CMOs on coronavirus: 250 marketing leaders on what to do now

Support. Communicate. Be sensitive.

Don’t stand still. Try new tactics. Offer something special.

And above all, don’t try to profit from a crisis.


Marketers at every company on the planet are wondering what to do in the coronavirus era. Over a million people have fallen ill with COVID-19, hundreds of thousands if not millions are at risk of dying, and cancel everything is the mantra of the day. Social distancing is required for protecting lives—but not everyone can work remotely, and the economy has lost millions of jobs, with the looming potential of millions more.

Those jobs support families. They pay for health care. They support lives. And marketers keep the wheels of commerce turning that fuel that engine. While there is some good news, marketers worry. A down economy seems imminent, and that makes growth hard.

So I asked about 250 marketers for their top three tips for customer acquisition and growth in our current challenging situation. Here’s what they said.

Marketing after coronavirus: don’t stop

Not one marketer said “shut down.” No one said “give up.” Everyone said that now was the time to act with courage. And every marketer insisted that the proper response—with sensitivity—was to find a way to connect and help, and prepare for the future.

What many of them did suggest is that first, marketers double down on empathy to the community and service to their customers.

“A pandemic is not the time to sell, it’s a time to serve,” says Sara Vami, CMO at cloud communications platform giant Twilio. “Make sure your organization is providing tools and information that are of value in the moment.”

And, while you’re doing that, now is also not the time to think small. On the contrary, it’s the time to expand the possible.

“Creative, bold ideas … enable marketers to find success despite economic burdens,” says former Apple CEO John Sculley, now chairman of the board and CMO at medical company RxAdvance. “Marketing professionals should continue to explore gaps where they can reach … audiences and acquire new customers.”

4 major themes: More, New, Keep, Build

Because I asked marketers an open-ended question, I had to draw patterns and lessons out of unstructured data in over 250 responses. (Deja vu, marketers?)

Four themes dominated, but one was central: don’t stop, but do adjust.

That means more digital commerce, says Tom Murray, CMO of the world’s largest bedding provider, Tempur Sealy. More of a focus on research and science, hygiene and safety … and knowing where people are.

“People will continue to spend more time at home—on TV, on their phones, and on news and social media channels,” Murray says. “As a result, in-person and live events will be different. So, just as what marketers say now is increasingly important, so too will be where we say it in order to best reach consumers.”

It’s important to be clear: it is not being insensitive to the unfolding tragedy around us to keep working and continue marketing. We don’t have to completely stop everything and absolutely give in to the crisis to show respect for those most impacted in terms of lives and livelihoods.

Quite the opposite.

It’s actually a productive response that, done correctly, can help pull all of us out of the economic crisis that is following the health crisis.

“For so many people, life has become so unexpectedly hectic and frightening,” says Jaime Punishill, CMO at Lionbridge. “It’s important right now that businesses keep going. Marketers are on the front line of the economy. It takes sales to pay vendors and employees, revenue to keep a business running.”

We do have to stay respectful. We do have to find ways to help, especially those who are on the true front lines: doctors, nurses, and other health care practitioners. But keeping the lights on is an important way to help everyone who depends on the economy for survival. Revenue to keep a business running is rent money and food on the table for employees.

And that’s what pretty much all of us need.

73% of marketers suggest doing more marketing

Whether it’s doubling down on advertising or doubling down on content marketing, most marketers think that now is the time to work harder, not take a break. We might be in our home offices, but we’ll have to put our work boots on.

Almost a third, 28% of marketers, said they would double down on advertising. Many, like Bob Benz, president at Advanced Telecom Services, argued that ads are cheaper now. Advertising, he says, is literally a better deal today:

“It’s counterintuitive to purchase stocks when the market is tanking, but all the experts will tell you it’s the best time to do so,” Benz says. “It’s the same with advertising. Today, Facebook and Google advertising is 20% cheaper than it was pre-coronavirus and internet use is at an all-time high. Take advantage of it! You may never have this opportunity again.”

About one in five said that now is a good time to increase your content marketing, realizing that while closing new business might be harder now, customer acquisition starts long before someone enters credit card details or signs a contract.

“Focus on current content that builds relationships with those who can develop into future customers,” says Chelsea Carlyle, a social media marketing consultant. “Now, more than ever, content is king. While someone may not be able to convert [everyone] to a client/customer because of the economy right now, you have an excellent opportunity to put helpful content in front of them that puts you top of mind in the future.”

Others pointed out that marketers need to make hay while the sun isn’t shining.

“As many businesses quiet down during challenging times, this is a critical time to push ahead and stand out,” says Anna McNaught, an entrepreneur and Instagram strategist. “It’s a chance to create innovative content, inspire potential customers, and become a leader in your industry.”

About 15% of marketing leaders suggested focusing on organic growth over paid marketing tactics, and 12% were planning to focus on social media.

64% of marketers suggest adjusting your offers, strategies, and tactics

A majority of marketing leaders also plan to adjust their marketing strategies and tactics. In other words, they’re not just doubling down on what they’ve always done: they’re changing because the world changed.

“Right now we’re not just facing a down economy, we’re facing a shift on how people become familiar with, purchase, and receive products and services,” says Ian Kelly, VP of Operations at NuLeaf Naturals.

How companies react to our new and evolving normal is critical.

“It’s not the biggest or strongest that survive, but those that adapt best,” says Vanesa Levin, CMO at HCH Management. “Similarly, in order to survive and grow during a down economy, companies must be able to adapt and stay relevant.”

That means that marketers need to craft creative strategies, Levin adds. That means shifting your value proposition and adapting to the times. And it’s not just about lipstick on the pig. It’s not only about marketing. Your product may need to adapt too.

“Give them a quick-start solution,” suggests Tammy Jackson, CMO at Sonic Foundry. “Chances are your prospects are trying to solve challenges they’ve never faced before, and they’re trying to do it quickly.”

While 43% of marketers are focusing on new strategies and updated product offerings, 21% are also going to the place that most marketers never want to: discounts.

“Offering discounts works,” says Morgan Taylor, CMO at LetMeBank. “Right now that is what your potential clients need, and what you can do to help them. Which in turn, will help you.”

Others suggest a free tier of service, a limited-time offer, or creative discounts that don’t cost your company too many missed dollars, but do have high perceived and actual value. Some of these options might be painful, at least right now. But they might be necessary to maintain, share, or grow.

“Make compromises in the short term to benefit in the long term,” says Greg Holtzman, a director at Brainbase.

54% of marketers favor focusing on retention and service

A dollar in your hand is worth two in the forest.

Maybe even five or ten dollars.

Keeping your existing customers is the first essential step to growing, as all software-as-a-service companies know. And keeping your existing users in already-paid-for cohorts is also critical to long term return on investment and return on ad spend, as all mobile app marketers know.

“One of the best survival tips that you can ever have is to take care of and keep in touch with your clients,” says Chad Hill, CMO at Hill & Ponton.

“Marketers should be throwing out their old playbooks filled with third-party data strategies and instead focusing on retaining and supporting current customers,” says Richard Jones, CMO at Cheetah Digital.

New customer acquisition is hard at the best of times. New user acquisition, in mobile apps, is expensive, and most of your new users leave within a few weeks. So an extra emphasis on treating your existing customers and users like royalty goes a long way to solidifying existing business.

A major bonus: you know how to contact them essentially for free.

“Double-down on re-selling to your past and current customers,” says Stacy Caprio, who leads marketing at Her.CEO. “People who have already purchased from you in the past, and know and trust you, are the most likely to respond to an exciting, special, or discounted new offer or product, and you can even use low-cost channels such as email, organic social, or low CPM re-marketing to target them and drive up sales.”

45% of marketers are building capability now for future benefit

Down time, if you have it, is a great time to invest in long-term priorities. Some of the urgencies that ring your phone or ding your Slack have tailed off. Now you might have some time to pore into projects that will help you immediately, but also pay dividends well into the future.

16% of marketers suggest focusing on improving marketing efficiency via attribution, optimization, and other means.

Others, about 15%, are spending time building systems, processes, and capability in their marketing teams that, they hope, will pay off after the crisis. And 14% are doubling down on digital transformation projects around the company to be better aligned to serve customers via mobile and web.

The goal here is to emerge from the coronavirus crisis lean, mean, and positioned to win.

“This is a time to laser-focus on your marketing attribution model,” says Aaron Branson, VP of Marketing at Netsurion. “Clear ROI is going to be demanded from each marketing program spend. Cut spend in the soft spots, double-down on the areas that are generating quality leads, not just quantity of leads.”

That’s good advice at any time. It’s vital counsel during a downturn. And when recovery hits, efficient marketers who extract the maximum ROI from their campaigns will be best positioned to reinvest in faster growth.

One of the reasons why it’s especially important now?

It’s an existential need.

“The bean counters are coming for you. In a recession, marketing is usually the first to get cut,” says Mike Terry, VP of marketing at Anvil. “Prove your value by sharing the measurable results of your marketing efforts and your marketing team.”

Proving your value is great. Finding the activities that are the most valuable is essential. Most critical of all is keeping a tight lid on user and customer acquisition costs, because you don’t have the same probability of ROI in a crisis that you did in a growth economy.

“Examine all your marketing spend and double down on those activities that are yielding the
lowest customer acquisition,” says Mary Ellen Dugan, CMO of hosting company WP Engine.

“Focus ruthlessly on acquisition costs,” says Carly Brantz, CMO of DigitalOcean. “Set limits around spend and your expectations around results so that as you see areas of growth, you have the ability to increase spend and if you don’t see growth you can pull back. Most importantly, don’t invest during this time in channels that don’t have a clear return on investment.”

The best of the rest: CMO’s coronavirus advice

There was simply too much input and too many great quotes to not include more good advice. Here’s a selection of the other quotes I received, organized into a few key categories.

Double down on empathy and service
Focus on organic growth
Adapt focus/strategy/tactics
Double down on quality advertising
Build now for future growth
Create new offers, discounts, price tiers
Improve marketing efficiency
Focus on retention
Don’t hijack a crisis
Stay calm … and engage in self-care for your team

Double down on empathy and service

Come at sales with a service mindset. Think in terms of what customers need now as opposed to what they historically needed from your company.

Wendy O’Donovan
CEO, Big Buzz Inc

Give back and invest in your customers’ success. This time is hard for everyone. So now more than ever it’s time to be empathetic and ensure that you are giving value to your customers. We’re taking time to give our customers our time—learning about their successes and struggles and seeing how we can help. Their feedback is key to how we’re thinking about our future products.

Tricia Gellman
CMO, Drift

Provide value. A pandemic is not the time to sell, it’s a time to serve. Make sure your organization is providing tools and information that are of value in the moment.

Sara Varni
CMO, Twilio

Acknowledge the situation. Show empathy. Don’t hop right into how great your product is.

Momchil Koychev
CMO, CodeGiant

Do good things. Tell people about them. In this time of crisis, look for areas where your company can help.

Jeffey Duran
CMO, GroupSense

Now is not the time to sell. Many execs are receiving a barrage of hard selling from companies desperate for cash. Everyone’s under the gun to streamline and tighten budgets. The last thing they need is you hounding them for a project.

John Pabon
Founder, Fulcrum Strategic Advisors

Keep building relationships and practicing empathy. During this uncertain time, it’s important for sellers and marketing teams to practice empathy. Things are not business-as-usual and it’s okay to acknowledge this in the conversations you’re having and the content you’re creating.

Russell Wurth
VP Sales Enablement, Showpad

Don’t pitch, listen. In a down market, if you have a sales call it’s a gift. Don’t squander it by giving your typical pitch. The situation is not typical so listen to the experience your client is having. At least you’ll know more about what they need.

Keren Moynihan
Co-founder, Boss Insights

Now isn’t the time to stop talking, it’s the time to adjust what we’re saying. It’s all about pivoting previous content strategies. What problems are your clients/customers facing and what information or services do you have to help?

Chelsea Carlyle
Social media marketing consultant

Enter the conversation going on in your prospect’s mind. Now is the time for extreme empathy. What are their dinner table conversations like right now? You can (and should) still promote your product, but you must first acknowledge and speak to their current situation.

Billy Bross
Founder, Linchpin Media

Focus on organic growth

A down economy is not the time to get complacent. We have to get aggressive and creative. Really work on asking for referrals and word of mouth, network, build out your online presence and work on increasing your search rank … things that generate leads with minimal capital investment. Being creative is what makes a business thrive regardless of economic trends.

Gabriel Bertolo
Radiant Elephant

Our current clients have been given the option to pause their monthly fee with us with the simple exchange of them putting us in touch with a potential new client, a referral. We have made five new contacts and have client proposals to arrange over the next two weeks.

Brett Downes
Studio Fifty-Four

Utilize email marketing. The companies I’m working with are seeing a big spike in email open rates, clicks, and sales during this coronavirus pandemic.

Billy Bross
Founder, Linchpin Media

Adapt focus/strategy/tactics

Plan marketing outreach on a week-by-week basis rather than a monthly or quarterly basis. This situation is changing quickly and customer sentiment on how they want to be approached is linked to how they feel.

Benish Shah
Chief Growth Officer, Loop & Tie

Don’t kill events. Rethink them. We’re planning invite-only events where people can learn and grow and really talk to each other. The key is to ensure these feel like a special event, not just another webinar.

Tricia Gellman
CMO, Drift

A bakery in my neighborhood retrofitted their shop with a walk-up window two days into the crisis, and their ability to move quickly to new customer needs has saved their business.

Sarah Stockdale
CEO, Valkerie

Tweak your value proposition. The reasons why people bought from you before may be different than why they’ll buy your product now.

Vitaly Pecherskiy
CMO, StackAdapt

Prioritize the aspirin products. An aspirin is a true painkiller that solves a real problem for a company, like enabling e-commerce in a time where physical shops are closed. Vitamins are nice-to-have products that can increase efficiency here and there, but they’re not essential to run the business. It will be hard for companies to sell vitamins in the next quarters, so business leaders need to shift their focus on their aspirin products.

Marcel Hollerbach
CMO, Productsup

When the economic strings tighten, it’s important to focus marketing efforts on prospects who are showing intent. Now is not the time to cast a wide net. It’s important to focus efforts on those who are in-market, as your sales cycles and opportunity win rates will be significantly higher.

Shane Phair
CMO, Decibel

We have become people-to-people, conversational in everything, let’s hear from you and talk about how we can help you continue your work. Everything we’re doing now is more interactive and we’re taking the time to respond in a way that I hope lasts beyond these next few months.

Cynthia Gumbert
CMO, Smartbear

Focus the marketing organization on a single messaging track … your audiences are likely dealing with the crisis and economic downtown in a similar way, so remember to empathize with them and highlight how you can help them. Evolve your messaging so it resonates today,

Karl Van Den Bergh
CMO, Gigamon

Make it as easy as possible for customers to work with you. Make the sales process as self-serve as possible. Take out any bumpy parts of your process. Give them multiple ways to do business with you—talk to rep, email, fill out online form, etc. That might mean adopting new technology into your processes.

Kim Saxton
Professor of Marketing, Kelley School of Business

We created a #RaveFromHome series that has been very successful and is a direct response to the virus outbreak … we are shifting our marketing from mostly festival clothing to focus now on other uses of our clothing such as lingerie or loungewear.

Brandon Chopp
Digital Manager, iHeartRaves

Be flexible: once you’ve really heard what the market needs, change your product to meet the needs of the day. Package it differently or allow a customer to use only what they need.

Keren Moynihan
Co-Founder, Boss Insights

In a down economy, it’s more important than ever to understand your true value propositions and how you are different from your competitors. Don’t assume you know what makes your customers love you and refer you. Ask them. Interview your best customers and ask them what is the #1 value they get from doing business with you. Use their responses in your messaging.

Marilyn Heywood Paige
CMO, Paige Black

Really solidify your brand positioning. This gets overlooked in a great economy. When it is easy to make money few go the extra steps to really create a solid position. These are the ones
that tend to fail when the economy is slow. A slow economy is a great time to
really understand your branding and refine your positioning.

Gabriel Bertolo
Radiant Elephant

Double down on quality advertising

Do more marketing. While most companies are decreasing their marketing spend, you should double the time and money spent on marketing. People are locked up and all they do is read and follow what brands are doing.

Jane Kovalkova
CMO, Chanty

With our brick and mortar stores closed, we have increased advertising and exposure online. This includes social media and paid search. With many of our competitors totally shut down and our company still able to ship out product, we have seen a huge increase in online sales.

Jeff Moriarty
Marketing Director, Moriarty’s Gem Art

It’s counterintuitive to purchase stocks when the market is tanking, but all the experts will tell you it’s the best time to do so. It’s the same with advertising. Today, Facebook and Google advertising is 20% cheaper than it was pre-coronavirus and internet use is at an all-time high. Take advantage of it! You may never have this opportunity again.

Bob Bentz
Advanced Telecom Services

At a time when brand budgets need to go further than they ever have, marketing leaders should take a close look at where spend is allocated and if it’s optimally netting customer visibility/acquisition in this unique media consumption environment. In 2019, it was reported by ComScore that roughly 60% of all digital ad dollars went to Facebook and Google, yet according to what we found in a new consumer survey with the Harris Poll, this is not necessarily the best use of marketing dollars. There are quantifiable reasons to reallocate funds to the open web – sites like, Candy Crush Saga, and

Joey Leichman
VP, OpenX

Build now for future growth

Communicate! Your consumers want to hear from you.

Jeffrey Tower
VP Marketing, Charge After

My favorite growth strategies right now are all focused on building long-term assets that will help you accelerate sales whenever the world starts getting back to normal.

Yaniv Msjedi
CMO, Nextiva

Play the long game by ensuring engagement and adoption doesn’t slip in order to protect your renewal and then look for ways to promote user expansion or complementary elements of your portfolio.

Mike Hicks
CMO, Igloo Software

The best leaders I know use downtime to invest in their business to come out stronger. My advice is to keep close to your customers. Focus on serving, protecting and retaining them. Understand their changing needs and anticipate how you can help them now and when the economy heats up again.

Jakki Geiger
CMO, Reltio

Think of the long game. A lot of people aren’t able to spend money right now, but you can still earn their trust and provide value. Interact with them on social media, and don’t push a ton of sales. Provide value, and establish yourself as a leader in your industry. Any farmer can tell you that you have to plant the seeds to get the crops. Use this time to plant those seeds with potential customers. Earn their trust, go the extra mile for them, and provide them with valuable content. They’ll appreciate the extra attention and make a purchase with your company when their life and finances are back in order.

Nick Flint
CEO, Pure Cut Supplements

Shift your key performance indicators from sales to audience reach and engagement metrics. You won’t be able to prove an ROI while you have nothing to sell, but you can cultivate new customers who are ready to buy when you reopen. Then you can measure the ROI of all the marketing you did while closed.

Danielle Glick
President, Training Owl

Offer something for free as a sign of solidarity. Not only is your company being seen in a positive light, but giving away something for free can also help to introduce companies to new potential customers who may otherwise never have considered doing business with particular companies. Travel companies could for instance offer free virtual tours.

Roy Morrison
Growth Strategist, Meaningful Profits

Pay it forward
Clients might need something other than what you can provide. Connect them to the right people. You won’t make a sale, but you’ll help your client, gain a networking contact and be seen as a problem solver.

Keren Moynihan
Co-Founder, Boss Insights

Just like my clients, I too have more time on my hands than normal. It’s important to use this extra time to accomplish to-do list items that have been put off due to a hectic schedule. Instead of shutting down, tackle your marketing projects and emerge as a stronger company/business when this is over and business gets back to normal.

Ryan Hardy
Luxury Real Estate Broker, Gold Coast Realty Chicago

Build brand loyalty. Hard selling isn’t going to work right now, but you do have the perfect opportunity to reach out to potential customers/clients and see if you can help. This is the time to be visible, and helpful. In the long-run this could be work better than directly marketing, and helps to establish what your brand stands for.

Morgan Taylor
CMO, LetMeBank

Direct your strategies to email acquisition. Consumers are more reluctant to purchase right now; grow your email list with gated content for now and then prepare for a bigger launch once things return to normal.

Andrew Maff
CEO, Bluetuskr


Create new offers, discounts, price tiers

Offering discounts works: One way to help your client base is by offering remote consultations, discounts, and showing you are willing to go the extra mile. Right now that is what your potential clients need, and what you can do to help them. Which in turn, will help you.

Morgan Taylor
CMO, LetMeBank

Make compromises in the short term to benefit in the long term. We recently announced that Brainbase will be the first and only licensing management platform brands can use for free forever … even though we are giving away our product for free to these companies who qualify, we are hoping these companies turn into paying customers if their businesses grow and that the good PR will bring us greater awareness.

Greg Holtzman
Marketing Director, Brainbase

In a slow economy, people are more prone to shop around and give more thought to their purchases. Adding more value than your competition is a key way to stay afloat and even thrive in a recession. Whether it is giving something free, offering more for the price or offering better discount strategies like these can keep a business ahead of the competition.

Gabriel Bertolo
CEO, Radiant Elephant

Adjust your rates to cater to a struggling economy – In doing so, you may be a more viable option over your competitors while still providing the same level of high-quality services. This is a perfect time to offer discounts for new customers, add-ons or bonuses, and additional value for longer-term partnerships.

Anna McNaught

You need to have some kind of sales funnel that starts with building trust. Give them something they need and make it free. People will be looking to start over and need to do so at little to no cost.

Dan Bailey
President, Wikilawn

Improve marketing efficiency

This is a time to laser-focus on your marketing attribution model. Clear ROI is going to be demanded from each marketing program spend. Cut spend in the soft spots, double-down on the areas that are generating quality leads, not just quantity of leads.

Aaron Branson
VP Marketing, Netsurion

Fight for your marketing budget … the bean counters are coming for you. In a recession, marketing is usually the first to get cut. Prove your value by sharing the measurable results of your marketing efforts and your marketing team. Brands that increase advertising spend during a recession, when competitors cut back, can improve market share.

Mike Terry
VP Marketing, Anvil

Double down on your data. We all complain about not trusting our data, but the reality is the room for error here has gone to zero. Now more than ever we need to know exactly what is happening in our business, what levers we can pull to impact change, and we need to know that information now – not tomorrow, not next month, not during business reviews but now.

Lauren Vaccarello
CMO, Talend

During an economic slowdown, you must optimize your sales efforts. The best way to do that is to dig into the intelligence of your customer relationship management database. Your CRM is a treasure trove of insights that can guide you during a slowdown to greater productivity and sales.

Marilyn Heywood Paige
CMO, Paige Black

Repurpose your events team … with in person events, conferences, and even meetings now a thing of the distant past – everyone initially wanted to switch to virtual conferences. A dreadful idea that guarantees zero engagement and little actual attention. What has been effective is switching to virtual customer advisory and community sessions where you facilitate (non-competing) customers to share with each other and enable a two-way flow of communication.

Andrew Hatfield
Director of Product Marketing, Portworx

Act, don’t operationalize. This is hard for me, because I’m a systems thinker. I typically implement repeatable processes and technologies to be efficient. In a disruption-driven economy there’s no time for that. The market is in such turmoil that anything you build today won’t apply post-pandemic. Now is the time for action and you’re in a battle to stay alive.

Bryon Morrison
CEO, Proxxy

Focus on retention

Resist the urge to send mass emails or communications. Start at the top with company executives calling the most loyal customers. Work on down, having salespeople and marketers make one-on-one calls to customers as well. The opening line on these calls is, “I wanted to check in on you. How are you doing in this moment?” Very few competing organizations are likely to do this, and it will go a long way in stabilizing the current customer base, building brand equity and even inviting referrals.

Wendy O’Donovan Phillips
CEO, Big Buzz Inc

One of the best survival tips that you can ever have is to take care of and keep in touch with your clients.

Chad Hill
CMO, Hill & Ponton

Marketers should be throwing out their old playbooks filled with third-party data strategies and instead focusing on retaining and supporting current customers.

Richard Jones
CMO, Cheetah Digital

Maintain current clients and provide added value – It’s important to maintain the relationships that you currently have in order to acquire new customers. During hardship, people need to stay connected and by staying at the forefront of your client’s mind by offering helpful solutions, not only are you adding value to them but they will most likely refer your business to others.

Anna McNaught

Talk to your customers EVERY DAY and ask what they need to be successful and
what makes life easier for them.

Nicholas Farmen
Digital Strategist, Spire Digital

Focus on staying in contact and connecting with your existing customer base. During this time consumers are going to stick to the brands that they trust best.

Andrew Maff
CEO, Bluetuskr

Double-down on re-selling to your past and current customers. New customer acquisition is
particularly hard during this time period, since people aren’t looking for new products or services, or even to spend money in general. However, people who have already purchased from you in the past, and know and trust you, are the most likely to respond to an exciting, special or discounted new offer or product, and you can even use low-cost channels such as email, organic social or low CPM re-marketing to target them and drive up sales.

Often, you can even create a more in-depth and higher-priced offer that offers more than you ever even thought of offering in the past, and sell this at a higher profit margin to your most loyal customers during this time period, making it an opportunity to make this one of your best months or quarters.

Stacy Caprio
Consultant, Her.CEO

Don’t hijack a crisis

If you don’t help with coronavirus or COVID-19 crisis specifically such as masks or other medical necessities, don’t use those phrases in your marketing. It’s capitalizing on a tragedy and your audience may not forgive you. Rather, focus on the situation that the crisis has caused and how you help. For example, do you help employees collaborate in a “work from home” environment?

Bill Evans
CMO, Netwrix

Marketers simply cannot ignore COVID-19 and act like business is usual. At the same time, adding more noise to the conversation only adds to the paranoia.

Sarah Tourville
CEO, Media Frenzy Global

The biggest marketing turn-offs these days include tone-deaf business-as-usual promotional messages as if nothing’s going on. On the other end of that spectrum are marketers trying to make everything about COVID-19 all the time.

Cynthia Gumbert
CMO, Smartbear

Stay calm … and engage in self-care for your team

Be transparent and support your team! We frequently communicated our short-term, mid-term, and long-term plans well over a month ago. We reassured our teams of where they stood, the health of the company, and the levels of responses we would initiate to remain sustainable over time. While we have not enacted anything extreme yet, the transparency has helped our teams focus on the job at hand, rather than their job security in such a time of uncertainty.

Nadya Khoja
CGO, Venngage

It is important to stay calm and don’t make any panicked decisions. It will be tempting to follow other companies’ lead, but this is unknown territory for everyone so what others do, isn’t necessarily the right move. Stick to your marketing strategy, organize, don’t go overboard and don’t make it off-brand.

Kine and Einy Paulsen
Partners, Kinfizz

If you can’t avoid a downturn in business, complete as many projects as possible from your marketing wish list. That way you can have things in place for when the economy rebounds.

Dan Gower
CEO, Buddy Gardner Advertising

Dig out all the recent research reports that you have had no time to fully read and go through all of them with a fine comb. Perhaps then your professional life had been too hectic, but now is a good time to read and understand everything carefully. That will better prepare you

Mayank Batavia
Director, Marketing and Partnerships, QuickEmailVerification

Using AI to boost customer acquisition, with IMVU’s VP of Growth, Lomit Patel

How do you grow faster, even in challenging market situations? Oh, and cut the cost of custom acquisition by a factor of three, while also accelerating 100% return on ad spend 5X at the same time?

Well, good data is a baseline requirement. As are insights on what’s working and what’s not.

But AI can help too.

In this episode of Growth Masterminds, we talk to Lomit Patel. Patel is the VP of Growth at IMVU, and previously led performance and digital marketing for Roku. He also ran customer acquisition at Texture, which Apple acquired and turned into Apple News+.

Lomit Patel
Lomit Patel, VP of Growth at IMVU

So he knows a few things about growth and customer acquisition. (In fact, as a social app, IMVU is actually growing right now in the coronavirus pandemic.)

He also wrote the book on AI for growth … literally. Patel just published Lean AI: How Innovative Startups Use Artificial Intelligence to Grow in March. It’s full of practical advice on how to use AI to scale growth and user acquisition.

Listen to the podcast:

Key quotes and insights: accelerating customer acquisition with AI

On marketers using AI for growth:
“Less than 5% are really doing this right now.”
-Lomit Patel

Lomit Patel on the three eras of customer acquisition:

  • Customer acquisition 1.0: aggregating all your data
  • Customer acquisition 2.0: providing clean data to your ad partners
  • Customer acquisition 3.0: using AI to automate budget allocation between ad partners

Customer acquisition is the new day trading:
“We’re basically just acting like day traders because we’re seeing bids shifting from any given partner at any given time. And what that enables us to do ultimately is have higher confidence that we can really hit our goals at the end of the day and end of the month.”
-Lomit Patel

On building the AI yourself, or partnering:
“One of the things that we ended up doing was to really kind of do a good and honest audit in terms of where our skill sets really lie at IMVU, and it was pretty clear that we didn’t really have a lot of the core capabilities to really build something like this ourselves.”
-Lomit Patel

What automation enables:
“We … are testing about … a couple of thousand different variations of creatives a month.”
-Lomit Patel

Identifying monetization streams quickly:
IMVU’s AI identifies whether people will monetize via advertising or via in-app purchases within 24-48 hours.

Lomit Patel on what AI has done for IMVU’s customer acquisition:
“We’ve seen our CAC come down over 3X.”
“We’ve seen our ROA, the return on investment, go up over 3X.”
“It used to be close to 5-6 months but now we … get the majority of our recoup of our ad spend within 30 to 35 days.”

And the full transcript: AI-powered customer acquisition

John Koetsier: How do you boost growth with artificial intelligence?

Welcome to Growth Masterminds with John Koetsier. This is the podcast where smart mobile marketers get even smarter. Our guest today is the author of the O’Reilly Media book “Lean AI” which just launched in March. He’s the VP of Growth for IMVU. He’s led performance and digital marketing for Roku. He’s also led customer acquisition at Texture, which Apple acquired and turned into Apple News+.

Lomit Patel, please say hello!

Lomit Patel: Hey, hello everyone. I’m so excited to be here.

John Koetsier: Wonderful. Super happy to have you here. Super exciting, you just launched the book. I have to start here, I mean this is the biggest fact in our lives right now, coronavirus, right? Where are you? Where have you been locked down? How are you keeping up?

IMVU is in coronavirus work-from-home mode, just like everyone else

Lomit Patel: So yeah, coronavirus definitely is the topic of the day every day right now. But for me, we’ve been working from home for the past couple of weeks at IMVU, so we obviously were kind of prepared a little bit to a certain extent, knowing that this was coming down the pipeline. And we’re very fortunate that we’ve been able to work pretty efficiently remotely. So it’s been working out. But as a business, coronavirus hasn’t presented too bad of a problem for IMVU primarily because we’re a social network and it’s another way for people to continue to connect with other users around the world. And for us, it’s definitely been kind of the reverse problem in terms of trying to manage the increased demand as really happened over the last couple of weeks for us.

John Koetsier: Well it’s super interesting that you mentioned that, because I mean as we were just prepping for this show just minutes ago, we were talking about bandwidth issues and my typical audio podcasting platform was not working. You are a social network where people get together with an avatar and have social interactions which we’re desperate and starved for right now. And so you’ve got those issues as well, having enough bandwidth to deliver your service, right?

Lomit Patel: Yes. So for us, you know the challenge is obviously continuing to add more infrastructure into the server capacity because what we’re finding is trying to figure out the right balance between users that are coming in from the US versus users that are coming in globally, and just trying to sort of stagger as much of that demand as possible.

John Koetsier: Wow, wow.

Lomit Patel: And then on top of that, another thing that seems to be very popular with a lot of social networks is live streaming, right? That’s a new feature that’s really taken off and we offer something similar called ‘host rooms’ where people can connect with their friends and host a live event. And so clearly features like that take on increased bandwidth, right?

John Koetsier: Absolutely.

Lomit Patel: Because people are doing that live. So yeah, I think it’s definitely a better problem to have versus the other problem that a lot of people are challenged with right now. But yeah, definitely it’s something that we’ve tried to get more proactive about and something that’s going to continue to get even more, especially as more and more different states, especially in the US and other parts of the country, start implementing more stringent shelter requirements. So it’s going to require more people being isolated, and as we know as humans there’s only so much that you can do alone.

John Koetsier: We are a social species.

Lomit Patel: Yeah we are.

VP of growth: a broad multidisciplinary role

John Koetsier: Absolutely. Maybe let’s kick this off. We’re going to talk about artificial intelligence, we’re going to talk about growth, we’re going to talk about customer acquisition, we’ll talk about user acquisition, all of those things.

But let’s set the stage here for a second, and can you introduce us a little bit to your current role, what you do?

Lomit Patel: Sure, so my name is Lomit Patel and as you mentioned, I’m the vice president of growth.

So primarily my responsibility is managing all of our growth efforts at IMVU. That encompasses everything from acquisition, retention and monetization across the entire user life cycle of … pretty much the easiest way to think about it is how do we bring users in? How do we continue to keep them around? And then how do we figure out how to make some money out of them to pay the bills?

John Koetsier: It’s super interesting that you’re the VP of growth. We released some research recently about CGOs, chief growth officers, and that’s exactly the role that you have, which is this broad role across a lot of what used to be fairly separate, right?

You know somebody brought the customers in, somebody actually built the product, delivered the product that made them hopefully happy, and somebody else worried about how to keep them. You’ve got that full suite within your purview.

Lomit Patel: Yeah. I feel part of the challenge is when you have different groups sort of focusing on different parts of the user journey, what happens is you kind of just run into issues around execution in terms of who’s responsible for which piece of the puzzle.

And one of the benefits of any company that has a head of growth is that your responsibility is to sort of overlook the entire preview of really becoming the biggest advocate for the customer. And helping to evangelize that cross-internally across the whole company to make sure everybody is supporting that function. Because it really is a cross-functional function. It’s not like we have all the resources dedicated to us, so we have to work across all the different groups.

But it’s about ensuring that we’ve always got our eye on the ball—which is about focusing on what are the key projects that are continuing to help move the needle to help the company grow at the end of the day.

Lean AI: AI for growth and customer acquisition

John Koetsier: That makes a ton of sense.

So in all of that, with all the busyness of your job and other things that go along with being a human being, you found time to write a book, and you wrote a book about AI. Talk to me a little bit about why you wrote the book? What did you need to get out there? What did you need to tell people?

Lomit Patel: Sure. So one of the things that I’ve found … we’ve been practicing a lot around AI in automation for the last couple of years at IMVU. It primarily came out of the fact that I really saw this as sort of being a big part of the trend in terms of where growth teams are going to be moving to.

Especially now we have so much velocity of data coming in at us and it’s really hard to really be able to decipher all of that data as quickly as possible to extract insights that you can take actions on, to really be able to differentiate us from our competitors.

And so what I started, what inspired me to write the book was primarily because I’ve seen it have a profound change on our business at IMVU. But I’ve also been speaking about this topic at different conferences and what I found was that there’s not a lot of companies that have really embraced this to the extent that we’ve been doing.

I would say it’s probably a small percentage of the companies, less than 5% are really doing this right now.

And so I felt like there’s definitely a good opportunity to really be able to inspire other people in the growth industry to really be able to leverage AI in automation because ultimately, you know, one thing I like about the mobile growth industry is that we’re so open about sharing and growing together. And so I feel like this is something that could really help us together continue to evangelize and move forward as an industry.

Customer acquisition 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0

John Koetsier: Very, very cool. Now one of the things you talk about is customer acquisition 1.0, you talk about customer acquisition 2.0, and now customer acquisition 3.0. Can you go through the .0’s for us?

Lomit Patel: Sure. So it really sort of goes back to exactly the journey that I had when I started at IMVU. So I started at IMVU over three and a half years ago. And coming in, one of the biggest challenges we had was that we have a lot of user data but the problem was it was living in silos. So we had user data because we’re a cross-platform business. So we had user data from my web business that lived in different servers from the mobile business, that we were trying to get into at the time, that lived in a different place.

And ultimately, it’s really hard to make good decisions when your data lives in silos.

John Koetsier: Yes it is.

Lomit Patel: So a customer acquisition 1.0 is really trying to integrate all your data sources, because unless you integrate the data sources you don’t really have a good preview or a singular view into really understanding your entire customer journey.

And once you have that, the good news is that customer acquisition 2.0 is to really take advantage of a lot of the AI capabilities that already exist with a lot of different partners that most people spend their user acquisition budget with. For example, Google and Facebook, as well as a whole slew of other partners, have continued to make some really good strides and investments into how to leverage AI to enable advertisers like IMVU to get more efficient about helping us hit our goals. But in order to really activate that, you need to provide them with really good clean data signals.

And so customer acquisition 2.0 is once you have all your data integrated then you can start providing the right data to enable them to leverage their AI capabilities to help you hit your goals.

And customer acquisition 3.0 is primarily … you know, the biggest challenge that I saw to us as a business and any other advertiser out there, is how dependent you end up becoming on your partners to tell you how to spend your budget.

And you know, I’ve been in user acquisition for over 20 years and have never ever had a partner ever say to me that we should be spending less.

But on top of that, the challenge is that ultimately I started thinking about is there a better way? And one of the areas where I really sort of got some inspiration from, was really looking at the finance industry, because the way I look at user acquisition teams is ultimately we’re kind of like day traders where we’re always trying to invest the money every day to try and help our companies get a better return on that investment.

And one of the things that the finance industry has done a great job of, and this is when they hired a whole bunch of quants and data scientists, was to build these infrastructures and these intelligent machines to enable them to be able to get better and smarter in terms of how to buy stocks and commodities. And instead of doing it based on humans, it was really based on being purely data-driven.

That kind of inspired me to customer acquisition 3.0. It was to really figure out how we could replicate that because ultimately outside of HR in terms of salaries, user acquisition or growth is really your second biggest spend or line item in the company. So there’s a lot of responsibility that goes into managing the budget and so anything you can do to get better, faster, and smarter around doing that is something that you definitely want to focus on.

And so customer acquisition 3.0 was where we’re taking that same inspiration from the finance industry to really identify now that we have all our data in one place, the biggest advantage that we have over all of these other individual partners that we give our data to is having that singular view on how the business is doing. And that’s the biggest competitive advantage.

So we know exactly how one partner compares to another partner at any given time in any given day, in any given week, in any given month.

And so having that holistic view of the different channels, and the different data, we’re in a much better position to really be able to leverage the key levers. Because the great thing is even though these partners have created a lot of capabilities around AI, they’re still very dependent on certain inputs that come from any user acquisition team which is around bids, budgets, creatives, and goals.

And so these were the things that I started thinking about automating. And the automation was really triggered based on data insights where we had all our data in one place to really tell us at any given time where we should be increasing our budgets, where we should be decreasing our budgets, where we should be shifting that. And the other way to look at it is it’s all about supply and demand at the end of the day. We’ve been very fortunate that everything where we end up spending our budgets now, it’s all programmatically done.

Because that’s what we started finding was that once we were able to identify and look at all of these different partners holistically, we were able to find, at certain times of the day, Facebook could be more efficient than Snapchat, for example, and Google could be more efficient than Apple Search.

But the problem is humanly it’s impossible to really be sitting around 24 hours a day to do this. But if you sort of leveraged the AI capabilities to think like a human and to take predictive actions based on when those opportunities come up, that was the big aha moment for us.

AI: giving marketers control back over customer acquisition

John Koetsier: What I really love about that is that marketers have had this sort of increasing sense of a lack of control as you’ve sort of shoveled money over to Facebook, shoveled money over to Google, shoveled money over to your other partners. And they’ve built their kind of black boxes with lots of AI in there and lots of intelligence in there. And as you said, the more data you feed them the better they are at giving you what you want, absolutely.

But you also lose control and you’re actually feeding the increasing growth or intelligence of that machine inside that black box. What you’ve done is you’ve put a layer of AI on top of that and now you’re saying, hey, you guys get as smart as you want to get. That’s wonderful, that’s great, that’s good for us. We’re going to be smart over all of our sources of customer acquisition and user acquisition and that’s where we’re going to beat our competition.

That’s really interesting.

Lomit Patel: Right. And I think you summarize it clearly because ultimately one of the things that I keep hearing a lot is that we have no control. But the truth is we do have certain elements that we can control and those are the key components that you want to control. Because at the end of the day all of these partners, the biggest thing they want is for you to spend more budget, right?

And you get to control that. It’s all about following the money. You get to control how you want to spend your money. You don’t have to sort of just be completely passive and just hand it off.

So the thing that happens now is every day we’re basically just acting like day traders because we’re seeing bids shifting from any given partner at any given time. And what that enables us to do ultimately is have higher confidence that we can really hit our goals at the end of the day and end of the month.

Controlling the AI that’s managing your growth

John Koetsier: So I have to ask this question. We’ve seen some catastrophes with turning everything over to the machines in the stock markets. Hopefully that’s behind us, but we’ve seen some scenarios where somebody bought, some systems just crashed because everything was going down so they sold, sold, sold, sold, and now they put in artificial brakes to that. And there’s other scenarios we’ve heard of where the machine just made a mistake and billions of dollars evaporated.

How have you put in some safeguards for that yourself?

Lomit Patel: Yeah, so one of the things that we’ve done is very similar to what they do in the finance industry where you kind of have stop-loss orders per se, where you put in certain elements where if something goes up or goes down too much it kind of puts a limit to how much it can do.

And one of the reasons why we ended up doing that, you know, unlike the finance industry, because you can kind of go up and down in wild swings. But the truth is one thing that you want to keep in mind when you do work with all these different AI capabilities of different partners is that you want to be able to make those changes within like a 10-20% swing in any given time.

If you keep making too many wild swings beyond that range you’re going to end up resetting the AI because they’re going to sort of feel the AI is sort of trained to be able to make cumulative changes. But if you do drastic changes then it’s going to sort of feel like it’s a whole new campaign. It’s going to start resetting it and then it’s counterintuitive to the whole program.

John Koetsier: Yes, yes.

Lomit Patel: So that’s what we ended up doing to help.

The technologies IMVU is using for user acquisition

John Koetsier: That makes a ton of sense. Very, very cool. That’s a great overview into what you’re doing. Maybe dive a little bit deeper, what technologies are you using specifically for your AI?

Lomit Patel: So for our AI, primarily there’s three components to it. One is mobile measurement partners and that’s where we get a lot of our mobile data coming in from. A lot of our desktop data comes from our own data warehouse so we use Tableau for extracting a lot of that data. And then all of our post-install user behavior data comes from Leanplum right now so that’s our CRM automation.

And so what we’ve done is pretty much aggregate all three of those sources into one place where we can be able to get that single view, and the way we’re able to do that for us anyway, is in two ways. One is through email address, because everybody who creates an account at IMVU has a unique email address, you can’t create that, you can’t use that email address again.

And another thing is that every user gets a unique customer ID. So those are kind of the two elements that we can use universally to track the user journey regardless of where they come from and then how they end up interacting with us.

Building and training the AI: teams and partners

John Koetsier: Right. Now in terms of teams, did you put together an AI team or did you spread that talent throughout a variety of teams?

Lomit Patel: So what we ended up doing was try and spread it around a variety of teams. But primarily one of the things that we ended up doing was to really kind of do a good and honest audit in terms of where our skill sets really lie at IMVU. And it was pretty clear that we didn’t really have a lot of the core capabilities to really build something like this ourselves.

And so what we ended up doing was to identify a potential partner or SAS platform that we could leverage to help stitch the final piece together for us.

And what we came across was a company called Nectar9. And they were like a small startup that were trying to build something similar. But what they lacked at the time was really getting a lot of user data to really be able to train the algorithms and really be able to perfect the ability of that really working for like a UA context. And so what we ended up doing was … it’s sort of trying to build this because as you know John, trying to build anything is a challenge anyway, but then the other challenge when you try to build something is maintaining it right?

And I didn’t really want to go down that rabbit hole. So I ended up doing this partnership with Nectar9 where we ended up collaborating with them, and I was able to help them through my relationships in the industry, get a lot of these API integrated into their platform from all the major partners like Google, Facebook, Snapchat where we spend and where the majority of people spend their money.

So with those APIs in place, we were able to provide access for them to get all the relevant data signals.

And so they already had the AI capability and the way their capability works is unstructured learning. So it’s primarily getting a bunch of data coming in and then trying to come up with insights based on that. And then based on that, we’re able to start training the algorithm to work for us across looking at things holistically versus looking at each individual partner individually.
And so the best way we did that was to do it step by step.

So we primarily started passing them some data at the time when we were still managing these campaigns semi-manually, with Facebook was one of the first partners we worked with and then we started giving some of the data to Nectar9 and see how the machine would potentially work against the way we were doing things.

And it took probably about 30 to 40 days, but the machine eventually was able to train and get better, and it started being much more efficient than us. And so we started with one small geography, I think it was like the UK or whatever. Then we started expanding it to sort of see if it would continue to hold and it started to hold, so eventually we automated Facebook completely through this. And then we started doing the same thing with Google and Snapchat and a bunch of other partners that we work with.

But it was sequential, it wasn’t just putting everything in there at once.

And in terms of the in-house resources primarily with my team, I kind of changed the skillset because one of the things that I found being a big challenge was really retaining people when it comes to campaign management. Because a lot of people get burnt out doing that work anyway, and there’s always somebody who can offer you $10,000 to $20,000 dollars more to move to another company for that role.

So part of my challenge and frustration was continuing to train a couple of new people coming on, and so what I found was doing it through the machine and doing it once, and then I never had to kind of go for that whole process of building that skillset in the team. And so what I did is I pivoted the skill set that we’d had in a team to really focus on how are we going to support this machine? How are we going to feed the machine, so to speak? Primarily one area where we’ve really made a big stride on and invested in-house is all around creative development.

What one of the people that I have on my team primarily focuses on, on really looking at all the data insights that come in from the machine—to look at what’s working and what’s not working across the different partners that we’re spending money with and continue to work with our in-house team, to continue to keep coming up with new creative iterations that we can continue to keep feeding into the machine.

And we generally are testing now probably about a couple of thousand different variations of creatives a month. And that’s primarily because we’ve realized that’s such a key lever now to really help us tell our story.

John Koetsier: Wow.

AI, retention, and user journeys

Lomit Patel: The other part, the other role that I really upgraded on the team was all around retention and CRM to really leverage all of the data that we’re getting now—but figure out how can we come up with better user journeys that are more personalized to users coming in from different channels to really be able to suit up.

For example, somebody coming in from Google and whatever creative motivated them to come in … we want to be able to provide some continuity on whatever motivated them to come in to keep that going. And then try to get them integrated into really experiencing all the key aha moments on a product as quickly as possible.

Part of that role is really where the AI really helps, is it enables to help us identify what’s the ideal user journey or the behaviors and actions that somebody needs to do, especially around onboarding because it’s key, as you know, in mobile. If you don’t really get people hooked pretty quickly you’re going to lose them.

What we’ve been able to do is identify two different segments because that’s how we monetize users.

One is around in-app purchases and the other one is around advertising. And generally what people do is they end up buying IMVU credits because we have our own currency that people use to redeem against buying all this virtual stuff and creating these virtual worlds. And so there’s going to be certain people that are going to be more likely to spend and buy those credits, and there’s other users who are going to be more likely to take rewarded videos, take online surveys, or interact with advertising to try and earn those credits.

So our AI’s able to identify pretty quickly within like the first 24 to 48 hours based on what people are doing or what they’re not doing to really identify where they are more likely to fall into, whether it’s the in-app purchase path or the advertising path. And based on that, then we start showing them different experiences that talk more to how we know we could end up monetizing those users downstream.

John Koetsier: Interesting. So you’re actually building your user journey, your customer journey in some sense, through your understanding of who they are when they come in.

But you’re also customizing the use of your product based on what you’re understanding, is this user likely to pay something? Are they going to watch an ad or something like that? And so the entire experience is customized to how you’re going to actually monetize that particular cohort I guess.

Cross-functional teams

Lomit Patel: Right. That’s where the part comes in where we need to work cross functionally, like with our product team. And so, these two roles that I have, one of those roles spends a lot of time with a product team focused on how to optimize the product experience to match what we’re looking for. And then the other role spends a lot more time with our marketing team to really focus on all of the creative development and the assets on how we can tell our story better to try and feed all of those back into the machine.

The other role that we have is primarily with our partner because our partners take all of that data and provide the insights. With them we have a chief data scientist that they have, so it helps us because we don’t have to hire this person, but what we do with them is we have weekly meetings at a minimum. But a part of their role is to continue to look at the algorithm and be able to tell us exactly what the algorithm is learning and what kind of outputs it’s kind of coming up with. Because one of the things we want to try to avoid is the biases that that machine’s going to end up doing.

And we want to make sure that whatever algorithms we end up developing are in line with our core value as a business, which is around diversity. So we don’t want to ever become the business that ends up just targeting a certain type of demographic, or gender, or whatever, where over-index is in one area. Because we want to try to keep our user base as diverse as possible.

John Koetsier: That’s super interesting and super smart. Because if the algorithm notices something and there are biases in our society—and there are things that sometimes even unconsciously or subconsciously we do that are resulting in instances of bias, or discrimination, or other things like that—and if your AI learns that, we’re replicating that in the digital environment in ways that are hard to see.

So that’s wonderful that you’re doing that.

I’m also excited to hear that you’re repurposing some of your user acquisition people since the machine does that now, but you’re repurposing those people for higher level jobs which is really, really good.

Key growth metrics: Customer acquisition cost, ROI, and ROAS

You mentioned as well that you’ve got some key metrics that you look at. I wanted to ask you about those key metrics and I wanted to insert a second part of that question and ask you: with what you’ve done with AI, how much better do you feel like you are? And do you have some data around that? Do you have some numbers around that? How much have you improved?

Lomit Patel: Sure. So to first answer the questions around what our key performance indicators are, primarily there’s two goals that we look at on the growth team to really help the business.

One is around cost to acquire a customer or the CAC, and the second goal is around the return on ad spend, but primarily we call it return on investment because one of the big difference being is that when it comes to return on investment we don’t just look at all the revenue debt that we’re able to generate from my ad spend. But we also try to discount, for example, some of the costs that go into supporting that revenue which for us is like 30% rev share that you have to pay Google and Apple on in-app purchases, as well as some of the creator royalty fees.

Because we have a lot of creators, just like YouTube has creators, we have a lot of creators that create a lot of these things.
So we’re kind of like a marketplace where creators are creating a lot of things and then we’re able to match users up with items that potentially would be interesting to them. And whenever somebody ends up buying IMVU credits to purchase these different items, we obviously make a rev share out of that but we have to give a certain percentage back to our wonderful creators. And so our bar is set a little bit higher in terms of discounting those costs.

And then when it comes to cost to acquire a customer, that’s pretty straightforward in terms of how much does it cost for us.
And we define a new customer as somebody who makes a new purchase within the first seven days, so we always look at seven-day cohorts when it comes to that. Just to give you some examples in terms of the results, so just going back to that whole example of the old customer acquisition 1.0 when I first started you know, from where we started with our CAC that used to be fairly high, to where we ended up being at customer acquisition 3.0 with a lot of this AI and automation.

We’ve seen our CAC come down over 3X over that timeframe and we’ve seen our ROI, the return on investment go up over 3X over that timeframe.

Speed of return on investment: a huge advantage

John Koetsier: That’s huge!

Lomit Patel: But the best part about it is ultimately when you talk to a lot of mobile advertisers, one of the other things that people look at is what’s the payback period on your ad spend. When I started, it used to be close to 5 – 6 months but now we … get the majority of our recoup of our ad spend within 30 to 35 days.

John Koetsier: That must have a huge impact on your ability to grow fast.

Lomit Patel: Exactly.

That has really helped us because primarily it helps to minimize the burn rate because whatever we’re spending, we’re able to recoup that money back pretty quickly, so that it ends up becoming like a self virtuous cycle where we’re basically recycling money back and putting it back into growth. That’s really helping us, yeah.

John Koetsier: Wow. Those are great numbers. I mean, those are amazing numbers. If you look at the customer acquisition costs that a lot of startups have, a lot of tech companies have, they’re absolutely massive, including just mobile-only companies they’re absolutely massive. Spending hundreds of thousands of dollars a day on new user acquisition, and if you can take that down by a factor of three … wow … that’s impressive stuff.

I wanted to get in as well, and I know we’re nearing the end of this time that we scheduled together, but I wanted to get in as well some of your thoughts on the future. You’ve done some really, really cool things so far. You’ve got some great metrics.

You’ve had some major improvement, but we’re always looking to the future, right?

The future of AI and growth

We’re always looking at where’s this going to go? Where are you going with AI? And what do you see over the next 6 to 18 months?

Lomit Patel: Yeah, so for me, I feel the future is really going to be about more and more growth teams or user acquisition teams, really pivoting more towards leveraging or building an AI intelligent machine that’s ultimately going to be something that’s going to sit between them and all of these different channels where they end up spending money, whether it’s around acquisition or retention, to really enable them to get better, faster and smarter about using their data, because ultimately it’s all about, you know everybody has data, but the data is of no value unless you can really extract value out of it quickly.

And then the other part to that is the secret to growth is really about just running as many experiments as you can to really figure out what works and what doesn’t work. So you can double down on what does and move away from what doesn’t. And so one of the other things that I feel a lot more companies are going to end up doing is just removing a lot of the human touch points or interactions into the whole process around managing and executing different campaigns.

And it’s going to lean more into these AI intelligent machines to really do a lot of that work for them.

And I feel like companies, for example, Singular and other MMPs out there, they’re basically becoming these warehouses of all this great data for clients. And ultimately I feel that they’re probably going to have some kind of integration put in where there could be these intelligent machines that maybe integrate into these platforms, so that it really becomes a seamless experience to really be able to do it in one place versus what we had to do because we never really had a choice when we started doing this, which was to try and piece all these different pieces together.

Because the problem with trying to put a lot of different pieces together is that there’s always the risk of something breaking in the process. The more you can have it in one place as they say, singular source of data, the easier it is right?

The Lean AI book

John Koetsier: Exactly, exactly. Well, thank you for that and thank you for this time. I want to ask you briefly, if somebody picks up your book, first of all, where can they get it? I assume it’s everywhere, but where can they get it and what is a marketer or a customer acquisition specialist or any executive going to learn from your book?

Lomit Patel: Sure. The book is available at all the major bookstores right now, so from Amazon, Barnes & Noble , Target, Walmart and a whole slew of other places, you can primarily get it on all of those websites. And my goal for writing a book, and it’s kind of written to speak to a couple of different audiences, primarily the whole idea is around it speaks to executives whether you are a founder, or a CMO, or a head of growth, to really help empower you to become a champion for AI in your business and how to do that.

And then it speaks to people that are more kind of at the director level or the manager level when it comes to growth in AI in terms of what are the skill sets that you need to learn to really get better at doing this, and provides a pragmatic roadmap ultimately for any business. Which I know especially right now with everything going on with coronavirus, a lot of companies one of the big questions that they’re going to start asking themselves is, how do we get more? How do we get better at operations? How can we get more done with less? That’s always been a question, but it’s going to be an even bigger question now.

In this book it really provides you a roadmap on how to do that, especially when it comes to one of the biggest spends where companies look to grow, which is around user acquisition. And you know my heart kind of goes out to a lot of companies right now that are kind of going through a lot of challenges with the current coronavirus crisis, but I feel that one of the upsides of any crisis is it forces companies to think differently about any problems that they’re facing.

And so coming back to my story at IMVU, I joined IMVU at a time when growth was really going in the wrong direction and the company really wanted to try something different. And that kind of helped me to really become the champion for bringing this in. And I feel other people that are in a similar role right now could actually use this as an opportunity because it will enable more people to really be open to the idea on how do you leverage AI and automation because ultimately no business is ever going to end up getting through this crisis just by cutting costs, because cutting costs isn’t a strategy for growth.

You have to figure out how you can get better, faster and smarter around using your data to really propel you to start driving acquiring customers. And so I feel the book definitely speaks to that, and you know this time is as good as any to really be able to start having those conversations.

John Koetsier: Well Lomit, that’s great. That’s great advice, I recommend it. I recommend that book and I want to thank you for spending this time with us. I really do appreciate it and thank you for spending this hour or almost an hour with us on Growth Masterminds.

Lomit Patel: Thank you, John. I’ve been a big fan of yours. I love reading your stuff and listen to your podcast, so it’s an honor to be here.

John Koetsier: Thank you so much.

Lomit Patel: Thank you.

Privacy checkup: Limit Ad Tracking up 216% on iOS, but down 85% on Android

The percentage of people who have switched Limit Ad Tracking (LAT) on has doubled on iPhone over the last four years in the United States. Over the same time period on Android, it’s shrunk by a factor of six or seven.

In other words, people on the two major mobile platforms are moving in opposite directions.


Limit Ad Tracking is a setting on Apple’s mobile operating system that prevents marketers from seeing and tracking customers or users by their device-specific Identifier for Advertising, or IDFA. On Android, clicking to opt out of interest-based advertising or ads personalization accomplishes the same task.

Back to the future: Limit Ad Tracking

When I last studied LAT levels, it was 2016. Interest in ad blocking had just exploded. And Limit Ad Tracking, which Apple introduced in 2012 and Google implemented in 2013, was also of interest to mobile users who were increasingly concerned with privacy.

That year in the U.S., 11.4% of iOS users had turned LAT on, limiting the data that they provided to advertisers. On Android, 25.3% of Americans had switched off ads personalization.

But in 2020, we’re seeing significant changes in opposite directions. And it’s not just in the U.S.

At Singular, we recently analyzed a 390-million-device slice of the last 90 days of global data to determine changing views on privacy and advertising. And wow … they are apparently changing.

iOS vs Android, country by country

In the UK, almost 28% of iPhone owners have Limit Ad Tracking on. But just under 3% of Android smartphone owners have chosen to turn ad personalization off. In Germany, long known for its strong stance on personal privacy, 22.5% of iOS devices in our dataset had LAT on, while only π number of users — ok, yes, it’s 3.14% — on Android have enabled the similar setting.

This is apparently a global phenomenon: up on iOS, down on Android.

In India in 2016, 7.5% of iOS users enabled LAT, while 23% of Android users limited Google’s ability to personalize ads. Today, those numbers sit at 14.4% and 1.4%, respectively. France was at 9% for iOS and 21% for Android; today it’s at 14.5% and 3%.

One outlier? Russia.

There, the number of people enabling privacy-enhancing settings on their mobile devices has decreased on both major platforms. Russia was 13% for iOS and 27% for Android in 2016. Today it’s almost the same for both: 4% and 2.8%.

The one constant in 2020? Disabling ad tracking is always higher on iOS than Android.

Four years ago, the reverse was true. The average rate of disabling ad personalization on Android in 2016 was just under 20%. On iOS, the global average was almost half, 11.5%. Now, every major country we looked at has reversed that split. Overall, iOS is 15.61% globally, and Android is at 2.2% globally.

So … what’s going on?

The iOS numbers are actually not surprising or shocking.

People are increasingly concerned about privacy and worried about the risks of releasing personal information. As a result, it’s no surprise that the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018 went into effect this year, after a continued public outcry.

In addition, Apple has been beating the privacy drum as a competitive advantage for some time. The company moved to block third-party cookies on the Safari browser just this week. It’s no accident that Singular has been preparing for a post-IDFA world for quite some time, and it’s no accident that iPhone owners are more attuned to a privacy-centric vision.

But the Android numbers are definitely a surprise. To drop from higher than iOS to lower than iOS and reverse a cultural shift is puzzling.

Perhaps Google is doing a better job of helping Android users understand their privacy options, and how the company’s advertising ID can be used to deliver more relevant ads, or a better overall experience on Android. Perhaps the vast growth of Android bringing in close to a billion new smartphone owners on a global scale over the past four years has tended to focus on people who are less concerned about privacy. And perhaps the bigger ecosystem of phones and models and manufacturers in the Android world lends itself to new devices that don’t necessarily incorporate all the settings that prior models had enabled.

Ultimately, this needs more research before we can be sure about what’s happening here.

A few caveats and details

I’ve checked with a few other industry analysts like Thomas Petit and Eric Seufert. The iOS numbers we’re seeing here are basically in line with data that Petit and others are finding as well: a general global increase over the past few years.

For Android, I’m not seeing good data from other sources to corroborate or conflict with the findings from this almost 400-device dataset. (If you have such data, let me know!)

One potential concern with the data could be that advertisers and/or networks are excluding devices with ad personalization turned off from their campaigns, knowing that they’ll present tracking limitations. That would, of course, result in under-reported data and incorrect findings. So we double-checked attributed conversions in Singular data to surface any differences between paid and organic traffic.

In other words: we re-checked to see if the data changes when we collect it via an ad campaign versus a natural, organic conversion.

Very interestingly, ad personalization off for Android was actually LESS for organic and MORE for paid traffic. The same was true for turning the Limit Ad Tracking on in iOS: less for organic, more for paid.

Ultimately, we’ll need to do more research to understand what’s happening here, but for now, the upshot is this:

Americans are now among the world’s most privacy-sensitive consumers, at least on iOS. And Android users are now less likely to turn off ads personalization than any time I’ve ever seen in the past.

COVID-19 and digital marketing spend: what’s changing?

COVID-19 is changing everything. San Francisco has been told to shelter in place. New York City might be next.

As local, state, and national governments all over the world encourage people to stay in their homes, we’re quickly starting to see real-life economic consequences of the coronavirus. This is the new normal of social distancing and leveling the curve. And it has huge impacts on people’s lives as well as the economy.

And that means it also has massive ramifications for the online economy.

Mobile is now the dominant way for people to communicate, to research, to shop, and to order. In short, mobile is how we actualize all our intents and purposes in a modern digital economy.

Singular is the leading marketing analytics platform automatically tying marketers’ ad spend, sales results, and ROI together across multiple channels and platforms. That means we have significant insight into how brands are changing their customer acquisition behavior in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here’s just a taste of what we’re seeing so far in 2020.

Gaming: a 25% jump with COVID-19

Gaming is a growth industry when the world hits pause on work and social interactions. We’re seeing a steady increase since the middle of February, with a 25% jump in the second week of March from the low point.

cover-19-gaming spend

We’ve seen this story in China as well. As Singular’s top executive in China said recently, gaming companies “are reaching their revenue peak … because everybody is just playing games.”

It’s not just a rebound from the Christmas season, either. We’ve seen previously that gaming industry marketing spend is fairly steady throughout the year, generally, and this new peak is higher than any week in the final three months of 2019.

Retail – one massive spike, but also a 34% jump in March

Thank you, Super Bowl. Retail spending has been fairly steady throughout the year so far, with two exceptions: Super Bowl week, and a bump at the beginning of March.


It’s tempting to think that the spike may also have been an early reaction to some initial rumblings of cruise ship illnesses and potential challenges with in-store shopping experiences. After all, marketers tend to kick off ad spend before an actual event. And, with global customers throughout Asia and Europe, it’s conceivable Singular data is showing some early market share grab as well as Super Bowl hype.

Ultimately, however, the Super Bowl is the Super Bowl: an extravaganza of spending. (Not coincidentally, the data shows a big spike in agency spend in the same time period, another indicator of Super Bowl advertising.)

What we’re seeing at the beginning of March, however, is a bump in people ordering online.

We’re shopping less in stores to maintain social distance. We want to order our groceries and products online and via mobile, and have them delivered to our homes. In fact, this trend is growing so fast, we’re starting to see the big online retailers have challenges in providing delivery windows to everyone in larger cities, especially with 1-day or less shipping.

Social media: 29% increase

When the only way you can be social is via digital media, app installs for social platforms go up. After a moderate post-Christmas decrease, we’ve seen a steady rise in social media marketing activity for the last four weeks straight.


The last time marketing spend for social media was this high was just before Thanksgiving in November 2019. Expect this category to continue growing … especially apps and platforms that enable live, real-time video interaction.

Why? Introverts might like the shutdown, but extroverts need their social time.

Travel marketing: down 38% so far

It’s not surprising that the travel industry is hurting. The US and Canada closed the largest undefended land border in the world on March 18 to all but essential services and transport. Most countries have followed suit, or had already set up travel bans.

Even Europe’s famously borderless nations are reinstituting border checks and closures.


As a result, air travel is expected to be down in 2020 for the first time in 11 years. Hotels are suffering. Airbnb is allowing guests to cancel reservations without penalty.

And with the COVID-19 lockdowns in major cities like San Francisco and Paris, even local transport utilities like BART and Eurostar are hardly being used.

Other categories: on-demand, news, marketplaces, and more

Other categories are reacting in sometimes-unexpected ways.

On-demand services, which you’d expect to be way up as people stay home and order in, are just up slightly, with a drop in the second week of March. Part of it is car-sharing services, which people aren’t using as much, since they’re spending their time indoors or, when traveling, are walking or cycling. And part of it is likely heavy organic marketing increases: if you’re stuck at home, you don’t need an ad for Instacart to go get the app and order groceries.

You just go to Google Play or the App Store and get it.

News, on the other hand, is way up.

In fact, spending by news and information companies jumped over 11X from early January to the second week of March. People don’t just want to know what’s going on with COVID-19 or Coronavirus … they need to know. And news organizations are capitalizing on that opportunity.

The Marketplaces category is a bit of a mixed bag. There’s some growth there, but it’s spiky and includes some drop-offs. The problem is that if you’re selling real goods to other people, there needs to be an actual physical hand-over at some point. Getting to a shipping office is harder, and meeting in person is also harder.

The same is true of the health and fitness category, and financial services.

While we need workout equipment at home when the gyms are closed, gyms and other facilities are a big part of the marketing for the category. So while we saw the expected huge spike in spending for the first week of January to catch the New Year’s resolution crowd—almost a 2X increase—marketing and advertising in the category has fallen off over the past few weeks.

As far as finance is concerned, investments have tanked, but there’s no clear option but to hold and wait for the post-virus uptick. Similarly, fintech marketing is fairly stable, but down for the past month and a half.

Marketers need to make decisions fast

Now more than ever, marketers need to make decisions fast and get quick insights into complete ad spend and ROI. This means all your data needs to be centralized, easily accessible and actionable.

Singular provides advanced marketing analytics, and makes it easy. There’s no code required, and you can set up in minutes.

Try us free for 30 days now!

Change is the new normal: looking to the future

It’s important to note that the coronavirus pandemic is about much more than the digital marketing industry. It’s about real lives being lost, physical suffering, and massive daily disruption in literally billions of peoples’ lives. As such, COVID-19 is an unprecedented global event. My 84-year-old mother actually compares it to the times she lived through during World War II.

At Singular, our hearts go out to all those impacted. We’re working from our homes right now to minimize the spread and flatten the curve.

And in and through it all, we’re also keeping the lights on so that our clients, and the part of the economy that we touch, can continue to do what needs to be done. Or, at least as much as possible.

Ultimately this time of great challenge will likely lead to significant change in how we work, how we socialize, how we entertain, how we shop, and how we live in general. Setting up our clients for success now and in this still-uncertain future is a top priority.

The very first priority, however, is doing what we can to help all of us get through this pandemic safely.

Coronavirus is the new normal—app use is changing in response

James Ren leaves his apartment once every three days. He hasn’t seen his family or friends in weeks. All his business happens by WeChat and Zoom and Slack. And email, of course. This is the new normal with coronavirus, or COVID-19.

Ren is Singular’s top sales executive in China. He’s a veteran of the adtech and martech space, having spent three years with ironSource and another two with a global mobile performance marketing agency. He’s not infected with the virus—Beijing has remained relatively untouched. But he’s never experienced anything like this.

And it’s having a massive impact on the apps and tools that people are using.

For one thing, usage of remote working software is way up. Mobile and desktop gaming is so popular with schools closed and kids at home that some of the most popular ones have experienced downtime as usage skyrockets. And internet usage jumped 30% in places like Italy, where anyone who can work remotely is staying home.

Massive changes in multiple nations

“Because of coronavirus, the government decided to extend the national holidays to two weeks,” Ren says. “All I do is actually talk with my clients on instant messengers or through phone calls because most of my clients are working from home.”

That’s caused massive spikes in remote work and collaboration apps.

DingTalk, an enterprise communication and collaboration platform from Alibaba, went from about two million installs in January to over 12 million in February, according to Apptopia. WeChat Work tripled its January install rates in the same period, and Tencent Conference install rates exploded from the low six figures to almost eight million in a single month.

In Italy, Skype, Google Hangouts, and Microsoft Teams have all had huge spikes in growth. Medical apps like Medical ID are also hitting the charts as most-downloaded apps. Streaming video apps are up, as people have more free time.

Apparently that’s what happens when millions of people need to work from home very suddenly. Especially in a country like China where a huge majority of digital play and work is done via mobile devices, not desktops or laptops.

For Ren and others impacted by quarantines and shutdowns, social distancing is the mantra. And that means leaving his apartment just once a day for 30 minutes and once every three days for grocery shopping. Other than that, he’s online working or online playing.

Expected impacts: the new reality of work and school

This might be a sign of what other countries should expect—including the United States, where most tech companies are now asking employees to work from home.

Clearly, how we buy and live is changing in real-time. And what Ren is reporting from Beijing is likely a preview of what many others might be experiencing very soon in other countries:

  • Learning: Teachers are delivering classes online
  • Meeting: Colleagues are video conferencing with solutions from companies like Zoom, ByteDance, Alibaba, and Tencent
  • Communicating: Colleagues, friends, and families are almost exclusively using WeChat and other messaging tools to stay in touch
  • Shopping: People are buying even more things online and via mobile, since they can’t go shopping
  • Delivering: Businesses and people are ordering everything via on-demand apps, expecting to get everything delivered, since they can’t easily leave their homes
  • Gaming: People are spending more and more time on games since they have so much spare time: no commuting, and limited school/work opportunities

“Right now we have seen some very specific industries [that] are thriving,” Ren says. “Deliveries, eCommerce, these kinds of food delivery services are really thriving … we have millions of restaurants open for business, but they are not able to let the customer walk in and dine in.”

None of this is precisely new, of course. These changes are consistent with recent trends in commerce, convenience, and—in terms of work and career—location independence. But coronavirus or COVID-19 is taking these existing trends and amplifying them to eleven.

And, importantly, vastly increasing the velocity of change.

And that means trouble.

Not shockingly, hundreds of millions of people suddenly needing to transact all their business via digital platforms has had an impact. WeChat crashed. DingTalk reported a disruption in service. Microsoft Teams saw a 500% jump in usage. Zoom added more new users in the first two months of 2020 than it did in all of 2019.

That means on-demand services, digital networks, and remote collaboration tools need to bulk up resources and capacity to meet demand. And they have to do it quickly.

Getting through these times

Of course, we all hope that this is precautionary and temporary, and that we’ll be able to get back to normal living—and working—soon. Ren thinks that will happen. And, he thinks, normal life with normal activity, travel, meetings, and social interaction will resume.

“The primary goal for the Chinese government … is definitely to fight hard to contain the virus completely,” he says. “I think things will go back to normal because this isn’t really how the world operates or runs, you know, completely on the internet. That’s not how we actually live our lives. It’s impossible not to go back.”

Hopefully that is true. And hopefully that will happen soon, as doctors find and distribute vaccines and treatments for coronavirus/COVID-19.

Meanwhile, Singular employees at all of our offices around the world are working from home, keeping the lights on, and ensuring our services stay reliable and online.

Stay safe!

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

7 things your mobile attribution tool doesn’t do (but should)

So you have a mobile attribution provider. So your attribution provider tells you where your installs come from. So your attribution provider has a fraud prevention solution.

How is this going to help you out-grow your competition?

Your competition is marketing scientifically. Your competition saves six figures monthly thanks to deterministic fraud prevention. Your competition uses custom dimensions to automatically personalize attribution — and all their marketing analytics — directly to their business model and KPIs. Your competition knows which marketing creatives get the highest CTR and the best CVR across all their ad partners simultaneously.

So yes, it’s great to know where your Android and iOS app installs come from. Tracking helps.

But in 2020, mobile marketers are demanding much, much more from their attribution tools.

That’s why we just built a new report: 7 things your mobile attribution tool doesn’t do (but should). It’s built so you can skim for the information you need, and dive deep into the sections that matter. And the focus is what your mobile attribution tool — or should we say your mobile marketing intelligence platform — should provide today, and into 2020 and beyond.

mobile app attribution report

And it’s way beyond full ad network coverage, attribution analytics, a flexible attribution model, and MMP status with every major marketing platform. It’s also beyond just providing analytics tools or an analytics platform, and just doing ad tracking. Measurement and metrics are critical, but they’re just the beginning.

App install attribution 2020

Mobile success is clearly not just about the simple act of app install attribution, anymore, even if it ever was. Attribution is still critical … but what are the extra components that top mobile marketers are using to beat the competition?

Here’s what we’re focusing on in the report:

  1. Making marketing data simple
    Marketing data is hard. You have a ton of data from ad networks, the App Store, Google Play, and organic sources. Mobile app attribution needs to make it simpler, more automated, and more usable.
  2. Unlocking comprehensive analytics
    From big picture to ultimate granularity, mobile app attribution needs to show it all — including creative analytics. And ROI isn’t just about in-app purchases ad monetization: both are important. Without that, you don’t have accurate ROAS or ROI data for your marketing campaigns.
  3. Customizing to your unique business
    Your app and how you measure success are unique. Your analytics solution should adapt to you, not you to your mobile app attribution platform. That means custom events, custom dimensions, and specific user roles.
  4. Connecting cross-platform journeys
    If you just do hyper-casual mobile games, maybe mobile app is the only channel that matters. But probably even then, your users might hear about you on the web, or run into you on social. And if you’re available on multiple platforms … you need to understand your user and customer journeys.
  5. Preventing more fraud proactively
    Finding fraud after you’ve already paid for it sucks. And it’s hard to optimize a new campaign based on data from old campaigns that you’re not even sure is good. So you need proactive and deterministic app install fraud prevention.
  6. Activating smarter segments
    To retarget effectively, you need to be able to create the right segments. You also need to keep those segments up to date … in fact, up the minute.
  7. Joining the leaders
    There’s a reason Kabam uses Singular. A reason Wish uses Singular. The same is true for Lyft, LinkedIn, AirBnB, Zillow, Warner Bros, and many, many more amazing brands. Shouldn’t you find out what they already know?

Get the free report today (no email address required!)

You can get our free mobile app attribution report here (and no, you don’t have to log in or surrender your personal information).

Attribution is more than getting people to see some advertising, download the app, and track the install. It’s more than a tracking link or a deep link. It’s a key to understanding user behavior as a result of app campaigns, … and then building smarter advertising and smarter marketing to grow faster.

Learn why in the full report.

After that, we suggest you get a Singular demo. Learning what we do is important for mobile marketers. Seeing how it can work for you is much more critical.

Report: The Death of Install Fraud on Android

The worst part of install fraud isn’t necessarily the money you have wasted.

It’s the money you’re going to waste.

Once an app marketer pays for fraud they’ve both rewarded thieves and they’ve invested in the development of ever more and more sophisticated ways of getting defrauded. That’s the money you have wasted — past tense.

Findings from the 2019 fraud report

Even worse, however, they’ve polluted the only first-party marketing performance data they have on which to base future advertising investments: the results of past campaigns. And that means their future campaigns will be optimized based on bad data, incorrect data … fraudulent data.

That’s the money you’re going to waste — future tense.

Which is why Singular’s new deterministic ad fraud-fighting technology is so important. 

Most fraud prevention tools are probabilistic: statistical guesses based on data points like the amount of time between an ad click and an install. Or the location the click came from, or characteristics of the device on which the app is installed.

Probabilistic means there is some non-zero error rate. 

That none-zero error rate adds up. If your advertising performance data is skewed by fake installs, imaginary users, and fraudulent clicks, your future marketing decisions are, simply said, going to be wrong.

Beta testers using Singular’s new deterministic Android install validation technology are finding that it is catching much more fraud. Many of these clients are major brands, have huge money-making retail apps, or publish top-grossing games. As such, they’re spending literally tens of millions of dollars annually on app install advertising.

Findings from the 2019 fraud report by Singular

So the savings when you catch more fraud are considerable:

“This will save us literally hundreds of thousands of dollars every month, and lead us to make more effective marketing decisions,” says Channy Lim, Head of BI Department at Com2uS, maker of the hit mobile game Summoners War. “Singular’s updated Fraud Prevention Suite is the most powerful mobile app install fraud prevention I’ve seen.”

Those are strong words.

In data from other early testers of Singular’s updated fraud prevention suite, multiple ad networks show fraud rates of 80% or higher. Some are 100% fraudulent. (Get all the details in our 2019 fraud report: The death of install fraud on Android.)

In a market like that, advertisers have to protect themselves. 

Glu Mobile, which makes games like Deer Hunter, Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, and Diner Dash Adventures, has seen the impact as well.

“Singular’s new fraud-fighting technology helps our User Acquisition team focus on legitimate campaigns and significantly boost return on ad spend,” says John Parides, Senior Director of User Acquisition.

The new technology that enables this is a trade secret, of course. But what we can reveal is that we’re looking deeper at the communications legitimate apps make with Google Play. Using that and other data points, Singular’s cyber-security team has found a way to identify fake installs with 100% accuracy.

That includes fake users on real devices, fake installs on fake devices emulated in software, and fake installs that never really happened in the first place.

“This is a game-changer and will play a key role in making growth decisions,” according to Ronak Jain, Mobile Marketing Manager at Cleartrip, a top travel platform for emerging markets. “Singular’s new progressive anti-fraud solution detected more ad fraud than competing solutions.”

Along with the new Android install validation technology, Singular is also releasing updates to its fraud-fighting arsenal to better combat other types of fraud: click injection and organic poaching. Get all the details on the new product in our press release here.

And, get our free report on what the new technology is revealing in marketers’ campaigns.

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.


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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