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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Feb 22, 2023

The Last Dance

It’s the last dance. For the last time on Mobile Heroes Uncensored, John & Peggy are chatting about mobile growth, mobile success, and mobile challenges.

In this episode, we chat about our favorite episodes, a few of our favorite guests — there’s no way we could talk about all of them — and the places they come from, and the topics they shared.

It’s been 76 shows.

Thank you all for the ride, and see you around social media and on many other podcasts that both Peggy and I still on.

16 min

John: Have you ever felt like Michael Jordan? Hello and welcome to Mobile Heroes Uncensored. My name is John Koetsier. Our co-host, as always, is Peggy Anne Salz. And yeah, you know what, this is the last dance. And that's why I kind of felt like Michael Jordan this morning. Not because I can hit, you know, an insane jump shot, or drain those buckets at will, slam dunk like a hero or champion or anything like that. Or anything at all like that. But yeah, Mobile Heroes Uncensored is coming to an end, and it's a sad, sad day, isn't it, Peggy?

Peggy: Yeah, but you're cheering me up with that analogy, because I was like, “Why does he feel like Michael Jordan?” I thought, you know, taller. Everyone's taller than me, so that's not going to be it. No. Last dance. Totally get it. It is bittersweet, right? We've done this 76 shows. Not quite certain how many we interviewed. Maybe you added it up, John. You're typing...

John: It's got to be over a hundred guests, because we had... Like our inaugural show, we had like four guests or something like that. So it's got to be well over a hundred Mobile Heroes, Mobile Experts, guests that we interviewed. It's a lot.

Peggy: Yeah. And you got to think about we did more world tours, probably the most people physically were travelling. I counted them up. We had Germany, we had Turkey, we had Brazil. We were nearly at APAC, but then yeah, we're not there. We're going to stop. What is it? It's like a rock star. You have to stop when you're at your height. I don't know, but...

John: I guess. Can we put China on that map because we did...

Peggy: We did just have a launcher up in China.
John: Exactly. Exactly. Right. Yeah. And we might have hit the United States occasionally. I mean, just occasionally, right? Yeah. So, there's some changes. Obviously, Liftoff went through some changes when they merged with Vungle and many other companies, and lots of different things happening. So, it's no longer pandemic times, right? And maybe there's more physical events to go to. I know I'm going to more now, and maybe that's true of many others. And hopefully, all health worries will fade, and the world will be as it was. I guess it never will be as it was, but sort of back to normal, perhaps.

Peggy: Maybe. And we'll learn how to pack again, John. Because I'm still working on that.

John: I never forgot. It only takes me 20 minutes to pack or something like that. I remember listening to one guy. He said, "I had to take a day off to pack for my trip." And I was like, "What do you do?"

Peggy: I noticed I was out of practice. It was like, “Oh, shit, I don't have anything to put my eye shadow on, so I guess I'll just use my fingers.” You don't have this problem. But when you do that, it's like I am totally out of practice with packing. And you do try to look your best. You're always in your formal flannel shirt, John. I love that.

John: Absolutely. Absolutely. Peggy, do you know, by the way, what we did our first show on?

Peggy: I think it was... It's got to be like IDFA type stuff.

John: Oh. Winner.

Peggy: Oh, right. Do I get my Lamborghini? Because I miss…

John: You got it right.

Peggy: I know we got away from the game shows at the start, but I thought they were kind of cool. I really do. You know?

Dennis: Yeah. They were kind of cool. Yeah. We had somebody from iMobi. I forget who. We had somebody from Vungle. We had Gadi Eliashiv from Singular. We had somebody from Fiber and we talked IDFA, iOS 14.5. That seems so long ago now, of course, and yet it's so important in every mobile marketer's life still.

Peggy: Yeah.

John: That show almost killed us. I mean...

Peggy: It was like, “What's going happen? Is this going to be something we need to notice?” It's like, “Yeah, yeah. Hell, yeah.” And we were right.

John: Yep. Yep. That was such a big show with so many people. Do you remember our horrid jokes of the day? The really bad jokes?

Peggy: Yeah. The one about... You got me on some tapeworm. I have dreams about it, John. Some stupid jokes somewhere. But they were fun. They were fun.

John: Absolutely. Absolutely. I also liked, fairly early on, we did a show where we had some of the best games journalists, right? We had Dean Takahashi from GamesBeat.

Peggy: Yeah, I wrote that one down. I took little cheat notes here.

John: Did you?

Peggy: We had Dean, the man. He was so cool to get to know in the moment, you know. I didn't realize that he really does walk it, talk it, sleep it, drink it. So, all respect.

John: Absolutely. And we had Dave Bradley from Pocket Gamer. Dave was great as well.

Peggy: He was awesome. And we also did a... When you're talking about like personal notes, remember, I think my all-time favourite, for personal touch, right, has to be Thanasi. Right?

John: Yes.

Peggy: He was so cool. He was like, "This is really cool being on this show. Almost as cool as me getting married next week." Like, okay, I think when your wife to be hears that one. He has some explanation to do.

John: I'm sure he didn't tell her.

Peggy: No, but it was a high point. Different high points, but I thought that was so cool. And...

John: Yeah, and just so people know who that is, it's Thanasi. I can't even say his last name. Chalkiadakis. Yeah, something like that. But he's with Activision. He's a senior manager pro strategy for Call of Duty Mobile, which is a big-ass app. It's a big-ass game. It's a significant franchise. And he absolutely loved it. And we loved having him.

Peggy: Yeah. Then, of course, there was...I think it's Andrew Frost from Sam's Club. And I'm doing this by memory, so it left an impression.

John: I don't think it's Andrew, but it was Sam's Club, and it was super interesting. And, well, I have to look…

Peggy: It was Frost. I forgot his first name. It was Frost. Darn it. He was awesome. He was seven years at Sam's Club, I remember. It was like, man, you are Mr. Stability. You are really there. You are...

John: But he left pretty soon after that.

Peggy: Did he leave after that?

John: Yes. I think he went to a subsidiary, or a spinoff, or something like that.

Peggy: Oh, that’s nice. All right. I just remember he was in search of the favourite barbecue sauce. And I'm still doing that in my life.

John: There's never the ultimate. You're always on this hunt. That is, the journey is the destination.

Peggy: That's it. That's it totally. And sitting here in cold weather, it's like, yeah, barbecue time is coming. Speaking of, I won't do it, but I have to do it. Speaking of hot topics. Another pun. Oh, I hate it. I hate it. But we did have a ton of fun, and proved to be another visionary, Moshi Blum. I say the man for incrementality, right?

John: Incrementality is like heaven.

Peggy: And I was telling that to someone, they're like…

John: Nobody ever gets there.

Peggy: Yeah. I'm telling that to someone who's going to do his panel. He's like, “You know, I'm going to say that in my talk.” And I'm thinking, “Oh boy,” you know. We started something here. So, he's not the only one with that analogy. It's spreading.

John: Yeah. Absolutely.

Peggy: And guess what? There is no answer, guys. So if you're tuning in, you want to hear about incrementality, we sort of gave up on that when I put a pin in that and said, “It is what it is.”

John: Well, it's one of those things that's super valuable, but you never get right. As long as you're not completely wrong, you can still get value out of it, right? So that was cool. Remember when we interviewed the CMO of a social network for people who fish?

Peggy: Yeah.

John: That is…

Peggy: The Fish Brain. Yeah.

John: That's right. That was Lisa Kennelly. She's the CMO of Fish Brain. I mean, like, you know, who would ever...

Woman: I think now she’s at Klarna, by the way, John. We interview them and they move on, you know.

John: Oh, is she somewhere else now?

Woman: I think it's Klarna. Don't quote me, guys. I'm sorry, I can't know everything. But it made me think that, you know, we interview them, we make them famous. We have to have a side gig here. We have to have like a headhunter’s fee.

John: I know. Where's our cut? I mean...

Melanie: Yeah. My favorite was Jason at Wooga. It's like a week later, “Hey, guys, I'm a king.”

John: Wow.

Melanie: But he's good. He's solid. It's just interesting, ironic coincidence, shall we call it?

John: Yes. Yes. Exactly. So, so, so many shows. So much fun. Don't know how we're going to replace that in our lives here. We'll figure it out. There's a couple things that might be going on. We'll see how everything pans out. But you know what, if you've enjoyed the show, we've enjoyed hosting it even more. And I'm sure that Liftoff will go on and do other things that are super cool around Mobile Heroes and Mobile Experts, and all that stuff. But except, you know, occasionally, periodically, we might pop in and do a few things here or there. There's a few things that are on the horizon. It will largely be sans John Koetsier and Peggy Anne Salz.

Peggy: Yeah. Oh, oh, oh, oh. I dug it out. I dug it out. I wanted to. My White Stripes cup, I broke it. So I'm going to raise my goblet of rock to us, John, because we did rock it. All our guests, everyone. Yeah. I'm doing a little retro thing. Now, there we go, unify. We're going to raise our goblet of rock to our guests, to ourselves, and hey, also to the man, I mean, Dennis. Yeah?

John: Yes.

Peggy: He is a legend.

John: He is a legend. I don't know how long his tenure at Liftoff lasted, but I think he was employee... it was either single digit or very low two-digit at Liftoff, when it was small and tiny. And he has moved on. He needs a break. He's taking a break for, I don't know, half a year, a year, or something like that. He's been going insane for, you know, it's got to be a decade, right? You know? Building, growing, working.

Peggy: They built something amazing. Not to mention comic books. I mean, in my life, John, we've been working on this show, but before that, I have to say Liftoff was one of my first clients for consulting. So I go back. It would've been hitting eight years this year.

John: Wow.

Peggy: So I would've been the longest with Dennis as well. So, yeah. But he's like... I told him, I said, "You're like Nick Fury. You'll bring us all together when you need us again." All the Avengers, all the talent from around the world. We'll just come when he calls. He'll just put up the bat signal. I don't know. But cool guy and unique.

John: Exactly. Exactly. Well, if people want to find you, you're still doing your Mobile Presence podcast. Is that correct?

Peggy: Yeah, I'm doing it as the Groove. So, it's the Groove for Mobile Groove because I've just always loved the idea of being in the Groove. It's just a vibe for me. So I do that. I also co-host over at Pocket Gamer. I'm writing a book. So, yeah, I'm out there. I'm at events, but I'm also, like, deep in thought about values during marketing, and really enjoying that because I've written nine other books on behalf of other people in Mobi, IBM, SAP. And it was always like, “Here, we've got this brief. You're going to do it. Three hundred pages. Go away. Come back when you're done.” This time, it's me. We shall see. We shall see. Why not?

John: Nice, nice, nice. Awesome.

Peggy: You had a science fiction book, so maybe you should go publish it.

John: I do, I do. And I'm working on a book of future history right now, which is not science fiction, but it's kind of futurism. So, that's one thing. Also, I'm still interviewing people who are amazing and mobile on Growth Masterminds, which I do with Singular. And, of course, I do my tech first for, you know, just cool stuff that I really like in technology. So, that's where we are.

Peggy: Yeah. We are out there.

John: Stay in touch. Connect. We’d love to connect with you, whether that's LinkedIn, whether that's Twitter, whether that's wherever else we might be in the real world also. And of course, Liftoff still has some amazing things for you with what they've built with Liftoff and Vungle. And Vungle had already acquired, like, four other capabilities, Game Refinery, other stuff like that.

Peggy: Yeah, I like Game Refinery.

John: So, I'm sure they'll be building something very cool.

Peggy: I like that one, to watch that one. And they're looking at gamification across all apps, so it's going to be interesting to watch them. They've got some great data, some great models. And yeah, we are out there, and we will always be a part of this, John.

John: Absolutely. In some ways, we're entering the most exciting phase of kind of the mobile revolution because, I mean, mobile's not the revolution anymore, right? Mobile is normal, right? You know, I always love the quote, the day after the revolution, “The most part in revolutionary is a total conservative,” right? You know? Mobile is one, right? But there's still so much more that's happening with generative AI that's going to totally impact how apps function, how apps work, how you experience an app, and maybe you experience the same app very differently than I do because it's different for me. So many different things going on there. So many things happening with smart glasses, you know.

Peggy: All cool stuff.

John: We're not... You know, the metaverse has lost its luster a little bit, but we know that, hey, the hype cycle comes down, and then something comes back. And maybe it's not what you anticipated it would be, maybe it's not quite what you thought it might be, but it's usually pretty awesome.

Peggy: So, we'll just keep it awesome. We'll keep it interesting. And yeah, you know, that AI... that was a big topic. I was at Pocket Gamer Connects, PGC, London. I was like, “Okay, so AI is going to come up with the game narrative, and the game design, and all this cool stuff.” And it’s like yeah, yeah. So, it's going to be either, you know, hopefully co-create, not replace, but pretty wild stuff, you know? I mean, we'll be writing. ChatGPT isn't going to get us out of the game, but it is interesting. It is very interesting in an artistic sense that…

John: Yeah, absolutely.

Peggy: can’t really tell the difference. And speaking of Dean, when he put up his tries at WALL-E, that was, you know, pretty cool.

John: Yeah. He used generative AI to create different pictures.

Peggy: Yeah. Generative AI.

John: As many people have done, right? We've seen that with Lensa. We've seen that with…

Peggy: That was Lensa. There you go. It's too late in my day, John. I was like, “What in the world did he use?” No, but it was pretty cool. But it was like, yeah. Dean, it fits that he would look like some warlord from some galaxy, right?

John: Okay. So what you're saying is that we need some pictures of ourselves as well, looking like fierce, heroic people from the... warriors of the future.

Peggy: Yeah. It was fun. It looked good. It was like, “Hell yeah, I'm going to put that up on my social. Why not?” But in all seriousness, it's going to be a very, very interesting time. AI is now, you know, ready for primetime, so, yeah.

John: Mm-hmm. Well, Peggy, it has been a pleasure. It's been a privilege. It's been an honour. And we'll stay connected, and we'll do some things together, I'm sure. And wishing you the very best. And to all of our listeners and watchers, wishing you the very best as well in everything that you do.

Peggy: Same to you, John. It's been a pleasure. And hey, I got to do it, so, you know, got to live long and prosper, all that good stuff. Wishing you good vibes. Big hugs on a Friday as well, John. Going to get all teary-eyed, so I think we're going to call it off right now, so...

John: Excellent. Signing off.

Peggy: Yeah.

Jan 19, 2023

Road Trip Part Deux (Still in Brazil)

Apologies, but we liked Brazil so much we stayed (virtually, of course). In this Mobile Heroes Uncensored, we chat with Guilherme Braz, Senior Director of Acquisition at Mercado Libre, an e-commerce and fintech leader in Latin America.

While he’s got great experience in mobile — having worked at Wildlife Studios previously — in another life he was a Bain consultant. And Guy, as he likes to be called, brings the kind of intellectual rigor you might expect from Bain to his marketing.

We discuss Brazil, mobile marketing today, incrementality and media mix modeling, App Tracking Transparency, and so … much … more!

29 min

Guilherme Braz: We have this combination of being big enough to have a many competitors in each user problem, but also the population that is unserved is super big. So, it's a very challenging market.

John Koetsier: Are you ready to samba, or perhaps party at Carnival? Welcome to Mobile Heroes Uncensored. My name is John Koetsier, of course, our co-host is Peggy Anne Salz. And guess what? We're kind of still on a road trip. We're kind of still in Brazil where we were last episode. Today, it's an origin story. We're going on a deep dive into a Mobile Hero's career. We might just talk a little bit about incrementality and other cool stuff as well. So, we're going to go one-on-one with the mobile marketing expert. Peggy, who is our mobile marketing expert today.

Peggy Anne Salz: Well, today John, we have Gui Braz, he's an acquisition senior director at Mercado Libre, which is a very cool e-commerce FinTech leader in Latin America. And you'll hear about it because it's also a super app. But keeping with Gui, before Mercado Libre, he worked at the gaming company, Wildlife Studios as UA director, and before that very importantly I think Bain & Company as a consultant. So, this is a man who gets into the weeds, right? He's got...

John Koetsier: This is interesting, Peggy. This is really interesting because we have a hardcore user acquisition, mobile specialist who's been a Bain consultant, which, you know, you typically think of as the other end of the world, right? Slow, ponderous, you know, very detailed, expensive.

Peggy Anne Salz: (SOUNDS LIKE: Pretty expensive). We'll keep Gui, expensive. But no, seriously, I like his mixture because his right and left hemisphere is really imbalanced here. Imagine an undergrad degree in applied mathematics, a master's degree in economics, and a long track record in management. It is just the mix, right? That it takes to run acquisition and win in 2023. So, welcome, Gui, great to have you.

Guilherme Braz: Thank you. It is a pleasure talking to you today.

John Koetsier: Wonderful. We are super pumped to have you. Gui, maybe tell us a little bit about Mercado Libre. We know the name. We've heard the name. The name is world famous. Don't necessarily know what it is exactly and what it all does.

Guilherme Braz: So, we are a leader in e-commerce and FinTech spaces here in Latin. So, we started back in 1999 with let's say a local clone of eBay. And then it started evolving as a more mature marketplace. And then we realized that we had so many synergies with the FinTech road. We started a wallet app that then evolved to like a full-fledged digital banking solution. And today we are a leader in the e-commerce space in most Latin markets and have a very relevant presence in some countries' leadership in the digital banking space as well.

John Koetsier: That is super interesting. Peggy mentioned off the top about super apps, and we know, of course, that China has super apps, right? It's to do everything, live your entire life, buy everything, manage everything, control everything, communicate with everything. Is that where you are? Is that where you're trended? And why is that working in South America, where North America we seem to be allergic to it?

Guilherme Braz: I wouldn't say that we are there, but we have had like a track record of adding functionality and adding solutions to customer pain points that end up being, like, a relevant for huge chunks of populations here. So, our main task, our vision is to democratize access both to commerce and to financial services here in Latin. So, we have a real big segment of the population that is unserved in both markets. And I believe that this ability to pick some problems and make scalable solutions is what has brought us here.

Peggy Anne Salz: So, you have arrived in a way because you're UA at a super app, but you're also a mobile hero. So, it's quite a combination. I don't think we have one like this coming forward.

John Koetsier: No, I don't think so. I think we got a first here.

Peggy Anne Salz: Yeah. We got superpowers and a super app. So, I have to ask, what is the one trait that has allowed you to succeed at all the stages of your career and the companies you've been at?

Guilherme Braz: I think it's a genuine interest for the problems that we are tackling. So, going deep into what is going on, why the customers have that problem, what will be potential solutions. And I think that this first principles thinking is very important in any position, in any situation. So, you mentioned that my track record before at Wildlife Studios is like super wide in terms of different positions from sales to pricing, to be a consultant. And I think that the one thing that puts everything together is the interest of understanding the problems at hand, and what would be the most efficient solution.

John Koetsier: It's pretty cool. You kind of answered it there because I was going to go, I think this is another first. I don't think we've ever had a Bain consultant, or even like, a top three consulting agency, you know, consultant, come and be a Mobile Hero and chat with us. So, that's pretty cool. You have a super strong mathematics background. Talk about what you do now, and how that background in math and as a consultant influences what you do.

Guilherme Braz: Okay, so I'm in charge for the performance marketing teams in Mercado Libre, and also the SEO team as well. I have a genuine interest for the problems at hand. And here the problem is how to serve the best possible ad to each person that we reach. So, at this scale, this problem has many different dimensions that require analytical thinking. So, there's a segmentation part, there is a ad serving part, there is a bidding part. All those different components of the problem end up being really analytical and require interactions either with engineers or data scientists. So, having someone that is managing the operation, but can deeply discuss solutions and problem with those teams, I think is something that really helps. So, that's where this connection, I think of the background and my current role comes.

Peggy Anne Salz: You make a really interesting point. It's all about analytics, but you are one of few. I would say again, another first. This is just a show of first, John. We haven't had people so focused necessarily on product as well. And I've got to go back, I'm always researching, looking, reading your blog, right? You say, and I quote, "Hitting the KPIs comes second to having a great product." How many people say that, right? So, why are you so convinced? How has this changed? How is this impacting your UA?

Guilherme Braz: So, I believe that UA is this activity of serving a good ad to a good person for the each person. So, in the end of the day, it's very hard to make a good claim in an ad if you have a bad product, a bad solution. So, I...

John Koetsier: Some people have no trouble with that at all.

Guilherme Braz: Yeah. Coming from the hemo bio gaming industry, you see so many examples of that, right? But I honestly think that everything starts with a problem, and then your product has to solve that job. And that's why I think that hitting the KPIs is second. Because if I were starting a company now, my first question would be, do I have product market fit? Am I solving a real problem? Then there is the question of how to scale the solution. So, and UA is more on data part of how to scale. And I think that if you have a poor product or a small, addressable market, you end up with like expensive CPAs, and the unit economics won't fit, or for them to work, you have to like have prices that will make your market shrink a lot. So, I'm super convinced that even though my vertical is more UA, having a very good product is a foundational aspect of our activity.

John Koetsier: Love it, love it. Love it. I look forward to the Gui on relationships book or product or app that comes out. Everything starts with a problem. And so, I'm going to apply that in my own relationships, see how that works, and see how far it gets me. We have to talk about Brazil. We started with Brazil. Last episode, we were in Brazil as well. Talk about the app market in Brazil and how it's different. And you know, maybe I'll kick you off here. You said you're not quite a super app yet, but you've got some of the aspects of it. And you said, you know, you're coming into a relatively new market. I wonder if that's the key, Peggy, for super apps like China, right? It exploded, and you got the super app coming in when there wasn't necessarily huge diversity stuff. And I wonder if that's similar in Brazil, but tell us generally, Gui, about the app market in Brazil, how would you characterize it?

Guilherme Braz: So, I think it's a very competitive one, and also with a huge population with unserved needs, right? So, on one hand, you have a bunch of people thinking of solutions of a specific problem. So, for example, in our digital banking app, for each of the components like a wallet, payments, credit, investment, you have so many competitors in each of the verticals trying to serve a particular segment in the market. So, I think that we have this combination of being big enough to have many competitors in each user problem, but also the population that is unserved is super big. So, it's a very challenging market. And also I think that this is a population that is hooked in social media. And so, the number of hours that users spend on social media apps is high, very high compared to other countries. So, in one hand, this allows you to reach a very significant part of the population. And in the other hand, figuring out exactly who to target, is a bit more difficult than in mature markets, I would say.

John Koetsier: Interesting. It's like a red ocean of competition against hard, tough competitors, but also a blue ocean for competition with unserved markets. Very interesting.

Peggy Anne Salz: Makes sense, because they're just understanding and really embracing apps and smartphones. So, you create this requirement, you create this need, but then there's no company that's sort of like overarching covers it. So, you create this idea that, "Yeah, I can have it immediately." And it's like, "Yeah, but I want all of this immediately." And that's probably where the super app comes in.

Guilherme Braz: Yeah. And I think that players like us have some benefit of having synergies of the offering in one business in the other business. And this creates some opportunities, like for example, to offer credit for people buying in our marketplace, or selling in our marketplace as well. So, we have some other synergies like these that allows us to have a broader ecosystem that I wouldn't say is the same as the super apps in China, but serves a very broad range of necessities of our customers.

Peggy Anne Salz: And of course stitching that all together. You're seeing behaviour and patterns across the different parts of your app. We know that Brazilians are passionate. We heard all about it, we saw it with soccer. Do I need to say anything, right?

John Koetsier: Football.

Peggy Anne Salz: Absolutely. Football, that's an important part of communications, social, very important channel to engage users. What works when you want to reengage your users?

Guilherme Braz: I think that we need to first to have a message or value prop to deliver for those customers to reengage. Then I think it's super important to have a channel strategy. So, in our case, I have a peer that manages our own channels, so we try to make a strategy that prioritizes own channels, and then we go to paid channels. And finally, but not least important, I think is the matter of bidding correctly. So, the re-engagement question comes very often, and I think that poorly designed approach makes the marketer pace wise for the same purchase or same customer activity. So, it's very important when you are designing the bidding strategy to take into account, like, what has already been paid for, what you're paying for this new, let's say, LTV bump. So, this is something that, is on the top of my head when thinking of re-engagement.

John Koetsier: Love it, love it, love it. And you know what, we got to go there. You talked about it with Peggy in the pre-chat incrementality, and you just brought it up. Say you don't want to pay twice for the same customer, you don't want to pay twice for the same purchase. Incrementality is a bigger and bigger thing. We've got Robin from Facebook, we've got a bunch of other methodologies of looking at that. And as we know less and less about what's happening device level, with ads that are going out there at user level, with ads that are going out there, it becomes more and more important. How much are you using that right now, and what are your thoughts on the state of incrementality in general?

Guilherme Braz: So, we are experimenting with that. I think that we have, some very good initial results, and we are testing different approaches for our MMM model, say the (SOUNDS LIKE: robbings) of the road. We are testing some proprietary approaches, our own approach (SOUNDS LIKE: robbing). So, we are kind of looking for what would be the best fit considering... In fit, meaning how the tool adapts to some previous activity that we already have the source of truth, so to say. And then there is more in-depth question that is for specific paid marketing extremely, what is the response in terms of a sales? And then, we are using some Google, Facebook tools that allow us to make what is somewhat close to randomized control trial. And when this doesn't fit, we go for something like an AB that would allow us to have a sense of what is the marginal impact of our investment. Doing so, we understand the flaws of our attribution and helps us make much better-informed investment decisions that we would have done otherwise.

John Koetsier: It's so challenging. Hey, because the universe is complex, and your marketing is complex, and you said you're in, you know, a very competitive market, but there's also unserved markets as well, and that's all mixed also. And so, when you look at your results, and you look at your incrementality, you've got to, "Okay, what are we doing? What are our competitors doing? What's happening in the world? Is there seasonality to what we're doing or is there not?" All those things. And you've got to kind of manage that in a sort of a, there's some art there and there's some science there, isn't it? In managing those parameters to understand what's impacting your results, correct?

Guilherme Braz: Yeah. Yeah, definitely. I think that all the different questions that you cited are super important. So, when you talk about competitors, you always have the fear that you lose share of voice, that this will turn into fewer conversions. But if you trust, let's say the experiment, you'd say, "Hey, I'm wasting part of my budget." And then the question is like, well, which part, right? You never know exactly how to say that.

John Koetsier: The origin question of marketing.

Guilherme Braz: Or scale up, right? I would say it's like peeling an onion. Like you do a first very general test, you get some idea, then you start looking by channel. Then in our case in marketplace verticals. So, we figured out, for example, that we had like a overall inefficiency in the sense that we could have been spending less, but when we broke down by vertical, the story was very specific by vertical. So, we could increase investment in some, reducing others. I would say it's a journey to apply the same concept in different granularity levels.

John Koetsier: Nice.

Peggy Anne Salz: I like the comparison to peeling the onion. I've got another comparison.

John Koetsier: Yes, the glass onion, isn't it Peggy?

Peggy Anne Salz: Yeah. It goes on and on. Brings me to another comparison we had. Remember John, Mosey Bloom, he was on our show last year and he described it as being... Well, he's comparing it to heaven. And he said, "Everyone is speaking about it, but no one knows how to get there." That's what incrementality was for him. So, how close are you feeling to heaven, Gui?

Guilherme Braz: I'm still far.

John Koetsier: No halo yet.

Peggy Anne Salz: Not even at the pearly gates.

Guilherme Braz: Yeah. When we take a look, and like, we still need a multi-touch attribution for, like, the daily decisions that the team makes. And when we see the distance of this attribution to what is, like, let's say the true incrementality, we feel far, and without those complications of user-level data (SOUNDS LIKE: certification) of seasonalities that change the incrementality results, we have still so much room for improvement. We are in our first steps. What I would say is that it pays off to treat the attribution model as a proxy to reality, and not as reality itself because it isn't. So, I think that this is the big takeaway for us in this beginning of the journey is to understand that we use a proxy to reality to operate and challenging it increases your level of knowledge of what is working or what is flawed. And it's a constant iteration of this knowledge either be it in doing the experiments, understanding what is your best estimate of incrementality, but also in updating and improving the attribution model.

John Koetsier: That's a very sophisticated way of looking at it. And I think it's the only way to look at it as you go forward because you are going to still want whatever near real-time optimization signals you can get from attribution tools, whether on iOS, that's SCAD network, whether that's, you know, GAID on Android and eventually Privacy Sandbox and all those other things, whether that's your own in-app signals, which are perhaps most important because you know those. Yeah, that's first-party data, you've got that. And then of course that longer-term stuff, that allocation type data that you're going to get from incrementality. I was going to make a joke earlier because you're saying, "We're not there. It's very complex." It's job security for consultants, you'll never get there. There's no heaven to reach. It's always a journey. And you know what, you're always just trying to find out which dollars am I wasting? It's the age-old question of marketing that has been around for 150 years, Peggy.

Peggy Anne Salz: Absolutely. So, we need to be consultants John, more so than we currently are.

John Koetsier: That's a long distance.

Peggy Anne Salz: Absolutely. But you know, I have to say though, you have to look at Gui's blog because it looks very scientific. You feel so secure when you look at it. There's graphs and it's like, "Yeah, I can do this. I've got this." And I have to ask as a follow-up question, because all the marketers I speak with, and maybe the same for you, John, you know, this is so far out of their comfort zone to get comfortable about working with incomplete data or a proxy for attribution. How do you do that? What do you say to yourself or even your team, because that is a different mindset?

Guilherme Braz: That's definitely a huge challenge because the first time we're going to do it, we have an optimization tool that calculates the bids sends to Google, go to Meta to lift off the updated bids. And then out of a sudden, they're like, "Hey, we're going to have to override the decisions of this black box of ours because we know something that is still not there." So, it generated a lot of questions from the team. And if you think it's like a very counterintuitive because it's so common that the performance marketing teams have as goals, the attributed sales, right? And out of a sudden, we are saying, "Hey, the attributed sales, we're going to slash it by X per cent because it makes sense for the business even though it is against our, let's say goal, the goal that is in everyone's bonus." So, I kept getting the question, I go, "Hey, and the bonus how it's going to be in the end of the year?" I go, "Hey, we do the right thing for the business, so figure this out." So, definitely it takes a lot of attention to change management to make this happen.

John Koetsier: And the Bain consultant comes out right there.

Guilherme Braz: Yeah, my past chases me forever, Joe. I don't know what to do.

John Koetsier: All our pasts face us, especially when we're on video. But Peggy, it was a great question. And the reality is, is that marketers have to abandon... We always knew last-click attribution was fake. We always knew the world was more complex than that. We always knew it wasn't the last touch that... You know, it was the conversation you had that didn't show up electronically, didn't show up digitally, didn't have a trail, no breadcrumbs, right? It was somebody who showed you on the trainer, you peered over somebody's shoulder or something like that. Every decision humans make is complex. It's over-determined. It's got multiple dimensions to it and by just saying, "The last click is everything." That was fake, and we always knew it if we were honest with ourselves. And so, that's still critically important because that is a really important part of the process, but it's only part. And I think that's what we're discovering as we go into media mix modelling and incrementality. Anyways, Gui, we're having a great time. This is wonderful, it's incredible, well it does have to come to an end. You know, you've got a job. Apparently, you have to go back to it. I don't know. I have to do other things, and Peggy has to have her glass of wine and go to bed. She's in Germany and it's late there. What is your... What's that?

Peggy Anne Salz: So, it's not that late. We can still have a little fun, but no, we do have to wrap. We do have to wrap.

John Koetsier: We do have to. Gui, we ask everybody, what is your least censored opinion about mobile marketing?

Guilherme Braz: Well, I think this one that we were talking about to not trust attribution as a source of truth and don't take things for granted. Like, be curious about the underlying processes that are running. Is so easy, like, to be just optimizing whatever number. And for outsiders, everything is so big and hard to understand. So, I would say that it is kind of possible to get away with like, "Hey, I'm doing a great job. I'm optimizing this. I improved it. Whatever." But then when push comes to shovel, like for the business, you're not making a difference. You are just pretending you are doing something, you know, so go to the...

John Koetsier: Exactly.

Guilherme Braz: ...ground truth I think is super important.

John Koetsier: You're creating local maximums, right? In your process, which may not align with what the business actually needs at the end. Final question before Peggy wraps us, give us one tip. If somebody wants to come to Brazil, they want to launch their app there, they want to make a splash, give them one tip.

Guilherme Braz: I think that having localized content and localized ads I think is like a critical if you are to take a nap from elsewhere to Brazil, or to other countries. Like, you have so many specificities. So, localize not only the ad but also the product experience I would say is a must.

John Koetsier: Awesome

Peggy Anne Salz: Gui, this was really not just fun, it was fun, but also a learning experience. We heard about super apps, we learned about your superpowers and something I really appreciate. Hard truths, some tough love about attribution. What do you want more? Great show to wrap. Thanks so much.

Guilherme Braz: Thank you. Thanks a lot for having me.

John Koetsier: Thank you, Gui, have a great day.

Guilherme Braz: 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 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 Salz signing off from Mobile Heroes Uncensored.

Jan 17, 2023

Road Trip Brazil: Winning Mobile in the Land of Samba and Carnival

If the US Postal Service says, “neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds,” we add appendicitis! While one of our guests was having emergency surgery (and is now much better!) We soldiered on with ROAD TRIP BRAZIL.

In this Mobile Heroes Uncensored, we chat with Christian Gaitan, former Performance Lead of Lemon, about entering the Brazilian mobile market.

Christian chats about market demographics and psychographics, as well as the most significant features and challenges of marketing mobile apps in Brazil. 

29 min

John Koetsier: Today is a very exciting day on "Mobile Heroes Uncensored." We're going to the land of the Amazon, the land of Carnival. We're going to Rio, land of Samba, I don't know, maybe a little dancing, and so much more. It's a road trip, of course, we're going to Brazil. It's the fifth largest country in the world, seventh by population with 220 million people. We're going to chat apps, growth, what works in Brazil. Peggy, who's our guest?

Peggy Anne Salz: I love road trips, John, come to think of it.

John Koetsier: Do you love Samba?

Peggy Anne Salz: I do actually. I was trying to get my head around that. That's part of my New Year's resolution. That's my own little secret. Who would've ever thought, right?

John Koetsier: Oh, we need some demo.

Peggy Anne Salz: There you go. You never know what will happen.

John Koetsier: Cool.

Peggy Anne Salz: And we have an exciting guest who is actually working with apps in Brazil, based in Argentina, but I'll get to that in a moment. He's Christian Gaitan, until recently, performance lead at Lemon, the crypto app, bar none, in Argentina, which just expanded to Brazil. And he has more than a decade of experience in digital marketing. He has rubbed shoulders with a slew of media agency companies, executing branding and performance strategies for consumer goods, retail, and automotive companies. And the last two years saw him work with a roster of impressive apps, including Cabify, Etermax, great gaming app, and Ripio. His colleagues, John, say that, and I quote, "Having him on your team is a guarantee of results and commitment."

John Koetsier: Wow.

Peggy Anne Salz: No pressure there, maybe having him on our show.

John Koetsier: Guaranteed, holy cow, hire this man.

Peggy Anne Salz: Hire this man. He's on our show, he's going to crush it, John. We'll leave it to Christian.

Christian Gaitan: Hello, guys. And don't believe on those guys that I'm saying that.

John Koetsier: We believe every word they say. We believe everything they've said. So sorry. We have to say off the top here that we didn't just plan to do a show on Brazil with somebody who works in Brazil but is in Argentina. We also had a Brazilian, but he had a very good excuse. He had acute appendicitis and was just having his appendix taken out just a couple days ago. So we'll get him in as well. I mean, we'll, you know, extend the road trip. That can't be bad, right? We'll go to Rio twice. I'd sign up for that. Anyways, we're super happy to have Christian here, you know, and have to start here. Obviously, a lot of your work, maybe almost all your work is in Brazil, but you are Argentinian. The World Cup just happened. Congratulations. It must have been insane.

Christian Gaitan: Yeah. Thank you very much. Thank you very much. I have to say, I was expecting Pedro to be here today because even though I'm very happy about the World Cup winning, I have a lot of respect about Brazil. I mean, they are the most World Cups winning in the history of football. So they are a great national team too. Yeah.

John Koetsier: No question. No question. Absolutely.

Peggy Anne Salz: So staying with the numbers, not just the number of trophies, but Brazil by the numbers, right? Offers eye watering opportunities if you take a look at it, despite a recession, right? Total app revenue crossed the 3 billion mark last year, and that number is set to surpass 4 billion by 2026. So, in addition to insane growth, how would you describe the market conditions there for marketers?

Christian Gaitan: Yeah, actually, I truly believe that Brazil as a market represents a huge opportunity, especially for apps. I had the chance to visit the country a few times during the past year. And actually, I got surprised about how Brazilians have adopted technology and how they manage almost everything through an app. So, based on that, based on the size of the country, yeah, I definitely believe that it's a market that represents a huge opportunity for the brands. Yeah.

John Koetsier: That's really interesting what you just said there, Christian, because what that reminds me of is China, right? You said manage everything through an app, right? You go to China and you pay for your meal on your mobile, you go to China and you order something on your mobile and you do everything. Is that sort of similar to how you feel in Brazil?

Christian Gaitan: Yeah, totally. And actually, it was kind of surprising for me because again, I'm here in Argentina, we are really close to Brazil, but here things works completely different. I mean, they are really far away from us in terms of technology adoption. And actually, for me, it was the same. I mean, I did everything through my phone using different apps, even the Airbnb booking, and I didn't interact with any human, you know, it was everything through WhatsApp. And I got a code to enter the room. So, yeah, again, it's really easy to use technology to do whatever you want.

John Koetsier: So that's a good place. A good segue, actually, talking about interacting with humans or not. I mean, user acquisition, like all marketing starts with knowing your audience, knowing who's using the app, or who could use the app or who would want to, right? Talk about Brazilian users. We know they're passionate about soccer. What differentiates people in Brazil and their use of mobile and what they're most interested in versus maybe other people in the world?

Christian Gaitan: Yeah, that's a good point actually. You know, one of the first things that we realised when we started to analyse the competitors that we have at Lemon, was that all of them were using the football as a hook, you know. Not only in terms of ads or doing partnerships with football teams or players, but also, they adopted football and using it with their product, you know, to align or try to align with football and how passionate the Brazilians are about it. Actually, something that surprised us the most was that fun tokens, for example, were in the top one or three of the most buyer tokens in the market. So, I believe that that gives you an image about how passionate Brazilians are about football. Yeah.

John Koetsier: What's some of the biggest misconceptions about mobile app users in Brazil?

Christian Gaitan: Okay, so I believe that the biggest mistake you can commit is to considering that you can communicate the same way you are doing it in any other country in the region. I mean, Brazilians speaks a completely different language for a start, you know. Also, the culture, it's completely different from other countries in LatAm. You spoke about Samba, about everything that happens in Rio and so on. And also, the country, it's so big and they have many people. So, there is a lot of diversity. You can't speak the same way to someone from the south or the north. You can't speak the same way to someone that is in Rio that what you are doing to speak with someone in Sao Paulo, for example. And it's really important to get that and consider it when you are building a marketing plan to try to sell a product in Brazil, you know.

John Koetsier: Peggy, that's such a good point. You know, I was smiling when Christian was talking about that because I was imagining like a marketer coming into the U.S. from another part of the world and having the same campaign in Manhattan and Arkansas, right? You know, just totally different people, different cultures, different language, all that stuff, right? And yet, you know, if we go and we look at some other country, whether that's Brazil or whether that's, I don't know, whatever, Germany or England, we think, oh, well, it's England. It's a thing. It's a unified whole, right? And it's just so different in reality.

Peggy Anne Salz: Then that other thing that gets me is the soccer hook, right? The football, sorry. We call it soccer here. The soccer hook. I mean, that's not a small point. That's a passion. That motivates purchasing decisions. That motivates, you know, app installs and loyalty. I'm just curious because I have to understand what you did at Lemon that hooks back into football. Did you manage to hook into the hook?

Christian Gaitan: Yeah. Actually, Lemon, it's not a brand very related to football, but when you land in a country as Brazil, that, again, it's really passionate about football. And the same here in Argentina. I mean, when we were closer to the World Cup, we understood that we need to do something related to the World Cup, you know. I mean, even though we are not a football brand, we can't not speak about the World Cup because we are in Argentina and we are trying to learn in Brazil again. So, in Brazil was more focused on, again, try to list all those football tokens of the different football teams such as Flamengo, Sao Paulo, that again, we realised that were some of the most buy from the users. But again, we realised that we had the need to adapt our product to the culture, to the country, to the customer behaviour that was more related to buy something like a fan token from Flamengo and not maybe a Bitcoin or Ethereum or whatever, you know.

John Koetsier: It's interesting. I'll put this to both of you, Peggy and to Christian, because when I hear something like that, then I think a couple things, right? One, if everybody and every marketer goes after the football, football, soccer, soccer thing, then it's not differentiated. And you might as well try something totally different and it might stand out just because it is. The other is, when there's so much flow in one direction, there's got to be a counterflow. Are there people that hate football or hate soccer in Brazil? Is it maybe a tiny percentage, you know? And you'd have an ad like football sucks, doesn't it? And maybe I don't get a lot of hate, but maybe get something going. I don't know. Am I crazy, Christian?

Christian Gaitan: No, no, no. You are totally correct. Yeah, I mean, it's tricky because you probably know that the users that you are trying to reach has completely different interests. So it's difficult sometimes to cover all that, but again, when you talk about the countries, especially South American countries, it's really important to understand what they really like and to get stick to that and communicate it something related to that. Yeah.

John Koetsier: I agree.

Peggy Anne Salz: It's a great segue to how to reach people because it's a young demographic. The market is very diverse in Brazil, very young demographic. Now, in your mobile heroes blog that you have and Pedro had as well, interestingly, both of you are really bullish about Google and Meta, you say both are a must, but what are the other channels that are effective, and maybe even overlooked in that region when it comes to reaching and engaging audiences?

Christian Gaitan: Yeah. Well, as you say, it is a young demographic, and consumer habits have been changing during the past years. Most of them spend a lot of time on entertainment platforms, especially those of short-form video such as TikTok or Kwai. Maybe Kwai, it's not a popular app all over the globe, but it has a really big community in Brazil. So in my experience, I had really good results working with those two platforms. Actually, I have to say that for me, TikTok is already a must in every media plan. But again, as I was saying before, Kwai has a big community in Brazil, so it's also a really interesting platform to try there. But aside from that, I also had really good results with programmatic platforms such as Liftoff, for example, and another kind of platforms that offer on-device media.

And I believe that this is also interesting and it's also related, what we were saying before about the size of the country, about how many people live in Brazil that was running campaigns on Xiaomi, for example, that it's a, yeah, cell phones developer that maybe here in Argentina or in another countries from the region doesn't have many penetration, but in Brazil, it's insane how many Xiaomi cell phones or smartphones are sell. So it's also a good opportunity to run those campaigns on on-device media from Xiaomi because you could have also really good results there. Yeah.

John Koetsier: And just to be sure that I understand what you're talking about there, you're talking about basically OEM platforms, and they have a lock screen ad that they sell, or they have a home screen type of ad that they sell, those sorts of things?

Christian Gaitan: Exactly.

John Koetsier: Cool. Very, very interesting. Something that I've heard about more and more, and, of course, Brazil, I'm guessing it's 90%, 95% Android. I haven't recently checked the stats there. Is that accurate?

Christian Gaitan: Yeah, that's completely accurate. Yeah.

John Koetsier: Yeah. Now, one thing you talked about is using short-form video. Of course, that's taken the entire world by storm. Brazil is not unique in that. But you've mentioned to Peggy in the prep chat about social proof and its importance to Brazil's audience. Talk about that and maybe how you use that with maybe short-form video platforms.

Christian Gaitan: Well, definitely on TikTok, what we did was based on social proof, you know. We hired two content creators, and everything, what we did on the platform was focused on that. Especially trying to explain to users how the app works, and how can they register account, how can they buy crypto, how can they ask for the prepaid card or whatever? But yes, I mean, aside from that, because I believe that the social proof is not only related with media. Something that we used to do at Lemon was to care a lot about the user experience because I believe that if you care about the users, if you make sure that they are having the best experience and you prove that you are there for them anytime that they need you, the most probably thing that it's going to happen it's that they are going to recommend the app to their families or friends, for example.

And that starts a social viral loop that can help you to grow organically, you know. So that way, you don't need to think about the social proof on media that it's also important, but also, again, you are not going to need to spend so much money to grow if you are doing things well, and if you care about the users that you start to acquire. But also another thing that we used to care a lot were that there are use of the app in the stores. I mean, every time that someone's download an app for the first time, probably the first thing that they do it's to check the reviews and see how was the experience from another users. In the same way, I think that as users, and most of the time, our social proof starts by looking at the comments on the stores and the social media accounts from day one, to try to understand what they are downloading, what they are going to find once they download the app, and how it was experienced from people like you that it's trying to find the same solutions or similar products in the market.

Peggy Anne Salz: So it's about making certain that there's social proof, people are recommending the app, talking about it, that's great, but at the end of the day, it also means that you have built a relationship, you know, you've cemented trust with the audience. They like what they have, they're going to tell everyone about it. But you have a crypto app, Chris, and, of course we have schemes like FTX, they just took their toll. It'll get better. Always an optimist, but it's now going to be more important, even harder than ever to show your app is legit, not a scam. This is good. This is not something that we need to be thinking about or over-engineering. It's an app. It does what it says on the can, so to speak. How do you approach this? How do you make your users...I wouldn't say make them trust you, but how do you approach this to get that message across?

Christian Gaitan: Yeah, I agree 100% with you, Peggy. I believe that nowadays trust is everything, especially for crypto apps. And in fact, after what happened with FTX, not only Lemon, but many other crypto platforms decided to show their proof of funds in an effort to become more transparent with the users and assure them that their savings were safe, you know. As you were saying, trust has become a very important component of the industry. Again, especially for crypto, after everything that happened, not only with FTX, I mean, I believe that 2022 was a tough year for the whole industry. I believe that trust, it's really important, but again, not only for crypto, but for any business. And yes, it's also really connected with all the social proof that we were discussing before. Building communities around the product, it's key. So, build those communities from trust. It's fundamental.

John Koetsier: Let's hit creative a little bit. Brazil has a very defined aesthetic, let's put it that way, right? There are certain colours that we think of when we think of Brazil. There's a certain flamboyancy that we think of when we think of Carnival, right? And other things like that. What are you doing and how are you changing creative as you approach the Brazilian market?

Christian Gaitan: That was a really, really big challenge. I mean, the advantage that we had at Lemon was that probably all those colours that you were talking about are very related with our brand and the lemon, you know. The lemon is yellow and it's part from the Brazilian flag. But again, going back to the beginning, something that we understood is that we can't speak the same way to all the Brazilian population. So, basically, what we tried to do was to test different designs, different colours, different type of messages. Some of them more direct than the others, but yes, we are still trying to figure it out, but it's the best way to communicate. Something that we realise is that it's not enough to copy paste what we were doing in Argentina, again, as I said before, but also, we understand that we need to test, we need to iterate, and we need to find the right way to communicate to everyone in the country. Yeah.

Peggy Anne Salz: And yellow helps, right?

Christian Gaitan: And yellow helps. Yeah.

Peggy Anne Salz: Yellow helps. That'll nail it. That gets the attention.

Christian Gaitan: Yeah, totally.

Peggy Anne Salz: You do a lot of creative testing and you're looking at what works, but all of that optimisation is pretty much left to algorithms, but privacy rules are changing what optimisation algorithms can do. Now, you in your blog, you suggest a shift toward contextual clues. That sounds exciting. I'm just watching the "Glass Onion." Contextual clues is underway. What is this shift? What do you mean by this? Why is this so important?

Christian Gaitan: Something that I realise is that platforms are changing. Also, what you mentioned, it's also relevant. I mean, all the privacy rules and the data that you may have to optimise those campaigns to create audiences, to segment those campaigns and to target users. Platforms are changing, and nowadays most of them, even though, I mean, the most popular ones that are Google and Meta are changing the way that they optimise and they give all the power to the algorithm. And at the end, the only, or the best way that you have to optimise your campaigns, it's based on the creatives, based on the ads. Because when you look at the way to set up a campaign or when you talk with someone from Meta or Google, the recommendation, it's always, let the algorithm work, let the algorithm learn and start optimising the campaigns towards the goals that you are looking for. So, in the meantime, what you can do. It's, again, I believe that the only thing that you can do is to improve all the design part, the creatives that you are using maybe to do an A/B test or whatever, but again, I believe it's the only way that you have nowadays to optimise your campaigns considering all that automatisation of the platforms. Yeah.

John Koetsier: It's pretty funny. Hey, I mean, what can I do? You ask Meta. You ask Google. Feed more money into the machine. Feed more money into the machine. The machine works smarter. The machine will figure it out. We won't tell you why. We won't tell you how. It just will. Trust us. It'll all work out. Well, you do have the flexibility of adjusting the creative. That's great. You also have the ability to decide where you spend your dollars. So that's also great. Well, we've got to end this pretty soon. So we're going to ask the question we ask everybody on "Mobile Heroes Uncensored," which is, what is your least censored opinion about mobile and marketing?

Christian Gaitan: I will say, come on guys, we are already in 2023, demand transparency. I know that probably for our time, partners already build all the major solutions that are available and you are using them. So, media companies can change their names, their business models, or their approach to you by LinkedIn, but at the end, there are no wizards, there are no gurus or magic recipes. It's already invented, and you know which platform works, and it's all based on test, on iterate, and find what really, really, really works.

John Koetsier: I really like to find some wizards and gurus, but, you know, you're right. You do have to test and learn and all that stuff. I get it. Talk to marketers who are thinking about entering Brazil in 2023, what would your top tips be for them?

Christian Gaitan: First of all, and I mean, it can sound an easy one, but not everyone keep it in mind. Validate your product market fit. Maybe you have a product that works really well in a country from the same region, but again, Brazil, it's a completely different history. So again, validate your product market fit. Really understand who your customer is and what their habits are, because again, it's a huge country with a lot of people, with a lot of diversity. So, you will need to understand really well who are you talking with and how. And finally, go big or go home. Again, it's a huge challenge.

Peggy Anne Salz: Just putting that together here between all of the other key takeaways here, John. We know that you need to be loud and interesting creatives in Brazil. Big passion. Love the tips on the social media networks. I didn't know that one before. And there are no wizards, John.

John Koetsier: Come on. Come on. Did you look behind the curtain? Did you?

Peggy Anne Salz: I'm blown away. I was thinking there was someone behind the curtain to this day, but no, not in 2023. Christian has opened our eyes to the truth. Christian, thanks so much for sharing, especially the tips for other marketers when they want to enter Brazil. It's been great.

Christian Gaitan: Thanks to you guys. Peggy, John, it was great to meet you and being here with you guys. Thank you.

John Koetsier: Thank you.

Dec 28, 2022

Global Mobile Trends and Economic Indicators, With Groupm’s Global Director of Business Intelligence

How will massive global trends in advertising impact mobile apps and games? In this Mobile Heroes Uncensored, we chat with GroupM global director Kate Scott-Dawkins.

This is not like other Mobile Heroes Uncensored sessions. In addition to being a former United States Archery Team member, Kate is a big thinker with access to huge amounts of data. She’s currently tracking 62 markets: 31 downgraded, 21 upgraded, and 10 stayed the same. But as the global economic outlook suffers, the digital advertising ecosystem is being impacted, she says. 

The good news: it’s still growing. The bad news: it’s not growing quite as fast.

We chat about retail media, ad spend, mobile economies, and how marketers and app publishers should think about changing opportunities in 2023.

29 min

Kate Scott-Dawkins: If you're looking at our number in the report, it's $111 billion of ad revenue this year for retail media. And importantly, we don't include service providers in that list. So, we actually don't include, at this moment, Uber and DoorDash, and any of the travel booking sites. Those are service providers rather than goods providers. But you then realize if you do include folks like Uber and DoorDash, that number gets even bigger.

John Koetsier: What does the future hold for mobile and marketing, advertising, user acquisition, all that stuff in 2023 and beyond? Welcome to "Mobile Heroes Uncensored." My name is John Koetsier. Our co-host, of course, as always, is Peggy Anne Salz. And guess what? We all want to know the future. Join the club. We do. We've had a crazy couple of years with ATT and iOS. We know privacy sandbox is coming. We'd like everything to just kind of settle down and get a little easier. But guess what? It's probably going to be crazier. Today, we're chatting with somebody who spends all day working on trends, forecasts, peering into crystal balls, looking at big data and trying to understand where the puck is going. Peggy, who is that? Who are we chatting with?

Peggy Anne Salz: Well, we've got someone who's doing that all the time and it's in tons of research and reports. We have Kate Scott-Dawkins. She is Global Director of Business Intelligence at GroupM. Of course, GroupM is where she contributes thought leadership around economic trends, forecasts, and an industry analysis that we'll be getting to as well. GroupM, in case you didn't know it, but, of course, you do, John, but some people don't, I didn't know the number, world's leading media investment company that I knew, responsible for more than $113 billion in annual media investment, that I didn't know. That is huge.

John Koetsier: That's a large number.

Peggy Anne Salz: That is huge. So, Kate is responsible for producing valuable content to drive better outcomes for clients and form the larger media and advertising community as a whole, and be here on our show, and do it. Now, she lives and works at the intersection of advertising, technology, AI, and creativity, and perhaps best known for the reports she has co-authored, including "This Year, Next Year" global advertising forecasts, "The Next 10," which examines all the technologies and media behaviors shaping the future of marketing. Prior to her career in advertising, Kate was a member, you ready, of the United States Archery Team and a resident athlete in the U.S. So, I can't resist it. You know her trends are going to hit a bullseye, John.

John Koetsier: Terrible. I knew it was nothing. I knew the fun had to be in there somewhere.

Peggy Anne Salz: I was thinking of this, John. Welcome, Kate. Great to have you.

John Koetsier: Welcome, Kate.

Kate Scott-Dawkins: Thank you so much. Thank you. Yeah, there's got to be some kind of joke in terms of always trying to get it right in terms of either the target or the forecast, but yeah.

Peggy Anne Salz: There you go.

John Koetsier: Exactly. They say aeroplanes, they get where they're going but they're off course 90% of the time, right? Maybe the same is true for forecast, who knows? Kate, we were talking in intro about how the future might just be getting crazier. And all the talk this week, the week that we're recording, is about Digital Markets Act in Europe and potential additional third-party app stores. We know Epic, the company behind Fortnight wants to do this, and probably some others as well. Any interesting thoughts there?

Kate Scott-Dawkins: Yeah, I mean, I think governments are going to be a bit caught or there's a bit of a push and pull between wanting to open up competition. But also they have in the past relied or wanted to rely on the ability to just work with two companies in terms of if there is an app that presents the security risk. It's a lot easier to get…

John Koetsier: One place to kill it, I think.

Kate Scott-Dawkins: Exactly. Two stores to remove it from. I think there's going to continue to be tension around that in the future. You know, they also have an interest in protecting consumers from potential malevolent acts. And so there's going to be a lot of due diligence on anyone who's offering the app source to the public, I think.

Peggy Anne Salz: So not a slam dunk is what it is.

Kate Scott-Dawkins: Are there any true slam dunks in life?

John Koetsier: Probably not.

Peggy Anne Salz: Indeed not. Well, I have to go back to what I thought was amazing. Even without the pun, you know, archery to amazing research. That is not the usual career path. That is certainly a different trajectory altogether. I want to understand, what sparked that shift in your thinking and in your career path, Kate?

Kate Scott-Dawkins: I guess interesting, I was maybe slightly rare in that I left high school here in the U.S. saying I was going to go into international marketing. That was the long-term plan. Archery was a wonderful detour. I actually only picked it up my freshman year in college and then won the College National Championships in my junior and senior year. So, it was a quick progression. And I think the same thing now for forecasting has been across the group of networks for a long time, but I really found and fell in love with it over the last couple of years. And it's been a real whirlwind getting to author "This Year, Next Year" now, and moving forward on that path. So, start something and get into it and really dive deep.

Peggy Anne Salz: I have to ask if you ace it all the time, Kate. I wouldn't want to always be the one to give the forecast. It probably happens to you, too, John. You say something, and then next year, someone will say, "Well, isn't this what you said last year?"

John Koetsier: Nobody looks back, Peggy. Nobody looks back. Nobody notices.

Peggy Anne Salz: I've seen some people do that on occasion but maybe that's just a few people I know who just want to hold it over you.

Kate Scott-Dawkins: Forecast early and forecast often, you know. The best thing is you always get to redo the forecasts. We constantly are updating our view. We did that this year with so much macroeconomic change happening. Yeah, we’ve tracked 62 markets very closely. Thirty-one of those actually downgraded their estimates from the June forecast, 21 upgraded, and 10 stayed the same. So, we're constantly all of us I think in this industry watching change and re-forecasting as we go.

John Koetsier: Talk about your global end-of-the-year forecast. You're saying it's rosier than expected but not great. What does that mean?

Kate Scott-Dawkins: Yeah, I think the words we use there forward cautious optimism. So, we are expecting 6.5% global advertising growth for this year. That is a nominal figure. I mean, we're not adjusting for inflation. So, if you're looking at it, say, against the IMS expectations for global inflation, it does relate to a slight decline in terms of real growth. So, you know, it's not altogether rosy as you said. But I think there are elements of what we've seen in the current economic landscape that point to our base case, which is not a deep and prolonged recession globally. We're still seeing… Well, we're starting to see inflation numbers come down. We saw that in the U.S. and the UK this week. We've seen a reduction in the interest rate rises in both of those markets as well. And we're continuing, especially in the U.S. and lots of other markets around the world to see low unemployment numbers, which means that consumers are, for the most part, relatively stable in their employment positions, although there are, of course, especially in the UK now with industrial action, those who are still looking for better wage increases that keep up with inflation. But for the most part, low unemployment, continued retail sales with consumers, you know, footing, for now, some of the price increases that have come along with inflation.

John Koetsier: I'm a little surprised to hear that there's at least nominal growth in advertising, given all the bad news that we've heard. The other thought that I had as I was listening to you was that while there's nominal growth across the board in advertising, my guess is digital is probably still a little bit out, and there are probably pockets within that that are up significantly above the mean. I'm guessing mobile is there and I'm guessing CTV or smart TV, connected TV streaming is one of those. Am I correct?

Kate Scott-Dawkins: Yeah, absolutely. Digital continues to be an outperformer, I guess, versus something like linear TV globally. We're affecting 9.3% growth for digital globally, 11.5% if we exclude China from that analysis, China having a bit of a rough year. We're actually forecasting negative 0.6% for China this year, off the back of the lockdowns and zero COVID policy there this year, although we're expecting that markets return to growth next year. But looking at digital, there certainly has been a lot of news and headlines around, you know, the end of an era for big tech or around the layoffs that are happening. It's important to note that even Meta which has reported a decline in revenue on a constant currency basis, that was still growth. You know, Amazon's third-quarter results were plus 30% on a constant currency basis, which is huge. Microsoft on a constant currency basis was plus 21%. So, we are still seeing growth, especially among this digital sector. And you're right, within that group, we see CTV growing faster than the average, and also retail media as a big growing component, and one that we broke out in our forecast for the first time this year.

John Koetsier: Smart.

Peggy Anne Salz: It's all very positive, but there is some deceleration, not the same as decline, right? But the whole idea is that the advertising industry, as you put it in the report, is in a reasonably healthy position, which is great, great news. But what about the great opportunities? What are they on the horizon? Where do you see the biggest opportunities in a market that is, yeah, healthy? Great.

Kate Scott-Dawkins: Yeah, I mean, it is a mature market. So, we have, interestingly, over the past six, seven, eight years seen advertising revenue grow actually faster in most years than GDT. It's lost some of the correlation that I think a lot of people assume the industry has with overall GDP growth. And some of that's come from several secular drivers that we talk about. One of those is the prevalence of, especially Chinese advertising spend overseas. So, that's one of those elements that I think has been essentially in distress this year or under duress this year. We'll see if that comes back next year.

Another one has actually been digital endemics. So, these are companies, and a lot of them are mobile-first companies, you know, travel booking sites, anyone that has a business that is primarily online. You can think of the dating apps in this group, mobile gaming companies, the FinTech companies are in this group. And they've really been sort of outsize fenders on advertising. So, we look at their advertising expense as a percent of revenue. Sometimes that's 50%, 60%, some quarters over 100%. And this was sort of possible. This grow at all costs was possible when the cost of capital was zero, when interest rates were near zero. And so this near stage, not so anymore.

And this is one of those areas where we have seen that deceleration happen for some groups of these digital endemics actually decline amongst e-commerce companies, in particular, will finish kitting out their home offices and their home gyms. They sort of shifted back. There had been this shift during the pandemic to buying goods instead of services. We've now shifted back into where consumers are spending more on services than they are on goods.

And so that's seen a deceleration for some of these advertisers that were spending quite heavily across digital and, in some cases, even on linear TV as their budgets grew enough. So, that's one of those elements where we have seen deceleration. I think what we're looking for in terms of opportunity going forward is which of those sectors or companies come back into advertising more heavily or whether really that group is maturing and we're going to see that slowdown as a secular driver of advertising growth.

John Koetsier: Wow, I'm feeling so technical here, Peggy, it's great. Secular growth and nominal rates and currencies and everything. It really is great, Kate. This is awesome. This is a different perspective than we typically look at, and it's relevant, right? We're mostly focused on mobile advertising, mobile growth, mobile user acquisition. That's part of the overall economy, and it's dependent on the overall economy where people are putting dollars. You mentioned retail media a couple of sentences back, maybe a couple of minutes back. Talk about retail media a little bit. It's a relatively new phenomenon, and we can trace it back into the '70s really with, like, in supermarket-type, you know, ads or something like that in the buggy as you're walking down the aisle or so. But it's a relatively new phenomenon in the digital world and it's growing so fast. There are so many different retail media networks. Maybe talk a little bit about what it is and where you see the growth there.

Kate Scott-Dawkins: Yeah. Certainly, have been hearing more and more from clients who have interest in this sector recently. And it really has exploded in terms of the revenue growth we've been seeing. So, our definition of retail media and you've got plenty of folks who will draw a wider bucket around commerce media, but our definition of retail media is really looking at this new category of ads, sellers, the retailers themselves. So, this includes the giants like Amazon, the Chinese companies like Alibaba and and Pinduoduo, and then your Walmarts, and Targets, and Carrefours, and Tescos, and Sainsbury's. The list goes on.

But think, you know, supermarkets, think big box stores like Best Buy, many of them are now spinning up their own retail media networks, many of them partner with companies to help them build out that offering for manufacturers, and many of them are now also looking beyond sort of what you would think of as the traditional CPG clients into what we would call non-endemic retail media buyers, maybe a travel company that wants to show an ad against a luggage purchased or something like that.

And so we've seen, again, a lot of interest, a lot of spending growth there, Amazon certainly being one of the most sophisticated in this in terms of being able to translate their gross merchandise value or volume, their GMV into advertising revenue. But we're seeing many others devotes attention of really a higher margin revenue line than retail.

John Koetsier: Absolutely, I mean, we're seeing DoorDash, Uber, we're seeing lots of different places do it right. Tripadvisor I think was doing one. I mean, just what anybody who has assembled kind of an audience kind of a customer base that are using their product or service for a period of time and there's different things that can be complimentary purchases around it or additional purchases, super interesting stuff.

Kate Scott-Dawkins: I will clarify, just really quickly, if you're looking at our number in the report, it's $111 billion of ad revenue this year for retail media. And importantly, we don't include service providers in that list. So, we actually don't include at this moment Uber, and DoorDash, and any of the travel booking sites. Those are service providers rather than goods providers. But you then realise if you do include folks like Uber and DoorDash, that number gets even bigger.

John Koetsier: That is massive. I had no idea, Peggy.

Peggy Anne Salz: No, I didn't. I mean, I've been seeing a lot of this. I went to Mexico here in Europe. It's like the ad show, advertising show, and it was astounding, you know. There were companies like Auto, which is the Amazon of Europe, there was Aldi, and Lidl and these mega supermarkets, and you talked to them and they were like, "Next year, we're going to build a network." That's all they have on their mind. So, I could see something here, and, you know, they have, like, billions to throw at this. So, it's like, "Yeah, we're going to be the Amazon of Eastern Europe because Amazon isn't that big in Eastern Europe, so we're going to do it." So, there is a lot of opportunity. I'm curious what this means for marketers spending choices because it's like, yeah, I can look at channels but, hey, I can look at these networks, too. So, what are you seeing? How do you see that dynamic playing out?

Kate Scott-Dawkins: Yeah. I think when we look at sort of the traditional manufacturers that are present in these retail stores already, right, they have relationships with many of these retailers already. There is growing conversation across what were traditionally maybe the trade teams or the wholesale teams that had arrangements for collaboration or advertising with these retailers, and then the media arms of these manufacturers who are now maybe being asked to spend on the retail media networks. And so when that happens where those budgets shift to and from, I think it's a constant conversation among those manufacturers, and advertisers now think that opportunity for more of these non-endemic or, you know, non-manufacturers. That's still a growing opportunity, but I think quite small for now. So, we'll see folks lean into that as well in the future.

John Koetsier: Oh, it must be challenging also to get all the data from all these. And, I mean, that's on just doing the stats, understanding the ecosystem thing because either inside companies or, like, startups within an existing company, so that must be a little bit challenging. But you see so much spin that probably gives you a good overview. Want to turn the conversation to TikTok. It's one of the few major ad players, ad networks, so we can call it that way, platforms that has grown ad spend this year. What are you seeing there? Do you see that rate of growth continuing or decreasing?

Kate Scott-Dawkins: Yeah, I think important to point out, we did see growth overall in digital, so Google, Meta, Microsoft, Amazon. While things have decelerated, they certainly were still positive growth. Through that, TikTok may have done a bit better about that from a smaller base. So, if we look at TikTok as separate from ByteDance, you know, probably roughly doubling or a little bit better than doubling this year in terms of revenue, and it continues to be of interest for brands I think especially as we see what used to be really a cultural conversation that happened on linear TV where people tuned in for, you know, can't miss shows or moments on TV and ads linear TV starts to erode from that position of cultural tentpole moments. I think some brands are looking elsewhere where the cultural conversation is happening, especially as younger audiences move off of linear TV, and I think that's driven some of those conversations and interest. And, of course, there's realisation of the security concerns that have been raised around TikTok. And so that remains part of the conversation as well with brands and advertisers.

Peggy Anne Salz: So, it has escaped the worst of the economic ad slowdown. But you're also bullish about the Chinese ad market growing, you know, coming back. How much growth do you see? How much of growth do you expect?

Kate Scott-Dawkins: Yeah, so our forecasts right now call for a slight decline this year, and then a rebound to positive 6.3% in China for 2023. And that, you know, is a forecast. We have to see how things play out. Certainly been hearing over the last week or so about openings in that markets and relaxing, basically, some of the zero COVID restrictions that have really been at play this year and led to some of the decline that we saw. We're also certainly hearing from colleagues around efforts from the government to boost economic growth next year, and so that's driving the perspective that we're going to see continued growth. So, yes, I guess we're, you know, optimistic in that sense of return to growth in China.

Peggy Anne Salz: I like that we are ending in a bit of an optimistic note because you have one statement I thought it was great. It was basically about how to make peace with yourself and with the numbers. You know, it's like if marketers can recognise that exceptional ad spend growth in 2021 was an anomaly, then they can accept the numbers and view them as normalised growth rates and go with the flow. Keeping that in mind, what should they be doing to see this as a glass half empty or a glass half full? What inspiring words can you give us to say, ''Yes, you know, accept this, this is good, and it's all going to go out well in the end?''

Kate Scott-Dawkins: Yeah, I think one of the interesting things we do as data geeks and looking at the numbers, right, is trying to make sense of trends on maybe a longer timeline. One of the tools that can be really useful for that is looking at growth over several years on what's called a compound annual growth rate basis, right? So, you're looking at a trend over three years, and then knocking that into what would it have equalled each year if it was even across those years? We did that looking at 2019 to 2022, basically trying to strip out some of the volatility that has happened as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. On that three-year basis, the overall advertising growth was about 8.7%, 8.8%, exactly the same as it was for 2016 to 2019. So, you're really looking at, on a longer timescale, a very regular march of growth over those last six years.

John Koetsier: This is exactly the analysis that Shopify had provided. They had a chart that I really loved. I shared it with you, Peggy, where you've got e-commerce going like this, and then like that, and then back up, and they showed it sort of smooths over the years of the growth spread. And it's general upward trends. That makes a ton of sense. We typically end with kind of two set of the same questions. And this one, you know, you're not a traditional in the mobile marketing space, but I'm going to ask anyway so we'll see what you got. What is your least censored opinion about mobile and marketing?

Kate Scott-Dawkins: That's a good one. I have been watching with interest some of the regulatory moves and appetites across the EU, the UK, and the U.S. There's certainly been a lot of interest in the idea of super apps, watching how that's evolved in China with WeChat and others. And so I guess my sort of contrarian view at the moment would be whether that model is going to be possible going forward in markets where there seems to be less of an appetite for centralizing control of services in a given company.

John Koetsier: I like that. I really like that. Everybody wants to be the super app. Nobody wants anybody else to be the super app. I kind of wonder if sometime in the near future Google Assistant and Siri might be the super app, but who knows? Maybe that's just me. The second question we ask everybody is your top tips for marketers heading into 2023.

Kate Scott-Dawkins: That's a good one. I think the biggest thing, what I've been talking to clients about internally as well is whether there's an opportunity or a need to rethink some of the foundational tenants around region frequency being the go-to for marketers, especially as we enter a period where reach on platforms like linear TV is going to be increasingly hard, especially in markets like the U.S. where we see pay-TV penetration declining rapidly, and it's following suit in other markets, even strongholds across Central and Eastern Europe. That trend is continuing in markets that are heavily pay TV focused. So, I think, yeah, reimagining whether region frequency are still the starting place and how to meet your reach goals on other places or beyond the linear TV space.

John Koetsier: Super interesting to hear from the opposite side a little bit, Peggy, because typically, we're talking to performance marketers, and clearly, Kate is more dealing with brand marketers, and we're seeing performance marketers move more towards brand, we're seeing brand marketers move more towards performance, which I think is part of our thesis, Peggy, that brand and performance are pretty much the same thing. They're just different aspects, but I'll leave it to you.

Peggy Anne Salz: Different things, different KPIs. It was very interesting, though, to have your perspective on this, Kate, I have to say, especially the last point about reach and frequency. That's something we're going to have to take with us, John, because that's a framework. That's the tenet, right? That's the foundation of everything, and she has, in a very interesting way, bring that into focus and into question. So, it may be a very, very interesting 2023. I want to thank you for sharing, Kate, for bringing your thoughts, yeah, and challenging us as well with some hard data, hard facts.

John Koetsier: And she just spelt some off like she's done a little memorise, too. This is insane. What is going on up top there in that brain is like Eastern Europe is 21%, and this little is 10%.

Peggy Anne Salz: Amazing. Amazing.

John Koetsier: Thank you.

Kate Scott-Dawkins: Spent a lot of time with the numbers. That was great. Thank you so much for having me. I really enjoyed the conversation and, hopefully, we can do it again.

John Koetsier: And thank you to all listeners. We really do appreciate you and 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 Salz signing off for "Mobile Heroes Uncensored."

Dec 21, 2022

CTV Ad Spending To Outgrow Social: Chatting With M&C Saatchi Performance’s Jonathan Yantz

How big will streaming TV be for mobile user acquisition in 2023? In this Mobile Heroes Uncensored, we chat with M&C Saatchi Performance managing partner Jonathan Yantz. Our focus: will streaming TV, connected TV, smart TV be a great place to run ads in 2023?

CTV is one of the fastest growing ad markets. But it’s fragmented into multiple platforms and multiple services on each platform. How do you address it? How do you measure it? How do you design for it?

We chat about this and many more questions as hosts John Koetsier and Peggy Anne Salz dive into CTV with Jonathan Yantz.

32 min

Jonathan Yantz: That's part of the beauty of this over-linear, especially programmatically, you can understand where you're serving. And I’d almost go back to the performance marketer in me who's like, "Let the data lead you," to be honest. I mean, maybe you specifically it's not working. Maybe for someone else, it is. And so in aggregate starting to see those trends of, okay, when I'm serving on these sports highlight clips, I am getting such a lower conversion rate.

John Koetsier: How big will streaming TV be for mobile user acquisition and all other kinds of marketing in 2023? Hello, and welcome to "Mobile Heroes Uncensored." My name is John Koetsier. Our co-host, of course, is Peggy Anne Salz. And today we're chatting about connected TV, streaming TV, over-the-top, OTT, whatever you want to call it, and however it's actually delivered. We’re watching more and more non-traditional TV on the big screens on our walls, as well as the small screens in our ends. What are the opportunities for mobile marketers here? A lot of it is ad-supported and more of it is becoming ad-supported. What do you need to know to take advantage of that, and how big is this opportunity going to get? Peggy, who's our guest?

Peggy Anne Salz: Oh, let's say we have a guru on this one, John. We have an encore. Yes, we do. He has the street cred. We had him before, we have him back because this is his area of specialty, Jonathan Yantz, who is managing director M&C Saatchi Performance, of course, a digital marketing agency telling the human side behind the data. And Jonathan brings a decade-plus of experience with media strategy and execution across entertainment, education, retail, hospitality industries. He calls himself a seasoned digital marketer with a passion for developing and executing full-funnel strategies with a focus on UA, ROI, customer engagement, the usual. It takes hard data, it takes soft skills. Jonathan has them both in spades because he also has background in social media, experience as an assistant librarian, there goes the research and the numbers, right, and a digital initiatives fellowship from GLAAD, the world's largest LGBTQ media advocacy group, working to increase media accountability and community engagement that ensures authentic stories are being seen and heard. And I can't wait to hear more, including also stories from you, Jonathan. And hey, I got to say, a belated happy birthday as well.

Jonathan Yantz: Thank you. Thank you.

Peggy Anne Salz: We know everything about you, Jonathan.

Jonathan Yantz: Wow, everything. I've been truly going back from literally day one. So, yes. Thank you both for having me again. Very excited to be back.

John Koetsier: Absolutely. You must have done, you know, better than average, right, on the first time, so we're happy to have you back. That's good. Let's talk about streaming TV and advertising, right? We know that streaming TV, connected TV, over-the-top is super fast growing. And we know that actually ad-supported versions of it are perhaps even faster-growing than the paid version, right? Netflix is just starting its early journey there and many others are in the space. What's the best way for advertisers to view the space and maybe take advantage of it?

Jonathan Yantz: Yeah, I think just like you would for mobile or for any type of advertising, just remind yourself, put yourself in the consumers' shoes, first and foremost. So, picture yourself on the couch at the end of a long day watching TV, you're streaming it, whether you're streaming via Roku, via your Xbox, or a million other ways at this point, and just keep in mind what a consumer would be looking for. It's actually pretty similar to linear in a lot of ways, at least from a creative standpoint. And that's probably where the similarities end, though. I think just keeping in mind the polished, creative, the emotional story and journey you’re taking someone through and best practices like that that I'm sure we'll get into. But its biggest benefits and drawers are really around the targeting capabilities and how that's quite different than linear. So, you know, less upfront commitments, a lot more flexibility in terms of seeing data in real-time, being able to react to it, start to block certain shows or channels that you're showing on, and really react in real-time, which is our bread and butter as mobile marketers.

John Koetsier: Interesting. Can you talk in a little bit more detail about that targeting? I mean, we're getting used on mobile to having pretty limited targeting capability in iOS. Android is, you know, business as usual, at least until late 2023 or early 2024. What kinds of targeting are you talking about on connected TV, smart streaming TV?

Jonathan Yantz: And yes, it's a great point how much we're losing on the mobile side. And so I would temper expectations a little bit because there's a lot of targeting capabilities now, but who knows where that will go? I think we all got quite used to and even almost addicted to some of those targeting levers and real-time data points across social, across all the mobile space.

So, while it's available now, it may not be forever, so we shall see. But really, it comes down to… A lot of it is IP-based, so we're able to narrow into households, maybe not a very specific individual, but at the zip code level, you can look at household income and things like that. You can also… I will say though it varies by partner. Some allow you to target based on the types of shows that people have watched so that you get kind of a contextual understanding of who they might be. You can also really lean into retargeting and sequential messaging, which has been really strong for us sometimes in the past, really telling that story in, you know, multiple different types of creatives. Though maybe if you're launching a new product or a new brand, start with a bigger intro explaining it, and then kind of go to more of the hard sell and the clear call-to-action through retargeting, as well as look-alikes.

And so since a lot of what we're doing here is tying into mobile and ultimately driving app installs for our clients, look-alikes end up becoming really useful and understand, okay, this type of consumer. Actually, we can determine that they installed the app after being exposed to this specific CTV ad and now, let's, of course, find some consumers like them.

John Koetsier: Peggy, I have to follow up here. Please forgive me for jumping in. I know you've got a question here but here's my question, Jonathan, sequential ads, you mentioned that and introducing a consumer to you. I've been watching World Cup highlights on streaming TV, right, who has some TN. Exactly, right? And I'm seeing the same ad for the same company three times in the same highlight package for one game, and then another three times in the next highlight package for the next game. And by the fourth time, I'm saying, "I hate you. I literally hate you. This brand that keeps showing me the same ad every time, I'm bored by it. I hate your song. I hate your logo. I hate your product. I hate everything about you because you're annoying me." Tell us, what's the right way to do this?

Jonathan Yantz: Not that way, I will say that. And I won't ask you to name names. Maybe after we stopped recording, I will. But there are definitely ways to avoid that. I guess what I would say is, you know, I’m trying to think on how they would have set things up, perhaps they just don't necessarily know any better yet. This is a relatively new and constantly evolving space. If you think back to the very early days of paid social or Google Display, things were changing all the time, and maybe not everyone really understood frequency capping and things like that. But basically, one of the best ways to do it is we understand we have the different ad blocks, and there are ways and levers on the back end, especially if you're buying programmatically or if you're going direct through a partner like a Roku or Amazon Fire TV, just making sure that in your discussions with them or while setting up programmatically to make sure that you have a limit per ad block or say I only want one ad block at a time within a given show or movie, whatever it may be.

John Koetsier: Cool. Thank you.

Peggy Anne Salz: So, hopefully, that won't happen again, but we'll see.

John Koetsier: I hope so, Peggy.

Peggy Anne Salz: It's early days. But the good news is that advertisers can lean into this opportunity but, hey, it's a fragmented market, Jonathan, Amazon Fire, Roku, broadcast type partners, Hulu, Netflix offering ads. How do you help your clients navigate this landscape and develop an effective strategy? And while we’re at it, what does an effective strategy look like?

Jonathan Yantz: Yeah. Excellent point. This is an incredibly fragmented market. At this time, we're seeing brands who are trying to dip their toes in start with just maybe one at a time. And that can be a way to get a little bit comfortable with it, potentially, and understand the types of metrics. Maybe you start off that way very slowly, just to make sure that, you know, some of the data along the consumer journey is flowing through correctly, to make sure, you know, there's not something that went wrong with tracking. But we'd highly recommend against that, usually, in the long-term, especially from an overall performance marketing standpoint. So, if you're trying to drive someone to watch your ad and then install your app or go to your website, or take some further action, which most brands are, in that case, being able to diversify. There are a lot of solutions programmatically that you can tap into inventory across multiple places through one overall say campaign setup.

And not to tout us too much or anything like that but that's where an agency like us can come in and help where we're doing this constantly across multiple clients, and we can help have a team manage that or even manage multiple ones individually. Because I can see that, of course, being a daunting task if you're on the client side and you would love to try this, and you're really excited about it, and then you realise, okay, I have to go back and forth with four different partners directly, and also have programmatic setup, and try to manage that all at the same time. That is definitely why you need a bit of a larger team to help with that. But I guess to the other point, what an effective strategy looks like, I will give you my slightly annoying blanket answer of it does vary quite a bit, depending on the goal. You know, you can have… If your goal is more just overall awareness and you're trying to almost mimic what you could be doing on linear TV just by getting in front of a mass amount of people and staying top of mind, so especially like CPG brand, we see that a lot, then, you know, that's where you can either go in deep with a partner, in particular, who offers, you know, extra brand lift studies and extra things like that.

But if you are more so focused on, then getting someone to take an action because, of course, as we're all watching our TV shows, at the ad break, and even during the show, you pick up your phone, and you're, you know, on the second screen. While they're in that environment, you want them to see your ad, think, "Oh, okay, well, actually, let me open that website and save it and keep it open as a tab for later," or, "Let me just install this app now and then I'll go back to it after I'm done watching." That's where it can come into play with programmatic, especially, because you can optimise to that install in real-time, similarly to how you would across, like, Facebook or TikTok.

John Koetsier: Super interesting. And you talked about some of the brand new and awareness parts there. Talk about how you see CTV on sort of the brand performance scale. Is it summable? How does it work in either direction of that?

Jonathan Yantz: Yeah, I think typically, we would recommend, ideally, a full-funnel approach as probably straightforward as that answer may sound, especially if you're maybe not a brand with the highest overall awareness or consideration levels. You could start… Maybe that's where sequential comes in. And eventually, once you've build a pool of people who are taking whatever action you want them to, start building look-alikes and introducing that into the mix. At the end of the day, since a lot of this is IP-based, not to go too technical into the weeds, but especially on the MMP side to track an install, you're getting the IP data from where it's actually serving, so whether that's on, you know, Roku or whatever device. And then the MMP also is looking at, okay, when they installed this app, this was the IP address, of course, not in isolation. They're fully doing everything in aggregate to be mindful of privacy, best practices, and things like that. But that's where that actual tie-back happens to see where they started and then where they ended up installing. It's not a perfect science by any means and definitely evolving, but that's where I see really almost true performance media coming into it.

John Koetsier: How are people adapting media for this, for ad blocks? Because you've got a couple of different sources of video, right? You've got some of the traditional TV stuff that is being repurposed, the "Seinfeld," "The Office," that sort of stuff that's getting shown on streaming CTV networks. You've also got some of the new content that stream writers like maybe HBO or Netflix have created for paid streaming. And you've also got, like, sports highlights that we already talked about. Only one of those is designed for ad breaks. And so what you'll see sometimes is you're watching those World Cup highlights and they're just about to kick the ball on net, and boom, there's the interruptive ad unit.

You’re so frustrated by this one. It’s horrible for you.

John Koetsier: How are the platforms dealing with when to put the ad slots in?

Jonathan Yantz: I think, unfortunately, that's where it does come down to this being such relatively early days of where they're trying to test that. I mean, yeah, maybe you don't want to be that first brand, especially if in the highlight example. You're the first brand in each break and you just keep saying the same ad. Clearly, that's getting to you specifically, but…

John Koetsier: Not personal at all. Not personal.

Jonathan Yantz: No, clearly. Clearly. I think that's where… I mean, to be honest, a lot of the partners we're working with in this space, they're very open to and receptive to feedback like this, and so I would just encourage, you know, either agencies through their collective buying power or larger brands to be really just sharing this message back that, sure, that's definitely not ideal. I can't imagine that every single ad break is, you know, manually decided by some person. So, I mean, there's something to be said, I guess, when you go back to the true linear TV days of that break being strategically planned at a cliffhanger moment. I guess that's kind of similar in some ways to, oh, just about to make this goal, and then bam.

I mean, one thing to consider is if you're in something like a live stream of sports clips and things like that kind of space, that's part of the beauty of this over linear, especially programmatically. You can understand where you're serving. And I'd almost go back to the performance marker there in me who's like, "Let the data lead you," to be honest. I mean, maybe you specifically it's not working. Maybe for someone else, it is. And so in aggregate starting to see those trends of, okay, when I'm serving on these sports highlight clips, I am getting such a lower conversion rate or, you know, something's not working. So, what is it?

John Koetsier: NPS scores are accommodated.

Jonathan Yantz: Yeah. Exactly. Exactly. So, that's another way to maybe look at it.

Peggy Anne Salz: Talk about the creatives because we started to talk about them… You know, we talked about putting a frequency cap on them above all, but you don't want to just reuse your TV creatives. You want to be authentic to the platform, and definitely interactive. It's the second screen. You want me interacting with it. What does that really look like?

Jonathan Yantz: Sure. Yeah, so that's where there are some similarities, definitely, you know, I guess, depending on your audience, actually, but this may not be the place for the, you know, very UGC, Tiktok-type video where, you know, it's less polished and things like that. I think that's the main similarity. You can still tell a story, have a very polished approach. But I think some of the best practices would be instead of linear where you start a journey, you never mention the brand, unless it's pretty obvious, someone may not know what it is until that very last three seconds when they announce the brand. Here, in keeping with general mobile best practices, start that at the beginning. Also, probably obvious, but make sure you're keeping in mind that this is an audio-on channel. And after years of being in social maybe until Tiktok, you just have it ingrained in you that audio is off, no one's listening, so, you, you know, communicate in different ways.

I would also say there's potentially an area to focus on with accessibility that's not talked about too much, so make sure that you also have it be available with captions and things like that. But otherwise, it's relatively straightforward. You can, in some ways, adapt your existing linear ad. Just make sure there's a very clear call to action at the end. We're doing testing right now with QR codes even, although mixed results, I would say initially, but at least whether it's just reminding them that, specifically, it's in the app. If you have to throw it in their face and have the Apple and Google logos, just reminding them exactly where they can get it so that it's really clear and obvious.

John Koetsier: Where are you seeing the bulk of the action? Maybe more on the performance side. Are you seeing sort of CTV to mobile app? Are you seeing CTV app to CTV app? I mean, that'd be competitive against the app that's showing it. But, you know, what are you seeing primarily?

Jonathan Yantz: Actually, for our current accounts, we're seeing quite a mix of both. So, one account we work with is a very successful streaming service where it is that CTV to CTV. And actually, isn't that frowned upon necessarily? There are more unique ways maybe to go about it, and that's where you can unlock, say, with Roku. They have specific ad units that may not be the actual video mid-roll or something, but here's a promoted channel, things like that. Those are some ways to go about it as well, but you can also do that as pre-roll, mid-roll, etc.

And then on the CTV to mobile, that is a little bit of our bread and butter, and that's where we work with our various MMP partners, which vary by client, to be able to track the install and make sure that we're trying to look at this holistically, deduping across any other media channels that we might have in market. Although I will caution everyone that that is still a little bit work in progress. Let's just say some are able to dedupe better than others, some are a bit more probabilistic versus deterministic. So, just super important to understand the data that's coming in so you'd make the most informed decision, which is what we all do every day, ideally. But this is one where it's more important than ever because there are a lot of nuances between the partners.

Peggy Anne Salz: But the good news is some tracking is possible there, Jonathan, right?

Jonathan Yantz: Yeah.

Peggy Anne Salz: It's possible to build a strategy, it's possible to achieve more than just top funnel. As you said, it can be a whole funnel, across the entire funnel. Now, the ad creatives, it can be some of our TV creatives, but also interactive. And we've seen that QR codes, huge. Just need to say the Super Bowl, which is probably one of John's favourite ads, and I don't like it.

John Koetsier: That's awesome. It's a game. It's just watching the ad. It's perfect. It's playable on TV. Have you ever seen this before, Peggy? It's genius.

Peggy Anne Salz: I knew he was going to do that just to get me.

Jonathan Yantz: John seems to be an outlier with some of these opinions. Let's just say that. Wow.

Peggy Anne Salz: The best to describe you, John. It makes you sound so intellectual.

John Koetsier: Yeah, rather than outcast.

Peggy Anne Salz: No, not outcast, just a little bit controversial. But to stay on the topic of creatives here, what can marketers, designers be doing, be crafting to incentivise us to take action, grab our attention? What are your thoughts?

Jonathan Yantz: Sure, I think there are definitely a lot of ways. It can be, you know, if you have the luxury of having a really great talent. So, if you're an entertainment services brand that's either audio-based, video-based, and leaning into that, if you're trying to get someone to make a purchase or a subscription, promo codes can also be one way to do further testing and ensure that the data that's flowing through is accurate enough. If you have a code that's unique to whatever was on streaming, you could do AB testing through that. And then as you're designing videos, in general, I think a lot of the linear kind of ideas do come into play a little bit in that it should be very dynamic, you can lean into emotions, but then to really get someone to convert.

I was reading a study very recently, actually, that CTV and streaming TV, so many acronyms and names for this, people who are watching that way really expect…almost more than half expect these ads to be more personalised to them versus a linear TV, which I found very interesting because people are starting to realise, okay, well, if this device knows what I'm watching consistently, surely it can be a little bit more specific. So, I think that's where the targeting and creative can come into play to really adapt it quite a bit better. And, yeah, I think those would be some of the ways.

John Koetsier: Very, very cool. This has been amazing. We've got to start bringing it to a close. There's kind of two questions that we ask at the end of every interview. I'm going to adapt it for you. We usually ask top, you know, your least censored opinion about mobile marketing. I'm going to ask for your least censored opinion about CTV advertising.

Jonathan Yantz: I actually think… I really do see this, potentially, as long as the trajectories are in the right direction and the technology continues to evolve, which most likely it should, I could totally start to see this overcoming social meant even display budgets and things like that when you look at it bigger picture. I think CTV, streaming TV, I believe the latest stat was by 2026. Overall spending here is meant to double. And it's already quite high. So, maybe the headlines previously have been, oh, social and all these other channels are taking away from linear TV. Everyone’s cord-cutting, and now here's a way where brands can feel, you know, a little bit more comfortable with their traditional approach of I want mass reach and now also targeted mass reach. And if we're able to start tracking things like an install or a website visit and purchase, then this should only be able to grow further, especially as some of the social channels, without naming names, are in an interesting space at the moment.

John Koetsier: Who would that be and which billionaire would be coming in and making things more interesting? Nobody knows. Tune in the next episode for all that detail, you know, if we drop an ad right there, see? That’s what I’ve done.

Peggy Anne Salz: That's a cliffhanger, John.

John Koetsier: I love it. I love it, though, Jonathan. That is a great insight, actually, because guess what? All of the linear TV budget should be coming over to CTV pretty soon because all that should be transitioning. And because it's still digital and has the performance aspects, and the measurability aspects, and the targeting aspects that linear TV didn't, it should capture some of the bigger digital budget as well. Very interesting. Okay, second thing that we always ask every person, I'm going to tailor it to you again, your top tips for marketers, and let's say mobile marketers because that's our audience who are using CTV or thinking about using CTV in 2023.

Jonathan Yantz: Sure. I think, number one, and this can trickle into a few quick examples, would be just remembering and going back to that point about expecting it to be personalised to them. And I think, one, you know, for younger generations, certainly much younger than I am, since I just had my birthday, they really crave authenticity.

John Koetsier: I'm never coming back after that.

Jonathan Yantz: When you think of the trends on TikTok, even Instagram, really craving authenticity, less of the super polished, almost Kardashian-like authenticity will continue. The likes of BeReal have proven that. And so make sure that when you're targeting younger audience for this, it's probably obvious, of course, but make sure it really engages and speaks to them. And then second, don't forget that older generations, especially with some slight economic uncertainty that we're facing as we look ahead to the next year. That's where a lot of buying power still remains. And so making sure, you know, maybe the messaging there is quite different, maybe it's more… There are a whole bunch of research into different audiences and what they look for and what inspires them. Maybe it's not as authenticity and the brand giving back and things like that, but maybe it's more direct here are the top three benefits and why you should get this. More of a utilitarian approach.

John Koetsier: Way to go, Jonathan. Way to represent your demographic. I'm so sorry. I had to. Peggy made me.

Jonathan Yantz: Fair enough. Fair enough.

Peggy Anne Salz: I did it. I was sending messages in chat. I was saying, “Let's grill before Johnathan know.”

John Koetsier: We know he turned 29.

Jonathan Yantz: Wow. I appreciate that.

Peggy Anne Salz: Oh, well, we will have you back again someday, Jonathan, who knows? We'll convince you.

John Koetsier: I'll be mysteriously sick that day.

Jonathan Yantz: Convenient. Convenient.

Peggy Anne Salz: Jonathan, first of all, it's been tons of fun because we're laughing our asses off, but we also learned a lot. I love the point about personalisation. That's got me thinking that that's where we'll expect it, demand it, and another one, that it might eclipse social. That leaves me with some things to think about. So, thanks for sharing and for opening our eyes to that.

Jonathan Yantz: Awesome. Thank you so much, again, for having me. Really appreciate it. Always good to chat with you both.

John Koetsier: Thank you. 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 Salz, signing off for "Mobile Heroes Uncensored."

Dec 14, 2022

Love & Pies, Broccoli Cake, and Reverse Psychology in Ads: Chatting With Trailmix

Does reverse psychology work in ads? Sure, sometimes. And sometimes, just plain old psychology.

In this Mobile Heroes Uncensored, we chat with Philippa Layburn, UA manager for Trailmix, the games studio that makes games snackable … yet somehow nourishing. Philippa tells hosts John Koetsier and Peggy Anne Salz about her background in psychology and how that impacts her marketing and advertising, as well as her focus on science and math. 

We chat about creative winners and losers, Super Bowl ads, A/B testing, and how to come up with truly creative ideas for new ad campaigns.

30 min

Philippa Layburn: I kind of base a lot of my decisions on like, what's the hypothesis? What do we want to test? And then taking those results to kind of determine what we do next. And yeah, it's been a really successful method, especially in marketing because there's always that gut feeling that you need to create good art. And I think you need that in marketing, but then you do need the data side of things as well. So, I really like that analogy in marketing.

John Koetsier: Wouldn't it be amazing if you could always have the very best creative, the most amazing creative, the perfect creative for each ad campaign? Welcome to "Mobile Heroes Uncensored." My name is John Koetsier. Today, of course, as usual, Peggy is our co-host. And you know what? She's a trooper today because she's super under the weather, was just at a conference and is now kind of dragging around, but still doing the work. So welcome, Peggy. Thank you for being here today. Of course, we're chatting about creative, the art, the science, the dream, and the very best way to find and improve the ad units that work best. Peggy, who's our guest?

Peggy Anne Salz: Well, John, I have to start out, you know me, no matter what, the pun patrol will come for me.

John Koetsier: Oh no, save us.

Peggy Anne Salz: I just have to say, the show must literally go on. So here I am. And I also couldn't miss our guest because...

John Koetsier: Siri was just trying to save me by the way. I said the word save us. Siri was like, here's some information about save.

Peggy Anne Salz: I know.

John Koetsier: Sorry, go ahead, Peggy.

Peggy Anne Salz: There's no way to escape it, John. No way to escape it. But seriously, I did want to make the show because I connected with Philippa Layburn, our guest, and she is, you talk about art and science, she combines them. She's the user acquisition manager at Trailmix. That's the game studio that like the name of the snack, right, the raisins and the nuts. It makes games snackable, nourishing, John.

John Koetsier: Wow.

Peggy Anne Salz: There you go. And she's on a mission to make Love & Pies the biggest casual game ever, which is anything but an uphill battle since the company also just got $60 million cash investment from Supercell earlier this year. They're on a run. Now, Philippa started her...

John Koetsier: It sounds like Supercell knows what they're doing too, a little bit in the games industry. So that might be a pretty smart investment.

Peggy Anne Salz: Yeah. I was thinking about that. And Philippa started her career in Ad Ops building campaigns across different publishers. Then she took a position at King spurred on by her love of Candy Crush. So, a personal love and passion, got her working in casual before moving to Trailmix. And dating back to her days at a startup, she's also a little scrappy and has stayed that way. You know, she has a hands-on approach. She enjoyed working in an environment where no two days look the same. That's what it says on her LinkedIn profile. And I think she's in the right place because our show is anything but dull. Welcome, Philippa.

Philippa Layburn: Thank you.

John Koetsier: Welcome. Super pumped to have you. I mean, that's quite the intro. That's awesome. And $60 million from Supercell, I said it already, but wow. You know, Supercell knows what it takes to make it in the games industry, right? So that's pretty impressive. I had to start off with this question here because I noticed that your major game Love & Pies - Merge game is the title, like literally Love & Pies - Merge game is the title on the App Store, and I think it's Love & Pies - Merge on Android, on Google Play. I found it super interesting that you put the kind of game in the name of the game, and that says to me there's something going on in the ecosystem perhaps that people are looking for merge games, that they want merge game. Tell me the story behind that.

Philippa Layburn: Well, I think there was a lot of testing and this was probably predating me joining the company, but yeah, I think it's exactly what it says on the (sounds like: TIM), right? Like our game is very much focused on love and very much focused around food. The protagonist goes back to her mom's cafe to run that and meets potential love interest who is a chef. So yeah, spiced.

John Koetsier: Hallmark, here we come.

Philippa Layburn: Yeah, exactly. We didn't include merge in the name of the title, which again was interesting, but very important for ASO, which is why you see it on the App Store's...

John Koetsier: Got it. Okay, cool. That answers the question, Peggy.

Peggy Anne Salz: Well, let's get back to you, Philippa. You're a mobile hero, it's one of the reasons you're here, but you're also a performance marketer with a degree in psychology. Love this connection, right? You combine art and science. Where does the passion come from?

Philippa Layburn: It's a relatively cheesy answer, but I have enjoyed psychology all along for my whole life. Think I'm just quite a people-focused person. Like I love socializing, I love learning about people. I've always been very interested in how people's minds work. So, it was very easy for me to pick psychology at A-level and then loved it, as a degree, but I guess that was my main introduction to science. I wasn't really doing science-based things before that, and I didn't really think I liked science that much. And then kind of the blend of art and science, well, I think it was first my older brother who made me think about marketing like a science.

So, he also worked in marketing, he worked in programmatic, and I remember I was going for an interview and he was trying to explain like what programmatic was and I was getting so confused, and he was like, just think about testing, think about it like a science experiment. And it really, really stuck with me. And now, yeah, I kind of base a lot of my decisions on like, what's the hypothesis? What do we want to test? And then taking those results to kind of determine what we do next. And yeah, it's been a really successful method, especially in marketing because there's always that gut feeling that you need to create good art, and I think you need that in marketing, but then you do need the data side of things as well. So I really like that analogy in marketing.

John Koetsier: I'm fascinated by the background in psychology. You're not the only mobile hero that we've talked to that has a background in psychology. We had one, I think it was just like six or eight episodes ago, Peggy. The name is escaping me right now. But we also chatted, it's got to be a couple years now with, Rory Sutherland?

Peggy Anne Salz: Yeah.

John Koetsier: Ogilvy. And he has a background in social sciences as well. And talk a little bit, Philippa, how your psychology background impacts the choices you make in creative, in language, in marketing focus and direction.

Philippa Layburn: Yeah, the text part is quite interesting. So, I do a lot of work on Google UAC and on...well, Google Ads and on TikTok, and those are two channels where you can write caption for your ads. And we don't necessarily have a copywriter and I don't think we have one where we worked before. So, I was like, great, this is my chance to, like, test so many different messages. And I kind of look back at some of the stuff I learned in psychology. So, like social psychology kind of says, if your friends are playing a game, you might be more likely to play it.

So, I basically went through, like, loads of biases and preferences people have, and then tested them on my ads. So, like one was the social thing. All my friends downloaded this game and I can't stop playing. And then, yeah, just A/B tested them against each other, and I literally love doing that. At the moment, the one that's working well is reverse psychology, which is, like, you should try this game, but hey, what do I know? Like that's fun. And it's really funny because sometimes people...I also like looking through the comments and people are like, has the, like, person running this ad broken the fourth wall? Like they know we are watching kind of thing. So, I'm really entertained by that.

John Koetsier: That's pretty sophisticated. It's funny because when I see an ad like that, maybe I'm just contrarian or just a jerk, I don't know, Peggy, you can tell me, but...don't tell me. But if I see an ad like all my friends are playing, I'm more likely to not play it. Like that is not sort of a reverse psychology. No one's playing this game so you should, maybe that would work.

Philippa Layburn: Maybe you just want to be a trailblazer, the first one to do it.

John Koetsier: I need some pics, I guess.

Peggy Anne Salz: Here's the psychology coming through again. She's got you nailed, John.

John Koetsier: Yeah.

Peggy Anne Salz: I love it also. You know, I'm a great fan of the nudge and I see that being so relevant right now. It's just like that book, take it down, take a look at it. We're back there. The power of the nudge. You also believe in the power of personalisation when you're choosing a winning creative that it is more aligned with the user than, you know, the generic creatives. What's the way you approach this? What's the best practice you can share when it comes to personalising ad creatives?

Philippa Layburn: Yeah, something I found really interesting that what happened at King was with retargeting campaigns. So obviously with retargeting you have quite a lot more data than just UA campaigns because they're your users. You have first-party data that you might have collected. So, we knew things like what level did they lapse on, or did they have in-game currency, or had they run out? What made them lapse? And then the team then used that in their ads. So, it was kind of like, oh, you have no lives left? Here's a gift. Some free lives or something like that. So that's a really interesting way to use personalisation, and definitely saw some good results there.

But more broadly with personalisation, I think you should be personalising the context of your ads. Where might a person be seeing this? On what channel, in what format? So, yeah, like, working on YouTube specific creatives. So, they should be landscape, they should be more narrative rather than having just gameplay compared to some of our other ads. And that's something I worked on as well. Taking it away from gameplay and having more narrative stuff at the beginning. King, which we weren't doing that much at the time, so that was really exciting, and worked quite well as well.

John Koetsier: Philippa, I want to ask you a question about creative because we recently just had a guest and I think he was saying, you know, stay away from quirky creatives. You know, like if I was running UA for a game, I'd be tempted to throw a few dollars or something like just a big banner that says, insert stupid ass game ad here and just see why people would click on it, right? See what would happen.

Philippa Layburn: Yeah.

John Koetsier: But the person we were chatting with was saying, yeah...what's your take? Do you do some stuff that's just crazy off the wall and see what sticks, or do you kind of have a plan and a strategy and stick with it?

Philippa Layburn: So, we do do some crazy things definitely, because as a team, like at Trailmix, everyone...I mean, this should be for all companies, but here, everyone is so passionate about the game and everyone is also quite interested and we share a lot about what all disciplines are doing. So, we'll show the whole team some of our ads, and everyone can see our results. And so, people naturally have an opinion. And this is where some crazy ideas do come from because people know so much about the game that potentially we don't know if they're the narrative writers, the game designer. So more recently, I don't know if you've played Love & Pies, but the board gets full and the storage is a fridge, but we have like food items on our board, we have animals on our board. And we joked internally like, oh, you put your cat in the fridge, like the storage. And it's not about obviously like...we didn't really think about the fact that like, that doesn't make any sense. So, we actually like riffed on that idea and have made, like, a few ads on this now that we push live. We had no idea if they were necessarily a good idea or a strong idea, but it's interesting for our team and it's just fun to do a few things where it's like, who knows what's going to happen, but it's definitely a fun concept.

John Koetsier: Like, if your whole team could see the results then you might see, oh wow, we struck gold on something that was seemingly crazy.

Philippa Layburn: Exactly. So yeah, it's really exciting having stuff like that.

John Koetsier: Cool.

Peggy Anne Salz: Yeah, I did read about that. I remembered that it was a number of articles saying, you know, a cat in the fridge, is that like hamster in the microwave? But won't go there, won't go there. Well, we did have creativity to pick some pretty cool ads. You also use it to develop your own metrics, and you really blew me away Philippa because you are thinking about, well, there isn't a metric to measure this so I'll make it up. And that's exactly what you did. You have something called hook rate, you know, and that is very cool. What does it actually measure and what does it help you do as a marketer?

Philippa Layburn: Yeah, that's a good question. So, hook rate is more about engagement with your ads. So, it helps us basically understand the opening of our video and the strength of that. So, you know, everyone's really interested in the first three seconds of the video or like what stops you scrolling past. And that metric it basically to help you compare between ads, how good that hook is. And I guess, yeah, there wasn't a metric for it, but also with our creative testing, you know, it's quite binary, you get a winner and you get a loser. And we were in an annoying position where we couldn't beat our control video. Like our winner was unbeatable, which is actually a good thing because it means it was an amazing video, but you don't want to be stuck there for too long.

And there came a stage where we just were like, okay, this is lost, this is lost. And we weren't really gaining anything from that. Like what were we learning? And so, it felt like there was more to dig into maybe why are we losing? And yeah, so it was kind of born out of that as well. If CPI tells you how many installs you're getting and what price you're getting it for, how can we really understand why something's winning or losing. And I think engagement metrics tell you a bit more about rather than just the other metrics that we usually rely on.

John Koetsier: I love it. I love it. It's super interesting because as we lose some of the metrics that we've always depended upon with granular device-level data as privacy sandbox, ATT, all that stuff, right? Then you've got to look at other metrics as well and having a sense of, hey, people watch the first three seconds and then continued or they just flip, that's really, really important. You've got to use the metrics you can get, right? And then you got to decide which ones you wait and all that stuff. Question. Is there one thing that you often see or a key characteristic that distinguishes a winning ad from a losing ad? Is there something that you notice?

Philippa Layburn: It is a really good question. I don't have a, add this in and it'll win, although I would say like...

John Koetsier: Then everybody would have it.

Peggy Anne Salz: Everyone would have it. Exactly.

Philippa Layburn: Exactly. But I do think there's something in like the build of anticipating in an ad. So what I mean by that is like an ad...okay, there's loads of ads that start in a certain way and you are like, mm, okay this is going to happen. And you can almost predict what's going to happen and then suddenly something really weird out of the blue happened. Like, that almost interrupts the narrative, but then it goes back to what you expected to happen. And I think a lot of things follow that. Like for example, you know when you see ads where you can pick three choices, that became a massive trend in the industry, and it's like, oh, help this person do that. And then one choice is really obvious, like a spanner would help you fix a washing machine. One choice is like a nail will help you fix a washing machine, and the other choice is like...

John Koetsier: A ham.

Philippa Layburn: Yeah, like a chicken. And you are like, oh, they're not going to pick chicken, and lo and behold, the ad chooses the chicken. It's like that build-up or that kind of storytelling where it's like, I know what's going to happen. This is so obvious, this storyline is building, it's building, blah, blah, blah. Bam. The unexpected thing happens. But then the conclusion is basically what you expected anyway. Help me fix this situation, of course. And like...

John Koetsier: ...prize, nice.

Philippa Layburn: Yeah. I think that's the key. It's like people have to understand the narration enough, but not so much that they're bored by the outcome.

John Koetsier: That's a really interesting point you just made because you can't be so far out of the box that there's zero comprehension of what is happening here. It's in a different universe, a different dimension, but it can't be so in the box that it's like, I've seen it before, done it before, I’m not paying any attention, it's literally 1% of my attention until I can flip to the next thing or something like that, right? That's an interesting balance.

Philippa Layburn: Yeah. And you don't want your wild thing to just...yeah, exactly, to be so wild that people are like, oh you've just flipped that in there to be the attention grabber. It still needs that strong...that's what I mean by build-up. It still needs the story all to make sense.

Peggy Anne Salz: Thinking about wild creatives and it just stays with me because I would've been the person who said, "Okay, let's take that out. That's not going anywhere." And I'm talking about the creative, like the QR code that took the Super Bowl by storm, you know, it's just a pong thing going on yet it was hugely successful.

John Koetsier: I love that.

Peggy Anne Salz: You loved it, John.

John Koetsier: I love that. That's awesome. It's crazy, it's stupid, it's simple, it's genius.

Peggy Anne Salz: That is super stupid.

John Koetsier: Yes, but it's stupid enough to be genius that they cross with those emerges, worlds collided.

Peggy Anne Salz: There you go. That's what happened. I was going to ask you though, you know, other than the cat in the fridge, the wildest creative that you saw just drive insanely positive results for your game.

Philippa Layburn: Maybe I'm biased and/or hurt by the fact that this creative couldn't be beaten, but I'm going to talk about the one that we couldn't beat. So, to me, it was quite surprising that it won. It didn't have any gameplay and it is essentially a failed video really when I think about it. So, it does maybe make sense, but basically, the gist of it is the main character in our game asks the chef, who's the other main character in the game to make her a cake. He adds in the ingredients, you see him adding them into the pot. Accidentally, he adds in broccoli into a chocolate cake, which kind of then this all mixes up, and lo and behold, he makes the broccoli cake and they're really sad. And that is the entire ad. No gameplay, nothing that special and it's unbeatable. And that really blew my mind. Like I don't understand...

John Koetsier: It's funny.

Peggy Anne Salz: QR code, I'm sorry. I'm just...

Philippa Layburn: Exactly.

John Koetsier: Then I think the QR code before the broccoli cake, that's...

Peggy Anne Salz: Yeah, definitely.

Philippa Layburn: We've done a few follow-up things like, is this the magic of broccoli cake? Like is it broccoli? But it's not broccoli. It's not broccoli. We don't know what it is.

Peggy Anne Salz: We don't know. Might grow a partnership with Birds Eye, Philippa.

John Koetsier: Talk about A/B testing a little bit. I mean, on a surface level, super interesting. Which one wins, right? But when you have a super successful ad that's working well, you know you need to move on to something, you know you're going to get creative fatigue, you know you're going to reach diminishing returns, all that stuff, and yet you're reading with it right now, right? So how do you do creative testing? What do you do, 10% of your impressions, 5%, 1%, whatever? How do you identify winners and how much effort do you put into which will be the next main ad units versus this one is killing it for us right now, you know, keep it going?

Philippa Layburn: I mean, absolutely. I'm a big believer in keeping things going for as long as you possibly can. Like I know we had Valentine's ad groups or Valentine's Creative Live. Maybe we still have a few live now. And that was ages ago. So if it's working, it's working. Like there is nothing wrong with keep it live, but I do think more recently our team has been a lot more focused on iteration. And in a way, it's kind of born out of the hook rate thing, in that it's much easier to identify if the first three seconds are good, is it these parts are good, where are people dropping off? And then come up with new ideas. And also, it's really interesting to know this was a really strong opening, but maybe the rest of the narrative isn't. Keep this opening and then do a different concept. So, kind of lends itself to iterations quite a lot. So now there's a focus on like, okay, we have a winner or we have a loser, but how are we going to use the elements that work well and maybe the next SGO or iterate that concept, which is really exciting.

John Koetsier: I like your point about continuing and even using Valentine's months half a year afterwards. Maybe that's a strategy, I don't know. I keep getting in-app ads in the game that I'm currently playing most that are Halloween ads, Halloween specials, and I'm like, oh, these guys are idiots. They're running neo campaigns that are months old and maybe that's the secret sauce that people are like, oh, like attention-grabbing or something like that. It's like a mistake. Oh, they kept that promotion running. It must be really good. Maybe I can know, I don't know, but maybe.

Peggy Anne Salz: They got your attention, John, so it's working. See?

John Koetsier: Also got my ire.

Peggy Anne Salz: Don't want that. So, Philippa, you call yourself a people person. That's really important because whether a creative wins or loses, it's a team effort. And you have to deliver that feedback in a way that's constructive, not destructive. How do you do that and avoid that blame game of like, your creative sucks, and now we have all these problems. It has to be constructive and it has to be a learning experience. How do you handle that?

Philippa Layburn: Also a good question. I think...

Peggy Anne Salz: They're only good questions, Philippa. You are here on our show.

John Koetsier: Identify the bad ones for us. Well, you know, that was a bad question.

Philippa Layburn: I think again, it kind of goes back to Trailmix's culture to an extent, in that, like I said before, everyone sees our creative. Like we have a dedicated show-and-tell meeting once a week where everyone gets to show stuff they're doing in their own teams or stuff they've worked on. Sometimes we put creatives in that, everyone can react. It's actually really useful sometimes, like exactly what I'm saying about narrative where we come up with a brief, so we are like, this is genius. And then the feedback is like, I actually have no idea what's that, which is fine to be. And you're like, oh, okay, maybe we went a bit too far.

John Koetsier: Ahead of our time, ahead of our time.

Philippa Layburn: Yeah. So yeah, we do have a big feedback culture, but also, born out of the hook rate, born out of wanting to beat this creative slump we were in, well, we now have a meeting called the creative retro as well. And in that, so we look through creative results. So again, it's transparent, everyone can see them. And we also go through hook rates, watch times, competitor ads, lots of different things inside of that. The meeting's really fun. It's more of a discussion than this didn't win. So, like everything is discussed, everything but through a lens of, what parts do we want to take that are good? And so hopefully that leaves people feeling like, all right, like there's so many good parts of my ad. Maybe it didn't win but maybe we're going to recycle it. And we really end those meetings with like, pages of ideas. And by the end of it people are like, just feel really good because we've had a massive brainstorm, it feels really creative. So yeah, it becomes like, yeah, maybe it was negative, but the feedback itself and how we build on it, well, does feel really positive. So that's quite…

John Koetsier: Kind of get the sense, Peggy, that it would be fun working with Philippa. Sounds like it'd be an interesting team to be on. I can imagine that. So, Philippa, we are all out of good questions. We only have bad ones left. So, here's a bad one for you. What is your least censored opinion about mobile marketing?

Philippa Layburn: I think that when we are replaced, which I think is going to happen, by robots and like automation takes over our jobs. I'm for this. I am in the camp of this should happen sooner rather than later, because I think it's going to lead to a different marketing world where less time will be spent on creating campaigns which has space for human error and more time will be spent on things like, how do we feed the algorithm? Like what data can we use to help this machine do this automatic response that it needs to do? And I think that's going to be a really cool and interesting time with marketing. Like maybe we'll be like able to deep dive into our users and see this is the path to purchase and feed that information to the algorithm or this robot that now helps us, and it will make much faster decisions than we potentially could because we are...I mean, we can't be as good as computers at finding the right people, but we can be good at coming up with ideas that help and I think that'd be really cool. So roll on robots. I'm there for it.

John Koetsier: Okay. That's an interesting one. Very, very cool. You know what, I mean, we'll have the robots creating the marketing campaigns. We'll have the robots playing the games. Why do we need people at all, you know, to be here? We'll be part of the battery, get the system going. And I guess we'll end here. Your top three tips for mobile marketers heading into 2023.

Philippa Layburn: I can't not say to focus on creatives, so I'm going to say definitely build dashboards that everyone can see, that like your creative team should know your creative touch result and should know what's working in BAU as well. They should know everything that you as a UA manager knows, and the disconnect can potentially harm. So, make sure everyone's in the loop. Another tip maybe about automation only because it's top of mind and we're working on stuff today.

John Koetsier: Yes, it's pretty robust.

Philippa Layburn: Yeah. We've recently looked at...actually in creative as well, automating creative uploads and things that just take timeless, definitely unnecessary, and it's been really amazing and changed a lot.

John Koetsier: I think it's only a matter of time till we have like a Stable Diffusion, or DALL-E, or Midjourney or something like that for ad creatives, feeding your ads, there you go. You know, we're seeing all these pictures on social, people have fed their picture into the AI machine Lensa, right? And Lensa's just killing it at the moment, right? And they get all these things you're going to do that with your ad creative. It's an interesting world.

Peggy Anne Salz: Philippa, it was great having you. I thought it was inspiring, you know, co-creation with AI. So, it's like a good thing. It's going to take the drudge work out of it, democratise the data, and some great tips for A/B testing creatives, and picking that winner that will also get John's attention. So, thanks so much.

Philippa Layburn: Thank you so much. It's been really fun.

John Koetsier: It was a lot of fun. 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 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."

Dec 7, 2022

Fake Ads and Mobile Marketing Intelligence, With AppMagic’s Stan Minasov

Mobile marketing intelligence can tell you which are the top apps in a category, where your competitors advertise, how they monetize, what ads are working, and which apps that you’re competing with have the highest LTV. It can also reveal emerging trends.

In this Mobile Heroes Uncensored hosts Peggy Anne Salz and John Koetsier chat with Stan Minasov, VP of Product for AppMagic.

We ask Stan what trend he found first, what trends people have discovered on his platform, and how to use mobile intelligence tools to get an edge on the competition. And, how to avoid what he calls “trap markets.”

We also chat about the emerging trend of fake ads. Yes, literally fake ads.

30 min

John Koetsier: When building, growing or creating, I've always been a fan of, kind of, focusing on my own stuff, my own product or app, rather than looking around at what everybody else might be doing. But sometimes you just have to know exactly what the competition is up to, and just how what they're doing might impact your app or your marketing. Welcome to “Mobile Heroes Uncensored”. My name is John Koetsier. Our co-host, of course, as always is Peggy Anne Salz. And recently we dived deep into ASO, app store optimization, Google Play optimization. Today we're talking about something maybe related, different. We're talking about mobile market intelligence. Seeing what the top apps in the category might be, how your competitors monetize, where they advertise, what ads they're showing. Who are the emerging titans in your space? Who has the highest LTV? All that stuff, and much, much more. That kind of market intelligence can make the difference between being early on trends, being late, between success, failure. Peggy, who are we chatting with?

Peggy Anne Salz: We're gonna get that and more, I think, because again, we are in our data science series, right John? We've been going around the world talking to different companies, and today we have Stan Minasov. He is VP of product at AppMagic, a mobile market intelligence tool that enables you to do complex market research in seconds. That's what they say on their site and get this, the URL says it all because it is seriously, R-O-C-K-S. No pressure here.

John Koetsier: That's a big promise right there.

Peggy Anne Salz: Yeah, it's high. It's a... I wanna see it. We're gonna see it, maybe, we'll see. Stan, our guest, Stan Minasov has over 10 years of experience in the IT industry and a special love for games and education. He's worked in large corporations, small startups, and he's even developed one of his own. And when he isn't on working on ways to help marketers do their research, spot the top charting games and apps, checking those trends, he teaches product management in top tier universities and actively speaks at international conferences. Again, gotta do my research, his colleagues say he has a great attitude, listens intently and set's goals he achieves, even exceeds. And one goal he had, hey, it's coming true today, Stan. It's your lucky day because you told me in prep one of your goals is to be on "Mobile Heroes Uncensored," which he calls and I quote his biggest marketing accomplishment. There you go. So, you've made it, Stan. You made the grade. You're here. We're excited to have you and welcome to the show.

Stan Minasov: Thank you. Thank you, a lot, John and Peggy. Thank you for having me today and I'm really honored. And while you were saying all that, I'm just literally blushed because of this information. Yeah, yeah.

John Koetsier: Awesome. We are super pumped to have you, you know, and knowing that you teach product management, I was gonna make a joke about project management and product management, you know, basically the same thing. I'm just joking. How to make a product manager really angry in two seconds.

Stan Minasov: Actually, you know what? I had a video like 10 minutes long explaining this exact thing, like the difference between product and project managers. And it was pretty successful because lots of people really don't understand it. So, yeah.

John Koetsier: Yeah. I totally get it. I've done both and it is very different. Thank you for joining us. Let's start here. What's the most insanely impactful insight that you know someone discovered via your platform?

Stan Minasov: That's a great question, John. Thank you for that. And I think my answer might surprise you. So, usually when we think about actionable insights, we tend to imagine something we have to do, like develop a game in a specific genre, maybe analyze a rising competitor or see a new trend and catch the wave. But sometimes it's even more important to know what not to do just to save your resources, be it money, developer's time or maybe overall efforts. So, for example, we helped one of our clients, I won't say the name, but just clients, not to invest their money in ad creatives for their new game that wouldn't work for their genre. And for that we used our ad intelligence analytics tool. So, in the end of the day, it saved lots of resources during their soft launch and hypothesis testing phase, which is quite crucial actually. And we also help a lot to track down so-called trap markets. And well, right now you might be asking, "Hey Stan, what is a trap market? What are we talking about?"

John Koetsier: Yes, that's what I'm asking.

Stan Minasov: Perfect. Perfect. So, this an in-house term, by the way. Usually when we talk about trap markets, it's a market segment, a niche or genre that is neither growing or shrinking from an overall revenue perspective. So, looking from outside, it might seem like a good idea to enter it because, well, there is money and it's stable. Why not? But often, really often, it means that developers can't buy traffic effectively with positive R-O-M-I or ROMI, which is return on marketing investment. So, basically for each dollar spent on acquisition, they acquire the same dollar from their users. So, their business is like stagnating. They don't grow and they don't shrink, which is a bad sign. So, this is a trap market. If you want to enter it, you will end up just burning up your money and receiving the same money back. So, yup.

John Koetsier: That's great to know. And Peggy, that's a new one for me. A trap market. I love the idea. It makes sense, right?

Peggy Anne Salz: Absolutely. I'm just thinking though, is he going to tell us as non-clients which ones they are?

John Koetsier: Yeah. Give us an example of a trap market.

Stan Minasov: An example... All right. All right. There is one and there is a good example of a game that just entered this market and the situation when it was possible for the game. So, the market itself is a CCG, collectible car games, and is a pretty mature market. So, there are lots of competitors out there. They've been there for a lot of time, say Heart Stone, MTG. And for every newcomer you can look out there and see that most of the guys that try to compete, they just fade away in a couple of months. They don't stand a chance. But there is like, by click, there is one big player that enter this market couple of months ago, it's Marvel Snap, and you can guess the main reason why these guys were successful. Well, they've got a great game, good game play, but also, they've got a very like...

John Koetsier: Marvel.

Stan Minasov: Yes, exactly. They've got like god-powerful IP. And of course, if you've got an IP like that, you can just be a deal breaker and disrupt the market itself. But for the most of developers out there, I don't think that's the situation.

John Koetsier: That is a great insight and that's a hundred percent true, right? With IP like that you can break into a lot of things. You can't always be successful in everything you try, but you can break into a lot of things. Let's come back to here. When Peggy chatted with you before the show, you said, "Hey, there's a trend that your tool found first." What trend was that?

Stan Minasov: Well, actually I think that we were one of the first to track and discover legendary Gold & Goblins ad creatives. So that is a very specific creatives that helped AppQuantum, the developers’ team behind Gold & Goblins to grow the revenue four times. I'm not kidding, four times in the autumn of 2021. And this creative actually was used from that time for the last year by different companies, by different publishers and very successfully. One of the last companies that used it was, I think, Habby with their new title Survivor. The game was launched this summer. Yeah, this July. And this exact creative worked like a charm for them. So, we were one of the first to track this trend in the ad marketing field here.

John Koetsier: Can you explain what that creative is like a little bit?

Stan Minasov: Yeah. Yeah, sure. So, basically you have your character and you're mining some type of resources. It can be cutting wood, it can be breaking down rocks.

John Koetsier: Okay. Okay. Totally seeing it. Yep.

Stan Minasov: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

John Koetsier: Exactly. You scratch over your screen.

Stan Minasov: Yes. Yes. And then they used it in a lot of ads. Actually, sometimes they even used it for fake ads and I think we will dig deep into it a little bit later. But Survivor is one of the games that the core gameplay, the basic gameplay, doesn't have anything with this ad creative. So, the gameplay in the ad creative never appear in the game itself, but it works.

John Koetsier: Interesting.

Peggy Anne Salz: That's actually a no-no, but I won't go there. You're supposed to have creatives that show the gameplay, the real gameplay. So, you've told us about the trends that you can discover via your platform. Now I wanna understand what exactly you do and how you are different because it's a crowded market. We've got market intelligence companies out there, we've had them on this show. Tell us a little bit about how you turn data into market intelligence.

Stan Minasov: Oh. As we say it, how we turn data into magic. So, I'd say the raw three thinking’s...

John Koetsier: Ouch. Ouch.

Peggy Anne Salz: I know...

John Koetsier: Sorry, it took me a second there.

Peggy Anne Salz: Toot a little horn here. Yes. Yes.

John Koetsier: Okay. Okay. Product plug. He doesn't... You're not wearing the t-shirt though. Some people are wearing the T-shirt, right? I mean, like, it's all good.

Stan Minasov: So, I'd say there are literally lots of things we really love about our product and we are proud about, but there are three main that in my humble opinion are the best. So, the first one is categorization system that is done manually. And, well, frankly speaking, it is the best on the market, it's not our words, it's the direct quote of our partners from Google. So, we've got over 250,000 apps and games categorized. We do it daily, manually. So, we go out there, we have some kind of a benchmark, so all the trash apps, we just throw them away. And then for all the others, we look at them, we look at the screenshots, we download them, we play them or try them, and then we put a tag or a label that helps us to categorize it. And thanks to that you can dig really deep into a specific market or specific genre in order to maybe develop a new game and to look for your competitors or maybe discover new feature ideas. So, it's a pretty powerful tool.

John Koetsier: That's amazing actually. And so necessary because the category an app is in or a game is in, sometimes there's almost no relationship to what the game actually is. People are strategically picking their niche, their category to kind of win and separate themselves. And unless you really look at it, really, really hard to know. I hope you used, you know, Amazon's Mechanical Turk or something like that. Or there's a 250,000 apps installing and playing. Wow.

Stan Minasov: Well, yeah. Yeah. Partly. And you are absolutely right here, John. So, when you look at that tagging system of App Store or Google Play, sometimes you really wonder because you can see a game or an app that is tagged like one type of game, and then you try it and you say, "Hey, wait a minute. It's just an absolute different product. Why is it here?" So, that's one of the reasons we decided to develop the system of our own.

The second big thing about AppMagic is called Advanced Search. And it's a very powerful, complex but powerful tool that helps to find apps that fall under many criteria at once. For example, you want to analyze winners or losers in your specific genre with the exact number of downloads or maybe revenue. You want to see how their overall market segment is doing. Maybe you want to look for the promising competitors that are on the rise, that you want to track in time and maybe know what type of features do you want to take from them, what type of ad creatives do you want to take from them, why they're rising very effectively in your niche. So, for all of that, you can use Advanced Search. So, it's a very powerful tool. It takes some time to learn and to master of course, but in the right hands it can bring astonishing results.

The third, I'd say, is ad intel. And it's really important now, especially when we are talking about marketing competiting, it's the best tool to analyze performing creatives with a unique metric of impressions. So, usually when we talk about ad intelligence, we talk about not impressions, but rather the percentage of the exact creative shown in this or that network. But we decided that it's not very good metric that will help your business. So, impressions is a much more understandable one and you can use it to understand how advertisers distribute efforts in different countries or different ad networks, which is really useful. And yeah, cherry on the top, I'd say we've got a very, very competitive price.

John Koetsier: Interesting. Actually, I saw that, and this is totally not an ad for your service, but I saw that I thought, "Whoa, I could actually afford that." You know, just me. And I'm like, "Mh-hmm, interesting. Okay. Wow. Huh." That's... I expect a number that, mm-hmm, it barely fits on a credit card, let's say and I didn't see that. So, that was kind of cool. Stan, you talked about, a little bit already, how people use your tool. You talked about trap markets, you talked about, you know, where people can see that, "Hey, maybe not a good idea to invest there." What other stages do you see developers, marketers using your data to make key decisions about what markets to enter, what games to build, what games to put significant resources behind?

Stan Minasov: Yeah. Good one. Actually, these are very good questions that lots of developers out there ask or should be asking. So, the first, and I'd say, crucial question is, is there a market whatsoever? When you are thinking about it, whether there is an opportunity for you or not. So, for that, you might be looking, for example, at top grossing apps or top free apps. It's one of the free deals in our instrument, in our tool. And you might be looking just, all right, so this is the category or genre I might want to develop a game in and how many competitors are there? What's with the revenue? What is their like average revenue that going on with each game? Might it will be useful for me to try to enter this market? Is it big enough? Is it growing or shrinking, the trap market we've just discussed? Is there, maybe, a status quo? So, like, how many competitors are there? How newcomers are doing on this market. Do they fade away or there is a chance for them to grow and be big enough and bold enough?

So, in general, I'd say is the question of the existence of the market itself. Then the question of how big is it and how competitive is it? Then afterwards, what does it take to develop a game to be successful in this market? Because there are markets out there that require lots of expertise and lots of resources in order to gain. So, you spend a lot and you gain a lot. But if you don't have enough expertise and enough resources, then you will burn all this down and will not get all the prizes. And on the other hand, there are markets out there that will, maybe, with a little effort, with little teams for example, while, once again Gold & Goblins were developed by a team from, as far as I remember, a team of three to five people. And it was an absolute success. Yeah, yeah. Surprisingly there are teams out there with hundreds and thousands of people developing games and there are guys with a team of five people developing a new hit. So, in the end of the day, it's just the question of the right genre, right market and right marketing.

Peggy Anne Salz: So, we know about making that call for the market. We understand a little bit about the commercial potential. I wanna get to what developers, companies are really interested in. What about the money in the market? What kind of visibility do you give me into that?

Stan Minasov: Actually, that's a great question. And I'd say that's the first question anyone should be asking when we are talking about the market. Well, really, we are talking about business and that is one of the main questions in the business. So, usually when we want to go deeper, we might want to use the market segment analysis. And it helps to understand how big is the market right now? Who are the top performers from the revenue and downloads perspective? Are they far apart from the rest? Because two different scenarios, you've got all the competitors being pretty close to each other, or you've got like two giants having 90%, 95% of all the revenue and then the tail. It's two absolutely different markets though from the overall like high level perspective, they might seem pretty much the same.

Also, it's very useful to look at the so-called RPD metric or revenue per downloads metric. So, what it calls for like in infinite, when you were talking about infinite timeline, it should reach their LTV because, well, no one knows LTV except the game developers themselves, but everyone wants to. So, when we're using this RPD metric, you can see how the revenue per download grows. And if everything is done correctly, then when growing the user base, you can monetize them better and better and your RPD metric can reach the LTV. So, when you are working with some niche or genre, with some market, you also might want to look at RPD metric in order to understand, all right. So, how much money can I acquire from which user, what it takes, what are the competitors that are doing it best, and what are the competitors that were doing it pretty good and then suddenly something went wrong? What should I be afraid of and what should I do?

John Koetsier: Well, you hit on the reason why I'm a crappy product marketer, and product manager because you're talking about money and I'm not too interested. I'm more interested in the tech, I'm interested in the strategy, I'm interested in the other stuff. Let's talk about ad creatives a little bit. You have an ad intelligence product and you see some patterns around that. And we even talked about that, some of the patterns that you talked about, you know, where you have to like get all the crops or build your island in the…you know, those sorts of things, right? Build your stockade as the zombies are attacking all those sorts of things. What patterns are you seeing in ad creative?

Stan Minasov: Actually, I think that's... There is one pattern that surprises me a lot and it's not the used one, but it still works. And we've already mentioned it, it's fake ads. So, it really surprises me because it still works in the industry and it works flawlessly in the game dev world, especially with casual and hyper casual titles. For those who don't know, it's a popular trend when ad creatives show absolutely different game play from the game itself. You probably might have seen it, for example, at Hero.

Peggy Ann Salz: I've downloaded it.

John Koetsier: Peggy is just boiling inside.

Peggy Anne Salz: I've downloaded it. I've done it. Been there, done it. But they're gone like that. It's like delete. And I'm thinking, I don't know where they made money on that one, but hey.

John Koetsier: But keep going, Stan. We wanna hear what you have to say.

Stan Minasov: Exactly. What is extremely surprising for me that this trend is evolving. So, the fake ads was only the first step. The second step was having the fake screenshots and fake gameplay in the App Store or Google Play. So, there might be like three realistic screenshots of the game itself and three screenshots that are connected to the fake ad. So, when you are looking at the game in the store, you can't be sure. So, what am I looking at? This is some kind of a Frankenstein monster, two different games combined. What is even more interesting, for example, there is an example of Mighty Party, an RPG game, and these guys went one step ahead. You can try to guess it.

John Koetsier: Fake game, fake ad, fake app store listing. Fake game.

Stan Minasov: Fake game. Yes, exactly. Not just the whole game, but in the onboarding, they've introduced the same mechanics, the same game they've used in their fake ads and their fake screenshots. And like, when you are completing the onboarding, this type of gameplay, this type of levels, they never appear in the game afterwards. So, it's just like for the first session, you've got these like four to five levels that are in absolutely different game style and gameplay and then they disappear. If you are hooked up, you continue playing. And it's... Well from my, like, moral perspective, it's so devilish, but it seems that's effective at the same time. So, it really surprises me.

John Koetsier: For anybody who's listening to the podcast, great, we love you, but you need to watch the video because you're missing Peggy's expression. It's hilarious. Because it's not bait and switch, right? It's bait and bait and bait and switch.

Peggy Anne Salz: It's like WTF. That's what it is like. What? What is going on out there? I mean, maybe...

Stan Minasov: When you think... Yeah. Yeah. Sorry.

Peggy Anne Salz: I have to just ask for one second though. I mean we're talking about it, but now we've got it. We'll be watching for it. Maybe John, you never fell into that trap. But it just amazes me that you're saying that this is a pattern you're seeing that it hasn't stopped. Is it growing in momentum or what?

John Koetsier: It must work.

Stan Minasov: It works. It works. And for big games. Once a game, like for Survivor, we've discussed it. And it uses all the fake creatives out there that were popular in the last like year or year and a half. So, they're like, when you look at the top performing ads, like different...10 different games in that and not one of them is the real game that you will play. So, their basic call is, try to hook you up, to bite you and then there is a chance that maybe you will stay in the game and it will be monetized.

John Koetsier: It's taking advantage of our postmodern onslaught of information where nothing is true and everything is possible and anything can happen. And you know what? I went into this game, I thought it was this, but it's this and oh, I'm kind of liking it. Okay, I'll just stay there. Hmm. Interesting.

Stan Minasov: That's true.

John Koetsier: Just taking on bullshit and working and making it. That's interesting.

Stan Minasov: Yeah. Yeah. Personally, I think it can lead to two things. First and it already happened. There will be like totally fake games without any additions based on these type of creatives made by other publishers and other studios because they see that this type of creatives work. So, why not make a game like that? And the other thing is that at some time, I hope, players will get bored. The difference between the things they're seeing and they're playing will be too much. And then what I'm guessing is that either these type of creatives will be banned or there will be some kind of a moderation system out there that will check it or the quality of influencers and some bloggers will increase because you will have to look for someone you trust not just ad creatives out there.

John Koetsier: You know what I think this might be? I think this might be, "I've got sunk cost, I built this game. It's not that successful. I notice that all these ad creatives for these games are really hot right now. They're on trend. I'll use those and I'll incorporate them and we'll get people into my old product, my old game, and we'll just see how many stick." Interesting. Interesting. Maybe. Peggy, you're still shaking your head.

Peggy Anne Salz: I'm just shaking my head because you know... You know me John, it's always been engagement and retention from day one. For me it's, you know, keep people longer. That's the best use of your time, money and effort. And I'm just trying to figure out the retention curve for this kind of crap, you know. And what happens when they show this slide to the investors or powers that be, and it's like, "Well, we've got all these people and they stay here for like two days and they're fed up with our crap and they leave." I don't know, I just was trying...

John Koetsier: It's the same investors as FTX, and some of the other scams. They don't care as long as the money comes. You know, I think Peggy, there's probably more tolerance for nonsense in different age groups. You said it yourself and I've done it myself. I downloaded an app and I thought it was X and it turned out to be Y, instant delete. Right? Or I download an app and they were misleading about their monetization model. Instant delete. You know what? Because there's a thousand fish in the sea no, there's a million fish in the sea and there's another app I can go to. But I wonder if other people in maybe different demographics are more tolerant and they go for it.

Stan, we have had an amazing conversation. We have to draw it to a close. We can't go on for forever. I'm sorry, I apologize. Let's wrap up, as Peggy said, with a hard truth. What is your least censored opinion about mobile marketing?

Stan Minasov: Oh, oh gosh. Well, all right, I'd say it's big, it's competitive and it's pretty damn useful if done right. But it's partly science and partly magic, which makes this especially difficult. So, you should be data driven and work with analytical tools, but at the same time, you should have a good industry expertise, an intuition like hunch in some situations. And the combination of those two can bring you success.

John Koetsier: Thank you for talking about the magic because if you only talk about the data then success is inevitable or failure is inevitable. Look at the data, everybody has the same data. Can't you make the right decisions and just go for it? And you know what? Flappy Bird comes around and boom, some dude's a millionaire for some crappy, insane game, but it just hit the mobile zeitgeist and took off to the stratosphere. And finally, let's end with your top three tips for mobile marketers heading into 2023.

Stan Minasov: All right. So, I said the first one is, uh, have your daily routine. Check your market segment regular, look out for top gainers, top losers as well as new competitors. So, be on the spot. Secondly, know your competitors, even the unobvious ones, especially the unobvious ones, both from features and ad creative's perspective. And thirdly, don't try to beat the giants, especially if you're trying to enter the market because usually you try to compete with the big guys, but especially in the beginning, you will be competing with the smaller ones. So, think from their perspective. Maybe one day you will be there in the tops and you will be competing with Supercell. But as for now, be humble.

Peggy Anne Salz: I love it. Be humble, but also be wary, I think is what we're gonna say here, Stan, because the fake ads, they're gonna stay with me now. Give me something to think about.

John Koetsier: I have a surprise for you, Peggy. This is a fake podcast. It's a fake video.

Peggy Anne Salz: It's a fake podcast. We don't even have a real guest.

John Koetsier: It's a fake world.

Peggy Anne Salz: It's a fake world. On that note before we completely lose it, Stan, thanks so much for being our guest today. And hey, not only did you enlighten us about the world of fake stuff, but it was truly real. You were on this show, that was your goal. You made it.

Stan Minasov: Thank you. Thank you for...very much. It was a pleasure.

John Koetsier: And it was amazing. I mean, I think we have to have you back. There's at least 20 questions we didn't ask you. You know, let's take a little break here and let's come back after, I don't know, four months or something. There's so much more we can learn. Thank you so much Stan. Have yourself a great day and thank you everybody else for listening. See you soon, wherever you might be.

Dec 1, 2022

Acceptable Unprofitability? How Paired Manages Ad Spend To Hit Home Runs

Do you ever have acceptable unprofitability in your ad spend?

In this Mobile Heroes Uncensored, we chat with Gessica Bicego, the CMO of Paired, an app that helps couples feel more connected. We chat about influencer marketing, about hitting singles and the occasional home run, and about whether you can engineer virality or not.

We also talk about diversification of ad spend, and how Bicego ensures that she is always able to take advantage of opportunities to go viral. We chat about metrics that she uses to keep on track, and we also talk about taking time out — in her case to have a child — and then coming back stronger than ever.

38 min

John Koetsier: Is technology making you feel less connected? Guess what? There's an app for that too. Welcome to "Mobile Heroes Uncensored." My name of course is John Koetsier, and our co-host is Peggy Anne Salz. Today we're chatting with a CMO of an app for couples. It's growing revenue 4x in just a year. It's top 10 in its category on the App Store, which is hard to do, by the way. Has a 4.7 rating, which is also hard to do, and apparently has a 98% success rate in helping couples communicate more openly. Peggy, who's our guest?

Peggy Anne Salz: Well, we have Gessica Bicego. She is, as you've pointed out, CMO of Paired. It's an app that helps couples feel more connected. I love this slogan. This must have come from you, Gessica. I don't know. Love more, stress less.

Gessica Bicego: Thank you so much Peggy and John. I'm sorry, but that was not created by me, but I stand by it. I think it's so good, right?

Peggy Anne Salz: Very cool, something we all need to do. So, you, as our guest, as a person, you're a computer scientist by training, but you fell in love with digital marketing more than a decade ago. You've been working in both web and mobile campaigns globally. You've also worked at various digital agencies in Italy, but then John, she moved to Berlin where she's become, can I say my bff? May I? I don't know.

Gessica Bicego: Oh, I love that.

Peggy Anne Salz: Where she has become, and I will state this, synonymous with Blinkist. For years, she led performance marketing there, growth for six years. Her colleagues are impressed with her and they call her, and I love this. All of this is from what they're saying about you, Gessica, a marketing guru, a true ray of light in the office. They even quote Goethe when they refer to you and your abilities.

John Koetsier: Wow. This is scary.

Gessica Bicego: Oh my God. Okay, now I'm blushing.

Peggy Anne Salz: And this one is better, they call you a marketing power and a bit of a marketing Yoda along the lines of do or do not. There is no try, right? She is certainly a doer. It's enough of this. Oh my God, all of this love is too much. She's here today on our show. Welcome, Gessica.

Gessica Bicego: Oh my God, I want to be greeted like this every day, every morning. Can I do that? Well, I will be able because…

John Koetsier: Well, you have to put it in your app. You have to create that in your app. I mean, get a little AI in your app to do it or something like that.

Gessica Bicego: Oh my God. I'm going to have to re-listen to this episode over and over again every morning.

John Koetsier: Okay. Just boost our stats. Perfect. That's all good. No worries.

Gessica Bicego: I'll do it. Thank you so much. This is so kind.

John Koetsier: Gessica, let's start here. Is it possible for couples to communicate too openly?

Gessica Bicego: Too openly? Never. Is it possible not to communicate? Definitely, yes. I feel that, you know, it's so interesting because before I joined Paired, I never really thought about it. The fact that your romantic relationship is probably the most important part of your life at a certain point, not all the time, but like at a certain point it's like really important. But like, what do you do every day to really take care of that? Personally, not so much because I'm so busy with like a million of other things, right? And so, you know, I do so many things to take care of myself. I do meditation, I go to the gym, I journal, I do so many things, but when it comes to my relationship, I realize I don't actually do a lot of things. And that's where Paired comes in, right? What they do is like an app that every day prompts like questions and quizzes and games to feel more connected with your partner. And you can see each other's answer only when you answer yourself. So, I found it so, so powerful because I think relationship care is a vertical that did not exist before Paired came to the App Store. And finally…

John Koetsier: It was called counselling and it costs like $500 an hour.

Gessica Bicego: Exactly. But also how many people do counselling before they are in a kind of a crisis phase?

John Koetsier: No, it's crisis mode.

Gessica Bicego: Right. That's the problem. Like you do counselling when you have a problem, but what if there was a way to really prevent that so that you don't fall back in, like not communicating, maybe over-communicating, who knows? You know, just keep having that connection. And I think that's why Paired is so powerful. And I mean, I guess you can tell that I'm in love with the product.

John Koetsier: You’re kind of sold. Yeah.

Gessica Bicego: Yeah. Actually, I started to use the product one year ago. It was actually, during my pregnancy. I got in contact with the founder and we just did like a nice learning exchange. I guess people know that I'm a huge fan of learning exchange and this meeting with other companies, got to know him better, understand the challenges. And then I downloaded the app and I thought like, "Oh my God, this is genius." We used it a lot at that time. And then six months later when I started to look around, because I was like, "Okay, I think I'm ready for the next step in my career." I remember I got an offer or two from other companies and I told my husband, I was like, "Don't know. It doesn't feel right, if it was something like Paired." And literally the day after I had an email from the founder telling me that they were looking for a CMO. So, it was literally meant to be.

John Koetsier: Wow.

Peggy Anne Salz: I'll tell you what, since you've been there, I mean, since January and being instrumental in driving 4x increase in revenues, astounding. What was maybe not the secret to this, but what are three things, okay, in general you did to rocket revenues?

Gessica Bicego: Well, three things. First, the team. You know, at the beginning I was the first hire in the marketing department. And so I had to build my… There was actually someone else, but then they moved to another team. So, I had to build the entire marketing department. And so I'd done it before. I was also the first hire in the performance marketing team at Blinkist. And so I kind of know how to build like a kickass team, I feel. I think I have a good taste. And yeah, I just build a team of outstanding people, taking care of everything marketing related, brand, user acquisition and CRM. That was the first thing. The second thing, I think, you know, Peggy, because I talk to you so many times about this topic, I am a fan of diversification.

I don't like to really depend too much on just one channel. I love to diversify and like have different bets. And that's the first thing that I did because I felt that similar to other early stage startups, Paired was depending a little bit too much on one platform. And together with that, I started to experiment with platforms that are maybe not the usual one that you would start with. I'm talking about influencer marketing, I'm talking about like podcast advertising and so on. And then the third thing is actually, UGC content. So, we started to work a lot with influencers and content creators to create content for us that we can, yes, then repurpose on either organic social media or paid acquisition. And it went great.

John Koetsier: Super, super interesting. Wow. Talk about the UGC and the video stuff that you did. Why'd you go there and how has that changed the impact that you were able to make for marketing?

Gessica Bicego: So, I think we went there a little bit randomly in the sense that we were like just like trying different things. And I've seen this trend in the past from the creative side in my experience at Blinkist as well. Year over year, the trends really change a lot. So, you have one year where video is all over the place and you need to use like these sharp short videos, maybe really nice videos as well. Then suddenly it is all about static again. And you need to put these like really ugly creatives with like big numbers in it. And then suddenly nothing works again. And you need to go back to like video but like more motion designer, every year something is changing. And I mean that's also like the beauty, I think, right, of this vertical and of working in marketing. So, what happened is that we actually wanted to experiment with influencer marketing because I am a strong believer of influencer marketing, such a powerful tool both for user acquisition, but also for brand building.

Because suddenly you can create these like strong connections with influencer. They talk about you and you become like a trustworthy brand because of the connections you make. So, we were actually testing that channel, and then what we tried is that we did some tests with influencers and we thought, "Why don't we try to use that for user acquisition?" And we tried these videos, and I'm not joking, like they were insane. And then we doubled down on that and started to work more on content production. That is one thing. The second thing is that there's that magic tool called TikTok, where actually what happens is that when you create a video and you put it on TikTok, it can go viral and generate tons of revenue. So, that's also another source of, could be organic, although actually it's a paid video at the end that you put, but it can go viral and you don't even have to pay for all these installs that you receive. So, that's more or less what happened. It was like just like searching for new channels, trying new things. And then it was like, it actually works.

John Koetsier: It's awesome. It reminds me Peggy of somebody you were chatting to, I think about four or five episodes ago, who they had this massive spike in their installs and they're like, "What happened here? What's going on?" And they found out sort of randomly that some influencer on TikTok had made a video using their app to do something cool. And that had just gone crazy, gone nuts, gone viral, and their downloads massively spiked without them actually being aware or knowing about it or paying anything.

Gessica Bicego: It was actually something similar for us. Like it was a paid influencer, but the kind of results that they generated was insane. And we had like a peak, it was one of the high revenue peak for our app, and it was just one video that went completely viral. And of course, like whenever you try to engineer virality, it never works, right? Never. But like, it just happens randomly. So, you have to like, keep trying, keep trying, like try different briefs, try different creatives, try different creators as well. And something else also that I noticed with that is like, do not stop at creators that are similar to you. Because I think that's a mistake that I made at the beginning, especially my role at Blinkist. At that time, I mean, Blinkist is more about education. So, I thought business and politics, that's the way to go. We should start with these kind of creators and influencer. It's not the case. It doesn't matter. It depends on like who you're trying to target, but sometimes like a niche or something completely different like health and fitness or whatever, like minimalistic moms for example, they could work as good, as like the perfect niche audience creator. You just need to find the right audience. And I mean, it's all about the CPM as well.

Peggy Anne Salz: Begs the important question, finding those creators and sort of letting them loose. Any thoughts on that? I mean, you find them, it goes viral. That's really astounding. But there must be something in your mind about choosing the right one.

Gessica Bicego: So, there's one basic, let's say rule that is like, it should be someone that you're proud to be engaging with, be associating with. That's for me, the first rule. When you start asking yourself like, "Is this correct?" You are already in the grey area, probably you don't want that. So, I will move away from that. So, I think that how to choose the influencer is definitely someone that you're proud to be associated with. The second thing, is how much passion they put in their work and like, you know, entertaining their audience. I'm not joking, in the past I did a podcast advertising campaign where we prepared a brief and the brief say like, you know, mention one of these three things. These are the talking points. And the host literally was reading the instructions in the ad, like, "And now mention this thing, this app is amazing."

And I'm like, "Okay." I mean, one job like, you know, you have to put a little bit of effort please. So, it's really like looking at someone that is like not just creating random videos, but really want to engage on their audience. And another really important thing is like, look at the engagement rate. So, for example, if it comes to like, content creators on TikTok, I will always look at the amount of like engagement compared to the amount of reach of their video. You want to be between 10% and 15%. That's usually like a really, really nice ratio. If it's lower than that, probably their content was boosted. And if it's more than that, well, that's amazing actually, but it never happened to me.

John Koetsier: Except when you went totally viral. It is funny though, I mean, because I've seen it on YouTube. One way to take a quick look, you see something with, it's got 100,000 views and two likes. What could have happened here?

Gessica Bicego: I know. And actually I always do that. If I see an ad that I like, I always go on the comment section just to make sure, like, "Okay, is this really good or not?"

John Koetsier: If it's good, it's gotten engagement. It's not just gotten, you know, views, it's gotten likes, it's gotten comments, it's gotten re-shared or something like that. It's interesting. I love the concept of influencer marketing as, "Hey, take a lot of at bats, sometimes you'll hit a home run, but you got to hit a lot of singles before you hit a home run. But when you hit a home run, it's a big, big, big deal." How are you managing your spend there so that you're efficient, but have that opportunity to really hit that home run?

Gessica Bicego: Yeah, it's a really good question. So, I think in the past, like in the past like seven, eight years, I've always been like really concentrating on the paid ROI, for example. So, just looking purely at my performance campaigns and just making sure that they hit a certain return on investment goal. And that's definitely okay. But I think if you want to, especially mini task, like different upper funnel channels, for example, probably the metrics that you want to look at is like the blended ROI. So, instead of looking just at the paid installs or like conversions, you actually look at the overall. And what you're trying to do is like you're trying to maximise the amount of customers based on the spend that you have. Some channels may actually not be performing as well as others. It doesn't matter. What you want is that you want to build balance.

And so what I've done in my previous role, and what I'm continuing to do now is like, I'm trying to have every month, kind of like a system where I distribute the cost, and knowing that certain channels, they will actually be four times more expensive than other, but I need to have them in the mix because you have viral videos. Because maybe actually they bring me content that can be used for other channels. I just accept that I am unprofitable on certain channels as soon as the overall still looks good, you know, and then I can experiment with that. And of course I tend to do that, especially in the good months. Like, it is clear that depending on the verticals you are in, there are some months that are so much cheaper than the others, right? For example, in the health and fitness, I mean, we know that January is a good month, right?

Everyone wants to go to the gym, everyone wants to be in a diet. It's just a good moment. That's probably the right moment when you want to test something like this and maybe be a bit more ambitious. While maybe in the months like, I don't know, for example, all the time before Black Friday and Christmas is always usually really expensive. That's maybe the time where you don't want to experiment too much. You know, I would just like keep it calm. But yeah, I always look at the blended instead of just looking just at the performance, return on investment.

Peggy Anne Salz: I like that a lot. Blended metrics, I'm hearing so much about that. I have to dig a little deeper because I'd like to understand the data sets, the signals that go into that blend, you know. We don't have attribution, single source of truth is toast, so we don't go there. We have to look at data sets and signals from various different places to inform UA as well as retention strategies. What do you look at?

Gessica Bicego: I think that the metrics are all different, to be honest. Like, I think when it comes to like acquisition, I definitely, as I mentioned, I mean I look at metrics that I can understand at day zero because this can tell me like if I'm going to the right direction. That would be, for example, the cost per install. It could be the cost per trial or if you have any other events that actually is correlated somehow with the purchase. I will look at that. So, let's say that you have, I don't know, enough like latest content and it could be like the consumption of like x amount of content pieces, for example. And I would use that to look at the campaigns. Then I would look at the ROI of course, day 8, day 30 and 1 year. I would look at the payback period as well. That's usually an interesting metric, just to understand how long does it take for you to get back all the money that you spend.

Then I will look at the blended cost per install, cost per trial, and blended ROI as well. And then I would go into like the engagement metrics and the renewal metrics as well, just to understand how things are going. Now, the renewal metric is something really interesting because it tells you, I mean, from a business point of view, it's super important, right? You don't want to just bring people in, but at the same time, how can you really address renewal when it happens, you know, in a year from now? So, I always recommend maybe looking at something more short term. That could be, for example, monthly engagement. It could be cancellation. There's a lot of other metrics that you can look at just to make sure that you're just making an impact.

And then if you add on the mix, the web, it's even more complicated. So, I think a lot of mobile apps right now, well, even if they don't have a web app, like it's the case for example, for Paired, they still want to use the website as a source of acquisition. So, they will have paid content campaigns with Outbrain and Taboola. That's something that I did extensively in my time at Blinkist. You can have SEO efforts, you can have search campaigns and you just drive people to the website. But then you have this additional step because people, you go to the website, then they click on a call to action, they go to the App Store, then they download the app. So, in that case, the metric that I like to look at is the view to sign up where view is like a visit to the landing page and sign up will be like an account creation. So, again, every place has its own metric.

Peggy Anne Salz: So, Gessica, you joined the ranks with Mobile Heroes in 2019, right? What a time to do it, because shortly after that the world changed. We had Corona, we had iOS 14 privacy rules. Your life changed, really interesting, having a daughter and taking maternity leave. Then you come back typically loud and proud. You take a brand new position at a brand new company. Where did you get the courage to do that?

Gessica Bicego: Thank you so much for asking. Like, this is something that, yeah, I think I didn't realize at the time, but now I'm like, "I'm so proud of that." And I think I started to realize, because I share my story in a couple of podcasts and like women started to reach out and tell me like, "Oh my God, it's so amazing. So, your life did not end it because you had a child and you can actually…you can get it all. You know, like you can be ambitious." And I'm like, "Yes." I think at the time, to be honest, I didn't really think it through. Like, I just felt like, okay, I was off from maternity leave. I was supposed to go back, and I was at Blinkist for six years, you know? So, I don't know.

It was an amazing time and I grew so much, but I just felt that it was time for me to move on. And my dream since day zero, you know it Peggy, because I think I told you like the first time I met you, it was like I wanted to be a CMO, not in a big company, but just like to be a CMO and lead entire marketing department. So, it was like, "Okay, let me see what's out there." And I just felt like I was a bit anxious because a lot of people actually told me, "You should keep your own job. You know, it's a safe job and you just do what you've done before and then you have more time to spend with your child." But I felt like, "Oh my God, I'm going to be so resentful of myself and maybe even of my family because I'm not going to be able to do what I love and I just want to do something that excites me. And then make sure that I still have a good life balance so that I have the time to spend with my kid."

And so when I went down and looked for a job, I was really honest with everyone that I met. For example, when I joined Paired, the first four months I was part-time because I was still in my maternity leave and they were, you know, super, super, super nice about it. They just understood and they never asked me, you know, to do more time. I was also pretty clear on like, "I'm not going to be the one working 15 hours a day because I literally cannot do it." And I don't know, I think I found the right company that supports me. Hopefully there are a lot of other companies out there and you know, that will support women continue in their career, even having a family. And so far I made the right decision.

Peggy Anne Salz: You make the point, a lot of other companies out there, there are also a lot of other women out there, Gessica, I would love to hear from you how you would help them make a balanced decision here. Because it's very easy to say, you know, "I have a family to support." And make a flash decision they might regret and also doubting if they're going to choose the right way. What would be your advice to them? What would be your message?

Gessica Bicego: I mean, first of all, of course you want to think about like way to sustain your family. That's the most important thing. But also, like, don't forget about yourself. You didn't lose yourself. You're still there. And I think that after maternity, that's the time where you don't feel a lot about yourself because for one year or even more just gave everything to like this little creature. You don't even remember who you were before, but like, you can go back and you can become your own person. So, do that. And it doesn't mean that you have to change your job. Maybe it's like staying on your job, but taking on some different responsibilities. Maybe it's finding a hobby, maybe it's finding something else that gives you joy, but like, just remember that you are a person and you need to take care of yourself. That's something that I've learned through my motherhood journey, I would say.

John Koetsier: It is pretty amazing. I was going to say, because obviously I don't have that experience, but I think maybe the equivalent that I can relate to is taking a sabbatical or taking some time off or something like that. And you worry, you know, "If I do that, if I step away, can I come back? Can I be at the same level? Can I continue to progress?" And I'm just really pumped that you were able to do that. You had the courage to do that, and you came back and you had the right company to do with. Don't ever work for Elon Musk.

Gessica Bicego: Yeah, exactly.

John Koetsier: That probably won't work.

Gessica Bicego: No, I agree with you. And I also had the same feeling. Like I thought, "Oh my God, you are away for like nine months. Your life is over." But it's not true. And as you mentioned, iOS 14 happened while I was away, and of course I came back to a different world. Like, I remember my first week at Paired, I was like, "So, where is this data?" And it's like, "No, you can't see that anymore." What do you mean you can't see that anymore?

John Koetsier: Apple did something. It changed.

Gessica Bicego: It was shocking but, you know, you learn to swim, you learn to live with that, and you actually can find even opportunities in things like this. So, yeah.

John Koetsier: Awesome. So, I want to talk a little bit about creatives. We hit that a little bit already. Your advice to marketers is to stay away from gimmicky creatives. I kind of like gimmicky creatives. I don't know, maybe it's vertical dependent. I don't know. What's your feeling about gimmicky creatives and why do you want people to stay away from them?

Gessica Bicego: Yeah, I think it's like, you know, doing something unusual, that will be okay. But I think just trying to have clickbait creatives, I think that's what I'm against. Because if you do something just because you want to shock people and like generate clicks, it usually never leads to like quality. So, my suggestion is like, first of all, come up with like your own creative ideas. Try to understand who you're talking to. Try to understand your user. If you have the possibility, run user research, market research. Ask them what they're interested in, where do they spend their time. And then try to develop something that actually speaks exactly to this niche audiences.

I mean, try to understand also what you're trying to do with them. Are you trying to tell them, "Buy me, buy me, buy me?" Or are you telling them, "Hey, this is what a relationship care app is and by the way, we're the best at that." You know, like, you need to build, you know, already which one I'm doing. You need to like, just trying to understand what you're trying to do with these creatives and create something that resonates with your audience. And I mean, we all know that in general, ugly creatives are the one that works. Like, it doesn't matter. You spend like the budgets making something beautiful and amazing, and then you have like a frying egg in a pan and it works. It has nothing to do with your app. And it works. Now if it works…

John Koetsier: It’s gimmicky.

Gessica Bicego: …it's gimmicky, you're right. If it works, good for you. But then just make sure that you go a little bit deeper and you check also if these users are converted. Because in the past it happened to me that I have like tons of people like even sharing an app, but then these people were not converting. And do you want this? Probably not.

John Koetsier: No. You've spent a lot of money for those people to not convert. And that really sucks. Where do you sit on the, how much creative to create? Because there are some people who want to create literally thousands, tens of thousands of variations, right? Or let AI create that many. And we've talked to them, Peggy, we've talked to like, maybe even Supercell, those types. They'll create like one or maybe three and use them for months. Where do you sit?

Gessica Bicego: I sit in the middle in the sense that there's kind of a 80-20 rules. Like 80% of your creatives won’t work, maybe even more than that. Maybe 90%, let's say the 10-90 rule. Let's make it up. And only 10% would work. So, my recommendation is like, I think you need to test a lot to find the one that works. But then it's usually…at least it never happens to me that I found the creative and like it work right away. I found the creative, it shows potential, and then I dabble down on that. I start creating iteration of that, modifying the intro, the outro, changing the colours and so on. And that's when it starts to work. So, I don't think that you have to create a thousand of creatives, but definitely, you know, to create like at least five to six different concepts every two weeks that makes sense. You test them but then it's not that you have to create something new all the time. When you find something that works, you need to like double down on that to make it work even more. And I'm not joking, I spend millions on the same creatives in a profitable way. Millions on the same things. Iterate it, slightly change. Like you can really, like, once you've found them, they're like gold, but you need to experiment a lot before you find them.

Peggy Anne Salz: You're also very focused on brand. You're a CMO, so you have to grow. And that means telling us about the app, but also telling us about the brand. Now we know the rule, we've seen the studies. Rule of seven says that repetition is key. People need to see a message at least seven times before it sinks in. What's your experience and how do you apply this to your creative strategy also since you're building a brand?

Gessica Bicego: Yeah, it's such an interesting question. You know, I'm really passionate about brand, although, you know, I'm a number person. Like I come from the performance marketing side, but you know, I need to grow up, stop looking at the numbers. No, I think that on the long term, if you want to have a successful product, you need to build a strong brand because a lot of the choices that we make every day that sometimes they're not really based on…that they're based like on the things that we know on brands. Like, you buy a certain thing just because you associate that with an emotion with something. And I think that's what you want to do with your product. So, when it comes to creatives, I believe that you need to like, not just do things that sells, like buy the subscription now, buy the subscription now.

But you need to try to create the emotion that resonates with your brand. Every creative that you put out, you need to make people think. So, it's not that you have to like lead them to download the app all the time. You can give them a piece of content regarding the relationship. You can tell them how they can have a better communication. You can make their life better. And then where they'll see the performance marketing creative, they will click on it because they think, "Oh my God, you're a trustworthy brand. You already made my life better. So, yes, take my money. I'm going to download it. I'm going to do it." So, what I'm trying to do is like, I'm trying to build a funnel kind of campaigns where we have like more awareness campaigns, where we try to like put the words out about who we are, working with PR for example, working with like experts and therapists, working with like big publication.

And then I have the performance marketing ads that do the job. And you know, they take all these people that they heard about us and they translate them in like people in the app bring revenue. Also, the best marketing campaign that you can ever do is like having your user talking about you. So, really focus on like either virality or like sharing and word of mouth is also like a metric that I look at on a daily basis. And it's crucial because you can bring in all the people that you want, but if they go away, they run away, they don't talk about you, you're never going to able to be profitable. So, again, I'm spending a lot of time on that, but it all goes back to like, how much do you know about your audience? And to be honest, that's the project that I'm spending most of my time with. Market research, user research, segmentation, understanding, what is the addressable market? Where are these people? What do they like to do? What challenges are we trying to solve for them? Why are we good for them? I need to keep iterating because the market is changing so fast. So, yeah, it's a pretty intriguing world.

John Koetsier: I love that. I absolutely love that. It's more pull than push, right? It's being what somebody wants rather than yelling at them and telling them, "Hey, take this, get this, buy this, pay for this, come to all…" I absolutely love that. That makes a ton of sense. And that will actually serve you very well in the long term as well, because somebody's built some positive impressions around your brand. We have to wrap this up. This has been amazing, incredible. We have to do this again. I don't know how soon we can have a guest again, Peggy, but maybe it's a year. I don't know what, but we have to have her again.

Peggy Anne Salz: I think that like the market research thing has me going now, John, have you ever had a marketer here who is doing market research, seriously getting in there, getting hands dirty, building a segment? I'm intrigued.

John Koetsier: I’m sure we have but it is very cool. Okay, cool. So, we'll have you back. It's…

Peggy Anne Salz: It's a done deal.

Gessica Bicego: Yes. I love that. It's a date.

Peggy Anne Salz: It's a date.

John Koetsier: It's a date. Great. We don't know when, we don’t know how, but we will do it. To close then we would like to have your most uncensored opinion about any aspect of mobile marketing. What is it?

Gessica Bicego: Oh my God. Someone will hate me.

John Koetsier: That's okay. We love you.

Gessica Bicego: I hate search. I just hate search so much. I think like, you know, in my years I didn't realize, but I focus so much on display ads and so for me, the visual aspect is like connected with marketing at this time. Although I started my career in Berlin, taking care of like, search campaigns for Italy and APAC for KAYAK. Maybe that's why I hate it. I don't know. But I think like I've seen, I think search is like such a different game because it's only like text, and, I mean, there's not much that you can do because like right now you have these like, big players that spend all the money. So, if you are in the educational space, you have, you know, Audible or all these kind of things.

If you are on travelling, oh my God, it's like so expensive. And I just feel that I am so happy to see that we are moving a little bit away from that because I use it, to be honest now, as a tool for like understanding brand. Because if people look for your name then you know, you know how much interest they are. But yeah, that is probably my opinion. I think it's going away and I think we should all like focus on this, but I know it's not possible because still a lot of people like, you know, look at, and…

John Koetsier: I don't think it's going away, but I love the alternate thought process. I absolutely love it.

Gessica Bicego: And I think especially, sorry, just like to clarify paid search, I think that's where like, I'm fed up. Especially when you look at like even Apple search, I mean, now they're going to hate me even more, but like, do you know a company they're spending a lot of money on Apple and on Apple search ads? It's really hard. Especially, like when I started, I remember them recommending us to just beat on everything, even people that were not competitor. And I think that's what bothers me because I'm like, "I want to buy traffic that makes sense for me. I don't want to steal traffic from others. Maybe I'm just like such a nice person. I don't want to like steal traffic." It doesn't really make sense. So, yeah. Oh my God, they're going to hate me. Let's see.

John Koetsier: That's okay. They will love you later. You still spend money there anyway, so it's all good because you want to understand your brand, so that's perfect. Hey, this is great, Peggy. This is why we asked for the most uncensored opinion. Okay, final thing. Top three tips for subscription apps going into 2023. It's going to be a crazy year. We still have some remnants of COVID and variants. We still have high inflation rates. The economy's still kind of in a crapper. There's a war going on in Europe and there's so much more that's happening. Privacy Sandbox or Android will be launched in 2023, right? SKAN 4 will actually come into the market and the ecosystem, even though it's been launched now, it'll actually enter the ecosystem in 2023. What are your top three tips?

Gessica Bicego: Really hard. I would say the first one is stop depending too much on data. Just because we've seen it with iOS 14 and you cannot measure everything. So, you need to learn how to survive in this new world. And it's only going to get worse. Like, don't fool yourself. Yes, they say that there will be like different kind of things. You're going to be able to see more. It is not going to happen. So, just like embrace this and like try to live without and optimise your campaigns or calculate…

John Koetsier: Embrace the hopelessness.

Gessica Bicego: Exactly. Just like make sure that, you know, you can grow even without having like the full visibility of what's going on. The second thing is like, and I mean this is an old thing, but like stop depending too much on paid acquisition and start building your brand just because it's something that I really believe on. And then, I think don't underestimate the power of social media. I mean everyone was like, social media is bad. It's still like the main channel. All the companies are spending on Meta, now on TikTok. It's like, it's such a powerful channel and especially for the early stage startup, I feel like social media is like where you can do PR without having to pay an expensive agency. So, like keep doubling down on that and keep using that.

John Koetsier: Nice.

Peggy Anne Salz: Really good. Really good. And no one will hate you for that one Gessica.

Gessica Bicego: Awesome.

Peggy Anne Salz: It's been a great show. So many great tips, but also good insights into, yeah, the reality of it all and how you're handling not just, you know, your life and how you take on your challenges, but also the challenges of marketing in a very complex world. It was every minute pure gold. Thanks so much.

Gessica Bicego: Thank you so much, Peggy and John.

John Koetsier: Thank you so much, Gessica. It was a great pleasure to chat with you.

Nov 23, 2022

Product-led Growth: How Rootd Bootstrapped to 2M Users

Bootstrapping is great. Especially when you’re getting a suitcase full of awards for your app. In this episode of Mobile Heroes Uncensored, we cha with the founder of Rootd (pronounced “rooted”), Ania Wyshocka.

Rootd is an app for people who suffer from anxiety, stress, and panic attacks, and in a classic entrepreneur story, Ania built a product based on her own experiences. In the process, she’s earned a Developer Spotlight by Apple, a “30 Under 30” win, and a selection to “Canadian Woman in Tech you Should Know.”

Now of course, inevitably, she’s looking to paid acquisition to take her app to the next level. Hosts John Koetsier and Peggy Anne Salz chat with Ania about her journey, choices, revenue model, and approach to personalization and segmentation.

33 min

Ania Wysocka: I would say to get started, you know. I think that said a lot, but I really believe it and mean it because you can really stop yourself from pursuing something. And I had a lot of people who were just telling me that this is going to be really hard. Why are you spending so much time on it? It's not that they didn't wish well for me when I look back, but I think that their negativity sort of motivated me to.

John Koetsier: Are you super stressed out? Maybe a victim of panic attacks? Maybe you have too much anxiety? Welcome to "Mobile Heroes Uncensored" where it's always super chill, right, Peggy? My name is John Koetsier. Our co-host, of course, as always, is Peggy Anne Salz. And today we're not chatting about performance meetings with your manager unless we are. We're chatting about the founder of an app for people who suffer from anxiety, stress, and panic attacks. And frankly, last three years, who hasn't? She's bootstrapped her app to two million users. I mean, bootstrapped her app to two million users. Amazing, and has a suitcase full of awards. Peggy, who is this person we're chatting with?

Peggy Anne Salz: Yeah, what can I say, John? Could say a rockstar, perhaps, and chilled, a chilled rockstar. We have Ania Wysocka. She is founder and creator of Rootd, which is a mobile app, as you said, panic attack. So, it's for panic attack victims. It's for anxiety relief, and she has grown it to help over two million users. But what's really interesting is the backstory because Ania built the freemium app to help her cope with her own anxieties and comfort the panic-stricken. She's on a mission, but she's also more than empathetic and a great entrepreneur. She's been selected for a number of awards. So, I'll just rattle them off, John. A couple might be familiar because they're in your backyard, Developer Spotlight by Apple. She's also 30 Under 30 winner by BCBusiness. A Canadian woman in tech, you should know, is another one of her accolades, and one of the 20 women entrepreneurs to watch by Founders Fund.

This past year, Ania has been telling her story of how she bootstrapped Rootd. She's been on stage at Mal, Vegas where I met her. She's been at the App Growth Summit in London. She is on a world tour, and she's here to share it with us today here on "Mobile Heroes Uncensored." Welcome, Ania. Great to have you.

Ania Wysocka: Thank you. Thanks so much for having me.

John Koetsier: It is great to have you, and it's great to have somebody in my backyard. Yeah, BC is British Columbia. That is not in South America for those who are geographically challenged. It is a province on the western edge of Canada, just above Washington state. Let's start here, Ania. Tell us about the app, how it works.

Ania Wysocka: So, Rootd is panic attack and anxiety relief in your pocket. It has a number of different tools to help you both immediately in the moment if you're struggling with a panic attack, like an actual SOS panic attack tool. And then it also has a number of things to help you manage anxiety in the long term, so things like lessons to help understand what it is, what's actually going on in your body, breathing exercises, visualisation tools, a sleep assistant, and journaling. And it's all gamified, so you collect points as you go.

John Koetsier: Is anxiety...? I mean, you clearly know this inside and out. You've built the app for it. You've got professional resources to help with that. Is it something that some people have chronically but others sort of have episodically and sort of comes about quickly? How does it act, and how does your app help?

Ania Wysocka: It's definitely a range. So, there's general anxiety or there's the point where it gets to a panic attack, which is very heightened anxiety. And panic attacks can come seemingly out of nowhere. Oftentimes we don't really know what's ailing or bugging us, or that we're kind of keeping it inside for a long time. And that's what happened to me. I was in my final year of university when I had a panic attack and it just completely flabbergasted me. I was so confused about what was happening. I went to a doctor. They basically said, "You're fine," which made me even more confused. I didn't have these resources on hand to, like, explain what was happening. And it was really a difficult time for me.

Peggy Anne Salz: But I love how you turn a problem into a solution for a lot of people. I mean, the fact that you have built an app based on your own experience. Tell us a little bit more about how you have done that. I mean, you have doubled your users, you've bootstrapped zero to one million, now two million, so even more. All of these stories have interesting days. Yours has an interesting origin based on your experience at the university and what you later did, but share a couple of the stories about the early days of the project.

Ania Wysocka: Yeah, so when I was first starting, I took these ideas for tools and wireframes that I had and I went to an agency, and I got a quote from an agency on what it would cost to develop it. And there's just no way that I could ever afford that, so I kind of just kept at it. I really started teaching myself more about wireframing, just realizing that I have to do a lot of this on my own. And then finally, I worked with a student developer, who could give me a great rate but also was curious himself about, like, what this project might be. So, that's kind of how it got started. And then when it comes to marketing those early days, it was a lot about user engagement online, a lot about App Store optimisation. I made sure to focus on panic attacks versus anxiety because I knew anxiety was more of a competitive space with venture-backed giant apps. And so it was very important for me to, like, focus on that niche. And yeah, that was, you know, those early stages.

Also PR. So, a lot of people don't think that PR is great for, like, a super small startup, but actually, I find that local organisations and local publications are really happy to write about a new startup in the area. So, that's also something that I relied on for the first few hundred users, right? Not thousands, but hundreds.

John Koetsier: That's a very important cohort, isn't it? I mean, to get people on board, to see the app being used, to see what they're doing, what they're using, what they're not using, all of that stuff. Super interesting. What would you give as advice for other founders who want to kick something off and maybe aren't technical? They're looking for the technical co-founder, which is this mythical quest that, you know, is really, really hard to do. What advice would you give?

Ania Wysocka: I would say to get started. You know, I think that said a lot, but I really believe it and mean it because you can really stop yourself from pursuing something. And I had a lot of people who were just telling me that this is going to be really hard. Why are you spending so much time on it? It's not that they didn't wish well for me when I look back, but I think that their negativity sort of motivated me, too. Yeah, there's just so many people that said, "Why are you doing this?" And just going for it really helped. And also, you know, bootstrapped apps, especially when I was starting it. It wasn't talked about that much. Everything was about venture-backed apps, venture-backed funded companies, in general. So, I didn't get a lot of hype around being bootstrapped. And I guess I would also tell somebody else, like, you could still do it bootstrapped, you know, even if others aren't saying that you should or can.

Peggy Anne Salz: Going to ask, though, another why question. You were plagued by them at the start. I'll add to it because it is about raising money. That's what everyone says is the golden ticket. They want to do it, they go to the events, you know. That's where they find that funding, but you decided, determined to be self-funded. Why is that?

Ania Wysocka: A few different reasons. I think that exposure to the startup community, whether that was online or in person really showed me that fundraising can be really distracting. It becomes a full-time job. And I met with a lot of founders who shared the reason why they started their company. They're no longer doing that. They're now full-time fundraisers. So, I didn't want that for myself personally.

Another thing is I interacted with some investors and didn't have a great experience, and so I think I got sort of dismayed from that quite early on and I know. I know you shouldn't generalise people, in general, but I did find that I was like, "I don't know if this is a great fit, and I really do want Rootd to continue to be values-based," which brings me to the third point. A lot of investors, their first suggestions were to have less free content, you know, raise prices, and do things that, like, make sense in their world, but it didn't necessarily make sense for Rootd and why I started Rootd. So, I'd say those are, like, the top three reasons.

John Koetsier: It's also interesting if you think about it, right? I mean, sometimes you start a company because you want to do what you want to do, and this is some part of it, you're your own boss. When you take on capital, not so much. There's a board of directors. There's people who are saying, "How are you deploying that capital? What are you doing? What are the results?" You basically hire yourself a boss.

Ania Wysocka: Yeah, I think it makes sense for so many startups stories, capital, but with Rootd being a personal story for me and values-based, I found those conversations really challenging with investors and just decided that, you know, maybe that'll change in the future, but for now, I'm really enjoying it and really enjoying focusing on the product and listening to the users and that exchange. And yeah, fortunately, I'll be able to keep going like this. So, we'll see what happens in the future, though.

Peggy Anne Salz: Well, I think you'll be going because look at what you've already done, right? Zero to one million, now double in a year. And to generate that revenue, you have chosen the freemium app model. Before I ask you some deeper questions, I just have to understand that as well because there are so many different marketers who say, "No, just..." And we've heard them too, John, remember? "Don't even bother. Just your paywall is... Like, "Here's what it costs, and that's it. So, don't have that type of model to start." What made you choose it?

Ania Wysocka: I guess it certainly goes back to the origin story again, how I didn't have the resources to get the help that I needed. And in that context, it was more like regular therapy sessions, which can be quite expensive as a student on student loans. In this context, obviously, Rootd is a lot more affordable than that already. It's $60 a year, so that is much more digestible than the cost I had to face when I was struggling myself. But at the same time, there are some cases where people can't even afford that, right? So, I do want to be mindful of that and make sure there's no big financial constraints. So, the things that are free in the app are things that help immediately in the moment, like the panic attack button, so that's why.

And I think I had actually read a blog, this was, like, back in 2017, about somebody who started with just a paid app and their biggest regret was that they didn't go freemium because they missed out on so much opportunity of users who could have converted later as well. And that sort of stuck with me and, you know, it's been quite a few years now, so there's different strategies and trends when it comes to monetisation, but I think that also influenced me.

John Koetsier: It's interesting that you characterise it as $60 a year. Clearly, that's a subscription. Is it an annual subscription or is it monthly?

Ania Wysocka: Well, our most popular plans are annual, but there's a monthly option as well.

John Koetsier: Okay. I find that interesting. I find that an easier sell often than a monthly subscription. I don't know, maybe there's different classes of things because, like, for Netflix or Amazon Prime or whatever, monthly makes a ton of sense, absolutely. You're getting value all the time. But maybe for anxiety, maybe it's a different category of things. Maybe you go three months without having a panic attack, I don't know. I'm not an expert, but maybe that. I can imagine being happier, or I can have a more stressful period in my life. Having an annual subscription, I don't know, seems to make sense for me in that sense.

Peggy Anne Salz: It sounds a little bit like a security blanket, you know, like, hey, it's not going to go away overnight. I've got $60 for the year. I'm pretty intrigued by the panic button now. I have to.

John Koetsier: Yeah, exactly.

Peggy Anne Salz: I was thinking about that, and that's one of the free aspects. So, that's, like, immediate gratification and satisfaction in that moment. I'm just curious, I have to ask you, Ania, what does it do?

Ania Wysocka: Yeah, so it's based on cognitive behavioural therapy. It's based on the idea of either confronting the sensation that you're experiencing during a panic attack or accepting it to kind of push it away for the moment and feel better in the moment. So, there's two options based on how you're feeling. It's an interactive tool. You can, again, choose to challenge that feeling or just feel okay in the moment. Let's say you're on a busy subway, or in a crowd, or about to go to work and you don't want to deal with it. So, the one that helps you kind of push it away for the time being, gives you these prompts that really remind you why you're okay, why you've survived every panic attack to date. All of these things that you know, but in the moment when you're feeling heightened anxiety, you might forget. And then the other option challenges you to really accept those sensations. So, that's how the panic attack button works. And then there's an option to call an emergency contact. There's an option to jump into the deep breathing or the visualisations as well.

John Koetsier: Super, super interesting. Again, as a total new to this whole thing, you know, it strikes me is if you have a playbook that, you know, you can follow like a series of steps, you can normalise, right? You can almost self-medicate in some sense. Is that how it works?

Ania Wysocka: In the sense, yeah. So, we definitely don't want to replace any other resources that you're using, and we encourage people to see doctors, see therapists. But Rootd is a really great symbiotic tool to those other important resources, especially when they're not available. So, let's say it's the middle of the night and you can't call your doctor, you can't call your therapist, then you have Ron, which is the app mascot who can guide you through panic attack then. And therapists, and psychologists, doctors are some of our top referrers, so I think it works quite nicely together.

Peggy Anne Salz: I love that idea because I know a lot of people who've either had panic attacks. Everyone has to deal with them at some point. Maybe not everyone, but a lot of us do, and it's just like this, you know, hey, it's okay, it's all right, and now you've got, like, this app and a little bit of gamification, and just trying to just treat it as a normal part of your life and not, you know, getting focused on it. And that takes a lot of effort in the product. But also, I'd like to talk a bit more about how you arrived at what works for your app. Can you share some of the experiences and experiments, whether it's for the product or for the paywall that you have as well? I mean, what are some of those learnings from those experiments?

Ania Wysocka: Yeah, so regarding features, it was largely intuitive at the time when I was struggling. I was kind of creating and designing and wireframing things that I found very comforting, things that I wish I had known, things that I wish I had access to when I was really struggling. So, that's definitely the basis for the features themselves. Then when it comes to the monetisation, like, yes, the paywall, that took a few experiments for sure. I definitely offered most diverted for free at the beginning and still continue to offer a lot for free. So, that freemium model, while we did have conversions, it wasn't so high. And then the most simple tactic that was really effective for me was introducing the paywall during the onboarding process as opposed to just having locked content in the app and accessing a paywall then.

And at first, I was so nervous. I was thinking that people might get really offended or, you know, maybe it's just not the right fit for the type of app that Rootd is. However, the amount of people that complained was so, so small, like, less than, you know, 10 in the first few months. And I was seeing so many benefits in terms of the actual conversions and then what I can do with that revenue as well, right? Like, just make Rootd better and better. So, I think that people are super used to seeing paywalls during the onboarding process now, and that's why we didn't get a negative reaction from the public. It was mostly just super understood, and I probably could have done it sooner.

John Koetsier: Nice. But you only know when you try. That's excellent. Talk about localisation and personalisation. You're working to localise your app to different countries. Of course, there's a language thing, but there's probably much more than a language thing in this type of app specifically. But you're also trying to personalise your app a little bit more. Talk about what you're doing in those areas.

Ania Wysocka: So, in terms of localisation, we're actually available in 10 different languages now, and it is primarily the change in language. There are some cultural differences like you said. For example, in Brazil, we learned that the name Ron can't just be Ron, it has to be Ronny. Like, that's a cultural thing. And there's certainly some sentences... There's some languages that, you know, we use a lot more adjectives and adverbs as you speak and others that are shorter. So, that actually changes the design of the screen and the wireframe itself. So, there have been some interesting challenges into localisation, but overall, it's been really positive.

I'd say it was also, I call it the least businessy business decision I've made because it was also quite values-based, but then it ended up, like, bringing in more users from different countries as well. But, you know, there wasn't, like, a super clear marketing strategy for that in place. It was just mainly getting requests from users for those localisations and then reading reports about how bad the rate of panic attacks and anxiety is in some of the countries where we've localised. So, that was that experience.

John Koetsier: Including Ukraine?

Ania Wysocka: Yes, yes, that's an example. Yeah. We get a lot of messages from folks in Ukraine and Russia. Yeah.

John Koetsier: Wow.

Ania Wysocka: In terms of personalisation, this is something that I'm still experimenting with now. I do ask more questions when users sign up for the app now, and that's to kind of get to know them a bit, just to really understand, like, what tool they're really going for in the app when they first sign up because you can see that afterwards and see what user's actually doing, but that intent when they first sign up I think is really, really interesting to learn about. It's not always what they're going to be using in the app. And yeah, just trying to get to know the user a bit better. I do have some features planned for the feature that might include a bit more personalisation, but I probably shouldn't talk about them yet.

John Koetsier: Big secret.

Peggy Anne Salz: But they're coming. That personalisation is hot. I have to dive into that just a little bit deeper because it's really smart, first of all. If you want to inform your segmentation strategy, yes, you can do a lot of work with data sets, or you can simply ask. So, you're asking them, "Why are you here? What are you looking for?" And then you can bring together that journey to suit that audience. But I'm hearing a lot in the industry now about how personalisation has to start with pricing and you should have almost as many pricing models as you have segments and then you'll just show the different prices, and the different paywalls, and different onboarding to the different segments. Marketers are bullish about that. I'm about to go to a conference where it's going to be probably a hot topic, and some are going to preach it more than others. What do you make of that? Are they right?

Ania Wysocka: I probably don't do as much segmentation as is probably recommended, except for the most obvious ones like iOS versus Google Play and different demographics age-wise, language-wise. That's about it. Like, there's probably a lot more that I could be doing. I really enjoy hearing from users, though. That's kind of, like, my main source of feedback and learning. So, maybe a bit more qualitative over quantitative in some cases.

John Koetsier: Can you talk about your team a little bit? How big is the team right now? Who does marketing? What does marketing consist of?

Ania Wysocka: Yeah, so really small. So, maybe that's also why we have more of that, you know, qualitative versus quantitative approach. But I'm the only person that's on it full-time. I have contractors who are there for development, junior and more senior developer, and then I have somebody doing social media engagement and somebody creating social media content. Not currently advertising, but I will be in 2023.

John Koetsier: Interesting. I was wondering about that a little bit because you bootstrapped two million users, which is impressive. It's amazing. I mean, there are not that many success stories that do something like that. It makes me think totally different vertical, totally different app, Flappy Bird, if you remember that, like, five, six years ago, Peggy. You know, it was a stupid game. Tap, tap, tap, keep the bird up and not hit the pipes, right? And that went nuts and it went crazy. I mean, he got so much money from that. He got attacked. It was really bad, and maybe he needed an anxiety app. But, you know, it's interesting to talk about marketing. You're doing the strategy, you're doing mostly execution, you have somebody who's helping you, but you bootstrapped two million on App Stores and social media, and PR. Those are the three tactics I've heard. That's impressive.

Ania Wysocka: Yeah. I have played around with advertising. It just wasn't as successful as I would have hoped, so that's why kind of I fail fast and then kind of take the learnings and then re-engage again in the future. And so now this next re-engagement is for Q1, 2023. That's sort of how I have it planned out right now. I think that because of the organic traction, a lot of focus for me is on the in-product funnel, and really understanding and utilizing the information, user acquisition we have organically before going out and spending a lot. So, that's sort of where I'm at. It's like 95% organic, and then the 5% has been through ads. Yeah.

John Koetsier: Interesting. Peggy, I wonder if there's a differentiation here between an app that's kind of, you know, maybe just something that's fun, maybe a utility that you could have or you don't need to have or something like that. You know, a vitamin, that's kind of nice to have versus, like, a bandaid that you desperately need in the moment. And I wonder if there's a different marketing strategy based on that differentiation.

Peggy Anne Salz: Makes sense because of the intent. You know, the greater the intent, the more valuable the user, and she's obviously nailed valuable users, and just wants to fill the funnel with, you know, 5% more of them. The rest of them could be all the advocates across the 150 countries. I have to ask, though, because if you're going into advertising, that means it's, like, going to be new territory for you, you know. The exciting place where John and I are and what…

John Koetsier: And it's a big landscape with lots going on.

Peggy Anne Salz: It's a big landscape and it is so screwed up right now. So, I have to understand where you're going to place your bets because most people are like, "Get me out of here. I want to go to brandformance." A lot of people going back to TV. Remember, John, we talked to a few. What are you looking at? And, boy, you're brave, by the way.

Ania Wysocka: Well, in terms of channels, I define that like probably our demographic is on Instagram, Facebook and TikTok. And so those are the channels. And I will be working with a contractor who has more experience than I do in this. And, you know, I have tested out things and I've got to play around with creative. I've got to see what works, especially in terms of installs. It was more so about turning those installs into paid conversions and that's where the issue was. So, that's what I'm re-attempting in 2023. It's not that I haven't ever tried. It just has been a lot more lucrative to focus on how to keep improving the product itself versus going out with advertising.

John Koetsier: It is going to be a major step. It is going to be a big step, and wish you all the success in the world as you make that step. We've got to start drawing this to a bit of a close, and Peggy and I have a couple of questions that we typically end with, and one of them is your least censored opinion about any aspect of mobile marketing. That could be interesting to you as somebody who's bootstrapped. What is your least censored opinion about mobile marketing?

Ania Wysocka: Well, I guess it goes back to what we were just discussing, and perhaps that people do too much of it, or there's too much focus on it where I think it really should start in the product. The product should be so sticky and so needed, like you said, the vitamin versus bandaid aspect. I think that's where it should start. And sometimes I see apps asking me what they're doing wrong, and I don't know, for sure, but that is something that I've noticed is that there's so much focus on marketing when the product hasn't really been finished. So, you're bringing users into something that's not quite going to keep them there.

John Koetsier: Product-led growth, Peggy.

Peggy Anne Salz: Yeah, products and marketing. Hearing it all the time because it's the only thing you can really fix right now. It's a little bit of one of those areas, you know. We are at a time where there are so many levers you have, right?

Ania Wysocka: Yeah.

Peggy Anne Salz: It's not the way it used to be. This is the time for apps like yours, right? We're gearing up, we're going to end the year, we're going to start the new one with a much better start than the last. So, it's big times for health, mental wellness, well-being apps. Your top tips for mobile marketers heading into 2023 considering this is the time. What are your three top tips?

Ania Wysocka: I'd say to really utilise the different Apple technologies that they're coming out with, so whether that's an in-app event, widgets. I found that to be really useful. And going back to segmentation, that's something that we do differently for iOS than Google Play, for sure. And yeah, I find those to be so helpful, especially in getting your message across with something like Rootd where the focus is on panic attacks. Tools like that allow me to take some time to also show users other aspects of the app like journaling. And when I did an in-app event on journaling, all of a sudden, I got all these reviews about how people love the journal tool. So, it gives you an opportunity to present another aspect of your app that you might not be ranking as highly in.

Another one would be to again focus on that product again. And I think maybe one tip could be using the help of an app mascot, like this guy right here, he's been very loved, and supported, and celebrated by users all around the world, so I'm really happy that I did choose to create something like that, and people have really personified him in a way that I wasn't sure they would. And I think that that is continuing to be popular and getting even more popular to have, like, a friend with you as you're journeying through the app.

John Koetsier: Love it, love it. Absolutely love it.

Peggy Anne Salz: You have it to number three coming, but you know what? Merchandise. You've got another area you can get into because it’s kind of cute. I can see it.

John Koetsier: They're flashy to hang onto.

Peggy Anne Salz: Yeah, I'm serious.

Ania Wysocka: Yeah. My friend made me this 3D version. Kind of cute. And we were talking about how we can expand that. But yeah, it's hard as a bootstrap app. Maybe that's one of the negative aspects is you have to be so focused that I haven't even been able to explore that.

John Koetsier: A blessing in disguise sometimes. A blessing in disguise.

Ania Wysocka: I guess so. Yeah.

John Koetsier: Was there a third tip? There doesn't have to be. I mean two is good, and the first one was really amazing, too. So, if there is a third, we're happy to hear it.

Ania Wysocka: I guess just with trends, experimenting a lot with the onboarding that has been the most impactful for Rootd as a bootstrapped app is just to take what's already in our control, something like the onboarding screens and see what can happen there. Those have been the lowest lift, highest impacts changes for us.

John Koetsier: Nice. You know, Peggy, what Ania makes me want to do is we should start our own app. I don't even know what. I don't even know the vertical. We'll start our own app and we'll just, like, you know, put 1,000 bucks into it every month or something like that to, you know, build it, invest in it, grow it, all that stuff. And we'll apply everything we're hearing from every mobile hero, and we'll just see what works and what doesn't work, and then we'll keep a scorecard.

Peggy Anne Salz: That'd be cool.

John Koetsier: And we'll have a panic button if we waste all our money.

Peggy Anne Salz: Hell, that sounds like fun. I'm in. I love experiments. And we've got the perfect sort of Petri dish here going because we can even get the business ideas from what the app needs to do, right? So, yeah.

John Koetsier: I know, I know.

Peggy Anne Salz: Very cool.

John Koetsier: I know. Well, Ania, this has been a super amazing pleasure to chat with you. Wish you the best of success. It's always great to hear from somebody who is bootstrapping and doing amazing and doing some good as well.

Ania Wysocka: Awesome. Thanks so much. Thanks for the great questions. It was fun.

Peggy Anne Salz: Oh, you're welcome. And I have to say, from my end, right, it's been a great interview, but also the fact that you have stuck to your values means a lot for me because something I like, it's a grounded interview and a practical interview that we have that with you at Rootd. So, a little bit of pun there, but a lot of appreciation.

Ania Wysocka: Awesome. Thank you.

John Koetsier: You can have your pun on that. When I first heard Rootd, I thought it was, like, rooted as in you've been owned, hacked, ponged, your device has been rooted. But in any case, thank you so much.

Peggy Anne Salz: I was thinking of vegetables, John. We're in such different world.

John Koetsier: I guess we are.

Ania Wysocka: And I was thinking of this. You know how when there's, like, a huge oak tree and there's a storm it's not going to rattle as much? That's the goal with Rootd. You want to stay rooted and get through the hard times.

Peggy Anne Salz: Cool.

John Koetsier: Love it. We all need some of 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 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 Salz, signing off for "Mobile Heroes Uncensored."

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 o