how they get featured, where they get featured, like, all of that has changed. And so, I think there are a lot more challenges. And you do have to step away from what we've all known as sort of the way to do soft launch.

John Koetsier: I feel like what you used to get from featuring was huge and what you get from featuring now is not huge.

Faith Price: I mean, it's a nice little bump, but that's all it is. It's a small bump, right? I think, previously, the way that ranking worked in the stores too, is you would get a very large spike, and then that spike would slowly go down over time because you would get the benefits of the rankings, right, for the most downloads. And so, you could sort of count on the halo effect of featuring, and now that's. . .for the most part, I would say, that's pretty much gone. I don't know if it's because featuring has sort of become diluted and so fewer people are paying attention to it, or there's just so many different types of featuring that they get less eyeballs. But yeah, I think featuring is great. We love it anytime we can get it, which, you know, for the casino space doesn't happen.

But other apps, you know, like it's great. But it can't be your primary strategy anymore. Right? If that was your go-to strategy, especially as maybe like an indie or with somebody with smaller budgets, like, you have to figure out something different. In terms of like, where would. . .you know, how do you soft launch, where do you soft launch, how long can you soft launch, I think it's super dependent on what type of app you are, what budget you have, what you're actually trying to accomplish.

So looking at, like, just the data on games, or apps, you know, a very small number actually are successful. So, spending a really long time in soft launch and spending a big budget on soft launch, I don't think it's feasible, really, anymore. I was looking at some of the soft launch articles that are out there and written by really smart folks, by the way, just really great. But some of them talk about being in soft launch for, you know, two to six months. And I don't know how many companies would be able to invest in extended marketing for six months or so.

John Koetsier: And that's totally dependent on the type of company as well, right? I mean, let's say you're Supercell and your goal is to develop massive billion-dollar franchise mobile games, right? Then, you have to have a very different strategy around soft launch, versus let's say, your hyper-casual or even mid-core, per se, and your strategy has to have 500 games, I'm exaggerating, perhaps, but you know, and you hope that a bunch of them are successful at all kinds of different times. So, you're going to have a very different strategy for launching, right?

Faith Price: I would certainly think so. The way that I'm sort of looking at and working with, you know, like, our development teams is talking about, what type of game is it? What are they trying to accomplish as a development team with soft launch? And what does that then make the soft launch plan look like?

For some apps, especially if you're talking like maybe a hyper-casual app, maybe it's putting, like, a first lookout, right? Like, here's a first look at the game. We do a very short initial soft launch period of a couple of weeks, we put a whole bunch of people in there inexpensively, which means not Australia, not Canada, because what we're seeing is, a lot of times, they're either very close to or on par with the U.S. in terms of costs, and in some cases even higher, but looking at sort of lower price GOs, putting a lot of users in at one time. And then they can look at their initial KPIs. And a lot of times an initial KPI might be retention, right?

Like, we need to judge if this game gets interest, if people are willing to stay around for a while, how the mechanic is working. And then, you know, take time to digest that and then decide what the next steps are in the game. So, I can conceive of, like, new processes where soft launch is a series. It's like you do marketing for short bursts, get enough people into the game that they can judge whatever specific KPI that they're looking at, and then do the work. And then you go out and you do another burst and see again, like, if your KPIs have improved, for something maybe like a larger AAA, you know, I've been having discussions about what's the value maybe of doing market research instead, right? Like, if we're going to spend a lot of. . .you can spend a lot of money on soft launch, but maybe you pull some of that money off and do usability testing and get feedback. And then you use that to help inform your soft launch.

John Koetsier: Right. And if you're a fairly large publisher, and you've got a significant number of users of other apps, well, you can do cross-promo as well, and then load up a new game and see what happens in there, right, with users that you know and have history on and can see with IDFE what they do and other games.

Faith Price: Yeah, I think especially if you've got a stable of stable apps, the Voodoos and the Grams and the Zyngas, Scopelys of the world, like, you have a good opportunity to make use of, like, that user base, whether it's the cross-promo, whether it's surveys and user research and things like that. And sometimes, you know, you look at all the mergers and acquisitions going on and you're like, "Well, that's a…it could be a really

John Koetsier: Including with ad networks. Yeah.

Faith Price: Yeah. I mean, I think it's interesting that we now have these entities that are sort of full-funnel.

John Koetsier: Vertically integrated industries. Well, Peggy, this has been wonderful. This has been amazing. This has been incredible. I mean, this is an Origin Stories, but we've also learned a lot about soft launching. Is there anything else you want to know about soft launching before we let Faith go back to work?

Peggy Anne Salz: I have to go back to the stages. I'm fascinated by that, thinking that through because, in a way, it's shaping the game, shaping the gameplay in pieces. So, you're saying I want to look at retention. So I'm only going to look at this part. I'm going to give this much gameplay to get that research, to get that feedback. You can, of course, do it as user research, as you said, but it's interesting in the stages. So I have to ask the question, how much of a game, how much of an MVP do you really need now in soft launch?

Faith Price: I think you still will want, at some point, to have a fully mapped out core loop, right? You might not need every single feature. And this is, you know, not something, probably, that the design team wants to hear. But you might not need all of your art to be, like, finalised.

John Koetsier: "You can't ship like that."

Faith Price: But I do think, like, as long as you've got your theme, your core loops for the game, and you understand your value proposition, I think you can go out and start your stages of soft launch. So, I think we sometimes, like, maybe focus on the nice-to-haves, instead of the must-haves for any app design. The chicken and egg concept, what comes first, right? Like, is it all the bells and whistles that are going to attract the user, or is it providing them with something that meets a need, you know, that fixes a problem for them, that solves something?

John Koetsier: This has been fascinating. It's been super wonderful to hear you talk about this stuff. And with your significant experience across the industry in lots of different places, it's just really cool to have you. You're at a massive studio right now. You're at a massive studio that everybody knows about, and everybody knows your games and your apps. And you're adding new ones, right? You just added a fourth, I saw that, that's fairly recent. Even parts of your website still stay there's three. So, tell your writers there's four now. Sometimes I wonder if an app that somebody would launch, like, a hyper-casual, which is just a little component of a larger game that they're going to check, but they're gonna check the loop on that on the hyper-casual side and then inject it into mid-core. Peggy, I don't know about you, but this has been super fun and super fascinating. And I really do appreciate your time, Faith.

Faith Price: Thanks. It's been great to chat with you guys. Really appreciate your insights too, everything you've been doing in the space.

Peggy Anne Salz: Thank you. And we're going to add this insight to that, John, because I think the whole idea of the soft launch not being like this chunk, but being this blending, this morphing of stages and also thinking about what you do at every stage. And even if you just replaced all of it with user research, that's not going to go away. I think you're onto something, Faith. I encourage you to continue with that and just great having you share these thoughts with us.

John Koetsier: Thank you so much.

Faith Price: Thanks.

John Koetsier: And thank you to all listeners. We really do appreciate you. Hope you're enjoying it. Let us know on social if you are.

Peggy Anne Salz: And let us know if you want to come and we'll have you on the show. If you're a Mobile Hero or you know someone who is, then fill out the interest form over at

John Koetsier: Also, Liftoff have a slack for Mobile Heroes and people in the mobile ecosystem. There's a link on the screen. And if you're listening to the podcast, it's at up. It's pretty cool. There's smart people there, and you know what, they probably need you too.

Peggy Anne Salz: And you have probably been completely blown away by all the insights on this show and you want your transcript. And you can have it because the transcripts are over at Liftoff's website. Go to, click on heroes, and then click on podcast.

John Koetsier: I actually personally love transcripts because I read way faster than people talk. So, it's a great way to get insights really, really quickly. Until next time, this is John Koetsier. Thank you so much for joining.

Peggy Anne Salz: And this is Peggy Anne Salz signing off for "Mobile Heroes Uncensored."

Jul 20, 2022

How to Efficiently Scale Ad Spend Beyond 7 Digits

Scaling ad spend seems easy: boost buys, increase bids, add partners. But it’s really easy to lose massive amounts of efficiency and instead of driving results, simply increase ad blindness.

In this episode of Mobile Heroes Uncensored, we chat with mobile growth marketer and consultant Alper Taner, who has worked with over 50 apps in 10 verticals and helped brands scale users 5X to 50X.

We chat about:

  • How to scale quickly
  • When to add new channels
  • Which channels work best
  • Typical scaling mistakes
  • What marketers underestimate about scaling
  • Creative optimization
  • Creative fatigue
  • And much more …

36 min

John Koetsier: What can you learn from someone who's scaled ad revenue to eight digits? Hello, and welcome to "Mobile Heroes Uncensored," my name is John Koetsier. My co-host, as always, of course, is Peggy Anne Salz. And we are both super excited to find out what can you learn from scaling ad spend to massive, massive levels, mostly for me, be like where's the nearest restroom? But I'm sure there's much more to unpack. Peggy, who are we talking to?

Peggy Anne Salz: I think we've got someone John who's got growth in his DNA. Because he's Alper Taner, he's growth marketer at Gorillas, but he's also got 10 years experience in marketing, 8 years in performance marketing, and he is a freelance growth consultant, full stack marketer, strategist, all of that in one. And the numbers that you're mentioning, the nine-digit, the eight-digit, they really speak volumes. He has managed thousands of UA campaigns and worked with 50-plus apps, 10-plus verticals around the world, including unicorns like Gorillas. So he specializes in scaling e-commerce and subscription apps, paid user base by 5X to 50X range, giving you some more eye-watering numbers here. And he's going to share some insights into how he scales growth efficiently with us today. Welcome, Alper.

Alper: Thank you, everyone. Hi.

John Koetsier: Super pumped to have you, Alper. I mean, if I'm a client, I want the 60X. And I'm not signing up for the 5X. So just so you know, in case I come to you with my 8-figure budget, you know, I want the 60X growth. Just a little hint here. Hey, let's get started. You're a growth marketer, you're a strategist. When people call you or email you, or whatever they do, what do they want and what does it take to deliver it?

Alper: So, typically, they would call in to say, "Hey, we need to grow yesterday." And, you know, that's always a challenge. And then I typically help companies that are already spending, like, six digits per month, and help them to get to seven-digits plus per month as fast as possible, as efficiently as possible. And that's, like, how I engage with the projects. It’s always starting on the marketing side of things where we ensure the technical infrastructure when it comes to in-app analytics, attribution, and all their MarTech stack is working in harmony before scaling, and then we focus on each channel and maximize the opportunities.

John Koetsier: You know, Alper, I was going to say, as I was listening to you there, I mean, I could scale somebody's ad budget from six digits to seven digits to eight. I could go to 10. I can go to the moon here, but I think...

Peggy Anne Salz: Give him a credit card.

John Koetsier: But I think the key is doing it in a way that's effective and there's ROI positive, there's ROAs, all that stuff. What helps you as a growth consultant to make the right decisions when you're scaling that kind of money?

Alper: Yeah. So, I mean, you can always spend a lot of money, which will help you grow. But scaling is not just about, I think, increasing spend, and that's I think a misconception. Scaling is more about, I think, maximizing the opportunities while keeping the efficiency to a certain extent, to stay more similar. And of course, you're expected to lose some of the efficiency while scaling, but then it's about finding the balance strategically. So, what I mean by that is you might lose 20% of the efficiency of the current campaigns, but if you're getting 200 higher new paid users, that would be probably fine, depending, of course, on the company objectives, and SOUNDS LIKE: let’s say the all OKRs and all that.

It's important to understand all this when it comes to product viability, conversion rates, market dynamics, and the campaign dynamics and so on. And then you need to act based on the feedback from the campaigns. So, some of the mistakes I see the clients do, or the projects I work with do, they're happy with the performance, then they would just go, like, 50% higher, or they would just double the budget overnight because it's working so well, which in the short-term might look like it's a good idea, but in the both short-term and the midterm, you would just have a very fluctuating KPIs. And almost always, you would lose the efficiency, which is not the best.

So, approach is's small increments to increase the budgets. And you would only increase the budget if you're getting the satisfactory KPIs from the campaign. I think that's usually the difference between just spending the money versus scaling efficiently and as fast as possible. And it's important not to underestimate the power of not the compounding interest, but, in this case, like more exponential growth because you can just go by 20% increments when it comes to, you know, bigger budgets increases and just $100 would become like $600 in just 10 days. And then another 10 days, that could become just 3-something K per day. And that's already going up. And at the higher scale, if you were spending mid-level 6 digits, it only takes 4 times increased by 20% to reach 7 digits per month. So, you shouldn't be concerned about increasing the spend, you should be concerned about, "Okay. Can I get more of this efficiency by spending a little higher or, you know, you want to find that sweet spot, depending on the company objectives and your targets, basically?"

John Koetsier: Do you always lose efficiency by scaling ad spend? I totally understand that you got more dollars chasing potentially the same number of users. You're increasing your channels, and maybe you're using the ones that are a little less effective as well because you have to spread more dollars around. But have you ever seen situations where you increase your spend and you scale up significantly, but your efficiency actually grows or stays equivalent?

Alper: There are definitely those scenarios because it's a bit of a chicken egg, right? The algorithms need signals. So, at the beginning, they might not know your app or your audience or your game so well. So, the more you feed the algorithm, the better it gets finding the next best audience. So, there are cases that more they scale, it actually gets better, but also heavily depends on your product characteristics, your key factor, and SOUNDS LIKE: vitality and all that, and then how much of impact it has on organics and so on, and the brand awareness, of course, that goes up. So, basically, when you scale, so brand awareness goes up, algo learns better, and all that.

So these typically lead to positive results. But at the same time, if you do this too fast, then you lose the learning phase. So, you need to always keep the algo in the learning phase and just try with small increments at a time, then algo just gets better every time, in theory. Of course, this is not just a linear curve. You need to do a lot of adjustments here and there, depending on the type of the platform, the OS, channel and all that, and also vertical, of course. So, it's not a smooth ride, for sure, but there are definitely things you need to take care of when it comes to understanding the way algorithms work, the way creative SOUNDS LIKE: ads fatigue works, and also finding the right time to increase the budgets.

So, if you find a good balance, and you find a good balance just by testing, you know, of course, the account managers will tell you differently. They're like, "Oh, don't touch for a month,” and stuff like that. maybe extreme, month is extreme. But then you need to listen to your own data. That's what I always say. Like, there are, of course, best practices, but none of the best practices should be just blindly applied to every account. You should definitely test them because they're best practices, it works for another million advertisers. And there are, of course, some best practices that you must be doing like, I don't know, you don't change this five times a day and stuff like that. That is quite obvious. But anything else, you should be interpreting I think from your own data set. And that's where I typically help. So, I never come into pitch, "Hey, I'm the best in this, in this, and that." I say, "Hey, I can come in, and I can maximize the opportunity that you have at the same efficiency or the similar efficiency." So then we start a project. And then sometimes we do see like 6X in two and a half months with 15% less efficiency, but, "Hey, we have a 6X growth." So, not like no one cares about that 15%, but it's on the extreme ends, like a 500% increase versus 15%. It's not comparable. And yeah.

John Koetsier: Makes sense. And Peggy, it totally blows my theory that any idiot can scale ad spend out of the water. So...

Peggy Anne Salz: No. I'm fascinated with the complexity of this and everything you need to be watching. I was thinking, okay, you know, teaching the algorithms, that has its time, but there's timing itself, there's understanding when you have a blockbuster success on your hands, there's not doing it too quickly. A lot of things to be considering. What did you do? Or what did you consider when you were scaling Gorillas? So, how did you help Gorillas scale on performance marketing?

Alper: I mean, at the beginning, we started with the MarTech side of things to make sure that we track everything correctly, that we can calculate the customer acquisition cost, the ROAs, and all these metrics. And then we basically started scaling, I would call it vertically, and vertical would mean, like, increasing the spend on the channels that they're already active in. And then once the marginal unit cost is not ideal anymore, then you would start spending more on the other channels/horizontally. We started quite small and then, of course, it took off quite fast because the business itself was also growing fast. So then the performance marketing team was supporting that growth, of course.

And this goes hand in hand. And I would say, definitely the technical infrastructure side of things, and then focusing on the most promising channels that you can easily scale. So, which would be the major self-advertising networks, basically.

Peggy Anne Salz: You lead us to that point, I have to take you there, Alper, there. You're talking about the most promising channels. Which channels have the most potential in your opinion?

Alper: I mean, things are changing in the last month, of course, but still, when you go with like, Meta, Google, Apple, and Snap, which are typically my top four, and then the fifth one would be more TikTok/DSPs. And the reason is like this where most of the people I know are spending most of their budget here, and there's a reason for that. They might not be the most efficient and so on, but then at the end of the day, you need to catch that way, okay, are you looking for the cheapest channel and how much the cheapest channel can bring in for you versus are you okay with 10% worst efficiency, but you can get, like, hundreds of thousands of paid customers from here? So, that's the way to look at it.

I mean, there are definitely a lot more when it comes to evaluating the channel scalability because you want to make sure that the channel is reliable, that channel can take what you give it to it, and so on because there are many cases that you just want to spend more and then, you know, the KPIs would completely be different, let's say the first $200,000 versus the next $200,000. It wouldn't make sense to spend the second half of the $400,000 because it will be like double or worse. And that's just because of your limited audience and situation of the market/brands/the audience, and so on. So, that's why there is no one big thing. But I would say these main four channels are definitely on my top four as that's where everyone is spending most and getting the best buck out of it.

John Koetsier: That is really interesting. Hey, because you have an ad network that maybe they've got some premium publishers that they work with, they got some premium inventory, right? And you're accessing that with your first $200,000. All of a sudden you double your spend there and you got all these executives, they're looking, "Okay. What am I going to do? I got to put this money…” and they’re bringing on new publishers, bringing on new supply, and is it the same quality and all that other stuff, right? So, scaling slowly makes some sense. We talked earlier about scaling users 5 to 50X, and I joked that I would sign up for the 50X. Is there something, a result that you've had in a campaign in your career that shocked you? Just totally surprised you, like blew you out of the water?

Alper: I think that 50X is probably one because then... I mean, everything is pretty much a surprise for me. The reason is the following. I never promise anything on the numbers, but what I promise is I will be surely working on maximizing the opportunities that they currently have. And that could be 2X, that could be 20X, that could be 30X. We don't know. I could also say 2X is a pretty impressive growth for some well-established companies that are already spending eight digits, they exist for 10-plus years. Like, they would be in love with me when we have a 2X growth. And the other hand, some companies are not happy. They're like, "Hey, this is just 10X. Can we do more?" And so on. So, it's really relative. I think it really depends on the stage of the company. But as I said, I never promise anything on the numbers. I have my track record, I'm like, "This is what I can do when we have our teamwork." And I never claim, "Hey, I will do this myself only for you,” and so on. But I set up the stage where we can all collaborate and make things happen through the frameworks, through the health checks and audits, and so on.

And then we just look back after six months or a year, we're like, "Oh, it actually was a 20X growth year." But no one knew about the number when we are working on it because we're just very agile, you're looking at the number and I would never set up a campaign that aim off to 20X. Of course, you would have some targets and so on, like, before you set up the campaigns, okay, is it about increasing the efficiency? Or like I would ask, for example, if it's about increasing the efficiency or increasing the scale, and then everyone would always say both, right? And then you try to balance, okay, which one is a bit more important? Then you decide on pay 70/30 or 50/50 and so on, but to find the right balance based on the company goals. But long story short, nothing was very surprising except the 50X one that we didn't see. Yeah.

Peggy Anne Salz: That was the milestone. We've talked about your accomplishments, Alper. Let's switch gears, let's talk about the mistakes, right? The marketing nightmares that marketers make and have when they want to scale. What is one, and how can it be avoided?

Alper: I already mentioned the one about the budget increases or bids increases or decreases like significantly and so on. Another one would be... I talked to someone recently who mentioned, "Oh, yeah, like, we are fighting with fatigue like we refresh credits every week." And this and that, I'm like, "Okay. Which channels? TikTok might be alright because TikTok is really faster consuming." They're like, "Yeah. We do that on UAC and like Google ad campaigns, and we did it on Meta ads, and so on." I'm like, "Whoa, okay. How do you do it?" And so on.

So, for example, what they were doing is, they would upload a new creative into the ad set, every time one of them is not performing well. So they would touch in and out on a weekly basis. And they're spending quite significant numbers. Not exactly on these campaigns, but overall. And they were always like, "Oh, it's very fluctuating, you know, although we're spending so much and so on." And then we did kind of through some sort of a checklist to see what they're up to. And I was quite shocked because it's like a large team and so on. And how I would do it would be running it at least, for example, two weeks. And then I wouldn't change things one by one, I would do more, for example, on the Meta side, like I will do more about uploads, who are the test winners from the previous tests, and then I would put them into that ad set. And then whenever I need to exchange the creatives, I will do it within the ad group. But suggested you upload once, you could upload as many as you can. Of course, there are the limits.

And then let's give an example of 20, in this case. And then you could swap that 20 within the ad set. You do the upload once, and then when you turn them on and off, you don't touch the learning phase. And this learning phase is so important, in my opinion, for all the platforms, not just Google and Facebook and so on, but the same for like the Twitters and TikToks and so on. I would say everything pretty much Apple Search Ads because that's just a CPC bidding, and I don't believe there is a really big learning algorithm yet. You bid higher... You know, it's pretty straightforward, although there are different strategies to be taken care of while scaling because not everything is intuitive, for example, just because I just mentioned Apple Search Ads, just because you increase bids doesn't mean you're going to get more volume, right? But then just the logic, you're like, "Yeah. I bid more, I win more auctions and I get more traffic."

Well, yeah. It can happen, but that's not 100% for sure. But then it's about understanding that data, and so on. Like, I saw some accounts, they're bidding like $500-plus for a click and they're like, "Yeah. We want to get more and more." They bid $600, $700, and so on. I mean, they would never pay that eventually. At least for now Apple is not doing that. So, they might change strategy at some point that, "Oh, you want to pay $500? There you go." You know, the CPT. It is definitely dangerous.

But, you know, it doesn't work like that. Just because you go from $500 to $700 will not get you more traffic necessarily. You need to do some other type of tactics and strategies to make sure that, not make sure but like help you get more traffic, and so on. It's relevancy and all that stuff. So that's why you should always see what the data says, you should understand the algo. And instead of just going blunt and uploading just chunk creatives in because you are fighting the X critique, you know, and just also testing creatives doesn't mean that... There are ways of doing things, and that's where I spend my eight years, day in, day out. And what I do is I just try to share my experience. And I don't think there is one-size-fits-all type of best practice. I've seen really individual accounts that are good in some types of campaigns, look-alikes would work a lot better. But it doesn't mean look-alikes would work for everyone. Of course, it depends on the seed audience and how much algo knows about the account, like the learning's at the account level and all the levels and so on. And that's why there's no one medicine for all, I think in the U.S.

John Koetsier: It's actually a good point. Kind of a segue to our next question because we talked a lot about budget, but you mentioned creative significantly in the last answer. And scaling isn't just about increasing the budget, you need a ton of creatives, right? You need a ton of creatives to avoid the ad fatigue that you're talking about. What are the best strategies that build a lot of creatives that don't suck?

Alper: Yeah. I think creative variety is definitely part of scaling. Especially, if you're going from like hundreds per day to 1000s per day, that makes it quite different in terms of like the perception of the user, not really the perception, but your expectancy obviously goes up. And you want to convey a story through multiple ads, through multiple USPs, each ad telling a different USP and stuff like that you want to build that funnel. And because you increase the spend, then users are more likely to get ad blind that we see especially on TikTok, right? Because our brains are wired to watch something different, it takes milliseconds to see, "Oh, I've seen this before." And then you just like a swipe. And that's like a millisecond. And we see that from there, also the ad metrics. And same on Snapchat. So, this is happening, regardless. It could be like you could spend less, but run the same ad for a month, or you could spend significantly high budgets for a week, you might run into same, basically issues. In order to fight that, you need to ensure you have a wide variety of creative concepts from animation to UGC, real people, and all that.

And within those kind of visual concepts, then you would have all these types of different approaches to the problem, different approaches to the solution. And then you have, of course, your personas and stuff.

These days we just go with raw targeting the most. Our creatives are the ones that are going after our personas. And that's how the algorithm also learns. Again, it's all about feeding the algorithm in the right way. And then once the algorithm stops receiving the signals from the audience in terms of the ad engagement, then that definitely impacts your campaign performance. I've seen ads that we spent like seven digits on a single ad because it just performs, right? But it's not forever. And then you need to ensure to loop into the IPM of the creative and how the efficiency changes over time. Because one of the misconceptions that people look at, like some large brands I know, they looked at just the last 30 days because of their, you know, the product life cycle and all that stuff, and multiple purchases and all that. And then they're like, "Oh, yeah. Last 30 days, this is a great ad." I'm like, "Yeah. But what about the last seven days? Last 14 days?" I mean, 30 days is a massive timeframe for some brands, I think for most brands.

And there's definitely a change between 7, 14, and 30-day timeframe in terms of performance. And also maybe going back to the mistakes/upgrade strategy, don't wait until they die. Everyone waits until the creative hits rock bottom, and they're like, "Oh, we have no other creatives to replace this word." And then they're like, they try something they're like, "And this new creative didn't work." But instead, you will have your, like the substitute kind of benchmark like in a soccer game, but they're ready. Your best players are ready to replace the next ones.
John Koetsier: In the game, there you go. Getting good results, don't have that up and then down and then up and then down and up and down. Kind of maintains steady-state growth.

Alper: Exactly. And then you don't wait until a player dies, right? You see he's tired, then that's when you change. I don't know why we don't do that in the UA world, right? A lot of marketers, they just wait until the ad dies. "Oh, it doesn't deliver anymore." I'm like, "Yeah. What about you checking it last week that you already see that IPM is going down, the engagement is going down?" And then you already changed last week and then it doesn't affect your whole campaign performance and stuff like that, or a bad ad eating up the whole budget and so on. I think these are the stuff that is easily preventable if you check the data on a day-to-day basis and in sets of timeframes. And so, this creative visualization reports and stuff, analytics, I think getting a lot more important. It was always important, but with less emphasis on the targeting, more emphasis on the creative as this where we are kind of we have been shifting for a while, but it's just getting more important every day. It's important to look at the metrics not involved but slice and dice it into different timeframes, and really understand why it works. And then iterate on the winners and understand why something doesn't work just to give a direction to your next test. So that's, I think, important.

Peggy Anne Salz: Just trying to understand and maybe I'll dig a bit deeper there because I'm thinking about what you said. We need to have creatives according to persona. At the same time, we need to stockpile them a bit and be ready to switch them in and out, you know, not wait till they die. There is probably not like the answer here, but I would like to hear from you because you are a practitioner, Alper. How can marketers do that? It's not just about having fresh creatives, there's also that persona. And that's going to be shifting all the time. So, I'm thinking, you know, what do you do, you can flip a coin almost here, but there's got to be something smarter and more sophisticated.

Alper: I mean, you will need to look at what creatives would work, and then which personas the winning creatives are talking to. And then you want to see that, okay, like this kind of creative that is mostly talking to, you know, women between 25, 34, because that's what you also showed in the ad and that is addressing the segments issues and like propose a solution. And you see that it's really good engagement, really good lower funnel events. And then you would want to activate ads that are similar to this one to validate the concept, okay, is it just the one lucky ad, or is it really this segment is working really well for us? Then the data will tell you. Then you would switch on similar ads. And then if you see the similar performance because they're speaking kind of about the same USPs with similar visuals, or it doesn't have to be similar visuals, but if they're talking to the same segment, and if you see the other ones that don't perform and you look at similarities basically between the winners and the losers, and then you want to do more of the winner ones and less of the loser ones in a way. And that's how you kind of try to kill the randomness.

Okay, which creative do I go with? If you see...and you have to see the patterns. That's not when you create your kind of strategy. It's not about just a duration, it's not just about the format, you need to really slice and dice the...kind of the reverse engineer the creative brief and look at the chance, "Okay. This is the opening, this is what makes it interesting, the first three seconds. This is the thumbnail, and this is the main character. This is the USB, this is the CTA." And then, of course, the duration and all that stuff comes in. But that's how you would look at the creative. Then you would easily see the commonalities between the losers and winners a lot more easier than, "I'd never run into an issue. Oh, we don't know what creative works, and we don't know why." No. That's because you didn't try to understand it well enough, and you didn't analyze it well to understand it better, basically. But I don't think if you analyze it well, random is not the issue unless your budgets are very small, and you don't have significant data. And then every time a different type of segments creative work, then that might be something and this...I understand this can happen. Then you just need to do more testing to validate those hypotheses.

Peggy Anne Salz: So, we have to ask it, we really do have to ask it because we've had it on a couple of shows and it's got to be top of mind, right? How are you tackling scan for? How are you staying on top of what is essentially a moving target for marketers right now?

Alper: Scan for, I mean, it's great.

John Koetsier: Great. He says laughing.

Peggy Anne Salz: Did somebody pay you to say it's great? That's the first time I've heard it.

Alper: Yeah. Well, with some irony. I mean, no, it is great. I heard good things. There's a light. There's not so much actionable points, I think, at this time, but definitely suggest marketers to look into concepts/the terms like what is the crowd anonymity, what are the three conversion thresholds? And start thinking how also these multiple prospects can help them optimize campaigns better, because most of the advertisers, they have their 24-hour window for the conversion window. And then that's kind of it, you know. They're like, "Oh, if they made it, they won. This is what I do. And if they didn't made it, I don't want them anymore." You know, and I think this will help us shift to a bit more longer-term optimisation/division when it comes to that. And then the four digits that are coming in will help us, I think, utilize a lot more data points. We'll see if we can use some of them for creative or not. I think there's not so much clarity on that yet. But that's probably saying like, "We're going from two digits almost to four digits." That's the type of growth that I like to see in my campaigns as well. So, you know. So excited for it and trying to understand it. We probably still have time. I don't see that happening also just in the next one, two months. And then there's Christmas, so let's see.

But it's definitely a good time already to start looking into documentation, understand by yourself, watch some webinars, and see what other experts are talking about. And then what is important is to adapt it right away from understanding perspective and actionable insights perspective, and not like, with the new scan which came, and six months later, people still didn't know what to do. And hopefully, I think that's now...the gap is closing because we had the 2.0, 3.0, 4.0. What I'm kind of a bit concerned about is because in my experience with the scan tool that "Oh." When they introduced the VTA, you know, it took the publishers to kind of integrate that VTA first. And then it took some time for MMPs to integrate with that SKAd VTA. And then so, basically, it was released in Feb last year. And then I think Facebook only adapted in like October or something. And then some MMPs got on the wagon like in Q4. So, although it was released in Feb, I only could use it practically in December, and we still have some ad platforms that don't use the VTA. Although, yeah, it is available. So, I wonder how it's going to be with the product, oh will be introduced. And then publishers need to adopt, then, you know, MMPs need to do that. And it will be your... I don't know if you will randomly receive these second postbacks, and then... But others are still on 3.0.

John Koetsier: will definitely have that, because there'll be people on older versions of iOS, different components of the ecosystem will be on different versions as well. So, there is going to be a bit of a shit show. Starting in November, December, maybe January, we'll see how it goes. Hey, it keeps it fresh, I guess. And you know what? Guess what, Alper? Job security. Job security for consultants. You know what? Big bonus from Apple just for you. Awesome. Well, let's end here. We got to bring this to an end. Briefly, what's your top tip for mobile marketers who are looking to scale ad span?

Alper: Don't rush. Just because they're investors, they also are your founder. They also listen to data in a way, and always challenge the status quo. Like what I always see is, you know, I ask people, "Why do you do this?" You know, just not judging, but I'm like…

John Koetsier: I bet you come across a little judgy sometimes.

Alper: It depends on how bad is the structure. I'm like, "Why are you doing this?" In a way. And I just want to understand. And they're like, "Oh, because the person before me two years ago was doing that and that's why I'm doing this because that's how it works." I'm like, "Yeah. But three years ago was like 10 years ago in the mobile world now." You know? So, people need to adapt, like, whenever they get on board, a new ad account, new job. And, you know, it doesn't matter, like anything new, I think still. Just because it's new, doesn't mean that it is there to stay forever. I think it's always important to challenge the status quo. And then don't apply these best practices just blindly just because someone told you so. Because whatever works for them might not work for you, and so on. And it's important to find your own answers from your own account. And don't be afraid to test, I guess, because it's always like, "Oh, but I don't want to touch." Like, "Okay. I understand you don't want to touch the campaign that already works really great, but it doesn't mean you're not going to do testing under other campaigns and so on." And I think always having one live test can sound super basic, right? I can assure you there are like, I don't know, probably 1000s-plus or millions, if not millions of advertisers that don't have at least one live test at all times.

John Koetsier: I liked that tip. I like that tip. I will always be running one live test. I also like your second tip, which is don't be in a rush because I've seen it. The VCs give you a stack of cash, and the CEO says, "Growth at all costs because I'm starting to look at my next round." And boom, you start spending that money and the bids go up, and the returns don't come, and it's really, really challenging. Might be easier to do in today's environment, whereas kind of tightening the purse strings a little bit might be easier to take a little bit of time. In any case, Alper, it has been great chatting with you about how to scale ad spend. Thank you so much for taking your time. We know you're on vacation. You're in Turkey right now and you're on vacation talking to Peggy and talking to me. Thank you for taking the time.

Alper: Of course, my pleasure. Thank you very much for having me.

Peggy Anne Salz: Thank you, Alper, and thanks for the crash course. It was very, very detailed. Sometimes high-level answers, you know, we did get the look at your data and watch your user, but we did get some really actionable tips here. So, thanks so much for sharing.

Jul 20, 2022

SKAN 4 Rants & Raves With App Growth Legend Thomas Petit

More granularity! More data over time! But … still plenty of uncertainty over timing, transition, implementation, and so much more.

Apple’s announced SKAN 4, and in this Mobile Heroes Uncensored, we dive deep into it with mobile growth expert and consultant Thomas Petit, who participates while being down with Covid (!!!). We chat about what we know and what we don’t know, and especially about the new areas of complexity that, he says, are great job security for consultants 🙂

We also discuss:

  • Creative optimization in SKAN 4
  • Multiple postbacks and subscription apps
  • Using SKAN 4’s coarse conversion values
  • Whether SKAN 4 privileges high-volume advertisers
  • Fraud in SKAN 4
  • And much more …

34 min

Thomas Petit: I'm quite afraid that the transition period is going to be messy, in the sense that some users are not going to be on the latest OS, some vendors are not going to be supporting all of the features at first. And for at least a few months, I can see how we're going to have the old one and the new one in parallel. And that's going to be absolutely crazy.

John Koetsier: Apple's SKAdNetwork has totally disrupted the user acquisition space on iOS. And now, guess what? Everything's changing all over again. Welcome to "Mobile Heroes Uncensored." My name is John Koetsier. Co-host, of course, as always, is Peggy Anne Salz. And today we're talking SKAN 4.0. Hey, more postbacks, more campaigns, more data. And guess what? More complexity, plus potentially multiple versions of SKAN, the different levels of compatibility at different layers in the mobile growth stack: fun, fun, fun. Today, we're going to dive into what's new, what you need to know. Peggy, who's our expert? Who are we chatting with?

Peggy Anne Salz: That's it. John, we have an expert, right? Thomas Petit, mobile growth advisor, consultant, hitting some amazing numbers in his career. I did a little bit of research, John, in his career life, he's hit 50X growth of new users while increasing ROI by 2.5X at a fitness app, where he was doing some app marketing, some consulting. He's a veteran, I would say, a legend. And he's also widened his focus recently to look at activation and monetisation for subscription apps, sharing some of that knowledge here today. Who could we have better, John, to talk about it than maybe yourself? Than maybe yourself, you've got...

John Koetsier: The list is very small of who we could that would be better. He has literally consulted on hundreds of apps. Super pumped to have you, Thomas.

Thomas Petit: Yeah, very happy to be here. Thanks for the nice word, both of you, especially, Peggy. It's nice to be here. And I look forward to a crystal ball discussion today.

John Koetsier: Totally crystal ball. Because we're talking about something that hasn't really been released. The full spec isn't out there. It's just kind of been dangled in front of us like a little bit of a carrot, a candied carrot on a stick. From what you know, from what you've seen, what's the best part of SKAN 4.0?

Thomas Petit: I guess, Apple, even if they're not very collaborative, and they tend to release on their own, they do listen to what people say. And the best of it is definitely that there's a bit more granularity on a few levels. I think for me, like the two things that are the best, the first one is to have some slight enhancements on Windows, especially the fact that we're going to be able to get some level of information that comes after day zero or day 0, 1, 2. Like now, the timer getting out, which was ridiculous, and not focusing just on day zero, but on long-term retention and monetisation is definitely a big, big plus.

It sounds like something that should have been there all the time but it's not there right now. So that's a big, big improvement. Let's say that's granularity over time. The other one is the depth of granularity, and especially not having only company information but in some limited case, as we may discuss, maybe you have things like an A/B ad group, maybe ad placement, maybe creative. And I think, besides the timing, creative information is really big, big limitation of SKAdNetwork as we know it. So it's not all coming from bad to great, but there is progress for marketers, for sure.

Peggy Anne Salz: You told us about the good things packed in there. But there's always going to be a downside. It's better than it was but what's the worst part that remains?

Thomas Petit: I guess for me, the worst part here is the uncertainty on the number of things, especially around when is it going to be released, and most importantly, how? And when I say how, I'm quite afraid that the transition period is going to be messy, in the sense that some users are not going to be on the latest OS. Some vendors are not going to be supporting all of the features at first. And for at least a few months, I can see how we're going to have the old one and the new one in parallel. And that's going to be absolutely crazy. And so, this is kind of like a bit uncertainty maybe, and two years from now, this won't be a big one.

But it's also the complexity because Apple is trying to answer some of the marketer's need but at the same time, they have their own goals. And so the multiplication of different system, not only the old one and the new one but within SKAdNetwork 4.0, there are cases where you get some, cases where you get other, and I think organising around that. I hope the final specifications are going to be a bit more developed, because I'm a little bit afraid that how they are put now, especially for smaller advertiser, this is convoluted and hard to understand. Of course, more sophisticated advertiser will deal with it. But it's not simple, short answer. It's not simple.

Peggy Anne Salz: And did I hear, Thomas, did I hear you say that in two years, it will all be okay?

Thomas Petit: I said two years, I didn't say we'll be fine. I said two years. And I didn't pick this number randomly. People underestimate the time it will come, first the time it would be released, which I think is going to be at least six months. Apple say late this year, which to me, doesn't mean it's coming with iOS 16 in September, but rather very end of the year. Then a bit of adoption from advertiser and publisher, I think that part is going to go fast, maximum a quarter. But then users are not necessarily on the latest iOS version. And this might be a problem in a transition period. People overestimate the pace of adoption, because even if 60% of user migrates in a quarter, that leaves like a huge chunk of user who don't.

And I had this problem very recently, like one last week and one this week, with some data from user on iOS 14, that was actually significant chunk of users that were miss-accounting in one case. It's not really important what it was. And then there's also the transition. I mean, if we look back, we're roughly one year from the release of SKAdNetwork, like, in the wild. And there's still a lot of business that are adjusting and testing stuff. And I mean, it's hard to figure out. So let's say one year for everything to be there and then maybe another year to actually figure it out, because it's complex. It depends on the level, of course, some people are going to jump in very fast. But yeah, I think it's going to be more than a year before SKAdNetwork 4.0 is the standard.

John Koetsier: I think you're 100% right because recently on a webinar, we had a poll. You know, how many of you feel good about your implementation of SKAdNetwork, and literally 9% felt good, 9% of the marketers. And we had hundreds. I think it was like 300 marketers on that webinar. All mobile marketers, 9% felt comfortable. So like you said, a year after, there's still so much uncertainty in the market. So, high level, in case somebody has been under a rock, here's what you're going to get with SKAN 4.0. You're going to get three postbacks not one. You're going to get more granularity, potentially, in a new source ID field, which is the old campaign ID field, probably the disappearance of timers. Well, there's some complexity around when those might come or not, in terms of updating conversion values. You get conversion values that go down as well as go up, and some new testing infrastructure, which is good, because, of course, so many people had problems connecting the wires.

You talked a little bit about the complexity here. This really... It seems good. There's more, there's longevity of data. It's not just one postback, there's potentially more data if you beat crowd anonymity or privacy thresholds but there's a lot more to think about here, too, right? There's a lot more complexity.

Thomas Petit: Yeah. There's a lot more complexity. For the most advanced advertiser, this is super welcome, because they will get more data and because they're able to make sense of all the complexity and to understand, okay, I don't have that value, I'm putting it there to deal with it. I think for a lot of advertisers they're already catching the last wave that raise the bar even further, some that not necessarily have the infrastructure to properly ingest all this data. I mean, when you see what we have now, like, people are not finding it easy and increasing the level. Okay, in some cases, I get that value. In some cases, I get no value. In some cases, I've got another value. And then there's another postback that comes and I need to deal with it. I don't think it's going to be easy. Probably some great news for a consultant helping around the topic, but not necessarily for advertisers.

John Koetsier: Job security.

Thomas Petit: Yeah, Apple just gave me two years of guaranteed job, for sure. Thank you, Tim.

John Koetsier: That's awesome. It's not just you. I mean, we need job security too, right? More stuff to talk about, investigate, ask questions.

Peggy Anne Salz: Total mini-series on this. We can keep it going, John. Absolutely. Well, I've been hearing marketers a little bit trying to see the silver lining, the optimistic side perhaps. They're like, "Hey, you know, get more data in your new source ID, the old campaign ID, up to four digits from two." That's good. I heard a lot of people at a dinner recently that I was at, saying, "You know, this is good. This is going to be really good. And then you have enough scale to enable crowd anonymity." So, what do you see marketers...? I'm hearing them say, "This is really good. This is good news." How do you see them using it?

Thomas Petit: Well, for me, there are three directions here. The improvement is how we wanted...we would love to use SKAdNetwork today and we can't. For me, the big elephant in the room is creative. At the end of the day, the game is not won on how I know the latest hack on the Facebook platform or whatnot. It's, how good is your creative? And today, we lost that data. So I guess the biggest change is the way we're going to use this extra information to actually receive data about one creative and another within a campaign. That is a big game-changer because this is how we improve results.

This is also how we understand what users like or not. And even in some audience, what they, let's say, react better to, which eventually leads to better user experience as well, instead of just trying stuff until it works. So I think that's better for everybody. And that's going to be like... That's the first thing I would try to improve is, okay, how do I get better data on creative? And that's probably the level I'm going to focus on. There's one thing that is a little bit annoying for some advertiser right now is we don't get country level postback. So, of course, if you just like, I don't know, advertise all across the U.S., maybe this is not critical, although for a number of advertiser, it is, because they're operating locally. I don't know, delivery or products are not available in all states and so on. That's particularly true internationally. I mean, because of the number we need for this privacy threshold and product anonymity, and for machine learning optimisation, we tend to bundle a lot of geographies together.

So I'm going to carry (SOUNDS LIKE: diatribe) a little bit, but maybe I'm putting all of Latin America together, or I'm putting Canada and Australia and UK together, or some Southeast Asian country together, because their users are a little bit more similar in terms of how they react to my ads and how they monetise and so on. And today, we're completely blind on that. So another level in depth is maybe using location, and Apple quoted it in its example. I find it funny that they didn’t put ad creative in there. They mentioned, besides the companion, you will be able to see two other fields that you decide on. So everybody can make their own choice. And their examples are location, which I think is relevant, even if it's not the most relevant. And the other one is ad placement, which in some case is interesting to get.

I mean, I want to understand if Instagram performs better than Facebook, or YouTube performs better than AdMob, or things like this. But this is secondary compared to the importance of having creative data. So that was kind of funny they didn't pick that example. And so that's definitely the biggest improvement here and how we're going to use it. The second one is, as we geared our product and our campaigns to reaction in the very first experience of the app, and in the majority of cases in the first day, I actually recommend personally against using the timer. Today, even if there are some use cases where it might work, for a number of business is problematic, because the signals of, "Oh, that user is actually interested in my product. And is coming not on Thursday, but is coming maybe after a week or after months."

And so having this timer, like, this new logic, not with a timer, but having a secondary postback and third postback after a week and after a month is really good news because it will help with not a lot of precision, but it will help us understand, like, hey, I've pushed really hard on this particular event on the first day, is this actually converting into cohort that loves my product and retains and interested as well? Not only just return on ad spend, which obviously is what we're aiming for, but also, like, is this actually relevant for the user I'm reaching? And, again, I think this is in everybody's interest so that the design of product is not so hard-core in monetising the first day, but actually enabling people to retain, which is what we want as advertiser, but user at the end of it, I guess they don't install an app to throw it the day after, it's because they are disappointed. So that helps too, and I hope this is good for users as well.

John Koetsier: That's another good segue because I wanted to talk about postbacks. And, of course, now you have the potential of getting three postbacks, first one, zero to 2 days, second one, 3 to 7 days, third one, 8 to 35 days, or something along those lines. And when I first heard those, I thought, "Oh, that's really interesting." And I figured, "Hey, there's a line connecting postback one and two and three." Of course, that's not the case. You don't know that's the postback on the same user, it's cohorted data. That's great. We can reconstruct some cohorts from that. But how do you see marketers using these postbacks because you could get, you know, a postback on day one with no payload, no conversion value. You could get then a postback, you know, for the second one, but you could not get a payload for the third one as well if crowd anonymity is not satisfied, right? So there's some complexity here, correct?

Thomas Petit: Yeah, there's some complexity. One thing that I found not surprising, but I find interesting to mention is that no matter how much data you're sending back, you never get the fine value on those second and third postbacks. So it's either you get none of it, or you get this low medium, high-value, which I think it's fine. And it's already an indication of it, but you never get the full value, no matter what the scale. I guess the way this is going to be used really depends on the product, like, in the sense that we're not aiming for the same thing. Typically, in subscriptions, where I work most, and I guess gaming are going to use this very differently, and even within gaming, probably social casino are not going to use it the same way as casual games and hyper-casual games. But I'll talk about what I'd normally read more.

For subscriptions today, one of the pro is that a lot of trial start on Thursday. Like people start their trial, and then they experience the profit there. So it's decent because we know who's starting the trial or not, which is a decent signal. But it's not great in the sense that a lot of trials actually don't convert to payments. I guess the industry standard is maybe like 40% conversion or something like this. And we never get this. I never know, oh, I'm pushing people into the trial but maybe the cancellation rate is really high, maybe the refund rate is really high. So I guess one of the great thing about these secondary and third postbacks for subscription apps is to try and convert it to actually a subscription and not just a trial, but actually money that's coming because a trial doesn't mean money is coming my way. A trial means some money might come my way or not. And so one direction is definitely coming to this, have the trial converted. And I think that's critical piece of information for subscription apps.

The other one is usage. And it's a bit of like dark secrets, like the kind of things people don't want to say out loud, but there is the correlation between revenue retention and usage retention, sometimes, maybe not in games with subscription. There are like people who do subscribe, but actually never use, people who don't subscribe, but use a lot. And so I guess another direction here is going to be to see, okay, do people actually activate and retain? So that could be, have they reached the 10th meditation, or have they done at least a workout on week 4, or have they applied a filter on their photo between day 8 and 30, or something like this? And I think this is really, really valuable so that we don't gear all our product to pushing people into trial, but actually reconcile a little bit. Okay, I need revenue back, because I mean, this is a company, it needs money to operate, this is not an NGO, but I also want happy user that retained for the long-term and actually optimising for that. And so, the simple way I'm looking at using this second and third postback update is confirming revenue, and having on the side parallel, a view on retention and are people actually happy using the product, which is something that matters a lot.

John Koetsier: That's really, really good insight. And actually, you've got into a few things that we didn't even talk about yet, which is the coarse and the fine values, right? Your first postback could be coarse, if you don't have enough crowd anonymity, not enough users in a cohort or a campaign, but it could be fine, which is up to four digits of data versus the two digits in the old campaign ID. A second, third postback are just coarse values, zero, one, or two. You know, it's three values. It's good, bad, okay, or something like that, whatever you want to decide on that to be. That is actually really interesting to me because you've been forced in SKAN 3.0 and earlier to really put scale into campaigns, in order to maximise signal, in order to minimise data loss to privacy thresholds.

You could theoretically...I'm just thinking out loud. Tell me if you think this is insane. You could theoretically under SKAN 4.0 not worry about scale. You could spread money around a little bit more and say, "You know what? I'm not going to look for my fine values right now. I just want my coarse values even for postback one. And where I see a pocket of interest even, you know, I can record in three values, then I'll put scale there." Would that even be interesting?

Thomas Petit: I'm happy you see the glass half full.

John Koetsier: Oh, no. Okay, rain on my parade. Let's go.

Thomas Petit: Personally, I'm seeing the glass half empty. We will know who's right but we'll only know later because there is a very high uncertainty on what are going to be the new threshold for triggering one and the other. The way I'm seeing it, Apple is extremely careful about the fact that we can't reconcile information and look at user data. And I guess complete, well, yes, I have no clue. But I guess that the privacy threshold for the fine value is going to be high, is going to be higher than it is now. So if I had to guess, I would say privacy threshold are going to remain for the coarse value, like the 0, 1, 2, the general value. Like, if you run this small campaign like you say, it's possible you get none of it because there's also that case where you get nothing, like, at all. So, let's say you want to split up these countries I was talking about before, like, I don't know, I've done an app that's very successful in Chile and Costa Rica.

But those countries, they are too small to get enough data to get the conversion values today. I don't think we're going to get them either in the future. And we'll have to keep battling it. It's just in some cases where I have all of Latin America combined, maybe I'm starting to get like the fine value one. The reason I'm saying I'm seeing the glass half empty, even though there is new thing is, I don't believe it's going to solve that problem at all. I think that problem is going to remain exactly the way it is. Always half full, great. Awesome. Is that, like...? For bigger advertiser, and more sophisticated advertiser, there is a lot of good news here. But I work with a lot of early-stage startup with lower budget.

And to be honest, the first version of SKAdNetwork has been a massive blow for them. They don't have the scale to operate, even in their biggest geography. They don't have the experience to deal with the complexity of conversion value. I don't know. At the beginning... A couple of weeks ago, I was dealing with an advertiser, saying, "Yeah, I want to start advertising on network X. It doesn't really matter who it is. And my budget is $50 per day." And that was a tier-1 country. So typically a country where installs are quite expensive, let's say $5-plus. I was like, "No, but, like, this is money wasted. The network won't be able to learn anything." And it doesn't matter whether it's Facebook, or TikTok, or Google, or whoever. Like, it just can't be done, like, because it needs to be, you're going to throw this money out the window for sure.

And the way I see it, this is making it worse, because that situation is going to remain. I don't expect for it to be a lot improved. And I hope I'll be wrong. But on top of it, they got an extra disadvantage compared to the big ones, which is the big ones today are half blind, and suddenly, they're going to get a little bit more vision on it. But those smaller advertiser won't. It's making the gap even bigger, which is the part that I'm slightly concerned about. I understand that not every objective can be fulfilled, you know. Marketers dream, and fairness in competition and full privacy, like, there are conflicts between those different points.

And this is maybe the negative part of this SKAdNetwork 4.0 version. I didn't want to start with this when you say, what's the worst? So I picked something else. But I think this is still worrying that it, even more, favours the bigger player. It even most favours concentration. And that's fine. I mean, it's okay. It's just I work with a lot of early stage, and this is not going to be making their life any easier. And I don't expect them to receive a lot of this fine value, to be honest.

John Koetsier: So I just want to parse what you said there and make sure that I got it. I know Peggy's got a question on fraud, which we're going to get to in a moment.

Peggy Anne Salz: No, I'm just in shock, actually, John, because think it through. I mean, he's just basically saying, "You know, the mobile app economy that has to be healthy, because there's a long tail and midsize developers. Well, guess what? You're toast. I have to deal with that right now." You parse it, I'll digest it.

John Koetsier: Yeah, well, what I'm thinking is, see, because where my headspace was, okay, now you got the coarse values, Apple will reduce the privacy threshold to get those coarse values. And what Thomas is thinking is actually, this can stay the same, and you'll get those coarse values there. So you'll need that minimum threshold of maybe 30 installs per day per campaign to maybe get decent amount of data, the more the better, obviously. And to get the fine, you're going to need even more. That is just a different way of thinking about it that I haven't thought of. It makes a lot of sense, but yeah, it...

Thomas Petit: I'm just guessing. I hope you're right. I hope I'm wrong on this one. Like a year from now, six years from now, let's call each other again and see. See who owes some beer to the other one. I really hope I'm paying that round.

Peggy Anne Salz: So half blind, startups may be not even on the mark here at all, let's talk about other slightly, possibly depressing outcomes. Still no functionality for fraud, right? So, there's an opportunity to create impressions at will. What do you say about that?

Thomas Petit: I haven't given too deep of a brainstorm onto that topic. It's true that with SKAdNetwork, like some people were completely, "Oh, yeah, attribution is moving on Apple side, fraud is going to go," which I think was completely laughable because, I mean, as long as there's money flowing, there will be fraud, one way or another. It's rather, how easy it is and how easy to catch the fraudster that changed. But wherever there's money, there's fraud. So that's a very legitimate question. I'm actually not entirely sure about how that translates about what Apple might be doing in the background to fight against that. And they typically don't mention any of it. They also typically have to change the stance of, yeah, we're controlling this. Of course, for us, like, there's less transparency about what is going on. But yeah, that one is hard to predict, to be honest. There's a true concern about the possibility that this mechanics might not be solved in the next version, but it remains to be seen when it's in the wild. Like, typically, fraudsters evolve the fastest. And I guess we'll see it soon enough. Yeah, but I'm not too sure how easy it's going to be.

John Koetsier: One thing that was really missing, there are many things, from SKAN 3.0 was web-to-app. Now, we have that back. That is interesting. Do you think that unlocks some potential?

Thomas Petit: On paper, that's fantastic, you know, glass half full. Of course, in the current version, like nothing is planned for web-to-app. I think this is not great, especially a lot of subscription apps are expanding from being app only to have a web activity, whether it's through a web onboarding, or just more presence on the web, and on YouTube, and influencers, and actually have this need not everything is app to app. So this is a recognition from Apple that there is a world out there, and that web-to-app is I belief growing. Five years ago, nobody was using it too much, but now it's becoming like one of the many tools we have. And so that's good recognition, Apple is taking this into account. I'm concerned that we're going to have to wait until SKAdNetwork 5.0 to actually see it in practice. And here, I'm seeing two limitation. They haven't published that much around it. Like, the details haven't been completely released. So, they still have a few months to update. So this is a message I passed. The first one is that this is Safari only, which definitely is a problem. Chrome will not be taken into account for the web-to-app in SKAdNetwork 4.0.

John Koetsier: Are you sure about that? I thought it was simply just a way of constructing a URL.

Thomas Petit: I'm not 100% sure. And I guess we'll have to see. But I've read somebody pretty smart say they think it is. Having actually updated their documentation, I don't know how he got this info.

John Koetsier: It is another thing for a beer bet. This is another thing for a beer bet. My understanding right now is that it's any browser because it's simply a link construction, where you could construct a link and it will notify the SKAN framework, whether locally or in the cloud. But I could be wrong on that. So another beer bet, there we go.

Thomas Petit: Fantastic. Fantastic. And...

Peggy Anne Salz: It sounds like another two-year wait, by the way, guys.

John Koetsier: Not two years.

Thomas Petit: No.

John Koetsier: Not two years, Peggy.

Peggy Anne Salz: He said 10, 5-plus.

Thomas Petit: No, that one we're going to see it straight when it gets released. So I'm not concerned. Hopefully by Christmas. You know, maybe it's going to be a Gluhwein instead, John.

Peggy Anne Salz: A Gluhwein? I love it.

Thomas Petit: Actually, because you mentioned that maybe my second point is also wrong is I read, I think from Alex Bauer, but I'm not sure, that this was planned for ads, but it may or may not work for owned and operated places. So, I was like, "If this is true, and I don't know if it is, that's a problem. Because yeah, I want to expand to like ad network down the web and affiliate and stuff." But a lot of the use case for web-to-app, they're not this. They're from my own website and my own channels and my YouTube channel.

John Koetsier: Yeah, landing page.

Thomas Petit: And I was like, a lot of web-to-app is not an ad. It's just another place where people come from that might be an email. And so, if this is only for advertising, this is disappointing. So let's see, again, on this one. I'm not 100% sure.

John Koetsier: If it actually is a link, if it's a link construction, I don't see how you could make it only for an ad. So that's beer bid number three, Peggy.

Thomas Petit: No, no, those two, they're the same.

John Koetsier: It's going to be a bad day when it actually happens.

Thomas Petit: Those two, they're the same. We bundle them.

Peggy Anne Salz: I was going to say, John, remember when we had Shaman a while back?

John Koetsier: Yes.

Peggy Anne Salz: And he was like, "Oh, web-to-app is huge. And all the companies I'm seeing that are really raking in the revenues, they're doing web-to-app," and I'm just thinking, "Hmm, you know, this is making that less clear and more difficult." It doesn't sound like the way Shaman said that we should be celebrating it, let's just put it that way.

John Koetsier: Well, you know, I'm going to keep to my glass half full thing right here, you know? So I'm going to hope that that's actually pretty simple. It's a link construction and if you have a deep linking vendor or an MMP, you're going to be able to do it, and just manage it. We'll see. We'll see. I think we need to bring this to a close because...

Peggy Anne Salz: I have a question there, John.

John Koetsier: Go ahead. Jump in.

Peggy Anne Salz: Because I have to ask this. Because you've painted a fairly dire picture, Thomas.

Thomas Petit: No, I'm trying to surface both things. It's not like suddenly all the problems are solved, I didn't want to paint it that bad. It's still a great improvement. Like, there's some grey area that needs to be confirmed. But, yeah, it's a step forward. So let's cheer up.

Peggy Anne Salz: I wanted to get that out of you. I didn't want to leave it on that note of like, okay, and now, what are we supposed to do to succeed in this environment? You know, we could end it right here. Good. Excellent.

John Koetsier: Good, good. Good. So we got to end this. Thomas actually just showed us before we started recording his positive test. He's COVID positive right now. Good thing this is all virtual, but he's getting over it. That's good. I'm getting over it. Peggy hasn't had, you know, the pleasure and the privilege yet, but it's coming.

Peggy Anne Salz: Yeah. It's coming. I can feel it.

John Koetsier: Peggy, it's coming. Don't worry about that. So let's bring this to a close this way. We have SKAN 4.0 rolling out sometime. My guess is it's going to be, I don't know, November-ish. I don't think they'll do it pre-Christmas. That would be too grinchy. I mean, you know, December 23rd, or something like that, that'd be to grinchy. What's your top tip for mobile marketers on iOS as SKAN 4.0 rolls out?

Thomas Petit: I guess, because we're before the release, we still keep a little bit in the know, and listen to this kind of content and chat with their peers, that kind of to be ready. You don't need to prep and be ready now. But at least, like, you know what's coming, you know it's on your roadmap, you know more or less, like, at that point, I'm going to have to worry about that. Maybe you can a little bit anticipate about, okay, not everything needs to be done on day zero, if this is how you're gearing your product today. But just like keeping me informed about when it's coming and the big lines, I think is the best thing you can do. So stay informed in the industry. Vendors' blog, independent Slacks, and webinars like this is the best a marketer can do.

There's a lot of uncertainty that needs to be answered. So at the moment, we're getting close to the date. This is where this is going to be most valuable. Obviously of what we say today, like a lot of it is speculative. Let's say that the release is November-ish. October and November is definitely a time where you want to be plug on Mobile Heroes and listen to John and Peggy's invites. And that's my recommendation. It sounds a bit cheesy, but that's really what I think. So, like, you have to stay informed at the right time.

John Koetsier: I think you're right. I think you're right. And the $100 check is in the mail for that little plug.

Thomas Petit: That's going to be quite a few beers, John.

John Koetsier: I know, that's a lot of beer.

Peggy Anne Salz: We're up to four beer bets at this point, guys. We're just going to go for a six-pack at this point, I think.

John Koetsier: Okay. Well, at least the trip expense is expensable, right? I mean, like, probably to Liftoff. We'll tell Dennis about that.

Peggy Anne Salz: Absolutely.

Thomas Petit: Thanks, Dennis.

John Koetsier: Excellent.

Peggy Anne Salz: We want to go on your boat, Thomas. That's what we want.

John Koetsier: Yeah, Thomas, this has been a ton of fun. It's been super informative. As you mentioned, there's a lot we don't know. And so we got some beer bets on that. Thank you so much for taking this time.

Thomas Petit: It was a pleasure to exchange with you. Let's see how this develops. Maybe we will talk again in a couple months, and we'll have even a little bit more clarity. Will be a joy to come back and see what you discovered through the other guests. Thank you very much.

Peggy Anne Salz: Great to have you, Thomas. And I would say that's a date.

Thomas Petit: Date taken.

John Koetsier: Excellent. Thank you so much.

And thank you to all listeners, we really do appreciate you. Hope you're enjoying it. Let us know on social if you are.

Peggy Anne Salz: And let us know if you want to come and we'll have you on the show. If you're a mobile hero or you know of someone who is, then fill out the interest form over at

John Koetsier: Also, Liftoff has a Slack for mobile heroes and people in the mobile ecosystem. There's a link on the screen. And if you're listening to the podcast, it's at It's pretty cool. There's smart people there, and you know what? They probably need you too.

Peggy Anne Salz: And you have probably been completely blown away by all the insights on this show and you want your transcript, and you can have it because the transcripts are over at Liftoff's website, go to click on heroes and then click on podcast.

John Koetsier: I actually personally love transcripts because I read way faster than people talk. So it's a great way to get insights really, really quickly. Until next time, this is John Koetsier. Thank you so much for joining.

Peggy Anne Salz: And this is Peggy Anne Salz signing off for "Mobile Heroes Uncensored."

Jul 13, 2022

App Store Optimization: Free Money?

Can you run user acquisition at scale without app store optimization? Probably not without wasting a lot of money, according to Taha Karsli from MobileAction.

In this episode of Mobile Heroes Uncensored, we chat with Karsli about key ranking factors on Google Play and the App Store, reviews, fitting ASO into an overall mobile growth strategy, and how frequently you should update your app listings.

We also get insight into: 

  • The most misunderstood thing about ASA
  • The least utilized tactic that could be big
  • The most common mistake
  • And the biggest opportunities

33 min

John Koetsier: Can you run user acquisition at scale without App Store optimization? How important is it, really? What all factors into ASO, and what kind of boost can you achieve when you have great optimization for the App Store and Google Play? Welcome to “Mobile Heroes Uncensored.” My name is John Koetsier. My co-host, as usual, is Peggy Anne Salz, and today, we're chatting about optimizing your app listings. Peggy, who's our expert?

Peggy Anne Salz: Well, John, we continue our world tour of data and intelligence companies. Today we're talking to Taha Karsli, head of partnerships at Mobile Action, which is a user acquisition solution for paid and organic mobile growth that helps more than 300,000 marketers up their game and become more visible on the App Store and Play Store.

Before joining Mobile Action, Taha founded a B2C startup, advised seed-stage startups, so he's really a serial entrepreneur. And he did a stint as a podcast host doing fireside chats with founders and investors in Silicon Valley. Yeah. So he’s in his element here with us, John, obviously, because he's on this podcast with us today. Taha, great to have you on “Mobile Heroes.”

Taha Karsli: Hey, Peggy. Hey, John. I'm glad to be here and thanks for having me.

John Koetsier: We are super-pumped to have you, as well. Welcome. And just a note for everybody who is listening or watching, if my voice sounds a little husky, and if I had cleared it once in a while, I just came off COVID and so I'm feeling a little bit of that right now. And if you notice that my face looks a little different, I just had some surgery to remove some skin cancer, so I'm looking prettier than ever, Peggy. But, hey, we are good to go here. Let's start here, Taha. What data do you provide to assist in App Store optimization, suggestions, rankings, and general mobile growth?

Taha Karsli: So, we are a mobile intelligence company. We started off with our intelligence story with the ASO intelligence side of things. And now we provide intelligence data on four modules that we can say. The first is obviously the ASO. The second is the market intelligence, which we provide download revenue, DAU and MAU estimates. And also we do have an ad intelligence module and also an STK intelligence.

And on the other side, we do have a platform called, which is an official Apple Search Ads partner as a campaign management platform. And we help thousands of Apple Search Ads advertisers to scale their budget and be more visible on the App Store.

Peggy Anne Salz: So that tells us what you do and how you're helping marketers, but let's dive a little deeper into what exactly the role of App Store optimization is in an overall mobile growth strategy. You talked about paid and organic. What about ASO? What role does that play?

Taha Karsli: So I would say when it comes to mobile growth, especially in the user acquisition side of things, I believe we cannot think of paid acquisitions separately than App Store optimization, because what you do on one side visibly affects the other side.

Let's say that if you do great ASO, your branding campaigns will probably perform better. And if you do, let's say, proper UA, you'll have more downloads, more reviews, more word of mouth, more social proof, and you'll be more visible on the App Store. And that's one of the things as well, because people will be switching for your solution, or not necessarily your solution, but a solution in your niche or your genre. That will also help.

And also since the App Store doesn't differentiate downloads like paid and organic, let's say that attracting installs to some search terms on UA side, let's say on the Apple Search Ads side, will also have a positive impact on your organic rankings for those specific keywords as well. So I think App Store optimization and paid UA, especially Apple Search Ads, have a strong interdependence between each other.

John Koetsier: I like that you put it that way, that they're interdependent, because, I mean, way back in the midst of app time, you know, you kind of felt like if you really nailed App Store optimization really, really well, you know, maybe you could grow just based on that, right? There wasn't too much competition in a niche. And maybe kind of almost like web search, if you totally nail SEO, even today in certain niches, you can get a lot of organic traffic. That's really, really hard right now. But let's talk about the difference between somebody who's well optimized and somebody who's poorly optimized. What kind of differentiation do you see? How much difference is there between someone who's totally nailed on ASO and an app that's just not well optimized?

Taha Karsli: Yeah. That's a great question because I think, you know, when it comes to ASO, there's no destination point that you can arrive at in terms of optimization. You can always do more to increase your rankings and your presence. But I believe whether you do great ASO, whether you do have an in-house team or an external support mechanism who helps you with ASO, or you just have your own time, there are really good low-hanging fruits for you to optimize your ASO by yourself. But, you know, even if you go to any, let's say, ASO expert in our industry, if you ask them, “Can you give me, like, a five-minute audit just by looking at my app?” They can quickly identify some points that you can do better.

If I were to come back to your question, and, yes, I believe there's a big difference between an app which does proper ASO versus an app that is, let's say, barely optimized. And I think a good example is that we do have gaming app clients which started to do ASO and Search Ads with us. And prior to doing a proper ASO on iOS, they were ranking for a little more than 200 keywords, which was the typical ranking condition of the similar apps in their genre. Other than, you know, really few big apps, there weren't many apps that were ranking for much of keywords. And actually, most of those 200 keywords were low-ranking keywords, so, like, below ranking 10. So in terms of traffic, they're not a good source of downloads.

And shortly after two months, they implemented our ASO and ASA framework, and now their rankings for apps went from 200 keywords to more than 2,000 keywords. And I personally attribute 50% of the success to doing improvements on ASO.

John Koetsier: Nice. And that, of course, had a big impact on their, I guess, two things, right? One, number of downloads, but also conversion rate?

Taha Karsli: I wouldn't say necessarily, but if you do optimization on acquiring your users through high intent keywords on ASO, I think that's a good strategy to increase conversion rates.

Peggy Anne Salz: So there's a lot you can do to cash in on some low-hanging fruit, as you said. Won't ask you about the low-hanging fruit necessarily, but I do want to understand the differentiators and the key factors. What are they, for example, on the App Store that you're watching, or marketers need to watch?

Taha Karsli: So I will say we can start off by the things that affect your ranking. So the first will be obviously your title. And this is the best keyword real estate that you can possibly use to do ASO. And what I would do if I were an app marketer to do ASO, I would first do a keyword research and find the top keywords in terms of traffic in my genre. And I will add the ones who are the most relevant to my app, to my title, which we do see it like in the industry, everybody…not everybody, but most of the apps who do ASO follow a similar strategy.

And the second thing will be the subtitle. I believe it's also low-hanging fruit for some apps, because I see a reputable amount of apps using their subtitle, not really efficiently, because sometimes they repeatedly use their brand name, sometimes they are not using it to put some high intent keywords there. And I think, you know, this is good real estate. You can have 30 characters to put whatever you want, but I will suggest to use this place wisely and use some keywords that you would rather put on your title, but you couldn't because you didn't have enough real estate, which you have another place and you can put them.

And the third thing will be your App Store Connect keywords. And here you have 100 characters. And personally, I would use this place to put keywords that I would have the higher chance of ranking. So these keywords will essentially be, I mean, relatively low competition keywords. And I will relatively use here the shorter keywords than the longer ones, because here I can use them without forming a sentence or doing any type of visual makeup, let's say. So I would use here to put some really good high intent, low competition keywords.

And some things to avoid here can be, like as a tip, we can avoid using a single keyword, both plural and single versions. So we will not spend time on two of them. And, yeah, I believe, on the ranking side, these three are basically it. But other than the factors that affect rankings, of course, ASO doesn't end there. There are other things that we will, I believe, discuss. I think Peggy would not stop here talking about ASO.

Peggy Anne Salz: That's for the App Store. Key factors for Google Play?

Taha Karsli: Yeah. I would say, similar to the App Store, you have your title, and rather than subtitle, you have your short description, which is the equivalent of the subtitle on the App Store. And in the short description, you have 80 characters, and I will use here to explain the true value proposition of the app. And, for instance, I believe Uber at some point were using something like, “Know your fare before riding.” So it's a really good use case.

So, like, it says, you know, “This is a ride-hailing app,” it probably says in the title. And it says, “{Inaudible 00:11:19} value propositions. You will know the fare before you’re riding.” So I believe today in this world, it is too odd that you wouldn't see a fare before riding in a ride-hailing app, but back then, probably, like, I believe was something like 2017 or 2018, it was a really good subtitle to put in.

And also, other than the short description, you have a long description, which is 4,000 characters. And there are lots of good use cases to utilize this place. But since on the Google Play side of things, the keyword density is something that affects ASO, in that case, I would repeat some keywords multiple times to signal that my app is very much related to it, and I should be ranked by it. So in that way, you know, rather than just throwing them randomly, like, let's say I'm a meditation app, I wouldn't say, “Meditation for kids, meditation for adults, meditation for sleeping, meditation for that in this.”

I would probably say, you know…form sentences that add value. So, for instance, let's say, Spotify at some point was using something like, “Listen to music and podcast on your tablet for free.” This is a really good use of this because you use “listen,” you use “music,” you use “podcast,” and you use “for free” in one sentence, and is not {inaudible 00:12:43}, is as perfect as it can get it. It tells about {inaudible 00:12:46}, it gives you a reason to download, and it's perfect.

So I will form sentences like that to…both would include some good keywords for me, and also for people to read it easily. And I believe, in some senses, you know, for me, I'm a skimmer more than a reader when it comes to the App Store readings. So forming these descriptions, if you were to show me your keywords in the right places, I will just see, “Okay, listen, free, and that and this,” and I will be more inclined to download the app. So if I were an app marketer, I would probably write my copy for skimmers, while being mindful about not throwing keywords out there, just forming visually propelling sentences.

John Koetsier: I like that Spotify example because I like something that reads well, and yet has the keywords and the SEO, if you will, that it needs to have for good ASO. It's always funny for me when I look at keywords, and titles, and subtitles, especially titles, because I just imagine the backroom conversations between the brand people and the performance people. And they're like, “That's the name of our brand. That's our app, and we don't want to, you know, litter it with 15 keywords afterward.”

And I get that and I understand that, and there's going to be some levels of compromise there depending on your position in the market, how good you are, how much money you have to spend, and how much you got brand people who really, really care. Let's talk about reviews. Apps are always asking for you to review them, especially after you've used them well for a long period of time, or won something, might be in a good mood about them. How important are reviews?

Taha Karsli: Getting reviews and having a proper rating is something top of the mind, is something amazing. But, of course, you know, in terms of rating, if I should give a tip about that, if your ranking is less than three and a half stars, if I were to join a company as a ASO manager, or if someone asks me an opinion about their app, if I see something like that, I will say, you know, “This should be the number one priority.” Because, you know, of course, maybe the rating and reviews are not one of the top factors that affect the rankings and the ASO, if you think in a nutshell, but it is something that is really strong for social proof. If people see your app is getting lots of bad reviews, it is not something that I want to download personally as a consumer.

And some other tips could be on reviews. First, I would always try to be responsible on not only the good reviews, but also the negative ones as well, because it's always good to see that a brand is picking up on the bad reviews, whether mobile or {inaudible 00:15:43}, it doesn't matter, you know. When you see a brand being responsive and caring about their customers, it's something that, I think, makes a difference between other apps.

And also, if someone is giving you a review about a bug or a problem about your service, it's a good chance to give replies as well, because at that point they will say that, “Okay, they're caring about these problems, you know. If my app crashes, if something happens, they will probably take care of me as well.” So when we take these things into concentration, I think replying to reviews shows that you are caring for your customers.

I think, you know, another tip could be like taking a look at the bigger picture of your reviews. You can look at them separately, you can look at them one by one, you can get some intelligence around that, but I think getting an aggregate level of insight on your reviews is one of the best insights that you can get when it comes to your customers, because whenever I want to download an app or, like, whenever I'm considering some options about my app, I always go to Mobile Action like as a customer. I look up their most mentioned keywords in their reviews and the rankings of these keywords.

So, like, it tells me, most of the time, if I look at the FinTech app, I see customers are mentioning how, let's say, interest rates are, for instance, or how their customer service are. I'm seeing the “service” keyword mentioned 400 times in the last two months. So, like, those things are giving a good indication of how that app is known by their customers. So I believe, in terms of showing care about the customer, reviews are a really good place to utilize.

John Koetsier: Yeah. It's interesting. I mean, if I'm looking at an app, I'm certainly going to look at the overall rating, but I'm also going to click on all the five stars. I'm going to read a few of them. And if they all sound like they're super-canned, then I know that somebody's bought a lot of reviews, and I'm going to steer clear of that. And I'm going to click on the one star, and then I'm going to read those because I want to know, you know, are there real problems with the app? Is it subscription and somebody was charging, and they couldn't stop the charges or whatever? Yeah. So they are useful, at least not just social proof, but also in conversion rates as well. Awesome. Thank you.

Peggy Anne Salz: We talked about how important the reviews are, and that's how you engage an audience, get my attention. I'm reading it, I'm saying, “Oh, this app, there's a lot about service. I'm looking for service. This might be the match.” That's one thing. But the other way that you make an impression is literally, you know, a picture tells a thousand words here. App images, for example, what are you seeing? What works best?

Taha Karsli: So I think just because the screenshots are shown in the search results, it's a good opportunity to do conversion optimization on this front, because, you know, the best screenshots I saw so far have some common attributes that they have. And I think, in a sense, you know, creative can sometimes be like math, if you think about it. And there are some common best practices that people do in order to have better conversion rates. When people search on something, we do have these three big screenshots from the App Store. And even if we do have more than three, those three very much affect the tap-through rates between our impressions and installs.

So I will say the best screenshots that I saw in the industry, first they put value propositions and competitive advantages in the first three screenshots. And since these three screenshots will be shown on the search results is a good strategy, because in the search results, they will also see the other apps as well.

And the second thing I will say, showing the coverage and the quantity of things about your app is also a good strategy. Some things like, you know, let's say that for a streaming app, it could be you can find 70 million songs in this app, or, let's say, you know, for a meditation or relaxing sounds app, you can say that, you can relax with more than hundreds of guided meditations. And most quantitative things are also something that customers care about, you know. I believe that indicates if that app is a seasoned app and they do have a good amount of content that they can use moving on, rather than just having few content.

And the third thing will be, I will do constant A/B testing on doing my screenshots because, relatively, the first idea that I have about my screenshots doesn't necessarily have to be the best idea. So I will try to A/B test new ideas, mostly on the first three screenshots to see which one works better. And lastly, I think one of the most exciting features, at least by Apple, one of them is custom product pages. So on the paid acquisition side, I will say this will also help you increase your conversion rates, and there are some ad networks that you can use custom product pages now. And this, I believe, is still in the early days of the adaptation, but will be something that apps will drive better conversion rates moving forward.

John Koetsier: Okay. Now, I want to do five quick questions, like literally 20-second answers, the first thing that comes to mind. And we'll start here. What's the most misunderstood thing about ASA?

Taha Karsli: I would say, in general, CPAs are higher than some other ad networks. I understand that CPA is an important metric for app marketers. But when it comes to Apple Search Ads, I wouldn't necessarily worry about CPAs because what I see today in the app advertisement market is companies are more conservative on spending, but they're more focused on driving LTV ROIs instead of CPA or CAC. So I think, you know, Apple Search Ads is a good channel to drive better ROIs.

John Koetsier: Second question, least utilized tactic that could be big?

Taha Karsli: I would say, on Apple Search Ads side, it will be discovery campaigns, but in a systematic way. Sometimes I hear from companies that they tried discovery campaigns but it didn't work for them, but I believe if they were to solve their challenges on keyword finding, optimizing their campaign structure, and getting insights for iteration, I believe discovery campaigns would be the best way to scale their spend.

John Koetsier: Third one, most common mistake in Apple Search Ads?

Taha Karsli: I would say relying on less intelligence data and more guesswork when it comes to keywords, because at the end of the day, the best way to find valuable keywords is through looking at the data. And when you invest in profitable keywords, when things start to pick up, you will have better ROIs and you can reinvest into Apple Search Ads more, and in that way, it's no scale to scale the spending.

John Koetsier: Fourth quick question, biggest opportunity you see in ASO?

Taha Karsli: I would say really trying to do more optimization on the screenshots, because creative is getting more and more important. Rather it's on the listing pages on the ad creatives, I would try to do more optimization on the screenshot side.

John Koetsier: And finally, how frequently should you update your App Store listing or Google Play listing?

Taha Karsli: It depends, depends on your category and depends on whether you have something new to share with your users. But there are some use cases. For instance, if you were to look at Calm, a meditation app, within this year, we see that the longest period that they didn't update their App Store listing was three weeks. And they update their app around every 2 weeks to 10 days since January. But if you look at one of their main competitors, Headspace, we also see that the longest they didn't update their listing was three weeks between their two updates, but other than a few exceptions, they release the new update almost every week.

So they're pretty much a similar app, they’re a meditation app, but they do update their apps…the frequency is different. I would say there's no single answer to that. The best way to know would be testing and seeing how your updates will affect your rankings. But I will suggest marketers to be patient on seeing some results because it can take some time to see direct results from the rankings.

Peggy Anne Salz: Well, Taha, when we kicked it off we said we're continuing our world tour of data companies. That's what we're doing when we have this miniseries. We're looking at the data marketers need to pay attention to because, of course, data is everything. Data-driven marketing, if you don't have data, you're driving your business blind. Where does Mobile Action and the information you provide on those datasets fit in with all the other datasets that marketers need to pay attention to?

Taha Karsli: The current capabilities for marketers to manage both paid and organic UA efforts together is not enough in the market. So what I think the next big thing in the mobile world would be to close the gap between organic and paid acquisition. So at Mobile Action, our goal is to achieve that, and we are trying to provide solutions that will bring the paid and organic side together, especially on the ASO and Apple Search Ads side of things, because on the keyword side, we talked about with John that these two have a strong interdependence.

And I believe having an intelligence around the organic side, and also the paid side altogether, will be something that marketers will benefit very much, that we don't have a platform like that today, but Mobile Action is on a mission to become that. And today we already have some really great features which merge these two sides of the UA, but in the future, it's going to be more clear.

John Koetsier: That's pretty interesting to me, and I just want to dig into that a little deeper. We do have a scenario where you seem to have, in some sense, separate teams, certainly separate datasets for your paid acquisition and your organic acquisition. And what you're saying is you need to merge that data and merge the insights between those in order to have a more holistic overview, I guess, of how your app is growing or how it needs to grow? Is that true?

Taha Karsli: Yeah. I will say a good example of that is, let's say that I want to track some keywords on the ASO side on my iOS app, and I do have, let's say, a thousand keywords tracked on my ASO tool. If I were to have my Apple Search Ads data about those organic keywords that I'm tracking, it would be a good indication to see which keywords that I can use for my next update.

Let's say that on the Apple Search Ads side of things, I do have some keywords that I'm getting really good conversion rates out of it. It's a really good time for me to, maybe I should include them in my subtitle in my next update. So things like that, I think, start to be more clear. We do have lots of clients who do use our tool in different teams. Some creative teams use our ad intelligence. ASO teams use our ASO intelligence. And paid acquisition teams use Search Ads. And pretty much, they do use intelligence capabilities and they try to merge this data in some campaigns and projects. So we don't want them to do any hands-on work. We want to show these insights right on the platform.

John Koetsier: Excellent. Let's end here. We always ask everybody on the show for their top tip. We're going to ask you for one around Apple Search Ads. What's your top tip for mobile marketers who are using ASA?

Taha Karsli: So, my top tip for marketers on Apple Search Ads will be having the willingness and framework for testing and iteration. So there are basically three main challenges I see today on Apple Search Ads. I think, you know, it's good to mention. The first thing is finding the keywords. The second thing is optimizing the campaign structure. And the third thing is finding insights about how your campaigns are performing and iterating based on them. So for the first thing, to find keywords, you can always get more intelligence data on both organic and paid keywords on your genre to build on more keywords that can bring you good value.

And on the campaign optimization side, which is like you have to constantly change your daily caps if you are running on scale for, let's say, tons of keywords. It's always good to find ways to be more wise with your budgets, like automating your billing processes and getting notified about your, you know, let's say, daily cap hitting its endpoint and your campaign is getting exhausted by some keywords, and some of the keywords are not getting barely any impressions. So things like that will make you more intelligent on iterating your campaign structure.

And also, you know, always turning back where you started and looking at the data that we have to better iterate. I believe, you know, we always mention in whatever sense we talk about Mobile Action’s intelligence, whatever we say is, doesn't make sense unless it's backed by data. So it's always good to see your own data, but not only your data, as an app marketer will pretty much benefit from looking at your competitors in your genre to get inspiration and also see how they’re strategizing so you can also position yourself better.

John Koetsier: Very good, Taha. Thank you so much for your time.

Taha Karsli: Yes. This was amazing. Thanks for having me.

Peggy Anne Salz: And thanks for some insights into how advertisers can also scale on Apple Search Ads as well. Thanks, Taha.

Jul 6, 2022

UA for Call of Duty: Learning From Activision’s Sr. Manager of Growth Strategy

Does your creative drive targeting? Does your creative answer questions? Do you offer video ads like cinematic trailers for the CTR and gameplay videos for retention?

In this episode of Mobile Heroes Uncensored, we chat with Activision’s Senior Manager of Growth Strategy, Thanasi Chalkiadakis, who shares how he drives growth for one of the most iconic game franchises of all time, Call of Duty.

With hosts John Koetsier and Peggy Anne Salz, we dive into:

  • Mobile growth at Activision
  • Working on Call of Duty
  • Lifecycle marketing
  • Creative strategy
  • Targeting in an age of privacy
  • Top tips for growing games in 2022

29 min

John Koetsier: Today is a super special day for "Mobile Heroes Uncensored." We're always talking to stars, of course. But there are some days that just really stand out. Hello, and welcome. My name is John Koetsier. My co-host, of course, is Peggy Anne Salz, who is a star in her own right. This is Mobile Heroes Origin Stories where we go in depth one on one with mobile marketing experts. And usually, let's be honest, you can count the age of a company that we're chatting to, guest that works at, on one hand, you know, maybe two hands. This is mobile after all. But today's guest is from a company that was founded in 1979. It's kind of outrageous for a company in the mobile game space. Just one of their titles would give their name away, but they have multiple iconic game franchises. One of them is Tony Hawk, ever heard of it? The other is Crash Bandicoot. And the big kahuna, of course, is Call of Duty. Peggy, who are we chatting with?

Peggy Anne Salz: Just about to say John, you know, I'm binging "Stranger Things" currently, and one of the years in it is 1979. So I'll look at that. One of those games will be in there. Yes, indeed, we have a veteran in many ways because we have Thanasi Chalkiadakis. He is Senior Manager Growth Strategy at Activision. Yes, it brought us Call of Duty. But he brings us more because growth and relationships are the story of his life. You wouldn't know it, maybe John, to look at him, but his life is all about being with family. He started his family's restaurant where knowing your customer, of course, was the first step to repeat purchases, shall we say, of a different kind.

At Activision, he's all about acquiring high value players to fuel growth and retention. His career there started in mobile rather, at Disruptor Beam, where he was UA manager. After that, he worked at Scopely as senior user acquisition manager, before moving to GSN Games where he was a UA manager and team lead. And he's not just interested in growth, driving growth, he loves driving, period. He has his own podcast as well, "Money Shift," bringing us cool automotive news and reviews. And I want to say he won a new viewer because my cousin, who's also Call of Duty, right, and my husband are all in. And I don't know about you, John, but I have a new appreciation of all the joys and features of the Ford Maverick. Thanks to Thanasi because I went back and looked at the back catalogue. So it's great to have you, Thanasi.

Thanasi Chalkiadakis: Appreciate it. Thank you for having me. And your $10 is in the mail.

John Koetsier: Ten dollars? That's $100, dude, inflation.

Peggy Anne Salz: That's $100.

Thanasi Chalkiadakis: Well, I'll have to see if I can scrounge somebody for the couch.

Peggy Anne Salz: Not to mention the Ford Maverick plug here, right?

Thanasi Chalkiadakis: Yeah, I'll get forward on that as well.

John Koetsier: Exactly. So, in prep with Peggy, you said you always wanted to be a mobile hero. I mean, you know, we get that. I mean, who doesn't, right? But why specifically did you want to be a mobile hero?

Thanasi Chalkiadakis: Yeah, so I have had the opportunity to work with a couple mobile heroes in the past. Margarita Vasilevskaya was one of the big ones. And it just always stood out to me as like a core pillar of an achievement in the mobile UA space, right? Actors have the Oscars, we have Mobile Heroes. So for me, that was always something that I was striving for, for sure.

John Koetsier: You're here. You made it. You're at the summit. How does it feel?

Thanasi Chalkiadakis: So I'm getting married in a month. And I'll be honest, it's similar feelings to that. Don't tell my fiancée in the sense that I'm equating these to. But what I'm trying to say is it sort of didn't feel real until it was, right? Like, I got nominated, went through the whole process, that was super great. But now, seeing the publications and other things come out of this, it's sort of really becoming real, much like I'm sure my wedding isn't going to hit me until the day of that, "Wow, this is actually happening." So, yeah, no, it feels great.

John Koetsier: This is going on the business card, Peggy. This is going on the business card. He's going to walk up to people at the wedding, you know, "I'm a mobile hero. So you know, I'm a mobile hero." They left the spandex at home just for the wedding.

Thanasi Chalkiadakis: Totally.

John Koetsier: But, you know, total mobile hero. Okay, let's dive into the actual stuff we're going to talk about here. What is it like working on mobile growth at Activision?

Thanasi Chalkiadakis: Yeah, I think the intro says it all, right? This is a company that's been around since 1979 and crosses not only PC but console. And then under the same umbrella, there's also King with Candy Crush, right? So there's various levels of experience and massive titles here, so having the opportunity to work with these really, really large IPs. Something I'm used to at least on the TV side, working with like "Star Trek" and "Walking Dead" and things like that, but never a sort of owned IP like a Call of Duty and the magnitude that that brings, something on par with we're actually exceeding things like a Marvel. It's pretty, pretty incredible.

Peggy Anne Salz: One other thing that's incredible is your background. I hinted at it, at the start, right, because you started out at your parents restaurant. And your life has been like "My Big Fat Greek Wedding." Your life will be in a month "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," when you have your wedding. What has been your career progression? Tell me about that.

Thanasi Chalkiadakis: Yeah, "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" is 100% correct. Parents were immigrants from Greece to the States, started out in the restaurant, you know, at the ripe age of 12, working with different customers and things of the like, manning the register, doing the whole nine. But post college, I started out doing marketing for colleges and universities with an agency, which was great. It was sort of a trial by fire as most agencies are. But my two passions really are gaming and automotive. So I was always looking for a way to get in that field. A small, super small gaming company at the time, Disruptor, being popped up. They're a company that makes titles with popular TV shows. So there was a "Star Trek" title, a "Walking Dead" title, a "Game of Thrones" title. And that was really what thrusted me into the mobile realm, and never looked back from there.

So it was a ton of fun to be at Disruptor being this small sort of scrappy startup in Central Massachusetts, of all places, for a gaming company. From there, I went to LA as most growth managers do. It's either LA or San Francisco, right, for a short stint. I chose the better weather and the slightly cheaper cost of living, I would say. That might get some argument, but it is what it is. But my ties are always East Coast. So I had the opportunity to move back east working with CarGurus and GSN. And then it feels very weird to say, and I don't mean this to sort of put COVID in a positive light, but thanks to COVID opening up work from home as a potential permanent ability or something to do. I had the opportunity to reach out and work with former co-workers and join the Activision ship working on Call of Duty mobile products.

Peggy Anne Salz: You also had the opportunity to draw from your growth marketer background to really thinking about how to keep players coming back. Now, that doesn't come naturally. That comes from somewhere. Tell me about the talents, the traits. What has helped you become not just a better growth marketer but a marketer overall that's looking at, again, the entire lifecycle.

Thanasi Chalkiadakis: Totally, honestly, and this is going to sound super corny to say, but for me, the restaurant experience early on was sort of that cornerstone that helped build everything else. Interfacing and working with, you know, net new people as a 12-year-old really gave me a lot of confidence to try to bridge a lot of gaps that some other folks potentially might not, right? Like, I think a lot of folks are potentially hesitant to sort of send that Slack message to someone on another side of the org or speak up in a meeting with folks that aren't just UA people or marketing folks, depending on what org you're in. But doing that at 12 and interfacing with random people just started that sort of curious nature, to be confident enough, to ask, and to deal with whoever, whenever, with whatever at a really early age. So as much as I didn't like it at the time, I'm going to be honest with you, there was nothing worse than leaving grade school to go to work instead of your friend's sleepover, I'm very thankful for that now and what it was able to help me achieve.

John Koetsier: Mom and dad are proud. That was so good. I think that's awesome. And I'm getting super hungry. It's almost lunchtime where I am. Greek food is literally the best. I mean there's nothing better than chicken souvlaki, right? Is there anything better in the world than chicken souvlaki? Peggy got to say yes. I mean, come on. But anyway.

Peggy Anne Salz: I'm a bifteki person myself, I have to say.

Thanasi Chalkiadakis: Both people with exquisite palates already. I can tell.

John Koetsier: So you grew up with that sense of community. But you've also built that into a passion for lifecycle marketing. Talk about lifecycle marketing here and why that matters to you, why you focus on that.

Thanasi Chalkiadakis: Yeah, for me, now more than ever, every point of the funnel is very important, especially with larger titles like the Call of Duty. I can say with a high degree of certainty that we've probably hit every single big Call of Duty fan out there, right? This game has been out there for three years. We have a decent marketing budget. And as a result, it's safe to say that we're using all the big platforms, the Liftoffs, the other folks in the world, that we've hit these folks that just Call of Duty is in their blood. So now, once you get past year two or three, it becomes more than that. Not only are you trying to get more net new people, but you're also trying to find ways to keep those folks engaged, right?

So it's different marketing campaigns that are tailored towards those folks to bring them back in. You're really completing that circle. It's not just the net new, but it's, you know, your diehard faithful that just haven't played for a while and you need to showcase or want to showcase the new things that they maybe would love and would love to reincorporate into their lives. So the lifecycle aspect becomes more and more important, especially when you're dealing with large titles like a Call of Duty. But it's important for all games. Honestly, it's a lot easier post year three to reacquire your faithful users than it is to find that net new to plug that gap. So, for me, it is super important.

John Koetsier: Do you have to interface significantly with product there? I'm just thinking personally, I have a mobile game that I play. And somehow, I've gotten into this thing where my scores aren't totalling up anymore. And I keep getting set against…battles against these really beginning weak players. And I'm murdering them. I'm literally on like a 40 game win streak right now. And it's killing me. I mean, I'm winning. That's good. But that's not fun. I mean, if you're talking lifecycle marketing and you want a player for months, or years, not days, are you talking to product and working with them regularly?

Thanasi Chalkiadakis: Definitely. And I think this speaks to the, my life is "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" even more so. I think in order to have that full lifecycle marketing POV, you really need the folks over at product on your side, right? I'm a big proponent of no one should know the introductory funnel quite like a user acquisition professional, right? No one should know what happens that D0 to D30 quite like someone in UA, because you need to know what you're showcasing in the app. You need to know what your big KPIs are. So you should know those tutorial moments, those gotcha moments, all of that. You should have all of that baked out. But past D30, that's sort of been optional for the UA person, right? Like, I don't necessarily need to know what event is six months down the road. But you bet your bottom dollar that someone from product does.

So combining that POV, speaking with them routinely, understanding how the long term sort of propositions of this game of all really helps you as a marketer then complete that lifecycle. Without that conversation, without that narrative, without that interaction, whatever you want to call it, it's impossible for you to efficiently retarget, reengage and bring back folks because you can work in new events, you can work in new skins, new tournaments, what have you, but you wouldn't be able to do so if you're not interfacing with the folks over on product.

John Koetsier: What's the biggest misconception you've seen that marketers have around lifecycle marketing?

Thanasi Chalkiadakis: Yeah, I think one of the biggest misconceptions folks have on lifecycle marketing is that, "It's just net easy and it's so low. I'm going to double, triple, quadruple down on this," right? You just need to talk to your other teammates. They're great people. They want to talk to you as well. What I found is every time I interface with someone on the product side, if they don't know what user acquisition is, they want to know. And then when they know, they do things differently, you do things differently, you're communicating, you're learning your own metrics because you're communicating to someone who maybe has never heard them before, and then at the same time, they're committing their efforts to you. So, overall, it's something that is really huge. UA isn't this siloed beast. We're not the people in the back closet that get the scraps at the end of the day and just told no light, no windows. You know, we're people too and we're part of the team, so we should interface with folks across the org as a result.

John Koetsier: "We're people too," that's the new motto.

Peggy Anne Salz: I'm thinking the t-shirt, "UA are people too."

Thanasi Chalkiadakis: Totally.

Peggy Anne Salz: So you talk about what it's like, you know, working with a team, communicating, and you're thinking about ways to win back people like John. You have to get better players to play him, to get him back. So it's all about, you know, communicating in many directions. Now, I'd like to dive a bit deeper into the tactics here. It's one thing to get him a great opponent, right? But it's another to get his cohort excited. So tell me a little bit about the ad creatives that work best at different stages of the player adventure?

Thanasi Chalkiadakis: Totally, yeah. So, the net new user, right, benefits from really two distinct types. We're talking gameplay where you're showcasing specifically what the title has to offer, or you're talking about these flashy cinematics that bring people in because they're intrigued by the message that you're portraying. There's a lot of companies that do this well outside of Activision. We see Supercell has awesome TV ads that don't necessarily show gameplay but it's really, really interesting and you want to be a part of that org, right? And then as you sort of get to the later portion of a player's lifecycle where you want to bring them back in, your messaging shifts, right? They know the gameplay. They’ve played it. Oftentimes, when you're retargeting people, you're bringing back the John's of the world that are your clear players. They know everything about the game. They've spent in the game, hopefully. Or if they haven't, they're close to that, right?

So what you're showcasing in your creative is probably like three different things. It could be different skins. Maybe you're bringing back a legacy character that was very popular two years ago, that now they have the opportunity to put back in their arsenal. Maybe these are people that are collectors, right? And having that option to get something legacy is very appealing. But then there's also tournaments. Maybe there's an event, right, Clash of Titans, Clash of Champions, right, where you're targeting all of these high value players and this is their chance to sort of showcase why they are or what they are in the game, their status, right? You're sort of playing on that role. And then the last is just if there's anything net new in the product itself, right? Maybe there's a new feature. Maybe there was a previous pain point.

I know on the Disruptor Beam side, back in the day, we had this collector sorter. Star Trek Timelines was very much a game where you wanted to collect all of the "Star Trek" characters, right? If you are a big fan of "Star Trek," you wanted them all. But you had no proper way to sort through them. So when we implemented a sorting feature, we showed that in creative and it brought back people, right, because it's a quality of life improvement. So you're sort of thinking outside of this gameplay cinematic box and trying to find ways that appeal to folks to bring them back in.

Peggy Anne Salz: And to understand, I'm just curious, to tell you the truth, because you're talking about it in such depth. You must have like your favourite ad creative or your ad creative formula for nailing it at a certain stage. What can you share there, maybe even walk me through one?

Thanasi Chalkiadakis: Yeah, I think…and I've talked about this in the past, and it probably bears repeating that ad creative overall sets the tone for a lot of targeting in campaigns, right, now more than ever. A lot of targeting is getting pulled back. We're losing a lot of it. The Facebook and the Googles of the world are removing it, which is totally fine. But now, it shifts the levers that we have to pull and a lot of that is creatives. So for myself, because it's so dependent on title, it's more thematic, what theme are you trying to go for in the creative itself? What's the point of it? Is it to showcase really cool gameplay? Then it's an awesome gameplay, sizzle reel. Is it to showcase your IP? Then, it's a really cool cinematic trailer that plays and harps on the characters like the folks over at Supercell do well, like the folks at Blizzard do really well with Hearthstone and Diablo, and things like that, right?

Or is it something else? Is it a feature? Is it something that makes their lives easier? Maybe it's the coolest flashlight app in the world, right? There's something to be said for that too. So I think, for me, there's no necessarily creative silver bullet. It's more just, what is the point of the ad that you're trying to make, and do that as best you can, right? If you can have that sentence in your head, "I want this ad to get X," then you can sort of put that to paper. And it's not just, "I want people to buy in my app." It's more than that. You want folks to get more feelings there.

Peggy Anne Salz: That's a really smart rule of thumb and distilling something really complex that could be many, many shows down into these three rules. I mean, if anything, that's the takeaway here. But, of course, if you're going to get a player, you need to fish where the fish are. Share a little bit, what have you found to be the best channels to show off that cinematic, awesome ad creative we're talking about?

Thanasi Chalkiadakis: Yeah, totally. I mean, I think, for me, I'm not going to give any shocking answers here, right? If you're in the user acquisition world, you know who the top players are, and it's no secret. And I think the innovation comes how you approach them. But it's really, you know, the social networks of the world, the Google, Facebook, TikToks. I think the DSPs now more than ever are more valuable, more important, the Liftoffs of the world that are able to acquire at scale is something that a lot of folks are looking for, because I think today, given how automated some of the features of user acquisition are, these teams are running leaner than ever. You have teams of one to five that are operating multimillion dollar budgets at some companies. And they wouldn't be able to do so if they didn't have confidence in a Liftoff to be able to spend a lot with. So, for me, I think those would probably be the big three, the social networks, the DSPs, and then probably YouTube for ancillary brand efforts that aren't necessarily tied to ROAS. But yeah, I would probably put those three up there.

John Koetsier: Cool. So far, we've chatted about awesome stuff, what you've done and your thoughts and strategies and stuff like that. Let's turn the focus a little bit on you because, hey, you're the mobile hero, so we're going to do that and it's an origin story. Yeah, yeah, you. Yeah, you.

Peggy Anne Salz: Yeah, you.

John Koetsier: Exactly. So what has been your biggest accomplishment in your career, the one thing that you did, hey, that moved the needle, that jumped the metrics, that you just felt really good about?

Thanasi Chalkiadakis: Yeah, for me, it was probably proving out the thesis that creative drives targeting. That was a really, really big one. A lot of the networks in the world like to say, "Hey, it's creative. Best practices are X, Y, and Z." And they aren't wrong, right? That's what works for their platform. They've proven it. They've done all of these things. But to find different ways that maybe make your title stand out, was something that really made me proud and that was that creative sets the tone for targeting. That might not sound like this crazy, you know, like, "He's not actually saying anything. There's four wheels on a car. Yeah, we all know that." But to see it in practice at scale was something that was really neat, where when you show a cinematic trailer, you get more clickthroughs through that, right? A lot of people find it flashy. They think it's very interesting. They want to see what it is. But maybe your retention is a lot lower. And that tends to be the case, right, because they get in under one premise and then they see the title and that's not the case. So you're paying less for them, but they're retaining lower.

But then on the other side, for the gameplay-focused campaign, you're paying a lot more for the user, 2, maybe 3x. But the retention is a lot higher. But when you put them both together, you don't get that middle ground. So having them separate for me was pretty important at the time. And that wasn't the case for all networks. I think like folks have said a bajillion times, testing, testing, testing really is key, right? Find out what mix works for you and where that sort of methodology can fit in place. But for me, the proud moment was finding where it fit into place and finding it at scale, which unlocked sort of like a second tier, if you will, of spend that we could use on that platform.

John Koetsier: I think that is insightful actually. And I think that's something that people are turning to as you said earlier. The black box is the algorithms are controlling so much what's going on in UA. Creative is the thing that you still can control, although, obviously that can be automated as well to a certain degree. The more brand focused you are, the less you're going to do that. But it can be done. But we've heard a couple people who are pretty significant, saying, you know, they're actually doing a lot of targeting with their creative right now. And that is interesting. Love it.

Thanasi Chalkiadakis: Yeah. No, I agree. It's more important than ever. And I think for a lot of folks, I don't know about yourselves, but when I was in school with a marketing degree, I never thought that it would lead to what I call UA sometimes, which is Excel, right? I never thought it would lead to that. In my mind, it was always the flashy TV ads or newspaper ads and things like that. And that part of UA now is getting bigger than ever. The UA creative portion is becoming a larger impact more so than I think it ever was, which is really awesome.

Peggy Anne Salz: Speaking of awesome, you have an awesome job, Thanasi. You really do, you know. It's fun. It's more creative. You said yourself, it's not death through Excel anymore. And for some, it's a dream job, you know, being a mobile hero, here you are. So there are people who want to be like you. What's your top advice to marketers who want a career in growth in a gaming company, maybe someday, being a mobile hero just like you? What would you tell them?

Thanasi Chalkiadakis: Access to information now more than ever is huge. It's no secret to say that you can find a lot of information on user acquisition out there, whether it's different podcasts like this one or other just articles, right? Peggy, god knows there's a lot. If someone just searched your name in the Google search bar and read every single one of the articles that you have written, they would be way further ahead than I was when I started in this space. And I think that access to information is, alone, a really, really huge thing that is available to people that are looking to break into this industry. I would say the second of which though are events and chat rooms that you could sort of bump shoulders with industry professionals that aren't available in a lot of other industries. So you can go into different mobile heroes Slack rooms, and interface with these titans in the industry that have been in it longer than I have.

You can go to events that happen in most cities, right, from Kansas, to LA, to New York. There's an App Growth, or Mobile Growth, or something that you can go and get involved and meet the people that can get you into those same positions. And then the last of which now it's wherever you are. I'm in Massachusetts now and I work for Activision who's based in California. So if you thought at one point that your location limited your ability to get a job in the gaming industry, specifically marketing, that's not the case. There's folks every day that are advertising full remote, from Activision, to Bungie, to whoever, right? These are folks that are committed to offering and bringing in the best people regardless of where they are, which is something that wasn't the case two or three years ago. So now more than ever is the opportunity for you wherever you are to get into the gaming space.

Peggy Anne Salz: And also, you know, I think I speak for John as well, that we enjoy educating the space and having the podcast…

John Koetsier: And ourselves.

Peggy Anne Salz: …being part of that, and we're on a Slack channel. We're over at Mobile Heroes as well. So you can bump and connect with us there…

Thanasi Chalkiadakis: Totally.

Peggy Anne Salz: …as well. So it's just great to hear you say that that is where everyone who wants to be like you needs to go. Thank you.

John Koetsier: Exactly.

Thanasi Chalkiadakis: Definitely.

John Koetsier: Well, let's end here. We always ask our mobile heroes for one top tip. And let's ask you, your top tip for marketers who are looking to grow their mobile games in the second half of 2022.

Thanasi Chalkiadakis: The top tip, the silver bullet, right?

John Koetsier: Yeah.

Thanasi Chalkiadakis: I would say it is if folks take anything away from this conversation, it is that creative dictates your strategy more so than ever. And having an understanding of the why to the creative that you're producing will give you the answer that'll drive growth to your product. If you're able to create advertisements for your game that answer a specific question, whether it's where they can play it, whether it's how they can play it, whether it's how they monetize even. Who knows, right? Whatever that answer is for your product, it will create a better ad that drives a more qualified user in your game because the advertisements you're making are answering a specific question. It's focused. It's not scatterbrain. It's not all over the place. And that's probably one of the things that I would say that could help folks hopefully grow all their games or mobile apps in the latter half of this year.

John Koetsier: Excellent. Thank you so much. It has been a real pleasure.

Thanasi Chalkiadakis: Totally. Thank you both. Appreciate the time. This has been awesome.

Peggy Anne Salz: I have to thank you really for distilling that into such simple terms. You know, the ad creative is back in your control. It's empowering. It's a positive way to end the show. So thanks, Thanasi, great to have you.

Thanasi Chalkiadakis: Thank you.

Jun 29, 2022

Predictably Irrational: Winning in Fitness, Health, and Wellness Categories

Have you ever been review-bombed by an unscrupulous competitor? 

In this episode of Mobile Heroes Uncensored, we chat with Natalie Drozd, User Acquisition Lead at Fabulous. She’s an app store optimization expert as well as a user acquisition expert, and she chats about good ASO, bad ASO, and toxic ASO.

We also chat about being featured by Apple as an Editor’s Choice app, learning from Reforge, winning in the wellness, fitness, and health categories, and the biggest challenges to achieving and sustaining organic growth.

34 min

Natalie Drozd: When you are doing marketing in day-to-day life, you feel more like a soldier, like, in the trenches. Then when you're studying, you're becoming a, like, general trying to see the strategy behind everything you're doing.

John Koetsier: Who doesn't want to be fabulous especially in mobile growth? Welcome to "Mobile Heroes Uncensored." My name is John Koetsier. My co-host, of course, is Peggy Ann Salz, and Peggy is already fabulous. I am still struggling, give me some time. But today we're interviewing the top user acquisition specialist at a super successful lifestyle app. It's been featured by Apple as an editor's choice, it's got a 4.6-star rating. It's one of the top apps in the super-competitive health and fitness category, and it was incubated in Dan Ariely's...remember "Predictably Irrational" Behavioral Economics Lab at Duke University? It's advised in growth by Eric Soufer. [SP] Mm-hmm. And it's got a UA lead who is planning to climb Everest. Peggy, who are we talking to?

Peggy Anne Salz: Well, John we have Natalie Drozd. She is user acquisition lead at Fabulous, which is fabulous. It's an app, as you said, built by behavior change experts to transform your life. Now, that might sound like a tall order, but I think she's up for it because she puts it on her LinkedIn profile that "the more difficult something is, the more interesting and the more motivated" she is to take it on. She has deep expertise in ASO, we'll be hearing about that, growing apps, of course, through organic and paid marketing. And she has experience as a marketing manager at a dating app. Before that, she was a creative director. And before that, she's just been in mobile. She loves it. She also loves hiking, and her number one goal, you hinted at it, is to make the trek up Mount Everest when Ukraine wins the Russia-Ukraine war. Welcome, Natalie.

Natalie Drozd: Hi, I'm so happy to be here. Thank you for such a long introduction and so many kind words about Fabulous. Because, in fact, it is fabulous. Like, I love and hate this joke, but it's just so true.

John Koetsier: Let's start here. You were featured by Apple as an editor's choice app. How'd that happen, and what impact did that have?

Natalie Drozd: Honestly, it has been happening pretty often, and we were App of the Day back, if I'm not mistaken, in 2018. Right now it's way less featuring happening. But usually, when you become app of the day or if you are featured as editor's choice, it actually helps you to get more traffic. However, I don't think that's something we should be setting as the main point of organic growth. Why? Because it's super unpredictable and there is no rules. You could do everything right. You can make everything happen from your side, fill in all the beautiful visuals, write a great story. But, for example, if this month they decide to focus more on utilities apps or apps that have founders with cooler stories than yours, that even with a great application, it doesn't help to grow your app.

I always treat featurings and editor's choice status as nice to have but not obligatory. It's something that helps you to gain additional confidence and trust because it's still, like, a recognition from Apple, which is the most expensive brand in the world. However, let's be honest. You can have an excellent app, and not be featured. You can have a shitty app with good monetization and be featured. So it's not something that is the only thing that I would be boastful about. It's more a nice to have, thank you for that. But let me concentrate on other things, user experience, and profitable paid-user acquisition than that.

Going into more details. Like, as soon as you're featured once, then it gets a little bit easier to appear in the collections more often. So it's like this story from zero to one, which is the hardest to make. How to make it happen? It's basically creating good product, asking and trying again, and again, and again, and again, and again one more time. And three, like, the ideal way. Like, this is basically from like 2015s or something, try to know people. Ask them on LinkedIn like, "Hey, are you working at Apple? I have such a cool application, can you do something to help me?" But, well, right now with more and more applications on both Play Store and App store, it's getting harder and harder to actually find somebody who will help to promote your app from the inside. And from my personal experience and from experience of my friends, people from Play Store editorial and App Store editorial are super conservative. Even when they work for those teams, they will not actually disclose, especially at big conferences. Otherwise, they will be just bombarded by people, messages, and asking like, "Can you do this, can you help there?"

There was one, like, gossip story that one app was featured just because it was... Like, one of the people was working in Apple, and his girlfriend had an application to make a birthday for the application. The app became an editor's choice in one of the European countries. Other offices also picked the trend up, so there was actually a huge boost in organics across different European markets. I'm not dating anyone in Apple nor in Google, so, I mean, it doesn't make my career easier. At least, like that's why he is not here. But I'm trying to create great product, promote it as much as I can, and being stubbornly repetitive and trying to, like, promote things I believe in because this is something that makes me, like, actually work and love my work at Fabulous.

Peggy Anne Salz: You are driven, absolutely. I hear that. Do it again and again, and do it another time. How do you stay fresh in marketing? Because you're also fresh from some courses over at Reforge, picking up some learnings over there. What was the most valuable experience you got there?

Natalie Drozd: What I love in digital marketing itself is it's changing all the time. Like, the learnings you had one year ago may not be applicable right now. Like, we all, right now, are learning through… Like, we are waiting for Apple's conferences just to hear what's next big thing or terrible present for us they're gonna give like IDFA? Or, like, this year, I'm actually getting more excited about changes to Scan, which, again, you have to be always on the spot. So the cool thing about courses like the Reforge ones is, one, that they help you to structure everything you already know, gain an additional 5% of things you didn't know before, and to have a clearer view.

Like, when you are doing marketing in day-to-day life, you feel more like a soldier, like, in the trenches. Then when you're studying, you're becoming a, like, general trying to see the strategy behind everything you're doing. Or, like, the other metaphor. It's like switching gears, like, when you're in a car. When you are already doing user acquisition, you're on the, like, highest speed. Like, if you drive mechanics not automated, but you know, like, you have to switch to fourth, then to third, then to second, then you have the park-it mode.

But the good thing about learning is it helps you to see different perspectives. And I cannot say... I mean, but it's completely useful if you don't do it in practice. I know so many people who do, like, Facebook courses like the Blueprint Academy, but have never, ever launched any single campaign and it's useless. Because if you don't have this experience of starting a campaign, messing things up, fixing things again, you will not understand how your co-workers are doing, how other people, your colleagues…having this feeling.

How to stay fresh, how to love what you do. Like, one quote. This is just cheesy. Like, "Do what you love, and you don't have to work a single day." Which, kind of, makes sense, but it doesn't mean that your job or life won't be stressful because it is, even when you're doing what you love. Like, you cannot run without sweating, you cannot climb a mountain without getting tired, and the same with work. Like, I love what I'm doing generally as a digital marketer because for me it's a perfect combination of creativity and analytics. This is something I love. But still, sometimes you have wrong attribution settings, sometimes you have wrong campaign settings and everything is messed up. Then you have some problems with creatives, then you have something else. But in the long term, it all pays off so much because you learn, you have fun. And on the other hand, you also can help other people to avoid mistakes you have done in the past.

John Koetsier: I love it, mobile growth as war, mobile growth as maybe Formula One. Lots of metaphors to go there, absolutely. I don't know if you're Max Verstappen or Charles Leclerc, but maybe. Hey, that's awesome. So you're in a tough category, right? You're a wellness app, you're in fitness and health, and all that stuff. There is so much competition there. I mean, obviously, there's tons of competition in gaming...

Natalie Drozd: Of course.

John Koetsier: Perhaps even more. But there's so much competition in health, fitness, wellness. What do you do to succeed in that category?

Natalie Drozd: I have an easy answer and a hard answer. First of all, I do believe that health and fitness is a little bit harder than gaming because, first of all, gaming itself is a very, very broad category. This is why you have subcategories different for shootings, ratings, and, like, everything. At gaming, like, sometimes... Well, it's a broad category. When it comes to health and fitness, it's also a broad one. But it has basically the same goal or the same problem that it is striking, like, "Make people feel better." This is why we have well-being as a category, is what I mean. I'm saying all this because a lot of applications are created by simply a collection of, for example, exercises. The other part is a collection of meditations, and this is why we have more and more applications appearing in the category because it seems, from the outside, that it's so easy.

Well, you have a list of exercises. You have your users, and you categorize them, like, voila. It's not that easy. There are a lot of applications who do exactly what I just told, so it's not enough because this doesn't help you to stand out. Being in the health and fitness niche for us is hard. Why? Because we are not a fitness application. Like, of course, we have that, part of the content is exercises. On the other hand, Fabulous is not a meditation application. There are meditation tracks, but it's not the purpose of the application. We help people be comfortable with themselves, this is why we call the app as, like, a personal coach. This is gentle coaching that helps you to improve your life one step at a time, so we are, kind of, one in a kind.

If you use the application, it creates a tutor list. Again, so you may think, "Oh, that's your tutor list." But we're not because it's about routines that you repeat every single day. It's about unique content which is written by certified people who have knowledge in psychology, and which is supervised by one of my favorite people in the world, Jazmin Quill, who was working at Stanford so all the content is scientifically proven and scientifically based. And this all makes Fabulous different from Coleman Headspace, which are a meditation-first from fitness AI BetterMe from the fitness part of things.

So it's easier to be different, but it's also harder to market it. Because when you have a fitness application, "Get in shape five minutes a day." Like, "Create your, like, summer body," or something like this. On the other hand, when you're a meditation application, like, "Learn how to relax in five minutes." When you are building routines, you have to be inventive in the way you advertise your product. And, honestly, there's, like, all the kudos to our creative team who are super creative, and, like, in a good way, by figuring out different ways how to bring this value to people. And, again, I am just doing a job in the accounts, and they are making a tremendous amount of creative thinking, brainstorming, and validating concepts. We do this together.

John Koetsier: Yeah. As I mentioned off the top, Fabulous came out of the incubator, sort of, with Dan Ariely at Duke University. What has that done, how has, maybe, some of his thinking informed what you do?

Natalie Drozd: To be like completely honest, right now, like, we apply all those learnings, but, like, Dan Ariely is not actively involved in the application in day-to-day life. So, I mean, I wish it was because, actually, Dan Ariely is one of the reasons why I joined the Fabulous team because I'm such a huge fan of his books and behavioral science in general. Like, not only Dan Ariely, but also Daniel Kahneman and, like, "Thinking, Fast and Slow."

But getting back to your question. The application was created in the Duke University under his supervision to apply the main principles of behavioral economy into human life. Humans are super unpredictable. But still, the point is you can predict some of those things. For example, there is an ostrich effect. What it means, if somebody knows they have to do something, for example, wash the dishes or pay the bills on time, people procrastinate over that. And when they actually want to do the thing, they are afraid because they already failed because the deadline is over. So people try to hide like ostriches from their problems, even though ostriches...

John Koetsier: Hide your head in the sand.

In fact, they don't do it. Just in case, like, by doing this strange thing with their heads, they are turning eggs in the sand so the egg has equal amounts of sun. But the point is the application uses this principle. So when the person, for example, wasn't active for more than seven days, when they go back to the application, it's not the same person as if it was an active user. That's why there is a different flow for resurrected users asking them to go embark on the journey again, check their priorities. And the whole application was created with two main things. One, scientifically proven, so no bullshit. And two, huge love to customers. So one thing, we basically never use the word "user" because we don't want people to use this...

John Koetsier: I love it.

Natalie Drozd: ...and we don't want...

John Koetsier: I love it.

Natalie Drozd: use people. We call everyone member because Fabulous is a community. So, for example, like, I am UA lead, but I call my department Member Acquisition. And we have Member Care department. Because that's...

Peggy Anne Salz: Oh, very cool.

Natalie Drozd: ...not a unit you see on Tableau or anywhere else, it's a person who uses the application to improve their lives. The other part, this is why we have scientifically-proven content, a huge love why we are doing that. One other thing that I love about Fabulous itself. We have user interviews with people whose lives were actually changed. And believe me, this is such a powerful motivation when you see a real person who just downloaded the application, and it helped them, for example, to lose weight, to run their first marathon, to pick up a new hobby and learn how to play the violin, for example. And it feels like something that I'm doing actually makes sense, not only to me but also to so many people. And it's important for everyone, but for marketing particularly. Because this is what I'm doing, I'm attracting new people. And it's so easy to say, "Hey, this application is great," when I believe this application, in fact, is great, because I'm also a Fabulous active member. This is something I use like two or three times a day, which makes me feel good as well. I know the product, I know how to market it. And I know how it can help people and whom it cannot help as well. Because you need to know your target audience, and you need to know who is not your target audience.

Peggy Anne Salz: I still love that you're calling them members, I have to say. That's a mindset change really welcome among marketers as well. And another mindset change is thinking about things more holistically. That's happening a lot more. And you yourself... We met up in Berlin, and you were talking about this and got me focused on it. You know, why does it have to be paid and organic, where are the synergies between them? So that's your mission, to find them. Can you share a few that you found so far, Natalie?

Natalie Drozd: I like to think as a person who wants to download the app. How most courses teach us, you show an ad, a person clicks on the ad, downloads the application phase for a free trial, or subscription, or buy something. And voila, everyone is happy. Reality is very different because I may have seen an ad yesterday, but I don't care about the product but I'll learn about it. Two weeks from now, I start preparing for a half marathon. And then I remember, "Oh, my god. Yeah, there was such an application that could help me to do this." And that's why, again, there is high competition. Other companies also are fighting for attention for every person on the earth. This is why it's so important to keep in mind that the advertisement you did two weeks ago may still be relevant for you today. The brand activities one year ago or some influencer campaigns, they are long lasting. The most important part is to see the full picture. And this is a very hard part especially in the post-IDFA world where you cannot actually understand which of many channels you're using does additional value, and which is not.

To create a holistic picture, it is synergy. Not between ASO and paid. No, never. It's a combination between product, analytics and marketing as a whole. You need to have analytics because those people are experts on data, you're an expert on tools. For example, I know this marketing campaign that went live there in that country with this exposure. Then somebody else can make sense of the numbers you're providing, and the product team may also give additional insights. Because, for example, if you were advertising one feature and people are using something else, then maybe you can start advertising a different feature as well. So I do not treat paid and organic just because it's super correlated and codependent. However, it's hard to find and say like, "Five percent of paid actually goes to organic." You will never know it, in fact, because it's so hard to reach statistical significance. And, well, when it comes to digital marketing, like, I have a little statistician inside me which says, "You haven't reached 95% confidence level before making this decision." But then I realize, "Well, the world isn't perfect, and you still have to make some decisions and bring up new hypothesis." Because it's so easy to get trapped in this statistical significance problem. I don't know if it makes sense, but this is how I, at least, try to [crosstalk 00:20:19] make sense.

John Koetsier: I totally get it, it's tough.

Peggy Anne Salz: Sometimes you just have to go with your instinct, that's part of it.

Natalie Drozd: Yeah.

Peggy Anne Salz: That's part of science, it's okay. Looking at the complexity of marketing, we talked about how you can get value, paid and organic, how they work together. But what's the biggest challenge to achieving and sustaining organic growth?

Natalie Drozd: The first thing which I feel is a hard thing, app stores. Google Play and App Store did not become Google. People are not using long-tail queries. Like, if you go to Google and if you check like, what are the different types of queries, you will see there are a lot of questions which are long beautiful sentences. Not only, "Why the sky is blue." But, like, "I wanna buy a specific model of this tablet or, for example, MacBook M1 2022 edition, review, pricing comparison." And you will find something very specific to this keyword. The thing is, again, when you look at your laptop or desktop, you have a lot of space to write because you have a huge keyboard. While on app stores, most of the queries come from short keywords, and they are super hard to get to.

Natalie Drozd: The problem with organic growth is that most of those short keywords are already occupied by long-lasting brands. For example, like for travel. Tripadvisor already is not a super topnotch application because there are some other apps which are more relevant, but it's still, if I'm not mistaken, number one or number two just because it has been around for such a long time. For example, for Kurban Travel, like, maybe Airbnb, or something like KAYAK, or something else should be more relevant. However, brand awareness of Tripadvisor as an app as well as its historical value makes it be top one or top three.

The other part, no one actually knows how those keyword rankings are made. We should not forget about it, this is one part of things. People search, but people search in the short way, and people use a lot of brands to search for. I do not remember, like, the research, so I cannot refer, like, directly to it. But at least 40% of all search queries on app stores are branded ones, therefore it's super hard to get ranked for them first of all because you either have to pay ASA to hijack the top position. On Google, you have to run user campaigns. But for branded queries, they don't do the primary placements.

On the other hand, there are a lot of black hat or gray hat activities for which you can get punished. Like, the smallest thing could release rejection. The hardest thing, your application goes away from the app store. Therefore, you're already losing 40% of the whole market, like, until you have a huge marketing budget. It's getting harder and harder for indie developers without a lot of money in the bank to find users organically for two reasons. One, there are so many other applications, so competition goes up. And, like, again, now the economist in me is saying, "You have supply and demand curves. And the higher you have the supply and demand being more or less stable, the higher competition is." Therefore, organic is hard. And I've just covered the search part, which is the first one.

The second one is browse, and you have Google and Apple part. They are, kind of, different, but both of them try to create community around, like, applications, developers, sharing stories, creating highlights. And we can be pragmatic. Apple and Google, even though it's not the main criteria, but which is most important is how much money your application is making. And those companies are happy to promote applications with good monetization metrics. And, therefore, like, if you're an indie developer who is just starting their career, you have to be super innovative to make people pay, to maybe solve such a problem that the competition is not solving yet.

On the other hand, you have a lot of tools such as in-app events, for example, or creating some other, like, live ops on Android, in-app events on iOS, testing different types of your product page so you have higher conversion rates, experimenting with your description to have more browser traffic. But the point is, again, it's not linear. You can do everything right, you can check all the boxes, but you cannot appear on the main page. Why? Because nobody is actually gonna tell you what you should do right to appear on the app of the day on the starting page on the App Store or Google Play.

And still, like, relationships matter. Like, this is why we are seeing, like, the same applications being there again and again. If you check, like, the top apps in dating, the top apps in traveling. Even if there is something topnotch, it's so hard to get there. Getting from zero to one is the hardest part in organic growth.

Peggy Anne Salz: So you're talking about ASO, and that's perfect because we met at the ASO Conference in Berlin where everyone was talking about the futures of ASO. And it was really interesting because the whole idea revolved around the future of where ASO fits in the marketing organization. It's not about keywords, and maybe every department will have someone like you, Natalie. Where do you think ASO fits in the marketing organization?

Natalie Drozd: So I do believe that it's not a good idea to have everyone like me in every organization because I talk a lot and I ask many questions, and it's gonna be super hard to have somebody like me.

John Koetsier: Okay.

Natalie Drozd: On the other hand, ASO shouldn't be treated as something different from growth, in general. And, again, depending on the organization, you will have different answers to the same question. Because what is growth? It is marketing plus product, like, very broadly speaking. ASO helps to identify trends, what people are searching for, and why people are downloading your application. On the other hand, it should be definitely closely connected to overall marketing activities. And I don't think, like, there's gonna be an ASO specialist as itself. It's, like, "organic growth discovery person" or, as one guy from [inaudible 00:26:54] told, "App Store Connect analytics specialist" who can actually make sense of everything which is written down in App Store Connect and Google Play console just to navigate very carefully different sources of truth. Something that Google is presenting, something that Apple is presenting for you, what ad accounts are telling you, and what third-parties like MPs and others like tools for ad management helps with. ASO is just one piece of the puzzle which lies in growth team, and growth is something that helps you build good product and advertise it in the right way.

John Koetsier: But there's also black hat ASO, right? You recently suffered a black hat ASO attack, if I'm not mistaken. What happened, and how did you turn it around?

Natalie Drozd: Like, so it hasn't happened recently, it was a three-year-ago case with one of the people I worked with. So black hat ASO is like drugs or cigarettes. It gives you short-term pleasure, but it makes you addicted in the long run. It makes you feel like you need to have a short fix, for example, improve your rating, improve the number of keywords you are ranked for, improve the number of keywords you're getting installs from. However, like, first of all, you can get punished from the app stores for doing those things. And two, you can fool yourself. Because, for example, a brief example, if you're buying reviews and your product team thinks your product is excellent because you have an average rating for five when, in fact, it is two, but no one knows about it because you're basically silencing all the haters and creating a fake reality and everyone is saying things are doing good when they are not.

Some time ago, one of the applications I worked with was actually a victim of fake reviews attack. We had a good rating, but one of the competitors just started bombarding us with negative reviews saying how bad the application is about its products. It took me approximately six months to communicate to Google's team that the reviews were fake. Because, like, they did one big mistake, they started publishing the same exact reviews twice. Like, it's almost impossible on earth that somebody writes the exact same story with the same mistakes and punctuations one time in June and the other time in August, so it actually served as a reason for deleting them.

What you can do if you're a victim of a spam attack. One, you can mark those reviews as, like, not helpful. But if it doesn't help, you can go and ask support like, draw ways to contact them. It's super bad. But if it's, like, featuring, you have to try again, and again, and again. This is basically how I managed to do it. And as I said, it took me half of the year, so to make them believe that I'm not actually joking. So, and yeah...

John Koetsier: What a disaster, what a disaster. Wow, having to deal with that is insane. I mean, I've seen instances of that, review bombing, and it's very, very challenging to turn around. Well, Natalie, this has been amazing. Super pumped to have you. We wanna end here, your top-three tips for mobile marketers in fitness and health, and wellness?

Natalie Drozd: First of all, you have to believe in what you do. Become a member. I will not be afraid of the [inaudible 00:30:26] user of your application. Love your product because it'll be so easier for you to advertise it. If you don't run, start running, and go and work for Strava. If you like meditation, go and work for some meditation application.

John Koetsier: We lost you for [inaudible 00:30:42].

Natalie Drozd: It'll be way easier if you actually like what you do. Tip number two, remember about work-life balance. Like, even when you work for the best application in the whole world, if you're burned out, nobody cares about you, so remember a way to say no. When you have a lot of exciting tasks but you have no time to sleep, you will die in a couple of days. Please don't do it. I mean, like, people will not live without sleep. And top tip number three, a good sense of humor. It's something that will help you survive all different challenges and mistakes because life is not easy. Like, the whole economy is, like, facing a recession, so life is not going to be easy at all. But if you have a good understanding that this is life, it's not easy. But with a smile on the face and some light good thoughts in your brain, you can survive everything. As a whole, remember it's just work. You have to live your own life, you have to enjoy it that's why work for the company you like. Do what you love, and you will not have to work every single day.

John Koetsier: Wow, wonderful.

Peggy Anne Salz: Advice, John, from a company that, again, you know, helps you transform your life. There you go, you've got the condensed version.

John Koetsier: I love it, Peggy. And we didn't even mention it off the top, but Natalie is talking to us from Kyiv in Ukraine right now where her country is under attack and her countrymen and women are dying daily. And yet, she's running a company, running member acquisition, and staying positive, which makes me feel awful in some sense because I live in paradise in comparison. I live near Vancouver, Canada, and sometimes it's hard to stay positive in everything that I do. And I'm sure, Peggy, you can resonate with that as well. Thank you, Natalie, for this time. We really do appreciate it. Thank you for all that you're doing.

Natalie Drozd: Thank you very much for having me. It's such a pleasure, first of all, to be here. And, again, I'm so blessed that I met Peggy at the conference. We're just small. I hope people will find some of my tips interesting. If they don't learn anything, they can laugh, at least. And it means that, all righty, like, I did something good.

John Koetsier: Excellent.

Peggy Anne Salz: Thank you, Natalie.

John Koetsier: And thank you to all listeners. We really do appreciate you. Hope you're enjoying it. Let us know on social if you are.

Peggy Anne Salz: And let us know if you wanna come, and we'll have you on the show. If you're a mobile hero or you know of someone who is, then fill out the interest form over at

John Koetsier: Also Liftoff has a Slack for Mobile Heroes and people in the mobile ecosystem. There's a link on the screen. And if you're listening to the podcast, it's at It's pretty cool. There's smart people there. And you know what? They probably need you too.

Peggy Anne Salz: And you have probably been completely blown away by all the insights on this show, and you want your transcript. And you can have it because the transcripts are over at Liftoff's website. Go to, click on Heroes, and then click on Podcast.

John Koetsier: I actually personally love transcripts because I read way faster than people talk, so that's a great way to get insights really, really quickly. Until the next time, this is John Koetsier. Thank you so much for joining.

Peggy Anne Salz: And this is Peggy Ann Salz signing off for "Mobile Heroes Uncensored."

Jun 22, 2022

What 99% Of Ads for Mobile Apps Misses: The Creative Index Report

Can it be possible that 99% of ads for midcore games fail to address one of the most important factors in drawing new players in?

In this Mobile Heroes Uncensored, we dive into Liftoff’s creative index report. Based on an analysis of 805 billion ad impressions — yes, you got that number right — the report highlights what works and doesn’t work in mobile advertising.

Our guests:
James Haslam, Senior Marketing Insights Manager, Liftoff
Justin Nield, Associate Manager, Brand Creative, Liftoff

What we learn: far too many ads ignore key user motivations, one very old and much-maligned ad unit is actually an all-star, what hooks new users in fintech, and much, much more.

29 min

Justin Nield: Banner ads are some of my favourite formats. I mean, the amazing thing about a banner is it's like a tiny billboard, right? If used correctly, it's an escape route from whatever a user is doing. Their ever-presence on the screen and where they appear in the experience of how a user is playing a game is what gives them their strength.

John Koetsier: Can it be possible that 99% of ads for mid-core games fail to address one of the most important factors in drawing new players in? Welcome to "Mobile Heroes Uncensored." My name is John Koetsier, of course, and I am co-hosting again with Peggy Anne Salz. Isn't it wonderful? Isn't it amazing? It is fun.

Today, we're talking creative. It's ad creative, fails, flops, wins, triumphs. We all know that creative has always been a massive differentiator when you're doing advertising, but how will we know what creative works in a privacy-safe world? Today, we're deep-diving into Liftoff's 2022 Mobile Ad Creative Index Report that examines a lot of creative trends driving performance across verticals like gaming, e-commerce, finance, and entertainment and breaking down key benchmarks for five leading ad formats, banners, interstitials, playables, native, and video. Peggy, who are the experts we're chatting with today?

Peggy Anne Salz: Well, we have the authors, John. If you want to have the experts, you go to the source. So, we have James Haslam, senior marketing insights manager at Liftoff. He's had over six years of experience in mobile and ad tech before Liftoff. He was also working at Adjust, full disclosure, also working with me over there. Now he's over in the U.K., and as I said, one of the authors of the report.

And we also have Justin Nield. He is associate manager, brand creative at Liftoff, and he manages a team that delivers intelligent creative for top non-gaming advertisers across Liftoff and Vungle. He himself has had nearly seven years, worked in creative from all the angles. Originally hired as a creative technologist to create interactive end cards back in the day. From there, it's been off to scaling playable ad production, working in innovation teams on AR ads and immersive video, and he is certainly the source for the format side of the equation. There we have them, John.

John Koetsier: Welcome, gentlemen. Welcome. Thank you for joining us here. This is pretty cool. Peggy and I kind of geek out. We love it when we have a data conversation. We love it when there's tons of data. You know what, James, start us off. What data went into this report?

James Haslam: I guess for anyone not familiar with Liftoff's reports, we release figures I guess about every month or so around different verticals or sometimes different ways of monetizing an app, and then we analyze cost data, so the cost for installs and also CPMs, and various other metrics. Our most recent report, the one that we're going to talk about, is the creative report. And by creative we mean creative formats. So, we look at ad sizes, those being banners and interstitials, but also different types of ads, whether that be native ads video, and we do do playables as well. So, we give our readers kind of a sense of how each of these kind of formats perform. And, John, because you asked, we look at around 805 billion impressions and about 200 million installs. So, this is probably by far…

John Koetsier: You said that so quickly. Was that 805 billion impressions?

James Haslam: That's right. Yeah. It's our largest report of the year by the amount of shared data points that we look at. And yeah, we broke down by gaming and non-gaming. So, I'll give you the gaming look first before we talk about... For that, we discovered that playable ads are some of the most affordable and effective ads, which I guess would come as no surprise. Their CPIs are about $1.98, which is the bottom of all five formats. That is native, interstitial, video, and banner ads, and then playables being the most successful. That's probably likely due to the amount of hyper-casual inventory that we have.

Hyper-casual games are always going to be the bottom of the pile when it comes to the cost, and they're also probably the biggest drivers of playables. I think anyone who's tried a hyper-casual game has seen a playable ad. So, that's what's probably driving the low cost. However, the next best banner ads average about a dollar more than playables. So, playables are probably super cheap and also as we'll see super effective. Yeah.

John Koetsier: There's so many things to ask about that, but I got to dig into this. A banner is cheaper than a playable. Talk about why that is. Is the banner there persistent? Is it lasting for a good period of time? Because a playable is like fullscreen. It's kind of an immersive experience. Somebody at least has to tap a few things to get through it, so you're guaranteeing some level of attention, whereas the banner, well, I don't know. Why is the banner more expensive?

James Haslam: There's a few different theories. Probably one may be the difference between the sheer volume that we see. So, we'll see banner ads across loads of different kinds of inventory, whereas maybe playable is just a few. I would probably hazard a guess and say we probably have fewer playables in our dataset just because banners are so pervasive. But another thing could just be they are just more effective. Like, maybe it is just easier to get an install when you've got someone playing a playable ad rather than a sheer number of banners that we just keep seeing, keep seeing until you get banner blindness and people just aren't as motivated to install based off of that.

John Koetsier: Interesting. And maybe one more thing before I turn over to Peggy. What was the most surprising insight you found?

James Haslam: That's a good question. I think mainly it's probably more on the non-gaming side. So, for shopping apps, we found the native ads are some of the top-performing format. It's just so different to I guess how gaming would perform that I guess you have this native ad that turns up in some ad and mirrors the experience just enough probably from another shopping ad that they're just, "Okay, this is perfect. This is what works for me." Maybe it's not the most surprising, but, I mean, consistently what we see is if that ad matches the environment, playables, for example, will perform well in games, but then maybe native ads and the way that they show, they show carousels, maybe the reason that they perform so well in shopping. I'm sure per vertical there's the optimal format as it would.

Peggy Anne Salz: Interesting point about native there. But it's also good news. You pointed out, James, you know, value for money. Playables, they're affordable, they're effective. What are some of the other ad formats that came out as being at least affordable if not that perfect match of affordable and effective?

James Haslam: So, I think when we're talking, we're kind of diving down the more like output. So, I will say to caveat kicking off a discussion about ROAS, I should just say, you know, Liftoff is a performance network. We're always looking at down funnel metrics. CPIs are only just a little indication of actually how well performance is for an ad. And we are a bit capped when we talk about ROAS because we're talking about gaming. But with all that said and done, we haven't seen too much difference between formats, at least in 2021. In 2020 there was a high amount of variance with return on ad spend, whereas this year, probably there are only a few percentage points difference from each other.

We have mentioned that playables have the most affordable CPI, but they also provide quite a low ROAS out of all the five formats. That's around 6.5% on day 7 and 15.7% on day 30. I mean, I'm sure a lot of listeners are probably very used to quite low ROAS numbers these days, but it was kind of the negative side to the positive. The best-performing, banner ads. So, probably diametrically opposed to what I've just said, but on average, they provide a ROAS of about 11% on day 7 and 22% on day 30. It's quite weird how sometimes I guess the lower CPIs can always, you know, perform a bit less. I'm sure marketers are more well aware of that structure than I am.

John Koetsier: I want to snap a picture of Peggy's face right now because she's going like... You're blowing Peggy's world at the moment, and, Peggy, tell us why, because otherwise, I will, you know. I mean, banner ads are…

Peggy Anne Salz: Weren't they like the garbage of ad formats?

John Koetsier: Yes, yes.

Peggy Anne Salz: I think they're the annoying little blinking things?

John Koetsier: It's literally the oldest format ever.

Justin Nield: No. You've got it all wrong.

Peggy Anne Salz: Are they're the ones that are, like, the most annoying on the phone? You just...I mean…

John Koetsier: Justin, educate us.

Justin Nield: Not at all. Banner ads are some of my favourite formats. I mean, the amazing thing about a banner is it's like a tiny billboard, right? If used correctly, it's an escape route from whatever a user is doing. Their ever-presence on the screen and where they appear in the experience of how a user is playing a game is what gives them their strength. So, if I'm in a menu of a game, it means I'm not currently playing, and when I'm in the menu maybe I get bored. There's a little escape route at the bottom here. It's an ad that reminds me of an ad that I saw before and I'm like, "Yeah, actually, I want to play that game," and then I click on the banner. So, that's kind of how I see them. They're tiny billboards and they're little escape routes from what people are doing.

Peggy Anne Salz: Something must have happened, John, because they were like the least creative and interesting things I've ever seen, you know. I'm a woman, and when I see like little teeny-tiny outfits this big, right? And then by now, it's like, "There's no way." But maybe that's just me. I don't know. Clothing ads at that size don't do it for me. I'm sorry.

John Koetsier: I don't think it's just you, Peggy. But I think that know, it might be the most surprising result that we're kind of hearing here, because, you know, the last couple of years... I mean, correct me if I'm wrong. Maybe I'm a complete idiot. Maybe that's entirely self-evident. Everybody knows that already. Okay, fine. No worries. But the last couple of years, we've heard playables, playables, playable. We've heard video, video, video. We've heard lots of things about the ad formats that are working, that are doing well, that are immersive, that get people a sense of a game they're about to play or the app experience they're about to enjoy, and they've worked really, really well. If banner ads are all of a sudden working really, really well, that's interesting. That kind of blows my mind.

Justin Nield: The thing is banner ads have changed quite a bit in the last couple of years. Cheap kind of boring gifts are obviously not going to perform, but we launched video banners on the Vungle network I think I'm going to say two years ago, and it's been killing. I mean, you can make a full-on tiny little cinematic experience that sits at the bottom and grabs users' attention. Also…

John Koetsier: Well, that's different, Justin. You should have told us that right off the top. It's the video ad that is disguised as a banner ad.

Justin Nield: That's right. We just see banner as a format now. We can make them interactive. We can make them video. It's all about the content. It's not about the ad format.

John Koetsier: Okay.

Peggy Anne Salz: Okay. Now I get it, because I remember seeing the banner ads for Disney's anniversary and it was just know. It just took over the top of a website and it was amazing, and it went down the side. It was immersive and beautifully built. Now I get it.

John Koetsier: Yeah. Now I get it too.

Peggy Anne Salz: He's not talking about banner ads. We're kind of old-school here, John. He means, you know, new cool banner ads.

John Koetsier: I was just going to say the same thing. Are we that old, Peggy, that banner ads to us means a static image and, you know, it's like on or something like that?

Peggy Anne Salz: That's dead, John.

John Koetsier: GeoCities, here we come. And so maybe we're totally screwed up there, I don't know. Justin, I want to go a little deeper with you on something different. We talked about privacy right off the top, right? IDFA is pretty scarce, right? Privacy Sandbox coming to Android. We want to know as marketers what ads are performing, right? And in SKAdNetwork without an IDFA, that's pretty challenging. What's your strategy now with creative? How do you build creative that really, really works well?

Justin Nield: And that's a pretty good question. And I think that's a lot what creative people are thinking about at the moment. We can no longer know exactly what we need to make to hit a certain audience. So, it comes down to relevance I think. We find that one way of making sure an ad is really relevant is to connect to a user's motivations. You'll notice that the report is full of motivations, and I'm sure we're going to dive into a lot of that, but essentially focus on content. Content is still king. It's not about the ad formats, as I was saying. Banner ads can also perform, and that's a format that's often overlooked. Ad experiences that trap users, that trick users to open an app that'll show a misleading game that doesn't really exist might boost installs, but ultimately, I think it'll affect the ROAS long-term.

John Koetsier: Did you have an ad format that has an X to click out of let's say a playable or a video or something like that but actually it opens an App Store view? Right?

Justin Nield: Yeah. I mean, it's…

John Koetsier: You’re not too happy as a player.

Justin Nield: No, absolutely not. I mean, stuff like that is just a race to the bottom I think. If you're trying to trick users to install a game, what does that achieve? But if you connect to a user by showing them this is what the game experience is going to be like, but finding users that are looking for your game experience, and that's the challenge, really.

Yeah. So, don't trick people. Don't get too hung up on the ad format. And I like to use the analogy of razor blades. Razor blade marketing goes off in this direction where, you know, they keep adding these ridiculous features that don't really give you a better shave. Not that I shave that often with a razor blade, but you get the picture. And then something like Dollar Shave Club comes along and focuses on just making a really straightforward good product, and that takes off, you know. Ad format gimmicks, these kinds of things, ultimately, it's a race to the bottom. Content is where you're going to really see success, and content that actually connects directly with users has got to be the way forward.

Peggy Anne Salz: And, of course, you said it yourself, relevancy. It has to tap into our motivations as people. And that's what you've done, because, in the research from GameRefinery, you have noticed and noted the 12 motivations to hook gamers. We maybe might not go through all 12, but walk us through them anyway, Justin.

Justin Nield: All right. I'm glad that…

John Koetsier: We want all the details on every single one.

Peggy Anne Salz: We want all the 12.

Justin Nield: Every single of 12?

Peggy Anne Salz: We've changed our minds.

Justin Nield: And I have to try to resonate with RT again?

Peggy Anne Salz: It’s a quiz, the 12 motivations.

Justin Nield: Okay. Basically, look, the report gives a very nice description of all 12. I think what's more important is kind of what are they, where do they come from, why should you even consider looking at them. And the way I like to understand them and think about them is it's a framework for understanding why users play a game. If you could compare it to something like Myers-Briggs, which is a system for people's personalities, right?

Myers-Briggs is broken up into lots of different things that it looks for in people and then it builds a little picture of each person by seeing where they score high on certain points. Well, if we have these 12 motivators and we look to see how users score on certain elements of these motivators, we can build a kind of player archetype or a persona for a game, and then we can use that persona to help us create content that's very relevant to that person.

Ultimately, what motivates us is trying to fulfil needs, right? So, everybody has different needs. We're all different and unique but we try and find a slice that connects a group of users within a publisher by using this system. And yeah, I mean, have a look at the reports. Check out the 12. Okay, do you want me to talk about a couple of them?

John Koetsier: Just a couple of them.

Justin Nield: Okay. I mean, a really easy one is thrill-seeking, right? So, you might find that, for example, in mid-core games, a lot of users are seeking thrill-seeking and excitement. That is a key motivator of why people play mid-core games, or even RPG games, to be more specific, and it's because...and what thrill-seeking and excitement as a motivator kind of translates to in terms of content is it's fast-paced, it's constantly engaging, you know, like a sort of MTV kind of cutting, like, one thing moves onto the next. It's high-paced, whereas people operate on a different sort of energy level need. We found this in dating advertising too. If you could figure out from segments of users what sort of energy needs a user has.

I mean, I'll just give you an example, right? You have a quiz and in the quiz, it says, "For your ultimate date, what would you like to do, Netflix and chill or go roller derby? " Right? It gives you an indication of the sort of energy as someone who is looking for from an experience. That allows us to construct content that meets those needs. So, looking at our thrill-seeking motivator, for example, in mid-core, those people are probably a little bit more high-energy. They're looking for more fun and excitement than someone who, for example, is playing lots of casual games and they have a need to problem-solve, you know. They want to focus on solving little problems. I mean, does that sort of explain it?

Peggy Anne Salz: Yeah.

John Koetsier: That's totally awesome. That's great. I mean, that totally gives a good picture of how, as a marketer, you can kind of identify something that appeals to somebody's energy level, somebody's, you know, requirement for excitement, and then use that to get in touch with. And as somebody who was taken to a roller derby game in Austin when I was in South by Southwest, that is a cool example as well. James, maybe turn it to you for a moment. You have these motivations. How can marketers translate them into creatives, high-performing creatives?

James Haslam: There's two answers. One is, of course, work with Liftoff, work with Vungle, work with our creative teams and work with GameRefinery because, of course, we do have these…

James Haslam: Yeah. That's the real secret sauce. But yeah, I think it does relate to, you know, identifying, having a deep understanding of your users, having a deep understanding of your product, and then, ultimately... Well, of course, depends where you are in the organisation, but if you are the one ultimately building the ads with all those deep understanding and deep-rooted impacts, it's just okay. Well, from what I've seen of our tools from working with Visual Mind, it's sort of just dragging out these features and really highlighting them, really showing and making sure that the user understands this feature that is present in this game and it's something that you want those users...or you want to find those users so then this is what will be their attraction this is what will be their draw.

John Koetsier: That makes a ton of sense. And Justin, let's turn back to you briefly. One of the numbers that stood out to Peggy and me was 99%. You know, in the report you got this stat, 99% of mid-core game ads are not hitting one key factor. Can you give us some details?

Justin Nield: So, we found that the highest performing motivator in the mid-core segment is excitement and thrill, which I've touched on just a little bit. It's that kind of need for a higher energy experience, fast-paced, maybe suspenseful, or thrilling experiences, and that's kind of why people are playing the games. They want to be dazzled, right? So, 99% of the ads are failing to hit the mark in terms of the content specifically leaning on those motivators. The report doesn't say that 99% of the ads don't work, right? Although it'd probably be loads more than that, but 99% of the ads aren't leaning enough into key motivators that can really make a difference.

John Koetsier: The other number that we saw there was 4%, and only 4% of casual game video ads are successfully tapping into another of your top player motivations, completing milestones. What's going on in that case?

Justin Nield: Okay. Completing milestones appeals to users who are looking to progress over time. So, they have a need to be improving at the game. They have to have a character that's slowly levelling up. We call them completionists. They always need to be able to see the next level.

John Koetsier: I know I feel like that.

Justin Nield: Yeah. People, I mean…

John Koetsier: I suspect Peggy might be one of those.

Peggy Anne Salz: I'll take a productivity app, John.

Justin Nield: What's the next thing, Peggy? If Peggy is a completionist, she's going to be looking for the next thing. How can she incrementally improve every aspect of her life? But when it comes to gaming, it's how can I just take those next steps? Now, game developers structure their levels within the games to have those kinds of micro achievements, milestones that users are constantly hitting. They can iterate and test within their framework of their game of how they structure these levels to keep users engaged, right?

But when it comes to translating that into the advertising that they're making for UA, what 96% of the ads seem to have forgotten the reason their users are playing the game in the first place. At Liftoff, we have a wonderful company called GameRefinery, and GameRefinery have analyzed games going onto a pretty, like, deep level. It's focusing on motivators. And we have a tool that we've built in conjunction with them which allows us to analyze video creative with machine learning and try and look for these key motivators within the ad. So, the stuff we make doesn't miss the completing milestones mark because we've learned to focus on it. I mean, that's what it comes down to.

John Koetsier: Sounds good. Sounds good.

Peggy Anne Salz: So, we've been talking about gaming, but there are other verticals, e-commerce, yeah. What stood out for you there? Because there, again, it's about hitting a motivation. It's about engaging users, shoppers, with ad creatives.

James Haslam: E-commerce advertisers, I mean, at least those focus on in-app purchases which they...well, I'm sure are. As we mentioned, banner ads do offer, like, a higher amount of value. So, we've seen about 195 CPIs. And for that, they get an in-store-to-action rate, an average of 32%, which might seem high but it does often depend on kind of the apps at least within our portfolio that we're analyzing. Native ads, as I mentioned, they are a top-performing format which I think just backs up their popularity. It's not a surprise that the carousel should be the high-performing ad for e-commerce, in general.

Justin Nield: Content-wise for e-commerce, we see focusing on really specific product verticals helps. So, you want to have an ad that's about tech and then you want to have another ad that's about beauty products, and you don't typically mix them because you'll allow the algorithms to find where those specific ads will land well and let the ad itself speak to a specific user.

And that kind of comes down to motivations, right? Yeah. Someone's going to be whatever their motivations are, is going to be looking for tech, and someone else is going to be looking for beauty products. And if you mix it all together, it just becomes a mishmash. That being said, we also see kind of product walls. We have loads of products kind of scrolling up as just kind of a mechanism. That works quite well in the e-commerce space.

John Koetsier: The mashup I want to see between tech and fashion is the makeup-applying robot. I mean, I don't use it but that would be cool. I think I would buy one just to see what it did. Let's go here. Let's go FinTech. James, maybe back to you. What best practices are you seeing for marketers in FinTech?

James Haslam: Before I go to FinTech, I do have one quick tip on shopping which has been imbued on me very many times with many discussions, which is always show sneakers, or at least that's been the common feature over the last couple of years, and we've got Justin's endorsement.

Justin Nield: I agree.

Peggy Anne Salz: Okay. Well, I mean, it makes sense with all the products. I see that because we have choice and you want to show that choice off. And then maybe showcasing the sneakers, I don't know about that one but I'll leave it.

James Haslam: Sure. On finance, the tips that I've always heard and have been shared with me is, of course, charts going up into the right, lots of green text, and, in general, showing... Well, Justin and I have had this conversation so he'll be able to back me up or correct me. But the most important messaging is sort of a demystification plus fear of missing out.

So, for a lot of people, at least on the investment or crypto side, which has been, of course, a big push for the last few years, it's about... You know, users are clearly interested but they also may not understand how these things work. So, being able to say, "This is a very simple concept," or, "We can make it simple for you. You don't even have to think about it, just download the app," that's messaging number one. But then also, "Hey, like, everyone else is on this train. Maybe you should consider it because it's growing in popularity." And if you can somehow get those two together, then it's probably doubly effective.

John Koetsier: The good old FOMO. Excellent. Well, let's end here. We usually ask our guests for their top three tips. Maybe let's make it two, one from each of you. And you know what? Justin, we'll start with you. What's your top tip for mobile marketers with regard to creative?

Justin Nield: I'm going to say focus on content. Don't worry so much about ad format as the top tip. Make sure that your messaging is hitting the mark. Make sure that the actual content that you're putting out is good. And then the second tip is actually about ad format. And basically, I would say use banners, but use them as a supporting unit, right? So, if you're making a video around a certain campaign, speaking about certain motivators, or let's say there's a character in your game that you're showcasing in your video, make sure you use that character in the banner because it becomes a supportive format like we were saying earlier. A user sees a banner, it reminds them of an experience that they played in a playable, and then they're bored in the game in the menu that they're in and they want to get out. That's it.

John Koetsier: Love it. That was two for the price of one. And I noticed Peggy has a ghost in her house, so that was awesome, too.

James Haslam: Well, I'd be remiss as a marketer if I didn't just say, you know, we have an incredibly talented and very passionate creative team working at Liftoff, and from some of the work I've seen, I would absolutely recommend working with us because I'm sure they will take ads to new heights.

John Koetsier: Wow. Excellent. Very good. Well, thank you so much, guys. It's been a lot of fun.

Justin Nield: Cool.

James Haslam: Brilliant. Thank you for having us again.

Peggy Anne Salz: It has, indeed. And now we are totally into banners. I'm going to start looking at them.

Justin Nield: Tiny billboards.

John Koetsier: Exactly. So much to learn here. Tiny billboards with video and playables, everything all in one.

Justin Nield: Playable banners coming soon.

John Koetsier: Excellent. And thank you to all listeners. We really do appreciate you. Hope you're enjoying it. Let us know on social if you are.

Peggy Anne Salz: And let us know if you want to come and we'll have you on the show. If you're a mobile hero or you know of someone who is, then fill out the interest form over at

John Koetsier: Also, Liftoff has a Slack for Mobile Heroes and people in the mobile ecosystem. There's a link on the screen. And if you're listening to the podcast, it's that It's pretty cool. There's smart people there, and you know what? They probably need you, too.

Peggy Anne Salz: And you have probably been completely blown away by all the insights on this show and you want your transcript, and you can have it because the transcripts are over at Liftoff's website. Go to, click on Heroes, and then click on Podcast.

John Koetsier: I actually personally love transcripts because I read way faster than people talk. So, that's a great way to get insights really, really quickly. Until the next time, this is John Koetsier. Thank you so much for joining.

Peggy Anne Salz: And this is Peggy Anne Salz signing off for "Mobile Heroes Uncensored."

Jun 15, 2022

Privacy That Doesn’t Suck: Privacy Sandbox on Android

Is it possible to have privacy that doesn’t suck for marketers? While SKAdNetwork and iOS 14.5 might not fit that billing, Privacy Sandbox on Android just might.

What does it include? What will change? What will get worse, and what will get better. In this episode of Mobile Heroes Uncensored, we interview three experts to get their insights:

They tell us what Privacy Sandboxes’ most pleasant surprises are, what the biggest concerns about losing GAID are, and whether Topics API is robust enough for accurate targeting. All that and more. 

45 min

Gadi Eliashiv: This is almost like your second chance for some folks. So I've seen really massive companies that, as of a few months ago, still are really lagging behind with SKAdNetwork, and maybe slowed their spending, etc., which is way too late, right? Because we've known about SKAN for a long time. So maybe Google is like a do-over, right? You get two years now, so make sure you build that team, be curious. And I know it's early for a lot of us, but, like, starting early I think is important. So anyone that missed the SKAN train, hop on the, I don't know, the PSA train.

John Koetsier: How will Privacy Sandbox on Android change mobile marketing? Hello and welcome to "Mobile Heroes Uncensored." I'm John Koetsier, your co-host with Peggy Anne Salz. And today we're chatting about Google's SKAdNetwork, sort of, Google's ATT kind of. It's Privacy Sandbox for Android of course and it's the certainty of the deprecation of the Google ad ID. It's also the next shoe that's dropping in the privacy revolution that is sweeping through mobile advertising and attribution. What is it going to change? It seems better than SKAN, but what will marketers lose? And are those things that they'll gain?

Peggy, who are we discussing this with?

Peggy Anne Salz: Well, John, I was thinking it's almost like a comeback, you know, bringing the band back together, because think about it. When we started, this was the topic. We were talking about a world without IDFA, and we were almost the same companies, remember?

John Koetsier: How long ago was it? Was it half a year? I forget. It was a year almost or something like that. I mean, it was a cool conversation, and yeah, similar topic, privacy, mobile attribution, mobile measurement, mobile marketing. Now of course it's Android rather than iOS.

Peggy Anne Salz: And privacy. It stays consistent. It will follow us, John. So, let me tell you about our lineup. We have Gadi Eliashiv at Singular. So Gadi is the CEO of Singular, the mobile attribution company that led the shift to SKAN on iOS. He is a coder and a developer at heart, but also a surprisingly skilled woodworker, and he moved recently to Austin, Texas from San Francisco and now, yes, you guessed it, getting in the mood, driving a pickup truck and owns a tractor. Really, Gadi?

Gadi Eliashiv: Yes.

Peggy Anne Salz: Yes, that will do it. Yes, that's certainly convincing. And Sergio Serra at InMobi. You were around the first time around, Sergio, and you're back again. You lead product at InMobi, where you have had no fewer than six roles in just over eight years, so you either love to mix it up, or possibly suffering from ADHD. I'm not quite sure. You live in LA, but you also went to school in Dubai and Italy, and his co-workers say he is super hardworking plus extremely knowledgeable. Shall we test him, John?

John Koetsier: Absolutely. That's the point. That's the plan.

Sergio Serra: Yeah.

Peggy Anne Salz: Okay. And finally, we have Matt Ellinwood at Liftoff. Matt is Director of Product Management at Vungle, which of course has now merged with Liftoff. It is Liftoff. He has a unique background with history both in technology advertising, but also automotive repair industry. So you guys can talk to Gadi there, telecoms. And again doing our research on our guest, John, one co-worker says Matt's brilliance is only outweighed by his passion and can-do attitude. That's exciting. I want to hear more. Welcome to you all.

John Koetsier: I'm sure he was paid for that endorsement. I mean...

Peggy Anne Salz: It was recommendation, I was like, if I write this recommendation for like [inaudible 00:03:46] for me.

John Koetsier: Here it is, copy-paste. No, I'm just joking. Nobody does that on LinkedIn. That never happens, absolutely not. Matt, welcome. Gadi, welcome. Sergio, welcome. This is going to be awesome. Looking forward to it. Great to have you all. Let's maybe start here. There is a lot to like, and I'm calling it PSA, Privacy Sandbox for Android. What was the most pleasant surprise that you saw? We'll start with Gadi.

Gadi Eliashiv: Quite simply, I think it didn't suck. It's actually quite good. That was the most pleasant thing about it.

John Koetsier: Sergio, you?

Sergio Serra: Oh, yeah. I mean, I think I will definitely second Gadi. You know, two main things from my side. One, how proactive Google was in reaching out to the ad tech players, despite what we saw with Apple. I mean, if I speak to personal experience, we have been working with Google on these for the past few months, roughly. And the second point is the quality of these changes, and, you know, specifically, I'm a very big fan of attribution reporting as a functionality, and then yes, we will talk more about that.

John Koetsier: What about you, Matt? What were you pleasantly surprised by?

Matt Ellinwood: Yeah, you know, one of the things that we noted was Google's approach is very transparent. A ton of supporting documentation. They've been very frank about what the timeline is to give us a long heads-up and allow for advertisers and also all of us to prepare, which is, you know, kind of a contrast with some of the other industry players we've seen. So that's nice. I mean, I think we expected that, but I can't say we expected it necessarily to the level that they've done it. And I think they're serious about this feedback period. Those are the things I'd illuminate just in terms of the approach that is a bit of a surprise, and I think most of us in the industry appreciate.

Peggy Anne Salz: So it was a pleasant surprise. It had documentation. It didn't suck, as Gadi said, but of course, it still needs some work. One area where you think PSA needs a bit of work yet? I'll start with you, Gadi.

Gadi Eliashiv: Yes. I'll just compliment the documentation. I think that they need to do some more iteration on it. The first draft was rather complicated and technical and kind of missed some things. And when we did our first kind of deep-dive, we had to guess how certain things would work. But one thing I would say that Google's done amazingly, they already iterated on these docs so quickly. We've seen already, like, two updates. I think we're kind of tracking the word changes in the doc. And they added illustrations. They even it's funny. Some of the things we were guessing they actually added up as official documentation. And I'm happy we guessed it correctly. Like, we're trying to figure out, like, how, you know, multiple ad networks will work together, etc. So there's still a few concepts there that are needed to wrap your head around. And so I'd say the documentation is definitely one area that, you know, keep iterating on it would be wonderful.

Peggy Anne Salz: Okay. Matt, you spoke about the documentation. That's what you called out as being the highlight. What about where it needs work? What scenario, Matt?

Matt Ellinwood: Well, again, kind of a high-level comment that I worry about is, documentation is very thorough, but the solutions in general, it's fairly complex. The complexity level is high. The sophistication needed to really understand all the pieces and put them together is pretty significant. And, you know, one of the things we learned, the experience working through a SKAdNetwork, for example, is, you know, our developer partners don't necessarily have a tremendous amount of time to commit to this. I think that's going to be the challenge is just working through the complexity with the resources that our marketers have to work with and getting down to it. Now, the flip side of that is, again, there's a lot of lead time built into this. But I still just kind of see the complexity itself as something of a challenge in managing the shift.

Peggy Anne Salz: That's rather interesting, because Sergio, I just saw today. I was going through some emails I usually don't look at because I'm not a developer, but that may be of the reasons for InMobi with its University. Do you agree with Matt that that's an area that needs some work and some clarification?

Sergio Serra: Absolutely. Absolutely. I think what is a bit worrying to me is the privacy API speed in general, right? Because it requires fundamental changes all across the ecosystem. So think of the simple fact that the auction will now run on the device itself, right? So they did mention that in the documentation, but I will be more keen to understand how it will exactly work rather than stating the SSPs and other SDKs we need to figure out, right. So I'm sure more detail and more information will come. But at the moment, this is what I would like to see as an improvement from PSA.

John Koetsier: Super interesting. I'm glad to see there is some room for improvement, because, of course, there's a lot there. And a lot of people have been pleasantly surprised with it. One thing that's been interesting to me is that it's sending a lot of postbacks. Obviously, for individual winners, in a sense, the ad network that contributed to an install, you're getting multiple postbacks, but it's also sending multiple postbacks to contributors in some sense. Do you see an opportunity for sort of a multi-touch approach here, a multi-touch light almost, either inside Privacy Sandbox or with data from Privacy Sandbox? Sergio, why don't we start with you on that one?

Sergio Serra: Sure. So I think even though Google is in the business of attribution, I think in this case, they will rather provide the tools to MMPs to actually do that. And think about, you know, there is a specific pattern where you can set up multiple URLs where you want the conversion to be sent. And my understanding is that the conversion will go even like to competing networks, right? So if two or more networks competed and both got the install, the attribution will go to them, but then it will be up to a superpartner, so to the MMP, to determine which one actually is accountable for that. And for me, just zooming out a little bit, but it's…like the whole Privacy Sandbox concept probably is a good thing for MMPs, like much better than SKAN. And I'm also curious to understand what Gadi thinks about that, but, like, that's my personal opinion. I think they will let someone else do the multi-touch attribution.

John Koetsier: Let's turn to Gadi then.

Gadi Eliashiv: Yeah, I think maybe the first thing I would say is what Matt said about complexity. It is a complex solution. It's one of these things you kind of need to think about for a second to make sure you understand how it works. But I also, in a kind of selfish way, I see the complexity as our opportunity to simplify, and that's kind of what we've been doing for customers, honestly, on SKAN, because SKAN is also a beast to understand and testing is, like, almost impossible, and we did a lot of things just to be able to test it.

But back to your question, I'm not sure if I call it MTA. So really, in a way, it depends on how you define it. If you define the ability to see multiple touch points in dedupe, then yes. In a way, the way that this mechanism is now going to work's almost like every network became a SAN, a self-attributing network, and I'll explain why. It's not so much about the network's chose to do that, but, in a way, today a self-attributing network just sees their own clicks and views and they kind of take credit, right? But it's disconnected from the rest. And so now, this model means that every network will now only see their own data in their postbacks, which is a good signal for the network, but it's not sufficient because they don't know if they want necessarily. And that's where all the chaining that Sergio talked about, it is very interesting. And, in fact, it's one of the iterations Google did. They literally called out the MMP use case and they said, "This is how it should work," which is amazing, because we wrote a blog post a bit sooner that said the same thing. So basically, yes. The MMPs will play a role where you'll get multiple touch points, and then the MMP will, in a way, see all these different touch points and the last one will be prioritized. And you can even control it based on the customer's requirements.

But it's not true MTA in the form that Google will tell you, "Oh, there were like 20 different touch points. You're going to get all of them." There's still a selection algorithm, very basic, based on priorities. You know, do you want views or do you want clicks? And based on that, they'll choose the last one. So that's why it's sort of a yes or no. But at least you get deduping and you can configure that. That's really nice way that they built out the API.

John Koetsier: I love the nuanced response there. That makes a ton of sense, and also it ignores the entire outside world, right? Like you saw a billboard, a friend talk to you about it. I mean, there's so much more going on in all of our lives. But every network becoming a SAN, that's the first I've heard of that, and it's interesting. Sergio's eyes are like, "Oh, that sounds good. I can just claim victory on every impression. Yay." Matt, your thoughts?

Matt Ellinwood: The only thing I'd have to add to that is our takeaway was something that Gadi keyed in on, which was there's very clearly this continued role for the MMP within this framework. And so, we just expect for that to continue to be a driver in terms of how, you know, advertisers and ad networks and MMPs are essentially, you know, getting to attribution. And that carve-out for the MMP role was, from our point of view, like, really clear within the sandbox. So I echo what he said and expect for that to be part of the go forward.

Peggy Anne Salz: I like that we're trying to look at it in a very balanced way. But at the end of the day, it is about losing GAID, losing Google Ad ID. What's your biggest concern about that? I'll start with Gadi.

Gadi Eliashiv: Yeah, I was starting to think how to answer that honestly, because, like, you know, am I concerned about GAID going away? Maybe part of me already realizes it has to happen, right? It was bound to happen. And so, now, it's more can't... You know, I wish I would apply that logic in everything in my life, but you can't really be afraid of the unavoidable stuff, right? You kind of know it's going to happen. So, to me, the first reaction was like, "Oh, wow, it's actually, like you guys asked, it doesn't look that bad, given what PSA is going to do or Privacy Sandbox is going to do." So I wouldn't say concern was the first thing that drove me.

But then diving deeper and also seeing what happens with SKAdNetwork, I am worried a bit about the area of fraud. So one of the challenges when you put everything in the device is that you don't necessarily have as much information from, you know, the MMP or the advertiser standpoint to observe the individual touch points because it all happens on the device. And so today, with SKAdNetwork, and I would assume the same could happen with this, what if, you know, ad networks keep injecting views or clicks in a way and would trick the API? Like, that's areas that, because it's such a black box in the device, would be harder to debug. And that's where GAID was actually useful because advertisers could say I expect to see the GAID. It was random enough. It was hard for people to spoof it, even though it was possible, but that's one area I would say is a concern is, you know, fraud.

Peggy Anne Salz: Fraud is a concern. It was inevitable and coming to accept it. Matt, what you would like to maybe add to that?

Matt Ellinwood: I think fraud is a really good callout as kind of a tangential or orthogonal impact of losing the ID. Some of the things that I think about recently, and I would add IP address to the conversation. You know, it seems there's a signal within Google's framework that IP address is going to see some restrictions. We've seen that within Apple and the SKAdNetwork and expect more of it. The impact there is that we have uncertainty around is that there are use cases like fraud and others where we use some of these signals for innocuous reasons that we need them for that's good for everybody that we're essentially going to lose. And so, you know, we need to suss those out. We need to find alternatives and we need to have an answer, and not lose some capabilities or some reporting that we currently have. That doesn't's not a privacy issue. It's more just something that we need in the course of running and optimizing the business that suddenly becomes harder as an unintended kind of second-degree consequence. So, you know, I think that's real. And we'll be adjusting some things we know about, some things that we probably discover along the way as a result of those changes.

Peggy Anne Salz: Sergio, do you have anything to add as well?

Sergio Serra: Well, yeah. I think the only point I would like to add here is that despite what we are seeing with ATT, right, here is really a Boolean. So from day X, Google Advertising ID will not be longer accessible, right. So what this means is that... See, in case of ATT, you had two types of bias. You had the performance bias being super proactive, trying to get there as they have stuff in place as soon as possible. And then you had brand buyers, like "Oh, yeah, we will try to support SKAdNetwork. It doesn't actually serve our purposes." You know what? There will be still some updating supply, right? And that's exactly what happened, because you see the eCPMs on updating supply going to the roof. And, at the end of the day, brands are spending much lesser into opted-out supply.

Now, what happens here is that you will only have opted-out supply practically. So there is not a fallback plan as such. And to me, either these privacy APIs work or we will be left only with contextual, which is not necessarily bad. But that's a very strong point to think about, right? And one other minor thing that, to me, I'm a big fan of, you know, templates and user experience is that you will no longer be able to do creative optimization at the user ID level, which today you can do, but tomorrow, will go to a cohort level optimization in the best-case scenario. So these are two things that could be added to what Matt and Gadi were saying. I second the fraud point. But fortunately, Google also added support recently, I think, two quarters ago to App Set IDs, which is the counterpart of IDFV, right? So that's probably something that we can still leverage from a fraud perspective rather than advertising perspective.

John Koetsier: That's kind of a good segue, because a big change in Privacy Sandbox is targeting, right. And Topics API is one of the technologies there. Sergio, maybe stick with you on this one. What do you think of Topics API? Is it robust enough? What does it need to make it better?

Sergio Serra: Yeah, that's a great question. I mean, we can still just comment on the surface. But from what we could see, I think the idea is very good because it capitalizes on interspace advertising that has been there, like, for a long time, right. But today, for me, as InMobi wanted to build interspace advertising to be siloed to the ads I can see from my side, right, or I should say, to the opportunity I can see from my side. Now, the platform doing that is much better because you will have now 360-degree view into the user journey so far.

So I think the idea is good. They also introduced some logic for making sure you cannot really pinpoint the user. And again, I think someone can just go and read up the spec. Probably we don't need to deep dive more into that. But the outcome is that you will be given topics that are very, you know, consistent in nature or you can use for your targeting purposes. There are a couple of problems in my mind, though. So one problem is how many categories will be there, right? So I personally really hope that Android, and specifically Google, being a fan of open source, will really just build on top of the IAB taxonomy, especially 3.0 is exhaustive enough. So probably for standard consistency, it might make sense.

The second point is that, of course, this might favour the big players, right? Because apparently, you are given access to that specific taxonomy only if you previously called the Topics API from an app that belongs to that category. So, of course, the higher your scale, the higher your probability to get to see that specific category, right? And lastly, I will say adoption in general is going to be a friction. So either the whole ad tech ecosystem adopts that, or, again, we will be in a position where, you know, targeting will be very limited.

Again, the taxonomy to me is key, and then the fact that big players will have an advantage. And then let's see how interspace advertising will pan out in general.

John Koetsier: Sergio, I really appreciate that comment because one of the things that I've been agonizing over is generally big players in industries create change that benefits them. And I've been looking hard in Privacy Sandbox for how does Google benefit here? Because of course, they're trying to reinvent attribution. They're trying to add privacy, all those things. And absolutely, I believe in that. I believe that Apple is doing those things for similar reasons as well. And yet, you're probably not going to do it as a market or ecosystem leader in a way that doesn't advantage you, or at least doesn't disadvantage you.

Well, with scale, that's interesting. And if you can't target super well in a privacy-safe way with Privacy Sandbox, which does get, let's assume, fully adopted, then maybe you have to go to the big players who have all that first-party data like a Google or a Facebook, or others, or something like that. So that's interesting. I won't ask you guys to comment on that. I understand many of you are in public companies and ruffle feathers and all that stuff. But, Matt, back to the original question, Topics API. Is it robust enough? Do you see enough in there to do the targeting that you need to do?

Matt Ellinwood: Honestly, right now, I think it's hard to say. I think that the two big questions are, "Okay, we've got an example taxonomy. What's the reach? I mean, how much scale can we drive with this?" And then, "Is that going to be knowable without testing?" And then, of course, I mean, does it drive performance? A brand new targeting solution. We won't know until we get out there and test it and can find that both of those things are lacking. So it's just really, really just full of unknowns at the moment from our point of view.

John Koetsier: Wow, not scary at all.

Matt Ellinwood: Well, you know, I mean, certainly both of those things could come back as fantastic. It's just something that's brand new that we'll have to explore and build some testing around. I think Sergio's points about transparency and control and centralization of that data are all absolutely correct. So it's going to be an interesting one to watch.

Peggy Anne Salz: So a lot of open questions, and maybe just a wait-and-see. But one thing that is clear is targeting and matching of ads to humans is now done on device. So the big question remains, what does PSA change or how does PSA change what we think of as an ad network here? I'd love to hear...I'd like to hear actually you, Matt, to start.

Matt Ellinwood: Yeah, I thought about this one, Peggy, and I don't have a short, pithy response. I don't know that it is necessarily going to change how we think of an ad network necessarily. One of the things that stuck out at me, though, amongst all of these solutions is the importance of having software on the device. I think that that's notable in terms of the shift to more and more on-device interactions with the framework. But, you know, the ecosystem players and the role of the MMPs for measurement being in the place that they are, you know, we didn't see a tremendous risk in terms of the framework, you know, kind of shaking up the way that the pieces of the ecosystem fit together and the roles that we play, as much as, you know, a solution that would disintermediate, you know, some of those existing relationships and roles that are played. And with this Google approach, you know, honestly, I think there's less risk of that type of upheaval. We did note that the SDK runtime solution is potentially a really big change and shift in terms of control and oversight over software that does get into the apps. And that's an interesting change.

But again, if everybody's doing what they should do, and are saying that they will, it shouldn't result in wholesale upheaval changes in terms of how the ecosystem fits together.

Peggy Anne Salz: Okay, so not massive upheaval, but some change. Gadi, how do you think that will change what we think of as an ad network, the role that an ad network plays?

Gadi Eliashiv: I think that one of the realizations I had, because we've gone through some of this stuff with SKAdNetwork and from our vantage point of an MMP, and there were a lot of questions about the role of the MMP, etc., and I think, in many cases, the role of the ad network. Eventually to make the solutions work, there's probably like 50 different mechanisms that need to operate. And if one of those mechanisms is changed from one method to another, it doesn't necessarily mean that the rest of it should change or is even possible to change. And even if you read the Google Docs, they clearly specify when there's an ad network or an ad tech vendor, they call it, right, needs to come in and what do they need to supply and what do they get back, and how they all coordinate and where the MMP comes in. And so, really you realize that what you're getting is very simplistic APIs that still need to rely on layers of layers of value and capabilities, like, I don't know, even serving the ads or having a concept of a campaign, or having a real-time server to respond to that on-device Google API.

And, you know, I could tell you, in our case of MMPs, the amount of work that we need to do to make SKAdNetwork operable is massive, right? And so there were folks who said, "Oh, well, now, you got an on-device database that says who won the attribution." And I'm like, "Yeah, that was always the easiest part, right? Like, it's everything else, the making sense of that data, that's the real challenge, right?" Like, I wish, you know, all I had to do was match an IDFA to a click, but that's not really it, right? It's everything around that. So I guess the same applies. I kind of feel like it's same for ad networks, and, you know, if you kind of look into the API, you realize, yeah, you're kind of getting a very thin layer of capabilities that you got to build a real product on.

Peggy Anne Salz: Sergio, massive change and upheaval, or just a bit?

Sergio Serra: See, I will give you my Nostradamus prediction, given my current understanding, right? So, first of all, I still want to believe that the cases where DSPs directly talk to the publishers will be limited in nature. So there will definitely be always a role of an SSP there. So with that in mind, the good news is that we still have...we already have in the ecosystem, and specifically in the programmatic pipes, a way to send multiple bids. So what I'm thinking is that there will be more transparency between the DSP and the SSP in that the DSP will communicate upfront a set of campaigns and demand they have in the given point in time that is after specific retargeting segments or specific topics.

Now, what will happen is that the SSP will get all these potential campaigns/bids, and will decide through some deep learning model, which ones for that ad opportunities could be more suited, right. So what this means is that you end up sending maybe four to five responses to the device, and then, based on the information that will be only accessible on device, right, that might be some geo data, that could be the taxonomy we just spoke about for topics or the retargeting segments, so FLEDGE. Then based on that, you will hopefully get one of these bids that will be a winner, based on pricing, based on relevancy. So this really depends on the criteria that will be employed on the device.

But, to me, the role of an SSP there will be to optimize the win rate for the DSP, and the DSP will have to expose their demand. And then of course, maybe out of these five bids I just told, three will be selected based on these contextual...actually I should say not contextual, again, on the FLEDGE segments and topics that the DSPs are after and maybe two just on the contextual, so at runtime itself. So again, all speculations, but I think there will be some fundamental changes on both sides, so supply and demand.

John Koetsier: It's almost like these people know what they're talking about, hey, Peggy. Thank you, Sergio. That is a great answer. I really appreciate it. And meanwhile, the marketers that are listening to us are going like, "Oh, man, all these freaking details. Holy Mother, these different pieces of the ad tech ecosystem and measurement." You know what? I've got a stack of cash here, and I want a bunch of users there. What's going to change for me in this new reality? What will Privacy Sandbox change for marketers? Matt, let's give you first crack at that.

Matt Ellinwood: Yeah, I mean, the hard part is the uncertainty and navigating...

John Koetsier: Matt, I'm looking for the answer, "Nothing. It's all easy. No worries. Not a problem. We'll do everything. We'll take care of it all. Marketers just have to sign the check and it's all good." That's the answer I want.

Matt Ellinwood: Well, you know, ultimately, that's what we're going to do as providers for sure. The here to there is interesting. Again, I think that navigating the uncertainty is a bit of a challenge. At the end of the day, though, we're going to have a different type of postback and we're going to need to evolve the measurement and the KPIs and understand that different type of postback within the context of what we've been doing all along. And it's not going to be the same as it has been. It'll be an evolution and a change. And it's likely to look like a performance hit early, I would assume.

Again, our transition time with Google's approach is just different than what we've experienced in the iOS ecosystem, so I think the disruption is going to be less. But this is going to shift us into a way of understanding the postback data that's coming back from Google in a way that's different than what we're used to as marketers, and so we're going to have to understand it and we're going to have to develop a point of view about our performance relative to this framework, and it's going to be a bit of a change in evolution from what we've been used to doing.

John Koetsier: Let's turn to Gadi, and that's an interesting answer, Matt, because, I mean, you don't're telling like it is. It's going to be change, and you're talking to an ecosystem that has dealt with an extreme level of change over the last year, and that's been painful. And it's been very painful change, and it's probably going to get more painful for some marketers who have sort of slipped by using probabilistic fingerprinting methods and sort of worked out and it was okay, and that probably door's shutting. That door is closing very, very soon. So there's more change coming, Gadi. What do you tell marketers when they know, they ask, you know, "What's it going to change for me in my life and my world?"

Gadi Eliashiv: Yeah, I mean, I'm sure there's going to be a ton of implications that are maybe too long to list. But if I had to provide a short answer, I do believe that if this will be done right, both by Google and us... We mentioned earlier the feedback. I think that's amazing. And we do have a chance to talk to Google about this stuff all the time. If we do this right, then not a lot should change, right? I do believe we can see a future where privacy is real and it's here. But marketers can do their job and companies can grow. And seeing what PSA offers on v1, or it's even, like, version draft, whatever that is, is already a ton. It makes me very optimistic. I don't want marketers to ignore those changes and kind of, you know, forget about it than being different. They got to think about what that means for the company.

But on the flip side, I do think that, unlike SKAN... When you looked at SKAN 1.0, you know, you almost had a heart attack. It's like this can't, this is insane, right. And then they did SKAN 2.0 and 3.0 and it got better. But this is not the case. This already started great and with the few iterations I've seen, it's getting better. So I do think marketers will be able to do their job. And, you know, more specifically, you know, one of the areas that is most obvious might not be able to optimize on a device level, which is painful. But a lot of marketers do like to optimize in the things they can control, like my creative or my campaign or my targeting. And I think a lot of that will be possible, right? And so that's fantastic and it's going to be more powerful than what you get from SKAN. So, yeah, hopefully, you know, if done right, not a lot is going to change.

John Koetsier: Sergio, let's hear your answer to this. I mean, Matt basically said the road is long and hard, but we're going to get there and marketers will be okay at the end. Gadi says if we do our job right, then it won't be that big a deal, hopefully, and you'll have lots of opportunity to do cool stuff as well. What's your thought?

Sergio Serra: Well, I think just to Gadi's point, right? I believe Google has an immense advantage, which is the second-mover advantage, right? So yes, when we also...the first iteration of SKAN, actually the first version of SKAN, we were all like, "This is not going to fly. This will never work, right?" But the fundamental difference now is that Google is not offering an alternative as we said at the beginning. So what this really means is that, in case of SKAN, why it didn't work. It didn't work because it didn't get adopted because there were alternatives, right. So you could still have the device ID. Now Google is practically withdrawing that support, and so you're left just with that option for attribution purposes.

So Google cannot make big mistakes. But that's also the best way to force into adoption of a specific product, right? So as far as the fundamental changes are concerned, I will say first one is that fingerprinting for the first time is going to be an option for sure, right? SDK runtime is an example, but then think about also the previous examples still from Privacy Sandbox, which is, you know, the privacy budget. And also, you guys might have heard of client teams, right? So at the end of the day, they are making a life for someone that wants to do a fingerprint key pretty much impossible, right? So, for the first time, buyers will have to really comply to the only option Google is leaving them with. Now, is it an extensive option? Yes, it looks so. Do they have alternatives? No. So that's a fundamental change in my mind.

And again, I think another change is that it kind of gives back a lot of power to MMPs. Like to me, when I compare PSA to SKAN, and don't get me wrong, I absolutely think that MMPs for SKAN add immense value because of the conversion value handling and all these things on reporting, but I think for PSA, it's going to be even more important. So definitely, there are many changes in the way we understand marketing today from a buyer perspective, but I agree that if we execute correctly, there should be a smooth transition for everybody.

Peggy Anne Salz: Okay, so not so painful for marketers if we get it right, not so much change there. But at the end of the day, they don't just want to say, "I want to acquire," they always want to up their game. They always want to optimize those campaigns. What are some of the changes that are going to be happening with PSA? Because you said it yourself, Sergio, you know, creative optimization is going to be different. So I'll kick it off with you. Deep Dive with me here. What is going to change in campaign optimization?

Sergio Serra: Yeah, so for me, first of all, we need to see if interspace advertising works in a good way, at least as good as user ID targeting, right? So I don't think the answer is yes. There would be multiple iterations in the way you target. You know, FLEDGE is another option, and yes, retargeting so will be possible. But at the end of the day, what I will definitely tell everybody is, whenever you are given an option to test, and Google will make this available to everybody very soon, right? Just go ahead and test because today you have an organic control bucket, which is your device ID. Tomorrow you won't. So you have to take the opportunity to fine-tune today. Right? So that's a fundamental shift in my mind.

And yeah, the other thing is that you will need to optimize based on contextual as well. And that's something that's happening already in iOS, but probably not at the scale that everybody will want to see, because, again, there is optionality here, even though the device ID is scarce in nature now, still, it's an option. So you see these massively CPMs compared to opted out supply. So these are the fundamental changes in my mind in the way company optimization will work. There might be, of course, much higher number of ramifications. But if I was to summarize, these are the most relevant ones to me.

Peggy Anne Salz: More testing, context being king. Gadi, what do you have to add to that?

Gadi Eliashiv: I have to say, you know, I agree. I think Sergio brings a really interesting angle, which is, you know, I oftentimes, at least in my job, focus a lot on the measurement reporting. But this framework has this dependency where the adoption is not, just do you use it for attribution or not? But can it really replace GAID so that marketing can be effective, even all the way from the ad network, not even just the advertiser, but can ad networks do their job? So I think that's a really interesting point.

I would like to believe that marketers will be able to, based on what I've seen, report on a campaign or a keyword or creative and make those optimization decisions, etc., and have the KPIs that they're used to and, you know, the support for longer cohorts, things that, you know, are really difficult to do in SKAN. Like, you know, it's funny, we just released this product that works really hard just to kind of reconstruct cohorts on SKAN, because it just doesn't exist. So we will be out of the box, which is good. But then the question is, you know, you have a campaign. Can the ad network even target the right people to begin with? So I think that's a really interesting dependency that you have within the Privacy Sandbox Spec between all those different pieces, right? Where attribution might be wonderful, but if the targeting sucks then we're kind of stuck. So yeah, it's my only other, you know, addition here is that from a reporting side, it looked good, but I agree with the dependency there.

Peggy Anne Salz: Quite a hurdle, because if you are targeting fine, you're optimizing, but you don't know if the targeting is really working. Matt, what are your thoughts here? What can you add here?

Matt Ellinwood: Yeah, good comments. Not a lot to add from my point of view. Just to build on what Gadi said too about the good news for optimization here that I would share, the difference with Google's approach is the level of reporting that we can get that feeds back to the campaign and the creative, the restrictions are manageable from the marketer's point of view and are really signals that we need for optimization. It's a very stark difference from what happens with SKAdNetwork, to Gadi's point, where we just, you know, have these incredible restrictions on creative and campaign-level reporting. And that'll be a big win for continuing to be able to drive optimization forward. So that was good news in the mix here, for sure.

Peggy Anne Salz: That is good.

John Koetsier: Nice. Nice. So we have to draw this to a close. And we're going to ask you each for your top tip for marketers in this emerging and growing age of privacy. Just before I do that, though, I got to hit on a few things. I mean, you know, it's really interesting to me. We're going to see this come out. We know Google is committed to it. The GAID is going away, but there's a whole world out there that is Android Open Source, China, tons of India, other places as well. Will they adopt that? We've seen other sort of targeting mechanisms, ad measurement mechanisms, [inaudible 00:39:29], for instance, in China, which didn't continue, right? You know, what will we see in other areas of the world? And that maybe doesn't matter so much to a marketer in Europe or in North America, but globally, it kind of does.

It's also interesting that targeting is changing, and Sergio hit on that, right? He said, hey, we're using behavioural data, right? Now you're going to have to use contextual data as well, right? There's of course intent data, which if you get search information that works for players that do search, and there's demographic data if you have that information, first-party data, right? But that behavioural data that people have been used to with an IDFA or a GAID, that is kind of...that historical behavioural data is kind of going away.

Well, let's finish off here. And we'll start with you, Gadi. Your top tip for mobile marketers in an era of increasing privacy restrictions?

Gadi Eliashiv: Yeah, I'm going to recycle. This might be the 400th webinar I've done on privacy in the last few years, and I've always stayed consistent with my tip because I think it holds true. Maybe I'll change it a bit. But my tip was always like, you know, build some sort of a task force in your company to tackle these changes because they're so broad. And it's not just the marketing team and their problems, it's the CEO's problem, and we're seeing it in the stock market as well. Like, this company is getting even...regardless of the macroeconomics, like if you're slowing down and you don't know how you're going to grow, don't ignore other problems. So set up a task force.

And the only thing I would add is, this is almost like a second chance for some folks. So I've seen really massive companies that, as of a few months ago, still are really lagging behind with SKAdNetwork and maybe slow down their spending, etc., which is way too late, right, because we've known about SKAN for a long time. So maybe Google is like a do-over, right? You get two years now, so make sure you build that team, be curious. And I know it's early for a lot of us, but like, starting early, I think, is important. So anyone that missed the SKAN train, hop on the, I don't know, the PSA train.

John Koetsier: The SKAN train, love it. Sergio, your top tip for mobile marketers in an era of increasing privacy?

Sergio Serra: Sure. So I think I'm going to reiterate a couple of things I've already covered. But one thing for sure is that whenever possible, start testing. As I said, right, you have a control, experiment, experiment, experiment. So second thing is give emphasis, more emphasis into creatives. Of course, user ID creative optimization, one, be possible. To me, hey, a beautiful creative is just objectively beautiful, right? So you increase your odds for at least high level iterations, like clicks, and then, you know, website landing, right. And finally, and that's a tricky one, but I will say, if you're a publisher, for sure, just start making changes too, gather as much data as possible about your user, because first-party data is going to be gold, right?

And on the same side, I will say on the demand, whenever possible, find ways to plug your first-party data into pockets where it's allowed. Now, again, we don't know the stance of Google, whenever GAID won't be there. I don't know if you can use first-party data across channels, like, you know that we have a strong stance from Apple, but, to me, first-party data is going to be gold, so for sure you have to work with that. And last one, just stay on top of these updates, because you don't want to come unprepared. So by virtue of listening to these, you know, videos or podcasts or reading up articles, it's very important to be on top.

John Koetsier: Wonderful. And Matt, you get last kicks, what is your top tip for mobile marketers entering this new age?

Matt Ellinwood: Yeah, not to echo what's been said, but I would zero in on you have to budget. You have to budget for these changes. However, you're going to get organized to do it, like, it's work and you have to budget ahead of time to make sure that you commit to it what you need to. I mentioned earlier that the level of complexity here is pretty high, and that just means it's really going to take some effort to be prepared and be conscious about doing that so that you're not behind.

John Koetsier: That is a non-obvious but very valuable tip. We've seen, and Gadi mentioned it, companies get hammered in the stock market, right? And those are the ones we see, those are the public companies. There's a lot of companies that aren’t public. They're trying to raise another round, they're trying to do whatever...expand, whatever they're trying to do, and their board is looking at them and their potential investors are looking at them and, you know, the growth isn't there, the results aren't there, and they didn't budget, they didn't build a task force, and they didn't stay engaged. Well, guess what? Nobody who's listening to this will fall in that category because you guys have provided amazing insight. Thank you so much, all of you.

Peggy Anne Salz: Thank you for being insightful and also leaving us with our new motto, jump on that SKAN train, right? We have to do it. We have to do it with PSA. Absolutely.

John Koetsier: And thank you to all listeners. We really do appreciate you. Hope you're enjoying it. Let us know on social if you are.

Peggy Anne Salz: And let us know if you want to come and we'll have you on the show. If you're a mobile hero or you know someone who is, then fill out the interest form over at

John Koetsier: Also Liftoff has a Slack for mobile heroes and people in the mobile ecosystem. There's a link on the screen, and if you're listening to podcasts, it's at It's pretty cool. There's smart people there, and, you know what, they probably need you too.

Peggy Anne Salz: And you have probably been completely blown away by all the insights on this show and you want your transcript. And you can have it because the transcripts are over at Liftoff's website. Go to, click on heroes, and then click on podcast.

John Koetsier: I actually personally love transcripts because I read way faster than people talk. So it's a great way to get insights really, really quickly. Until next time, this is John Koetsier. Thank you so much for joining.

Peggy Anne Salz: And this is Peggy Anne Salz signing off for "Mobile Heroes Uncensored."

Jun 8, 2022

How One CMO Built a Popular Social Network for People Who Love Fishing

This may come as a shock but not every massive, successful, money-making app is in gaming, fintech, ride-hailing, or the metaverse. Today we chat with the CMO of a very different type of app: one that builds a digital layer to connect a pre-existing community and offers tools and commerce that make what they do better.

What is it?

Fishbrain connects 14 million fishers across the planet with tools, maps, social features, recommendations, and shopping. We chat with Lisa Kennelly, the CMO, who is building something amazing in a nontraditional (for mobile!) space. 

Lisa talks about acquisition channels, what’s delivering uplift, how Fishbrain keeps its marketing and ads fresh, and how they engage their users. Plus, we also get into Fishbrains expansion into commerce.

26 min

Lisa Kennelly: In the social networks like Facebook and Instagram, they're very broad, but they're very shallow, right? And people want to go quite deep on their hobby, their thing they're passionate about, you know. So I think the concept of vertical social networks, that has been around for a long time, but it's only sort of more recently as people have started to want more than what Facebook or Instagram provides that those who started to really grow.
John Koetsier: Do you have fish on your brain? Welcome to "Mobile Heroes Uncensored." My name is John Koetsier. My co-host, of course, as always, is the amazing Peggy Anne Salz. Today, we're chatting with somebody else who's also amazing, and somebody very different, who leads an app that is very, very different. It's not in the metaverse, not a game, you don't earn gems, you're not killing aliens. It's not ride-hailing, or FinTech, or any of the other huge investment mobile verticals that we talk about and talk to all the time. What it is, is a truly massive app for a massive group of people that takes an existing behaviour and lifestyle and build a digital layer for that community to connect, do what they do better, get the right tools, and enjoy their activity more. The app is called Fishbrain, and we're chatting with the CMO today. Who is she, Peggy?
Peggy Anne Salz: So, we have Lisa Kennelly. She's CMO at Fishbrain. And as you were talking about it, John, Fishbrain is the world's most popular mobile app marketplace and social network for people who love fishing. They're addicted to it. And she is a marketing and communications professional with experience in scaling teams and startups in the U.S. and Europe. So she has built this eCommerce marketplace. Her expertise and growth and marketing come through but also user acquisition, community, and more. And she loves growth almost as much as I think as the fisherman love the fishing because she is "totally addicted to it." And she's gotten into coaching and mentoring startups as well. She loves talking to people about their challenges and learnings. And she's involved in a number of programs, including First Round Fast Track, Startup, Core Strengths, Growth Mentor. She'll be here to talk with us, which is great. She loved talking with us, and she loves to draw from her own experience to keep marketers on the straight and narrow, get them unstuck. So, we're looking forward to hearing some of those tips as well, Lisa. Welcome.
Lisa Kennelly: Well, thanks so much for having me. That was a great introduction.
John Koetsier: Welcome. Everybody likes talking to us, Peggy because we are nice people. So it's a good time when they talk to us. So, Lisa, I Googled your app, I noted the 14 million fishers who have logged 12 million catches, I noted there was a difference between those two numbers and I was wondering, does this prove once and for all that the fishing trip isn't really about the fish?
Lisa Kennelly: Oh, wow, great point there. I mean, I think it proves that yes...
John Koetsier: I can do basic math like anybody else.
Lisa Kennelly: You can have a really great fishing trip or fishing experience without catching a fish. Of course, catching a fish makes it better. I've been told I'm actually super unsuccessful at catching fish when we do our company fishing trips. It's also true that a lot of people use Fishbrain who maybe won't log all their catches there. We hope they do. But sometimes they use it for more of the social network, you know, community park, or maybe for the shopping cart. But we do like to say every catch on Fishbrain, we have that as a company goal for a while.
John Koetsier: I love it. And I was kind of joking with you there because I know, like, you know, many people will use an app and not use every single feature of it, right? So that makes 100% of sense. But you do have a pretty amazing audience/community, 14 million is super significant. How did you grow to that?
Lisa Kennelly: Yeah. So I mean, the app has been around for quite a while. So, it's been around since around 2010 or so. So we have... I would say one way we've grown is like we've been around for a while, we, you know, went through those first steps in the first few years of figuring out what worked and getting to the point of product-market fit where we could grow. So I would say that's part of it. And then it was... You know, once we found that, that it was a great now we have, you know, the investment, we have the team to start to scale that both on the marketing, you know, acquisition side, as well as through other channels, organic channels, partnership channels. So I wish I could say there's like, "Oh, we figured it out." But it was just a lot of the sort of usual tactics of, like, you find a product that works and then you scale it. So easy, right?
Peggy Anne Salz: So no special sort of channels that help the most. It was, you know, paid, unpaid. It was all in Facebook, whatever. Is there any one that really stood out for you?
Lisa Kennelly: So I would say it's definitely gone in phases over time. I would say much like most mobile apps and marketers, you know, have found over time. So definitely before the last couple of years, we did grow a lot through paid channels through Facebook and through Google and those. And, you know, because the targeting was so good, it made sense. Why wouldn't we go through Facebook, right? We could find people who are interested in fishing. And we did. So that was quite an effective way for us to grow for quite some time. And then, obviously, with the changes to iOS and privacy in the last couple of years, we've started to invest more heavily in other channels. We always were. So, we certainly have done influencers for quite some years. There's a lot of fishing influencers, if you didn't know that. It's very popular on various channels, YouTube, Instagram, TikTok. So we've done some work with them. Of course, we've got a lot of growth from the community. So when we pull our users right now, and we ask them where they heard about Fishbrain, 35% say from friends and family. So we know there's quite a lot of word of mouth happening. So those are some different channels that, you know, we've grown through and continue to grow through. And then the last year, we've put a lot of emphasis on growing through partners as well, because there's so many partners in the fishing industry, right? In the fishing industry, you mentioned some of these other industries that a lot of tech is working in. Unlike many of those, fishing is very non-digital, or it's been very non-digital for a very long time. So, as more and more of the industry players in fishing, you know, want to get more involved in digital and tech and reach a younger audience, they've come to us because they see we're the biggest fishing app in the space. So that's been very interesting as a way for us to grow is connecting with fishing brands, the agencies in the States who are the ones who sell the fishing licenses and manage all the waters, for example, some conservation organisations. Those are the type of organizations we're partnering with now.
John Koetsier: It makes a ton of sense, Lisa. And Peggy, it's quite interesting, actually, the major growth strategy is been around surviving. Who would have known? If you're actually running a business and you can survive for a decade or more, chances are you're going to keep growing along the way. I want to dig deeper into a little bit of the app, Lisa. And the reason I'm doing so is because, as I said off the top, you know, it's not a vertical that people think of immediately when they think of mobile, and they think of apps, and they think... But it's actually probably underserved, just in terms of whether it's fishing, whether it's construction, whether it's something that is non-digital, non-mobile, that somebody's taking an app and actually building a community and providing something useful. There's a lot of revenue potential there and a lot of growth opportunity there that isn't normal. But you've added a social component there. And I want you to help us understand what is that? What does it look like? If I go fishing with Peggy and we're in a boat somewhere, and we both have the app, do we like say, "Hey, we're fishing together?" And are there special features when we're on a fishing trip together?
Lisa Kennelly: That's a very great question and so timely. Exactly. So...
John Koetsier: Plenty of fish in the sea. That's related, right?
Lisa Kennelly: For sure. For sure. So I would say that's evolved over time. So, actually, right now, something we're working on building is a feature we do call trips, which is talking about what is your fishing trip which could involve other people, right? It can be we're on this fishing trip together. And that is something that we've developed over time. I would say the other... I mean, some of the other community features that have been there for a long time, is that one of the things you do when you set up the app is you say, what's my fishing area? Like, what's the...? It's geographically based. What are the places I like to fish? Because most people, when they fish regularly, it's within a 30-minute drive of their house. Of course, you can go fishing trips, you have more, you don't want off things. But if you're someone who fishes as a hobby, most of the time it's a 30-minute drive your house, right? So you want to know what's around you. And then you want to see... You can see the catches that are around you, and you can see who caught those fish around you. So that's something we've heard for a long time, is that people will connect with people they've met in their area who they see fishing by the body of water near them. We actually have a really cute story of a couple who actually met via Fishbrain because they were both fishing sort of in the same water, and they got connected, and they ended up getting married as a result of meeting at Fishbrain. So it's pretty amazing way of bringing people together. So...
John Koetsier: I was joking with plenty of fish comment, but...
Lisa Kennelly: Yeah. But I mean, to go back to your point about, you know, is this sort of a unique vertical? I mean, that was one of the reasons that our CEO and founder thought about Fishbrain back then was that in these social networks like Facebook and Instagram, they're very broad, but they're very shallow, right? And people want to go quite deep on their hobby, their thing they're passionate about. So, I think the concept of vertical social networks, that has been around for a long time, but it's only sort of more recently as people have started to want more than what Facebook or Instagram provides that those have started to really grow. And there's other very successful ones like Strava, you know, is another example we look at a lot, I would say Vivino, the wine app, they're another one. Now, there's quite an interesting social component on the marketplace. Untappd is a beer social network. So there are some out there. I know those are two alcoholic samples. They're...
John Koetsier: Not just fish on your brain.
Peggy Anne Salz: It makes perfect sense, John. You know, people love what they love. And it makes me think of a story way back at the start of mobile and apps. And one of the biggest networks at that point in time was in Scandinavia, where else, right? A lot of darkness, a lot of time on your hands. And it was bird calls, right? You have these people who were like, "Who can do the best bird calls and who can do the best imitations?" And really get into this stuff. So people love what they love. They're passionate about what they care about. But I do want to stay with the audience for a moment because they're committed for sure, right? But the passion about fishing, you know, it can wane or there can be other apps out there that aren't like yours but do cater to fishing enthusiasts. How do you get your audience to keep using it on a regular basis, you know, between the trips, between the dating for other fishing enthusiasts, you know, stay relevant, stay top of mind, how do you handle that?
Lisa Kennelly: Oh, that's such a great question. I mean, retention is something we all struggle with in the industry and especially fishing, which is very seasonal, right? So on top of just general app retention, we have quite a seasonality curve, especially because most of our audience is in the United States. We are global, but we focus a lot of our marketing growth on the U.S. currently. And so, you see a very, very strong seasonality curve that goes up from April to October, more or less, that's the peak. And people fish all year round. There are some people who do. But, you know, if you live in the northern part of the United States, unless you're going ice fishing, not so much. And then there's actual, you know, regulations around when you can and can't fish depending on when the fish are spawning all of that. So that's something we do work with a lot is, you know, how do we keep people engaged. If I went fishing all summer, and then it's too cold, then I won't go fishing again until the next year. So there's a couple of different ways. Certainly, it's around, you know, the standard tools in your tool belt of like emails and push notifications and all of those things. But actually, the marketplace we developed was a direct approach to that because the season for shopping for fishing gear is kind of the inverse. So, the biggest month for shopping for fishing gear for our audience are like November, December, which is like Black Friday shopping season. So if you see our activity, those curves are a little bit inverted. So that's something we did to try and balance that out. But I would say other things we're doing is definitely around the content side. Because even if you're not fishing, you're consuming fishing content all year round. It's the dark of December and you're watching fishing videos on YouTube all day all night. So, you know, we're trying to work with ways to improve the content in the app. And maybe that comes back to trips as a way to relive your trip or plan your next trip. So it's definitely, you know, trying to make sure we're adding value to that angler experience, even if you're not going out fishing.
John Koetsier: There's so much opportunity there. That is really interesting. I mean, like recording short video clips of your experience that can be geo-located, and you can see them as you enter a new lake or so maybe you're doing that already, I have no idea. But that'd be really neat, you know, publishing to YouTube, if somebody's like, "Oh, I got this great fish or something like that." I'm sure you do something like that as well. But I'm super interested in this e-commerce ecosystem you built you offer, wow, 100,000 products over 500 brands? That's really interesting. I mean, because you've got what Bass Pro Shops and other big retailers in the states. Talk about your growth of the e-commerce ecosystem. And is that where you're driving most of your revenue? Is that where you anticipate most of your revenue coming?
Lisa Kennelly: So it's's not currently where we drive. Most of our revenue is inverse. So the subscription business is still the bulk of our revenue, but it is the future, right? That's where the big opportunity is. So it's still a smaller piece of our revenue, but it is growing. It's been quite a ride with that. I mean, you know, you think it's enough to be doing sort of a utility, that's a fishing app to tell you where to go fishing and a social network on top, let's throw a marketplace on top to and really adds me so impactful things.
John Koetsier: Pretty soon you will have WeChat.
Lisa Kennelly: I know, I know. But, you know, again, going back to the fishing industry and this really worked out well with the timing of a lot of fishing brands wanting to go direct to consumer. And here we were this opportunity for them to do that quite easily. So that worked out really well with sort of the way the industry was going. And then we actually launched the marketplace not long before the pandemic. So then also everything went online. And at the same time, you know, Amazon for a while was...and Walmart, they were only selling essentials. So, where could you buy fishing gear? If you Googled for it, we came up pretty high. So that actually gave us, you know, a little bit of a bump and a kickstart on being a place where people could buy fishing gear because certainly, there is a lot of competition from Bass Pro and Amazon, and all those places. But it's not perhaps as crowded in e-commerce space as some verticals. So we have this opportunity to, again, partner with brands who are looking to go digital, looking to go direct to consumer. And then also we have this benefit of like because of the community in the data, we can actually tell you things about that fishing gear that nobody else can tell you. Because if you buy something on Amazon, it's going to tell you, "Yeah. You know, maybe I use this or here's how the shipping experience was." We can say, "Hey, this rod you want to buy it's been rated by 30 anglers who caught these specific fish within these specific bodies of water." We can tell you how this actually performs, which is a much better way to make a purchase, then you really see, "Yeah. This is how this thing works," then another. So, that is what we feel it was really our USP when it comes to our commerce shop.
John Koetsier: Amazing.
Peggy Anne Salz: That is interesting and formed reviews because I'm seeing that and hearing that so much more that you are going to want to go to reviews, reviewers and products that people really, really get, right? It's not the generic, "Oh, this was great. I love it." Or "No. This wasn't and I don't love it." You know, it's like informed reviews. And that's going to be, as you said, yourself a big part of your USP. And I've been talking to a number of marketers like in health and fitness, right? And they're saying themselves, "You know, we can do some deals with some equipment makers, and we can really move up and move up the food chain and make tons of money." So, everybody is interested in how do you work with someone else? How do you build an ecosystem, and you've done it already. So maybe you can tell us a little bit about how you sourced your vendors and made these partnerships that have benefited you and your app.
Lisa Kennelly: I would say first, there's the vendor side of it and there was also sort of the tech and development side of it, which was something where we had to, you know, figure out what we're going to build ourselves, what we're going to outsource. And we did end up, you know, outsourcing the marketplace functionality to start and then over time, we sort of started to bring that in house piece by piece, just how you build a marketing team too, right? You start outsourcing it, and then you bring it in-house piece by piece. So there was that piece. And then also yeah, working with the brands, I mean, this was something that we weren't super stealth about it when we were building it up over the years, it was always on our roadmap. It was something that our CEO, when he spoke with the industry would say, "This is the direction we're going. So we had a sense to sound out and get a sense, like, there were partners who were interested. So then when it came time, it was like, "Okay. Who can we bring on board? Who can be some of our key initial partners?" You know, one key thing for us was getting on one very big industry player who owned a lot of brands under them, and get them on sort of a special deal, which then took years to lock it in. And they have maybe a special deal that's different from the rest of the industry. But that did help show the industry, okay, if that big partner is partnering with us, you know, that gives us a lot of street cred, right? That makes them trust us more. So I would say the learning is like, who are the sort of key early partners you can get on and be focused and understand your sales cycle for that will take time. But if you can get those key ones on, that will leverage and then then it just snowballs over time. And there's a big fishing industry conference in Orlando every year. That's called ICAST. And it's the sort of B2B side of the industry. And a few years ago when we'd go and we're trying to get people to marketplace, they were like, "Who are these guys? What is this?" And the last year we went everyone was like, "Oh, it's Fishbrain, we know you. Yeah, come on over." It was amazing to see how much that changed. So, it took a lot of work, but it really was worth it.
John Koetsier: Wonderful.
Peggy Anne Salz: Kat was just saying it, but maybe it's all about catching a big fish.
Lisa Kennelly: Let me tell you that I'm also in charge of a brand for the company, right? But I'm in charge of the branding and fishponds are on-brand. So it's okay. They're a part of our official brand document.
John Koetsier: Okay. I guess that means Peggy's off the hook. Sorry, sorry. I'll shut u now after I ask one more question here. We live in a global world. Fishing, obviously is massive in the U.S. and you have some roots there, but there's a growth strategy that you're driving, companies based in Sweden, right? There's a fan base all over the place, lots of Europeans, guess what? Asians, others all over the world. Probably, you know, everywhere people like to fish. How do you approach that? How are you approaching cross-cultural activity in marketing and what's your growth strategy across the globe?
Lisa Kennelly: So, currently, I would say our growth strategy is primarily focused on the U.S. It's been focused on the U.S. from the early days just because that is like a very, very big market for anglers a ton of money, a lot of the brands there. Also, in Sweden where we're located. And we've definitely done testing in different markets, like in the UK, and Japan, also Australia, New Zealand. We've done quite a lot there. That's when we still do, which, again, is a way to counter the seasonality because their season is peaking when the U.S. season maybe is lower. And so we've done that a little bit, globally. But definitely in the last couple of years, we've really concentrated more on the U.S. because fishing in the U.S. might as well be 50 different countries minimum. It's so different. You know, if you're looking at someone who's fishing for a largemouth bass in Florida versus someone fishing for trout in Idaho, it's going to be totally different. So it's enough work to just be effective with our marketing and our customer research and our product development in the U.S. alone. Now, given that we are based in Stockholm, that has been an interesting challenge. I mean, over the course of the pandemic, we ended up hiring a lot more remote than we had previously, which turned out to be quite a benefit for us, and especially in the business development team have ended up hiring more people based in the U.S. who are anglers themselves to give us more insight into the audience we're marketing too. So I think it is that balance because I think it is really helpful to have the objectivity of not being your customer, but then you better have some people who really, really understand your customer, and you need to understand your customer. So it's been a lot of a balance and building that team of sort of the skill set, and then also the mentality of who we're going after.
Peggy Anne Salz: So let's talk about teams and working together and driving the growth of your app and fandom in regions that are not the U.S. You're from the U.S., the app is not. What are the challenges that you faced? What are some of the interesting, surprising solutions you found?
Lisa Kennelly: Yeah. Great question. I mean, definitely, both Fishbrain where I am now and then at Clue, which is the app where I was at before in Berlin, I was brought on to lead the marketing team being an American for these aspects in Europe because the audience was targeting the U.S. So that's definitely sort of part of the package of why I'm here, even if I'm not maybe an angler myself. So it's something that I tried to bring that perspective. I do think that you don't have to be located in the country where you're marketing. As long as you know marketing is to an extent the same everywhere. So as long as you have that right balance, again, of sort of understanding who your customer is, and having the humility to know that you might not know anything about how your customer behaves yourself, but that is why you do the research to understand it, right? And so that's something I would say I do within my teams, within the larger teams I'm in is being able to say like, "Look, we don't know. We have to understand our customer and listen to what they tell us." And that's going to shape our marketing, no matter where we are, and our product development as well.
John Koetsier: I love that answer. And the fact is actually that, as you stated yourself earlier, sometimes when you're exterior to your target audience, you see things, and you notice things, and you learn things, especially in research that people just take for granted when they're in the target demographic and don't take advantage of. So I absolutely love that. As one who sometimes wonders, is it bass or bass? Come on, tell me. Now I know. But I want to end this way, Lisa. Give us your top three tips for mobile marketers in unconventional verticals. Verticals that aren't the ones that we think of when we think top five verticals, you know, games is always in there and other things. What are your top three tips for mobile marketers in unconventional verticals?
Lisa Kennelly: So, my top three tips for people in unconventional verticals, this is my tip for everyone all the time, which I already said, but it's just understand your customer and do your research, right? It doesn't matter where you are, you have to understand your customer, do the research, talk to them, understand and constantly talk to them. I think that's super important. And then I would say the second tip is find your sort of siblings. So I talked about a couple of the apps like Vivino and Untappd and Strava, and another one is AllTrails. There are some apps that are like in vertical social who are not competitors to us, right? They're either like in a sort of parallel vertical, or they're doing the same thing. They're totally different vertical and talk to them. I get so much value out of talking to the CMOS, the CEOs, the growth teams of those companies. It really is kind of like a sisterhood between us in our sort of unique verticals versus Lowe's broader social networks. So find your people who you can learn from and talk to, I think that's really important. And then I would say that my final piece of advice is, like, when you get the sort of pushback of people saying, "Wow, that seems really niche." That is the point, right? Don't be dissuaded by people saying, "Oh, that's so niche. It's so small." If the data is there, you know, you've seen that there's a market there, you've seen there's an interest there, and you've seen that you're solving a problem that doesn't have a solution, then trust in that. Trust that you're building something because there is a need for that very passionate community.
John Koetsier: That's great advice. I absolutely loved it. And this was a real pleasure of a chat. Thank you so much for taking the time, Lisa. It was a really fun time for me.
Lisa Kennelly: Thanks a lot. Thank you.
Peggy Anne Salz: Thanks so much, Lisa. I'm also wondering if you fish.
John Koetsier: She does know.
Lisa Kennelly: As part of work in Fishbrain, when you go on a company off-site, you go fishing. We just did that a couple of weeks ago. And I did not catch a fish once again.
John Koetsier: We'll have to interview you in a year or something like that. And then we will see if you've caught a fish and if you've caught the fish, then we ask how large was the fish and we'll ask for documentation as well because we know everybody exaggerates what they caught. But anyway, it's been a real pleasure.
Peggy Anne Salz: That's the one that got away, right?
John Koetsier: Yes. The one that got away is always even bigger.
Lisa Kennelly: I'll tell you, you can go see it on Fishbrain because it'll be logged on Fishbrain. So you can see it there.
Peggy Anne Salz: There you go.
John Koetsier: Love it. Love it. Love it. Awesome. Thank you so much. Have a wonderful evening.
Lisa Kennelly: You too.
John Koetsier: And thank you to all listeners. We really do appreciate you. Hope you're enjoying it. Let us know on social if you are.
Peggy Anne Salz: And let us know if you want to come and we'll have you on the show. If you're a mobile hero or you know someone who is, then fill out the interest form over at
John Koetsier: Also, Liftoff has a slack for mobile heroes and people in the mobile ecosystem. There's a link on the screen. And if you're listening to the podcast, it's that It's pretty cool. There's smart people there, and you know what? They probably need you too.
Peggy Anne Salz: And you have probably been completely blown away by all the insights on this show and you want your transcript, and you can have it because the transcripts are over at Liftoff's website. Go to click on heroes, and then click on podcast.
John Koetsier: I actually personally love transcripts because they read way faster than people talk. So, it's a great way to get insights really, really quickly. Until next time, this is John Koetsier. Thank you so much for joining.
Peggy Anne Salz: And this is Peggy Anne Salz signing off for "Mobile Heroes Uncensored."

May 25, 2022

Road Trip Turkey: The New Silicon Valley of Gaming?

Why has Zynga bought no fewer than 5 Turkish game companies? Why are so many significant success stories coming out of the Turkish game community?

In this episode of Mobile Heroes Uncensored, Peggy Anne Salz and John Koetsier talk to 2 leading experts in Turkey’s emerging mobile gaming ecosystem. Batuhan Avucan, Founder & Managing Director at Mobidictum and Utku Altunkiran, User Acquisition Manager at Animation International Turkey, talk about what’s happening, why Turkey’s gaming space is growing, and what publishers need to know about the Turkish scene.

We also chat about moving from hyper-casual games to a subscription model, influencer marketing, monetization, AR/VR, and creative strategies that deliver big upside.

28 mins

Batuhan Avucan: We come up with fresh ideas, new game designs all the time. We are hard workers. I think by, like, being in Turkey, between Europe and Asia, brings some extra cultural points. Also, life in Turkey always pushes us.

John Koetsier: Is Turkey the new Silicon Valley of mobile gaming? Hello and welcome to "Mobile Heroes Uncensored." Today is road trip day. Kind of exciting, except it's a virtual road trip, but hey, it's still a road trip day for Mobile Heroes, and we're going to the land of the Bosporus, Istanbul, romance, adventure, history. Unfortunately, yes, virtually. We really, really need to actually go, Peggy. One of these days we will, because there are super interesting things happening in the Turkey tech scene. Zynga bought five Turkey-based developer studios over the last four years, and Turkey's government actually compensates developers for App Store fees and Google Play fees, which helps, of course, boost local investment and profitability. So there must be a lot that's going on that's interesting. Peggy, who are we chatting with today?

Peggy Anne Salz: It is where the action is John. That's why we have our special. And we have two guests. We have Batuhan Avucan. He is founder and managing director at Mobidictum. Mobidictum has grown to become the biggest game industry news and events platform in Turkey. And Batuhan is the textbook growth marketer. He's into growth. He grows games companies by helping them with strategic decisions and partnerships. His colleagues call him a growth marketer, a doer. He likes to fix problems. He loves a challenge, and he's in the right place if he’s with us today, John.

Batuhan Avucan: Thank you. Thank you for hosting me. Thank you, John. Happy to be here. Excited to talk about the scene in Turkey. We'll be waiting for your questions.

Peggy Anne Salz: Our second guest is Utku Altunkiran, user acquisition manager at Kidly. He is a growth marketer, a UA marketer. But his company is really interesting because it's not games, although he does have a games background. The company produces fun, educational, and exclusive content for kids. And not just the typical fairy...not just like the fairy tales. It ranges from yoga and mindfulness to respect for diversity and animal rights. Now, Utku started his career as a UA specialist in Wixot Games in June 2019. And since then, he has had a focus on casual games. Now his focus is on brand and building awareness in the app economy, and in all the countries where his app is available. Welcome to you both.

Utku Altunkiran: Thanks for the intro, Peggy. Great to be here.

John Koetsier: Wonderful. Thanks for both for joining us. This is very cool. It's always great to explore a new country, explore a new industry. We saw an article...I mean, “Digiday” said Turkey's becoming a Silicon Valley of mobile gaming. Why is that? Batuhan, Maybe you first.

Batuhan Avucan: John, as you mentioned, like, mobile gaming industry has possibly been gross underestimated for the last few years. As you mentioned, Zynga acquired companies. There's been like a lot of investment coming up, you know. Government is helping with the acquisition, and we have a lot of techno parks, which helps with the tax reductions. It's easier for companies to, you know, get new employees. There's a lot of side events, talks, webinars, summits to grow the game industry. So this is how it's growing right now.

John Koetsier: Utku, what are you seeing there?

Utku Altunkiran: As John mentioned, the Turkish government has been compensating and promoting technology companies which match the criterias. And that's a huge game-changer policy for all mobile app developers and publishers which has an operation in Turkey. Recent years big games success stories have become popular in there. This attention drive more attention to the mobile gaming sector in Turkey in every aspect for sure. Gram Games, Masomo, and recently Dream Games and Trollex success stories are empowering the scene. More investors and mobile experts realize the great potential of Turkey formal mobile games development. As a result, we are seeing new gaming companies start their journey in Turkey, and existing ones gradually expanding their teams.

Peggy Anne Salz: So, Batuhan, you're not only bullish about Turkey, but you are really inspired by what's happening in the games industry. You've said it has "blossomed to be a gross understatement. In a scant few years, Turkey has comprehensively..." You're so modest. "...comprehensively defined itself as a global leader in the hyper-casual game genre." What do you mean by that?

Batuhan Avucan: We are quick thinkers. And hyper-casual is something that needs quick thinking. So we come up with fresh ideas, new game designs all the time. We are hard workers. I think by, like, being in Turkey between Europe and Asia brings some extra cultural points. Also life in Turkey always pushes us to, you know, come up with the quick fixes, you know. We have talented people. Turkish people love to play games ever since... All the older kids are playing games, you know.

Quick problem solving, quick thinking, interest for game design, hardworking, when you combine all these ingredients, I think we have the right recipe for the hyper-casual especially. And this is how we are successful. At some point on top charts in top 10 free download, there was six Turkish game companies. This is huge, you know, and I think it will keep growing in this way.

John Koetsier: Nice. So you're building games for the local audience, also the international audience. Maybe if we look at the local audience first. Utku, maybe bring you in here. How do you describe the local audience demographics and dynamics?

Utku Altunkiran: The local population differs among themselves in many ways. I must state that the young population has a significant share in the total population, the young population of more than 20% of Turkey's population holds great potential, especially for mobile games publishers. We can say that the young population closely follows the trends and developments in the global world and is easily influenced by them. The vast majority of Turkey's population of more than 84 million spend a significant amount of time their phones in their daily routines. And we can give different examples of timespan such as playing mobile games, shopping on ecommerce apps, or spending time in meditation and sports apps. It is critical for mobile apps marketers to segment users in line with their own activities.

John Koetsier: Nice. And of course, you're marketing to parents, right? Because you've got kids-focused apps. What's working in Turkey to get their attention and build their trust?

Utku Altunkiran: It's an important point to boost successful long-term use strategy for Kidly and other mobile apps which are mainly targeting the parents. We are aware of this, and we are mainly trying to highlight our apps' benefits and advantages for the parents and their kids. You have to show these parents that your app is going to solve some of their problems, minor or major issues, which they are facing. Also, we are trying to explain to the parents that the app is completely safe for their kids. Teams are always keeping improving apps content features and other related stuff with the product, and we are trying to highlight brand new features in the UA. We are trying to convey this approach which the company has to the users in the most suitable and unique ways. Creating marketing assets and digital marketing posts with this direction is helping to acquire the right users and also empowering the brand evolution in general. I believe almost every successful and outstanding apps have unique features, and, in my opinion, this is one of the most powerful vehicles for the marketers. And they need to use these features in their everyday activities where it works. Of course, we are also trying to adapt to that.

Peggy Anne Salz: So you have to spell out the benefit of your app for a content app. I want to just go back to gaming for a moment and you, Batuhan. What does it take to engage...? The population is quite young. But still, what do you need to know to engage and acquire players in Turkey for your games?

Batuhan Avucan: Big companies have budgets, right? And there are a lot of different channels to acquire users, get attention of the young players. First of all, influencer marketing for example. We might be in top charts on Twitch as well. Our Twitch influencers are also doing a pretty good job. A lot of, you know, like, young populations are following Twitch, YouTubers as well. So they are influenced by influencers. That's why we call them the influencers.

John Koetsier: Hey, that fits. How does that work?

Batuhan Avucan: This is one of the main channels. TV. Like, sometimes for the big companies, I see TV advertising, so this is still something going on. Obviously, PR. Okay, the readership is not that high anymore, but to the gaming outlets, like Mobidictum, time to time we have like the pre-press releases of new games and so on. Events. There are two gaming events, like gamer-focused events, and not all the companies are joining to this one, but larger companies like Tencent for example is showing activities on these type of events. Of course digital marketing, right, like Facebook, Instagram, especially with TikTok is picking up right now. Facebook usage among young population has decreased of course, but TikTok is picking up. But I think the main return is coming from the influencer marketing with their... There are some projects, like a couple of influencers are gathering. They have like a new video, not just playing the game but like a music clip, you know. Like, really interesting projects that are coming up. They do giveaways. Giveaways are still...they are really popular, you know. I would say influencer marketing.

John Koetsier: I just want to interject there for a second. What channels is that influencer marketing mostly happening on? Is that mostly happening on TikTok, on YouTube, Snap? Where's it happening?

Batuhan Avucan: Twitch and YouTube. Snap is...I don't think it's that popular. I haven't seen any Snap campaign, to be honest. But Twitch and YouTube is the most popular right now.

Peggy Anne Salz: So you're talking about the opportunities, the channels in the market. What's your top tip, Batuhan, for advice, for marketers who are coming in and want to crack the Turkish market?

Batuhan Avucan: I mean, working with a local partner is always important, right? Like someone understands the culture, because the culture is really important. Like, how will you address to this audience? Turkey is not entirely Europe and Turkey is not entirely Middle East. It's somewhere in between, you know. So a local partner will understand what's good for the brand and create a strategy accordingly, you know. I would go and talk with all the partners, not just stick with the one and, you know, talk and understand, like, if the needs are covered and the brand will have a good fit, you know, through agencies or, you know, like with local partners who just does PR or influencer marketing. And definitely trying to understand the market by yourself is also important to see, like, if what the agency is telling you and what you're understanding is similar, you know. But after all, understanding the culture and the ways of doing marketing would be my number one tip.

John Koetsier: That's one of the reasons I want to visit Turkey. It sounds so interesting. I mean, a mix of cultures right at the Bosphorus, always that trade and that influence of ideas and the long history of empires that have come through there have created a totally unique country. Utku, maybe to turn to you. You've had an interesting switch, right? You're a marketer, but you moved from hyper-casual games to a subscription model. What was behind that and what allowed you to do that?

Utku Altunkiran: Of course, making this move involved risks, but the idea of running campaigns for a different revenue model got me super excited. I gained valuable information via conducting marketing activities for casual and hyper-casual games at Wixot games. I was sure the experience I gained we thought would be of great benefit to Kidly’s purposes. The fact that the Kidly team enlisted me at this point accelerated our decision to work together. In addition, knowing that I would work more significantly at Kidly with branding dynamics, which are generally less important in mobile game marketing activities, had a great and positive impact on my decision-making process.

John Koetsier: So Utku, when you transition from hyper-casual to subscription, that's a big change, because hyper-casual, what do you have them for? A week, two weeks, three weeks, maybe a little longer if you're super lucky. Subscription, you want those people for months, if not years. How did you change your tactics to make that work?

Utku Altunkiran: The revenue model of hyper-casual games is based on getting results in a short time and maximizing profits. In order to achieve this, it is of great importance to catch the CPI values determined by taking into account the country-based CPI benchmarks in UA activities. In casual games, on the other hand, it's possible to see a more flexible structure in CPI values by emphasizing the importance of LTV-CPI relationship. In the activities I carry out, I focus on increasing profitability by combining the importance I attach to producing unique creatives for hyper casual games and the techniques of segmenting users that are used more in the UA activities while I was driving users for in-app purchase and subscription revenue-based casual games.

Peggy Anne Salz: I'll move to you, Batuhan. You're talking about growing Turkey's game industry, which is huge, so it doesn't look like it needs a ton of help. I'd like to understand though the types of content and campaigns that are working from your perspective, because you are not just building content, you're building communities. It's B2B. It's B2C.

Batuhan Avucan: Yeah, well, it actually needs some help. I will just add.

Peggy Anne Salz: Okay, a little.

Batuhan Avucan: Because...

John Koetsier: Everybody needs help.

Batuhan Avucan: Everybody needs help, right? So, like, Peak Games, right? The ones who left Peak Games have successful studios now. Ex-Peak, you know, finding an investment is easier, and you'll see all the other games, like Dream Games, Spyke Games, you know, and all the other successes. But there are also a lot of companies and entrepreneurs who never been into gaming, and they want to build the game company, they want to be in gaming, you know, and I think that's the part where Mobidictum comes in and helps with the content and the networking, you know.

So through our website, you can pretty much find all the information from the beginning, like what kind of genre you should choose, what can you do, how to grow with service providers, publishers, you know. Like pretty much if you don't know anything about gaming, Mobidictum will be there for you. We support that with events, right? I am a strong believer of networking. This is how I grew my company and myself through the countless of events, standing by the wood for hours, not sleeping, partying and waking up on the next day and say, "Oh, how was the party?" But, you know, no one cares about the event. But this was my life, and this is what I would try to bring to Turkish community because these things were not happening before. Like, it was happening at some scale, but not in a large way. So in that sense, yes, we are building community on B2B space to help game developers and anyone in the gaming industry.

Peggy Anne Salz: You're doing a lot B2C, B2B, what's the coolest thing you are doing? Because a lot of companies in your space are looking at ways to experiment with the content. You know, I think of Samsung's update. Pretty cool, right? A virtual influencer that presents the gaming news. What are you doing?

Batuhan Avucan: I mean, we had this idea in November. Why? When we had a team retreat in the lobby, I was like, "Oh, we should have a virtual reporter and start covering news, you know." And that's Samsung, so they can implement that idea in the next day. So for us, it took a little bit of time. Our focus shifted to B2B to be honest. But on the B2C, we had this idea. Of course, it's always better to bring some value. But I will just tell you one campaign that we did. This was years ago when we were much smaller, not even, you know, like, an entity back then.

So we labeled some pencils I guess Mobidictum brand, right? And we put these out in the libraries because every project starts with the idea, right? This was like a small campaign. I mean, we didn't target for gamers specifically, but it could be used by gamers. For gamer audience, not sure if it did something cool, but we did a lot of tournaments around different games. We did a lot of giveaways. So, we try to cover content for their interests, like how to do this in this game, you know. So basically, whatever content we create is always for the audience's need, you know. We had this Samsung's idea. We'll do it eventually, and we might do B2C events as well.

John Koetsier: Okay, cool. Sticking with you, Batuhan. You've talked about influencer marketing already. Besides that, what is the one thing that has delivered maybe the biggest performance uplift in Turkey, maybe creative strategy, other things?

Batuhan Avucan: We should ask this to game companies who sponsor those major events. But again, like smaller size of events will be a bigger size of events. I think that has a bigger return. Digital marketing, for example, you don't...especially for the games which has a high in-app purchase, right? Those are the ones who are targeting Turkey, because with ads, you don't get much revenue, right? That's why like companies like Tencent, League of Legends, right? Riot has had office here for years because...I mean, free to play with cosmetics in-app purchase, these are valuable. And when I look back all those years, these companies had a lot of events, besides anything else, tournaments, like big prize pulls, just events are at different scale. And I think this is how they keep engaging with their audience. And, you know, we like to win stuff, especially money.

John Koetsier: Nice.

Peggy Anne Salz: So swag is universal, John.

Batuhan Avucan: Yeah.

John Koetsier: Yes, it is.

Peggy Anne Salz: So I want to shift from creative strategy to localization strategy with you, Utku, because that's really important to build trust. You really have to connect with the parents of the children. What do marketers need to know about localization? It's often much more than the language. What is it for you?

Utku Altunkiran: We can count the successful localization amongst the most important factors in the success of games or apps. Of course, this is not limited to just translating the text. You have to take into account the users on a national basis, also the cultural basis. It's a known fact that the's a known fact that the creatives with very successful performance in the U.S. and Europe regions markets can be far below the expected performance in other regions. In order to overcome this and achieve desired results in these countries, you need to localize both your marketing strategy and your product in the most accurate way for the countries you are marketing, of course, while doing localization studies for countries or regions where you have superficial information about their cultural elements and sensitivities. Working with experts who have knowledge about this will help you to make the right localization. It will also help you to develop your product effectively in this direction and save time.

John Koetsier: Let's do our final segment. And we want to talk about top three tips for mobile marketers in Turkey. And we do this every single time. We always look for marketers to give their top three tips for marketing in their vertical or in their geo. Batuhan, maybe we'll start with you for one. Give us one tip for a mobile marketer in Turkey.

Batuhan Avucan: Understanding the culture, I think that will be the number one.

John Koetsier: Love it, love it. It makes a ton of sense. Utku, let's turn to you. What's another tip for mobile marketers in Turkey?

Utku Altunkiran: I will say that be unique, be yourself, take care of what users demand from you. Also, a strong branding image could help you to achieve your goals, so don't neglect brand elements and branding factors for your app. Highlight the most interesting features, game mechanics of games app into your creatives. And lastly, I could say try to stay away from personal bias.

John Koetsier: Excellent. And Utku, last word is to you. One more tip for mobile marketers who are coming into Turkey, or Batuhan, if you have one.

Batuhan Avucan: For digital marketing, you still need localization. I think understanding culture and localization, because localization is not translation, right? If you translate the content, like from English by using Google Translate, you might end up with some serious damage. And we are pretty sensitive with some of our cultural points, you know.

John Koetsier: Thank you so much, both of you. It's been fascinating. It's been super interesting to dive into a different culture, a different country, and yet a very similar industry with similar challenges. Thank you so much for your insights.

Batuhan Avucan: Thank you, John. Thank you, Peggy.

Utku Altunkiran: Thanks for having me. I really enjoy.

Peggy Anne Salz: Thank you, Batuhan. Thank you, Utku. And maybe now that events are happening and we're hearing that it's rocking in Turkey, maybe seeing you in person someday.

Batuhan Avucan: Yes, 5th and 6th of September in Istanbul with Michael Zyda.

John Koetsier: There's the invite. Awesome. Can't wait.

Peggy Anne Salz: Awesome.

John Koetsier: And thank you to all listeners. We really do appreciate you, hope you're enjoying it. Let us know on social if you are.

Peggy Anne Salz: And let us know if you want to come, and we'll have you on the show. If you're a mobile hero or you know of someone who is, then fill out the interest form over at

John Koetsier: Also, Liftoff have a Slack for Mobile Heroes and people in the mobile ecosystem. There's a link on the screen. And if you're listening to the podcast, it's at It's pretty cool. There's smart people there, and, you know what, they probably need you too.

Peggy Anne Salz: And you have probably been completely blown away by all the insights on this show and you want your transcript, and you can have it because the transcripts are over at Liftoff's website. Go to, click on Heroes, and then click on Podcast.

John Koetsier: I actually personally love transcripts because they read way faster than people talk. So it's a great way to get insights really, really quickly. Until next time, this is John Koetsier. Thank you so much for joining.

Peggy Anne Salz: And this is Peggy Anne Salz signing off for "Mobile Heroes Uncensored."

May 18, 2022

Applying Behavioral Psychology to 1.4B Game Installs

Are people predictably irrational? Pretty much, and some game marketers have learned exactly how and used that knowledge to grow. One, with over 1.4 billion game installs, is our guest Mert Ersöz, Head of Marketing at MagicLab Game Technologies.

Mert started his career in — you guessed it — behavior economics, and has been growing hit games like Fidget Trading, Text and Drive, Run Race 3D, and more over the past few years. 

We ask him:

  • How have you had a string of top-ranked games?
  • What tactics made the biggest difference to your performance?
  • What growth hacks can you share?
  • How are you boosting retention?

We also learn more about how MagicLab is transitioning from hyper-casual to casual games, and how their marketing is changing too.

25 min

John Koetsier: Are people predictably irrational and can use behavioural psychology to grow mobile games. Welcome to "Mobile Heroes" origin stories, where we go one on one in-depth with mobile marketing experts. And today we have somebody who's pretty special. And I think he's been mainlining coffee all day. So it's going to be great. We're chatting with the head of marketing at a publisher with more than 1.4 billion downloads and an approach to user acquisition that leans heavily on behavioural economics. Peggy, who is it?

Peggy Anne Salz: Well, we have today Mert Ersöz. He is Head of Marketing at MagicLab Game Technologies. MagicLab designs, develops, publishes hyper-casual and casual games. Best known for some hits. John, as you said, 1.4 billion downloads, best known for Fidget Trading 3D, which I knew, Text And Drive, Destiny Run published with Voodoo, Run Race 3D, Fun Race 3D. He loves the best of list cherries. Yes. And Mert is not just loving his games, he's an all-around talent. As you said, he started in behavioural economics. Then he moved into gaming where he puts his deep knowledge of human behaviour to work in marketing games. And as he puts it, and as you said it, understanding predictably irrational behaviour sometimes provides benefits when you are publishing games. And we're going to find out all about that with you, Mert. Welcome.

Mert Ersöz: Hey, guys.

John Koetsier: I'm super pumped about this. I have interviewed Dan Ariely who wrote "Predictably Irrational." So the book actually on that, so that is very cool. He's a super interesting dude. Half of his face was bearded, half of his face wasn't. It was a bit of a challenge thing and I think he's also had some injuries in the past, but let's talk about mobile marketing and maybe your start about being irrational or predictive or whatever. What was your Eureka moment that triggered the move from studying behavioural economics to applying that to marketing games?

Mert Ersöz: I was doing a master's course on behavioural economics, and then the academy started to be a little bit limiting to me because it's not scalable and also limiting in terms of the potential and the impact you could make if you're not Dan, of course. And I like the games, since I was a child, I like the games. No, but who doesn't like games? And my friends, my childhood friends was already working in the field, so they were developing games. And at that time, I noticed that there was a job for me in the market. So that was my Eureka moment. So it's when they said there is multiple optimizations and UA activities and stuff. And I just said, "Whoa, let's do it."

Peggy Anne Salz: So you've had a string of top-ranking games and you've had views into what works, what doesn't work. What strategies do you think worked best to drive those installs at the start?

Mert Ersöz: What I think is like keep...what's most practical is the most theoretical, I think. So, you don't have the opportunity to make 101 mistakes, so you have to keep the fundamentals. And also following the trends and also leaders becomes handy on that one. So it's like, you don't have to figure out everything yourself. You have to understand what the top guys are doing. So that was actually what we did on those. And also we worked with great partners such as like Voodoo, Good Job, and they brought us some portion of that downloads. That helped too.

Peggy Anne Salz: So having a good blueprint, watching the market leaders, learning, learning from the best. What made the biggest performance difference in your UA strategy?

Mert Ersöz: Mostly it's on the paying attention to details. It generally is hidden within some little details because the fundamentals are, the top market guys, they don't do mistakes and not everybody is getting that much of downloads or potential. So you have to pay attention to details and test as much as you can and fail even more. So it's like if you're not failing enough, you can't say that you tried enough. That's the way to be sure.

John Koetsier: Having talked to some of those biggest mobile developers in the world, I think that they do make some mistakes, but then they have some funds that cover over it. Or they learn from those mistakes really quickly.

Mert Ersöz: Like I said, you have to do mistakes, but not the same mistakes over and over again.

Peggy Anne Salz: That is true. That is definitely true. I have to ask because you're the type, Mert, I can feel it. 1.4 billion, it's impressive. There's got to be some hacks that got you there. What's your favourite or most unconventional hack that helped you scale and reach those results?

Mert Ersöz: I don't want to like disappoint you, but there's no hack, there isn't. It is hidden in the product and the market conditions and you cannot really fight with the data. That's one thing. You have to be always trying to understand your users, your users' behaviours, and try to make them actionable points out of them. So I don't think that's a hack, but if you do it correctly, I don't think there's a limit to reach. And that'll be the top guys, but we'll see. I'm not sure.

John Koetsier: I love it. I love it because some people, some marketers swear by finding that hack, finding that glitch in the matrix, finding that little thing that nobody else knows about the App Store or Google Play. And you tweak that and you tweak this and boom, something happens. And sometimes those things work. Absolutely. Right? And sometimes they're amazing, but there are so many other marketers who are chasing those every single day and every single week and forget the fundamentals of, hey, make a game that's fun to play.

Mert Ersöz: Exactly.

John Koetsier: Do some testing and market it and get better every day. Right? So I love that advice. Let's talk about retention a little bit as well as acquisition. Hey, acquisition is wonderful. Everybody likes filling the bucket. Nobody likes it if the bucket just leaks again, as fast as you filled it. What's your approach and how have you worked to convert those installs into engaged users who keep coming back into the game?

Mert Ersöz: You have to understand the behaviour. That's how I like to think. So it's, if you try the right tests to those users and try to understand the data without getting in love with your ideas, getting in love with what you think is fun, what you think is great and sticking with them. Instead, you have to listen to the users and make the changes they want. Sometimes it might be like, let's say nobody likes watching an ad, right? Nobody. But if you take away the reward that's from a game and then you can just watch your reviews and ratings going down because users want that type of opportunity to become more engaged with the game, to invest in the game and find ways within the game. And the other thing is the, what I think is this is a full funnel that you have to follow. So it will start with the first impression and ends with the churn, hopefully not, but it will someday.

John Koetsier: Realism.

Mert Ersöz: You have to paying attention to every conversion point, not only in the game, but also in the creatives too. So if you give them a false ad, you have to expect some of those people will stop playing at a certain point, but it might be profitable. We are doing it, but still you have to expect and see the results and act through them. Don't get in love with your ideas. Just rely on the data.

Peggy Anne Salz: I like that as well. Looking at every touchpoint, it has to be a journey, looking at every aspect of the user journey, every aspect of user behaviour, as you do. We talked about the user journey now. Let's talk about your own journey, Mert, because you have an interesting one, indeed, because you are in the middle of a seismic change, right? You're moving from hyper-casual to casual. Why are you doing that?

Mert Ersöz: I think it's because we think we can do it. That's first things first. So we believe in, we can manage it, we can get through it. So the hyper-casual is a genre that I really like, because that shows you how to get people's attention, how to get everybody's attention in a similar concept, but in the business wise, it's limiting because if you're relying on ads and within a privacy centric world, it's limiting. And also, why not stepping up the game? So, this is the main aim because you cannot talk about hundreds of millions of dollars in hyper-casual, mostly, generally. There are, but in the casual market, sky is the limit. So, that's why, actually.

Peggy Anne Salz: And there's a lot going on there. You said yourself, it's not what it used to be. It went from hyper-casual to hybrid-casual. Now you're just looking at the casual part, right? And changing genres is really a switch. It's a big deal. First of all, to make the decision you're convinced, it's like, yes, we can do this, but what else should app publishers be thinking about or asking themselves before making that decision?

Mert Ersöz: There are lots of them. I think everything is going to change when you're changing from hyper-casual to casual because the monetization model, your UA strategy, everything is going to change. Let me go into a bit more detail. On the monetization side, since your product has changed, there will be no short-term cash flow, no short-term profits. You'll be aiming for a year, maybe two years, three years of payoff windows, and your game should make users engage with that game for many years, because that's how you make profits. And that's how you should be designing your UA strategy too.

And on the other end, when you're talking about UA strategy, you'll be starting to looking at payers, right? Anybody can watch ads about 13 years old, but who got the money to pay for a game. You have to have the extra money. That's the least thing that will limit your audience. That will be changing everything because you’ll start talking about plus 35 women audience. And that will make you end up with different kind of creatives and different kind of creative strategy. As I said, that's a full funnel and this is still a full funnel for casual too. And when you're aiming for 15 years old and 40-year-old ladies, your creatives should be different. That's...

John Koetsier: Really?

Mert Ersöz: I believe so.

John Koetsier: Well, this is super interesting, actually, because this is a massive shift. It's not just for you because you see an opportunity for games that last longer and have more value and can be more fun and generate more revenue. It's also something that's happening across the industry because as we've got privacy-safe attribution, as we lose audiences, as we lose retargeting capability, it's just a different reality. And it's hard to snipe high value users in hyper-casual games. And so that changes in your ad monetization. And it's hard to acquire users as well that you are known, you can acquire them cheaply or high value ones that you spend more for. So it's changing all that stuff. How's that changing your marketing as you switch genres?

Mert Ersöz: It's like even the metrics we are going to change. So we are keeping looking at (sounds like: RDAU and MDAU) generally short-term LTVs like Day Zero and stuff. But when you're aiming for a long-term retention and long-term monetization model, even your metrics will become like IAPs and payer users. And in the case that you don't know who are those, and you cannot really build up a strategy around them because you don't really know who they are. So, on the marketing side, that will be more than ever uncertainty. But you have...what I think is, when you don't make 101 mistakes and keep focusing on the fundamentals such as you have to make the game really good. And then you can rely on that product. And that's the aim. So I'm not trying to leave it on the game designers and product managers. I'm not trying to say that, but that is important.

John Koetsier: I'm not a bad marketer. You're a bad product developer.

Mert Ersöz: Exactly. That's not my fault. I just got you users, you couldn’t monetize them.

John Koetsier: If that game wasn't so crappy, we'd have sold.

Mert Ersöz: Exactly. And on the UA side, yes, there are less data from the same people with a changing world with a changing manner, but it is still the same. And like I said, on the fundamentals, that's not only a attribution issue, but you have to be creative on attribution and on the building up audiences with some potentials and other metrics to come up with. And at the end of the day, it's less deterministic. Not that the world has gone to hell or something. It's just deterministic models are not working anymore. All right. Let's go creative.

John Koetsier: Wonderful.

Peggy Anne Salz: So you love change. And I want to get back to that. Not only is it shifting genres, hyper-casual to casual, you're also balancing self-publishing with working with studios, including Voodoo. I just wonder how you're managing that because that's not just games, that's the entire structure. You're going to be independent and self-publishing on this side, and on this side, you're going to get along with studios. How does that work?

Mert Ersöz: That is rather easy when you work with the right partners, but...

John Koetsier: It's like, marriage is easy when you pick the right spouse. What's the big problem? Why is the divorce rate so high? It's easy. Just pick the right spouse. What's the problem?

Peggy Anne Salz: Yeah, really. There's nothing to that.

Mert Ersöz: But the answer lies in the team, I think. The harmony should be there. And when you're surrounded with hard working people, and when they share the same passion with you, you can do this or any other thing. If that's not working, you couldn't just pick one of them and you couldn't do it either. So I think that is the thing. That's not the structure, that's not the other stuff, but that lies in the team and hardworking.

John Koetsier: I think what Mert is saying is that you spend some time dating potential partners before you give them a ring.

Peggy Anne Salz: Yeah.

Mert Ersöz: Exactly. But on the other hand, the Voodoo teams and Good Job Games teams, they’re monsters, and that somehow triggers us to benchmark our data with theirs and try to be better than them. That takes some work. So I think we are not that bad, but those guys are monsters.

Peggy Anne Salz: If it was only that simple, as you said, choosing the right partner. But that doesn't work in real life. Did for John and myself, but it doesn't often. I'd love to have some sort of checklist for finding that partner and even knowing how you can even think about self-publishing because a lot of companies, a lot of companies I'm talking to, they're like, "Yeah, we're going to self-publish, we're going to be independent. And then we're going to be dependent." Again, you have to ask yourself some questions, tough questions. What are some of those?

Mert Ersöz: I think you have to be sure that your partner is going to work with you in the line of your passions and your aims. In the means that if they're not sharing the data that you are asking for, or if they see you as competitors and compete with you in a hostile way, that's not going to work. You have to be working with a partner that tries to make you better in order to make a better partner for themself. And on the self-publishing side, you also meet with their requirements and you have to deliver. In the mobile marketing, it's all about performance. And if you're delivering everything is cool and achievable. And if you're not with the best partners, there are studios that cannot really work. And that's all about performance and delivering the results. That's the main thing I think.

John Koetsier: Yeah, absolutely. When things are going well, it's hard to have a bad partner, when things are going poorly, you know, hey, yeah, they're in it for the long haul and they're going to help us. Well, Mert, let's end here. We always ask for top three tips from our guests. So let's have your top three tips for mobile marketers in gaming.

Mert Ersöz: So my first will be, there is always room for improvement, so keep testing and fail enough. So that's the first one. And secondly, I think the most important thing is that you don't have to really figure it out all by yourself. You have to try to understand the leaders, what the best guys are doing and what they're interested in. And you have to understand why are they doing so, and copy it until you make it, actually. That's my second advice. And the third will be the team is the king. So like anything else, if everybody is smarter and better than you in the team, you have to keep working up. You have to be sure that you are the dumbest person in that room, but still be sure about you are trying your best.

John Koetsier: Love it. Love it. Love it. Well, Mert, I have to tell you something, you are the reason why Peggy and I do what we do, because sometimes we do these shows and it's a bit of work, right? But we live for the shows where it's fun, where we love talking to somebody who is engaged in the space, loves the space, knows the space, is trying stuff in the space, is super knowledgeable and also super humble about it. And you know what, is just happy to share that. So thank you so much for this episode. It's been amazing.

Mert Ersöz: Thank you. I just love you guys and try to engage with all of your content and try to make some time to look forward to them. And also, John, we watched so many of your shows when the ATT came up. So it was super helpful. You saved our lives.

John Koetsier: Wow.

Mert Ersöz: Because the people that Raymond said that...

John Koetsier: The invoice is in the mail, buddy, the invoice is in the mail.

Peggy Anne Salz: I think you have to do this sort of thing here. See John, it's all this. It's all this.

Mert Ersöz: And also, thank you guys for the opportunity. That's nice catching up with you and meeting up with you.

Peggy Anne Salz: Mert, my side as well. Great to have you, great learnings. Also humour, I can see you're into it. It's 8 p.m. in Turkey. There you are in the office full of coffee and all your work is in the background. Can't tear yourself away. Great to have you.

Mert Ersöz: Thank you, Peggy. And I will read your retention blog. I couldn't, but I will. I will read it and try to understand it.

Peggy Anne Salz: You're on, you're on.

Mert Ersöz: But still people are the same, the behaviour is the same. You are trying to understand the same people and you are trying to get attention from the same people with a changing world, with a changing manner, but it is still the same. And like I said, on the fundamentals, that's not only a attribution issue, but...

Peggy Anne Salz: So you love change. And I want to get back to that. Not only is it shifting genres, hyper-casual to casual, you're also balancing self-publishing with working with studios, including Voodoo. I just wonder how you're managing that because that's not just games, that's the entire structure. You're going to be independent and self-publishing on this side. And on this side, you're going to get along with studios. How does that work?

Mert Ersöz: That is rather easy when you work with the right partners, but...

John Koetsier: It's like, marriage is easy when you pick the right spouse. What's the big problem? Why is the divorce rate so high? It's easy. Just pick the right spouse. What's the problem?

Peggy Anne Salz: Yeah, really. There's nothing to that.

Mert Ersöz: But the answer lies in the team, I think. The harmony should be there. And when you're surrounded with hard working people, and when they share the same passion with you, you can do this or any other thing. If that's not working, you couldn't just pick one of them and you couldn't do it either. So I think that is the thing. That's not the structure, that's not the other stuff, but that lies in the team and hardworking.

John Koetsier: I think what Mert is saying is that you spend some time dating potential partners before you give them a ring.

Peggy Anne Salz: Yeah.

Mert Ersöz: Exactly. But on the other hand, the Voodoo teams and Good Job Games teams, they’re monsters, and that somehow triggers us to benchmark our data with theirs and try to be better than them. That takes some work. So I think we are not that bad, but those guys are monsters.

Peggy Anne Salz: If it was only that simple, as you said, choosing the right partner. But that doesn't work in real life. Did for John and myself, but it doesn't often. I'd love to have some sort of checklist for finding that partner and even knowing how you can even think about self-publishing, because a lot of companies, a lot of companies I'm talking to, they're like, "Yeah, we're going to self-publish, we're going to be independent. And then we're going to be dependent." Again, you have to ask yourself some questions, tough questions. What are some of those?

Mert Ersöz: You have to be sure that your partner is going to work with you in the line of your passions and your aims. If they're not sharing the data that you are asking for, or if they see you as competitors and compete with you in a hostile way, that's not going to work. You have to be working with a partner that tries to make you better in order to make a better partner for themself. And on the self-publishing side, you also meet with their requirements and you have to deliver. In the mobile marketing, it's all about performance. And if you're delivering everything is cool and achievable. And if you're not with the best partners, there are studios that cannot really work. And that's all about performance and delivering the results. That's the main thing I think.

John Koetsier: Yeah, absolutely. When things are going well, it's hard to have a bad partner, when things are going poorly, you know, hey, yeah, they're in it for the long haul and they're going to help us. Well, Mert, let's end here. We always ask for top three tips from our guests. So let's have your top three tips for mobile marketers in gaming.

Mert Ersöz: So my first will be, there is always room for improvement, so keep testing and fail enough. So that's the first one. And secondly, I think the most important thing is that you don't have to really figure it out all by yourself. You have to try to understand the leaders, what the best guys are doing and what they're interested in. And you have to understand why are they doing so, and copy it until you make it, actually. That's my second advice. And the third will be the team is the king. So like anything else, if everybody is smarter and better than you in the team, you have to keep working up. You have to be sure that you are the dumbest person in that room, but still be sure about you are trying your best.

John Koetsier: Love it. Love it. Love it. Well, Mert, I have to tell you something, you are the reason why Peggy and I do what we do, because sometimes we do these shows and it's a bit of work, right? But we live for the shows where it's fun, where we love talking to somebody who is engaged in the space, loves the space, knows the space, is trying stuff in the space, is super knowledgeable and also super humble about it. And you know what, is just happy to share that. So thank you so much for this episode. It's been amazing.

Mert Ersöz: Thank you. I just love you guys and try to engage with all of your content and try to make some time to look forward to them. And also, John, we watched so many of your shows when the ATT came up. So it was super helpful. You saved our lives.

John Koetsier: Wow.

Mert Ersöz: Because the people that Raymond said that...

John Koetsier: The invoice is in the mail, buddy, the invoice is in the mail.

Peggy Anne Salz: I think you have to do this sort of thing here. See John, it's all this. It's all this.

Mert Ersöz: And also, thank you guys for the opportunity. That's nice catching up with you and meeting up with you.

Peggy Anne Salz: Mert, my side as well. Great to have you, great learnings. Also humour, I can see you're into it. It's 8 p.m. in Turkey. There you are in the office full of coffee and all your work is in the background. Can't tear yourself away. Great to have you.

May 11, 2022

Building a Fintech Super-app

Times Internet is a global behemoth with over 550 million users. Now the company is extending its reach globally from its home base in India.

In this episode, we chat with Machine Zone alum Vivek Girotra, who is building a fintech app for the Indian diaspora: tens of millions who live in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and elsewhere around the world. He gets deep into psychographics and demographics as well as the nuts and bolts of mobile growth.

We chat about:

  • Growing fintech apps
  • Understanding your users
  • Filling the funnel
  • Understanding when you have a winner
  • Using content to grow
  • Top 3 tips for fintech marketers

28 min

John Koetsier: Are people predictably irrational and can use behavioural psychology to grow mobile games. Welcome to "Mobile Heroes" origin stories, where we go one on one in-depth with mobile marketing experts. And today we have somebody who's pretty special. And I think he's been mainlining coffee all day. So it's going to be great. We're chatting with the head of marketing at a publisher with more than 1.4 billion downloads and an approach to user acquisition that leans heavily on behavioural economics. Peggy, who is it?

Peggy Anne Salz: Well, we have today Mert Ersöz. He is Head of Marketing at MagicLab Game Technologies. MagicLab designs, develops, publishes hyper-casual and casual games. Best known for some hits. John, as you said, 1.4 billion downloads, best known for Fidget Trading 3D, which I knew, Text And Drive, Destiny Run published with Voodoo, Run Race 3D, Fun Race 3D. He loves the best of list cherries. Yes. And Mert is not just loving his games, he's an all-around talent. As you said, he started in behavioural economics. Then he moved into gaming where he puts his deep knowledge of human behaviour to work in marketing games. And as he puts it, and as you said it, understanding predictably irrational behaviour sometimes provides benefits when you are publishing games. And we're going to find out all about that with you, Mert. Welcome.

Mert Ersöz: Hey, guys.

John Koetsier: I'm super pumped about this. I have interviewed Dan Ariely who wrote "Predictably Irrational." So the book actually on that, so that is very cool. He's a super interesting dude. Half of his face was bearded, half of his face wasn't. It was a bit of a challenge thing and I think he's also had some injuries in the past, but let's talk about mobile marketing and maybe your start about being irrational or predictive or whatever. What was your Eureka moment that triggered the move from studying behavioural economics to applying that to marketing games?

Mert Ersöz: I was doing a master's course on behavioural economics, and then the academy started to be a little bit limiting to me because it's not scalable and also limiting in terms of the potential and the impact you could make if you're not Dan, of course. And I like the games, since I was a child, I like the games. No, but who doesn't like games? And my friends, my childhood friends was already working in the field, so they were developing games. And at that time, I noticed that there was a job for me in the market. So that was my Eureka moment. So it's when they said there is multiple optimizations and UA activities and stuff. And I just said, "Whoa, let's do it."

Peggy Anne Salz: So you've had a string of top-ranking games and you've had views into what works, what doesn't work. What strategies do you think worked best to drive those installs at the start?

Mert Ersöz: What I think is like keep...what's most practical is the most theoretical, I think. So, you don't have the opportunity to make 101 mistakes, so you have to keep the fundamentals. And also following the trends and also leaders becomes handy on that one. So it's like, you don't have to figure out everything yourself. You have to understand what the top guys are doing. So that was actually what we did on those. And also we worked with great partners such as like Voodoo, Good Job, and they brought us some portion of that downloads. That helped too.

Peggy Anne Salz: So having a good blueprint, watching the market leaders, learning, learning from the best. What made the biggest performance difference in your UA strategy?

Mert Ersöz: Mostly it's on the paying attention to details. It generally is hidden within some little details because the fundamentals are, the top market guys, they don't do mistakes and not everybody is getting that much of downloads or potential. So you have to pay attention to details and test as much as you can and fail even more. So it's like if you're not failing enough, you can't say that you tried enough. That's the way to be sure.

John Koetsier: Having talked to some of those biggest mobile developers in the world, I think that they do make some mistakes, but then they have some funds that cover over it. Or they learn from those mistakes really quickly.

Mert Ersöz: Like I said, you have to do mistakes, but not the same mistakes over and over again.

Peggy Anne Salz: That is true. That is definitely true. I have to ask because you're the type, Mert, I can feel it. 1.4 billion, it's impressive. There's got to be some hacks that got you there. What's your favourite or most unconventional hack that helped you scale and reach those results?

Mert Ersöz: I don't want to like disappoint you, but there's no hack, there isn't. It is hidden in the product and the market conditions and you cannot really fight with the data. That's one thing. You have to be always trying to understand your users, your users' behaviours, and try to make them actionable points out of them. So I don't think that's a hack, but if you do it correctly, I don't think there's a limit to reach. And that'll be the top guys, but we'll see. I'm not sure.

John Koetsier: I love it. I love it because some people, some marketers swear by finding that hack, finding that glitch in the matrix, finding that little thing that nobody else knows about the App Store or Google Play. And you tweak that and you tweak this and boom, something happens. And sometimes those things work. Absolutely. Right? And sometimes they're amazing, but there are so many other marketers who are chasing those every single day and every single week and forget the fundamentals of, hey, make a game that's fun to play.

Mert Ersöz: Exactly.

John Koetsier: Do some testing and market it and get better every day. Right? So I love that advice. Let's talk about retention a little bit as well as acquisition. Hey, acquisition is wonderful. Everybody likes filling the bucket. Nobody likes it if the bucket just leaks again, as fast as you filled it. What's your approach and how have you worked to convert those installs into engaged users who keep coming back into the game?

Mert Ersöz: You have to understand the behaviour. That's how I like to think. So it's, if you try the right tests to those users and try to understand the data without getting in love with your ideas, getting in love with what you think is fun, what you think is great and sticking with them. Instead, you have to listen to the users and make the changes they want. Sometimes it might be like, let's say nobody likes watching an ad, right? Nobody. But if you take away the reward that's from a game and then you can just watch your reviews and ratings going down because users want that type of opportunity to become more engaged with the game, to invest in the game and find ways within the game. And the other thing is the, what I think is this is a full funnel that you have to follow. So it will start with the first impression and ends with the churn, hopefully not, but it will someday.

John Koetsier: Realism.

Mert Ersöz: You have to paying attention to every conversion point, not only in the game, but also in the creatives too. So if you give them a false ad, you have to expect some of those people will stop playing at a certain point, but it might be profitable. We are doing it, but still you have to expect and see the results and act through them. Don't get in love with your ideas. Just rely on the data.

Peggy Anne Salz: I like that as well. Looking at every touchpoint, it has to be a journey, looking at every aspect of the user journey, every aspect of user behaviour, as you do. We talked about the user journey now. Let's talk about your own journey, Mert, because you have an interesting one, indeed, because you are in the middle of a seismic change, right? You're moving from hyper-casual to casual. Why are you doing that?

Mert Ersöz: I think it's because we think we can do it. That's first things first. So we believe in, we can manage it, we can get through it. So the hyper-casual is a genre that I really like, because that shows you how to get people's attention, how to get everybody's attention in a similar concept, but in the business wise, it's limiting because if you're relying on ads and within a privacy centric world, it's limiting. And also, why not stepping up the game? So, this is the main aim because you cannot talk about hundreds of millions of dollars in hyper-casual, mostly, generally. There are, but in the casual market, sky is the limit. So, that's why, actually.

Peggy Anne Salz: And there's a lot going on there. You said yourself, it's not what it used to be. It went from hyper-casual to hybrid-casual. Now you're just looking at the casual part, right? And changing genres is really a switch. It's a big deal. First of all, to make the decision you're convinced, it's like, yes, we can do this, but what else should app publishers be thinking about or asking themselves before making that decision?

Mert Ersöz: There are lots of them. I think everything is going to change when you're changing from hyper-casual to casual because the monetization model, your UA strategy, everything is going to change. Let me go into a bit more detail. On the monetization side, since your product has changed, there will be no short-term cash flow, no short-term profits. You'll be aiming for a year, maybe two years, three years of payoff windows, and your game should make users engage with that game for many years, because that's how you make profits. And that's how you should be designing your UA strategy too.

And on the other end, when you're talking about UA strategy, you'll be starting to looking at payers, right? Anybody can watch ads about 13 years old, but who got the money to pay for a game. You have to have the extra money. That's the least thing that will limit your audience. That will be changing everything because you’ll start talking about plus 35 women audience. And that will make you end up with different kind of creatives and different kind of creative strategy. As I said, that's a full funnel and this is still a full funnel for casual too. And when you're aiming for 15 years old and 40-year-old ladies, your creatives should be different. That's...

John Koetsier: Really?

Mert Ersöz: I believe so.

John Koetsier: Well, this is super interesting, actually, because this is a massive shift. It's not just for you because you see an opportunity for games that last longer and have more value and can be more fun and generate more revenue. It's also something that's happening across the industry because as we've got privacy-safe attribution, as we lose audiences, as we lose retargeting capability, it's just a different reality. And it's hard to snipe high value users in hyper-casual games. And so that changes in your ad monetization. And it's hard to acquire users as well that you are known, you can acquire them cheaply or high value ones that you spend more for. So it's changing all that stuff. How's that changing your marketing as you switch genres?

Mert Ersöz: It's like even the metrics we are going to change. So we are keeping looking at (sounds like: RDAU and MDAU) generally short-term LTVs like Day Zero and stuff. But when you're aiming for a long-term retention and long-term monetization model, even your metrics will become like IAPs and payer users. And in the case that you don't know who are those, and you cannot really build up a strategy around them because you don't really know who they are. So, on the marketing side, that will be more than ever uncertainty. But you have...what I think is, when you don't make 101 mistakes and keep focusing on the fundamentals such as you have to make the game really good. And then you can rely on that product. And that's the aim. So I'm not trying to leave it on the game designers and product managers. I'm not trying to say that, but that is important.

John Koetsier: I'm not a bad marketer. You're a bad product developer.

Mert Ersöz: Exactly. That's not my fault. I just got you users, you couldn’t monetize them.

John Koetsier: If that game wasn't so crappy, we'd have sold.

Mert Ersöz: Exactly. And on the UA side, yes, there are less data from the same people with a changing world with a changing manner, but it is still the same. And like I said, on the fundamentals, that's not only a attribution issue, but you have to be creative on attribution and on the building up audiences with some potentials and other metrics to come up with. And at the end of the day, it's less deterministic. Not that the world has gone to hell or something. It's just deterministic models are not working anymore. All right. Let's go creative.

John Koetsier: Wonderful.

Peggy Anne Salz: So you love change. And I want to get back to that. Not only is it shifting genres, hyper-casual to casual, you're also balancing self-publishing with working with studios, including Voodoo. I just wonder how you're managing that because that's not just games, that's the entire structure. You're going to be independent and self-publishing on this side, and on this side, you're going to get along with studios. How does that work?

Mert Ersöz: That is rather easy when you work with the right partners, but...

John Koetsier: It's like, marriage is easy when you pick the right spouse. What's the big problem? Why is the divorce rate so high? It's easy. Just pick the right spouse. What's the problem?

Peggy Anne Salz: Yeah, really. There's nothing to that.

Mert Ersöz: But the answer lies in the team, I think. The harmony should be there. And when you're surrounded with hard working people, and when they share the same passion with you, you can do this or any other thing. If that's not working, you couldn't just pick one of them and you couldn't do it either. So I think that is the thing. That's not the structure, that's not the other stuff, but that lies in the team and hardworking.

John Koetsier: I think what Mert is saying is that you spend some time dating potential partners before you give them a ring.

Peggy Anne Salz: Yeah.

Mert Ersöz: Exactly. But on the other hand, the Voodoo teams and Good Job Games teams, they’re monsters, and that somehow triggers us to benchmark our data with theirs and try to be better than them. That takes some work. So I think we are not that bad, but those guys are monsters.

Peggy Anne Salz: If it was only that simple, as you said, choosing the right partner. But that doesn't work in real life. Did for John and myself, but it doesn't often. I'd love to have some sort of checklist for finding that partner and even knowing how you can even think about self-publishing because a lot of companies, a lot of companies I'm talking to, they're like, "Yeah, we're going to self-publish, we're going to be independent. And then we're going to be dependent." Again, you have to ask yourself some questions, tough questions. What are some of those?

Mert Ersöz: I think you have to be sure that your partner is going to work with you in the line of your passions and your aims. In the means that if they're not sharing the data that you are asking for, or if they see you as competitors and compete with you in a hostile way, that's not going to work. You have to be working with a partner that tries to make you better in order to make a better partner for themself. And on the self-publishing side, you also meet with their requirements and you have to deliver. In the mobile marketing, it's all about performance. And if you're delivering everything is cool and achievable. And if you're not with the best partners, there are studios that cannot really work. And that's all about performance and delivering the results. That's the main thing I think.

John Koetsier: Yeah, absolutely. When things are going well, it's hard to have a bad partner, when things are going poorly, you know, hey, yeah, they're in it for the long haul and they're going to help us. Well, Mert, let's end here. We always ask for top three tips from our guests. So let's have your top three tips for mobile marketers in gaming.

Mert Ersöz: So my first will be, there is always room for improvement, so keep testing and fail enough. So that's the first one. And secondly, I think the most important thing is that you don't have to really figure it out all by yourself. You have to try to understand the leaders, what the best guys are doing and what they're interested in. And you have to understand why are they doing so, and copy it until you make it, actually. That's my second advice. And the third will be the team is the king. So like anything else, if everybody is smarter and better than you in the team, you have to keep working up. You have to be sure that you are the dumbest person in that room, but still be sure about you are trying your best.

John Koetsier: Love it. Love it. Love it. Well, Mert, I have to tell you something, you are the reason why Peggy and I do what we do, because sometimes we do these shows and it's a bit of work, right? But we live for the shows where it's fun, where we love talking to somebody who is engaged in the space, loves the space, knows the space, is trying stuff in the space, is super knowledgeable and also super humble about it. And you know what, is just happy to share that. So thank you so much for this episode. It's been amazing.

Mert Ersöz: Thank you. I just love you guys and try to engage with all of your content and try to make some time to look forward to them. And also, John, we watched so many of your shows when the ATT came up. So it was super helpful. You saved our lives.

John Koetsier: Wow.

Mert Ersöz: Because the people that Raymond said that...

John Koetsier: The invoice is in the mail, buddy, the invoice is in the mail.

Peggy Anne Salz: I think you have to do this sort of thing here. See John, it's all this. It's all this.

Mert Ersöz: And also, thank you guys for the opportunity. That's nice catching up with you and meeting up with you.

Peggy Anne Salz: Mert, my side as well. Great to have you, great learnings. Also humour, I can see you're into it. It's 8 p.m. in Turkey. There you are in the office full of coffee and all your work is in the background. Can't tear yourself away. Great to have you.

Mert Ersöz: Thank you, Peggy. And I will read your retention blog. I couldn't, but I will. I will read it and try to understand it.

Peggy Anne Salz: You're on, you're on.

Mert Ersöz: But still people are the same, the behaviour is the same. You are trying to understand the same people and you are trying to get attention from the same people with a changing world, with a changing manner, but it is still the same. And like I said, on the fundamentals, that's not only a attribution issue, but...

Peggy Anne Salz: So you love change. And I want to get back to that. Not only is it shifting genres, hyper-casual to casual, you're also balancing self-publishing with working with studios, including Voodoo. I just wonder how you're managing that because that's not just games, that's the entire structure. You're going to be independent and self-publishing on this side. And on this side, you're going to get along with studios. How does that work?

Mert Ersöz: That is rather easy when you work with the right partners, but...

John Koetsier: It's like, marriage is easy when you pick the right spouse. What's the big problem? Why is the divorce rate so high? It's easy. Just pick the right spouse. What's the problem?

Peggy Anne Salz: Yeah, really. There's nothing to that.

Mert Ersöz: But the answer lies in the team, I think. The harmony should be there. And when you're surrounded with hard working people, and when they share the same passion with you, you can do this or any other thing. If that's not working, you couldn't just pick one of them and you couldn't do it either. So I think that is the thing. That's not the structure, that's not the other stuff, but that lies in the team and hardworking.

John Koetsier: I think what Mert is saying is that you spend some time dating potential partners before you give them a ring.

Peggy Anne Salz: Yeah.

Mert Ersöz: Exactly. But on the other hand, the Voodoo teams and Good Job Games teams, they’re monsters, and that somehow triggers us to benchmark our data with theirs and try to be better than them. That takes some work. So I think we are not that bad, but those guys are monsters.

Peggy Anne Salz: If it was only that simple, as you said, choosing the right partner. But that doesn't work in real life. Did for John and myself, but it doesn't often. I'd love to have some sort of checklist for finding that partner and even knowing how you can even think about self-publishing, because a lot of companies, a lot of companies I'm talking to, they're like, "Yeah, we're going to self-publish, we're going to be independent. And then we're going to be dependent." Again, you have to ask yourself some questions, tough questions. What are some of those?

Mert Ersöz: You have to be sure that your partner is going to work with you in the line of your passions and your aims. If they're not sharing the data that you are asking for, or if they see you as competitors and compete with you in a hostile way, that's not going to work. You have to be working with a partner that tries to make you better in order to make a better partner for themself. And on the self-publishing side, you also meet with their requirements and you have to deliver. In the mobile marketing, it's all about performance. And if you're delivering everything is cool and achievable. And if you're not with the best partners, there are studios that cannot really work. And that's all about performance and delivering the results. That's the main thing I think.

John Koetsier: Yeah, absolutely. When things are going well, it's hard to have a bad partner, when things are going poorly, you know, hey, yeah, they're in it for the long haul and they're going to help us. Well, Mert, let's end here. We always ask for top three tips from our guests. So let's have your top three tips for mobile marketers in gaming.

Mert Ersöz: So my first will be, there is always room for improvement, so keep testing and fail enough. So that's the first one. And secondly, I think the most important thing is that you don't have to really figure it out all by yourself. You have to try to understand the leaders, what the best guys are doing and what they're interested in. And you have to understand why are they doing so, and copy it until you make it, actually. That's my second advice. And the third will be the team is the king. So like anything else, if everybody is smarter and better than you in the team, you have to keep working up. You have to be sure that you are the dumbest person in that room, but still be sure about you are trying your best.

John Koetsier: Love it. Love it. Love it. Well, Mert, I have to tell you something, you are the reason why Peggy and I do what we do, because sometimes we do these shows and it's a bit of work, right? But we live for the shows where it's fun, where we love talking to somebody who is engaged in the space, loves the space, knows the space, is trying stuff in the space, is super knowledgeable and also super humble about it. And you know what, is just happy to share that. So thank you so much for this episode. It's been amazing.

Mert Ersöz: Thank you. I just love you guys and try to engage with all of your content and try to make some time to look forward to them. And also, John, we watched so many of your shows when the ATT came up. So it was super helpful. You saved our lives.

John Koetsier: Wow.

Mert Ersöz: Because the people that Raymond said that...

John Koetsier: The invoice is in the mail, buddy, the invoice is in the mail.

Peggy Anne Salz: I think you have to do this sort of thing here. See John, it's all this. It's all this.

Mert Ersöz: And also, thank you guys for the opportunity. That's nice catching up with you and meeting up with you.

Peggy Anne Salz: Mert, my side as well. Great to have you, great learnings. Also humour, I can see you're into it. It's 8 p.m. in Turkey. There you are in the office full of coffee and all your work is in the background. Can't tear yourself away. Great to have you.

May 4, 2022

Growing Location and Travel Apps Again (Finally!)

Is it happy days for location-based apps again? We’re getting back to some kind of normal and apps for places, travel, restaurants, hikes, flights, hotels, beaches, and bookshops are back in action.

Today we chat with a super-interesting location-based app called Bimble, which is “counter-mapping” the planet … finding all the cool places that aren’t big on Google Maps and highlighting the small wonders of the world. In this episode of Mobile Heroes Uncensored, we chat with Julia Mallaby and Fatima Zaidi of Bimble. They launched 3 weeks before lockdown … but survived COVID! And now they’re doing better than ever.

We chat about:

  • Building the ‘Spotify of Travel’
  • Filling the upper funnel of app users
  • Engaging existing users
  • Building buzz via TikTok influencers
  • Creating emotional connection that drives retention
  • Building real community


29 min

John Koetsier: Is it back to happy days for location-based travel-centric go places in real-life apps again? Welcome to "Mobile Heroes Uncensored," where co-host, Peggy Anne Salz, and I interview the world's best mobile minds like those we have today. My name is John Koetsier, and today we're talking about location, places, travel, restaurants, hotels, all those good things, bookshops, beaches, best places in the world, how to get there, what to do. It's been tough for travel apps, obviously, for a couple of years, but they're kind of coming back. Peggy, who are we chatting with?

Peggy Anne Salz: Well, we have a dynamic duo of sorts, John. I'll start off...

John Koetsier: Batman? Robin?

Peggy Anne Salz: In a way. They're championing something quite different out there, you know, travel apps with a twist. So I will introduce. We have Julia Mallaby. She's co-founder of Bimble. She has a long track record in product management, innovation, marketing background, and she has worked in countries across Europe and at companies, including L'Oréal and Cody, all part of the globe-trotting routine. I believe that sparked the idea for the app company she has co-founded with her other corporate nomad colleague. And speaking of colleagues, colleagues say Julia has a "real" appetite and interest in new ideas, and when she combines creativity and commercial know-how, the results can sometimes be truly joyous. So it's a joy to have you on the show, Julia.

Julia Mallaby: Thank you so much. It's great to be here.

Peggy Anne Salz: And I said there were two, John. We have Fatima Zaidi. She's community manager, B2C, at Bimble. Also very creative. Visual is her medium, taking photos, making videos with impact. She's back at Bimble where she started as an intern after spending a cool time, probably in Berlin, working in a film collective. Her colleagues describe her as entrepreneurial and energetic, and she's going to bring that energy to our show. So welcome as well.

Fatima Zaidi: Yes, absolutely. Thanks so much for having me.

John Koetsier: Awesome. We are super pumped to have you both. Thank you for joining us. Julia, let's start with you. Bimble is a social platform for places. Tell us about it. What does it do? How does it work?

Julia Mallaby: Yeah. So Bimble is a platform where you can keep all the places that you love. So that means that as you go to places that you enjoy like a restaurant or a bar or whatever, you can put it onto Bimble to remember it for later just like in the old days people used to collect business cards and put them in a wallet, right? So now you can put them onto Bimble and keep all of them, but equally, when you're researching places to go, whether that is hearing about places on Instagram or from a friend in a conversation or reading an article or hearing about something on the radio, you can add it to Bimble to remember for later and build up your target places that you want to go to in the future. So it's really where you collect all the places that you love. And because people are collecting places that they love, you can then explore other people's places that they love. So it's a social space for sharing your favourite places. If you think about Spotify as, you know, where you create your playlists of the music that you love and then you can explore other people's playlists similarly on them when you're creating playlists.

John Koetsier: That is really cool. And I was one of the early users of Foursquare. And I currently use Swarm right now. Maybe I should take a look at this. It sounds interesting. It's related, obviously, different, but very cool as well. Now you started the company in the middle of COVID. How did that work for you?

Julia Mallaby: Yeah, we did. We literally launched our app three weeks before lockdown, so that was not good timing. And, you know, when that happened, we really thought like, "Are we going to make it through this?" But, of course, we had no idea whether that was going to be, you know, a three-week problem or what it turned out to be, which is pretty much a two-year problem. And having an app for listing places when nobody is going anywhere is clearly not ideal, but what we found was that amazingly, we just carried on growing through that period. So, actually, people were coming onto the platform to either reminisce about places they'd been to in the past that they just were just like, "Oh, I remember that place," like, just doing it for fun like a scrapbooking kind of activity, or they were making plans for the future sort of dream lists of places that they'd love to go to Sunday. Or, and this kind of came a little bit later, they started to worry about the businesses that they loved and they wanted to list them to shout them out to support them, and that became a whole other side of the way people were using Bimble during that time.

John Koetsier: Amazing.

Peggy Anne Salz: I love that, shouting out places that you miss, and that is part of the experience, but now it's different, right? We're reopening. And I've read, you've seen a surge of activity, you know. We're out finally. It's like someone let us loose 3x. How has that changed how you acquire users for your app? Because now we have choice.

Julia Mallaby: Yeah. So now it's really...As people are going out, we're seeing two things, actually, both surge and acquisition, so people just coming on and joining Bimble a lot more than before, but also a big surge in activity and just people who were already on the platform in the past and who are now coming much more often. And for us, that's the most exciting part really. We saw people who joined through COVID and who came on once, twice, you know, like a couple of times a month maybe and they were checking in and adding some places. But now what they're doing is they're coming much more often. So we're seeing actually two...We're seeing sort of two groups of people. The average is that they're coming on three times a month now, three to four times a month, but we're also seeing a whole group of people that are coming on really much more often, 11 plus times in a month. And because they're on the go, they're out, they're going to places, they're adding new places to their list, they're making new plans, they're planning their holidays, their weekends away, their evenings out. So we're seeing all that activity really increase. And in terms of how it changes the way that we talk to our audience, and we encourage people to come in, it's actually that we've now split two different kinds of activities. So we're still doing our acquisition, which is through Instagram, advertising, mixed with brand ambassadors that are sharing interesting content with their audiences and they're creating Bimble list and then they're telling their audiences about the list that they're making. So that's what we're doing on the pure acquisition side, but we've now launched a whole campaign of what we call middle funnel activity. That means bringing people back into the app, talking to people who are already part of the app, encouraging them to add more descriptions to their places once they've been. Maybe they had lists of places that they wanted to go to. Now they've gone to those places and we want them to go back and say why they liked them, what they liked about them. If they did like them, then they should add a comment. If they didn't, they should remove it from their list because Bimble is your list of places that you actually do love.

John Koetsier: Love it. Love it. Fatima, let's turn to you. So you're building playlists of places, which is a cool idea. And, I mean, Julia talked about, hey, this is kind of like Spotify, right? You can check out somebody else's playlists. How does that work? How does that feel? How's that built into your user acquisition?

Fatima Zaidi: Yeah. I mean, one thing I love about Bimble is that it is so community-driven. There is a space for whatever your interests are on our platform. So a big part of my role is actually curating a lot of the content we see, so stuff you see on that Discovery page when you launch into our app. A lot of that is handpicked by our kind of team led by me. And what I try to do with that is tap into the content I see on the app that represents the love that people have for the places that they're sharing. So one of my favourite lists I saw recently was a guy who did a list called Geek Culture in London. And he basically made a list of his favourite comic bookstores and places to get anime stuff. And he basically completely celebrated everything that represents him and his community in the places in his city. So I loved that. I also saw one recently, a fabric store, because there was a girl who does...She like thrift flips. She goes to thrift stores and then saw these cool outfits and so she put a list of fabric stores on Bimble. And that is basically what I think the beauty is, your playlist of places. It represents you, who you are in your city or your town or wherever you are in the world.

John Koetsier: I can totally see that working well in user acquisition because the filter I put on that is I love hiking, I love walking and finding somebody's playlist of the best hikes, the best walks in an area that I might be going to or visiting in my own area or in a nearby area, that would be a reason to check it out. That makes a ton of sense. Talk about the channel mix a little bit. You're super visual. Peggy has said, and Peggy actually met you at an event with TikTok influencers. Is that one of your main channels?

Fatima Zaidi: Actually, it's quite a new area for us. We've recently started working with brand ambassadors, most of whom are TikTok creators, but we also create our own content, largely myself or other interns, but Instagram is actually one of our big channels. We grew a massive community on there, organically actually. And, you know, people on Instagram, they have followed Bimble along on the whole story, so through lockdown and this kind of growth and with our new feature releases when followers and following came out, and with our most recent release which is map. And it's awesome. Like, I try my best to respond to every single comment. We all do as a team, both the negative stuff and the positive stuff. But we were really lucky. We did a team trip back to New York because New York is an area of interest and just love the kind of independent businesses there, the restaurants, the kind of passion that people have in New York neighbourhoods or their neighbourhood. So we were out there meeting people, influencers, business owners, and we had people giving us recommendations, "Hey, you should check out," from our Instagram responding to us in the DM, "You should go check out this restaurant. We think you'll love it," or just following us along on the trip, people telling us to come to their cities, which obviously, we'd love to do at some point. So, yeah, Instagram is a big channel for us. Twitter as well, to a point, we've had a blog, and actually, I will go into that. So whilst visual is a massive medium for us, I mean, I'm definitely the generation of short-form content. We also love our long-form content. So we put out a blog, weekly blog. We share the kind of magic behind the places. So whilst you get the kind of immediate satisfaction of how cool it looks on TikTok, if you really want to know the ins and outs of that business, either from the business owner or from someone who's got a really special connection with that place, we also release this weekly blog which I think is quite a special space. So yeah, that weekly blog goes out on our Twitter too.

John Koetsier: Peggy, this has got to be the best business of all to expense your personal travel as a business expense. Come on.

Peggy Anne Salz: I was thinking that everywhere, finding these stories. And one of the stories that you show a lot is the independent business. You said it yourself, Julia, you know, people were just saying, "Hey, you know, a call out to my favourite business. I hope it's still there. My local spots." It's great to want to support small business, but it's also a crowded space. I mean, you got Tripadvisor, Yelp, Foursquare. Maybe sometimes some businesses are not thrilled with the rating system, but that's a different story. How do you stand out and get the attention of small business?

Julia Mallaby: So I think that the rating system issue is like, you know, a huge point because basically, we talk to our community all the time and that includes the businesses, obviously. So we speak to business owners a lot, and what they have told us over and over is that they feel that the platforms that use the ratings and review system and that ratings and reviews algorithm that then decides whether or not a place is easy to find is a really scary hostile space for them. So basically, they feel that Tripadvisor or Yelp or Foursquare or Google, these are all places where they are watching to be sure that they don't get a bad review. Like, a bad review can just knock them out. So their main feeling about those spaces is is it okay? Is it okay? Like, nervous, right? Whereas with Bimble, what they see is a space where people are only sharing places that they love. So there's nothing negative. Nobody is saying anything negative. We don't have any star rating system at all. It's all based on people's personal preferences, right? So just like with Spotify, we don't have a star rating system on Spotify. So we have a system where we will match you up with people that have similar taste to you so that you can find places that you will love. And so they look at Bimble and they say, "Well, Bimble feels like a village. It feels like a home. It feels like our home." That's what those businesses say. It feels like a space that is celebrating businesses like ours where we can feel confident that people are there because they enjoy businesses like us. And the great thing about that for us, you know, going forward as we start to build out more features which will be there to service those businesses is that they feel very comfortable at the idea of using our services to spread the word because they know that the people at the other end are actually looking for interesting content about businesses like theirs. They want to go to those sorts of places. So they don't feel like they're bombarding people with any information through that. It's not an advertising space for them. It's a space for them to build a community, for us to build a community for the people that come onto the platform to find like-minded people and to find businesses that they enjoy.

John Koetsier: One of the things you're doing, Fatima, is connecting influencers and small businesses. How does that work, and why are you doing that?

Fatima Zaidi: I kind of see influencers as part of an ecosystem in Bimble. So we are helping small businesses build an audience with themselves, and influencers are part of that ecosystem because if you come to the platform having seen someone's cool video on TikTok and you know that you can find those places in one list on one map, it's really easy access. You then might start to discover. Let's say you've seen a place, someone has listed that. You're like, "Oh, I quite like the look of some of her other places. She's quite a lot like me." So you start discovering more businesses. You re-list them, so you add them to your own place lists. It's essentially part of this ongoing flywheel where businesses get to meet and grow their own audiences on Bimble. And Julia, just to kind of carry on from what she said, we do hope to kind of bring out tools, hopefully, towards the latter part of this year for those businesses to directly communicate with that audience. And I think a really special place and in a way that they can't do so far on other channels.

Julia Mallaby: And just to jump in, so we have a very different way of dealing with this relationship between brand ambassadors or influencers and the businesses because where most businesses would be in a situation where they would be paying a brand ambassador to come to their business and write about it, we can pay a brand ambassador to list the businesses that they love and not tell them where. They get to choose the businesses that they love. So it's much more authentic. It's real. It's the actual places that that person has chosen. We would never tell them what to list. And so because of that, that information and that sort of celebration of those businesses is really much more valuable.

Peggy Anne Salz: I just have to ask a quick question here because so many marketers are talking about this. This is why I met you, Fatima, as well, you know, you need creators to create. They have to contribute. That's the lifeblood of your app. That's what drives the sessions. Can you share anything that works really well or maybe doesn't work at all?

Fatima Zaidi: Yeah. So we actually have around 30% of all users that come creating content, and what we do find when we study the curve is that people who start to add more than 10 places, they come back to the app and they add, and they add, and they add. So it's basically using, as Julia said, middle of funnel marketing activity, push notification strategy, kind of marketing, and also just reminding on our social channels that part of the experience of Bimble is sharing your own places. But, you know, it is a twofold process. There are some users who are going to be just browsers like it's the case on many social media platforms these days. We just learn how to cater to both those people, and there's different messaging. And when we look at their behaviours, there's different messaging depending on whether you are a browser or whether you are a creator. And it's trying to push those people who show the early signs of being a creator into being full-blown, coming back to the app, training them into the habit of I went to a really cool place and I'm going to share it.

John Koetsier: I love the words that you're using, creator and then browser, rather than consumer. I notice that that was chosen. I wonder...You look at different networks and you think, you know, how much do people create and how much do people consume on different platforms? I was thinking, Peggy, you know, on TikTok, it's like creator and zombie but, you know, maybe that's just me. I could just be me. You have a new feature, that is mapping, and you've talked about counter-mapping the world. Now, this comes from a very interesting place that is super relevant right now, and that's Ukraine. Tell us about that.

Julia Mallaby: Yeah. So if you think the lockdown was a problem for us, the Ukrainian war has been a much bigger problem for us, not in terms of hitting our business because actually, it hasn't knocked our business, but in terms of, you know, how we've all been during this period. It has been really difficult because we have 11 Ukrainian team members. We're a very small company, so 11 people is more than half of our company. And we are very close to them because we talk to them, you know, every day. Before the war, Francesca, my co-founder and I were going there every month, and, you know, they are people that we've been building this business together with them. Obviously, they're very important part of our team. Since the wars began, we have been talking to them all the time. We've been supporting them in their evacuation process. So they've been, you know, moving into Western Ukraine. Some of them have been allowed out of the country but many of them, of course, can't because men are not allowed out of the country. And so they are in displaced accommodations. So, you know, we've helped them to find places to stay, and in those places, after two weeks of, you know, finding their feet, they actually requested to come back to work, which has been absolutely...We couldn't believe it. It has been absolutely amazing.

But the reality is the reason that we went to Ukraine in the first place, the reason we decided to work with people there and hire people there was because we had been amazed by the spirit of the Ukrainians, you know, they are creative, they are hardworking, they are ambitious, they are resilient, they are optimistic. And all of those strengths that we loved about them and that led us to build a team there, we've now seen in the way that they behave through this war and we can see it all over the news, but we also see it in our own team. So they requested to come back to work -because they said that they wanted to get out of that obsessive, you know, watching the news and keeping up-to-date with everything and being on Twitter all day long. So they started working again, not all of them full-time but, you know, those that want to tune that felt that they could, and now everybody is working and they absolutely wanted to bring this big new feature that we planned to market. So they wanted to finish the feature and they wanted to release it into the market. And it has been...I mean, our proudest moment ever since we started this business was releasing maps from a team in a war zone. It just feels, you know, incredible. And it is our biggest feature that we've released this year. So counter-mapping the world. What do we mean by that? If you look at an ordinary map or most maps, right? Google Maps, for example, those maps surface the big things, but you can find the small things when you scroll in but they surface the big things. The things that you see first on the map are the big landmarks and the big chains and the tourist spots. Our map surfaces the little places that people love. So it doesn't mean people, of course, may love landmarks. I'm not saying that, but I'm just saying that the landmarks, you know, they're the ones that are harder to see on our map. The things that stand out are the places that people are listing. So that's what I mean by counter-mapping. It's bringing out the small places and creating a map that's the reflection of our community.

John Koetsier: I love that. I love that.

Peggy Anne Salz: Looks great.

John Koetsier: I have to think back to...I grew up in the oldest city in British Columbia, which is New Westminster, which won't seem old to people who live in the U.K. a couple of 100 years, maybe, right? And there's a street in New Westminster called Bent Street which is sort of shaped like a square. It's the only one I know where there's actual central square and then houses or apartments all around it. And you cannot find this. It's almost impossible. You have to happen upon. Even if you know it's there, you can't really find it, but it's kind of a cool spot and it's one of the things that I would highlight on a map of lesser-known places. So, absolutely love that.

Julia Mallaby: Fantastic. Fantastic.

Peggy Anne Salz: Now you have to get it, John. Now you have to share it. Now we all want to know and follow you there. I think I was reading also that you have something like 300,000 places on your map now?

Julia Mallaby: Yeah. So that's right, 300,000 places have been added to Bimble so far. And actually, in this last, you know, period, this last week since we launched map, we saw a huge surge. So we were getting about 4,000 places a week, and in this last week, it has gone up to over 6,000. So, you know, we can see that as soon as we show people on a map where the places are, they start to want to fill in the gaps. You know, they look at the map and they're like, "Oh, there's a place missing here that's really important. I want to add that." So that's really interesting to see.

Peggy Anne Salz: It's what people care about, and brands like that too. They like to be associated with what we care about because then they're part of a conversation that's emotional and it's empathetic and it's where they want to be. What's your advice to app companies if they want to build a community to attract brands as well as an audience? Fatima, I ask you.

Fatima Zaidi: So I think you kind of hit the nail on the head. It's about tapping into communities that are real. Something I do actually love about where the digital space is going, like, for example, even on TikTok is the small little core groups you see, like obviously, Travel Talk is quite a big one and particularly relevant to us, but kind of based on what I was saying earlier, I like that you can find the people who are into sewing or plant moms, or I don't know, K-pop, Twitter, whatever. And so I think it's helpful to talk to people who have actually an emotional connection to something and that, as I explained earlier, is very much possible to do on Bimble. And so brands have just another kind of way of talking to actual people and passions, essentially people and their passions and their places.

John Koetsier: Very cool. Very cool. Well, we have to draw this to a close and we'll end it with the question that Peggy and I always ask to the mobile experts that we bring on, and we ask for three top tips. So maybe we'll tag-team. We'll start with Julia. We'll go to Fatima, we'll go back to Julia. Three top tips for location-based apps. Julia, why don't you start?

Julia Mallaby: Wow. Okay. My first top tip for a location-based app would be to look at the space of what's going on in locations and try to understand what kind of person isn't being catered to. So don't think about what kind of place, initially, think about what kind of person is not finding what they need out there.

John Koetsier: Love it. Love it. Fatima, your turn.

Fatima Zaidi: Okay. That's tricky, but I think mine is going to be, especially from a content marketing side, don't forget the magic in places. So they're kind of it's not just about how pretty it looks for a photo, the actual magic of why we care about them. It's very true that our memories and therefore our stories that we have to tell are often very intimately connected with place. So really tap into that storytelling. Get your audience to share those stories, get the places to share those stories. You share your own stories. I think that's important.

John Koetsier: Absolutely love it. Sometimes the most magical places are the ones we can't even remember where we were.

John Koetsier: Julia, back to you. Julia, back to you for the third tip.

Julia Mallaby: Okay. So my third one is just about the tool. Make sure that the tool is a useful tool. So it's not only about enjoyment. It's not only about browsing. It's not only about feeling good. It's actually just useful, you know. And so I would really say our experience has always been that the biggest upticks we get come from product improvements. So as the product becomes more useful, people are going to use it more. That's it.

John Koetsier: Right, right, right. And marketers everywhere rejoice as they say, "Yes, I told you it was the product. Come on."

Peggy Anne Salz: Not us. It's not us. No, we didn't do it.

John Koetsier: Thank you so much, Julia. Thank you so much, Fatima. That was super interesting.

Julia Mallaby: Thank you so much. It was really great to be there.

Fatima Zaidi: Yeah.

Peggy Anne Salz: And thanks for sharing those stories. Now you've got...I think John is going to take a look at it and I'm going to get the same.

Julia Mallaby: I hope so.

Peggy Anne Salz: I'm based in Europe. Some pretty cool places around here. Hang out with my tribes. You sold me on it. Thanks so much.

Julia Mallaby: Great. Good to hear. Bye-bye. Thank you.

Apr 20, 2022

How To Scale Your App for Hyper-growth

Scaling to 220 million users is a pretty massive achievement. Helping over 30 million women get pregnant: also massive. And driving growth via content and curation is a pretty unique way to do it.

In this Mobile Heroes Uncensored, hosts John Koetsier and Peggy Anne Salz chat with Aurelie Genet, who is VP of Product and Engagement Marketing at Flo, the app that’s all about periods, ovulation, and pregnancy on the surface … but even more about wellness, health, and being your best self.

Genet shares the gold on how product, user acquisition, and retention need to align and collaborate to win, how customer experience determines success, and how Flo uses content as both a competitive differentiator and community creator.

In addition, we chat metrics (always fun), her biggest accomplishment, and Genet’s top three tips for mobile marketers in the health & wellness space.

31 min

Aurélie Genet: What makes a user stick? What is that one action or this combination of action that will get people to really understand the value and keep coming back in an organic way? Because if we understand that, then you can have some marketing campaigns that helps in building these habits, but we need to be super clear on that habit needs to be.

John Koetsier: How do you build a team that can scale for hyper growth? Welcome to "Mobile Heroes Uncensored." Today, we're chatting with the VP of a product for an app with 220 million global users, has helped over 30 million women get pregnant, which of course is an entirely different kind of growth. In terms of apps, growth means acquisition. Sure, it also means retention and that means you need a great product. My name is John Koetsier. Co-hosting, of course, is Peggy Anne Salz. Peggy, who's going to teach us how to put all these puzzle pieces together?

Peggy Anne Salz: Well, as you said it, we have a VP of Product. We actually have Aurélie Genet. She's VP of Product, Engagement Marketing. I love that all together in one place at Flo. And Flo is the app as you pointed out. It supports women at each stage of their reproductive cycle. Today, she leads the cross-discipline engagement marketing tribe, that's also very cool, at Flo Health, take it seriously. It is not a group or a division, it's a tribe. And before that, she held marketing and CRM positions at Skyscanner and Trainline. She started her career in user acquisition roles, moved into retention-focused roles before diving into the world of product marketing. And that's the triangle and that's the challenge that we want to talk about today. But of course, I also take a look at what her colleagues have to say about her. And if you look at it, John, I think we've struck gold because here's how they describe her. "Adaptable and capable of working with multiple stakeholders, but commercial and technical, always bringing a positive vibe."

John Koetsier: Nice.

Peggy Anne Salz: So, we're going to have a positive vibe on our show. And she's also, "not to be messed with."

John Koetsier: Uh-oh.

Peggy Anne Salz: So no way. So, we are strapping ourselves in for an edgy lesson in building teams that work. Welcome, Aurélie.

Aurélie Genet: Hi, thank you. That's quite an intro. Now, I don't really know how to follow up with all these.

John Koetsier: That's awesome. Welcome and thank you for being with us. Before we dive into everything that you're going to talk about, this triangle, the acquisition, the retention, the product, all that stuff, 220 million global users. That's super impressive. There's very few apps that get there. How'd you get there?

Aurélie Genet: That's a very good question. So, Flo really is on the mission to help women globally to live better with their health. As we know, female health is an area that has been underfunded. And so we've really tried to build something that's easy to engage with that women could connect with and really support them throughout their entire life. And the company's been going for a few years, tremendous growth due to product moving very fast, improving very fast and trying to keep up with the demand of our users. So, a lot of work goes into that, basically.

John Koetsier: Nice.

Peggy Anne Salz: I like that, that it's leading with product. A great experience. I've taken a look at it, but you also deal with that triangle, that growth triangle. How do you get those three on the same page fitting together the product, the acquisition, the retention?

Aurélie Genet: That's a challenge that I think we work at every day. I think it has to start, one, once I've discovered throughout my entire career was the company will be successful if the product has product-market fit and users love the product. And yes, marketing helps with the discovery and helps with the engagement, but you need to have that product-market fit of having something that people really want to engage with. And so, that's really one of the thing that we help at Flo. I've joined Flo just about a year ago and building that engagement marketing tribe, like you mentioned, was about having product marketing coming in and supporting with these questions of product-market fit. And then also having lifecycle marketing and building up the right communication so we can help users get deeper, deeper engagement with the product and helping them throughout their health journey.

Peggy Anne Salz: So, you bring them together, you build a tribe, share some lessons, some learnings on that path of bringing together what's fairly disparate parts. It's not like they have a lot... Well, they do have a lot in common, but they have a lot of different ways of approaching at the same goal.

Aurélie Genet: Yeah. Definitely. And I think, like you mentioned, my career progression really started in agency side and it was all about drive traffic, drive traffic, drive downloads. And then you work towards that and you generate all of these downloads were great, but who are the people behind these downloads? Are they actually engaging with the app? What's their lifetime value like? And then moving into companies like Trainline, I was in the middle of, well, you're generating all these downloads, but we're not seeing the same conversions that we do on the web. Why is that? And so starting to dive into engagement and what users are doing inside the application. And then that's something that at Skyscanner I could see developed even further. And so for me, the eye-opener was it's not marketing do one thing and then product do another thing. That just doesn't work like that. It needs to be we all work for the same consumer, the same users. And so we need to have metrics that are aligned, we need to make sure we talk to our users frequently and that we build experiences that actually make sense for them so we can maximize the conversion in the long run and not just strike for the short-term goals. So, yeah. That's cross-discipline collaboration for me was the very big aha moment in my career.

Peggy Anne Salz: That is the goal. It's about cross-discipline collaboration, talking to a lot of marketers who aren't as far along on the path as you are and there's things like they, well, I wouldn't say fight, they just sort of struggle to get there.

John Koetsier: I would say fight. I've seen that.

Aurélie Genet: Yeah. I would say fight too. I've been there.

Peggy Anne Salz: Let's just say I was trying to be tactful about this, but it's like, "Hey, I need this data and I need it customized in this way." And it's like, "No, you're not going to get it. And I own the customer experience and you're not going to do this." There is a lot of…a little tension going on. Any nightmares to share from what you have had to...

Aurélie Genet: Oh, God. Yeah. So many. So many. I was in companies and I don't want to name the names where marketing, I was asked, generate downloads, generate traffic. You have to hit X million or X thousands of people. And then Product was like, "Well, but we have to work on the conversion rate. So, you can't just drive an influx of traffic because that's just going to throw my conversion rate out of the window and that's not right." And so you would have this fight. And so sometimes you can find the common ground with people and you can work on projects to prove that the concept work of, let's say, let's take one segment, let's do very targeted advertising, let's do a dedicated landing page, let's see what the engagement rate is throughout and the results. And sometimes you just can't because people are not willing to see past their scope and see how other companies or other discipline rather can deal with it. So, yeah. It can be quite a fight.

Peggy Anne Salz: So, John, it says she's not to be messed with, does that tell you how she settles these fights?

John Koetsier: I don't know. Maybe those elbows are pretty sharp. We'll have to find out, but...

Aurélie Genet: When I was at Skyscanner, actually, I felt like I was asking very hard question and I felt like my engineering team that I was working with were not enjoying me because I would always be the one like, "But how does that feel for the user? Imagine you're the user, does that make sense to you? Is that good enough?" And I felt like I was potentially nagging, but they actually loved that because they were ambitious people. They wanted to do great work. And so they liked to be kept on their toes or they liked to be challenged in the right way. And then at the end, I could actually deliver an amazing product launch campaign and they could see their product in the wild being loved by users. And so it was a bit of, if you give me what I need, then I can do justice to your work and actually make it shine into the world. So, yeah. That's the charming of people and the way you collaborate.

John Koetsier: I love it. But you need some pretty mature people on the other side to make that work.

Aurélie Genet: Yeah. Definitely.

John Koetsier: So, I'm glad that you had that there and obviously have it where you have it right now. I want to talk about the customer experience, you've been talking in and around that. That's the focus, right? That's where somebody spends their time. That's what determines, hey, I like this, I don't like this. I feel good about this, I don't feel good about this. Talk about your app and the customer experience inside of it.

Aurélie Genet: Yeah. So, if you think of Flo... So, Flo started off as a period tracker. That was the first job to be done with the app and we've since then evolved throughout the year into an essential health partner. So, still anchoring around the menstrual cycle because that's something our users have and then men don't have, but it's so much more than just knowing when your period is coming. Actually, your cycle influence your hormones, it will influence how you feel, how your body feel, but how your mind feel the energy, etc. And we're not really taught any of that at school, or it's not necessarily something that you talk about within your family or with friends. Sometimes you're quite alone actually with these feelings, and so, unless there is something dramatically wrong, you might not know what is normal or not normal.
And so I think a big thing that we want to do is helping our users connect with their body and build that confidence and understanding of what is going on. And so then they can decide to actually change some things in their routine and actually, if I have low energy on these days, that's totally normal. I shouldn't beat myself up, but I should actually just be kinder to myself and look after myself, or it can be that some of the length of cycle doesn't look quite right. And so our users should advocate to get further tests with their doctors. And so it's about giving them that confidence to go and ask for better care for themselves. And so that for me is the mission that really drove me to the business is building engagement with the app, but actually to do some good in the world and help a population that is quite overlooked within the health environment.

John Koetsier: You know what I had to think of as you're speaking about that, Aurélie? Peggy and I interviewed, it's gotta be a couple of years ago now, a former product manager for Google's iOS app and he had launched a new subscription service and he said, you needed to know your customers' needs better than they know them themselves. You have to understand their pain and their challenges better than they do themselves. And that's what came through a little bit as you were talking.

Aurélie Genet: Totally. And I think generally, when we think about cycle, we mainly think about period and that can be that time... The phrase is even like, "Oh, that time of the month" is something that you have to deal with, but actually if you learn to understand how it works, you can make it work for you and you can prioritize certain work to be done on days where you know you're going to have the right focus and the right energies. And on the days that you're going to feel a bit low energy, then you can just look after yourself. And I think until you spend the time to check in with yourselves and learn your patterns, you're not really going to get there. So, that's really one of the thing we really try to push for at Flo and really help our users to learn what feels right for them, learn what their patterns are because we're all different. We will all feel different things, but it's about learning to listen to our bodies and then I think reconnect with them a little bit more.

Peggy Anne Salz: I like that because we connect with our bodies, we get to understand ourselves, a community, something is building there, a deeper understanding and you're enabling that or even encouraging that with content and curation. That plays a big part in your app and in the appeal of it as well because it's a subscription-based app. And so we get some exclusive content and some other content. Tell me a little bit about content overall and why that's so important to your app.

Aurélie Genet: Yeah. I think it comes back to what I was talking about. So, learning to detect the signals that your body is giving you is one thing, but then understanding, is that signal normal? Is it not normal? Is it something I should worry about? Or is it okay? And so it was important for us to build that educational or supportive content on the size to just give some more context to our users and make sure that they were getting the support that they need, or if actually, it's all fine, you can just keep going with your day and you will be fine, or actually this is something then we think seeing a doctor would be quite useful.

So, it's really going back to understanding our users and how do we want users to feel when they engage with the app and crafting these little moments where you are logging because you feel something and it's about giving you that reassurance and build a bit more of an emotional connection with the product. And we also have some long-form content because we have some of our users who are looking to conceive, for example. And so they will just read everything they can. I've had friends and my sister that went through that and actually reading half of the internet and not being sure, is that okay? Is that not okay? Can I trust this piece of content? And it was really important for us to work with doctors, to work with people that could create something that was easy to digest, not too medical, but also that had that credibility and that people could really trust. And so, we are on a journey with our users if you think of... We are serving people going from teenage years and the first periods and the first sexual experiences all the way through to more mature users. And in the middle, we might have some users trying to conceive, some that are pregnant, etc. And so, we need to have that emotional connection with medical credibility in order to be useful throughout their entire life cycle.

Peggy Anne Salz: Content is what's going to enhance this experience. It's educational, it's helpful. It feels personal, it feels customized. As you said, the whole life cycle, the whole range of stages in a woman's life. What other types of apps could benefit from that?

Aurélie Genet: I think a lot of the apps that ask you to track things, sometimes they're asking you to track because there is that gamification element, but I sometimes just miss a bit of the context. It's like, "Well, I'm tracking this, but so what?" What can I do about this, or what's the journey? And I think that's where you want to build that progression. That's where for me, content is very key. So, I don't necessarily have a specific app in mind that would benefit from this, but I think anything asking you to progress or taking you on the journey to help because if you think of building confidence, I think that's a very hard concept. How do you know if somebody's getting more confident? If you are going into school or something, you can take tests. And so then you know that you know your things, but does that make you necessarily more confident? I think that's a difficult feeling to grasp. And so I think having the right content to help users through that is helpful.

John Koetsier: An app that comes to mind actually that could benefit from that is Zero. I use that occasionally. It's a fasting app and it's just all about tracking and it tells you how many people are fasting at any given time or something like that, but it doesn't have any of that content. And as I'm hearing you talk, I'm thinking, "You know what? That might actually be interesting." Because almost my only engagement with this app is time to fast.

Aurélie Genet: Exactly. But then if you think about this when you go through fasting, you might have headaches because you didn't drink enough water or you might feel a little bit low of energy and things like that. And maybe giving you some reassurance on this is totally normal or explaining why this is happening, I think just strengthen your commitment, I guess to the whole journey. Yeah.

John Koetsier: I agree

Peggy Anne Salz: So many app marketers are talking about content. We met Aurélie at an event where it was, "Oh, even the FinTech apps, oh, I've got content." What can you actually be reading or learning about so much that it fills an entire app session? So, everyone's onto it, everybody wants to curate it. Give me some lessons from your perspective, staying fresh, staying relevant, staying personal. How do you do it?

Aurélie Genet: So, that's not within my team. We have a team at Flo that actually looks at content and we have that team specialized by user segments. So, we really... These teams are the heroes of these specific segments, like what is the jobs to be done? What is their lifestyle? What do they care about? What is the biggest pain point, etc.? And so, I think the key here is to keep in touch with the users. For me, the first company that I was at we had regular catch up with our users. We would run a lot of user research and interviews, and you could just dial in and listen about how people talk about the product, what is their pain point? What do they not like? What do they like? And that helps you stay up to date with their expectations and, therefore, deliver something that makes sense to them. And I think that's the key bit. I was at companies as well and I don't want to name names because I feel like it's not necessary.

John Koetsier: It is "Mobile Heroes Uncensored." So, uncensored.

Aurélie Genet: But I feel like content sometimes can be just published because it's an SEO exercise, but then that piece of content is left there and it's no longer relevant, it's not kept up-to-date and it will start to be more of a negative thing for your brand than a positive thing. So, it is a big challenge and I think we're trying to look at it. Most of our content is sitting within the app and that's the content that will be personalized through the day of your cycle, the goal that you have as a user and how you are interacting with the app. And we also have some content that live on our websites that allows us to help potential users when they are Googling for specific questions. But yeah, you're right, that it is a challenge to keep that up-to-date and fresh and removing the content that's no longer relevant, I think is also a big part of that work.

John Koetsier: What I do like about it is it's an opportunity to give something to your user, to your customer. It's not something they have to do. They don't have to enter something, they don't have to decide something, they don't have to make a purchase decision, it's just, "Hey, here's an experience we're sharing it." And I can consume that, I can enjoy that, and I think that's great in time. Frankly, when we're looking for our phones to deliver those five-minute entertainment episodes, right? Well, I'm waiting for this or I'm in line for that or whatever the case might be. Let's get back to teamwork. One way to drive teamwork is to get the whole team, whether it's product, acquisition, or retention to focus on the same metrics. What are the metrics that you focus on across the teams?

Aurélie Genet: I was actually going through that earlier this week of building a funnel of metrics that makes sense for our users to go through. I think historically what I've seen was, like I mentioned earlier, marketing, you have to drive traffic, you have to drive revenue, and product, you have to optimize that conversion rate. And I feel like actually if we can... I'm a big fan of the Reforge framework and having these aha moment, building a habit, what does that look like? And then when people fall out of that habit, what does that look like as well? And so, for us, the past conversation that I've been having at Flo, we're around what makes a user stick? What is that one action or this combination of action that will get people to really understand the value and keep coming back in an organic way? Because if we understand that, then you can have some marketing campaigns that helps in building these habits, but we need to be super clear on that habit needs to be. And so, what we tend to do is to focus our users on logging symptoms, for example. That's a key one for us because if you start to listen to your body and you record this, it becomes almost like journaling of how did I feel today? Was my energy good? Was it not good? Did I feel cramps? Did I feel headaches? And things like that.

And so that will not take very long like you were talking about micro-moments earlier. That doesn't take very long and that's something you can reproduce every day. So, then the big questions become, how do we build that habit? Could we try gamification? Could we try education with content that explains how it will unlock? Do we do a more of a tutorial where we show users, hey, when you log specific symptoms, we have dedicated health assistant or dedicated stories that pops up into the app that you can dive into how you feel. So, you can then find different solutions to address that problem. And so, for me, what has been key was anchoring the problem statements around key actions that we need people to get...people, sorry, users to do and then you align the product team with engineers and a product marketing person and a lifecycle marketing person to work together to put the plan and deliver these initiatives across all the disciplines.

John Koetsier: Thank you for saying people. I always cringe and I do it myself all the time. I say users and they're people and they're defined by more than their relationship to our apps. And so, I really like that.

Aurélie Genet: Cute.

Peggy Anne Salz: I have to say what is impressing me is how everyone has a stake in this and how you are keeping those teams focused. I'd like to hear a little bit more about your personal life, your personal accomplishment or challenge. What stands out for you as a marketer as the thing you're the proudest of, or that you had the hardest time achieving?

Aurélie Genet: That's probably where you got some of this feedback from probably some of my old colleagues from Skyscanner because I really loved working at that company, really great culture. And so, it was the first time that I was flying out to Budapest and actually meeting a team of product engineers and designer, and I was the first product marketing person they were getting for their piece of work. And so at the very beginning, they were like, "Well, what are you responsible for marketing? Don’t you just do the cool banners outside and what are you doing here with us?" Kind of thing. And so it was not necessarily easy, but they were open to the conversation. And so, we worked together and I proved them value. I would do user research, come back and telling them, "Okay. How about we think about this and how we think about that," and helping shape what the product could look like. And I think for me, the biggest achievement was once we launched a product, I had engineers being like, "I love working with marketing and how can we make sure we keep you for the further projects that we have?" And so for me, that was such a... I felt very emotional, because I was like, "Okay. Right. I won them over." That's pretty cool because usually, engineers just want to do their thing. They don't necessarily want to engage or they think marketing is not necessarily very useful and all of that. And I know...

John Koetsier: That's a very polite way of putting it.

Aurélie Genet: That's very natural. Yeah, yeah. No. I know that, but yeah. And that just showed that I helped them show a little bit more of my world and then they showed me more of their world and "No, Aurélie, we can't do these things because we have technical limitation." "Right. Okay. So, what's the middle ground here? What it is that we can do because you understand what I need. I understand we have limitation, let's work together so it makes sense to our users." And yeah, that's when for me it clicked in my head, I was like, "All right. Okay. So, we can all work together. It's just about understanding what makes sense to the users." So, that come back to the product-market fit and making sure we do this right by the user. But it's not always easy. So, I appreciate that.

John Koetsier: Well, this is a banner moment on "Mobile Heroes Uncensored" because I have never heard and Peggy, let me know. I bet you have never heard a product person, a technology person say, “I love working with marketing.” I have never heard those words. Not once. And Peggy is shaking her head. She hasn't either. So, there's something special that you've done here, Aurélie. That's amazing, that's impressive, that's incredible. And you know what, we want to capture a little bit more that is amazing and incredible, and we'll end here. What are your top three tips for mobile marketers in the health and wellness space heading into? We're well into it now, but still heading into 2022.

Aurélie Genet: Oh, wow. I think I'm going to sound like a broken record, but for me, it's especially when you're health and wellbeing or fitness, going back to the user, I think one of the big mistake we can make is because we leave and breathe our product day in, day out because we work on it all the time. It makes sense to us and we think it's the right thing because this is what we want to see. But actually, going back and talking to our users, they might think that actually this is fine or this is not at all what they're expecting and they have another app for that already. So, they don't really expect to be doing this within your app. And so going back to the user all the time, making sure you speak to your user on a regular basis, whether it's focus groups or moderated testing, unmoderated testing, I think is quite key.

But even sometimes talking to your friends. I remember when I used to work at Trainline, people were like, "My God, I use that app all the time." I was like, "Great. Tell me what's good about it, what's not good about it." And just collect feedback. Just sense check that you're still on the right track, I think for me is key. And I think crafting these micro-moments that we mentioned earlier as well and making sure that you... Obviously, as an app, you know what the impact is going to be. Especially in health and fitness, I feel like you have your goal. For us, it's to build that confidence and being your health partner. So, be there on the journey with you. On some other, it's like meditation and making sure you have a good night sleep or making sure that you lose weight if it's about fitness or fasting.

But then I feel like health and fitness, January, new year, new me kind of things. I come in, I have loads of good intention. But how is that going to look in February, March, April? And so, it's having that in mind as well and how you don't necessarily put too much pressure on your users, "You haven’t logged today." Or, "You haven't fasted." Or, you haven't done this and you actually allow users to come in and out of it when they feel like it and be supportive. I think we live in a very difficult world. We've had two years of COVID, now we have obviously some crises and war things going on. And I think as health and fitness app, it's a lot about wellbeing and be there with our users and helping them not necessarily be harder on themselves, but if anything, kinder and just trying to go through things as well as possible. And so again, that comes back to empathy, which I think comes back to listening to your users. And I think that's on me too, so I don't know. That's okay, maybe?

John Koetsier: That's totally fine. That was wonderful. It was a great too, it's a wonderful too. And it's actually really interesting because you are really engaged in retention, but you're also saying, hey, it's okay to step away for a moment. It's okay to not fast every day or whatever it's doing. Aurélie, want to thank you for this time. It's been wonderful. It's Friday night, it's late. You're in London, so it's like 8:00 p.m. or something. I don't know, 7:00 p.m. Thank you so much for taking the time to be on the show.

Aurélie Genet: No. Thank you for having me. It was great chatting with you too.

Peggy Anne Salz: And thanks also for a great lesson we'll all take with us, all app marketers. They can lay off being so needy. They can just sit back, be supportive, let us do things in the app on our own terms. Wouldn't that be cool, John?

John Koetsier: Love it. And thank you to all listeners. We really do appreciate you. Hope you're enjoying it. Let us know on social if you are.

Peggy Anne Salz: And let us know if you want to come and we'll have you on the show. If you're a mobile hero or you know someone who is, then fill out the interest form over at

John Koetsier: Also, Liftoff has a slack for mobile heroes and people in the mobile ecosystem. There's a link on the screen and if you're listening to the podcast, it's that It's pretty cool. There's smart people there and you know what? They probably need you too.

Peggy Anne Salz: And you have probably been completely blown away by all the insights on this show and you want your transcript, and you can have it because the transcripts are over at Liftoff's website. Go to, click on Heroes and then click on podcast.

John Koetsier: I actually personally love transcripts because I read way faster than people talk. So, that's a great way to get insights really, really quickly. Until next time, this is John Koetsier. Thank you so much for joining.

Peggy Anne Salz: And this is Peggy Anne Salz signing off from "Mobile Heroes Uncensored."

Apr 13, 2022

Better AdMon Than Pre-IDFA? Here's How

It sounds insane but one of the top ad monetization specialists in the world is confident that ad monetization is not dead … and that a blast-from-the-past ad unit with super-high CPIs is one of the ways to make it happen.

In this episode of Mobile Heroes Uncensored we chat with Kelly Kang, currently Senior Director of Ad Monetization at Pixel United (think Product Madness, Big Fish, and Plarium) and has held roles at both Zynga and Glu. She tells co-hosts Peggy Anne Salz and John Koetsier how ad monetization is far from dead and how monetization pros can still get a great return from app users … even without ad identifiers like IDFA or GAID.

Plus, Kang gives us her top tips in monetization and the one thing she’d change about her career if she could go back in time.

26 min

Kelly Kang: What I've learned is we have to work together with the product team, with the game team to figure out which placement is actually more interesting to the users or which placement makes sense.

John Koetsier: Could post-IDFA advertising be better than the good old days of advertising identifiers? Welcome to "Mobile Heroes Origin Stories" where we go one-on-one in depth with mobile marketing experts. My name is John Koetsier, my co-host is Peggy Anne Salz, of course. And today we're talking about ad mon, ad monetization. It's taken a few hits lately. Obviously, Apple's ATT is here, Google's Privacy Sandbox for Android is coming. And ad identifiers like IDFA and Google ad ID are going away. But just maybe that change has opened up new opportunities. Peggy, who are we chatting with today?

Peggy Anne Salz: Indeed, John. We have someone who's turning a negative into a positive over and over again, because she is spending a lot of time on ad monetization, accelerating ad monetization growth. Kelly Kang is senior director at Pixel United where she oversees advertising strategies and ad monetization. She spent a number of years at Pixel United helping accelerate ad mon growth and its advertising ecosystem. But if we step back for a moment, John, you might not have heard of Pixel United but you have heard of its three major businesses: they have Product Madness, Plarium, Big Fish. Before that, Kelly held ad mon leadership positions at Zynga and Glu.

And as always, I look into our guests and I found pure gold here. Her colleagues credit Kelly with exponential growth wherever she goes. As one put it, she personally added millions of dollars of incremental revenue, that's a feat in itself, at Big Fish through constant optimization of existing ads and continual encouragement of the game teams to try new formats and new techniques. So we're going to have some new views. Welcome, Kelly, to the show.

John Koetsier: I'm super pumped to have you. I mean, we got to talk about this, personally added millions of dollars. How on earth did that happen?

Kelly Kang: I mean, appreciate the callout, but it was done by partnership and teamwork, I couldn't have done it without all the teamwork, and years of educating the game teams and the company itself the value of ad monetization.

John Koetsier: Good answer. Good answer. It is always a team. Absolutely. I'm sure you had a lot to do with it. But I also got to hit this Pixel United because Peggy was talking about, "Hey, we're going to talk to Kelly from Pixel United." I was going like, "What the heck is Pixel United?" And then she said Product Madness and Big Fish and all those things. So tell us about that journey.

Kelly Kang: Yeah, I mean, as you guys might not have heard, Pixel United is somewhat of new-ish. We're only few months in, but we've been around. We just rebranded ourself to Pixel United. I don't know if you guys heard of it, we used to be call ourself Aristocrat Digital, so we are sort of the Aristocrat company. Out of the Aristocrat, everything that's digital related, including Big Fish, you know, Plarium, Product Madness, we have now our own digital entity underneath Pixel United. So, no, we are not new. We have been around, just rebranded ourself.

Peggy Anne Salz: So we know the story of Pixel United, let's talk about you now. This is origin stories, you are our focus. How did you get started?

Kelly Kang: When I found out back in my days when I first started this career, there is a career related to anything digital related, PC, back then there were just a little bit of mobile, a lot of them were PC desktop, and it was mind-blowing. I was like, "I can actually have a career just sitting in front of a computer." So I started looking into it, you know, because I don't have to study every single day. I thought computers were a new thing back in the day. So I started looking into it and landed on a QA job at first. And I self-taught myself all the way to where I am currently. So it was a curiosity that turned into a career.

Peggy Anne Salz: I'm really impressed by that because I'm just thinking there were no YouTube videos you could be watching to learn from, you know. You had to learn it yourself. What helped you with that learning curve, Kelly?

Kelly Kang: I think that's a good question. I read every ad mon related article back in the days. But granted, it was over 10 years ago, so there were not that many articles. So it sounds like a lot when I say I read every article, but I could rarely find any articles back in the days. And it was shadowing and getting to know how everything's getting done on mobile. It was downloading a lot of the apps on my phone, game, non-game, just anything that's on App Store top 100, top 50, and just figuring out how they're doing advertising, like, how are they making money from me when I'm not buying it? And again, it was triggered by curiosity. So I did, you know, play a lot of the apps or, you know, downloaded a lot of the non-relevant apps as well, anything that was on top 100 or 50. So it was just a lot of phone time.

John Koetsier: Wow, I can only imagine. It's so many apps on your phone. I mean, I'm trying to get rid of some of the apps on my phone.

Peggy Anne Salz: I love the journey like this, John, you know, it's so inspiring. You do it yourself, you teach yourself. Granted, there weren't that many articles, but the curiosity is there, the passion is there. I have to ask, what would you tell your younger self? Or what do you wish you'd known then that you do now? So have a little conversation, Kelly-to-Kelly talk here.

Kelly Kang: I mean, I would say wait a few more years for YouTube to come out so I can save a few years. But, you know, all kidding aside, I think it's more of a, don't focus 100% on just advertising and the business side only, because that's what I've been only doing, you know, growing up. I think, kind of look into the other aspects of it. I definitely missed the technical aspects of it. I didn't know that the technical side is related to advertising monetization. So I disregard that 100%. So I had to pay for it for the few years of headaches in the past years. So I will tell myself, like, try to learn, you know, here and there, little bit of everything. Don't just focus 100% on just, you know, advertising only. What ads are they serving? Or who are they serving? I will tell myself, don't disregard the technical aspect of the ad monetization.

John Koetsier: Love it. Love it. Well, let's get into what we teased right off the top. It's a big question mark right now, ad effectiveness, post-ad identifiers. I mean, it was kind of an...I never want to say easy, right, but there was an ease to advertising and even maybe monetization. In the past, you had an IDFA. There you go, you know a little bit about that person, you know a little bit of where they've been, where they've come from, all that stuff. Now, there's less of that, a lot less of that. But you've said that that opens up new opportunities. What are they?

Kelly Kang: I mean, it's going back in time, which is funny, like, given the mobile industry is such a fast-paced industry. When I say let's kind of step back and go back in time, people kind of look at me funny. But it's kind of going back in time with this ID-less, there's only about two things that we can do. Obviously, where the video stays as is, if you guys can target it, target your way. If not, there's two ways to look at it, interstitial and offerwall. But because I myself have a lot of apps on my phone, I personally don't really like intrusive ads such as Interstitial. So we are kind of going back in time. So offerwall, I know offerwall was a big thing 10, 7, 8 years ago, and now not that many companies or, you know, apps have that. But because it doesn't require ID, I think it is a great way to take a step back and look into the offerwall.

John Koetsier: Is that because in offerwall there could be multiple offers, perhaps from different apps, and you get a sense of self-selection, which one are you interested in? So I don't need to know you to target the one right interstitial to you or the one right rewarded video to you, you get to kind of pick that real time. Is that where you're getting at?

Kelly Kang: Yeah, exactly. You know, offerwall is a wall of so many offers, it's up to, you know, 20 to 100. You scroll down, there you have it. So it's just a matter of whatever you want, you get to click on it. Advertisers don't have to know who you are to show you the wall of offers or the apps. So whatever you want to choose, kind of go for it.

John Koetsier: Nice. Choose your own adventure. I love it. Awesome. That makes a lot of sense. What are some tips about optimising an offerwall? How do you make it most effective?

Kelly Kang: I mean, with the whole positive, you know, offerwall experience in mind, I can narrow it down to few things. One is a special promotion, meaning offerwall can be very stable, you know, not too visible all the time. It's only about 3% to 5% of the entire user that's actually seeing it, which is a huge difference. When you look at interstitial rewarded video, we're talking 60% to 70% of an engagement rate. But for offerwall, it's only down to about 3% to 5%. But because CPI is so high, you know, advertisers are paying so much, even with that 3% to 5% we can still make a lot of money just about the same as rewarded video.

So few of the tips were finding the right entry point. So you don't want to kind of hide all this offerwall all the way into the bank to the end of the corner. I will say do a lot of tests and find the optimal spot for, you know, offerwall. When we normally think about offerwall, the people, first thing in their mind is let's put them in a bank and call it a day. That's kind of number one, and what's the in the industry. But I will say that's the old, old mentality. So let's kind of revive this into a whole new thing. You know, just treat them like rewarded video, like, where is the optimal spot there where people can actually see it? It's not intrusive if they get to still click in, you know, opt in. So for me, it's just more about finding the optimal spot for them. So choosing the right placement is number one.

And the currency sale, kind of going back to the whole special promotion, currency sale is more like you kind of run a monthly, or every time there's a holiday, we give them double the amount of a certain period of time, double amount of the currency reward that we're, you know, normally giving it out so users are engaging more. So overall is the retention positive, net positive. So we can attempt to run on a monthly basis, we give out double the currency, you know, for two, three days. So it's a really good experience for...I guess, win-win for advertiser and users, both.

I think lastly it's all about the segmentation. Because it's ID-less, we can't really target them, you know, we can't really make it personalised for everyone or to their likings. So let's segment them where we can. So, obviously, start from the payer, non-payer, what country they're in, meaning if they're not clicking, you know, IAP button at all, let's show them more. Let's, you know, give them more offers or give more currency so that it's interesting for them to actually do more offers. And maybe the colours, are they clicking on their normal UI because we don't have to know who they are? Are they normally clicking this colour theme better or that theme better? Then let's make the button that colour so it's more interesting to them. So it's more like let's segment and personalise what we can without having the ID.

John Koetsier: Absolutely. Love it.

Peggy Anne Salz: That's very smart.

John Koetsier: Peggy is going to get into a lot of questions about ad partners, which is really, really critical, in just a moment. But I have to ask a question because I have an expert right in front of me right now. Do you as an ad monetization expert get involved in product? Do you talk to the product team? Do you talk to them? I'm going to give you an example, there's a game I play, it's not one of yours, and I often don't buy stuff in there because I don't understand how it's going to help me in the game. Because there are so many different mechanics going on in the game. And so I would probably buy more if I knew what that gem was for or if I knew what that thing was for. Do you get yourself involved in product?

Kelly Kang: Yes, we do. I think that's one of the newest in last few years that I've learned is, in the first years of my career, I only focused only advertising. Once the game team kind of gives me the placement, then I only focus on that. But what I've learned is we have to work together with the product team, with the game team to figure out which placement is actually more interesting to the users, or which placement makes sense. So it's more like working internally is about 50% to 60% it should be your job normally, but which I recently found only a few years ago. So that is a problem, but getting better.

Because of that now, when you're actually building a game or any kind of new gaming beta, we actually start working with the dev team, with the game team, the product team to start from there. Hey, I know your game mechanics is this, but can we try this out for the advertising or here and there, so that we can add more KPI metrics to it? And what if the users who never click on this, you know, IAP button, can you show...because I know you have a lot of those people that didn't click the bank tab or whatnot, or they clicked it but they exited out, in that case, can we show our advertising because I think we can add few dollars benefits to that as well? So yeah, we do work part to part with our game teams and our product team.

John Koetsier: Nice.

Peggy Anne Salz: So smart here, you know, not just the team effort to make product and marketing move together and work in sync, but also I'm still thinking about personalising and segmenting the offerwall. I think that's probably an untapped opportunity and there's going to be a lot of thinking around how to approach that and how to learn from that. I mean, it's exciting. I hadn't thought of that. But between the 20 to 100 things you can be showing me in the offerwall, you know, if you can reduce that universe of possibilities down to the ones I'm really going to click on and go for and install, that's a lot of money. For one thing, that's very lucrative. That's exciting. Could you just tell me a little bit more about how you're segmenting that? Because it's one thing to say, "Well, we segment the offerwall," but I haven't heard of that.

Kelly Kang: We are kind of doing it in a little bit of an AI way, or trying to get there in a AI way. We're so far away. But basically, right now we're doing a manual way where, hey, if users have clicked this and actually finished the offer back in the days, then we will show that at the top of the offer wall rather than on the bottom. So we're kind of, I guess, tracking the clicks, what their last click was, or did they finish it or were they not interested? So we're trying to learn what we can out of not tying down into the user. So anything we can do in that sense, I want to make it into where it's AI. So when a user opens it, we immediately know what the user wants and you know what that user might like better than the others. But right now, we're a bit away from there.

So we're only doing it as a historical way of just connect tracking where we can in that user session, because sometimes a user clicks more than once. In that case, in the offer wall once, they click it, start it, go back and come back, you know, within the same session. In there, we were able to see the session side. So we were trying to track it. If the user's been playing a game for a long time, that means they already have a lot of currency, so they might be only looking into just smaller offers. So we kind of look at their offerwall...I mean, the currency balance as well. If this user is level this and above, let's show this type of offer on the top and this one on the bottom. So we are trying to kind of get to know the user within the game, at least only the game, now that we can track without this ID.

We're trying our best to just kind of in every aspect of it, you know, is this user tied where...? Does this user watch rewarded video? If they do, then they might not be so into doing offerwall. In that case, let's just...because this user is so used to rewarded video, let's show them only short offers because they're so used to doing it for only 30 seconds. But if they never actually don't watch rewarded video, that user might be more open because they don't know what that advertising is supposed to be 30 seconds or longer. So we tend to give them longer offers on the top as well. So try to segment in detail as much as we can.

Peggy Anne Salz: I love that. So resourceful, John. I mean, you know, they've just sort these few scraps of information and really trying to figure out what to do with them. That is very smart. So we talked about how you work together with the team, but you also are very focused on working with ad partners. And not just any ad partners, you have come up with a checklist of, like, perfect partner. What do you track and what do you look at?

Kelly Kang: Yeah, I mean, where do I start? Like, it's my favourite topic. Working with the partners is my favourite topic. Because I've been in this industry so long, I don't want to favour somebody over someone just because I work with them for so long or they're my family and friends. So I don't want to, like, favour them. So I came up with the evenly fair, you know, thing which is a checklist. I made a checklist where I'm giving every ad new vendor that we're considering, that partner that we're considering, kind of giving them a point system. I call it a report card checklist. You know, it might sound a lot, but it's basically...

John Koetsier: Do you send it home to their parents?

Kelly Kang: Exactly. To their home. Many different, like, "You didn't make the cut because you missed this part."

John Koetsier: C-minus. No ice-cream tonight.

Kelly Kang: Get back to me when you're back in the A. So, few things, I mean, major things I'm looking at is product itself and a tech support account manager day-to-day. So to kind of break it down, when I look at the product it's more like, you know, can I trust the product? You know, or is it aligned with the industry? Or is this a product as good as it can be? What's the roadmap look like? Is there a roadmap, you know, decent enough where it can know, it can change at a given moment, given the industry? We want to make sure that they're adaptable. So when I look at the product itself it's looking at just where the product is at and what their roadmap looks like. So they kind of get their own system for that, points for that.

And tech support, meaning how easy is it to integrate. Because I partner with engineers internally, I have to kind of sell myself this product internally as well. So for me to do that, how hard or how easy is the integration? What does tech support look like? Can they actually support us while integrating? Or is it more, "Please go to this link and download it from there." Is it one of those? Because if that's the case, I actually have to know the tech side of it, or else I can't sell it to my own team. So that kind of factors in there as well.

And most importantly, is the account manager team a day-to-day point of contact? Are they on par with the industry? Do they, you know, reply within a reasonable time? As you know, there are so many things that could break on a daily basis on ad mon. So we want to make sure that our campaigns, our teams are on it, you know, who can be there for us. Not asking 24/7, but who can be there for us at a given reasonable time? And because I want my team to actually have a know, I don't want to just kind of give them, "Hey, guys, here's a new product, you're going to work with them." I want to make sure that they have a good work-life balance, and that they have a good work experience as well. So I want to make sure this account manager that my team's, you know, dealing with everyday, working with every day are, you know, as good as how my team is. So I'm kind of looking at those... Those are the few major points that I'm kind of looking at.

Peggy Anne Salz: Love it. Just makes it easy to do business with, good support, low stress. Interestingly enough, size also matters to you and in the sense that too big is not always too good, it can even be a deal breaker. Why is that?

Kelly Kang: Yes. So I know that that's a very conflicting statement. Too big is not the best answer, but a lot of people disagree. They're like, "Oh, no, you got to go with the bigger company." But I disagree, given the years of experience. Sometimes when the company is too big, they're going to be behind with the industry trend, just because the adaptability is not there all the time. It takes them time to adapt to a new level of the next thing. Because the bigger you are, the more, I guess, steps you have to go through. The legal work for them takes six months. But in six months, we have a new product. That's no longer relevant.

And the bigger the company is, they are, "Oh, our roadmap is set for the next six months or a year. So we can't change that." I'm like, "Well, you know, but after a year, there's going to be three more new products that you have to catch up with." So we can't do that. So when we look at, like, a company, like, when it's too big, that's more of a red flag in my book. Which is a very, you know, weird thing because I know people like to go for the bigger company. I'm just looking at it based on the industry, does it make sense? Can they change? You know, can they adapt? I think those are the major things and the reason why the bigger the company, maybe not the better it is for our industry, maybe.

John Koetsier: We don't want to go too much longer. You've got work to go back to, and so do we. But we always end by asking for top tips. What are the most important things ad mon pros need to build into their monetization strategies?

Kelly Kang: I will say, think of it from the users' perspective first. When we are looking at ad monetization, we tend to be sometimes too focused on how many ads can we serve more to the user so we can make more money? Which was me. So not that I learned, it's more of a... It's not about can we serve more or how many can we show more ads to, it's more of a what do users want? What do they want to click? So always looking at it from the users' perspective is my biggest strategy kind of thing is, are they going to want to click this? Or are they going to look at it and go, "Oh, no, it's one of those ads." So let's keep that in mind and always look into, yes, you know, we've got to get from the users' perspective. Think of you as them at first and then see, you know, are you going to want to click on that ad? Are you going to want to engage with it? So think of that first as my number one tip or strategy.

John Koetsier: Absolutely. Love it. I'm going to add a second one, and it's yours but I'm going to say it. You've already kind of hinted at it. In fact, you said it out loud. And that is download lots of other apps, your competitors' apps, top apps, and see what they're doing, see how it's working, see how you feel when you get marketed to, and when you see ads, and when you see them where they put them in the flow and you'll learn so much. Your boss will think you're just playing games, but you're actually doing valuable research. Kelly, this has been so much fun. You've been super interesting, super informative. Thank you so much for this time.

Kelly Kang: Thank you.

Peggy Anne Salz: Thanks, Kelly. I have to also say thanks for shining a light on some new strategies, some new ways to get, you know, more bang for the buck literally because there isn't a lot to work with, but what you're doing with the few clicks you can see. Just astounding, more power to you. Thanks for being on our show and sharing.

Kelly Kang: Thank you.

John Koetsier: And thank you to all listeners, we really do appreciate you. Hope you're enjoying it. Let us know on social if you are.

Peggy Anne Salz: And let us know if you want to come and we'll have you on the show. If you're a mobile hero or you know someone who is, then fill out the interest form over at

John Koetsier: Also, Liftoff have a Slack for Mobile Heroes and people in the mobile ecosystem. There's a link on the screen. And if you're listening to the podcast, it's at It's pretty cool. There's smart people there, and you know what, they probably need you too.

Peggy Anne Salz: And you have probably been completely blown away by all the insights on this show and you want your transcript, and you can have it because the transcripts are over at Liftoff's website, go to, click on Heroes, and then click on Podcast.

John Koetsier: I actually personally love transcripts because I read way faster than people talk. So it's a great way to get insights really, really quickly. Until t next time, this is John Koetsier. Thank you so much for joining.

Peggy Anne Salz: And this is Peggy Anne Salz signing off for "Mobile Heroes Uncensored."

Apr 6, 2022

How These Ads Outperform Native Content

How do you get ads that outperform native content? There’s only one way today’s guest has achieved that, and it’s via influencer marketing on social platforms.

“The best thing about TikTok is that you can get massive algorithmic distribution on ads, which I haven’t been able to achieve in the same way on other platforms,” says today’s guest Aidan Quest. “So we’ll have ads that will perform better than an influencer’s content sometimes if the ad is interesting enough.”

Quest leads JetFuel’s creator operations and business development. He spent 30 minutes with John Koetsier and Peggy Anne Salz chatting about what’s new in influencer marketing, what’s changing, and how to make influencer marketing a steady-state growth engine for new mobile app users.

And: why influencer marketing is still the only channel where you can actually get on-platform algorithmic distribution IF your ad is good enough.

The funny thing about good enough? Often it’s the opposite of what you’d expect. Get all the details in this episode of Mobile Heroes Uncensored.

24 min

Aidan Quest: The more native the ad itself, the better your outcomes are going to be. If you're a TikToker and you jump right into a video saying how great this app is, people are just going to swipe right by. Instead, you want to. . . If you have a fitness app and someone is talking about their weight-loss journey or someone is sharing a funny gym story and then, in the middle of that, they introduce the app, that's a much better way to get consistent scale.

John Koetsier: Can you kickstart mobile app growth sustainably with influencer marketing? And if so, what does it take? Welcome to "Mobile Heroes Uncensored." My name is John Koetsier. My co-host, of course, is Peggy Anne Salz. And today we're talking about influencer marketing. I don't know if you've been on TikTok recently, maybe in there, three, four hours or Instagram. But it has just absolutely taken off. Even in the last few months, I've seen more. Question is, for app marketing and app growth, is it good for more than a flash in the pan? Is it good for more than boosting your metrics for a moment? Peggy, who are we chatting with?

Peggy Anne Salz: Well, we're going to go to the source today, John. We're talking to Aidan Quest, head of creator sales at JetFuel. Now, JetFuel is an influencer-driven app promotion service. And like the name says, it exists to rocket sales. It gives advertisers instant access to thousands of influencers who then promote their apps on a pay-per-install basis. And Aidan, our guest, well, before joining JetFuel where he focuses on building the creator economy, as he should, he worked in strategy consulting focused on tech and M&A. So he is in his element. And in his free time, you'll find him outside of the element, although I think he's also a bit of an influencer. He'll be talking about that as well, hobbies such as yoga, deejaying, cycling, cooking, playing guitar, all-around talent, and here is with us today. Aidan, great to have you.

Aidan Quest: Thanks for the intro, Peggy.

John Koetsier: Hey, super pumped to have you. I mean, look at that. That's the perfect influencer. Look at that background, perfect lighting. I mean, like, you know, colour is amazing.

Peggy Anne Salz: This is the real deal.

John Koetsier: You would think that, after a couple of years of pandemic and working wherever, people would have their setup, but no, they don't. Aidan, let's talk about influencer marketing. How has it evolved and changed just in the last year? I mentioned it in the intro, I've really seen an acceleration of it, I think in the last six months or so, especially on TikTok, and just more, like, conversational, "I'm bringing a product in. This is super cool. Here's what I do with it." What have you seen over the last year?

Aidan Quest: Yeah, certainly. It's a really dynamic industry. And depending on where you sit in the advertising ecosystem, you might have a slightly different answer to this question. But I think from my perspective in the app world, we've seen the proliferation of TikTok expansion, whether that's the pace of creator scaling, whether that's the breadth and the content that's being shared. Additionally, just the expansion of short-form content as a whole, YouTube rolling out Shorts, Instagram continuing to push Reels, and the way that that kind of influences how we work with advertisers, I think, is a pretty big component to how we've kind of made it work with apps.

John Koetsier: That makes so much sense. I've seen so much buzz around the short-form videos on YouTube and I've seen some people who have gone astronomical with YouTube. And I'm thinking, Peggy, we need to do this, but that's for another day.

Peggy Anne Salz: Yes, yes. It's where you need to be. But I wonder sometimes because, at the other end, you're supposed to be human, you're supposed to bring your whole self to your social media. So the challenge with influencer marketing is around scale really. How can you scale, but still have a great influencer brand connection also with the audience as well?

Aidan Quest: So this is something that's also gotten a lot easier, I think, in the last year or so. There are a lot more tools available right now to help identify and find the right influencer for you. There's a handful of CRMs out there. TikTok talk has also taken a big step forward in actually helping advertisers with this exact problem. They launched their TikTok Creator Marketplace so you can go in and search for similar creators, you can see pricing, you can see the age demographics of various influencers. It's a bit harder to do on other platforms, but there are third-party solutions like Trendpop or Tensor Social that really help you identify a large enough set of influencers that might be a good fit for you. And Peggy, as you mentioned, getting consistent scale is something that's very hard, and we can talk about that a little bit more. But kind of that first step is making sure you have a . . .kind of like any sort of sales process, you want to make sure you have a big enough set of creators that you can reach out to because you're going to assume that a handful of those are ultimately going to fall through.

John Koetsier: So the scale is one thing. Continuity is another thing, right? If you're building an app, then you don't really want the. . .I mean, you like the spikes, but you don't like the cliff afterwards. How do you make influencer marketing last? What's that look like?

Aidan Quest: Yeah. So the consistency around influencer marketing is really about the number of posts you're able to get up in a set amount of time, and there's different levels of control you have innately with each of these pieces. But it's sort of that number of posts, the amount of views that you're expecting to get on those posts, sort of how well that ad is going to convert to clicks or instals, or a downfall of metrics, right? Each of those elements is either more or less difficult to control for. I'd say the one that I think early advertisers struggle the most with is that, like, number of views on an ad component. There's some element of this that is random, and we've seen this in our business. We might have, out of nowhere, an ad that we didn't think was going to do that well just get a ton of algorithmic engagement on TikTok, meaning that, like, the ad itself actually hits the For You Page. And through a lot of, like, testing and practice, you can start to try to define some of that stuff for yourself a little bit more.

I'd say for anyone who hasn't done a lot of influencer marketing in the past, doing a lot of research on creators, figuring out that kind of set of maybe like, 10 to 15 you want to start reaching out to and starting small, doing small tasks, figuring out, you know, "If a creator has 100,000 followers, am I actually going to be able to get, you know, 20,000 views on this ad or 10,000," whatever it might be, and really looking at engagement, running some small scale tests to see, and then sort of like, incrementally scaling up. If you're a large company and you're trying to figure out how can you get more consistency and scale over time, a lot of your attention should be on the type of creative that you're making. The more native the ad itself, the better your outcomes are going to be. If you're a TikToker and you jump right into a video saying how great this app is, people are just going to swipe right by. Instead, you want to. . .If you have a fitness app and someone is talking about their weight loss journey or someone is sharing a funny gym story and then, in the middle of that, they introduce the app, that's a much better way to get a consistent scale. It's really all about being native.

Peggy Anne Salz: I like that. Really good tips and it also tells us that there's no workaround to the legwork, you know. Researching the fit with the influencers, that means spending a ton of time out there actually scrolling, looking for everything, finding that fit. But let's think about the typical sort of cold start here, right? Someone's listening, they're saying, "Yes, this is great. Aidan has made me very excited." And we want to understand, you know, the typical app-advertiser experience from the start. What are my first steps?

Aidan Quest: Yeah. Well, first steps would be looking to JetFuel because it will skip you a lot of these kind of manual steps we're about to talk about, to be completely honest.

John Koetsier: This message is brought to you by. . .

Aidan Quest: But yeah, very, very, very initial first steps are understanding what your target audience for your app is, and which I think most app developers know, whether that's, you know, trying to figure out what type of audience is monetising better for you or is more engaged, then looking out for influencers who have at least that kind of like, demographics fit which you can find via a couple of the tools mentioned, or if you're doing this very manually, you can reach out to influencers via DMs and ask for a screenshot of their insights, which will show you how many percent of their followers are in the U.S., how many are of within certain age demos, and gender splits, and things like that. That's really step one is, like, having a conversation with influencers and seeing the ones that would be a good fit. The next one, which I think is people's, probably, next biggest hurdle, is around pricing. This is a very kind of wild west industry. A lot of times influencers would have gotten one big brand deal and they'll just stamp that as the price that they charge, which is oftentimes very out of whack with what performance marketers would be expecting in terms of like, return on that ad spend.

One good way to kind of think about this is to really look at impressions. Don't get distracted by the big follower counts. You might have a 2 million follower TikToker who's charging you $3,000 for a post, but if you actually look at their videos, they're only getting between like, you know, 10,000 views or something like that. Where the sweet spot is is you want to flip that ratio. You want to find smaller influencers who are newer, who have much larger engagements, who might not have had the same type of, you know, they might not have been inundated with brand deals six months ago and their engagement was a lot better.

John Koetsier: Love it, love it.

Peggy Anne Salz: A little bit like picking stocks, isn't it?

Aidan Quest: It is, it is. And I've honestly really loved that part about working in this industry. It's fun. It's dynamic, but there definitely is a lot of strategy here. Yeah. But a lot of times what happens with the advertisers who aren't familiar with influencers, they'll jump in, they'll get quoted a big price. They won't really know if it's worth it or not. They'll give it a test and then their ad will just flop. They'll get, you know, a couple thousand views which will lead to a few instals, and ultimately it won't be good value for them. So it's really about starting small, doing those tests, figuring out what CPMs you should be charging or backing into flat rates based on the CPMs, and things like that.

John Koetsier: You talked about TikTok as well as Reels and YouTube Shorts, and stuff like that. Walk us through TikTok a little bit. That platform has been working on its ad tools and becoming advertiser-friendly. What are you seeing there?

Aidan Quest: Yeah. So the best thing about TikTok is that you can get really massive algorithmic distribution on ads, which I haven't really been able to achieve in the same way on other platforms. So we'll have ads that will perform better than an influencer's content sometimes, if the ad is interesting enough, which is just not really going to happen as much on some of the other platforms. It's just the way that the algorithm works, they're also constantly sort of promoting newer creators to get them growing. It's just where a lot of the growth is right now. Also, their user base is expanding at such a fast rate that a lot of this is kind of aligned with one another.

One of the biggest changes that TikTok has had, which should be very top of mind for anyone who's interested in the space, is they recently started something called Spark Ads, which enables you to programmatically push organic influencer creative. So in this historical example, right, let's say things didn't go well. You made a really good ad. It wasn't very native, but the influencer did a great job with the creative, but it kind of flopped on the platform, it maybe only got a couple thousand views. Now you can get that influencer to send you a code and then, through TikTok's ad portal, you can spend on a CPM, or a CPC, or a CPI kind of running traditional TikTok ads to boost that influencer's creative. It's sort of a really nice win-win for both parties. The influencer loves it because you're actually sending people to their page. They might like the ad, they might click on their profile, they might follow them, and boost their metrics. So they love it and the advertiser loves it because it takes a lot of the guesswork out of influencer marketing instead of it being sort of up to the platform to see how many impressions you get. You are kind of put in the driver's seat there. So that was a pretty big change and helps make advertisers' lives a lot easier.

Peggy Anne Salz: You also worked with TikTok, Aidan. I was wondering if you could recount that because it was one of your first clients as well.

Aidan Quest: Yeah, that's true. I don't want to get the date wrong. I think it was back in 2018 or 2019. TikTok was kind of one of our first major clients. That was back when the app was not as popular in the U.S. and they were trying to kind of expand pretty rapidly. A lot of really fun stories from back then. We came up with a few kind of interesting ad formats that worked particularly well. We've been able to transfer some of those to other apps. But yeah, they were a really important early client for us. And it was always, for us, a very native thing to push because at the time we were working mainly on Snapchat, Instagram, and it was a lot easier for them to sell this new cool up and coming social network versus like, I don't know, another app that might not fit their content style as well.

Peggy Anne Salz: But you also had. . .

John Koetsier: You said a lot of fun stories. We got to hear one of them.

Peggy Anne Salz: Yeah. I was just going to say, I got to have an anecdote here.

Aidan Quest: Yeah. I think probably the most just fun kind of startup story was, very early on, we were lucky enough to get a pretty big budget from TikTok and we were trying to figure out how we would fill it. And at the time, it was kind of four of us working in a basement and we wanted to sort of stir some competitive energy between us. So we had an influencer style contest between us of who could make the best TikTok ad at the time and the winner got a pair of Gucci flip-flops, which was kind of meant to be a joke. But I ended up actually getting lucky in that one and winning that competition between us. And it actually ended up delivering, you know, close to probably like, I don't know. . .throughout its lifetime, that one ad probably did more than seven figures worth of, kind of, total value for the client and us, which was really exciting. At the time it was, I went to YouTube, I scraped up a very like, old, old, old video from a long time ago. It looked almost like a heartbeat under sand and put some dramatic music behind it, and things like that. And the call to action at the end was right when the thing looked like it was going to come out of the sand. It was like, "Swipe up to watch the end on TikTok." And we had, like, posted that video on TikTok and sort of showing where it would be. And unfortunately, it was just a hand coming up, but it looks like a monster under the sand. So that really blew up. A lot of our influencers thought it was great content. So they kind of posted it everywhere. And yeah, that was kind of I think from the early days. That's probably one of my favourite stories.

Peggy Anne Salz: I love it.

John Koetsier: You know what I love about that is that when you want to go super-viral, you can't predict it. You can optimise for it, but you can't predict it. And so you just kind of do enough stuff that you get enough at-bats that eventually you hit a home run by the law of averages if you've set yourself up for that. Talk about outcomes that advertisers should expect realistically and what metrics they should be looking at.

Aidan Quest: Yeah. Just to that point that you were making too, I think one of the biggest shifts that I had to make internally was that oftentimes what you think is right isn't right. We had a lot of learnings early on that native might mean kind of unpolished. It might mean, like, borderline grammatical errors in English. It's like, very. . .things that you might not expect like, sometimes it's poor lighting, things that you're really trying to make it feel as native and engaging for the audience. But to get specific at your questions in terms of outcomes, I tried. . .Again, think of it sort of in that kind of equation of your outcomes are going to be based on each of those variables of how many posts you're doing, how many views you're getting ultimately, and how good you are at making those ads and those conversions, right? So depending on how much time and energy you're going to put into each of those three categories is really kind of what those outcomes are going to be. If you're only working with five creators and you're going to get five ads up, and it's your first at-bat, maybe one of those five is going to work out particularly well, but I would really advocate for trying to start small, trying to get the creative down, trying to get influencer negotiation down. Every single discussion with an influencer, it's going to turn into a negotiation because they're going to quote you some really high price and you're going to have to sort of talk them down. Influencers do love getting free stuff. So free subscriptions, in-app things, stuff like that that creators do. The amount of value that you're losing to provide that to them, it doesn't equal the value that they sort of proceed from getting that stuff for free.

Peggy Anne Salz: So those are always the challenges around negotiating and hitting the metrics, hitting the KPIs. Talk about another bit of a challenge, you know, the changes. How has influencer marketing changed now that we are in a privacy-first marketplace, in an idealist world?

Aidan Quest: Yeah. So these are things, when you're talking to influencers, that they're going to have no idea about this, right, for the most part. I'd say, from my perspective on the creator side of the business, it hasn't affected us as much. One of those reasons is that, and maybe this is just too biassed from the JetFuel perspective, but we don't own any of the data on the apps, right? So we haven't been affected by ATT in the same levels. There are certain things with. . .a lot of our clients, they're using AppsFlyer for attribution. So things like instals are being delayed now, which, specifically for our app, we're providing influencers monetisation on the CPI basis. And influencers really want money upfront, which is what any new advertiser in the space is going to deal with. Influencers are going to say, "Hey, I have a flat fee." The advertiser is going to want to pay them on a CPA, or a CPI, or a CPM, but that's not really what the influencers want. So we have kind of trained our influencers on our app for a CPI-based payment method and that historically was all instantaneous. So an influencer would know sort of within the first 10 minutes of putting something up how well it was doing. Now, with the delays that have come out of some of the privacy changes in the industry, it's made our business a little bit more difficult, but ultimately we've been able to message things to creators and given them some strategies, and haven't seen much of a change.

John Koetsier: I think that makes a ton of sense and I think that influencer marketing has always been more, I don't want to say organic but has been more on the organic side of things. And it's been something that you've had to measure in different ways. It's not like, you know, a LinkedIn bio. That is not as measurable as "click here," with a tracking link or an advertiser ID, as Peggy was talking about, right? So that makes a ton of sense. Let's talk a little bit. . .We've hit on it already, you know, in terms of what influencers create, the creative that they build, and sometimes you have to give up a little bit of control over brand and brand assets. CMOs hate that, marketing people hate that. They want to control it, "This is how you say it. Here's where it's capitalised. These are the colours and this is the CMYK or the Pantone," or whatever. And influencers don't care, right? And they just want to do cool stuff with cool things for cool people. How do you navigate that between an influencer and maybe a more traditional brand?

Aidan Quest: Yeah, that's a great question. This is something that we deal with definitely a lot. I'd say on the top end of the market, so the influencers that are in the, you know, millions of follower range who charge high fees like, they're going to nail this. They've done this for big brands before. They've done an Adidas campaign, they've done a, you know, Fortune-500 campaign before. So they're going to get it right. They're also going to charge you an insane amount of money for it because that's what sometimes these larger brands have given them in the past. Working with smaller creators, there's a balance between being. . .and in terms of ultimately getting the creative that you want, there's a balance between giving them too much context and that they're not really going to read everything to be completely honest, and not enough context. So lists are very good with needs and specifics, setting expectations with the creator that we can do a couple versions if the first one doesn't come out okay. That's something influencers are actually very used to doing. They don't love it, but they understand that this happens. Something for advertisers to keep in mind too is that if you can come to a particular creator and show that you've watched their content, care about what they're doing, and have shown sort of how your app can kind of natively fit in within that content style, that's going to help your sort of conversion rate and actually getting a good outcome. So finding out influencers who are, you know, either if you have a great game, find some gamers on TikTok, or YouTube, or whatever platform you're interested in. And then you can even go a step further. If they do skits, you can think about, you know, maybe how you could integrate the app into the skit. All of that will help the influencer start thinking about things. And you can make sure that it's a two-way conversation too, you don't have to come with all the answers upfront.

John Koetsier: Still thinking about your anecdote, right? You know, the hand under the sand and, "Hey, got you Gucci flip-flops." So good for something. Looking back over all the campaigns, share with us your simplest or perhaps silliest tactic to get reach and impact.

Aidan Quest: Oh. That's a really good one. So I would say one that has worked on TikTok, which TikTok is now. . .honestly, a lot of what influencer marketing is, is trying to, like, game the algorithm a little bit. And so we had. . .I think, potentially the silliest would be on TikTok, we had a. . .In the intro, there's typically, like, if you're trying to boost your engagement, if your creator, you'll say, "Like, comment, share," or something like that. We had a creator write, "If you comment this text string in the comments, it'll give you a secret emoji." And it actually does create an emoji. But that just would cause people to flood to the comments section and then it looked like that video was getting a ton of engagement. And so a lot of those early ads actually went pretty viral.

John Koetsier: What you're saying is they're hackers and they'll find a way to make something grow.

Aidan Quest: Yeah. They're growth people, right? So they've figured out how to grow their audience in a way. So it's only. . .If you can. . .That's one of the reasons with influencer marketing, if you can find a way to align incentives well, they might be able to come up with things that you didn't think of in a way that's beneficial for both parties.

John Koetsier: And you're kind of insulated from that a little bit as a brand because the influencer is doing something, and sure it's for you, but, you know, it's not you doing it, it's not your ad per se. So there's some good things there. Well, Aidan, we always end with this. We ask for three top tips. I'm going to shake that up just a little bit because this is "Mobile Heroes Uncensored." So I'm going to end with your least censored opinion about influencer marketing, but let's start here, three top tips for mobile marketers using influencer marketing.

Aidan Quest: Three top tips. One is to do your research. So that means the kind of things I mentioned already, but making sure you're finding influencers with the right background, who have kind of the right audience for you, who are getting views that sort of makes sense. The next top tip would be don't overpay for things. Think of it as a sales process where you really want to fill the top of the funnel. You will find people who have reasonable pricing, it'll just take a long time. Then the third one would be really, like, myopically focus on creative and make sure that creative is based on the influencer that you're talking to. Don't try to use the same scripts between influencers, really try to make that as customisable as possible. And once you find something that works, maybe try to find other influencers who are very similar to them to help scale a lot of it quicker.

John Koetsier: Someone needs to tell the Russian government about that because I don't know if you saw the recent Russian influencer thing where they're all saying the same about the war in Ukraine and somebody put them all on the screen. And it was all like, all on repeat. Anyways, let's end here. Your least censored opinion. So least censored, Aidan, about what needs fixing most in influencer marketing.

Aidan Quest: Yeah, great question. So a couple of things here. One, I wish that Instagram would open up DMs to be a business-facing application. It's really annoying that we can't use. . .I think a lot of companies would pay a lot of money to be able to message creators in a bit more scalable way. You end up getting rate limited when you try to DM too many people at a time. So that would be. . .that's a big complaint of mine that I would love. The other one would be. . .And the platforms are starting to pilot a lot more of these, but just opening up API access a little bit more to give advertisers a little bit more context around what they're dealing with. Particularly for very big advertisers, if you're running thousands of influencer posts in a month, the process of, like, really understanding viewership dynamics and who's actually seeing those ads is very hard. But that's all data that the platforms themselves have. So I think those are probably the two of my kind of complaints, but I think. . .I've no idea if Instagram is going to release the business-facing product for Messenger, probably not. I think the platforms are, particularly TikTok is making a lot of inroads in making that data more accessible to interested parties.

John Koetsier: Wonderful. Well, thank you so much for your time and it's been a pleasure.

Aidan Quest: Yeah. This was super fun. Thanks for having me.

Peggy Anne Salz: Great to have you, Aidan, and great tips. I mean, really interesting that you've looked at these tactics. I mean, it sounds like something. . .now, John, we can go out and do this now, right? We've got. . .

John Koetsier: Yeah, one-second looped video.

Peggy Anne Salz: There you go.

John Koetsier: Excellent.

Mar 23, 2022

Chatting with Top Women in Mobile Growth

March is women’s history month and includes International Women’s Day, so of course we’re chatting with two incredible leaders in mobile growth and user acquisition who just happen to be women. 

One is currently a user acquisition manager at Voodoo and has led growth at other top games studios like Jam City. She’s Radostina Zhekova, and she tells us what she’s learned and how she’s grown in a traditionally male-dominated space. The other leads product at Drest, “the world’s first interactive luxury styling game.” She’s Johanna Vuorela, and she’s led growth, built games studios, co-founded companies, and built dream teams.

In this episode we get their best advice, top tips, and opinions about how to grow in the game of growth.

29 min

John Koetsier: Hello, and welcome to Mobile Heroes Uncensored. It's a different kind of episode today. We are focusing on some of the people on mobile, which we always do, right, Peggy? But March is a little different. It is Women's History Month. And guess what, on the 8th of this month, it is International Women's Day. So today we're celebrating the many remarkable achievements of women in tech, specifically, mobile marketing. My name is John Koetsier. My co-host is Peggy Anne Salz. And in this episode, we're talking to two very specific mobile heroes about their journey in technology. Peggy, who are they?

Peggy Anne Salz: Well, we have Radostina Zhekova. She is User Acquisition Manager at Voodoo, where she focuses on mobile app growth strategies and media buying and campaign optimization, so very much down in the weeds. But she also works on a newly launched game, Collect Em All! Clear the Dots. And finally, her career started, won't say way back in 2016, but she says that on her CV. Yeah, way back in the day when she landed her first gig in mobile marketing. And since then, she's worked for some of the top gaming companies, including Jam City. Great to have you Radostina.

Radostina Zhekova: Thank you very much. Yeah, I guess it feels longer than it actually is.

John Koetsier: I wish I had started way back in 2016. Wow.

Peggy Anne Salz: I preceded the iPhone, that's all I'm just going to say here. And we also have Johanna Vuorela, Product Director at DREST, the world's first interactive luxury styling game, bringing gaming focus to product strategy and management is what she does. And her path is extensive, including gigs heading up commercial games development, also publishing, and get this, Johanna was also the co-founder of an independent gaming studio, Curioso Games. Her colleagues…so I always do a little bit of research, this is the one I want, John. This is great. Working with her, her colleagues creates a dream team. So here we are, we already have the dream team going strong, strong women, smart women in this episode, John. So let's dive in.

John Koetsier: Wow, what the heck am I doing here?

Peggy Anne Salz: Oh, really?

John Koetsier: I know, not smart. I'm not a woman.

Johanna Vuorela: We need a second man.

John Koetsier: I don't belong. Well, let's start with Johanna, we always want to look at successful people, see how they've done it. And this is no different. Johanna, you're working at a fashion gaming company, how's that compared to wherever else you've worked?

Johanna Vuorela: I think it's actually very, very different. And first of all, this company is female led. So it has very strong female leadership. And I think the way you see that is it's a very flexible culture, it's very sort of focused on building that culture. And it's sort of very open and kind of takes people's life circumstances and everything into consideration to create this company that's very supportive. And I think that's not to say that the previous companies haven't been supportive, but it's like on a very different level. Plus, it's really exciting to see a lot of women in a company where usually there's been just a few of us, whereas now, there's an army of really inspiring women. So it's been really exciting.

John Koetsier: What has it been like to do your role? And what have you learned as a woman in your position?

Johanna Vuorela: Fifty percent of the mobile gamers, in some categories more, are women. So when you actually have more women at the table, and in the leadership level, it changes that dynamic. And you feel like you're making more sort of authentic experiences that you can actually tap into the talent to get that feedback. And really, from a product perspective, you can shape the product, because you've got the people around you as well, that can sort of feed back into it. So I think that's the thing that makes it super exciting and rewarding at the same time.

John Koetsier: Love it.

Peggy Anne Salz: I like that. Like a positive feedback loop, because you're making experiences for other women, and they can be very different. You know, I mean, women also play action games. I'm not saying that.

Johanna Vuorela: Oh, yeah.

Peggy Anne Salz: Hell, yeah. Absolutely. I do. Good. Radostina, I want to switch to you. You're interesting because you were in a male dominated studio, and it wasn't because you were discriminated against, there was a very good reason for it to be that way. Tell us about that and what you're doing now.

Radostina Zhekova: Yeah, it was actually a gay dating app that I was working on. And I was the only woman in the office. That was a really unique experience in my career and very different. Because yeah, being the only woman is interesting and it's challenging. In the beginning it was tough because I had to, yeah, like to be patient and put in a lot of effort to fit in and be included. And this eventually happened. So I guess the biggest learning from this experience is not to take things personally and be a bit more patient with things and people. And of course, you need to prove yourself, you need to get out there and people will see you for what you are. And they will start including you and they will trust you.

Peggy Anne Salz: I mean, the joy of work is when you can make a worthwhile contribution, at least that's it for me, is when you find your voice. Now, you’ve said yourself at your other studio, it was a little bit difficult to sort of find that way. You had to be very patient. What have you also learned there? What has allowed you to make a contribution at Voodoo?

Radostina Zhekova: I think these two things that I mentioned really allowed me to focus on work actually, and not really drill into any unnecessary drama, let's say that way, and like taking it too personally and going in a negative direction. So this allowed me to focus more professionally on what are my goals as a professional, what I want to learn. How I want to be perceived. I wanted to be perceived as someone who is expert in a certain field. And it motivated me to work towards this goal and prove myself, like, to me and obviously to my colleagues. And this ultimately helped me deliver and be better at my job in the next companies that I worked for.

John Koetsier: Wonderful. Let's talk a little bit about mentors. I think most of us have a couple of people, maybe some of us have even more, who have made really significant differences in our careers. Who we've become, how we've developed, how we've grown, what we've learned about how to present ourselves, how to speak, how to be, how to grow, all those things. I think it's particularly important, from what I've heard from women, to have had role models, especially in technology. Who's been a mentor for you, Johanna?

Johanna Vuorela: I was very lucky when I joined the games industry, we had a couple of women in the office. I just really want to call two of them in particular, because they really shaped how my career in a way ended up, and how I kind of approach things. They were very different, Victoria and Catalina, very, very different. The other one was sort of very calm, organized studio head, incredible, incredible experience and all the things. It's just like very organized. She told me that. And then we had our head of sales, it was just like, passion and fire and just this confidence. And when she would walk into the room, you're just like, she's going to sell it. And I think seeing her pretty much in my, I don't know, kind of early days was really inspiring. And you learn these different approaches.

I remember her having this conversation with our finance director, just about travelling. They booked her on some flight around the moon to go to the client. And she's like, look, I'm not having that. It's like, I'm going to go and I'm going to sell this, I'm going to sell millions here. I want my client to see that I'm coming in this. And it's like, no, no, but you know, this is your kind of goal. And they had this whole thing. It's like no, that's what I'm going to have, as I'm going to go there, I'm going to have this business, but I want my client to see that this is…and it's just this whole thing. And needless to say, she did fly how she wanted to fly, and she did bring back the business, but it's just like she wasn't having any of it. But at the same time she was wonderful to work with, she would lift other people. And it's the same thing for both of them, they would just lift other people and always support. So I was very lucky to have these two right off the bat sort of helping me out as well to find my feet.

Peggy Anne Salz: I love that.

John Koetsier: That is such a rare combination. Go ahead, Peggy.

Peggy Anne Salz: All right, John. I was just so enthusiastic I over-spoke.

John Koetsier: That's okay.

Peggy Anne Salz: No, but I really love when someone lifts you. And they're just being themselves, but they are also a role model without even trying to be, they're just being themselves. So that was inspiring.

John Koetsier: And it is inspiring, Peggy, because it's not that many people who are both that really out there, big personality, and also focused on others and helping them grow. So that's really, really cool. Radostina, how about you? Who's been a mentor for you?

Radostina Zhekova: I guess I can relate, I was also lucky with my first job in mobile because I was surrounded with some really great women. And my direct manager was a woman at that time and she was great, very demanding, and a perfectionist. So she was really looking at all the details. And of course sometimes I would have a hard time, you know, like why did you write this like that? I had to go back and revise things. But this really helped me a lot in my career. And also I had this strategy, I came up with a strategy back then I would just observe all the women around me. And I would decide on one thing that I really like about them, because I think everyone is strong in one or more things. And I'll try to like mimic and kind of learn it myself. So I've done that with colleagues and friends as well. And it's a great way to improve yourself, if you find…

John Koetsier: Smart.

Peggy Anne Salz: I love that, absorbing the best of everyone around you, literally learning from the best. And we talked about people who helped us up the rung, right, who helped us out. And sometimes it's just that one piece of amazing advice, right, you get on the trajectory for success. I'd like to hear from both of you. Radostina, I'll start with you. You know, what was the advice that really sparked the flame, the burning desire to succeed, rather, in gaming?

Radostina Zhekova: Ah, it's a tough one. I feel like the advice that I've been given the most was like, just to be more confident, and to own it, to know that I'm doing a great job and to be proud of it. That's something I think women, not only in gaming, but everywhere, we're always doubting ourselves. Are we good enough? Did we do a good job? And it's a very cliché, like everyone can tell you, okay, just be confident. And then you can just do it. It's a process. It takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of effort. And it's still something that I'm working towards, basically.

Peggy Anne Salz: I like that. Very simple, own it.

John Koetsier: I shouldn't say this. I mean, like, I'm giving away secrets here. But you know what, men have that too. Maybe not all, and I'm sure there's women who don't have that as well. But there's imposter syndrome. And there's like, am I good enough to do this? All that stuff. It does happen. Not to me, never, of course.

Peggy Anne Salz: No.

John Koetsier: Joking.

Radostina Zhekova: Maybe you are better at just covering things.

Peggy Anne Salz: Men are very good at hiding it, you know, really…

John Koetsier: Really? We hide stuff? No. Can we get your husband in here, Peggy?

Peggy Anne Salz: No, he's hiding. No, I'm just kidding. No. We'll ask you the same question now, one piece of advice that sparked the fire that started off with you, Johanna?

Johanna Vuorela: Oh, there's so many. I mean, Radostina already made some really good points. And I'm trying to think of what would be the thing. And I guess, one would be that when you work in the mobile space, in particular, you don't…not everybody knows everything. Things change really quickly. Nobody knows everything. But it's about having that belief in yourself, having the belief in your experience to act just like, okay, you might not know everything right now. But you have the skills in you, the ability to go and find out, to tap into your network, speak to people. You can figure it out.

And I think once you kind of figure it out, that we're all figuring things out and working things out all the time. It sort of gives you that confidence that, all right, we're all on the same boat, we're always trying to figure something out. And then I think that's…that was the biggest advice. And that's the thing I always pass on to anybody who comes into the teams, like, don't worry, we're all kind of figuring out. There's no set way of doing this. Some things there are, but for most things, there are new ways that we can find how we can work this. And I think knowing that is something that just kind of gives me that confidence on a day to day basis and keeps that imposter syndrome at bay, when those bells have rung.

Radostina Zhekova: Yeah. This is a really great point. Yeah, I could totally relate on trying to catch up and being on top of everything all the time, and worrying that you're not.

John Koetsier: Yeah. You know what's really meaningful for me there is that you don't have to be confident that you know it all. You don't have to be confident that you can do it all. You do have to be confident that when you come across something that's new, you can figure it out. You can get help. You can do what you need to do, to get where you need to be to make it work. And if you have and develop that confidence, and you've seen that in yourself over time, hey, I had that challenge. And I figured that out. And I got that help. And that worked out, then you've got some confidence that you can face the future.

Let's talk about giving back a little bit, because both of you have had women that you've looked up to that you've sort of chameleoned, taking the best parts and learned from. How can women in mobile give back? How can you give back? Maybe let's start here. What advice would you give to women who are starting out right now in mobile gaming?

Johanna Vuorela: Don't join companies where you're the first…the only woman. That's one advice I would give, that I would learn. You know, if you're just starting out, seek out companies that have women in their leadership, have women working in there. And you can often tell from some of the questions that you get in interviews and things like that, you can get a good sense of what it is, because you're going to need that network. And you know, there's a lot to figure out. And there's a lot of things that I know now that I didn't know at the time. But because I was very fortunate to have these women around me supporting me and kind of thinking about, I was like, all right, there I'm going to pass on a few things. So I always kind of say that's the thing to look out for in a company, is they do have women in there. That you're not the first.

Peggy Anne Salz: What are some of the questions in the interview that are the red flags?

Johanna Vuorela: I can tell you a funny one that I had. It was a while back now. But a company reached out to me, and it was a product role. And I was like, okay, let's have this chat. And I remember them saying that. "So how would you feel that you will be the oldest person in the company? Because everybody's under 25, predominantly under 25. And you'd be pretty much the only woman. And you know, we got some silly boys in there." So basically, it was kind of like, would you be comfortable kind of being the mother of the company? I'm like…

John Koetsier: No.

Johanna Vuorela: That was kind of the general gist of it. And I was just like, oh, first of all, how old do you think I am? But at the same time, it's kind of like you have this thing, like, is this really happening? Was this a real question? Needless to say, that didn't become a thing. It was like, I was just a little bit like thrown off by that question, just this whole…pretty much these three things. So that was something else, so yeah.

Peggy Anne Salz: That is like, would you mind babysitting? Is like the question.

Johanna Vuorela: That was it, would you like to be a mom for these boys?

Peggy Anne Salz: Yeah.

John Koetsier: No, thank you. I have enough of that at home. Radostina, what advice would you give to women who are starting out?

Radostina Zhekova: I could echo Johanna's advice. I think finding a woman mentor is a great way to learn and to get support. I think women are great and inspiring, especially other women. And it could only help you. Or, also another strategy is when you start in a new field, find people that you're looking up to, and learn from them. So you need to start from somewhere. And then on the way you find yourself, you find your own path.

John Koetsier: Nice.

Peggy Anne Salz: I like that right there. I want to go back for a moment. We just talked about the inspiration, the advice that you would give others. You're both very far along in your careers. What's the most ridiculous statement or stereotype you've experienced? I mean, Johanna, we heard about the babysitting, but tell me one and how you dealt with it?

Johanna Vuorela: We've had in the past, I think, I was just trying to think of an example here. You know, you sometimes get this thing that if it's anything technical, or anything sort of known to marketing or something that you can't possibly understand. I've had instances where we've had clients who weren't really comfortable with a woman being a project manager or for something, it's like you can't possibly understand, do you have any man in there? Whereas, at the time, we had incredible project managers, female project managers, and it's like…and usually you just deal with like, well, this is the options and these are the professionals that we have, that you're looking for the best. And this is what we have.

And oftentimes people kind of realize, sort of the attitudes that come out of it, but you just have to be quite forward about it, that this is what it is, you know, looking for the best. And at the same time, you also start looking at the people that you want to work with. You know, whether it's unconscious bias, or whether there's actually like, okay, we don't want to work with these people. This is not worthwhile. This is not good for our company. This is not good for our team. So you start looking at it that way. And the more established your business becomes the more sort of people are like, okay, we want to choose who we work with. And I think those…probably those sort of examples I've seen in the past.

Peggy Anne Salz: So people say you can't handle it. So that's their bias. You ran into it all the time. Radostina, what about you? What about a stereotype that you had to overcome?

Radostina Zhekova: I think this stereotype, it wasn't any comment or anything that I've been told. It was more a behaviour or a certain attitude just that gives you the feeling. And it was mainly coming from underestimating you. Whether it's, I don't know, based on your background, or the fact that I'm a woman, or the fact of where I'm coming from. I don't know, right. And as I mentioned, I'm just trying not to take it personally. And I tried to…I understood that it's about them, it's not about me. And these are people that have their own problems, I guess, and their own story. So I should focus on, dividing the professional from the personal and keep repeating to myself, that's professional. That's work. I should not…this is not what defines me, or like, how people are treating me wouldn't really define me, how I am, and shouldn't. It's hard, but eventually you get there with experience.

John Koetsier: Maybe one question we'll give to both you as well, and maybe Radostina we'll start with you. We talked about imposter syndrome. We talked about feeling like, can I do this? Am I as good as, you know, I need to be? Can I actually fill this role? How do you overcome that?

Radostina Zhekova: I just go for it. This is advice I got from a male friend actually. He was just asking, like, what will be the worst thing that will happen if you fail, right? Like, even if you're not ready, what will be the worst thing? And if you think about it, like what could be the worst thing that will happen? You need to try, you need to go, and you need to just…if it's something you want, you're passionate about, you're interested, just try. It might be that you'll be surprised by yourself. Like, it's difficult to overcome, and you just need to push yourself and go for it. This is how I'm doing it at least. I don't know if, Johanna, maybe you have a better way?

Peggy Anne Salz: I think she's feeling great.

Johanna Vuorela: No, I think you have a really good point there. I mean, to be honest, it's like as women, and like, we see that all the time, that we try to be perfect, and we've so become afraid of making mistakes. Whereas you learned so much by doing. It's like, okay, well, all right, that happened. How do we figure this out? And it's just that having that belief. And one thing that someone I used to work with said that you have to take stock sometimes of the things that you've been doing, your achievements and things like that, and just for yourself. Because often we do things and we don't really celebrate those successes that we have, we get too caught up in things that went wrong.

You know, even when things go wrong, you can learn. There's learnings in there. As long as you're open to it, and you're always willing to learn and kind of figure it out, you can look it up, but that's what I did to get out of that pickle. And I think that is the thing that will help you along the way, celebrating your successes and at the same time just like continuously learning and being open to it. And not sweating about the small stuff. I read a book recently that was called, "Everything is Figureoutable." And I actually fully agree with that. Everything is figureoutable, it's just like the sort of attitude. And I think that will help in this case as well. We're always figuring things out.

John Koetsier: What I really like about that is, because as Radostina was talking, I was going like, yeah, that's my attitude too. I'll just go, what's the worst that can happen? Jump in. And I think that's great advice. And I think the challenge that some of us have, and let's be honest, sometimes we have ourselves as well is, how do you make that leap when you're not confident enough to make that leap? And I think the key is, Johanna, as you talked about, celebrate your successes. You've come a long way. You've done incredible things. And if you don't have a lot of them, start small, little things. And then you build that muscle of just trying and not caring, and not listening to the interior voices that say, no, and you can't, and you suck, and all this other stuff, just going for it.

Johanna Vuorela: And talk to other people, people that have worked with you, people that know you, because that's often…you know, we can become kind of stuck in our own heads. But then when you actually speak to people that have worked with you, it's like, "Oh my God, do you not remember when we did this," or you've done that. And it's just like, it's a really good experience. So it's the thing about lifting other people up as well, acknowledging the things that they've done, especially because we can spot it when somebody is feeling a bit doubtful. So take that moment to kind of go and lift the other person up and highlight all the cool stuff that they can do, they've done, and that oftentimes kind of gives you that nudge as well.

Peggy Anne Salz: And great for team building as well. I mean, we didn't touch upon it, but you know, it is, to your point, John, being the only male here, it's not just about diversity, it's about diverse opinions and inviting that into our teams. So you know, male, female, whatever, sitting at the table and saying, okay, give your input, give your feedback. So, yes, great advice there.

I did want to zoom in a little bit on Radostina because she is not just a mobile hero with a blog, as they all have, but it's really all about experimenting and thinking outside the box, and there, inviting diverse opinions. I just wanted to have you maybe zoom in on how you do that, maybe just one quick lesson on getting everyone at the table to talk.

Radostina Zhekova: Yeah, I think the most important part of having everyone comfortable to talk is creating the right environment. And this, I think, it's done by example, like, you lead by example, when you are authentic, and honest. And when you are just a human being and you're able to admit your mistakes, or have an opinion when it might not be pleasant or exactly politically correct, but you still are brave enough to share. People will mimic you. They will see that it's okay to speak up. So I truly believe that people can share opinions if they feel safe and comfortable, and that there won't be any bad consequences. And that this will only bring constructive discussion. And this happens by everyone being honest, especially if you're in a management position where you have a team to take care of. You need to show them by your own example.

John Koetsier: Cool. Well, maybe we'll end here. And usually, Peggy, we do have the top three tips, but I switched it up this time, because we have a special episode. And maybe we'll end with kind of just one thing from each of you. And we'll start with Johanna, what would you tell young women who are considering mobile marketing as a profession?

Johanna Vuorela: Do it. Join it. You know, it's a wealth of opportunities, wealth of opportunities. And we're all mobile. I can speak from the mobile gaming side, but you know, I said before, this is a $90 billion business, right? And half of the gamers are women. And we need that perspective. Look at the roles, look at the offerings. Find a studio. There's a wealth of it that is looking for your experience. And it's always hard to find, and so we're always looking, so there's just plenty of opportunity. So just go for it. Don't wait until you are 150% over the job description. Can you do the roll? Do you have the thing? And just go for it. That's the thing I would say.

John Koetsier: Awesome. So, Radostina, Johanna stole Nike's slogan right there. What's your advice?

Radostina Zhekova: I admit it, Johanna made it very difficult for me now. It's fun. It's challenging. So if they're up for adventure, yeah, just go for it. I just…

John Koetsier: Love it. Love it. If you're up for adventure, go for it. Well, we want to thank you Johanna, Radostina. It has been a real pleasure. It has been amazing. It has been great to listen to you, to learn from you. And thank you for sharing.

Radostina Zhekova:Thank you very much.

Johanna Vuorela: Thank you so much for having us.

Peggy Anne Salz: I have to add I just love hands-on discussions and one that is uplifting, so again, a plus one from my end as well. Thanks so much.

John Koetsier: Thanks.

Johanna Vuorela: Thank you so much. It's been an absolute joy.

Peggy Anne Salz: Part of our job, John, because what do we do? We shine a light on mobile marketers, with superpowers the same as today. So of course, if others think you fit the bill, then come on in, apply to be a mobile hero like Radostina, just ping us on LinkedIn, Twitter. John's there, I'm there. We will get that party started.

John Koetsier: Wonderful. Excellent. We're on YouTube. We are on audio on all the podcasting platforms. So see you there. And thanks again to our guests today.

Mar 16, 2022

Unveiling the DNA of Successful Mobile Games

Games with insects are super-hot right now. So are fashion games. And so are games with 2D cartoony graphics. So maybe it’s time to make a game about fashion choices for beetles in 2D?

If you want to grab a place on the Top Grossing charts for games, it pays to pay attention to SensorTower’s data on what’s working and what’s hot. In this episode of Mobile Heroes Uncensored, we chat with SensorTower mobile insights strategist Craig Chapple. Chapple, who used to play games for a living at PocketGamer, shares what’s working, what’s hot, what’s new, and what’s trending in mobile game subjects, styles, and genres.

We also chat about paying players, profitability, and the controversial new part of so many games: NFTs and crypto.

29 min

John Koetsier: As you know, in mobile gaming, you win with data. Usually it's your own data, it's the data about how your marketing is going. It's not just your data. Sometimes you need data from others, you need environmental data, vertical data, all that stuff. Welcome to Mobile Heroes uncensored. My name is John Koetsier, and my co-host, of course, is Peggy Anne Salz. And today, we are again, digging deep into data, not just your marketing results or your ad campaign data, but data about the digital world, your space, your vertical, your competitors. Peggy, who are we chatting with today?

Peggy Anne Salz: Well, John, we're continuing our world tour of data companies, data company number two in our series, we touch down in Europe, and our guest is Craig Chapple. He's Mobile Insights Strategist, EMEA, at Sensor Tower, where he shares analysis on mobile apps and games market in particular, because he was before, Senior Editor of Mobile Games at the website,, and He's a frequent speaker, and he's here to speak with us today. John, welcome. Craig, great to have you.

Craig Chapple: Thanks so much for having me.

John Koetsier: We are really pumped to have you and we have to start here. I mean, you're at "Pocket Gamer," you're literally getting paid to play games and talk about them. And I know there's lots of sniping from, why didn’t you play that game, or why didn't you do that one? Or, boy, you suck at playing that game that sorts of, but why'd you switch?

Craig Chapple: Yeah, I mean, just firstly, I have always loved journalism. I studied journalism for three years, then I was really lucky to have my first job. I've always wanted to work in games, but I thought I was going to be working in newspapers. And then I was so lucky that I didn't even know like a town over from me was "Develop" magazine, a UK games industry trade magazine. So I did that for years, briefly went into marketing Nintendo, and then "Pocket Gamer."

And then an opportunity kind of turned up for Sensor Tower, which really excited me because actually it uses a lot of the skills that I already have. I joke, but sometimes it's kind of like the same job. You know, I'm writing about mobile games, but now obviously, I'm using the data specifically from Sensor Tower. And that was always kind of my favourite part of writing stories, not just the investigations, which I love, but using like data and kind of going deeper into it, and finding out the real interesting insights that you could kind of bring to people, and so they could actually learn something from that.

Peggy Anne Salz: So a strong background in data. And I know you from "Pocket Gamer," because I used to work with you, Craig, you understand both sides. If you look at it, and you'd want to talk to mobile marketers now thinking about data. I mean, what does that daily balanced, healthy diet of data look like these days?

Craig Chapple: I would just say, make sure you're keeping yourself informed all the time. Obviously, working at Sensor Tower, I'm using data always. And I'm constantly investigating how games and the wider market is performing, and looking for interesting angles for content. So I think the best thing you can do are to really get the meat, if we're going with that theme, really get the meat out of data is kind of keeping track of industry sites. So obviously, plug that where I used to work. But you know, you’ve also got, GamesBeat, and many others came down. And then as well as that, reading reports from various data companies out there who are always tracking industry trends, and looking to provide insights. And then also keep track of, if you can, financial reports, or at least the stories covering those. And it's this stuff that all together with the data really builds context and forms the foundation for how you can interpret it. So I think like without that knowledge, data can be random and misunderstood. But without the data, you're just making decisions based on your own experiences and biases. So you need both together.

John Koetsier: I like that. And you actually have to keep that up to date, right? Because I think things change, a pandemic hits and patterns change, and what people like changes, all that stuff. Obviously, you're big into games, you came from "Pocket Gamer." What are you seeing right now? What are the key drivers of game success today?

Craig Chapple: I think some of the stuff are probably are such that might be fairly obvious to a lot of people but, you know, they're important to know. You know, I think clearly one of the biggest drivers, particularly in mobile is LiveOps, or Games as a Service, which is obviously increasingly bigger on PC for certain types of titles. I think there's an expectation now from consumers that games will receive like a constant stream of new updates, such as new levels and features, as well as events. This fuels engagement and increases retention for the long term, and really is a major reason why the world's top-grossing mobile games have stayed at the top for so long. But I'm sure when you see the monthly charts over the course of a year, they rarely change. It's almost the same games all the time, unless there's a big launch. And then that might disappear for a little while, right? So really takes a long time together.

Social, obviously important. That's from simple leaderboards, adding something like the competitive nature, and giving you something to aim for, right up to being part of a clan, sharing goals and rewards, or just actually playing together in real time. I think outside of mobile, even single player games now like Elden Ring, obviously FromSoftware has been doing this kind of feature for a long time, and sells Bloodborne games. But they do a great job of…it's a single player game, with many social elements. You know, there'll be messages left for people usually telling you to jump off a cliff, which I don't appreciate.

Peggy Anne Salz: In the game.

Craig Chapple: Oh, yeah.

John Koetsier: Yes, in the game.

Craig Chapple: To be fair, you get a lot of good tips from random messages but sometimes they just drive you the wrong way. But it really adds to the world, it makes it kind of more fun, which is really what you're trying to do. And yeah, so generally, when you're building long lasting games, I'd say these are the pretty standard requirements, as always, kind of depends what type of title you're making. But in the end, you could have all of that, but if your game isn't fun, then it doesn't really matter.

Peggy Anne Salz: It's almost a segue here, because speaking of fun you're looking at trends, you're looking a lot at what games companies need to be looking at, but you also do your own research to a great extent, Craig. You've looked at and worked on your own taxonomy of themes and genres in games. Tell us about that. Walk us through that.

Craig Chapple: Yes, so we've had our own game taxonomy for a while now. And we're constantly looking to add to it and improve it. Basically, we've gone through and categorized games into our own defined genres, which when we were first putting it together, a shout out to Deconstructor of Fun, we were putting it kind of together with them. So people can search for categories that are just more relevant to how the industry kind of categorizes games, as opposed to how the App Store, Google Play, the categories that they offer, which still have their place, but it is…I think the industry's just a bit more granular, perhaps, than that offers. And so yes, so we've added…but since then, we've added additional layers. So you can now look at themes, settings, camera point of view, art style, are big descriptors. Yeah. Sorry, I could go on.

John Koetsier: You shouldn't mind, it’s interesting.

Peggy Anne Salz: Yeah.

Craig Chapple: We're also now looking at monetization descriptors, which I'll be happy to go into, at some point. So that's launching soon. We're now putting together a report on that. I could leap into some of the data right now of…

Peggy Anne Salz: Yeah, do. You can literally jump in because it's about animals, for one thing. I mean, this is a taxonomy that went so far into depth, I was looking and thinking, really, insects, Craig?

Craig Chapple: Yeah, I mean, I guess you have to define them some way. So yeah, we come up with our own kind of taxonomy of themes, settings, etc. So I put together in January, maybe early February, a couple blog posts to kind of see, okay, for the whole of 2021, comparing that to 2020, I focus on the U.S., which are like the fastest growing themes or genres. And then also which ones are actually…but from that, also, which ones are actually making the most money, because sometimes fastest growing might tell you of a new trend, but maybe it's such a small genre. So when looking at genre revenue growth in the U.S., we found that mobile action games, which includes titles like Genshin Impact, in our taxonomy, grew revenue by 69% year-over-year. And then that was followed by hyper-casual, and Tabletops. So I'm only talking about player spending, not ad spending, just to be clear.

And puzzle though was the largest category by player spending, picked up $5.1 billion, this is just in the U.S., followed by casino and strategy, interestingly. When I looked at downloads, every single genre saw a decline overall of installs year-over-year in the U.S., in 2021. You can obviously put that down to, so 2020 just saw outsized growth, obviously because of the…sorry to bring it up, the pandemic and the lockdowns. So 2021 couldn't quite match that, but overall revenue is up for most genres.

John Koetsier: I have to dig into this because you've mentioned some of the taxonomy stuff, but I got these notes here and you got taxonomies around animals, around insects, what's going on there?

Craig Chapple: Yeah. I think that one, that's largely driven by…so that increased that theme, animal insect, as we call it. So we have animal as like a general kind of descriptor. And then we also narrow it down. So in this case, we have animal insect. Yeah. But it really means you can get granular level. But in this case, yeah, that theme just saw really like a 10 times increase in revenue, largely led by a single game, I think it was about 89%, 90% of the revenue, The Ants: Underground Kingdom.

After that, after animal insect, you've also got fashion, which I think is perhaps a more interesting one, because there's more games doing that. And I'd say that's actually like a real trend. And you've got games, I think, High Heels!, which I think is from Zynga. And then you got Project Makeover from Magic Tavern, AppLovin. I think that's a theme with a real trend. It also shows when you look at this data, you really do have to look deeper into the games that are driving it. Because you know, if you saw, oh, insects is the fastest growing theme, we'll use that for our next game. There's only one game that's actually driving that, so you really need to look carefully at all of them.

John Koetsier: Yeah, I almost don't know what to do with that, bugs are big. Our next game has to have bugs. Which should we do: ants, or bees, beetles? Let's go to Sensor Tower and see which insect is the hottest bug for our next game? It may not get that granular. And you know what? Some of those things may be incidental. But maybe one thing that is less incidental and maybe more fashion driven, which is apropos what you were just talking about, art styles also go through trends and seasons, what's hot right now?

Craig Chapple: Yeah, so the top-grossing art style last year was 2D cartoon. So that includes titles like Candy Crush Saga, and Coin Master. And that generated about, combined altogether, $12 billion in total in the U.S. And then that was followed by 2D realistic, and 3D realistic. And meanwhile, the fastest growing art style by revenue was Neon, which includes titles like Beatstar by Space Ape, which is pretty cool. And Tiles Hop, I think that's by Amanotes, but I can't remember.

John Koetsier: We'll double check. We'll double check. Peggy, I never would have thought, I never would have thought that somebody would be tracking revenue in mobile games by art style. It's kind of blowing me away. How quickly do those trends change? You know, how quickly do they turn over, Craig?

Craig Chapple: Yeah. I guess some trends are long lasting, some change quite quickly. When I did a similar report in 2020, and I looked at, at the time, just Q1 to Q3, and obviously, 2020 is like a weird year, but at that time, I think the fastest growing theme, for example, was actually post-apocalypse, of all things.

John Koetsier: Shocker.

Craig Chapple: Yeah, can't make it up. But it was kind of weird, because, you know, games are really like an escapism, but I guess people were escaping in that way, while they're at home. I think over the last couple of years, fashion has become bigger, and you can kind of see that happening. So yeah, they change quite a lot. And actually, one interesting thing that I saw, these are the things that I find really interesting was that Small Giant Games, they were soft launching puzzle combat, which is kind of like Empires & Puzzles. And initially their theme was something like modern military or military. And I don't know, this is my comparisons behind that, but they had a change, and it's now like more of a zombie game.

So clearly, to me, it seems like they've looked at their soft launch data, maybe they've looked at what's popular in the market, seeing zombie games are on the rise, or just popular in general, and decided that's appropriate for their game. So they actually kind of changed it a bit. And then they got to the point where they could go into Global Watch. So as ridiculous as it might be when you get really granular, this kind of data actually can really help inform your own data. Or just even when you're just concepting, and thinking of, okay, what's the best kind of theme or art style for our type of game?

Peggy Anne Salz: We just got a free tip here then, because I was going to say, well, how do we apply this? And now we hear it. So basically, you want to hit the money, it's a neon bug game. Right?

John Koetsier: With zombies.

Craig Chapple: With zombies.

Peggy Anne Salz: With zombies. That was so yesterday, John.

John Koetsier: No, zombies are always big. Because guess what? It's guilt-free violence.

Craig Chapple: Everyone loves a zombie game. So, many of my favourites, Left 4 Dead, Last of Us. I don’t know, many.

Peggy Anne Salz: There you go.

John Koetsier: Yeah. There's one zombie game that keeps targeting me with their playable ads, and I have to place like machine guns. And there's a zombie horde attacking my castle or whatever, a house, I don't even know what the name is. But yes, zombies are always hot, Peggy.

Peggy Anne Salz: That's it. So we have an idea of the genre, of the art style. I'm going to look at profitability. I mean, what is happening in the games, the games that are really making the money, maybe you can pick some winners and losers here, Craig.

Craig Chapple: That’s a bit risky, winners and losers. I guess I could start by just kind of giving the background of what kind of happened in 2021. So I think more people than ever, are spending more money on mobile games, at least that's what our data is kind of showing. So last year, there were eight titles that generated more than $1 billion globally across the App Store and Google Play, I'm not including third party Android stores, such as those in China there. But yeah, and that's compared to five, which is still a big number, in 2020. So the market is growing very quickly, I would say. We estimate, overall, that the global games market generated $88.6 billion dollars from player spending, again, across the App Store and Google Play in 2021, which was up 11%, year-over-year, which was slower than 2020. But the reasons that we've kind of explained of why 2020 saw such a fast rise.

So the winners or losers, which everyone clearly wants to know. I guess, in my opinion, some of the games. So I mean, Genshin Impact was obviously, probably the big winner, new launch, brand new IP, although it can be…I think they were building, if I'm correct, like the anime a bit before that. That’s still like a brand new IP, built in China. And it's now global success. And you can't even say that, it's like a global success, and all that revenue is in China, a highly lucrative market. It is all over the globe, which to me $2 billion in one year, new IP.

John Koetsier: That's big.

Craig Chapple: That's crazy. And I think it really shows like China, the publishers there are now very much global facing companies that can create hit titles around the world. You've got PUBG Mobile, which I appreciate it's like an IP from South Korea, but Chinese developer. And then what else have you got? Obviously Genshin Impact. And you've also got Call of Duty mobile, right, like Activision, but developed in partnership with Tencent's TiMi Studio. And then you've got some other I think big shooters that are basically U.S. publishers partnering with China. So that's a big one now. I think another one, I still think is Pokémon Go, is a big one.

John Koetsier: Amazing. Incredible. It's a zombie, it's unkillable.

Craig Chapple: Again, a popular theme. But yeah, like 2020 could easily have not been as successful as it had been, which had been a very successful theme prior, but they released some key updates and they make it easier for people at home. But also, I think actually that maybe kind of helps in some ways, a lot of help support work that caused Pokémon Go to even be a bit more successful because people couldn't do anything. And the few times they could go out, they might choose as an activity Pokémon Go actually really suited. But yeah, full credit to Niantic. And they've continued it into 2021. They made, according to our estimates, $1.3 billion just from player spending globally. So big winner. Losers, hmm?

Peggy Anne Salz: Yeah, we could say losers. Yeah, we get all the billionaires. We got the billionaire part.

Craig Chapple: Yeah. I'm probably going to cheat with this one. It's kind of a winner and we'll see how it goes. You know, I think we get to the grimly forecast death knell, if you like, to put it dramatically, of hyper-casual games, doesn't seem to have happened. But I think how publishers navigate this in future, and the App Store and Google Play might continue to kind of shape their rules and regulations, maybe enforce some of those new rules a bit more for everyone, then that could prove quite challenging over the next couple of years. But I guess we'll see.

John Koetsier: I guess we will see. And it's also a little bit of confirmation that even when the environment changes, the ecosystem changes, that doesn't necessarily change people's behaviour, they still get those apps, they still play those apps. Of course, if app discovery changes significantly, as you mentioned, over the next couple years with additional enforcement, maybe Private Relay, maybe iOS 15, getting extensions there, all that stuff, we will have to see. You do have a report coming up on monetization trends. We're looking for a sneak peek of what's coming up.

Craig Chapple: Yeah, so that's going to release soon, it may even release this week. I don't know when this is going up.

Peggy Anne Salz: But you're writing it, Craig.

Craig Chapple: Yeah, I know. We've got new monetization descriptors, which go into our game intelligence platforms which is part of our basically kind of our taxonomy. And the report's been put together by my colleague Francisco, and he's found some amazing insights, I think. I find this stuff just fascinating all the time, just games in general, and I guess the drama you can kind of get out of games. But yeah, there are a bunch of findings. So one of the areas we look at are NFT and crypto games. Now, obviously, there are a limited number of those because of the rules of the App Store, and Google Play, and love them or hate them.

But what's interesting in these titles is that currently I have kind of a diverse range of what we call classes, so kind of a level up from genre. So we're talking about mid-core and casual, there's like quite an even split between NFT and crypto games that are mid-core, and casual. So I think from that, my takeaway is that it kind of reflects early experimentation to find like the best audiences for those games, whereas other monetization methods are probably a bit more sewn up in mid-core or casual, right. So like, for example, ad removal, it's a casual monetization method really.

Elsewhere, we analyse the top 10 revenue generating games in the world by monetization type. So the world's top 10 revenue generating mobile titles across App Store and Google Play, all use LiveOps. I mean, it's obvious when you say it, but you know, you can see it. And then meanwhile, half of the world's top 10 use some form of season pass, which has obviously become more and more popular across genres as we kind of look at in the report.

And then gacha, which we know is obviously particularly popular in Asia, has also become more prominent in the U.S. But even more interesting is we found that out of the top 10 gacha games in the U.S. last year, half of them are IP based. So this includes titles like Star