Growth Gurus From The Gaming World Are In High Demand At Brands

Uber, Postmates, Yelp, SmartNews and other nongaming apps are scooping up growth marketing talent from the mobile gaming world – and the reasons make perfect sense.

App publishers are spending more on performance marketing, and those running user acquisition at gaming companies are some of the most data-driven mobile marketers in the biz.

“Gaming professionals have an acumen for knowing how every single dollar they put into marketing translates into return on ad spend – and brands are starting to get really interested in that,” said Eyal Grundstein, head of consumer online marketing at Yelp, where he leads the team responsible for UA and performance marketing.

Before joining Yelp in 2017, Grundstein spent four years as the VP of UA and growth at GSN Games, preceded by a two-year stint as the UA and growth director at game studio TinyCo.

“Deep analytical rigor, constantly testing new channels, being up to date on all the new tactics – these are the things you learn how to do when you do acquisition marketing in gaming,” Grundstein said.

Over the last few years, Neil Baquiran, senior manager of sales at mobile ad network AppLovin, has worked with several UA game managers who have transitioned into the brand or nongaming world.

Although some of those moves are a symptom of consolidation in the space – M&A between gaming studios leads to redundancies in the marketing department – the trend is accelerated by nongaming apps hungry for the analytical skills that are rampant in the gaming sector.

“It’s getting more competitive for these companies, and not just with other brands,” Baquiran said. “They’re competing with the entire app ecosystem to get installs and win ad space, and they need help.”

Game on

Nongaming apps – utility, delivery, ecommerce, news curation, ride sharing and music streaming, for example – are scouting for mobile pros with game experience for the same reason more traditional brands, broadcast companies and social platforms hire folks who spent time in the ad tech and digital media trenches.

Brian Lesser, Bruce Falck, Nicolle Pangis, Joe Marchese and Bob Lord are just a few nimble digital vets who have reached powerful positions at AT&T, Twitter, NCC Media, Fox and IBM, which take advantage of their programmatic, technology and data expertise.

For large brands, the digital landscape – and mobile in particular – can feel like unknown territory. Poaching top marketers with a tech pedigree is one way to get up to speed fast.

But even mobile-first companies that eat data and analytics for breakfast want to learn from marketing managers who cut their teeth at gaming apps, said Nathan Dinh, growth lead for driver acquisition at Uber.

“We’re ROI-based and we’re in tune with the mobile ecosystem, which is complicated and continually changing,” said Dinh, who joined the ride-sharing app in 2016 after spells as a user acquisition lead at App Annie and online game publisher Perfect World Entertainment.

Mad skillz

Game UA managers spend nearly all of their time analyzing ad spend, running tests and tracking metrics with an eye on performance. Retention, loyalty, lifetime value, revenue by user type and cost per install or engagement are their gods, but they’re not afraid to kill their darlings. If a tactic isn’t working, it’s off the plan.

They know how much a particular cohort is likely to spend within their app and at what price to profitably acquire different groups of users.

“Most other companies just aren’t doing this type of analysis, with the exception of maybe insurance companies and, to a lesser extent, banks and credit card companies,” said Fabien-Pierre Nicolas, who became head of US marketing at news discovery app SmartNews in April 2017. His resume includes marketing positions at App Annie, Perfect World and Japanese mobile gaming company DeNA.

If game app marketers had a mantra, Nicolas said, it would be “never stop testing.”

“There’s less reverence for brand marketing,” he said. “Gaming marketers have a good understanding of brand and the target audience, but they also test everything all the time – banners, video, app store pages, design – whereas a nongaming app might have an idea, test it once and then think they’re done.”

Patrick Witham, now the director of UA at delivery app Postmates, was a testing machine when he was director of user acquisition at social casino gaming company Product Madness.

“I must have tested over 100 different ad networks,” said Witham, who started at Postmates a little over a year ago. “Over time, you really get to know the tried-and-true vendors that work, and that’s part of why companies like Postmates bring in people from mobile games, to navigate the fragmented mobile landscape.”

Adjustment period

But when UA managers move from games to other app types, they have their own learning curve.

For instance, the KPIs at games, where success is often predicated on customer acquisition cost, are different than at nongaming companies, which prize increased brand awareness as a key objective.

“The incrementality of performance marketing, for example, how do we make sure we’re not buying our organic users, didn’t come up in gaming, but in nongaming it comes up again and again,” Yelp’s Grundstein said. “The ‘would this user have come back anyway?’ question is something we think about a lot now.”

And KPIs tied to brand equity have a longer cycle to measure lifetime value than in gaming, where cohort analyses quickly track retention and predict churn among groups of users that demonstrate similar behavior.

But these differences are what keeps life interesting, Grundstein said.

“There’s no defined playbook for marketing non-gaming apps," he said. "You’ve really just got to stay creative and stay ahead of the curve.”

 

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