Singular selected as finalist for 12th annual Media Excellence Awards

The Media Excellence Awards (MEA) announced its finalists this month, highlighting “technology innovators and leaders to watch in 2020.” The MEAs honor innovators, leaders and game-changers in mobile technology, entertainment. and media verticals.

It’s humbling and gratifying to see Singular selected as a finalist in the Analytics/Big Data category.

“We are excited to announce an outstanding list of innovators and leaders again this year as the finalists represent the very best in mobile technology, breakthroughs, creative, innovation and entertainment platforms,” Sarah Miller, the founder of the Media Excellence Awards, said in a statement. “The MEAs are looking forward to honoring another year of excellence as we enter its 13th year of mobility and leadership.”

A good time for Singular

It’s been a good few months for us at Singular as we’ve received a number of accolades. While we often fly under the radar, focusing on helping companies like LinkedIn and Rovio and Doordash outsmart their competition, we’re starting to get noticed.

We recently won the 2019 Technology Innovation Award from Frost & Sullivan, and our COO Susan Kuo was nominated for a Global Mobile Award by Mobile World Congress. (We’re still awaiting word on whether we’ll win and how that finals process will go, by the way, as MWC Barcelona was canceled due to coronavirus concerns.)

Cream of the media crop

Other finalists for Media Excellence Awards include Kabam, Jam City, and FoxNext Games in the — you guessed it — games category. Ford and Snap (a Singular partner) were nominated in the AR/VR, while RedBull TV and NBC were listed as finalists in the live streaming/video category. Other finalists include Dominos, Mastercard, Google, and Sephora.

See all the finalists at the Media Excellence Awards website.

“Our goal is give our customers the tools and insights they need to dominate marketing in their categories,” Singular CEO Gadi Eliashiv said. “Being nominated as a finalist for the Media Excellence Awards is much-appreciated recognition of the success we’re enabling.”

We’d like to congratulate all the other finalists and thank the Media Excellence Awards. And we look forward to updating you if and when we win.

AdExchanger’s Allison Schiff on IDFA, TikTok, Snap, Facebook, Apple, and everything else

What do you learn when you talk to the biggest players in marketing technology, advertising, and ad tech all day long? Quite a lot, actually, as we heard from Allison Schiff, a senior editor at AdExchanger.

Including that she went to college in Dublin for the “crack.”

Fortunately, in Dublin crack is not actually an addictive and dangerous controlled substance, but actually C-R-A-I-C, the Irish word for “fun.” Plus, of course, we learned plenty of insights about the top ad platforms and marketing strategies that she’s writing about now. And we even learned how an a ad tech journalist listens and thinks when an ad platform or marketing platform executive talks to her.

Welcome to the latest episode of Growth Masterminds, the podcast that makes you a better marketer.

Here’s a full transcript of our conversation, as well as highlights and excerpts. Listen right here, or subscribe on your favorite podcasting platform: AppleGoogleSpotifyand a number of others.

Overview: what we talk about with Allison Schiff

  • Major changes in martech and ad tech, including the death of the cookie, the IDFA, and increased privacy legislation
  • The recently released Singular ROI Index, and what Allison sees in some of the major players featured in it
    • TikTok
    • Facebook and Google
    • Apple Search Ads
    • Amazon
    • Twitter and Snap
    • AdColony, Vungle, Liftoff, and AppLovin
    • Unity
  • Looking behind the curtain of some of today’s biggest marketing and advertising platforms
  • The goddess of growth and the impending death of cash-as-a-strategy business models
  • What advertising works best
  • How the marketing world will change over the next few years

Quick hits: A few of Allison’s key quotes

On ad monetization

“There’s still a lot of interesting stuff happening that is really innovative or overdue. I’m hearing more about in-app bidding. It’s been taking a long time for publishers to start moving away from just the classic waterfall setup. It’s still slow …”

On programmatic, TikTok, China, and brand safety

“I feel like you can look to China to see what the future might hold … it’s only a matter of time before [programmatic] comes to TikTok in the US and other markets.”

“But I do think also the China connection might maybe make some buyers a little bit nervous. You know, some brand safety issues for sure. I’ve talked to buyers who are like, ‘Pffft, I do not want anything to do with this.'”

On Facebook and Google, black boxes, and automation

“I haven’t heard of them. I’m just kidding.”

“You know they’re going to be at the top of any list, although it was kind of interesting is that I’m hearing more and more grumblings here and there about Facebook and Google becoming even more black boxish and just layering more automation into the campaign management process.”

On Twitter and Snap

“They’re very different media sources but they have a similar problem, they’re very demand constrained, not supply constrained … I mean, they’re all over the Singular Index, but there’s clearly a lot of room to grow, so there’s opportunity there.”

On AdColony, Vungle, Liftoff, AppLovin

“Niche players can do well if they’ve got something to offer. You need unique demand, good creative. In particular though, I hear really good things about AppLovin and you know they have a cool strategy, they’re investing in-app bidding …”

On advertising that works on her

“I know a freelancer who was having some trouble getting health insurance, and I was riding the subway a couple weeks ago, and I saw an ad on the subway for this company called Trupo, which provides insurance for freelancers. So I sent him a text, I’m like, ‘here you go.’ I mean, it was also just one of those things really hard to attribute that, but …”

On playable ads … in the real world of outdoor advertising

“There was this series of Casper mattress ads on the subway with word games, and I actually found myself sitting there playing them, like doing them in my head because I didn’t have internet.”

On coming legislation

“Regulators and entities like the Federal Trade Commission are way more tech savvy than you might think, and they have a real appetite to understand the intricacies of how ad tech works and how apps monetize and grow, and also all different kinds of advertising related technologies because of the data collection component.”

And … the full transcript

John Koetsier: Welcome to Growth Masterminds, a podcast where smart mobile marketers get even smarter. This is the fifth episode.

In our first four episodes, we spoke to people who are delivering growth for their brands. For this episode we’re shifting focus. We’re talking to someone who investigates and reports on the broader trends surrounding growth as a whole. Our next guest, I’m so excited to speak to her, is a senior editor at AdExchanger. Before that, she worked for Direct Marketing News and she doesn’t just write about marketing and tech … she’s done it.

Allison Schiff
Allison Schiff, Senior Editor at AdExchanger

She’s been a senior digital strategist. She’s been a web editor, and she has her masters in journalism from the Technological University of Dublin, which she says is her favorite place. And … perhaps most important of all, she volunteers for New York Cares, an animal welfare organization.

Allison Schiff, please say hello.

Allison Schiff: Hello. Thank you so much for having me.

John Koetsier: I’m super excited and I can’t wait to hear what you have to say, and it’s wonderful to be on a podcast where I can ask the questions and somebody else can answer.

Allison Schiff: I’m really not used to this. This is not my comfort zone. I’m used to asking the questions.

John Koetsier: Excellent. We have you out of your comfort zone. Excellence and amazement has to proceed, so it’s all good. First of all, tell us a little bit of your story. I gave a hint of it in the intro, but how did you end up where you are now?

In Dublin for the crack?

Allison Schiff: Yeah. It’s a little bit of a circuitous route. I spent a year living in Ireland and I got a degree in journalism while I was at it, mainly for the crack, which is C-R-A-I-C, that’s the Irish word for fun. People will say, ‘Hey, what’s the craic?’ which means like ‘How you doing?’

John Koetsier: I’m glad it’s that kind of crack. You had me worried there for a second.

Allison Schiff: No, no, I didn’t go to Ireland for the crack. And then I got back in 2008 and I frankly, I spent most of the year unemployed watching Blockbuster DVDs through  the mail. It was 2008, it was hard to get a writing job, and then I started working as a medical copywriter. I wrote the back cover descriptions on medical textbooks. I had a stint writing about CPAs for the New York State Society of Certified Public Accountants, scintillating.

John Koetsier: Ah, so interesting.

Allison Schiff: And from there it was DM News, which I … sad news, I recently just found out they were shut down suddenly last week. It’s a really sad thing. I don’t really know what happened. I assume it was financial, but I really learned a lot there and before DM News I wouldn’t say I knew very much about marketing at all. And from there it was to AdExchanger and I’ve been here for about five and a half years.

It’s definitely the best job I’ve ever had. I mean the subject matter is interesting. I meet really, I mean, super whip-smart people. Nerding out is really smiled upon.

And some of the stuff we cover now is in the national spotlight, it’s in the national news. It’s an exciting, it’s really an exciting time. And we are kind of lucky to have this technical, like in depth purview into how this industry works, an industry that regulators are poking into that makes the cover of the New York Times.

John Koetsier: Yeah, some of the platforms that we’re probably going to talk about would be very happy if it was not national news but …

Allison Schiff: Yes, they love to remain in the trades.

The major changes in martech and ad tech

John Koetsier: Absolutely. So you have a really broad view of martech, ad tech, the whole ecosystem, what’s happening … and it really does feel, like you just mentioned, that there’s kind of an era of major change right now. There’s lots of up in the air, it’s in the public eye. There’s this death of cookies, threat to the IDFA, increased legislation, increased demand for privacy. What are the major changes happening right now in your opinion?

Allison Schiff: So I feel like you just mentioned some of the greatest hits right now, and it feels like an era of major change because it is an era of major change. I mean, we’re right on the cusp at least. And what’s interesting about all those issues you just mentioned, so death of cookies, the threat to the IDFA, device IDs more generally call for more legislation regulation, third party cookies on the way out. All of these roads lead directly back to privacy and this just increasing concern and awareness of privacy and data security and data collection practices.

And it’s really a new normal I think, and we’re going to see all of those things reflected back to us in the amount and types of data that are available for targeting , background location data I think is on its way to just being straight up dead, if it’s not already dead, which is not a bad thing.

So all of that is kind of a backdrop, but I mean, there’s still a lot of interesting stuff happening that is really innovative or overdue. I’m hearing more about in-app bidding. It’s been taking a long time for publishers to start moving away from just the classic waterfall setup. It’s still slow, but talking to developers and publishers here and there who are doing more with that, I’m hearing people talk more about incrementality. It was a really big topic at MAU in Las Vegas last year, which was my first MAU.

John Koetsier: Oh wow.

Allison Schiff: Really awesome show, I’m definitely going to try and go back this year. You know and this notion that growth is great, but you’ve got to grow smart and there’s just no point in spending on people who would have converted anyway. Yeah, so that’s some of the stuff that I think is really, really positive. And the other stuff is positive as well. It’s just a little painful I think for some people.

John Koetsier: Yes, indeed. You mentioned background data with iOS 13 I mean that must’ve been just decimated. I see ever so often something will pop up ‘such and such app has been using your location, or wants to use Bluetooth, or using this and do you want to continue?’ And by default I guess I’m mostly clicking ‘no.’

Allison Schiff: Right? I click no, I tap no. Also, unless it’s … I don’t know, sometimes I find myself and it annoys me that I do this, I’m just so quick to just tap something to remove a notification that sometimes I think I tap ‘yes’ by mistake but I always mean to tap ‘no.’ So I wonder how many people are tapping ‘yes’ by mistake also.

The Singular ROI Index

John Koetsier: Exactly. Exactly. So we just released the Singular ROI Index, a big index, billions of dollars worth of spend, billions of app installs. Looking at what ad networks and what platforms are out there that are really driving value for advertisers, for user acquisition specialists, others like that.

I’m gonna mention the name of a platform that is in the index. You tell me what comes to mind. So we’ll play a little game here. First of all, I’m going to say TikTok.

TikTok and Douyin

Allison Schiff: Yeah, so TikTok is growing like crazy, you know that’s not news to anybody, but they they don’t have the level of targeting that you can do on other platforms. It’s still really early though, and I know that buyers I think are pretty excited. But I do think there is a limit to how many things like branded hashtags, hashtag challenges that people will participate in.

I mean that’s really, really big right now but the monetization opportunity is obviously really, really enormous. And I feel like you can look to China to see what the future might hold, in this instance and many, because I believe that the Chinese version of TikTok, Douyin, is that how you pronounce it?

John Koetsier: Your guess is as good as mine Allison.

Allison Schiff: Okay, well D-O-U-Y-I-N, I believe they sell programmatically but that is not the case with TikTok which is in every market other than China. So I think it’s only a matter of time before that kind of capability comes to TikTok in the US and other markets.

But I do think also the China connection might maybe make some buyers a little bit nervous. You know, some brand safety issues for sure. I’ve talked to buyers who are like, ‘Pffft, I do not want anything to do with this.’ But it’s also really addicting. I downloaded it to test it out and also because I was working on a story about it last year, and I sunk hours into watching a bunch of teenagers dance around. I’m like, what’s going on here? How is this happening?

John Koetsier: I had the exact same thing. I had to download it. It was in the ROI Index. I actually did a mini report on it earlier, so I had to … you’ve got to know what you’re talking about right? So you’ve got to download these platforms, got to play with them, and you look up three hours later and you go like, what just happened?

Allison Schiff: Really what just happened? It’s just a few seconds here or there and then, yeah, it adds up to hours. I scared myself. I actually deleted it.

John Koetsier: Oh, good for you. I’ve started making videos on TikTok but I do not dance, so I’m sparing the world that, I just give little tidbits of wisdom as I like to do.

But the interesting thing about TikTok for me is it feels so unmonetized so far, at least what I see. And I’m in Vancouver, Canada right? You’re in New York City and I see very few ads on there, very few, way fewer than Instagram. And so I think that there’s a huge opportunity there when they figure it out and get it all straightened away. 

Allison Schiff: For sure.

Facebook and Google

John Koetsier: In any case, let’s move on, and I’m going to give you a couple other names that are on the ROI Index. Facebook and Google. I’m going to put them together.

Allison Schiff: I haven’t heard of them.

(I’m just kidding. Sorry.)

I think Facebook and Google are Facebook and Google. You know they’re going to be at the top of any list, although it was kind of interesting is that I’m hearing more and more grumblings here and there about Facebook and Google becoming even more black boxish and just layering more automation into the campaign management process.

And so UA managers have to adapt to having less control, and in some ways I’ve heard people say, ‘Oh, it’s a good thing because it frees people up to spend more time on strategy rather than spending half your day jockeying with Excel.’ And there’s a bigger focus on optimizing the creative which is good, but I mean you also, you’re sacrificing transparency when the optimization gets sucked into the algorithm. 

John Koetsier: Yes. 

Allison Schiff: So, I just wonder how much further that will go.

John Koetsier: Exactly. And the other interesting part is you are spending money so that Facebook is getting smarter. You are spending money so that Google is getting smarter and you’re not getting any smarter. 

Allison Schiff: Yeah you want to take those insights, and apply it elsewhere.

John Koetsier: You are renting, you are not an owner. 

Allison Schiff: Exactly.

Apple Search Ads

John Koetsier: Interesting. Okay, moving on. Apple Search Ads.

Allison Schiff: So I know Apple Search Ads had a big presence in the Index this year, but I actually haven’t spoken to anyone who’s all that excited about them or not excited. For whatever reason, people don’t talk to me that much about Apple Search Ads. So I don’t know what that is.

It’s obviously lucrative, it’s growing part of Apple’s business, and in the last earnings call they hit a revenue record for the Search Ads business. They don’t break out from services which is $12.7 billion last quarter, which is crazy, just in services in one quarter. They don’t break out what Search Ads is of that business, but it’s obviously not insignificant.

Yeah, but I mean that said, I find the Search Ads experience really basic and really boring. Like it’s just competitors at the top of the search page. You search for Uber, you get a Lyft ad, you search for Credit Karma, you get I don’t know, like the Experian credit report app. You search for PixArt you get TikTok.

It’s just like I see it and I gloss over it ’cause it’s not what I’m searching for you know?

John Koetsier: Yes, yes. I wonder if there’s two reasons there, two things going on for why people are not talking to you about it.

One is maybe it’s just kind of default you gotta pay the tax, the platform tax almost, you’re going to be there, you know your competitors are going to bid against your name or your keywords or other things like that so you gotta be there.

And I also wonder if there’s … I think that there’s some sort of a feeling that, hey, this is actually stealing organics because I’ve got to buy in and somebody would’ve found me anyways, would’ve come and downloaded the app anyways, and it’s just grabbing the organic. It has a massive click through rate. It has a massive conversion rate. It’s unequaled by any other platform that I’ve seen and maybe those are some of the reasons.

Allison Schiff: That’s a really interesting point. So maybe it’s a little galling to people.

John Koetsier: Yes, exactly.

Allison Schiff: So they don’t want to talk about it as part of their strategy. It’s like you know, whatever, we do Apple Search Ads.

Amazon

John Koetsier: Exactly. Cool. I’ll mention another one, Amazon.

Allison Schiff: So I actually don’t have a lot to say about Amazon because I feel like they don’t show up yet in the app install world, but kind of watch this space right? But yeah, I don’t really know what to say about Amazon other than I’m sure they’re going to do something and scoop up a bunch of market share really quickly.

John Koetsier: I think so too. And I think that mainly right now they’re focused on retail and focused on stuff that is for sale, retail for sale on Amazon, and it’s kind of similar to Apple Search Ads is some way you’ve got some products for sale on Amazon and you kind of have to buy some of their ads to juice your sales to get in the algorithm to start selling more.

Allison Schiff: It is, it does feel analogous to that and again, it’s a little bit galling but you’ve got to do it.

John Koetsier: Exactly. It’s the new shelf space. Hate paying for shelf space.

Allison Schiff: Yeah, yeah.

Twitter and Snap

John Koetsier: Next couple I’m going to group them together: Twitter and Snap.

Allison Schiff: So it’s interesting to group them together because I was thinking of them together just for the last couple of weeks, because I covered both of their earnings.

And they’re very different media sources but they have a similar problem, they’re very demand constrained, not supply constrained. And Twitter’s CFO and Ned Segal he brings that up almost every quarter. I mean, they’re all over the Singular ROI Index, but there’s clearly a lot of room to grow, so there’s opportunity there, but Twitter has had some hiccups, right?

Like they had that problem with their mobile application promotion product, and they were sharing user data with their parties and they weren’t supposed to. So they put the kibosh on that and now they share less data with partners and there was a revenue hit.

But I really like Twitter. I like Twitter a lot. I mean I’m a user of Twitter and I’m kind of rooting for them, and they always get compared with Facebook, which I just think is super unfair.

And you can’t deny that they’re really part of the cultural conversation and they’re really investing in, and they’re super focused on direct response right now, and I know they’re working on a revamped ad server so I think they have some cool stuff coming. And so I hope they do well.

John Koetsier: Yeah, yeah. I agree with you on most those points. Snap, I feel like they have perhaps the most to lose as TikTok grows. What do you think about that?

Allison Schiff: Yeah, I can see that, although what’s interesting is that like Snap they always talk about their access to young people, it’s one of their main selling points, but they’re starting to talk a little bit about older people being interested. Older people, ‘the olds’ like 30 year olds like me.

John Koetsier: OK Boomer.

Allison Schiff: So I think there’s some opportunity for them. And Discover is interesting and they actually have original content on there. So, yeah, I think that marketers are also a little more used to Snap, and Snap is a very innovative company. A lot of their innovations get used by other companies.

John Koetsier: Yes, yes.

Allison Schiff: So I just don’t want to put it past them because they had some user growth problems, they got dinged by eMarketer last year, and that didn’t really stop them, so …

John Koetsier: What is super interesting about Snap to me, and you mentioned it, is the original content.

So doing really, really neat things around that, doing really neat things with the Bitmoji acquisition and putting yourself or your emoji into that original content in some ways. And related to that, all the stuff they’re doing with AR, augmented reality, we haven’t really seen that from anybody else, including TikTok, including Facebook, including others.

And I’m guessing those are some of their strategies for retaining and growing their hold on the youth market and they seem to be doing that pretty well.

Allison Schiff: They just have that challenge of being like the R&D lab for Facebook.

John Koetsier: Oh, shoot. 

Allison Schiff: Yeah, unofficial.

AdColony, Vungle, Liftoff, Applovin

John Koetsier: Yes, cool … unofficial, unpaid, advisory only. Exactly. And I’m going to throw four names together here, and there’s a reason I’m throwing them together, but maybe you’ll think it’s absolutely nuts, AdColony, Vungle, Liftoff, Applovin.

Allison Schiff: Yeah, they’re all, they all have their own their different bits, but I think it’s pretty cool to see all of these guys in the mix, and you point this out on the Index that it’s not all about the giants, and your niche players can do well if they’ve got something to offer.

You need unique demand, good creative, in particular though, I hear really good things about Applovin and you know they have a cool strategy they’re investing in-app bidding. They acquired that company MAX a little while ago. They’re helping developers publish games at the whole Lion Studio thing.

And really taking advantage of that whole hyper casual trend and doing it pretty well.

But just generally, yeah, it makes sense to me that you group these guys because there’s Facebook, there’s Google, there’s a couple other behemoths, and then you dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, where’s everybody else? Although they’re still there, it’s heartening.

John Koetsier: And here’s the funny thing. We’re talking about these as if they’re smaller, and they are, there’s no getting around that, but these are the behemoths of all the other guys, right?

There’s a thousand ad networks out there, and these are really, really large ones. It’s just that when you compare them to big tech, capital B, capital T, Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple, others like that, I mean there are very few companies of that scale on the entire planet.

Allison Schiff: Applovin’s a unicorn, Vungle got that $750 million investment, it’s huge.

Unity

John Koetsier: Excellent. I’m going to throw out one more name and I put this separate for a reason, and maybe you’ll agree, maybe you won’t: Unity. 

Allison Schiff: Yeah, well I feel like I don’t know a ton. I feel like I should know more, but I do associate them with good creative just high quality creative. But then again I only play a few games, but the games I play the creative is generally terrible.

So when there’s good creative it really rises above, but that’s my main association and I know they power their infrastructure for a lot of game development which gives them a really interesting purview.

John Koetsier: That’s what’s most interesting to me. They power 50% of the mobile games on the planet and that is something that’s super interesting to me. They do well on the ROI Index, but not as well as you might expect given that fact. They’ve got huge competition obviously from the Facebooks and the Googles.

But the interesting part for me is with this role as the infrastructure for global gaming, can they build something of sufficient scale and scope that they can start to challenge even those massive, massive players? It remains to be seen. You know there’s lots of data components. You see they definitely see pretty much all the gamers on the planet.

But can they tie that together and draw actionable inferences from that to the quality that they need to really be the dominant player that potentially they could be? I don’t know.

Allison Schiff: Yeah it’s another watch-this-space and I would be super interested to see them pull together all of their data assets and do something that’s really competitive. But it does seem like really, really early days in that regard. 

On mobile creative, brand, and performance

John Koetsier: Yeah, yeah. Good.

Allison Schiff: Just like to bring you back to creative for a second though, I just wanted to ask your opinion on what you think mobile creative is from a … how good mobile creative is now, because I feel like there’s a wide gulf between the good stuff and the bad stuff. There’s a lot of junk and it’s really disheartening. I feel like a lot of casino games showing “real people” winning money and then those same people who are really just actors show up shilling for another game, a couple of ads later and its frequency is nuts. Like why is that still happening?

John Koetsier: It’s a good question. I mean sheesh, I’m supposed to ask them not answer them on this podcast, but it’s all good. You know from a user acquisition or a mobile growth specialist point of view, there’s no good creative, there’s no bad creative. There’s creative that works. So that’s kind of the baseline right there.

But the problem with that is that all advertising, all marketing is both brand and performance at the same time. Whether you’re trying to be brand marketing, there’s some performance there. Whether you’re trying to be performance, there’s some brand there. And are you willing to have your brand associated with the kind of thing that you just mentioned, some really crappy video of some obvious actor theoretically winning hundreds or thousands of dollars while their spouse is snoring in the bed next to them or something like this.

We’ve seen the same ads, I guess, right? Do you want your brand associated with that? 

Some people don’t care, but if you’re Supercell you care very deeply, and they use creative that’s super high level and they’ll use the same creative for unimaginable lengths of time for many other mobile growth specialists for three months, six months, even longer, and it still stays relevant and it still works because it’s super high quality.

So that’s kind of a non-answer in some ways, but it really depends what you want to do. Do you want to win now or do you want to win now and tomorrow? And if you want to win now and be well set up for tomorrow, you better have a certain quality level in your creative that isn’t just about getting that install right now, but is also about getting a positive brand impression for your app, for your company, and building a longer term relationship.

Allison Schiff: Yeah. No, I like that and I hear that too, brand and performance are not separate things or should not be treated separately despite always being treated separately.

On seeing behind the curtain

John Koetsier: Exactly, exactly. Cool. So back to the regular scope of things here and me asking the questions. I love this, it’s all good.

Sometimes you get to see, as a journalist, behind the curtain of some major marketing platforms, some ad networks. You get some sneak peeks here and there, tell us something we don’t know.

Allison Schiff: So I was really, I was struggling to think of something, and it’s because funnily enough, I don’t always get to see behind the real curtain. I get demos, and I get pitches, and I get walkthroughs, and press releases, and it’s a really big job getting beyond the BS, like it really, really is.

There’s just an awful lot in almost every pitch I get, for example, companies claim that their technology or their new feature or whatever it is, is like the first of its kind, which is just simply not possible. And so, as a non-practitioner, I feel more qualified just pointing out some trends, but like really seeing behind the curtain is not something … people don’t want journalists behind the curtain.

You have to fight your way behind the curtain and then they’re just like, ‘No, look over here, look over there, don’t look at the thing.’ So it’s actually really tricky.

But I was thinking about your question in preparation, and I wanted to flip it around a little bit and tell you something that I don’t think a lot of ad networks realize, and also just ad tech companies, which is that … and this is bringing it back to what we were just talking about at sort of the top of the podcast, but … it’s that regulators and entities like the Federal Trade Commission are way more tech savvy than you might think, and they have a real appetite to understand the intricacies of how ad tech works and how apps monetize and grow, and also all different kinds of advertising related technologies because of the data collection component. 

And just as an example, I was at a workshop in Washington, DC in October, about the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act which the FTC might be updating fairly soon. They’ve collected a bunch of comments and they’re working on that.

And an academic from the University of Michigan, she gave a presentation about potential policy implications of app design and data collection, really through the lens of COPA.  She put up a series of slides as part of her talk and each one showed, there were like five or six of them, a different game app that was targeted at kids. Some of them were like 10+, some were like 12+, and the permissions that the app has, the data it shares, and with which partners it’s sharing that data. And she pointed out that a lot of the ads that pop up in these games, they’re inappropriate for a kid audience.

They have sexy content or violent content and also made the point like how unlikely it is that any of the apps that she was showcasing were getting the required permission for data collection from parents for children under 13, which is what’s required under COPA.

And just a bunch of the names on the slides are names you’d recognize, names that appear in Singular’s 2020 ROI Index.

So I think it’s just something that companies should be aware of, like to keep your ducks in a row, ’cause you don’t want to get called out for doing something iffy or fishy, especially if everybody’s doing it, but you don’t want to be the example. And you shouldn’t assume that people are not aware of how your industry works. And I think some people operate under that delusion.

John Koetsier: Super interesting, super valuable comment, and really appreciate that. There’s, that’s something to be …

Allison Schiff: Not to scare anybody.

John Koetsier: Yeah, that is a little bit, and you know it’s interesting because there’s a lot of companies in the past half a year alone who’ve been dragged into the national spotlight in some big story, not because of something that they’ve done, although in this case you’re talking about that sort of thing, but some of their partners, some of the APIs or SDKs that they’ve allowed into their app, right?

So you do need to be aware of these things at a very, very high level.

Allison Schiff: Yeah. At a high level and just with granularity.

Growth at all costs? Cash as a strategy?

John Koetsier: Yes, yes, exactly. So we’ve seen plenty of startups over the past few years, kind of worshiping this goddess of growth, growth at all costs, super funded startups the last few years, maybe a cash as a strategy effort …  by SoftBank and others that are just pouring money into a leading contender in the space.

That seems to be changing now, we see SoftBank pulling back, we see others pulling back. How do you think that’s going to impact the advertising and marketing spaces?

Allison Schiff: Well, I feel like marketers still have money to spend, they just need to be more judicious.

Like, for example, third party cookies are on the way out, but that doesn’t mean that advertisers are going to completely stop spending on the web. They’ll just have to spend differently, and speaking of cookie deprecation, some of that display money from web is probably gonna come to apps over the next couple of years, especially since there is still a device ID for now.

So hopefully what will happen is that in reaction to this growth at all costs obsession, marketers will … maybe this is Pollyanna of me … they’ll begin to spend more intelligently, to think about strategy, maybe focus more on retention and lifetime value, which is a sign of maturation.

John Koetsier: Yes.

Allison Schiff: And then hopefully between that and the future is a dotted line, where at the end of it is growth and retention beginning to merge more just in terms of mindset and in terms of practice.

Because that feels like the point, right? Like not growth at all costs and then just, that’s it, you know, fade to black. I mean, you want customers to stick around.

John Koetsier: Yes you do. We just saw some data from, I believe it was Apptopia, which contrasted Lyft and Uber in the United States and their growth rates, which are converging.

Lyft is approaching the size of Uber in the US and it’s not because they’re spending more, in fact, they’re spending way less on marketing, but their retention rate is higher. And by the way, Lyft just might or might not be a customer of Singular’s, which we are happy to see. It wasn’t data that published or anything like that, but super interesting to see that, hey, if you have good retention that really impacts how much money you need to spend on marketing. You’re in this endless rat race of new customers, new customers, new customers, new downloads, new installs.

Well, you know that churns through a lot of cash and if you could just keep some of those, maybe get the right ones and keep them a little longer, you save yourself literally hundreds of millions of dollars at the high level. So super interesting answer. I like that a lot.

Allison Schiff: Yeah. I mean, it just feels really shortsighted to just focus on growth. You know it’s a bigger thing than just getting the install, which I feel like people have been saying forever …

What advertising Allison Schiff likes best

John Koetsier: Haven’t they? Yes, exactly. Let’s talk about you specifically now. We’ve been talking about advertising, we’ve been talking about marketing. What kind of advertising do you personally like? What works on you?

Allison Schiff: So I can tell you something that really worked on me recently, which is subway ads in the New York subway. I can give you an example. I mean, I know a freelancer who was having some trouble getting health insurance, and I was riding the subway a couple weeks ago, and I saw an ad on the subway for this company called Trupo, which provides insurance for freelancers. So I sent him a text, I’m like, ‘here you go.’

I mean, it was also just one of those things really hard to attribute that, but … 

John Koetsier: Will you ever attribute that? It’s impossible. 

Allison Schiff: But it worked on me, and I know Casper is having some trouble right now in the public markets, but there was this series of Casper mattress ads on the subway with word games, and I actually found myself sitting there playing them, like doing them in my head because I didn’t have internet.

John Koetsier: So this was a playable ad in the real world, a playable ad without technology.

Allison Schiff: Yeah my brain. And I know Instagram ads work really pretty well, but I have a confession to make. I don’t really use Instagram, which is, I know, ridiculous. Everybody uses Instagram.

And although I feel like the frequency on YouTube is pretty out of control, at least for me when I fall down one of those rabbit holes, I have seen some like really longer form YouTube ads, that ad for purple mattresses a while ago, you know Poo-Pourri … they’re like little mini movies and they’re super entertaining. And I actually watched some of them all the way through, like multiple times, two, three times.

John Koetsier: Wow. I think you’re telling us that you’re in the market for a mattress.

Allison Schiff: I actually really am. You probably don’t … you were like, ‘Ooh, let’s talk about you.’ Okay, so I’ll tell you a really quick story about myself.

I have like a nine year old Ikea mattress that used to be, it’s like a sofa bed that turns into a mattress and it’s so old you can’t even turn it into a sofabed anymore. I mean, it is dead, so you need a mattress.

How is marketing and advertising changing?

John Koetsier: Excellent, excellent. We’ll see if we can get one for you. We’ll just spread this around, get you targeted. Exactly. Cool, so let’s conclude with this. And this one is maybe the toughest question that I’m going to ask you because you’ve got to start prognosticating.

How do you see the marketing world changing over the next few years, and maybe secondarily, how do you want it to change?

Allison Schiff: So I actually feel like those two questions can be answered with the same answer, and that I’m really safe in my prognostication when I say that privacy is the watchword.

Because putting aside whether it’s even possible to maintain your privacy or keep a handle on data collection in the digital world because the barn door is sort of open, I mean there is an increasing focus on data usage and collection, and that’s one of the trends that’s just going to shape 2020 and definitely beyond. And I think it’s going to be really uncomfortable for some companies even though people love to talk about how ‘privacy is an opportunity for us,’ I’m just like if I hear one more time someone saying, ‘third party cookies on the way out is a real opportunity.’

I’m like, that is not what you say when I’m not around. It’s like when someone asks you in a job interview what your greatest flaw is, and you say something like, ‘Oh, I’m just, I’m too much of a perfectionist.’ Sure.

But I think if you’re a fly on the wall, like attribution providers, analytics companies, and mobile outside companies, there’s a lot of confusion about how to proceed.

It’s an interesting time to be alive, but also challenging. So yeah, I think privacy is going to be a blanket over the next number of years, but I don’t know how that exactly impacts the industry, but it has to, I mean it already is starting to.

John Koetsier: Yes, yes. I can’t agree more. Go ahead. Sorry.

Allison Schiff: Oh no, no, you go ahead. I’m just talking to you, now I’m like in love with the sound of my own voice, you talk for a second.

Incrementality

John Koetsier: Oh, it’s all good. It’s super interesting what you said though, because you mentioned incrementality earlier, right?

And in a world where privacy reigns and device IDs, third party cookies, other things like that fade away or maybe are not as supported, or maybe just go away hard, then incrementality becomes even more and more important. And I haven’t seen too many platforms that can really measure that super easily. The people that I’ve talked to that do incrementality studies, that’s challenging, that’s hard, they work through that. That’s not super easy.

So we might see a lot of innovation in that area.

Allison Schiff: For sure, and I know Google and Facebook are also investing a lot in incrementality and that there is some reticence among buyers, they’re not really sure how much they want to run their incrementality tests through a self-attributing platform. But I mean, Facebook and Google know how important incrementality is.

John Koetsier: They definitely do. And every time I see that, and I’m not just saying that because I obviously do some work with Singular, but every time I see that I kind of laugh because, okay, I can get incrementality there, but I’m seeing sort of the Google slice of the universe, then I’ve seen sort of the Facebook slice of the universe. I’m sorry, but I need to see the whole universe.

Allison Schiff: Yeah. I mean, it’s a big slice, but it’s a slice. Yeah, it’s a big life we live, we don’t just live on Facebook.

John Koetsier: And sometimes we are in the subway and we see ads that we play and we text our friends about them and they buy something.

Allison Schiff: There you go.

John Koetsier: And attribute that Facebook. Allison, it has been such a pleasure chatting with you. I’ve always enjoyed chatting with you. Thank you so much for your time. I know you’re busy, I know you’ve got a million stories to write. I know you’ve got to run off this very second and get them done. But I really appreciate your time. Thank you so much.

Allison Schiff: Thank you. I am on deadlines, I gotta go.

John Koetsier: Excellent. Thank you for listening to Growth Masterminds. This has been Alison Schiff that we’ve been listening to, and my name is John Koetsier. If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please rate it, review it, like it, share it, and until next time … thank you so much.

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Singular ROI Index 2020: Google, Facebook, Apple Search Ads, TikTok … and the power of focus

We’re releasing the 2020 version of the Singular ROI Index today, and it’s exciting to see what’s changing in the world of mobile user acquisition.

Brief ROI Index highlights:

  • TikTok hit the list for the very first time
  • Google and Facebook: of course
  • Apple Search Ads took one more step—a giant leap—as a must-have ad partner
  • Many “small” ad networks proved their worth

Mobile changes fast, and 2019 was no exception. TikTok came from nowhere in the world of mobile user acquisition at the start of last year to be a significant global player. Apple Search Ads ranked on every single iOS leaderboard. Amazon still hasn’t touched the world of mobile user acquisition. And the power of “small” is cumulatively massive.

Get the Singular ROI Index for 2020 here

TikTok, you say?

The biggest news has to be TikTok.

As we highlighted recently, TikTok has grown at lightning speed. Adding over 600 million users in a single calendar year—and then building the foundation for monetization with tools for advertisers—resulted in a massive 75X growth in ad spend on the platform from May to November.

TikTok - Singular ROI Index

That’s why TikTok grew from not even making an appearance on last year’s ROI Index and not even being on our radar until August to making two leaderboards in this year’s report. That’s going from zero to one of the top 15 media sources for advertisers on the planet … in just five months of activity.

And TikTok hasn’t even really hit full stride yet.

Ad load is low. Marketer tools are rudimentary. And the userbase is still growing fast. If TikTok can continue its momentum it will be a massive force to reckon with in the mobile advertising space.

Google and Facebook: naturally

Facebook and Google just kept being Facebook and Google over the past 12 months.

In other words, they continued to be massive global platforms that rank on almost every single leaderboard for both Android and iOS, and continued to provide both scale and quality virtually everywhere on the planet.

And, shockingly, there’s room to improve.

WhatsApp, which has seen almost unprecedented growth for an already-huge platform with a mind-blowing 759.4 million downloads in 2019, is barely even monetized yet. As Facebook continues building its WhatsApp business, the possibilities get even bigger.

Likewise, Google just keeps getting better, ranking in almost every category and providing, like Facebook, one of the very few truly global scale media sources. And Google continues to get better at finding just the right creative and the right message to give to the right person at the right time.

Apple Search Ads: getting massive

Apple launched a small ad platform in 2016. Today Apple Search Ads’ motto is “Top of search. Top of mind,” and the once-small division is not wrong.

Apple Search Ads made the leaderboard in every single category, vertical, and region in Singular’s ROI Index for 2020, cementing its position as a must-have for serious app marketers along with Google and Facebook.

It’s simple: every single iOS install has to happen at the App Store. And when people search for a new app, it’s a perfect storm of opportunity: they’re in the right place, they’re showing high intent, they see an ad right at the top of their screen, and they can act on it with a single tap.

That’s hard to beat … and high conversion rates are the result.

ROI Index: the power of focus remains

It’s hard to call companies niche when they employ hundreds of people, have raised tens of millions of dollars, and—in at least one case—have sold for not far from $1 billion. But in comparison with Apple, Google, and Facebook?

Let’s put it this way: they’re not big.

But they compete with the best in the world.

I’m talking about companies like Aarki. AdAction. AppLike. AppLovin. IronSource. Liftoff. Moloco. Nend. Tapjoy. Vungle. Fyber. Digital Turbine. Chartboost. In the age of Goliath—big tech—there are still Davids who know their niche, build unique technology, achieve competitive advantage, and hold their own.

Each of these appears on Singular’s leaderboards for ad networks that provide outstanding return on investment and/or retention in mobile user acquisition, and they’ve beat out over 500 other media sources to do so.

That’s impressive, and it’s worth the Singular ROI Index badge of honor.

Get the Singular ROI Index for 2020 here

Singular COO Susan Kuo nominated for Global Mobile Award by Mobile World Congress

We couldn’t be more happy to announce that Singular chief operating officer and cofounder Susan Kuo has been nominated for a Global Mobile Award from Mobile World Congress.

This is the 25th annual Global Mobile Awards ceremony.

Susan Kuo, COO of Singular
Singular co-founder and COO, Susan Kuo

That means that GLOMO has been handing out awards literally since the flip phone. (A flip phone  actually won one of the very first Global Mobile awards in 1995!)

Susan’s nomination is for outstanding achievement in the Women4Tech category.

Susan Kuo and women for tech

Not only has Susan been a long-time advocate and supporter of women in technology, this past year she spearheaded the launch of THRIVE. THRIVE builds community for women in tech and provides a forum for women to connect, share, learn, and grow together.

“There are more women in our industry today than ever before. Women are now holding roles as key decision-makers,” Susan Kuo says. “But there’s still room to grow.”

Typically, Susan is taking this picture of other female leaders at Singular and not actually in it.

That’s why THRIVE was born: a community where women can come together as technology executives and contributors. And, of course, help each other out through mentorship and knowledge sharing.

“I’m a firm believer that any successful business or venture in life starts first with drawing inspiration and establishing friendships with people in your community,” Susan says. “Without this core foundation, it makes the journey much more challenging and quite frankly, not as fun. My hope is to impart this collaboration and mentorship across of our larger industry. This will enable women to help each other to thrive both professionally and outside of work.”

“We are so proud of Susan and all that she has accomplished,” says Singular CEO Gadi Eliashiv. “Susan has been a key part of Singular from the very beginning. Without her we would never have achieved what we have. This nomination highlights that she’s had an impact not just here, but on our entire industry.”

Congratulations to all the nominees

The full list of nominees, ordered alphabetically, is:

  • Amdocs
  • Dr Athina Kanioura, Chief Analytics Officer and Global Lead for Applied Intelligence for Accenture
  • Elena Sinel, Founder for Teens In AI
  • Dialog Axiata for Ideamart for Women
  • Susan Kuo, COO for Singular

“I want to congratulate all the nominees,” Susan said. “It’s not about me or any one of us individually. It’s about what we’re trying to build together.”

Susan Kuo has an extensive background in mobile and marketing technology and is one of the early female pioneers in the gaming industry. Prior to Singular, she was the SVP of Sales & Business Development at Onavo, a market intelligence company that was acquired by Facebook in 2013. Throughout her career, Susan has been a senior leader in companies across the industry such as InMobi, Booyah, and Electronic Arts.

Susan participates in several communities focused on empowering women in tech and women in leadership.

On the weekends, you can find her running after her two rambunctious little kids or tackling one of her latest remodeling projects.

The award ceremony is at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February.

DraftKing’s Jayne Peressini on ghost ads, measuring TV, multivariate testing, scaling a growth team, and much more

Are ghost ads scary? Only if you’re afraid of incrementality measurement.

And, should the onus for ad fraud be on ad networks or on marketers? You might be surprised at the answer from a super-successful growth marketing leader, Jayne Peressini.

DraftKing’s senior director of growth marketing started with Glu Mobile in London, worked for Cisco, then Razorfish. She also ran ad operations for Machine Zone and was a director of revenue for Reddit. In other words, she knows growth marketing.

Jayne Peressini joins us for the fourth episode of Growth Masterminds, the podcast where we talk to mobile experts so that other mobile experts — you! — can get smarter by seeing and hearing their perspectives.

Listen right here:

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In previous episodes, we’ve talked to European mobile consultant Thomas Petit on ASO, conversion optimization, and more. We’ve also talked to two superwomen in games, Lauren Clinnick and Christina Chen, on getting featured by Google and Apple, running a studio in a non-traditional tech region, and knowing when to scale.

And we spent an hour with the grand master himself, Eric Seufert, on IDFA, GDPR, programmatic, incrementality, and everything else but the kitchen sink.

Some highlights from Jayne Peressini

Jayne Peressini

Jayne on UA managers as mini CEOs of their business:

I think that in UA you can get caught up in what your KPI is, ARPU, ROAS, whatever it is.

But if you think about it — and I tell my team this all time — they’re mini CEOs, they’re investing these dollars and you have to think about it as: how do you mitigate risk? How do you mitigate your investment? Knowing that there is fraud out there, what should we be doing to mitigate that risk?

And that’s on them.

Jayne on ghost ads:

For those that don’t know what ghost ads are, it’s this idea that it randomizes holdout groups, but it also does it in a way that it is segmenting users for expose, but also who would have been exposed to those ads, which is a little different. So ghost ads is a little different than kind of how you would break out like a treatment in a holdout group preemptively.

Jayne on how to minimize the impact of privacy regulation:

Most people have registered, even if they haven’t used our product they have at least created a registration, so we capture some sort of data. For us, it’s easier to tie that because we have a signup, we have a login event. Let’s say you’re a mobile game or you’re a casual app … that might not be the case.

Jayne on advertising campaigns:

Don’t just think about the front end numbers. Think about how expensive it is to nurture those consumers.

And … a full transcript of our conversation with Jayne Peressini

John Koetsier: Welcome to Growth Masterminds. This is the podcast where smart mobile marketers get even smarter.

This is just our fourth episode. In the first one we went to the USA. In the second we went all the way across and down under to Australia, and the third we were in Europe, specifically Spain. And now we’re back to the States.

So our next guest is an amazing mobile marketing expert. You are going to love her. She started her career with Glu Mobile in London. That is not a horrible place to start actually, pretty good company there. She worked for Cisco. That might have been maybe not so interesting, maybe not so boring. She did some PR, but we’ll forgive her for that.

She worked in ad tech with Razorfish, a great experience if you want to be a growth marketer. And she was with Reddit as a director of revenue and ad ops, I mean, that’s gotta be a cool job. She worked for Machine Zone as well in ad ops, and I’m pretty sure just about the smartest people in the world work in Machine Zone, and she’s now the senior director of growth marketing for DraftKings.

Jayne Peressini, please say hello.

Jayne Peressini: Hello. Thank you for having me. I’m so excited.

John Koetsier:  You know, you’ve posted quite interesting articles recently, and so I wanted to start with some of the things that you’ve been talking about. You’ve been in ad tech, you’ve been in the advertising ecosystem for a long time on the inside, and as a buyer as well. You’ve seen a lot of changes over the past few years.

I wanted to ask you, what have you seen that’s really changing? What’s really working now? What’s maybe broken or newly broken?

Jayne Peressini: You know when I post articles, I also try to get the most rise. I try to be a contrarian, but I also, there’s truth and I believe everything I do post.

So, when I look at the industry, I see us replicating things that I’ve done in display, desktop display, when I was a junior buyer just starting out. Which concerns me, but I also see from a mobile perspective, us going in a direction where we have learned from some of our mistakes.

What growth marketers are doing well

So things that I think the industry is doing well, or areas that we’re going towards are, you know, two or three years ago it was not uncommon to be running on upwards of a hundred different sources. And I think what a lot of marketers have realized and the industry has definitely jumped on this bandwagon, is we are as advertisers, we have fueled the fraud ecosystem.

This is not something that was brought upon us by publishers themselves. This was definitely an effect that advertisers brought upon themselves. And I think it’s our job now to fix that. So I see that as being kinda the new thing, the new trend is onus of fraud being back on the advertisers rather than the sources they’re buying through.

I also see marketers more dynamic.

I think a lot of marketers, a lot of smart people in mobile acquisition have been pigeonholed in channel specific buying, and a lot of smart people are now realizing that they can apply the same type of strategies that they’ve used in their channel buying across multiple channels. And you’re starting to see in-house marketing groups work and operate a little bit more dynamically than maybe kind of the static approach that they used to have.

And I think that’s cultivating better talent and retaining people more. I think you kind of saw, if you ever look at peoples’ LinkedIn, people only stay for a year or two and they kind of jump around because they’re not getting exposed to other channels. And I think that this is a good thing that’s in the market where a lot of marketing groups are starting to understand that, hey, if we have smart people, we got to figure out a process, a way that we want to buy and manage media that plays to the strengths of cultivating this kind of new generation of mobile leaders.

And I think the last part is creative.

I think we’ve done such a good job of innovating on the bidding side. And I think creative technology is the next thing that will be big for our industry. The innovation of creative, whether that’s management, tagging, insights from creative, creative, fueling other buying styles, or fueling the algorithms that we use. I think it’s going to be a big change, a big sea change for a lot of marketing groups because it’s been a little bit of an afterthought for some brands and some brands that have taken upon themselves to utilize creative or think about creative from a technical and innovative way are going to be kind of a step or two ahead of their competition.

So…

John Koetsier: Imagine that, marketers rediscovering creative!

How the pendulum has swung and reswung.

Jayne Peressini: It is, I feel like it kind of trends every few years. It’s like, well, we don’t think about creative because we’re not brand marketers, but in fact even brand, now is performance marketing. Even at Machine Zone we were measuring TV. At DraftKings we measure TV.

It’s a performance channel just like any other channel, so there’s no such thing as unmeasurable media these days.

John Koetsier: Absolutely: brand is performance and performance is brand. I mean there’s very, very slim lines separating these right now.

One thing that you said that is very contrarian is that the onus for fraud is on the advertisers. And of course that’s pretty contrarian because a marketer comes and says ‘I have the money, give me what I need’ from an ad network or a media source, right?

But you’re saying, hey, we created this, we have the power to clean it up.

The onus for ad fraud: on advertisers, says Jayne Peressini

Jayne Peressini: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, we’re the ones that hold the purse strings.

I’ve been on multiple sides of the ecosystem, so I feel very confident when I say that because I’ve been on the side where I’m asking for the money from, you know, my days at Reddit, even.  And at an agency where you’re beholden to a client and you’re also trying to help a client, but also interact with these different partners.

And from the advertiser side, if we have the money, people listen to us and we also have to make the smart decisions. And I think that there’s a lot of responsibility in that. It’s not just about kind of managing up and just thinking about your numbers.

I think that in UA you can get caught up in what your KPI is, ARPU, ROAS, whatever it is.

But if you think about it — and I tell my team this all time — they’re mini CEOs, they’re investing these dollars and you have to think about it as: how do you mitigate risk? How do you mitigate your investment? Knowing that there is fraud out there, what should we be doing to mitigate that risk?

And that’s on them. That is not on the inventory sources. The inventory sources are taking direction from us.

If we tell them hit this CPI, they’re going to hit that CPI.

At the end of the day, we’re trying to increase monthly reoccurring revenue. We’re trying to increase new user growth. Those are different challenges. Those require different strategies. And from a fraud perspective, that’s us mitigating that. That is not an inventory source where all they’re trying to do day in and day out is perform for us.

And I feel like it’s kind of playing this hot potato game that a lot of advertisers do. They have to really think about that. It requires a lot more data. Not a lot of advertisers are set up that way to be able to manage fraud.

And I think that is a reflection point as well, as you can’t be running on a hundred different ad networks, expecting every single inventory source to manage the fraud themselves. And not have the infrastructure to do it yourself. I think that if you’re going to grow, if you’re going to decide that you’re in housing, everything, you’re going to be operationalizing your media internally.

You have this massive marketing group. Fraud has to be an aspect of that.

It could be an ancillary layer, whatever it is, but it requires a lot of infrastructure, a different skillset, a whole different team even that’s not for a junior marketer to even manage themselves from a fraud perspective. It’s not an afterthought. It is a, it should be, a central part of your marketing group.

John Koetsier: Right, right, right.

Well, good segue actually, because the next thing I wanted to talk about is scaling ad spend. And often when you’re scaling ad spend, it’s challenging because you open yourselves up to potentially fraudulent sources of traffic, of clicks, of users, of customers.

It’s also kind of interesting, you were at Unify, the conference that we had this past summer, and I’m just writing about some of  the sessions we had at Unify. And in one of them, I believe it’s somebody from Airbnb or Stitch Fix talking about lift tests, incrementality and measuring that.

And you know, if you throw $100,000 at it, one of them was saying, that’s almost nothing these days. This is not a normal thing for most people who are out there, even many marketers who have very minimal budgets. But at DraftKings, at many of the other companies that Singular works with, you’re talking hundreds of thousands of dollars daily budget and other things like that.

So let’s talk about scaling ad spend. What are some of the obvious pitfalls that you have? What are some of the non-obvious pitfalls and what’s a safe way to grow fast? Is there one?

Netflix, ghost ads, and measuring incrementality

Jayne Peressini: Yes, there is. Let’s start at the top.

So when marketers think about scaling, it’s not about adding a new ad network to the media plan. It’s really scaling your business, which is, yes, not a new logo. So the way to scale naturally … a lot of it is reflection on the incremental kind of lift of additional media spend. And Airbnb, a lot of smart marketing groups, whether you’re Lyft or Airbnb, or Netflix is a perfect example of a marketing group that has embraced incrementality.

There’s a paper, a white paper out there from someone within their group that I don’t know if they created ghost ads, but they definitely champion ghost ads.

For those that don’t know what ghost ads are, it’s this idea that it randomizes holdout groups, but it also does it in a way that it is segmenting users for expose, but also who would have been exposed to those ads, which is a little different. So ghost ads is a little different than kind of how you would break out like a treatment in a holdout group preemptively.

And I think that those types of innovations that Netflix has in place are really good ways to operationalize how to measure incrementality. Because to your point, it is expensive.

A lot of people do it where they will serve a PSA ad, a public service announcement ad. So you know, these users get this ad and these users get our brand ad and we look at the lift. Now ghost ads, I think helps with, like most of us work in biddable media, so we have to bid for these users. And so you capture the bid of that potential user as well.

So you’re actually getting more of a true value of what you would have spent on those users.

And I think that the idea of incrementality keeps us a little bit more honest than just throwing more money at a problem that potentially is not about the money, more money to spend. So there’s a lot that we can do. It’s not just new user growth, but it’s also the treatment of how do we retain and grow our current and existing users as well.

And that should be with us.

I think that our industry has some of the smartest marketers in the world, and a lot of them are just looking at the problem of more users, more users, new users, new users, not how do I retain and grow monthly reoccurring revenue as if I’m almost the CFO of my company.

And I think metrics like revenue, but not just new revenue, incremental recurring revenue is a really good approach. A lot of that is kind of this incrementality idea.

You can waste a lot of money with incrementality tests that are a little bit meaningless too. So I think that it’s, you go here, you have to go in with a pretty good game plan. You can’t just throw random incrementality tests out there because it’s not going to get you anywhere unless you’re trying to solve some sort of business problem with the incrementality tests or kind of a cadence of incrementality tests.

Marketing measurement and privacy

John Koetsier: Right, right. Interesting. Tough stuff. That’s kind of a neat segue as well. I mean, we’re talking about incrementality, one of the things that you’ve written about recently and that I’ve talked to multiple marketers about.

Eric Seufert is one example.

There’s obviously a shift towards privacy that we’ve seen. GDPR has been around for some time, California, the Democrats are selecting who will be their candidate for the presidential elections, and privacy and big tech is a big part of that conversation.

If we have more of a shift towards privacy, how will that impact measurability? Are you concerned about that? Do you think that it’s a radical shift or do you think that this move towards incrementality is something that will help us get through this and we don’t need to worry so much about attribution of this particular user ID to that particular campaign, to this particular bit of revenue?

Jayne Peressini: You know, I kinda consider myself lucky and maybe I should knock on wood right now because for DraftKings it’s a little easier for us to measure, and not like everything’s sunshine and roses in a sense, but most people log in when they use our product.

Most people have registered, even if they haven’t used our product they have at least created a registration, so we capture some sort of data. For us, it’s easier to tie that because we have a signup, we have a login event. Let’s say you’re a mobile game or you’re a casual app … that might not be the case.

And I think for those types of categories or those types of industries, these types of laws might impact that. I think that that is a real reality. For us we operate in a very privacy safe way already. Every partner we work with gets a third party data agreement that they can’t obviously use our users’ data or our data. And we already operate with a level of scrutiny on how we manage data, and I don’t foresee us operating any other way.

It hasn’t interrupted our business. I don’t think it will because we already kind of play it safe in that sense.

I also think that this actually gets into more of the conversation that eventually not just and I’m putting all responsibilities now back on us, so now we have to manage fraud … but this might actually make us have to manage our own attribution in a sense too, because if there’s a privacy, if there’s a lot of implications on the strictness of what we can share, what we can capture, that might just put more pressure on the advertiser at the end of the day to be their own attribution partner.

And this is where you get into it might shift, that instead of user-level attribution you do have to go back to the days of channel-level attribution.

Now it’s not ideal. I hope that doesn’t happen. That’s kind of how early 2000’s, that’s what you did. We could go back there if we really want to. I really don’t want to, but we’ll figure it out.

Maybe I’m a little too optimistic about it, but I think that we have to play out every scenario and every game plan. And so we have multiple game plans for whatever’s going to happen in our industry from a legal perspective. So I don’t see this as we’re putting our head in the sand about it. We have multiple ways to approach this and everyone’s going to be in the same boat.

But I do think there’s going to be some categories, some business kind of categories that will do better in the market if these changes occur, versus others, just inherently based on whether they have a registration and signup.

And that might sound super trivial but I just think we’re going to see that in market.

John Koetsier: I think that’s a really interesting insight and I really look forward to seeing what will happen, what kind of business models will be more effective.

The kinds of business models where a customer is really engaged, puts his or her hand up and says, this is who I am, this is how I’m creating an account, this is how you get in touch with me. And I know that person is less of a user, per se, which we’ve fallen into the trap of calling people ‘users’ I tend to hate that, and more of a ‘customer.’

And it’d be just very interesting to see what that’ll change in terms of business models that succeed, but also marketing practices that succeed. We already talked about KPIs that you optimize for, and when you optimize for eyeballs, and maybe it doesn’t matter exactly which eyeballs, or just the eyeballs that are most profitable, that’s a different model than optimizing for logged in, signed up users/ customers.

And that’ll be very, very interesting how that plays out.

Let’s dive into your vertical a little bit. I’d love to talk a little bit about DraftKings, who you target, who’s your competition. You know what people really get out of playing on DraftKings and how’s that impact your key marketing messages?

Jayne Peressini: Of course. We’ll start at the top then.

So our target audience, I don’t want to say it’s everyone, but I do believe that we are trying to broaden our audience. So you can probably imagine that when I was at Reddit, there was a very particular type of audience.

At DraftKings, it actually is very split by vertical.

We have a very different audience that plays DFS (Daily Fantasy Sports) than we do that play Sportsbook and that we do that plays Casino. Some interesting insights that you know from the category in general. In the state of New Jersey since launching, if you look at a year after New Jersey’s implemented or allowed mobile sports betting, 70% of the bets that happen in New Jersey happen on a mobile device.

John Koetsier: Wow!

New Jersey: the sports betting capital of the US?

Jayne Peressini: I think that’s kind of an interesting stat if you think about that.

Actually, New Jersey has passed Vegas in terms of number of bets. So you know, technically you can kind of now consider New Jersey the sports betting capital of the United States, which is kind of weird to think about.

Now that that said, March Madness still from a retail perspective — so people actually going to a Sportsbook. people still fly to Vegas with their buddies and go and bet for March Madness — one of the largest days for Vegas.

I don’t fly to Vegas with my friends to bet on March Madness, but I play Daily Fantasy Sports with my family pretty consistently every week. And it’s kind of a social thing now for us. My grandma even plays, and I think that’s an aspect of the casual or just engagement, we call it ‘skin in the game,’ that daily fantasy sports can have.

Or even Sportsbook, but for daily fantasy sports, which is more of a national product, you can play with your friends on the couch. And you can draft your lineup and it’s almost a conversation starter. And I think that that’s something that a lot of people are starting to realize about sports is that if you don’t want to talk about politics, especially in this day and age, with your family or friends, which can be a little tough.

Sports is a great next topic when you have nothing else to talk about.

John Koetsier: It really is, and the Thanksgiving season is coming up.

Jayne Peressini: Right?

I mean, what better time to talk about sports in the holidays when you don’t want to engage with your aunt or uncle about their views on politics.

So I think sports is emotional too. Like my father is a huge Oakland A’s fan and we went to go see Moneyball as a family with him because we knew that it would be really important for him. And he cried so hard that, you know, the lights came on at the end when the attendants were cleaning the theater, because he was trying to find his contact because he had cried his eyes out so much.

And so you’re playing up to that, right?

It’s an emotional thing for people: who they support, who they root for. There’s multiple ways to be invested in it. So, for Daily Fantasy Sports maybe you’re invested because you want to talk to your family more or your friends more. And this is a way to do that for sports betters that are in States that allow it.

Now that they have more in terms of they don’t have to go drive three hours from a Metro city to go and bet on a game, they can be on their couch still, or at a sports bar even. So we’re actually finding really cool ways to engage with users like that. So for instance, we have some tests going on around leveraging geolocation, so kind of doing a split test between users that have been to stadiums or have been to retail sports books or sports bars and seeing if those users do well when we target them specifically, or geo-fencing, maybe they’re in real time.

So we have some products within Sportsbook that allow you in real time to, you know, within the game bet that match point by point. Whether this play’s going to be a run play, or a pass, or it’s going to be a kick. And the scalability of that and the way that you can play that is very different than if you’re just betting on the outcome of the game. And that just creates different data points, right?

If you want to be in the moment, target those users, it’s a very different idea and concept and strategy, then you want to get them well before the game even starts.

John Koetsier: Yeah.

Jayne Peressini: And so it’s adding kind of these new cool marketing problems to my team, and every day they’re learning something new, like another step or another cool thing that we’ve found even for Casino.

0Weather, right? You’re sitting at home, and especially now when the weather’s changing, maybe you’re in the middle of a snow storm. Casino product plays very well to people that are indoors for a long periods of time. And that’s just an interesting, cool thing that you can target.

So layer on weather data to your media!

John Koetsier: What’s super interesting to me about what you just said is that we’ve been in this zone where social media has been the virtual place where people have occupied tons of time, hours and hours daily.

And that’s still the case, but we see an increasing flood of people, I had one on my Facebook feed just yesterday, said ‘I’m taking a break from Facebook.’ And that’s a pretty normal thing for me to see these days. And sometimes it’s a week break, sometimes it’s a month break. Some people are saying, I’m quitting this social network and I’m moving over to that social network. You can join me there if you’re there, or something like that.

But we see that people may be starting to reduce their hours on those things, and perhaps other social experiences that are around a topic like yours, sports, might be replacing that.

Jayne Peressini: I hope so. Man, I hope so. I mean, wouldn’t that be a great day if that were the case.

I recently went to a comedy show with my wife and they did a cool thing where they made us lock up our phones. So we had these lockers and they made us lock the phones. I mean, I’m sure it was basically so that we couldn’t record the comedy show, but what it did is we were sitting in the theater and you know, we’re killing time an hour almost before the comedian was going to go on, and everyone was talking to each other as if it was the first time in the history of the world that people lifted their heads.

And I think sports plays to that.

A lot of the time that I spent even growing up was playing on sports teams. I was a very active athlete growing up. I was always on sports teams. I felt this gravitation, this sense of community around sports, and what better way than, and I don’t want to say sports is going to bring our nation together in a sense, but it is just a nostalgic, and hopeful and it brings up these emotions that a lot of people, I think just sometimes you just need that.

And it makes me feel good, even if I don’t want a daily fantasy sports contest. I’m happy that I participated with my family. And then everyone makes fun of me for having the worst lineup because I work at Draft Kings.

So like, how could that even happen?

Jayne Peressini’s best advice on …

John Koetsier: Cool. Very cool. We have a few moments left and I wanted to do some sort of rapid fire stuff , best advice for growth marketers. So I’ll shoot and you shoot back.

Best advice for growth marketers on messaging.

Jayne Peressini: Don’t get caught up in A vs B. Think about modified versions, version one, two, three.

John Koetsier: Nice. Multi-variate.

Best advice for growth marketers on advertising campaigns.

Jayne Peressini: Don’t just think about the front end numbers. Think about how expensive it is to nurture those consumers.

John Koetsier: Best advice for growth marketers on building a team.

Jayne Peressini: It’s really hard. It’s really hard. Have faith and manage your team like a soccer manager or a football coach and you’ll be fine.

John Koetsier: Excellent, coaching versus managing, love it.

Best advice for growth marketers on when to scale.

Jayne Peressini: Always be scaling. When you are asked to do it, it’s too late that you’re thinking about it just then. Always be looking for those opportunities. It’s like building your pipeline in sales.

John Koetsier: And last one … best advice for growth marketers on how to scale.

Jayne Peressini: Start by tightening the screws on your current and existing partners, and then after that, look inward at your data and your decision making. And then look outward at new inventory.

John Koetsier: Wonderful, wonderful.

Jayne, thank you so much. This has been such a pleasure. I hope you’ve enjoyed it as well, and I really appreciate you taking the time.

Jayne Peressini: Thank you, it’s been great.

Finally, subscribe to Growth Masterminds

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Thomas Petit on ASO, conversion optimization, and why VO and tROAS don’t really work for subscription apps

What do you learn if you advise more than 20 apps on growth strategies? Apparently, quite a lot, judging by Thomas Petit.

Thomas Petit is a mobile growth consultant for Deezer, Lingokids, Playspace, AppAgent, and many more companies. He’s spoken at App Growth Summit, App Promotion Summit, Mobile Growth Europe, ASO Conference, and that’s just the first part of the list. And he’s a frequent contributor to MobileDevMemo.

Somehow, he also finds time to enjoy life in Barcelona, Spain.

You can listen to the podcast here, or keep scrolling for a full transcript.

Listen here:

You can subscribe on Anchor right now, but Growth Masterminds is currently propagating to pretty much every other podcast platform on the planet. It’s also already available on Spotify, Google Podcasts, and Apple Podcasts.

But if you prefer to read your information rather than hear it, here are the highlights and a full transcript, lightly edited for readability.

ASO is now conversation optimization

“And this is actually super critical because while the other changes only touch organic, this will apply to everything, because every single click that you pay on Facebook, Google, any other network, would actually have to pass through this page.

And there’s a pretty big drop of anywhere between 50 and 90% so this is actually really critical for making UA budget profitable.”

Getting featured: no longer such a big deal?

I don’t know if people are not acting from the featuring tab or it’s just there’s more featuring, but this was quite concerning today.

I actually remember a conversation we had before the store was revamped by Apple and in the industry we all thought that featuring would get actually bigger in impact. And what we’ve seen is that it actually got smaller over time, so that’s definitely a reality.

Why mobile marketing data is getting more complex

Obviously the more you go down the funnel the more the data becomes complex because you’re looking at specific segments and you’re looking at more and more events that are only specific to your app and are not really something that is a benchmark. And especially when you try to start modelizing a lifetime value of your users. Maybe you’re using a combination of ads and IAP. Maybe you’re using a very complex scheme of subscription with different lengths, different value, different … also you need to factor the currencies and so on.

So it’s really like the more you go down the more there is a huge quantity of data, but also a more tricky way to interpret the data.

Subscribe to the podcast … and check out the full transcript

And … here’s the full transcript, lightly edited for length and legibility.

Thomas petite podcast

John Koetsier: Hello and welcome to Growth Masterminds, the podcast where we give you insights from experts to help smart mobile marketers get even smarter. This is just the third episode. For the first episode we went to the United States. For the second, we were in Australia. And the third, we’re in Europe, specifically Spain. My next guest is a mobile growth consultant for Deezer, Lingokids, Playspace, AppAgent, and many more companies. He’s spoken at App Growth Summit, App Promotion Summit, Mobile Growth Europe, ASO Conference and more.

(If you can sense a thread that’s running through those conferences you’re on the right podcast.)

He’s also a frequent contributor at Mobile Dev Memo and a prolific tweeter at @Thomasbcn. He’s one of the smartest people I know in user acquisition, mobile growth, and digital marketing. Thomas Petit … please say hello!

Thomas Petit: Hi everyone. Thank you John for this very nice intro. Happy to participate in the mobile masterminds today and share a few stories.

John Koetsier: Wonderful, wonderful. So you’re joining from Spain but you’re not Spanish by the sound of your voice. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Thomas Petit: Yeah so I’m French. This is sometimes really hard to hide obviously, especially on voice only.

So I was born in France.  I built a business there that didn’t work. And just after I moved to Spain, that was about 10 years ago, I started on web marketing, mostly eCommerce and similar before I moved to apps about five years ago. Which doesn’t seem like that much, but in terms of mobile timeline that’s like I’m almost a veteran with just five years of experience in the field as it’s always changing.

I spent a few years dedicating my time to one app in the health and fitness space. And I moved a bit more than a year ago to independence, where I wanted to see different verticals, different stages… so I’m collaborating with about 20 apps at the moment and this is very exciting and I’m learning things every day.

John Koetsier: Wonderful, wonderful. You’re living the dream, living in Spain, beautiful weather, probably still working on all the favorite apps and everything. It has to be super interesting.

So you’re working on 20 different apps at once. That’s really neat because you get a very broad sense of the industry. It’s got to be challenging because you get to dive into different apps with different models and different user acquisition needs and everything like that all the time, but you must see a wide range of marketing challenges, marketing innovations, user retention and acquisition strategies.

Pretty interesting!

Thomas Petit: Yeah that’s actually the main reason why I moved independent, because I wanted to broaden my experience. I mean some particular channel or audience wouldn’t work for some apps, and I wanted to broaden my skill a little bit.

It definitely is challenging in terms of mental load like from switching to being focused on one and then to another, but it’s actually very interesting. In my particular case I think what eases a little bit is I work only non-gaming and very often for 3-4 particular verticals.

So I do see interesting patterns between them.

Benchmark always have limits, but it gives you a pretty good sense when something is particularly good or particularly bad, to have this first party benchmark in my mind and to help developers focus on the right priorities. Which is very often the problem, it’s not capability but what do we prioritize, especially as I work with many very early stage apps where internal resources are very limited.

So it’s all about prioritizing.

App Store Optimization

John Koetsier: Excellent, excellent. Must be a great way to live and work.

So let’s get into it … we’re going to talk about a bunch of different things on this podcast. We’re going to talk about App Store Optimization, we’re going to talk about the increasing complexity of mobile data, we’ll talk a little bit about creative optimization, maybe we’ll hit the duopoly — which I noticed is a favorite subject of yours recently on Twitter — and some growing obstacles for indies and early stage app makers.

So I’m going to jump right in on App Store Optimization. That has been something that has been of tremendous importance for many years obviously, and organic discovery is still really really critical for a lot of companies, especially if you have limited funding. Talk to us about what’s happening there, what’s kind of new there, how pay for play is coming in, and maybe as well some of the benefits of getting featured.

Thomas Petit: So the thing here is, I think the main change, if you take a big picture perspective and not like small change and all, is that this field moved in perception a lot.

If you asked somebody three, four, five years ago the first term that would come in mind to them would be ‘keywords.’ And it’s true that back then it was relatively easy to actually make a difference by just tweaking keywords a little bit, because the competition was low.

But I think that was from the very beginning a mistake, and that mistake has been corrected in the sense that I see App Store Optimization as a very broad discipline that basically touches everything that happens in the store. And here the thing is we sometimes forget that what’s very specific about the app industry is that we’ve got this bottleneck between any communication we might do and users experimenting with our product, which is these users have to go through the stores.

And so it’s all about this particular bottleneck, and I actually think that today keywords are relatively not important in the sense that Google has a very complex semantic way of guessing what your app does, regardless of what you input.

But also because on the App Store, on the iOS App Store, it’s become a lot more competitive to make a difference by the keywords.

And I think that’s great because it means this field has moved to the other topics, and I think the big one here is conversion optimization … how you change the visuals of your app page to trigger better conversion among the viewers. And this is actually super critical because while the other changes only touch organic, this will apply to everything, because every single click that you pay on Facebook, Google, any other network, would actually have to pass through this page.

And there’s a pretty big drop of anywhere between 50 and 90% so this is actually really critical for making UA budget profitable.

But also to maximize your outcome without changing much the quantity of traffic. And I think a lot of attention has moved in ASO to conversion optimization and visuals in the last say two years, and I think it’s great and to me it’s a lot more interesting than keywords, but that’s my personal preference.

I think this is the big elephant.

And then you’ve got a lot of small things you need to factor: one is that there are ads in the store which wasn’t the case like three years ago, focusing about how to get featured is also in my opinion part of ASO, but then it goes also to smaller topics like monitoring the weight of your app because that impacts the conversion optimization, monitoring, obviously, ratings and reviews which have always been very important.

So it’s sort of the ASO discipline is a very broad field, and I’m glad that finally people see this way and not as a keyword discipline because this is just a small part of it.

John Koetsier: I really like what you said there about ASO being not just about organic discovery but also being something that optimizes your efforts for paid acquisition, because they’ve got to get through that gate right?

And you pay $2, $5, $3, or whatever it might be for somebody to go view that app on Google Play or the iOS app store. If they don’t like it, if it doesn’t look good, if it doesn’t match what you were advertising, if it just doesn’t seem right for them … they won’t convert and those dollars get flushed down the drain.

Super, super interesting.

Thomas Petit: In my personal case it’s almost like an accident that I put the focus there because when I was working at this fitness app called 8fit, I started there about five years ago, so I guess it was still quite in its infancy back then.

I arrived and I had a fairly good knowledge about how keywords work there, so I tried to tweak them differently: different duration, many geographies. And the truth is the uplift that I was getting were actually really really small because the low hanging fruits were already taken. And very soon my attention shifted because I noticed how a higher conversion rate was actually improving my position in the paid options.

Basically in any UA network you’re only as good as the conversion from CPM to CPI, or CPA now that there is event optimization. And people often forget that it’s not only about how many times people will click on your creative and how good is your CTR, but actually that if your conversion rate is low in the store this is like making your position in the auction unsustainable. You would have to bid a lot higher to get the same inventory.

And so we already did a lot there, maybe because we’re lucky to start a little bit before other players, this really gave us an edge for about two years of being able to drive cheaper quality traffic thanks to that.

I would say one of the other changes in ASO is that nobody’s done, so when there’s something that is making the difference people will notice very fast. And as the focus has changed there, obviously it’s a lot harder to make the difference, but I would say you still have to invest quite an important effort there. The sense that before you could win over the competition if you were better in this field, now it’s rather the opposite, it is if you don’t do it you’re going to lose. So it’s sort of you’re forced to do it, but regardless why you’re doing it you have to do it anyway.

Getting featured in the App Store and Google Play

John Koetsier: Super, super interesting.

Talk to me a little bit about getting featured. I mean with exposure to such a wide range of apps you must have seen that multiple times. I talked to somebody on our second podcast just last week who got featured in Australia and other nations — they’re Aussie so that’s why they focus there — and they saw hundreds of thousands of new installs because of that.

And that was on the iOS app store as well as Google Play.

What have you seen about getting featured? And we know that’s changed significantly with the app store as it’s changed in the last year, what that looks like and how that works. What have you seen recently for the impact of getting featured?

Thomas Petit: So my overall experience, and I’m talking here about across many apps so I think it’s partly representative of what’s happening in the store, at least for non-games because games are fairly different, is that the impact is a lot less than what it used to be.

I don’t know if people are not acting from the featuring tab or it’s just there’s more featuring, but this was quite concerning today.

I actually remember a conversation we had before the store was revamped by Apple and in the industry we all thought that featuring would get actually bigger in impact. And what we’ve seen is that it actually got smaller over time, so that’s definitely a reality.

That doesn’t mean that it’s not interesting to get, they’re still free installs!

There might be different people than you can target elsewhere, so I still think it’s an extremely high valuable thing to try to pursue, but because the impact is less it’s also had a healthy effect which is I see developers being a bit less obsessed about it. And while it’s great to be featured, it’s also not a sustainable strategy because you’re not going to have it all the time, and I don’t think this is something you should rely on but that should come as a bonus.

If it comes great, that’s awesome. If it doesn’t, well keep working.

There are some tricks that help gain feature, but there’s no perfect recipe. There’s one thing that in my own experience was disappointing. When I was fairly small, we were a very small team, it was really hard to get noticed and we barely got featured at all, but that’s when we were really small. So even a smaller feature would have been a huge win for us.

And then fast forward a few years later when we had a more organized team and a lot more professional about every part of the app, which obviously had better design, better UX and so on. We started getting featured and eventually got featured quite heavily at some period which really was nice and we had more interaction with Apple team, so that was extremely valuable.

But in terms of impact, it’s sort of too bad that the impact came when we needed it less because we would be bringing a million installs on our own and then we’d get 10k installs. We could almost not see it sometimes.

So I really wish that Apple would put a lot of focus on small and indie apps because that’s the ones that are really helped by it. It also brings more variety to the store. It’s true that when you’re just starting it’s hard to get noticed and very often your app may not be on the quality standards that Apple requires to feature apps … it’s just how the game is played and that’s normal.

Marketing data and increasing complexity

John Koetsier: Yes, yes, unfortunate the rich get richer.

It is super interesting something you brought up, the major change to the app store came in last year. I thought, and many others thought ‘wow they’re doing significant in-depth features, you’re going to get featured for a whole day, you’re taking up the whole screen or a big chunk of the screen’ and we thought that would have a huge impact.

And it turns out, I mean in my experience of using the iOS app store, it turns out that I skip that tab entirely and I don’t look at that tab. I jump right into ‘search’ or some of the other tab, but generally into ‘search’ because I’m searching for a specific app. And maybe that’s just me, but I avoid that tab mostly for games and for apps, and therefore I think because it’s out of the regular flow of people’s use of the app store that’s decreased its effectiveness.

Interesting, interesting things. It was not how Apple intended it. They intended to give more impact there but it seems like that’s how it’s worked out.

OK … let’s talk about marketing, mobile marketing, user acquisition and this increasing complexity of data.

And so we’re turning away from the ASO and the Google store optimization conversation and we’re turning to this data flow that’s coming in to user acquisition managers from all the partners that they’ve got the media sources, ad partners that they’ve got, and they’re bringing in all this data. Talk to me about what’s coming in and how it’s more complex than it used to be.

Thomas Petit: So I guess there are a few reasons why it is more complex.

One is if you look back a few years ago, it was always a breakthrough when you were saying that you were looking beyond the install, five-six years ago it was like everybody was focused on CPI.

Obviously the more you go down the funnel the more the data becomes complex because you’re looking at specific segments and you’re looking at more and more events that are only specific to your app and are not really something that is a benchmark. And especially when you try to start modelizing a lifetime value of your users. Maybe you’re using a combination of ads and IAP. Maybe you’re using a very complex scheme of subscription with different lengths, different value, different … also you need to factor the currencies and so on.

So it’s really like the more you go down the more there is a huge quantity of data, but also a more tricky way to interpret the data … which very often you will need to project early on to be usable for user acquisition.

In this sense I don’t really think that it is more complex than before, it’s just before we weren’t even looking at it. It’s sort of we were not smart enough to understand that this was where the economics are really happening. Maybe it was a bit easier, you would just throw in a lot of traffic and it was profitable, so we would care less.

It’s become a lot more competitive so because the profitability is lower you would focus on getting smarter and getting more and more … like the fruits in the tree are higher and higher so you need to develop tools to go and grab them. I think that was an evolution that happened in parallel and I don’t remember specifically when I started with subscription apps, there was basically no tool at all that would help us understand the exact value of our user. It was only all averaged and we had to rely on the information from Apple console which is really hard to use to iterate on your product, because you can’t really segment the way you want.

And I think this was a very radical change, like here mentioning subscription in particular but it doesn’t really matter, I think there are more tools in all aspects of data management because the whole flow has become more complex. Profitability is less and you need to get smarter and smarter. There are also more needs for this tool.

I remember that we wanted to buy tooling a few years ago and we couldn’t because those tools didn’t exist. I’m very glad that there’s lots of very professional tools that came out to the market, a lot more consolidated sub-markets within it with very serious competitors, also challengers so it’s really really interesting to monitor. I just think it’s because marketing got smarter, like it’s not because before we didn’t need that data, it’s basically we had no tools to use it and we had less need to look at very complex things.

The thing is there’s no way you’re gonna… I mean unless you’re really really lucky, or your concept is so innovative that you’re way ahead of everybody … which never happens … you will have to dig down very deep in the data. And it’s also part of the reflection that the marketer has become a lot more of a data analyst than what he used to be, more of a media buyer say before. And I think it’s just a reflection of how the field is maturing and getting smarter and going deeper into what really matters.

So that would be my interpretation, basically we’re less dumb than before.

Rise of the subscription model for apps

John Koetsier: It’s pretty interesting that a couple years ago, or even longer than that you were in the subscription space. I mean that’s obviously the hottest thing right now. It’s super super hot right now. A lot of apps are moving to subscription revenue. There’s a lot of revenue to be made there, and of course Apple’s jumping in there as well with Apple Arcade, so you were a way ahead of the curve.

Thomas Petit: I just got lucky. I mean I wasn’t aiming at a subscription model initially, but it’s true that I find it myself very interesting in the way you interpret the numbers. And also because it was so different from where the industry was at the time.

It was very early on driven by premium ads that would pay in the app store, and then a mix of IAP and ads would be the norm, especially in games, and the subscription not only because they were new and different, but also because the problems that come with it are actually extremely interesting in terms of renewal and all.

It’s true that I got a little bit specialized in that. I think it was accidental but yeah I got lucky because I did a bit after things got turned into the hot topic, so it’s obviously very useful for me today as I see many app developers asking me about specifics of the subscription based monetization.

But you never know … things turn pretty fast.

I think they’re here to stay for a number of reasons. They make sense for many businesses because Google and Apple want them, but you never know, maybe in two, three years people will be tired of having 25 subscriptions and we’ll see something new happening.

So you can never take too much rest and always monitor what’s becoming hot in the future. So that’s my challenge.

Why VO and tROAS don’t really work for subscription apps

John Koetsier: That’s great advice. I know that there will be subscription fatigue. I mean you’re certainly going to see that in the streaming media space especially for video right? Disney+ is coming out, Hulu has something, Netflix has been there for a while, Apple TV+ is out and there’s so many …

How many little holes are you going to drill in the bottom of the bucket of your bank account for money to drain out on a regular basis?

And we’re going to have that in apps as well, but I’ll ask you one question here because you’ve been in the space and you’re successful in the space. How does app marketing … how does mobile marketing change when you are focused on a subscription monetization model versus let’s say an in-app purchase model?

Thomas Petit: Well there’s definitely differences in terms of how you interpret your LTV, but very often this work is not necessarily going to be executed by a pure marketer and media buyer, so this data will be fed back to them.

So that would be one difference, but not necessarily the core difference. I think that there are two very big changes today, one being that a lot of the platforms, and specifically Facebook and Google, have moved from optimizing for install to optimizing for events and a value-based value optimization on Facebook and tROAS (target return on ad span) on Google.

And the thing is that the value optimization model doesn’t really work for subscription. They work really well when you have a huge variance in the revenue.

So typically gaming where a lot of the revenue is driven by only a few users has huge variance, e-commerce has also fairly high variance, and then this optimization model makes a lot of sense. But if you’re selling the same subscription to everyone and even though you would have a monthly and a yearly subscription the LTV of those different users is actually fairly similar, which renders the whole model of value optimization a bit useless.

So most of the subscription businesses I know operate on event optimization.

Basically: have you subscribed yes-no, which triggers another problem, which is the completion of this event and specifically in the case of long-term subscription, most of the health and fitness space would operate on a yearly subscription.

Also fairly common in the education space, but then your conversion rates mean that it’s really hard for the machine learning from Google and Facebook to optimize on if the conversion is like 2-3%. And obviously if your price points at entry is $1-$2 it’s a lot easier to get conversion rates of 10-20% that makes this machine very efficient.

When your conversion rate is like 2-3% it is really hard and so a lot of the industry in the subscription world is optimizing to free trials which is both great because then you manage to make those systems work on event optimization based on the free trial. But it’s also very problematic in the sense that starting a free trial does not fully correlate to LTV. And especially there are huge differences in constellation rates among different ages, and I’ve got a specific anecdote about that.

Maybe I’m talking a bit too long on the topic but I’ve got an anecdote …

How machine learning can fail marketers

John Koetsier: No it’s great, this is awesome stuff, keep going.

Thomas Petit: I remember when Google introduced UAC a few years back and I was like ‘oh sure I’m going to train this machine to bring me more free trials’ and the truth is Google did its job in the sense that I was like ‘okay I want to pay let’s say $10 for every trial that is starting’ because on average I was realizing that I was making my money back this way, and eventually Google delivered.

And I realized there was a problem in my data which is I had my customer trial exactly where I needed it.

But then when I looked at this cohort mature I realized that my return on ad spend was a lot lower than what I would expect. And the thing is because I only fed a very early event to Google, what happened after Google brought to me a lot of the users who know exactly how to complete a subscription, and specifically users under 20 years old who are a lot more savvy using the phone.

And what happened is the conversion between free trial and paying subscription was completely off the chart, but by the bottom. Like it was less than half of what we usually had.

And that’s where I started to think that I need to get a lot smarter about the event I’m optimizing for, and to adjust to this new reality of event optimization. We found a couple of tricks that help, but it’s a lot less intuitive than it might look at first glance.

And the lesson here is really look at your cohorts: don’t assume that they’re going to behave the way your previous cohorts do because as soon as you’ve got a little bit of variance we’re actually talking about big money differences.

Google will give you exactly what you ask for …

John Koetsier: That is super interesting. I mean the lesson there is be very careful what you’re optimizing for because Google will give it to you and if that does not result in actual revenue .. you are screwed.

That is a great insight and you are stuck between a rock and a hard place because you couldn’t optimize on the variable that you really wanted to, on the KPI that you really wanted to, which was the paid conversion, because the volume wasn’t enough there to train the algorithm, train the AI to do what you wanted it to do.

Really really challenging.

Thomas Petit: It was challenging.

We actually found a few tricks here and there to battle this. Maybe one thing we did not do right is if we’d put a lot of money into the machine then even a low conversion can be trained to do … like I mean it doesn’t really matter what’s your conversion rate if you have the budget too low to send a 100 or 500 events every day back to this algorithm, then it will work again.

So maybe we were too small so we had to find a few smart work-arounds around it. I have to admit that it took me many months to find those that work, with many failures in the meantime, but we found a couple of recipes that definitely helped with it.

John Koetsier: Nice, nice.

And that was of course one of the main criticisms of UAC when it first came out is that it costs an awful lot to train that algorithm, and I think they’ve gotten a lot better at that now but there were many marketers who spent hundreds of thousands of dollars training that algorithm, and once it’s going it’s going, but there can be a steep cliff to come over there.

The challenge of being an indie developer in a winner-takes-all market

Thomas Petit: Yeah I agree, and I don’t think it’s a bad thing by itself, but it leads us back to a topic that I think we were going to mention a little bit later, which is it’s making it really hard for the small guys, for the indie, for the early stage, in the sense that it splits even further …

I mean the App Store has always been a winner-takes-all model, has always been very unfair and like .001% of apps would collect more than half of revenue and it’s always been like this, but it seems like all these trends combined to make it even more in the sense that on the UA side you need to have a minimum volume and minimum budgets to make this machine work at their peak efficiency.

We mentioned that tooling became a lot more complex and all these tools, I mean there’s a lot of tools out there that are really brilliant and didn’t exist before, but if you have to pay like $1k a month here and $3k there and $5K here, and 2% of our spend on this one … I mean if you’re really big it makes a lot of sense because you’re making a better return on ad spend and this tool improves you.

But if you’re small you just can’t afford to pay 5 or 10 grand a month for tooling and you’re doing it the old school way, and obviously you are at a disadvantage. So I mean this is something I’m observing and I don’t have a recipe against it, I’m just saying it even reinforces the initial nature of a winner-takes-all of the store.

It’s something that’s becoming even more true today even if it was already the case before.

John Koetsier: Yeah, yeah I totally see that, I mean in terms of Singular obviously we focus on companies, app publishers who spend $4 million and up annually in advertising right?

And there are many customers who spend in the tens of millions annually, and some who spend over a hundred million dollars annually. And that is not where you enter the market if you’re an indie, if you’re an independent.

Thomas Petit: Yeah absolutely, and very often the added question I’m trying to educate people on what they should prepare, and when you’re going to grow you’re probably going to need tools like Singular and other types of tooling.

And I say okay I understand very well where this is going later when I will be spending a few million, but what do I do now? And I say you do it manually, or you build it but it’s going to cost even more in engineering time and so on. You’d rather focus on your product and just try to get there as soon as you can to save all this time.

I don’t see a lot of other recipes.

John Koetsier: Yes and it’s really really challenging, I mean you probably saw the thing… I think Eric Seufert tweeted it out and I retweeted it, it was probably last week and it was on Reddit.

There was this app developer, an indie app developer and he decided that he needed to not only be an app developer, he needed to understand user acquisition, he needed to understand mobile marketing, and he documented what he did and there were eight methodologies that he tried and different things that he did, and he documented the results of each of them.

But if memory serves, I think he invested a few hundred dollars or maybe under $500, certainly under a thousand in each of those eight different methodologies, and all of them kind of failed.

And it was it was a little bit sad to read. I was super happy first of all that that he was totally public and open about what he was doing, but it was a little bit sad to see the budget figures that he was able to put out there were just insufficient to do what he needed to do and to help him learn at the rate that he needed to learn in order to become one of those high growth apps.

Thomas Petit: Yeah, yeah absolutely, I read this article. It was really nice to see the transparency but also fresh tone of somebody discovering a field that I’m in, and it seemed the guy was actually pretty smart and was learning on each but it’s what you say, there’s a minimum amount that you need to actually trigger the optimization.

It’s really really hard to move with tiny budgets.

It’s also really hard to get help because most agencies, consultants, whatever help you can find are actually going to need minimum amounts to help you to make it worth it for their own resources. So it’s really hard to be in this position. I do try to dedicate some of my time to help people in this case and try to avoid some of the mistakes.

I think this guy took a right approach but sometimes going with just a little budget is really making it impossible, like entirely. It’s just a sad reality that is good to know  before you start spending money but it’s not uncommon. I’ve seen it elsewhere, but it was nice to to see it in the open, publicly, so definitely a recommended read.

I’ve read it on Gamasutra, but I don’t know, maybe it was a repost.

Creative optimization: the only differentiation in user acquisition?

John Koetsier:  Right, I think you’re probably right. I think it was Gammasutra and not Reddit, but thank you for that.

Let’s jump back then and talk a little bit about creative optimization. You tweeted out something, I think it was a week ago, something like that, about Miri growth, and they did a study: 3000 ads for 30 apps, and your conclusion from reading what they had done and what they looked … your conclusion was creative was the main differentiator.

That’s super interesting to me because I’ve done some research on that as well, and it seems like creative is a huge differentiator and sometimes more important than any other factor. In fact every time that I’ve seen, more important than any other factor.

Can you talk about that a little bit and what you saw in that study, what made you say that?

Thomas Petit: Sur e… this article was really interesting and also the transparency of an agency sharing their success and failure, and so thanks to their team for that, and to Adam who sent me the article.

The thing is it’s even a broader trend and not just an observation that I made based on this, where it’s like I had this slide that I showed public USA, we’re back to the Madmen. It’s sort of like the old school way of looking at marketing that would be all about the concept of the campaign and not so much about its execution.

And we went the complete other way a few years back where it was all about the numbers and well, whatever the creative we don’t really care, and it’s sort of we reached a middle point understanding that the work of a marketer is basically uniting the data and a brilliant creative concept. So it’s sort of like there’s a train behind it.

I think my tweet was a little bit extreme because I said creative is the only differential in UA and obviously it’s not the only one, I want it to be a bit provocative so that people would react on it. That worked really well because then I’ve got a couple of friends from agency that were like ‘no it’s not true, there’s a lot of knowledge I know’ but it is true. You need a solid foundation before you get there, but then you’ll reach a point where the creative is really where the big wins are going to be made because the other ones … either they vanished with the change in network, and specifically with event optimization and value based optimization, where targeting is a little bit less … either it’s less important because you need bigger samples to train the machine or you can’t access it at all.

Like in the case of UAC which in our case was was doomed to happen because of the change in privacy that users are now demanding.

But it’s been a challenge for marketers to completely switch their mindset from having hundreds and hundreds of micro-targeting into ‘okay I’m going to give the keys to the machine and let it work just because it’s better than myself.’

Which basically leaves you with two major levers on the marketing side: which data and which event am I feeding back to the machine, and which creative am I actually showing to users … which is the the place where the big differences are made. And here by the creative I want to repeat something we said before so it’s obviously a lot on the ad creative but don’t forget about the store page which is actually an extremely hard creative to tweak because the ad you’re probably going to be able to show relevant ads to people, maybe you’re going to split them by gender or by type of audience and then you can chatter to each audience slightly different USP (unique selling proposition) but all of these people are going to go through the same landing page in the store which makes it really hard.

You really need to nail the creative in the store so that all these different audiences would find relevance and beauty. So it’s the creative is like two fold in this case, sometimes even threefold if you have a landing page and meet in between which I’m seeing growing.

So definitely that’s where the work should be focused on in a marketer’s life today, and I think it’s really really hard because we as marketers to be so data driven and excellent at number crunching, dealing with huge number of metrics, complex funnels and so on, that we tend to hire very analytical people and then we try to have these analytical people be also creative. And in my experience these two things tend to be rare to find in one person, like the most creative people are a bit less analytical and the most analytical are less creative.

So you really need to build a team that has these two sides and particularly transforming data into insights that are understandable and actionable for the designer and creative mind is a talent that is rare to find in the markets, and very very sought for and looked for.

John Koetsier:  And the pendulum swings, and it swings, and it swings, and it keeps swinging, and it keeps changing.

Thomas Petit: But that’s what makes it interesting too you know, we all are in this space also because it’s moving fast so we can’t really complain when there are big changes.

There’s ‘ah it’s not like before!’ yeah that’s the nature of this work so you accept it or do you change the field. Yesterday’s reality is very rarely next year’s reality in this field.

So you just have to keep moving.

John Koetsier:  Yes indeed, we live in the future.

Excellent, let’s move to our last topic which is the duopoly. This has been a very interesting past year for both Facebook and Google, and frankly for big tech in general. I think Europe has been a bit ahead of the United States specifically in this, but I think with the new election coming up in the United States and certainly where the democratic candidates for presidency are concerned, big tech is definitely on the horizon as something that they’re looking at very very carefully in terms of antitrust, in terms of power to move public opinion, in terms of using their power and abusing their power in some ways.

So we look at the adtech space and we look at ad networks in general and we see Facebook and Google are huge. We see a bunch of other sort of little bit lower tier challengers, maybe the Apples, maybe Snapchat, maybe Twitter, maybe others like that, Pinterest and others like that.

And then we see thousands of other ad networks out there.

Talk to me a little bit about some of the current challenges and problems with the duopoly and how you see advertising and marketing evolving over the next couple of years.

How Google’s and Facebook’s uber-growth accelerated the app revolution

Thomas Petit: So there’s a very interesting perspective about this which is it really depends through which lens you’re looking at it. And it’s true that one side of the story is looking at how a privacy and user data are so obviously users are like ‘Oh no I don’t want my data to be sold’ but at the same time they also want to see relevant ads and they also keep using this product.

And I think here that’s sort of the wrong discussion in terms of marketing in the sense that if you look at the scandals, like the Cambridge Analytica scandal or all recent discussions about the flows in YouTube algorithms, that’s actually not a very relevant conversation to have with marketers. And I don’t think it’s really something that is super critical in the ad tech conversation that there is today.

And there are completely different points of view on this, so maybe US commissions will look at “oh but how are the news filtered between Republican and Democratic coverage in Google news” which is also not particularly relevant for advertisers.

And then you’ve got a whole completely different side of the story when you look at it from a marketer perspective, which I wish I would not say that myself, and you know my position on this, but the fact that Google and Facebook have grown so big is actually a marvel for marketers, because it means less headache, fewer partners, easier management and it’s actually been great.

I remember also reading Eric right on this that without Google and Facebook growing so big, and in particular growing so big in terms of market share in the online advertising market, it’s very likely that apps would not have skyrocketed the way they did. They were an enabler to the industry in the sense that they made everything a lot easier to scale which is less true in the webspace, but the concentration in the app space is so extreme.

It’s basically if you can’t make Google and Facebook work for you it’s going to be extremely hard to get to the very top, but at the same time those tools … they’re the same for everybody. So it also here gives a little bit of space for independents to actually have the same capability to advertise.

And so it’s super interesting to see how users, politics and marketers are looking at this topic through completely different lenses.

And I like to look at it from a political side, but also from a user and from a marketing perspective, and I have this contradiction inside me as a marketer: I want the most data that are possible, as a user I don’t necessarily want this data to be spread out everywhere. So it’s sort of like this insight problem that most marketers should have. And in a way there’s a lot of controversy but there’s a lot of contradiction in this debate.

At the end of the day just like we saw that GDPR ended up benefiting Google’s and Facebook’s dominance because they were the ones who could really easily deploy the resources to adjust and so on, but also because it made the walled garden even more defendable. You go out there today and Google and Facebook’s stance on privacy would be ‘Oh yeah we know everything about you but we’re going to keep it for ourselves, we don’t tell anyone, actually we don’t even know ourselves because it’s some super AI behind that we don’t even know how it’s working, like nobody is looking at your data.’

Which in a way is true, this is not analyzed by people to exploit your weaknesses and stuff, but at the same time it means that it reinforced the modes that are already preexisting and that a new challenger coming to the market today to compete against Google and Facebook will have it really hard, because it’s a lot more complex to gather the scale of data and the depths of data today than they did in their time when things were a little bit more open.

So it’s sort of an interesting internal contradiction here in the sense that yeah, maybe my data is actually better protected inside the walled garden than outside of it, but then is it also good for society as a whole and for advertisers in general to have two actors that gather let’s say 2/3 or 3/4 of the market.

I actually like a bit of of diversity myself, but it’s very hard to mix the privacy demands with some freedom in the market, and I don’t really know how this is going to evolve. I can’t see Facebook and Google really losing a lot of steam in the near future, but the midterm future is I think quite interesting to look at because there’s still a bit of uncertainty there.

John Koetsier: That’s a super interesting perspective, I mean at one and the same time the duopoly is an aggregation factor for supply. It’s an aggregation factor for demand. It’s an aggregation factor for advertising obviously and the data that’s required for that.

But it’s also an aggregation factor for regulation, and you can apply regulation on two players much easier than on a thousand, and they’re more regulatable in that sense, although getting it through legal challenges and everything can be difficult, but they’re more regulatable in that sense than 10,000 companies out there.

Very interesting.

Thomas Petit: Absolutely.

I agree with that and I’ll make a parallel that I don’t know how relevant it is, but if you look at how Facebook specifically is dealing with attribution data, what they’ve always done is actually enable only a handful of companies to access the treasure and to pass it by back to developers. And they maintain a number of MMPs who have access to this marketing API, anywhere between five and ten at all times. If it was more than ten and if any developer would be able to tap into this API I think it would be a nightmare for them to monitor and weed out the bad player who is abusing the data and so on.

By focusing on just a few players it’s a lot easier for them to provide support, to provide improvement and so on, but at the same time they’ve been smart enough to not make this number too small. And I think if there was only two actors in the MMP space then there would be a real problem of abusive pricing and abusive dominance. Since Facebook has been really smart in always letting like five to ten, and if two would merge they would give access to another one just to maintain some balance.

And I wish that on the longterm it’s what’s going to happen in other fields, like I’m all in to have not a thousand but maybe three, four, five providers for videos and a couple of YouTube competitors. Same for social, you don’t want to have a million apps there but I think it’s healthy to have a few different players to keep innovation level high and to keep price down and to keep things a little bit more balanced.

But man … maybe I’m starting to be political myself now.

John Koetsier: Well Thomas, I just have to thank you for spending this hour, almost an hour now with me. This has been insightful. This has been interesting. This has been eye-opening and it’s been a real pleasure.

And you’ve done it all on a Friday night in Spain. It’s Friday morning for me, it’s Friday night for you, I know this is Europe you’re supposed to be off early and having a great weekend. Thank you so much for taking the time … I’ve got a full day of work ahead of me still if that makes you feel any better, but I want to thank you for being on the podcast.

Thomas Petit: Yeah no worries, that was my pleasure. As an independent I don’t have strict a time to work and it’s not unusual to have partners in the States, so I’m very used to it, and it was a complete pleasure to participate with you today and have this little chat.

I hope the listeners will enjoy it and I invite them to react on my provocation and show me facts to counter it, and the debate would probably be beneficial to all of us.

John Koetsier: Wonderful.

2 superwomen in games: Getting featured by Apple and Google, growing a small studio, knowing when to scale (and more!)

It’s great to meet amazing women in tech, as our COO Susan Kuo knows well. Even better is meeting two who know what it’s like to get featured by Apple and Google … not once, but six times.

And, who can talk through the challenges and triumphs of running a small games studio in a non-traditional development environment: Melbourne Australia. Their company is Lumi Interactive, and their games include Critter Clash and one they can’t talk much about, but is close to being released.

They’ve got amazing insight into how to get featured, what that’s like, and how to parlay that into long-lasting mobile success:

You can subscribe on Anchor right now, but Growth Masterminds is currently propagating to Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, and pretty much every other podcast platform on the planet. It’s also already available on Spotify.

But if you prefer to read your information rather than hear it, here are the highlights and a full transcript, lightly edited for readability.

Lauren Clinnick on player retention

That’s really something about mobile gaming that is very, very different and specific. You have to offer an experience that’s easy to grasp within seconds, but to retain the players, you have to have a meta-game or some kind of longer term sort of reward and engagement strategy.

Christina Chen on getting featured by Apple and Google

we were only getting at most a few hundred on the App Store in Australia. And the early access featuring was exposing us all of sudden to 16,000 users. That was already a big step up for our featuring. The next step is, preregistration featuring, that’s a second step of the program. And that put people like put our game in the hands of people on preorder and shows interest before live.

And that gave us about 600,000 preregistration users.

Christina Chen on scaling too early

We did find significant differences in the audience in beta audience versus live, which means we made some mistakes in live and we put in money way too early to advertise, where the quality of traffic isn’t the same.

Lauren Clinnick on getting featured by Apple

In terms of Apple, a lot of people would think that looking at Android and Apple, they’re very similar. We’ve actually found that they can be similar but different. Google does have a lot more tools and a lot more processes and funnels for how to get through a prelaunch period to launch. Apple has differences in how they can support you prelaunch. We chose to soft launch in Australia to start testing for functionality and testing for cross play between Apple and Android before launching first on Android with Critter Clash.

But by doing that, what we didn’t know and what we couldn’t get warning on would mean that we could not then enter the preorder program, the prelaunch pre-ordering system that Apple had, which is different to Google Play.

Christina Chen on smart targeting for lower CPI and higher LTV

Unfortunately with cost per acquisition in games being very high right now, especially in strategy with big games buying out the market, the App Store starts becoming a winner takes all sort of thing where big game makers buy out the market by keeping and retaining the most valuable paying users.

Because of that, it’s very hard for studios  to compete in that space. So, we are thinking of our next project is something that we can appeal to a niche market. Not mass market, but to a niche market  where we can actually lower the cost per acquisition in our market for people being, you know, not traditionally targeted by games.

Subscribe to the podcast … and check out the full transcript

The podcast is brand new right now, so it’s not fully propagated to Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts. (It will be in a week.) But you can listen here, or on Anchor, or subscribe on Spotify.

And … here’s the full transcript, lightly edited for length and legibility.

featured-by-apple-google-growth-masterminds

John Koetsier: Welcome to Growth Masterminds, where we get insights from experts to help smart mobile marketers get even smarter.

This is the second episode. We only have one in the books so far, so I’m still super excited to bring new guests to you, and we have two guests today. Both are very successful women in gaming.

They’ve been featured by Google four times. They’ve been featured by Apple, not once, but twice. And you bet we’re going to talk about those things. My first guest is a chief game officer. She’s a cofounder of Surprise Attack Games. She was a senior producer for PopCap games in Shanghai. You remember Plants vs Zombies … still  out there,  still very successful. Bejeweled: also a big game. She was also a program manager for Microsoft, and here’s where it gets a little insane. She’s got a master’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in electrical and system engineering … and a bachelor’s in software engineering. Insanely qualified.

Her name is Christina Chen, and she’s the chief game officer of Lumi Interactive.  Welcome to Growth Masterminds.

Christina Chen: Thank you John. I’m very happy to be here.

John Koetsier: Wonderful, and we have another superwoman with us. She’s a CEO of a game company. Might even be the same one. Before being in games, she worked in hardware encryption. She was a luxury fruit juice marketer, so she’s well-rounded in marketing strategy. She went to business school. She has a background in HR, marketing, and PR, and a bachelor in languages.

Guess what? It’s Japanese. A good one for games, and she’s now the CEO of Lumi interactive. Please welcome Lauren Clinnick, CEO of Lumi Interactive. Welcome to Growth Masterminds.

Lauren Clinnick: Thank you so much for having us. I hope everyone enjoys our beautiful  Australian accents.

John Koetsier: I’m sure I do. So I’m sure everybody else will too. So off the top, I mentioned that you two have had games featured six times in Google play and the iOS App Store, that’s something every game developer clearly wants. They wish for it, they scheme for it, they sacrifice interns for it … okay … just a rumor … probably. And we’re going to talk about that, but first let’s start and talk a little bit about your latest game.

Can you tell me a little bit about it?

Lauren Clinnick: Definitely. So Critter Clash is a player-versus-player-battle-in-the-jungle game that’s available on Android and on iOS right now. So listeners can head over to the store and give it a download!

Critter Clash is a game that we have been operating for over a year now. And we have partnered with developers based in Shanghai to do co-development together. We’ve been working on the monetization, on the design, on the first-time user experience, and yeah, working on Critter Clash has been a great experience. We’ve achieved a lot, we’ve learned heaps and we’re just really excited to share that with your listeners.

John Koetsier: Excellent. What’s the thing that you’re maybe most excited about by that game? What did you learn the most doing that game?

Lauren Clinnick: What we love about it is that it is very much a strategy title, but it really appeals to that Angry Birds audience because we’ve got slingshot game play and it’s just got really cute animals in the game itself.

So it’s a game that’s very easy to learn, but hard to master. It really rewards players that want to go deep. But it really does have that family friendly appeal and it has a really comedic tone as well, which we really love.

Christina Chen: We love seeing a lot of parents and their kids playing together and they make and sing videos, playing together and so you can see it appeals to both kids and parents at the same time.

John Koetsier: Nice. One thing that you said there, Lauren, really resonated with me because you’re saying that it was simple to get into, but very hard to master.

There’s a bunch of games like that. One of the ones that comes to mind is that hit from, what was it a couple of years ago, Flappy Bird, where it couldn’t be simpler, right? There was one thing to do in the game, which was to tap the screen, but it was insanely challenging to go far in that game. And there’s something to that kind of gameplay, that kind of experience that seems to draw people in.

Lauren Clinnick: Mmm … that’s really something about mobile gaming that is very, very different and specific. You have to offer an experience that’s easy to grasp within seconds, but to retain the players, you have to have a meta-game or some kind of longer term sort of reward and engagement strategy.

So simple to understand, but to have something to keep the players coming back is definitely something challenging.

And that is something different about being more in the mid-core space rather than hyper casual, which I’m sure you know, you’ve spoken to CMOs that are part of hyper casual. Our space for Critter Clash is a little bit different. We designed for a little bit longer term, multiple play sessions in a day and for players to retain, and that is something quite different and specific, and it really is just a different approach to game design these days.

John Koetsier: Super interesting. Let’s talk a little bit about getting featured. I joked a little bit about it off the top.

Every game developer, every publisher wants to be featured and they’re just salivating thinking about the downloads that are going to come, the attention that’s coming, the recognition that just that fact of being featured, is, and portrays to the world as well.

How’d that happen? I know it happened six times, so maybe you have to talk about several different ways it happened, but how did it happen?

Christina Chen: So, initially the game was in a soft launch mode. Soft launch means that you release in a few limited markets that are similar to the market you eventually want to release in, and test for viability. So the soft launch market for us at the time was Australia.  We were local, we were sure we could get enough players to test.

The problem is, in order to know if the game is viable enough, you need to have a statistically significant population in order to see the retention, the monetization, if the game is doing well enough to go through life. That was, this featuring actually stems out of the problem that we found that in Australia as a soft launch strategy, which has been practiced in the game industry for a long time … it no longer works very well for a small studio, because we just simply did not have enough money to keep pumping in to get enough users.

Natural discovery and the organic install process on the App Store was way down, which means that it was very, very hard to get enough organic users without paying for advertising to get them. So we talked to Google by that stage, and we figured out that Google has this Start on Android program, which I encourage everyone to have a look at.

Start on Android program is basically a program where a select group of developers will be able to get in and Google will really help you. They look at your stats with you, and as well as, helping you expose your game to different groups of people, by featuring you along the way. Eventually leading to live featuring if they think your metrics and your stats look really really good.

So that’s the first step of getting featuring.

Then we had to go through the process that was first what they call it, early access featuring. So that was the one that you have a tab in Google Play school that’s called early access and only beta users were in it. That really exposed us to a lot of people.

So just in comparison, we were only getting at most a few hundred on the App Store in Australia. And the early access featuring was exposing us all of sudden to 16,000 users. That was already a big step up for our featuring. The next step is, preregistration featuring, that’s a second step of the program. And that put people like put our game in the hands of people on preorder and shows interest before live.

And that gave us about 600,000 preregistration users. So that’s the second step.

John Koetsier: That’s impressive! Very impressive.

Christina Chen: Yeah. It’s a really good program. And then last bit is the live featuring where we got them featured by live. We did find significant quality because it was designed to help you to test right.

So we did find significant differences in the audience in beta audience versus live, which means we made some mistakes in live and we put in money way too early to advertise, where the quality of traffic isn’t the same. So then we got live featuring and live featuring was a pretty good, it’s smaller than previously anticipated because it’s smaller than before. But we still got close to a few hundred thousand users. Excluding the preregistration, that’s just from the live featuring.

So I would say the Google program is very good if we can get off, but it’s very strict as well. You have to make sure your review score is above four. Anything below four you’ll be kicked out the program forever. And you have to make sure your metrics and performance is very good because they check in with you.

I’ll invite Lauren to talk to Apple. After that, you just keep relationship with the group of store manager and they will feature every 90 days if your performance and your view score is above four. So that’s Google. Lauren, you can talk to a little bit about Apple Store.

critter-clash-mobile-game

Lauren Clinnick: Yeah, definitely.

Just generally speaking, it is very wild and very exciting to be in the growth space and in the marketing space where the distributors themselves, your own business partners being Google and Apple, they themselves are still experimenting with their business models and how much that can almost disrupt or actually surface really amazing opportunities …

It does mean that you do have to be open to a roller coaster kind of experience. And John, your community would understand the same. It can just be so surprising to see. Wake up one day, login, and Apple’s just announced something that’s a new tool that could really help you. Or maybe they’ve reorganized the way that the store layout looks, and then all of a sudden discoverability changes or your store conversion changes. So you just have to have an appetite for risk and you have to have an appetite for experimentation just in general, which obviously you communicate like your company and your community would understand.

In terms of Apple, a lot of people would think that looking at Android and Apple, they’re very similar. We’ve actually found that they can be similar but different. Google does have a lot more tools and a lot more processes and funnels for how to get through a prelaunch period to launch. Apple has differences in how they can support you prelaunch. We chose to soft launch in Australia to start testing for functionality and testing for cross play between Apple and Android before launching first on Android with Critter Clash.

But by doing that, what we didn’t know and what we couldn’t get warning on would mean that we could not then enter the preorder program, the prelaunch pre-ordering system that Apple had, which is different to Google Play.

They’ll allow you to have the preregistration system, even if you’ve been soft launched. So, you know, it really is a different pathway to market and pathway to live for the different stores. For the Apple App Store, my team and my game and my performance for the team still has a ways to go.

Because with Apple, we’ve been really happy to be supported with Australian and regional featuring and some featuring within collections on the Today tab. You know, not in the Games tab, but in the Today tab. Things like games to play while commuting or monkey-themed games. Critter Clash has come up in that a couple of times.

That’s very different to a game-of-the-day feature or being featured in the new and updated carousel in the games tab, for example. So, you know, not all featuring is made equal and how to actually cut through beyond your region and get through to the US market, or for us Russia and Brazil, is important.

We’ve been trying to do a lot to get attention in those regions, but you have to go through your own regional manager to do that. Coming from Australia makes that a bit harder. I feel that there might be some more results or some more traction for Critter Clash on Apple, had we been based in Canada or had we been based in the US and that our app store manager was closer to HQ, so to speak.

So it does make some of these things a little bit harder.

John Koetsier: Thanks so much, both of you for sharing what it’s like getting featured and what the steps are in stages for Google Play as well as Apple in the iOS app store. So getting featured is really awesome. Obviously it’s excellent, but it’s only really part of success and having longterm success in games.

What are some of the biggest challenges you’re having there? What’s your next project? What did you learn from the existing one that you’re applying to it?

Christina Chen: Yeah. So I want to speak to that a little bit. So I think any project or any business at the end of the day, you have to have your revenue greater than your acquisition costs. And that’s no different in games. So what we measure, by the way in the gaming industry there is huge amount of data and we use data science. We use lots of behavior markers to understand where people are really engaged or not engaged, and retained or not retained.

So, we do that analysis all the time. And our formula is basically to figure out whether the lifetime value is greater than the cost of acquisition. So that’s the formula you’ve got to keep looking at. Unfortunately, if you only rely on featuring alone it is actually very hard to have enough lifetime value. Even though our game actually has really good performance and monetization now,  it’s still really hard to get enough lifetime revenue even with good lifetime value. For a studio of four or five people that’s just not possible. Maybe a few years ago with the scale of featuring much, much larger, it would happen better.

But nowadays, just rely on featuring alone. … you can’t do that.

So you have to keep making sure you do advertising and keep lowering down your cost for acquisition. So unfortunately with cost per acquisition in the games being very high right now, especially in strategy with big games buying out the market, the App Store starts becoming a winner takes all sort of thing where big game makers buy out the market by keeping and retaining the most valuable paying users.

Because of that, it’s very hard for studios  to compete in that space. So, we are thinking of our next project is something that we can appeal to a niche market. Not mass market, but to a niche market  where we can actually lower the cost per acquisition in our market for people being, you know, not traditionally targeted by games.

I’ll let Lauren speak a little bit more through that cause it’s very exciting for us and Lauren been thinking about that a lot. But that’s main thing. So the challenge is always trying to lower the cost per acquisition and get good LTV. And we are trying to do that by aiming at a huge  audience.

Lauren Clinnick: Definitely. So, yeah, we have just had so many challenges and everything that we’ve gone through with Critter Clash has helped us have an understanding of what is modern user acquisition. What does the marketing landscape actually look like? What’s doable for a small team versus what’s doable for a large team?

And what we’re finding for us is that in terms of strategy and what’s viable for us  … we’re not a huge 20-person data science and marketing asset creation team. So we’re going to have to get creative about how we compete for some of those same players … and some of that means not competing for those same players, but it means marketing creatively.

It means unusual user acquisition strategies. It means marketing to niche audiences. So for the next project, whereas Critter Clash was more mid-core, a little bit more of a general kind of audience, we’re applying some marketing-first principles in parallel with our game development for the next title, and we’re basing it around a specific market segment. And we’re developing in tandem and in consultation with that niche segment, because that segment is not one that is targeted in a very homogenous way with the current UA landscape.

We’re very interested to see how user acquisition will go with that niche, with that niche subset, and whether we can retain and really collect a community around niche segments, more so than competing just based on genre fan, for example.

John Koetsier: That’s super interesting. I mean, obviously it’s challenging as a smaller organization to enter the game space. And so what you’re doing is you’re adopting a blue ocean strategy. You’re looking at where it’s super busy, super noisy, super expensive, and you’re saying, hmm, maybe there’s different ways of accessing the market we want to access. Maybe there’s a different market that’s not being accessed right now.

So … as you build out your new project, when do you know that it’s time to scale?

You’ve got to obviously build out the game. You’ve got to have a sense of what it costs for user acquisition. You have to have a sense of what’s happening in terms of LTV and what your payback model is. When do you know that it’s time to scale?

Christina Chen: This is again based completely on the formula of LTV over CPA. So we actually measure our LTV every step along the way, there will be a signal to us if there is more than, for example, 60-70% ROI, this is potentially a time to scale it in a small way, because when you scale, hugely, when you buy, when you purchase user acquisition in a significant way on Facebook and Google, the CPI changes again, the cost per install, or CPA, you can call it cost per action.

They completely change again. So you got to scale in different stages. So when we do a soft launch, as well as, I would probably this time go out at early access, again with Google, because we find it’s a lot more traffic. So if we go with Google for early access again, we test the signal, we will know that we can scale once it’s at least 60-70% ROI.

John Koetsier: Interesting. Very interesting and … good that you noted as well that what works at small scale is often not what works at large scale. And accessing the early parts of an audience is not the same as accessing a large audience. Your costs do change and your way of acquiring them does change and there are significant challenges there.

What’s it like doing it in Australia? What’s the tech scene like there?

Lauren Clinnick: So Australia is a tricky one because we have a highly educated, comparatively affluent Western society and consumers here. Australia’s tech scene and Australia’s startup scene is quite behind. Some of that is contributed by having a previous reliance on manufacturing and mining industries, more primary industries and being a bit behind the ball when it comes to internet infrastructure or looking at what’s happening with tech and what’s happening with startups.

We’re getting more traction now, but we’re still solidly years behind in terms of understanding, comfort, interest in government backing when it comes to startups and tech. The game scene that we have domestically is very small compared to other countries. The state of Victoria that we live in has 50% of all of Australia’s game development scene. A vision that I have and that my team have for this region is that we can be like Finland. You know, we can be like Scandinavia: small countries, small population, high education, high tech adoption. But this could be a great opportunity in a great industry for us to support.

We’re very remote from a lot of the world. So digital distribution makes a lot of sense for Australia, where we’d still need a lot of internet infrastructure. We’d still need legislation changes, tax changes and things like that to really grow that tech scene, but the quality of life is really great here.

We’re hoping to build teams that are really people-first companies with really scalable projects with really great outcomes, and to help basically restore the rainforest, so to speak, to give Australia different sizes of game company, because right now we really only have very small companies, like really small, scrappy indie teams, a couple of larger ones, but we’re totally missing what we call the triple A space or the really large mobile studios that we see in Western countries that are otherwise demographically quite similar to us.

John Koetsier: Interesting. And let’s also hit as we near the end of this podcast, you are both very accomplished women in technology and there have been extremely documented challenges of women in technology. In a lot of different places … in the core places you think of as technological societies, and tech-driven economies, the United States, you mentioned Scandinavia, other countries like that in the biggest companies from the Googles and Facebooks of the world to the smaller companies and startups as well.

Can you talk a little bit about some of the challenges that you’ve faced or if you haven’t faced challenges? And challenges of leadership in technology as women who lead a tech startup?

Lauren Clinnick: Yeah. Well, Christina, if you’re happy for me to jump in on this, for me it has been very interesting being a woman in tech and a woman in games really is just one axis of basically diversity.

So games and tech has a lot of diversity issues that comes from the background that you come from in terms of education and work. It can come based on gender, race, sort of minority background, even age. So we have a big homogeneity problem in tech and in games. There’s been a lot of focus on women in tech and women in games.

Some of the women in games conversation can come from the way our consumers behave. We’re actually quite happy to be in mobile gaming because there’s a lot less of an entrenched opinion on what mobile games should be. What is a real game? What is a real game out when it comes to mobile?

And if we’re not interested in engaging with or focusing on or prioritizing a certain consumer segment, we will just not build games for them. We just won’t target them, which is especially what we’re doing with the next upcoming project. So we avoid a lot of that entrenched opinion about feminine games or mobile games and things, which I’m really looking forward to. There are some unconscious biases when it comes to having conversations around investment, around having professional trust, around having your ambition or your competitiveness seen as a positive sometimes, and a lot of the time that’s very, very unconscious.

And even the surprise of talking to industry partners or store partners and talking about some of these difficulties and having these male executives say “I’ve never thought about that before,” but that’s something that we think about all the time, you know. And the energy, the conversations, the gaps that you need to bridge that your other counterpart doesn’t have to expend that energy.

That can be something that can be really, really frustrating. So what does help is having conversations like this, having male allies such as yourself, actually give space and room to non-judgmentally say, can you share your experience? I want to listen. I want to understand. That definitely really helps and for us to also help each other and have the opportunity to talk about ourselves as professionals first as well.

John Koetsier: Wonderful. I’m super happy to hear that. And if you ever do come out to any events that are near San Francisco or other places where Singular is, you should definitely check out Thrive, which our COO Susan Kuo has started, which is about women connecting, about women networking, and about women mentoring each other in games, in tech and in growth and super exciting stuff.

Christina, did you want to chime in on that as well?

Christina Chen: Oh, I just want to quickly add the cultural differences. I was born in China, and then I went to US to work for a long time, and then also worked in Shanghai and also worked extensively in Australia. So to be honest, like most people think, I don’t know much about China and being in a communist country, the advantage was that you grew up without thinking there’s a difference between male and female.

So women and men … in China, women has the highest participation workforce anywhere in the world. So it’s a well studied research that also in games there is no difference between women player and a man player in China versus the West. So their concept that women and men, might be different or different target games is actually a concept only in the West, not necessarily in China.

So when I worked in China, I did not feel that I needed to be worried about I’m a woman in tech. It’s only when I started working … I grew up in China until I was sixteen, and I came to Australia at seventeen, and only when I moved to Australia, I was reminded: I’m different.

Not only because I was, you know, a different color scheme.

I did get yelled at actually, like to “go home.” Only when it’s really, really bad when Pauline Hanson was a very racist politician. So when politicians allow people to treat other people differently, that’s what happens.

The racism definitely went up but otherwise Australia was really good. Nobody openly yelled at me or only at one point when Hanson was in power. And then I got yelled at and I started feeling really different. And just because things used to work for me no longer work and I don’t know why, because Australian culture is a sort of culture that they don’t really tell you. Not like US, they tell you, they go “I don’t like you.” They will tell you, but Australian culture is more like British, they are a little bit more reserved and it’s more implicit. So here, we can’t really say to someone, you are discriminating against me. It’s really hard to prove that. But there are definitely subtle differences.

And I definitely had my struggles back in the Australian game scene, where I felt really empowered when I was working in Shanghai, but when I came back here I felt a little bit harder and had a lot of struggles. So I just want to highlight there are a lot of the talk about these differences and I want to highlight the cultural differences as well.

John Koetsier: Well, thanks for sharing that. I really appreciate hearing that and I apologize for some of the things that you may have faced there. And I’m glad that you have been so amazingly successful, both of you, in spite of some of those challenges: super, super impressive. I want to thank both of you for being on the podcast.

I want to thank both of you for sharing your insights. It was such a pleasure for me to listen to what you’re doing, what you’ve learned, how you’re applying that to your next projects. And I’m very, very excited about seeing what’s going to come next out of Lumi Interactive and what you’re going to be doing. So thank you so much.

Christina Chen: Thank you very much. We really had fun with you on this podcast, it was great.

Lauren Clinnick: Thanks so much John.

 

 

 

Ad spend on TikTok jumps 75X from May to November

There are space shuttles and there are rocket ships. And then there’s TikTok.

TikTok has grown an amazing 614 million users this year, according to SensorTower. The social network that’s basically a hybrid of Vine and YouTube is now closing in on 1.5 billion users. That’s serious scale — and serious growth. We haven’t seen that kind of growth since perhaps Pokemon Go, which  exploded in 2016 and captured 750 million downloads in a single year.

And some of us never expected to again.

The reality is that when you grow an ad-supported social media platform by more than half a billion users, you’re probably going to grow ad revenues too. In fact, you better … because supporting all those hundreds of millions of new users is going to cost some cash.

Based on data Singular is seeing, TikTok has done just that.

And is well-positioned to continue growing ad revenues significantly for the foreseeable future.

TikTok spending blasts off

In fact, TikTok ad spend by Singular customers has jumped 75X between May of this year and November. (Singular optimizes well over $10 billion in annual ad spend for customers like Lyft, Nike, Rovio, LinkedIn, Airbnb, Twitter, and many others. So we have good visibility into where top advertisers direct their dollars.)

Ad spend on TikTok Jumped 75X from May to November

At the beginning of the year, we saw very limited spend.

The company has been growing fast, however, and in June, TikTok quietly showed plans for a self-serve ad model to select clients. It’s still early days in those efforts, and TikTok will very likely be continuing to iterate on efforts to make it easier for advertisers to build campaigns on the platform. (TikTok, by the way, is integrated with Singular for analytics, attribution, and ad monetization.)

One advertiser I talked to said that he’s “pretty impressed with how quickly they’ve built up the platform,” but that sometimes the speed shows. In other words, there are occasional glitches.

But clearly, whether it’s difficult or easy to access, TikTok’s audience is simply too large to ignore.

And, since 41% of TikTok users are between 16 and 24 years old, it’s the young audience that advertisers crave, because they can drive trends. (Caveat: that stat is from January of 2019 … the average age has almost certainly skewed older as Gen-Xers pile in to find out what the young-uns are doing these days anyways.)

Still a lot of room to grow

To add context, in the beginning of the year ad spend on TikTok was easily less than 1% of advertisers’ combined spend on Facebook and Google. By August and October, TikTok was running between 3-5% of spend on those platforms.

It’s still a small fraction of what you see on those leading and well-established platforms, but there’s clearly room for more. Ad load — the frequency at which users see ads — is about 22% on Instagram, for instance. That means for every 5 pieces of content, roughly one of them is an ad. And, Facebook is testing higher frequency in Stories. On TikTok, however, the current ad load ranges from a similar high of one every five videos down to a low of one every 20, @mattcatbat, a Tiktok user with over 450,000 followers, told me.

That high-water-mark is not common, in my experience. In my personal testing — yes honey, all that time on TikTok is actually work — I’m seeing very low ad loads … definitely on the low end of the scale.

Which, very simply, means that as TikTok ramps its self-serve platform and other features for advertisers, there’s a lot more potential for growth.

What’s working on TikTok?

In spite of the platform’s massive growth, it’s early days still on TikTok.

TikTok ads: retail & marketplace

We see retail taking the lion’s share of the ad spend on TikTok, along with marketplaces. Retail makes perfect sense: you’ve got a young and presumably fashion-conscious audience on TikTok. These are people who are likely to be influenceable with the latest trends and fashions, and they’re incentivized to purchase.

Markeplaces is a category at Singular into which we put customers who are looking to acquire at least two sets of platform participants. A classic example would be an on-demand food delivery service. These services typically want to acquire both customers (food buyers) as well as delivery personnel (drivers), and probably also food providers (restaurants).

Many of these brands have similarities to retail.

Essentially, they’re looking to add buyers: end-user customers. But TikTok also has a large audience of young adults — some of whom drive — and who probably need a bit more disposable income. So many marketplaces could conceivably add service providers here as well.

We don’t see a lot of gaming yet, which is surprising (at least for us: many Singular customers are game publishers, and they’re usually pretty quick to test new things). We don’t see a lot of financial services, either, which is not surprising.

But that doesn’t mean that no game publishers or fintech companies are active on TikTok. Quite the opposite.

Fintech and gaming: on TikTok?

In fact, one advertiser I talked to is advertising on TikTok for his fintech company.

They haven’t made their content especially TikTok-friendly, but they’re still seeing similar returns compared to other platforms. This suggests two things. First, investing in making content that is more TikTok-friendly should boost engagement and likely also conversions. And second, advertisers in verticals that have a preconception that TikTok would not a good fit for them … should reconsider and test the platform.

Another advertiser I chatted with had similar results in the gaming vertical: not great, but similar to other channels.

One benefit here: since the younger demographic that TikTok specializes in is not on Facebook and might not be accessible via Google either — other than via YouTube, perhaps — TikTik could be accessing a whole new audience for your app or brand.

Of course, you’ll need to do your incrementality testing.

But you may find that you’re accessing a previously unreached audience.

Summing up: test away!

There’s a lot of activity on TikTok, and it’s growing fast. As seasoned advertisers know, the greatest opportunity often comes when platforms are young and there’s less competition.

That means you should be diving into TikTok and testing it for your vertical and your offers. If you do in fact reach a new audience and find ways to connect effectively, you’ll reap greater rewards than those who wait.

It is important to note that while we do see a lot of ad activity, our results, very naturally, are biased to our customer set. So it’s not clear that what we’re seeing is completely representative of TikTok’s reality. However, it should be a good indicator.

How Singular can help

Singular is a mobile measurement partner for all the major platforms, and we’re also integrated with TikTok for analytics, attribution, and ad monetization.

Do a demo, and get a free trial of the Singular offering.

We can help you test and measure your results on all advertising platforms, including TikTok.

The new ad fraudsters: how today’s sophisticated ad fraud criminals steal marketing dollars

Mobile marketers know that ad fraudsters are legion and that ad fraud is a multi-billion dollar problem. You’ve probably also heard that Singular has a deterministic fraud solution that is saving existing clients hundreds of thousands of dollars monthly.

But what is Singular saving clients from?

And what are the ad fraudsters doing now?

Ad fraud is continuously evolving in an ongoing arms race against fraud detection and marketer flight to quality traffic. Knowing which ad impressions are real — and which are fake clicks; detecting fraudulent activity and doing it all in a real-time bidding environment … it’s not easy. That’s something that our anti-fraud department takes very seriously, studying bad actors’ latest techniques to ensure that Singular clients get the advertising they pay for.

I spent some time with the head of Singular’s ad fraud detection team to understand what’s new in mobile ad fraud. And also, therefore, what’s working — and not working anymore — in ad fraud detection.

Ad fraudsters: new tactics

John Koetsier: There’s the common list of things ad fraudsters do that we see all the time … but what’s new?

Yonatan Komornik: Well, it’s interesting, because you’re seeing a wide spectrum of app install fraud. Many of the old, easier techniques are still around, but there’s also some brand-new higher-tech variations.

There’s physical device farms, which are very low-tech, and software-emulated devices in server farms, which are obviously bit higher tech. There are bots to provide traffic, and SDK spoofing, which requires a little more technical know-how, plus click injection and click spamming.

There’s also auto-clicking … sending a click for an impression that’s presented to a user — which might not even be a real user. You could have both a fake user and a fake click.

Ad fraudsters are still doing all these things, and maybe it’s old news. But they’re also doing them in new ways.

Click injection, for instance, is still around. But fraudsters are now using different technology to detect when an app is being installed. Two years ago they could rely on getting an app broadcast when an app finished installing. Now, they’ve found ways to detect when an app starts downloading.

John Koetsier: So CTIT (click to install time) is not very useful anymore — at least for higher-tech fraudsters?

Yonatan Komornik: Exactly.

And click spamming is still happening too, but sophisticated criminals are finding ways to detect which users are more likely to engage … so they’re not just click spamming everyone everywhere. It’s targeted.

You could do it by grabbing a lot of device IDs, then faking clicks once a week from those devices. But that’s fairly easy to find — they can get caught easily. So now they’re matching the IP address from which the click is being sent to an IP address that the device is likely to be close to … they’re choosing their originating IP address.

And they’re using machine learning to build models that predict which users are more likely to download an app or convert on an offer. Plus, if an app is regional, the smarter fraudsters are only targeting IP addresses in that region.

John Koetsier: Interesting. They’re following legitimate ad networks in learning which users to target …

Yonatan Komornik: And getting pretty good at it.

A newer technique, and one which is growing significantly, is SDK spoofing. Ad fraudsters are figuring out how to bypass existing ways to spot SDK spoofing. You can also see via the retention curve that now they’re faking retention: they’re spoofing additional sessions, and are ensuing that it matches a normal retention curve of an app in that vertical and location.

They will go to great lengths to make their KPIs seem normal … they’ll send post-install events, and try to spoof revenue.

Interestingly, when there’s a lot of SDK spoofing from some of the paid channels, you also see a ton of fake organics. My best guess: fraudsters are doing that on purpose to make their KPIs seem less suspicious. If they create a bunch of fake users, we see a sharp increase in organic installs.

Essentially, they’re offsetting it by creating more organic users. Then they can hide the uptick in paid installs in a flood of new “organic” users. That leads to additional problems, of course. Now they’re shifting the visible KPIs of organic users, so that when you try to find anomalies in paid acquisition by benchmarking to organics … you can’t.

John Koetsier: Most fraud detection is statistical. What’s the problem with that?

Yonatan Komornik: If I’m a ad fraudster, I want to avoid statistical detection. So I just create a new publisher ID every couple of hours. I can’t be tracked to any of them.

Then I drive five installs from each publisher … now statistical detection methods can’t find them, because they don’t have  enough data. Signing up for most ad networks or ad exchanges is easy: there’s no verification, and they pay you right away. Some networks are more careful … they will not pay publishers right away and will benchmark them for bot traffic, domain spoofing, ad viewability, brand safety, and so on.

But affiliate networks: they just take anyone.

Or, they’re mixing traffic. They’re driving fraudulent traffic and mixing it with authentic traffic. 100% fake installs is easy to detect, but if I drive 50% fake traffic and 50% real … it would just seem like my results or KPIs are low. But I don’t look super-fraudulent. Even if an app marketer is seeing 50% less retention, it’s pretty hard to say it’s fraud right away.

Also, this is generally very cheap traffic.

Some ad networks do this too. If you’re not ethical, and you need better profit margins … you can drive 10-20% fake traffic and boom, profits are up. A lot of people in the industry are trying to drive prices down, and when that happens … you can’t be too careful.

John Koetsier: How sophisticated are today’s fraudsters? Do they operate just like a regular software development team, with JIRA and other tools?

Yonatan Komornik: It depends. There are some small players, two-person teams, that probably don’t.

But there are definitely bigger players. That requires scale and teamwork … even multiple teams. Some of these are very geo-driven: they know their target market, they’re very familiar with a region, the networks, the people, and with the types of local users. So they’re able to target their attacks very effectively.

John Koetsier: One last question — if you’re a black-hat ad fraud engineer, how do you collect a lot of device IDs to target?

Yonatan Komornik: The easiest way: via real apps that collect this data. You install my flashlight app, and I can collect your usage pattern. I can also request a lot of permissions on my utility app.

Then, when I try to monetize my app, I might implement an SDK that pays me for some of this data, and then they engage in fraud. They’ll probably pay on a per-user basis, and they’re probably not very upfront about what they’re doing. Or it could even be an SDK that does something good and necessary … but also has data collection.

In addition, ad networks have tons of data. If they decide to go fraudulent, it’s pretty easy to do that, and then “boost” their click-through rates and ad spend.. You can also collect device IDs via RTB (real-time bidding) exchanges … just by starting to bid on impressions.

John Koetsier: Thank you for your time!

Next steps

Get a demo of Singular’s DETERMINISTIC anti-fraud solution, as well as our overall optimization, ad spend, and attribution tools.

And, pick up a free copy of Singular’s report: The Death of App Install Fraud.

Growth Masterminds podcast: Eric Seufert on IDFA, GDPR, programmatic, the new duopoly, Amazon, incrementality, and everything else

If you don’t know who Eric Seufert is in mobile marketing, you may need to spend some more time on LinkedIn. Or on Slack, in the MobileDevMemo slack room.

Eric Seufert worked for Skype. He was VP of user acquisition for Rovio. He was head of platform for N3TWORK, and built Agamemnon while also running Mobile Dev Memo.

Eric is also the author of Freemium Economics: Leveraging Analytics and User Segmentation to Drive Revenue. And, in his spare time — on holiday in Texas, no less — he spent an hour with talking mobile marketing, and mobile marketing challenges.

Perhaps not shockingly, Eric Seufert has strong ideas and good insight. Which is probably why you should listen to the very special and very first episode ever of Singular’s new Growth Masterminds podcast:

You can subscribe on Anchor right now, but Growth Masterminds is currently propagating to Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, and pretty much every other podcast platform on the planet. It’s also already available on Spotify.

But if you prefer to read your information rather than hear it, here are the highlights and a full transcript, lightly edited for readability.

Eric Seufert on: the biggest changes in mobile

I think you’ve got a lot of change that’s coming and it’s going to be very interesting to see how products adapt to that change, which is mostly going to be targeted at advertising. So if you think about regulation that comes, broadly applied to tech, but that will affect mobile probably disproportionately around the way that people are targeted with ads … how do you pivot into that now?

How do you build a flexible process and strategy that will not wither when that happens? And if you think about the way that a lot of people do marketing, the way that they do marketing now just can’t adapt to that. It will break. It’s fragile.

Eric on: the elimination of the IDFA

I wrote an article about this a couple months ago called “Would your business survive the elimination of the IDFA?” If you are building your user base incrementally at the user level, through kind of a systematic paid acquisition … if the idea of that goes away, you’re done.

Eric on: the impact of GDPR and CCPA

If GDPR gets teeth — and the California Privacy Act is much more extreme than GDPR — and you have this inability to share data across services, or pair third party data to identifiers, or even pair monetization data to identifiers … the way that we do digital marketing just would change completely.

Eric on: scaling marketing beyond initial easy wins

So you see a lot actually with DTC brands, right? So you can spin up campaigns that break even in 30 days with AEO (app event optimization) and VO (value optimization) campaign types on Facebook, and you can scale that to let’s say a hundred sales a day, right? And so your early metrics look really great and really encouraging.

But the thing is: AEO and VO, they don’t really scale that well and they start to saturate really quickly. And so can you grow that to a thousand sales a day, but can you grow it to 10,000 sales a day? And obviously you’d expect that your performance degrades … but it degrades so sharply.

Eric on: the increasingly important role of creative in advertising

Now it’s like you have an army of creative people. And I don’t mean that they are creative. I mean that you have an army of people working on creative and you have a bunch of analysts and you have a few media buyers …  we create a variant of this ad for everyone. We create thousands or tens of thousands of variants of this ad and we let Facebook and Google determine the best pairing.

Eric on: the problems with programmatic

It’s growing like crazy. But I think that’s in response to Facebook and Google going algorithmic and holding that data hostage. Because programmatic’s expensive. It’s hard to do right. It takes a huge amount of investment in infrastructure, but you 100% own the data.

Eric on: triumvirate is the new duopoly … Google, Facebook, and Amazon

The duopoly is Google/Facebook. I started calling Google/Facebook/Amazon the triumvirate. Amazon is an interesting participant here because they have all the components to build a just gigantic rival to Facebook and Google. I think Amazon likes to do things slowly and methodically and thoughtfully and incrementally.

Eric on: the rise of Amazon

Amazon can wrap all their data about not just anything that you’ve done on their website, but all the purchases that you’ve made. What you’ve asked for with Alexa, all that kind of stuff. They can wrap all of that into their targeting mechanic. And so you have like all this great on-device data, but then you get a bunch of geo-based data and real world product data, and it just becomes a whole lot more robust than just like, oh, this person searched for this once.

Eric on: incrementality is everything

I can attribute everything, because I have a probabilistic model that tells me that when I had TV ads running, I got this uplift … and when I allocate 20% more budget to Facebook, I got this level of uplift. Even though I was doing view-through ads and I had other video ads running on Youtube or whatever.

Subscribe to the podcast … and check out the full transcript

The podcast is brand new right now, so it’s not fully propagated to Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts. (It will be in a week.) But you can listen here, or on Anchor, or subscribe on Spotify.

And … here’s the full transcript, lightly edited for length and legibility.

Eric-seufert-growth-masterminds

 

Growth Masterminds: episode 1 transcript

John Koetsier: Hello, and welcome to Growth Masterminds. We are providing insight from the smartest people we know, to help smart marketers get better.

And this is the very first episode, so I’m pretty pumped about it. Nowhere to go but up from here, and I hope you’re gonna love it.

My first guest, our very first guest, super pumped to have him, worked for Skype in Estonia. He wrote a book on Freemium Economics. He was the head of marketing for Wooga games. He was also the vice president of user-acquisition for Rovio … only about a couple billion or trillion downloads there.

He started his own company, Agamemnon, which provided interesting ways of helping marketers get data and use data for marketing their mobile apps. He was also the head of platform for Network — you’ve heard of Legendary: Game of Heroes — and he runs Mobile Dev Memo and a couple other projects that we’ll talk about …

I’d like to welcome Eric Seufert.

The WURST festival

Eric Seufert: Hi John, thanks for having me on the very first podcast.

John Koetsier: Excellent, super pumped to have you. You are in Texas right now, is that not correct?

Eric Seufert: That is correct. I’m in a little town called New Braunfels, which is kind of famous for being settled by Germans, but as the name implies, but it runs a big festival every year called “Wurstfest” where everyone gets together and wears kitschy, Alpine, yodeling outfits and drinks a lot of beer…

John Koetsier: Wow, wow, Wurstfest. That’s Wurst as in “W-U-R-S-T” not “W-O-R-S-T”?

Eric Seufert: Right, yeah, yeah, it’s not the worst festival. It’s the festival of bratwurst. I’m actually not here for that. There’s like a really nice river here, so we got a river house and we’re just hanging out. But yeah, that’s kind of what the city’s known for.

John Koetsier: Excellent, excellent, very good. Well thanks for being on the show. Super happy to have you, and we’re gonna dive into a lot of topics. You’ve had an amazing career doing really really cool things, and we want to talk about some of those, and maybe some of the next steps and what you’re moving to next as well.

I wanted to kick off with the mobile marketing landscape. I’ve sometimes called it a “landscape of chaos.” It’s funny, you run Mobile Dev Memo which is a Slack group on basically experts helping experts doing what they’re doing, in terms of user acquisition, mobile marketing, other things like that. What’s interesting to me is you’ve got experts coming here and they always have more questions, there’s always stuff changing.

Talk to me a little bit about that and the complexity, even for people who are immersed in this daily.

Eric Seufert: Sure. So a little background on Mobile Dev Memo, it is a Slack group. There’s, I think we breached a thousand people, which is after I did a pretty big purge a couple months back, which I won’t do again because I wrote a script that just kicked out anyone who was like defined as inactive by Slack, which I think is like two weeks of inactivity.

So it kicked all these people out and then I just got this torrent of emails from people asking to be added back in. And it was more trouble than it was worth. But anyway, yeah, so it’s a Slack group, but it’s also my kind of trade blog so … mobiledevmemo.com. It’s where I’ve been publishing a weekly column since 2014, usually related to either mobile marketing/mobile advertising or kind of freemium monetization. It’s also a newsletter, so the newsletter goes out every Monday to a couple thousand subscribers.

So it’s kinda just multifaceted. You know, public publication project for me. Yeah, and I mean, just kind of thinking about the mobile … it’s really interesting how it’s evolved since I got involved or started working in it. Even just in the last few years, the way things have shaken out is pretty fascinating. But I tell people that I think now is kind of the most exciting time that I’ve experienced. Cause there’s just a lot of stuff happening.

Privacy regulations will break mobile marketing (or some of it)

I think you’ve got a lot of change that’s coming and it’s going to be very interesting to see how products adapt to that change, which is mostly going to be targeted at advertising. So if you think about regulation that comes, broadly applied to tech, but that will affect mobile probably disproportionately around the way that people are targeted with ads … how do you pivot into that now? How do you build a flexible process and strategy that will not wither when that happens? And if you think about the way that a lot of people do marketing, the way that they do marketing now just can’t adapt to that. It will break. It’s fragile.

John Koetsier: What will break exactly Eric?

Eric Seufert: Just their business, their business models, the way that they do marketing, the way that a lot of people sustainably grow their products will not react to those changes in a way that allows them to continue operating.

So if I think about it, I wrote an article about this a couple months ago called “Would your business survive the elimination of the IDFA?” If you are building your user base incrementally at the user level, through kind of a systematic paid acquisition … if the idea of that goes away, you’re done.

Like if all of your measurement is oriented towards that and all of your measurement and essentially your business model is oriented towards that. If the idea of IDFA is deprecated you’re out, you’re done, you won’t be able to operate that way anymore.

And you’ll have to either very quickly regroup, which a lot of companies aren’t really good at that, or you’ll just die. You’ll be beaten by someone who’s more flexible. So if you think about the companies that I see operating in the most sophisticated way now, they don’t really think about growth that way. It’s not like all my measurement is predicated on I acquired that user, this is how much they’re worth to me, and then I just aggregate a bunch of those users up and that’s my user base. It’s more a holistic modeling approach, with a media mix model thinking: okay, I’ve got out of home, I’ve got digital, I’ve got whatever … and all of that works in concert to build a user base.

And I don’t necessarily think about the unit economics at the ad level or the campaign level or the user level. I think about like global unit economics in a way that supports all those different channel types.

John Koetsier: That’s super interesting because that’s almost a return to some of the older days of marketing before this golden age of mobile marketing with all the personal data and IDFAs, device identifiers, and all that.

Eric Seufert: Yeah, I think it is, but I think in a way that never really went away. I mean, if you talk to people at the really sophisticated shops, they’ve always kind of had that outlook. It’s just that digital makes things more granularly measurable, right? And so some people use that as a crutch now. And it makes it possible to get extreme transparency into your marketing spending and it allows you to scale up campaigns relatively easily and cheaply, right?

Because if you’re just running ads on Facebook or whatever, and you can measure the cost per click and install and you can measure day zero ROAS (return on ad spend) and all that kind of stuff, you don’t need a massive machinery supporting that, right?

John Koetsier: Right.

Eric Seufert: You just see what the results are and you kill stuff that doesn’t work. But if you don’t have that — and we might not have that, right — if you think about IDFA going away … that’s a fundamental change to the way people do digital marketing.

If you think about LAT, Limit Ad Tracking, that had a pretty massive impact. If you think about if GDPR getting teeth — [and] the California Privacy Act is much more extreme than GDPR — if that gets at a federal level and all of a sudden any of this data just can’t be shared across services … so even if the IDFA doesn’t go away, but you have this inability to share data across services or even pair third party data to identifiers or pair monetization data to identifiers, the way that we do digital marketing just would change completely.

So that kind of stuff I think is the conversations that I’ve had lately. People have been kind of tense and paranoid about those kinds of changes and then the way that they just would completely upend all the infrastructure that most companies have built to do marketing.

John Koetsier: Exactly and when when you’re talking about IDFA obviously you’re talking about the iOS ecosystem, but I assume you’re also talking about Google identifier for advertisers as well, correct?

Eric Seufert: Yeah. I mean, I think Apple tends to lead on this stuff. And I haven’t heard any whispers about Google eliminating the ad ID, whereas I have with Apple, so it’s a little bit different. I mean it’s not different, but I think Apple would do it first and then Google would probably follow. But there’s other stuff too. It’s IDFA going away. That’s not top of mind for most people. But I also think that the concentration of market share within Google and Facebook is forcing a lot of this too.

The challenges of scaling just on Facebook and Google

Because what you see a lot of companies dealing with is … you actually can launch a product really easily on Facebook and see a lot of success and then that just plateaus, right?

So you see a lot actually with DTC (direct to consumer) brands. You can spin up campaigns that break even in 30 days with AEO (app event optimization) and VO (value optimization) campaign types on Facebook, and you can scale that to let’s say a hundred sales a day. And so your early metrics look really great and really encouraging.

But the thing is that AEO and VO don’t really scale that well, and they start to saturate really quickly. You grow that to a thousand sales a day, but can you grow that to 10,000 sales a day? Obviously you’d expect that your performance degrades, but it degrades so sharply. And so what a lot of DTC companies do is they see that early success, they go and raise money and then they actually can’t scale that success meaningfully beyond what they raised money on.

So they just have to go elsewhere. I mean there’s just no choice when Google and Facebook own 80% of the growth for digital. If they own 50% of the market and you can only scale so far with them, where do you go? And so … not digital. So a lot of companies are really exploring non-digital formats now for that reason, even beyond just the technical aspect of identifiers going away.

John Koetsier: What’s super interesting as we’re having this conversation is that I’ve seen some data recently on advertising that is targeted to a person or persona that’s customized, even personalized … which has kind of been the digital marketer’s holy grail for some years: sending the right ad to the right person at the right time and magic happens.

And some data coming out recently suggests that actually there’s not a lot of magic that happens there. First of all we’re not super good at doing that, sending the right ad to the right person at exactly the right time. But also, contextual advertising works almost as well, if not better.

Eric Seufert: Yeah, I think whenever I see those studies from vendors operating in that space, I feel like the results that they sort of showcase tend to suffer from a confirmation bias.

So if you show me a campaign where it’s like: Hey, my new tool allows you to build a customer journey with advertising. And so you’re going to show them an ad here and here and here. And we’ve tested all the different configurations of those placements and the timings and the chronology and we’ve enabled you to deliver what you said, the right message, the right time, and hey … look at the performance.

Um, okay.

But you never see that compared against just a baseline of performance for that last thing.

John Koetsier: Right, right.

The user acquisition team composition is changing

Eric Seufert: So if you tell me: Hey, my product helps you show the sequence of five Facebook ads and look at how much better it did than the worst performing variant of those five Facebook ads, I would say, okay, great … just show me just the last ad and … is there a meaningful performance boost there?

Because then I just spent four times whatever the CPM is in addition to that.

I’m always kind of wary of that stuff. With the way that Facebook and Google pivoted into algorithmic campaign management, you’ve seen the locus of impact shift in mobile specifically from campaign management, button clicking, and media buying to creative strategy and analysis.

So if you think about five years ago, what UA (user acquisition) team looked like … it looked like an army of media buyers and then you had an artist and you did a creative report once a week and pitched new creative ideas.

Now it’s like you have an army of creative people.

And I don’t mean that they are creative. I mean that you have an army of people working on creative and you have a bunch of analysts and you have a few media buyers. So that personalization thing, I think that there’s something to that … but I don’t know about it being a deterministic ad journey.

I think it’s more like we create a variant of this ad for everyone. We create thousands or tens of thousands of variants of this ad and we let Facebook and Google determine the best pairing.

And I think that is a very powerful idea. That’s how you’ve seen mobile marketing emerge now to where your goal as a mobile marketer is to make sure you let Facebook and Google do the heavy lifting on showing the right thing to the right person. Because they know those people better than you do, just based on their data sets. And they’re also just better at testing that, doing it quickly at scale.

So your job is to come up with the right ad variant for them, like the right creative.

Owning your own data as a marketer

John Koetsier: Well that’s super interesting and I’ve seen that from a lot of people. But the interesting thing as well there is that you’re paying Google to show that to a bunch of people, and learn which one is going to work out best. You’re also paying Facebook to do the same work … and actually, are you extracting any of that intelligence yourself to use anywhere else?

Eric Seufert: Well, no, and that goes back to what I was talking about before. That’s why some people are just … you either opt fully in or you opt out. You accept that, hey, Facebook owns this data, I don’t, and I can’t, you know, it’s inaccessible to me.

And so I’m going to go build my own dataset with these other sorts of channels and I’m just going to think about marketing holistically, and I own that model at the sort of macro level. I’ll let Facebook own the digital piece of that for their budget.

But yeah, I mean, you’re right. And I think that’s what’s frustrating to people. And I think that walled garden idea at some point might work against Facebook.

I mean, Facebook is a behemoth and obviously Google is too, but I think if you kind of hold that data hostage at some point, I think that what Facebook thought when they shifted to this approach with the algorithm: We’re just make it so easy to go all in on Facebook. And if we own the data and you can’t use it to the benefit of your campaigns that run elsewhere, you probably at some point — for especially a lower level of span — you’re just going to say, you know what, I’m just gonna give all my money to Facebook.

It’s easier. It’s the least amount of friction. That’s the lowest resistance thing for me to do.

Well, once you get to scale, people resent it.

And also you see the degradation of quality or degradation of performance and you see the diminishing returns and you think, wow, actually if I would were able to carve some of this spend off and put it elsewhere, I think I would have better overall performance. And I think that is partially what’s behind the rise of programmatic. And I think that’s partially why people are starting to explore sort of like digital, non-Facebook, non-direct response, non even mobile channels.

Why programmatic is growing so quickly

John Koetsier: Let’s talk about that briefly … the rise of programmatic as opposed to just spending with Facebook or just going into Google or just doing those two. What do you see there? What’s happening and why is it happening?

Eric Seufert: There’s definitely a lot of activity there … that’s probably three out of every four phone calls I have with advertisers that want to work with me. It’s because they’re trying to bring programmatic in house.

I’m hesitant to say it’s a turning point because people have been saying that for like six years. But the proof is in the pudding. Programmatic spend has grown like 50% year over year for the last two years from a much much lower baseline. It’s still growing like crazy.

But I think that’s in response to Facebook and Google going algorithmic and holding that data hostage.

Because programmatic is expensive. It’s hard to do right. It takes a huge amount of investment in infrastructure, but you 100% own the data. And so if you look at the landscape — and I just, I wrote my article for Mobile Dev Memo this week on this topic. So I guess that’ll come out at the same time. If you look at the landscape — if you’re a mobile advertiser, especially if you’re promoting an app — you’ve got the self-attributing networks which own your data, right? They wrap their arms around your data and they own it for all intents and purposes. You’ve got the ad networks that are basically just like brokers connecting buyers and sellers. And then you’ve got programmatic as well with the ad networks.

Some of them are starting to move into publishing and so you’re going to be reticent to give them your data. But they can’t really do their job well without it. The essay ends: you’re giving your data to them. I mean, you have to. You have to be running on Facebook and Google. But they own it and at some point you hit a wall just because of the nature of VO and UAC. And so the only thing you have left, the only recourse you have left for untapped growth opportunities is programmatic.

The rise of Amazon and the new triumvirate

John Koetsier: Interesting, interesting, interesting. You talked a little bit earlier when we were prepping for this podcast about the duopoly or the triumvirate … and whether can anything threaten it. Talk briefly about those companies that you’re referring to and what might threaten it.

Eric Seufert: I don’t know if anybody else uses the term triumvirate. So the duopoly is Google/Facebook. I started calling Google/Facebook/Amazon the triumvirate. I don’t know if anybody else does it.

John Koetsier: I’m not sure either, but it’s certainly rising fast isn’t it, Amazon.

Eric Seufert: Amazon is an interesting participant because they have all the components to build a just gigantic rival to Facebook and Google. I think Amazon likes to do things slowly and methodically and thoughtfully and incrementally and so my sense is that’s why they haven’t. I mean they bought Seismic and so they’re making moves.

But if you think about all the customer data that Amazon has … what I think is interesting and what I think kind of also supports this thesis that people are moving to this holistic measurement approach is that Amazon can wrap all their data about not just anything that you’ve done on their website, but all the purchases that you’ve made. What you’ve asked for with Alexa, all that kind of stuff. They can wrap all of that into their targeting mechanic.

And so you have all this great on-device data, but then you get a bunch of geo-based data and real world product data, and it just becomes a whole lot more robust than just: Oh, this person searched for this once. Or they’ve monetized in games, so they’re gamers with disposable income.

All the profiling that Facebook can do is just based on your activity on the device. And I’ve heard some really paranoid stuff about what Facebook does. I dunno how much of it’s true, but someone told me that Facebook tracks 100,000+ dimensions in any given user’s user profile.

John Koetsier: That’s a lot!

Eric Seufert: Some of them are synthetic, based on other dimensions, and some of them are based on in-app usage data. Someone told me that they were pitching agencies on their ability to determine someone’s weight or basically size because they tracked like the swing of the phone in your pocket.

John Koetsier: Are you kidding me?

Eric Seufert: So like your gait, right? Like … how quickly you walk. And I was like, okay, maybe that’s true. I don’t know if that adds a little bit of precision to the targeting … maybe they’d want to do that. It just seems so creepy.

And that’s just the kind of stuff that … someone had that idea at Facebook and pitched it to their boss and they were like, oh yeah, that’ll improve targeting. And it’s like, if that gets out, people are going to be so creeped out. It’s so self-defeating.

How much more precise is that making targeting, to be worth just the ick factor that people feel when they hear about that? It just feels like that the incremental value out of that specific measurement is so small compared to the risk of people just being grossed out by Facebook calculating that. But anyway.

John Koetsier: Well, you can bet that if there was any such project or ten, fifteen, twenty-five others similar to it, they have been canceled. Facebook is in a new environment post-Cambridge Analytica and all the other things that have gone on recently with legislation, the FTC fine, and everything like that. You can bet there’s a new bar, a new standard for projects that they greenlight now.

Eric Seufert: You’d hope so. But I mean, the sad part is how believable that is. And so it almost just doesn’t even really matter if it’s true. If people are like, no way, you know, then if it’s not true, it doesn’t hurt you. But if people are like, oh yeah, I could see them doing that, they’re pretty creepy … then the pain is already baked in. It doesn’t matter whether it’s true or not.

John Koetsier: That is a challenge once you lose trust, right? I mean that’s a real challenge.

But interestingly, you brought up Amazon, and Amazon knows where you live, knows what products you buy. If you’re a Prime member, they know a lot more about you: they know your music preferences, they know some of the movies that you like to watch. And if you’re on Twitch they know what games you might be interested in.

Eric Seufert: They have a huge data set that is really interesting. They know what you watch. They’ve got the Amazon channels now, so they, they aggregate all the different streaming services … so they know what you watch.

Amazon is a beast. It just feels like they’re moving in that direction. I just don’t know what the pace is going to be. I wrote a post recently about the Mary Meeker presentation this year. They showed there’s this ads ecosystem. The advertising ecosystem on mobile, it’s really diverse, right? Cause you’ve got, okay, Facebook and Google, they have a lot of market share, but then look at all these other entrants, all these other participants, and they own like X percent.

Right?

But if you broke that out, it was actually just Amazon.

She had this chart and was like, okay, here’s Facebook and Google. You remove them. But she didn’t like and you’ve got Amazon, you’ve got Snap, you’ve got Pinterest. And on and on and on … but if you broke that out, Amazon was 95%.

So it is kind of just Amazon, Facebook, Google at meaningful scale. Obviously competition is always better for the consumer … and in this case, the consumer is advertisers.

I think it’s great if Amazon just continues to make inroads there. They’ve already got a big business and I guess they do want to be very methodical, and they might just be kind of waiting to see how this stuff shakes out. Cause to me it feels like it’s a fait accompli that some big sweeping regulation gets passed.

And the only question is: how severe is it?

My opinion on Cambridge Analytica was … that was kind of blown out of proportion. I don’t think that was actually a serious issue. But it was kind of most peoples’ introduction to the sort data profiling that Facebook does. And so even though that incident wasn’t kind of significant, the idea of what could happen was probably more significant and probably scary to people.

But, you know, we’ll just see what the magnitude of that is. And I think you see a lot of firebrands, particularly in the house, who are basically building their profiles on being anti-tech. And so if some of these people feel the need to make tech a boogeyman, then this regulation could be quite severe.

How mobile marketing is changing

John Koetsier: It could be. Super interesting, and super interesting as well that the issue is not always the issue.

I mean … whether it was Cambridge Analytica or another privacy issue, it came to the fore. Kind of like FaceApp issue which everybody is upset about. I wrote a story on Forbes about it that went viral with 3 million views … but it’s not a worse app than dozens if not hundreds of other apps out there. It’s just the one that happened to capture the attention and get all the anger.

But anyways, let’s come back as we kinda draw near the end of our time here. We’ve talked about a lot of things: mobile marketing, the future, where we’ve come from, where we’re going, some of the challenges, the duopoly or the triumvirate.

Let’s talk a little bit more about the future. Maybe four to six months out or something like that, and maybe come back to some of the things that you were talking about. What’s it look like to be a mobile marketer three months out, six months out? How’s it changing and what needs to change about your skill set and maybe your approach as you move forward?

Eric Seufert: Yeah, sure. I think. So my belief is that marketing is a pretty technical, analytical job. And I think just because mobile marketing was kind of emergent, if you had experience in spinning up basically the mechanics of doing marketing — like just setting up campaigns, setting up attribution, setting up reporting — you were a mobile marketer and you were valued.

The value that you brought was that experience, not necessarily the more strategic side of things. And I think that has changed. That definitely changed a lot. So if you think about what I was talking about earlier with the levers available to marketers being all of that analysis that goes into doing creative well, and optimizing for events, and figuring out which events you should be sending to platforms for doing optimization on your campaigns … then the job does seem really technical, right?

All the other stuff now is kind of commoditized, and your value now is not, well, I know how to use an attribution service and I know how to do reporting, and I can coordinate all that. Now it’s well, okay, I actually am quite technical and I can understand why creatives work or don’t, and I can understand why targeting works or doesn’t. And I can prove that out with the analysis … then it’s just a different role.

And so I think that’s changing.

But also, teams are getting smaller too because of algorithmic campaign management … you just don’t need that huge army of media buyers now. And I think you could operate a team that’s doing multiple millions of dollars of spend per month with a couple people. So I think it felt like there was kind of like a boom time and that’s definitely over and now it’s like — and I think you wrote about this the other day — you see a lot of VP growth titles.

You know, I haven’t seen any chief growth officer titles yet, but you see VP growth.

There you’re not really talking about necessarily doing media buying, you’re talking about overall of ownership of the growth of the product through whatever means. So, yeah, you’d probably have a Facebook person reporting to that person, but maybe just one or two. And then you’d probably have product managers who are focused on the onboarding experience and who are focused on different aspects of invitation mechanics and stuff, and optimize assets, like a much more holistic view now.

There’s not as much tension I think between performance marketers and brand marketers.

John Koetsier: Yeah, definitely.

Eric Seufert: I’ve experienced that in my career where there was a lot of tension between those two roles and I think now they’re being rolled up into one who takes holistic measurement of just: Hey, I don’t care how we get it done, but we need to grow the DAU (daily average users) of this app.

The growth of incrementality

John Koetsier: Absolutely, I’ve been saying for a year now that all brand marketing is performance marketing, and all performance marketing is brand marketing. And I think we’re seeing that more and more and more.

The other things that we were talking about prepping for this was the future of mobile marketing, media mix modeling, incrementality, omnichannel and probabilistic attribution. Can you talk a little bit about those?

Eric Seufert: Yeah, sure.That’s just kind of an extension of what I was saying: that is marketing now.

It’s like: okay, I understand how to measure incrementality. I understand how to put together a media mixe model and evaluate the performance at a macro level. I understand that if if I can attribute something, I can sort of probabilistically attribute it.

I don’t need that direct, that sort of direct response attribution link.

I have it for some campaigns, but I can attribute everything, because I have a probabilistic model that tells me, when I had TV ads running, I got this uplift and when I allocate 20% more to a budget on Facebook, I got this level of uplift. Even though I was doing view through ads and I had other video ads running on Youtube or whatever. So I think that’s like the really cool stuff too.

John Koetsier: So, tell us what you’re working on now?

Eric Seufert: I launched a website recently called QuantMar. I wanted to create a place where the discussion could be focused around those really meaningful topics. I think it’s kinda like the frontier of marketing right now. I wanted to give people a place to discuss that kind of stuff and to actually share knowledge and build credibility in those areas, for the purposes of their own personal brand building for recruiting.

And for just general purpose like knowledge sharing!

So that there was a place where you could have information that was vetted by the community as being credible, as being useful and valuable. And you didn’t have to rely on content marketing.

So like present company excluded! Most marketing content is just vendor content. Marketing’s is really bad, right? It’s promotional. It’s usually factually inaccurate or misleading.

And so I wanted to create a place where people could find really useful, valuable, insight on how to do like kind of cutting edge, modern marketing. So that’s QuantMar.com. It’s basically like a stack exchange or a Quora for, for performance marketers.

John Koetsier: And why did that not fit in the Mobile Dev Memo sort of container?

Eric Seufert: One, I didn’t want this to be seen as pigeonholed into mobile. Modern marketing is extending beyond DR, and when I say modern marketing, I mean modern performance marketing … I’m a performance marketer.

I totally agree with you about brand: brand is wrapped up in performance. There’s no reason to think of those as binary opposites. The opposite of performance marketing is non-performance marketing, right? So it’s just doing things poorly. Brand definitely falls under the performance marketing umbrella.

Not only for people that are promoting apps!

Modern marketing has moved past just direct response on mobile, right? So I didn’t want this to be seen as just a resource for mobile people. And, I think, my goal with Mobile Dev Memo has always been kinda to build my own personal brand. And I didn’t want this to be seen as an exercise in promoting myself.

And also, I want to build out a kind of ecosystem similar properties or sites. It felt like that the ability to kind of like ping pong people between those two websites and then also across the Slack group was just really powerful, and it would have a multiplicative effect rather than just sort of putting it under MDM.

One of my goals with QuantMar — I’ve got a developer working on this right now — is I want that to become a recruiting platform. I think in general mobile marketers tend to be totally underpaid. I think if you’re operating a budget of $5 million a month — $60 million a year — I mean there are hedge funds that size. And so you should be paid to that standard, not to the standard of the agency person who does Facebook campaigns.

And I think being able to showcase your knowledge and your expertise … what avenues do you have to do that? You’ve got LinkedIn, that’s basically it. And your professional reputation. But I wanted to give people an opportunity to really showcase their knowledge, and as a result to increase their value … and increase their market price. And so I’ve got some cool features coming with QuantMar that are gonna facilitate that.

Even now you can go and show: hey, I’m one of the foremost experts on Facebook marketing. I understand how these algorithms work better than anyone. And like that really does separate you out. It’s definitely a better way to showcase your value than just submitting a CV to a hiring company. So I want QuantMar to be a place for knowledge sharing … a place for building a credible content library that really moves the field forward. But I also want to be a place where recruiters go and find candidates.

John Koetsier: Wonderful, wonderful, that sounds super exciting. I know I’ll be hanging out there. I want to thank you again for being our inaugural guest on the very first edition of Growth Masterminds podcast, and I hope you have a wonderful rest of your day in Texas.

Eric Seufert: Yeah. Cheers, John. Thank you so much.

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