Leadership Perspectives

Mobile CMOs on growth, customer experience, and building lasting brands

Becky Doles

Throughout the year, we have hosted a series of CMO Connect conversations, to find out what it means to CMOs to build a brand and stay ahead of the curve in mobile. Each event brings a unique, well-rounded perspective of the impact of mobile and future of marketing from the C-level perspective.
During Postback, we hosting a unique CMO Connect session featuring three top mobile CMOs to dive into growth, customer experience, and building a lasting brand. I moderated a session that included Adam Jaffe, CMO at ABA English, Ian Fillet, VP of Marketing at OfferUp, and Ville Heijari, CMO at Rovio. Check out the video (above) from this session or read on for edited excerpts from the conversation.

Meet the CMOs

Jennifer: More than ever before, marketing leaders must be connected. They must be connected to their consumers, fans, content, partners, and then even technologies. So we’ve been hosting the CMO Connect series at several events this year, bringing on CMOs from the Daily Mail, Refinery 29, Belkin, and several others. But today I am excited because we have three Mobile First CMOs here to share insights on how they “tune” their marketing strategy to stay ahead in our mobile economy. Everyone here has had apps hit the top charts, so they probably don’t need an introduction, but before we kick off the conversation, I will have them talk a little bit about who they are and maybe give a quick shout-out about the app that they market. So Ian, we can get started with you.

Ian: Sure. Prior of OfferUp, which I joined three years ago, I was at RealNetworks for a long time working on Rhapsody, social games, but been at OfferUp the last three years. OfferUp, for those of you who don’t know, is a mobile marketplace for local buying and selling. We’re generally one of the top two shopping apps on both app stores and this year we’re going to have about fourteen billion dollars of transactions.

Adam: I’m the CMO of a company called ABA English. We’re an education technology company based out of Barcelona. Prior to that, I’ve set up marketing departments in some of the largest gaming companies in the world. I got my start with a company called Playtika, I was the first person doing marketing for them for almost an entire year, launching Slotomania both on IOS and Android, then moving to SGN, whose rapid growth in the last couple of years has just been phenomenal. Most recently before ABA English, was with a company called Social Coin and some of you might know the application Dragoncity, so I established the marketing department for that company as well.

Ville: My name is Ville Heijari, I’m with Rovio, actually my second stint at Rovio now. I was working at Rovio when Angry Birds was growing up and building a marketing team over there. I think that’s probably my biggest accomplishment in that time. Then I went to work in the much sexier industry for a couple of years, which is Mobile Adtech, now back at Rovio, where my biggest accomplishment thus far is getting this hat produced, which is either the best thing ever or the worst joke in the world depending on where you, kind of, lean. But yeah, excited to be on the panel.

CMOs on app growth

Jennifer: We’re going to talk about three big topics today, the first one being growth. As a CMO, what are some of the dynamics that you see come into play when you start to think of the launch strategy for all of your big app launches?

Ian: For OfferUp it’s a little different than games. We’re a marketplace so for a marketplace you need to create supply and demand and for us the question people always ask is was it the chicken or the egg? Was it the supply side or the demand side? We focused on both at the same time. To be able to figure out how to create a compelling experience for our users who are both buyers and sellers. Once you can create that compelling experience, and I know it’s similar in games, early on, then you’re going to have a much better chance of retaining people and creating that fly wheel, if you will.

Adam: In the early days when I was working at Playtika, we had growth basically through the platform, so we were focused on Facebook and we were going through the viral channels that they provided and obviously when we launched on IOS, just being at the top charts was enough to generate huge numbers of downloads. Today basically the biggest challenge is finding that growth vehicle, but it can’t come from the platforms anymore, so working in education and thinking about the product is how do we produce a product that actually wants to be produced? That people want to tell their friends about. So, as a marketer today I don’t think in the same way as I thought five years ago. I think about I’m sending this out to a person, now I need to create this really omni-channel approach, which I brought them in on a download, but that’s not enough. So in my team I manage also the monetization side which is more like a promotional aspect of the application life cycle. We do a lot of emailing, we do a lot of, we call “lead cultivation,” and we try and build up a brand awareness, sort of equity with our students, in order for them to say “Hey Juan, this is a great application for learning English, why don’t you take it.” I think that is the next challenge for marketers and companies today. It’s a big ocean out there and it’s really really red. So how do I differentiate myself from everyone else and make something that actually people want to talk about?

Ville: Exactly. Rovio comes from a background of also having a premium app, dominating exactly that kind of marketplace where just sitting on the top of the charts is enough to generate more downloads and more installs and more revenue. Of course we’ve had a bit of a painful transition over the years of moving from the premium paradigm to freemium economy, which I’m really happy to say we’re running on all cylinders. I would say that our biggest advantage, how we’re looking at launching new products, is still our existing games portfolio. So we have a lot of internal data, which we of course then need to enrich with a lot of third-party and market data. Sort of finding new audiences, valuable audiences who are out in the wild. We have this shadow of the bird, where we built a game so big that from a purely reach and download perspective, it’s a ridiculous benchmark to launch games against today. But then, with that said, we’re really confident that we can launch games that maybe have a much smaller audience, but can be vastly more profitable.

CMOs on competitive differentiation

Jennifer: So you each have mentioned a little bit about the thought strategy for pre-launch, and Adam you mentioned something about how do you differentiate, when it’s so competitive these days. How have you thought about really making your app experience, or building your brand, so that it’s unique compared to other similar types of companies?

Ian: It’s challenging in an era of anybody being able to company exactly what you’re doing because there’s exposure to what’s successful. Someone sees you going up the app store charts and then tomorrow or the next day you have copycat out there. Adam touched on this before and it’s interesting because you’re transitioning from social games to a regular utility. For growth in a non-social kind of game, maybe with the exception of Rovio, you really need strong word of mouth. Word of mouth comes from consumers getting over that hump of the experience they need to be able to tell their friends about something, and what we’ve discovered at OfferUp is that, first of all you have to provide practical value. It needs to be of such value that the consumer is going to feel good about telling their friends about it, so they have confidence in the product. So, Angry Birds, people felt so good, there was these strong emotions with playing it and it got to the point where people would say “hey you got to play Angry Birds.” But for a game to get to that level, it’s so rare, and Adam you’re in that transition of moving to that now.

Adam: That’s exactly right and I think when I’m thinking about my product in the way that I market it, I tend now to think a lot more about my users than I did in the past. I tend to think if I’m putting this in front of them, what’s their reaction? I remember reading some statistics back maybe a year and a half ago, and they were talking about where do downloads come from. The big conception was, I guess it was a misconception, that the app store was the place that people actually took the app, that’s where the exposure was happening. This report basically said no, that is not correct. More than fifty percent of your app downloads are going to come from somebody telling their friend about this app, and then them bypassing all of your marketing and sophisticated modernization techniques, and just going and downloading it themselves. My vision after looking at that was thinking, okay so how can I create that. How can I create that event in that person’s mind in order to give it over to him to tell his friend? So my marketing strategy has shifted subtly, more towards the idea of creating this trigger event in the moment of the user that matches with my product. So English language learning for most of you here has no baring in your life, but for a billion or more people in the world, having a high level of English can be twenty, thirty, forty percent more salary, it can mean job opportunities around the world. We try and basically match our marketing to the needs of the user. It’s not saying to them, “Hey download an English language app for free”, it’s “change your life. Wouldn’t you like to be in a position of financial security?” and things like that. We try and match that with our product.

Ville: I think that’s like a reoccurring topic that sharing and word of mouth comes on top in all of the research that’s done on where do people actually discover apps. That said, it’s an interesting shift for game developers as well. Let’s say you make a game, which is leaning on multi-players, social competitive game play, like the key function of the game becomes that social element. Your launching the game doesn’t make any sense, of course you’re going to have some kind of technical launch and test whether the server architecture and the 3D shaders and what not are working, but it all becomes irrelevant unless the sharing component and the multiplayer components aren’t there already in place.

Adam: I would even say that you can’t predict it. I mean there was a game that was launched recently in Pokemon Go, that no one in their right mind would ever have assumed that it would be as successful. Even Angry Birds couldn’t have predicted the success of the application. I think planning for it would be wise, but banking on it would be a mistake. So you have to understand the user, you have to understand the mentality of why somebody would want to go out there and proliferate the message of your own application. I think in this way the marketer just needs to be a bit smarter, a bit more of a storyteller than maybe it was in the past where you could simply just put a Facebook ad up and let the platform do the work for you.

CMOs on building customer loyalty

Jennifer: So next why don’t we talk about after you see this hyper growth and you’re at the top, at your peak; as a marketer, how do you think about really developing this customer loyalty so that people are engaging with your brand, with your app, on a daily basis, month over month?

Ian: A lot of it is about continuing to create that practical use and utility. And then having frequent use cases. OfferUp is a horizontal marketplace, and for a long time the belief was that you couldn’t get a horizontal marketplace to work, everybody focused on vertical marketplaces. But the advantage that we have is that you can buy or sell anything.

Adam: Sorry, what’s the difference?

Ian: A vertical marketplace would be where you only sell baby clothes. To bring someone into download baby clothes app, that’s relevant for a short period of time or maybe once every couple months when your child outgrows its clothes. But now if you can find anything on there, people have reason to use something over and over and over again and this all leads into the growth. If people are using something that’s practical frequently, and they feel good about telling their friends about it, it increases the likelihood of this word of mouth growing which is, what we notice, is the people come through a word of mouth are much more intense in terms of usage, brand advocates, everything, as opposed to the paid side.

Adam: Yeah, one thing that differentiates my current company from companies that I worked with in the past is that we’re subscription model. So for us, once a user purchases a subscription, we basically kind of take a backseat in a way because we know that this person has committed himself to a period of time within our application. For instance, we know that if a user buys the annual product, at least fifty percent of them are going to renew. So I can basically bank on that looking into the future and saying, okay I have this revenue stack, or this revenue stream, it’s going to be renewed at least at this rate for the future, so I don’t actually have to worry about that anymore. It becomes a slightly different conversation at that point with how I communicate with my users, because really I’m dealing with mostly just the top of funnel. So I bring in a lead and it’s that moment before that user actually connects with the product because once they do and they make the purchase, the entire thing shifts. Basically in a way you’re saying “you’re good, go on” and we have teachers and what not and other support staff and sort of consumer success teams that deal with it. But at that point you get to be a little bit more flexible and a little bit less “Hey got to get that second purchase, got to get that third purchase”.

Ian: That’s really interesting, particularly if it’s an annual model. Basically you have a full year to show how much value you’ve provided as opposed to the sense of urgency of I need in the first seven days to be able to create these events so someone sticks around.

Adam: It’s actually pretty interesting, you bring up a good point. One of the things, at least with a product like mine; we have an incredibly long conversion funnel, so it takes almost two years to fully actualize the conversation rates. The reason is that if you download my product and in six months you didn’t buy it, so the chances are you probably still don’t speak English, so good for me I could probably send you that email and make that connection, keep it top of mind. It becomes a very different way of speaking with the users and building up that sort of loyalty.

Ville: Games, of course, like there’s something in the game play, something in the character, something in the world that generates that desire and interest to play the game. Of course, there’s a lot of these habit-forming tricks like why does it take eight hours to open a chest, what do you do for eight hours straight a day, do you do it like last thing before you go to bed and first thing in the morning, right? But then, when you’re playing on just the game plan and content, as a developer, you’re easily stuck in the convent treadmill, where you just have to generate more levels, more content, more playable stuff over and over again, which is of course very laborious and not necessarily tied to revenue as such. Activity is retention, but not necessarily revenue. I think me for example; one of our biggest changes in our game this year was Angry Birds 2, which is soon a game that’s been out for one year already, and only this spring we introduced these recurring tournaments and real daily events and so forth. These are extremely important for the audience to keep them active, to keep them coming back and even keep them spending money.

Adam: I would say even, for your product as well, it’s a platform, so you basically produce the platform and it’s user generated content. Probably the best example of that would be Mindcraft. A company that gave a platform to developers and then they were sold for billions of dollars without really needing to go out and create more things. I think in my case, which is kind of the opposite approach, is that I generate content outside of my application. So what do I mean by that? I mean if you’re learning a language, so you’re able to see the growth and what not, and actually use my platform, outside of the actual platform. So you use me and then you go out into the real world and you see the advancements you’re making and this drives you back into the application, and it’s an interesting loop in that sense from trying to understand. Do I do this in the middle of the night? Do I set it up now? How do I create a monetization loop that basically keeps you in that cycle?

CMOs on the martech stack

Jennifer: Once you have all of these ideas for how you think about your marketing strategy from the full funnel acquisition, to retention, and engagement; assuming you all have marketing technology behind it to really scale all of this across millions of different users. Could you speak to a little bit more about how you think about piecing together your marketing tech stack, or even what that ideal situation would look like to really help your business grow?

Ville: I’d love to have a consolidated product, but I guess…

Jennifer: Why don’t you have one today?

Ville: Well, we come from a seven, eight year pedigree of bolting on things to a system that seems to be working. So I guess you find different solutions for different pinpoints and you end up with a patchwork thing. But of course it takes a lot of strategic thinking and when you have a system and a portfolio running on a platform, it’s not that easy to just shift around.

Jennifer: What would it take to really just start brand new, the ideal situation?

Adam: It’s impossible to start again. I mean I envy – I mean it’s a little bit strange to say that but I envy startups today because they have so much options for what they need to do and there’s so much information that exists. I remember working in my previous company, we had this legacy product and it made money. It always reminds me of this funny Simpsons episode where you have Mr. Burns and he has a cough whatever, he goes in to get tested and he finds out he has all the diseases, everything. But they’re all basically fighting each other to take over his body, so they’re in perfect harmony, so he’s healthy and he’s going to live forever. I kind of felt like that was my application, which was: don’t touch it. It’s making money, it’s providing salary, so just don’t breathe, don’t look at it, don’t even think about it.

Jennifer: But at some point it sounds like a disaster waiting to happen?

Adam: Yeah, but in the end it’s a risk versus reward thing. I’ve been in meetings with heads of product and CEOs and said “listen, we need to implement this thing” and they say “yes, but we are so scared to touch this code, because we’re making three, four hundred thousand dollars a day, that if we mess this up, that’s it. It’s all over”. So yes we would like to have a little bit more marketing automation but we don’t want to lose our business. So the idea of resetting and basically starting over – it becomes a question of is the thing you’re going to introduce to the application worth more than the risk of losing what you’ve already set up. In a lot of cases it’s the reason why I use the same crappy analytics provider that I’ve been using since the dawn of time because I’m everything is already set up, and I don’t want to get in the hassle of…

Ville: Having worked in App Tech myself, there’s many a scenario and anecdote in the industry of somebody bolting on to make 25k ad revenue a day and crashing their app and losing 2,000k of app revenue so that’s bad mathematics. I’m not an economist myself.

Jennifer: And you talked about already changing your marketing tech stacks a couple times.

Ian: Yup, I mean things change, economics change, services that they offer change. You can only start to integrate them into your day-to-day decision making so much. We have a bunch of different tech stacks that we combine on our own on our backend. Hopefully we’ve positioned ourselves to be able to replay some of them if necessary, but even if we do that well, you’re still kind of reliant on them. It’s a business risk. So Adam is saying if something is working so well in your business and is starting to work well, it’s a risk if you’re to rip something out or add something, an SDK that you don’t fully trust. Maybe you don’t know them very well but it sounds good, but then there are third party dependency on your app that causes an issue and it brings your app down and then all of a sudden the consumer experiences are ruined. It’s hard. You have an advantage if you’re starting from square one today, but all you’re doing is building and building dependencies over time.

Adam: I would even mention another point here which is that in the mobile space, you’re really tied into your app. So it’s not like I can create a second app in the ecosystem and basically say okay do whatever you want, crash it, break it, test it until the cows come home, because Apple doesn’t allow you to do that, neither does Google. In the web, obviously you have the ability to say okay great, we have one system that’s working so partition it, move a section over, send some traffic and let’s test it and see how it works. In the app environment because everything has to happen in the same SDK, things become very complicated, AB testing can only go so far. So creating these multiverses within your app ecosystem becomes something that is a necessity, but it’s very delicate. So for old products to basically introduce those kinds of mechanisms is nearly impossible. We found that doing a lot of testing actually, in the web environment, was more effective and then we could say we got some learnings here and then we transfer that over into the mobile ecosystem.

Ville: I really feel what you said about being envious about app developers right now who are coming into the market. It’s not many years ago that even something like just attribution was just black magic. Now it’s really luxurious situation where you have all the pieces of the tech stack available.

CMOs on what they are excited about

Jennifer: What are you excited for in the marketing / tech world next? We mentioned a few already today on stage: instant apps, IOS updates, is there anything that’s really exciting for you?

Adam: It’s actually something that I’m not hearing a lot of people talking about which is predictive analytics. I’m really excited for somebody out there to start doing it. I mean there are some companies that have been doing AB testing up and lifts and what not, but really coming out with solid algorithms that help you predict, and obviously breaking that into a dashboard saying focus the spotlight on this particular marketing channel and this particular kind of users. Today that’s really the job of your analyst or, in the case of my company, the guys that I hire today are basically PhD mathematicians when it comes to SEM because they are the guys actually doing the wheels turning around, how things are supposed to look and move, so that’s what I’m excited about. I’m excited about for that to actually.

Ian:  Yeah I agree. When you’re operating a business, you’re watching the trends and sometimes something good happens and something bad happens, the question is why. So often it’s did we expect it or did we not? There’s no solution out there that can kind of help automate that, so you spend so much time chasing your tail trying to figure out what’s going on that it’s a lot of wasted time and I think that if someone were able to create some type of solution that would be significant value added. It’s not out there today.

Ville: I guess I’m not that excited about any particular piece of technology right now. But this year has really been booming on the mobile influencer and YouTuber user acquisition, which has obviously been a big trend for a couple of years now. But I think we’re getting to the point where you can find really really sweet, small pockets of users where the more you can harvest and refine your data, and define who the valuable audiences are, you really really can find valuable audiences which apply only to your product and your game.

Adam: We actually did that in social point, I set up a strategy there which I think we were one of the first companies to do it, which was contacting not influencers across a mass spectrum where your saying you want impressions for these guys to do videos, but your contacting as you say, one guy who we know has our audience. What we found was, I mean it was incredible. We launched with one of our applications was with one of the YouTubers, and we were seeing, just beyond ridiculous retention rates. People thought there were bugs in the system, they were spending hours and hours trying to sit through data. We saw this massive spike, and we said we posted a video and they said, no impossible. There’s no way you can achieve forty five percent third day retention, and I’m like well, it happened. I think that’s the other thing is thinking differently. Not to coin Apple and use their terminology, but really all these tools that we’re having, what does it really give us? It gives us time to think about what we’re doing in a more critical way. I think that’s what I didn’t have in the beginning, I was just running. Now that I’ve had this opportunity to sit back and say this is not working the way it should be working. How do I action on that and make changes, that’s what I’m excited about.

Jennifer: Before we wrap up the conversation today, I think it is important for us to talk a little bit about brands. As a CMO, I know that you have brand at the top of your mind, even if you’re thinking about all of these ROI strategies. Can you share a little bit more about what you’re thinking in terms of how you balance building a long term brand after your focus on this hyper growth launch?

Ian: It’s all about doing the right thing at the right time. So early on, if you call it hyper growth, it’s figuring out how to get that going. But then keeping people and brand is what is going to keep people around for years and years. It’s what’s going to allow you differentiate against all the copy cats out there. It starts with understanding your customer, how they’re talking about you, how you want them to talk about you. But for us it’s really just changing people’s lives and being a part of people’s lives. We haven’t nailed it yet but it’s something that at our stage, it’s something we’re really focusing on.

Adam: For us, I think the three of us probably operate in a totally different ecosystem, I mean you have a brand which is phenomenally and worldwide, it’s known, and obviously you and I we only have one product. We are trying to establish ourselves as a brand. I think, for me when I think about the idea of branding and I think about my product, I really try to look at it from the user perspective. I try to emulate how a user might talk about my product in order to retroactively fit that into my marketing strategy. So if people are speaking about me in a certain way, or they’re using me for a certain kind of vehicle, then I try to attach myself to that in the branding mechanism and say if everyone is looking for work related reasons for the reasons that they’re using my app, so how do I brand myself into that vertical. It’s a lot of talk. We talk to our customers. I know a lot of people tend to think about there are billion downloads, how do you conceptualize that, and most people can’t do that. So we try to humanize ourselves a little bit more, have some conversations. We have teachers, we bring them in, we interface with them face to face and we get their feedback, and from there we’re able to better asses the future of our company and where that brand might take us.

Ville: Yeah, not everything makes a great brand but freemium gaming, it’s a huge commodity market where people are downloading free products and trying to get them to spend money on your product specifically. With Angry Birds, it’s one of these stories where there’s the right product at the right platform at the right place. I would say it’s less of a story about a game just breaking big in the market, but it’s a product that sat at the game you download on your smartphone when you first get one. If you look at Angry Birds growth as a brand, it’s exactly goes hand-in-hand with the growth of Android and iOS and so forth. It’s the devices growing and people downloading what’s hot. There’s always this bigger picture of where does your brand sit on your market, and is it growing on its own right and so forth. If five years ago we would have said we’re going to make a movie of this game, we would have been like how the f@ck do you make a movie out of that. It doesn’t make any sense, it’s stupid birds and there’s no plot. But now it’s a motion picture distributed by Sony globally. You take your time and cultivate the brand and characters and so on and anything could happen.

Adam: I want to end with something just from a personal perspective, I remember when Peter was saying that one of the things here is that you want to learn something that could potentially change your business. There’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot since Apple came out with it’s new thing about it’s subscription model. I think it’s something that you should see this as an opportunity in your business to create retention that you didn’t necessarily have before. Creating a time window for yourself. If anybody is out there thinking about how they monetize their app, how they think about; think about the subscription as a new tool for you in order to basically prolong your application life-cycle, as well as your user life-cycle. I just wanted to throw that out there.

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Becky Doles

Becky is the Senior Content Marketing Manager at TUNE. Before TUNE, she led a variety of marketing and communications projects at San Francisco startups. Becky received her bachelor's degree in English from Wake Forest University. After living nearly a decade in San Francisco and Seattle, she has returned to her home of Charleston, SC, where you can find her enjoying the sun and salt water with her family.

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