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

By John Koetsier February 19, 2020

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 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 to 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.


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.


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.


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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