June 24th, 2021

Mobile Champions – Nancy Roberts, YouAppi

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For Nancy Roberts, a passion for marketing comes naturally. Her early experience at Medley.com had her directing marketing technology for a network of over 30 sites, an effort that eventually doubled website visitors to 300 million a month. In the last few years, she’s moved away from the technology side, leaving scriptwriting and database querying in the past. Now fully immersed in the marketing industry as the Chief Marketing Officer at digital marketing platform YouAppi, Nancy uses her years of experience and expertise while working with brands like Tilting Point, Audible, and Pizza Hut.

Her efforts haven’t gone unnoticed; she was recently awarded the prestigious Business Woman of the Year award, among other honors. A highly valued public speaker whose topics include growth, performance marketing, technology, and entrepreneurship, Nancy is also very involved with the start-up community and has served on a number of advisory boards.

What We Learned:

  • Privacy is here to stay: With the launch of iOS 14.5, expect a privacy-first approach to become the norm. Marketing companies should see this as an opportunity, not a hindrance.
  • Stand out in a crowd: Brand identity is critical to success. You need to differentiate yourself from your competitors to be memorable, and that applies to every facet of marketing.
  • Seek harmony, not balance: It’s inevitable that the responsibilities of work and family life will overlap, especially with many people still working from home. Take time to decompress and don’t beat yourself up if your schedule goes awry.

Thanks for chatting with us, Nancy! Can you tell us a little bit about your background in marketing and your role at YouAppi?

Sure! My background is actually in technology — actually, marketing technology would be a better description. Writing scripts, querying databases, and integrating tools to make a marketer’s life easier was my jam. I was a technical project manager and managed a team of software engineers for about a decade before I moved into focusing on just marketing.

I studied marketing in college and always had a passion for it. I started focusing more on marketing because it let me leverage my creative side and my technology experience. I understand how software works, so I understood what ad tech could do. It’s actually really complex — you need to understand how code works, how servers work, and how software updates work. For me, the path from technology to marketing was pretty organic.  

I’m currently the CMO at YouAppi. My team works on everything: our website, content, social media, graphic design, sales enablement, case studies, one pagers, events. If it’s related to marketing, our team is working on it.

Your experience is really extensive! How did your years in technology and marketing lead to a CMO role?

Well, back in my tech days, I ran a software development group for marketing technology. That led to a VP of Marketing role, and from there I was recruited as a General Manager running business operations at Glispa. I was actually the first marketing hire there! Sometimes I was pretending to be an attorney, redlining contracts and such, but I was also involved in the marketing side because our team was responsible for everything in North America.

When I decided to leave that job, I thought I’d pursue another role in the ad tech industry. I actually had a conversation with a good friend of mine, Sean Hailer at AppsFlyer, and I told him, “I’m not CMO material.” I wanted to be involved in business operations and thought that kind of role was too much. He kindly reminded me of this conversation after I joined YouAppi and told me to stop BS-ing myself out of a skill that I come by honestly. Your friends always see you for who you are, while we see ourselves as what we want to be.

How have you seen the industry evolve over the years, and what are some things you think new marketers should know?

The industry has evolved so much. When I first moved into mobile marketing, we were still talking almost the postback and whether or not to use it. It was the Wild West of mobile marketing back then. There weren’t protocol rule sets and there wasn’t a firm idea of what’s fraud and what’s a valid install. In those early nascent days, you couldn’t even really describe what mobile marketing was because it came out of web marketing.

Obviously, the industry has changed a lot. Mobile is a data-driven industry, and the attrition tools in use now are so much more complex and sophisticated than we even dreamed of. I can’t even pretend to understand some of the technology that’s been developed in the last five years.

At YouAppi, you work closely with app publishers and mobile brands. What trends should we expect to see in mobile advertising this year and beyond?

What a time to be alive! Apple has certainly kept us on our toes in more ways than one over the years, and with iOS 14.5, it’s happened again. With new data privacy rules in effect, it’s time to get innovative and see this as a big, momentous opportunity and move on. This industry is full of incredibly smart people, so I think it’s not a question of who will make it out alive in a post-IDFA world, it’s a question of which network is the smartest.

In the immediate future, I think we’ll continue to see a lot of the same trends concerning transparency and privacy. We’re moving into a privacy-forward environment, and it’s an opportunity for the whole industry to be scrappy again. Those who look forward and invest in research and development, rather than trying to hang onto old norms, will be the winners.

You’re actively involved in the start-up community. What advice do you have for start-ups about establishing a brand identity?

I’m pretty involved with start-ups, I’m on the advisory board for several apps right now. I’m helping them find their ground and their base, just applying everything I’ve learned about how to find your audience. Brand identity is so important, and startups should never underestimate that importance and really identify who they are and what they do.

It’s important for start-ups to establish what differentiates them from their competitors. There may be multiple products that offer similar things, so how you stand out is what will be remembered. That applies to every level of branding: colors, imagery, tone, style, communication. It’s fine to be fluid, but envisioning where you see your product and the value it provides will help you carry out your vision. You also need to have a good idea of your target user and target audience.

I feel like these steps are often overlooked, and brands either go too corporate or too casual. The way you communicate with your user base needs to be organic and natural if you want them to feel like what you’re offering will enrich their lives.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected almost every industry, and marketing is no exception. What are some of the challenges of building a content strategy during a pandemic? How does it differ from previous strategies?

As the expression goes, “Content is king”. This became even more evident during the pandemic. Mobile is a high-touch industry; we love our conferences, events, lunches, dinners, happy hours, you name it. Conference season is January through December for us. When the pandemic hit in March 2020, it was a huge punch in the gut for mobile marketing. How would we connect with our customers and clients when an essential part of how we do business was ripped away from us? So we had to step back and think about what we were missing.

This industry loves information. I’ve never seen another industry that is so active in sharing articles and news with each other. There are exclusive Slack groups dedicated to sharing intel about all facets of the mobile industry! At the beginning of the pandemic, however, some people were hesitant about sharing information about the “pandemic effect.” At the same time, it’s what we were living in, and we were all seeking answers. Eventually we figured out that it was important to share as much information as possible — how is everyone working from home? How are you making use of your time? Are you overwhelmed? Do you have Zoom fatigue? That became a pretty common topic of discussion as the months went on.

Soon companies in the mobile marketing space started sharing more information publicly. Tapjoy published a lot of really good information during the pandemic, as did Liftoff and AppsFlyer. Everyone was independently publishing this information with a lot of the same themes, so we got used to the new normal and did our best to share information that people wanted to know about.

Building a content strategy during this “WTF” period was really hard. At YouAppi, we used the time to build and develop our new website, create the tools we needed to manage a content-driven company, and refine our messaging. The biggest challenge was finding our identity and voice at a time when everyone was overwhelmed with content. The need for content doesn’t change during the pandemic; we just had to work on building the brand by supplementing experiential branding with our content.

As a senior executive and mom navigating a new work-from-home reality, what tips can you share about work/life balance for other working parents?

The first piece of advice I can share is that there is no such thing as balance. Everyone seeks balance, but it’s illusive. These days, I seek harmony. There will be days when you’re sitting in front of the laptop with your third grader on your lap while you’re taking a call with your CEO. And days where the four people in your house are all on separate zoom calls or playing Fortnite while you’re in a team meeting.

Rolling with the punches and understanding where you can affect change will have a greater impact than beating yourself up for sitting down to dinner at 9pm or eating corn dogs. Corn dogs are okay sometimes! We’re doing the best we can, Zoom fatigue is real, and we work into the night often because the demands of life are tough. What’s important is that the kids are healthy and fed, and if you can move things around on your calendar so that you can start the new season of The Handmaid’s Tale, you’re doing great. You need to build in time to decompress, so set realistic boundaries and don’t beat yourself up if things get off track.

Tapjoy would like to thank Nancy Roberts for sharing these valuable insights with us! For more from our Mobile Champions series, check out our interview with Hwa Young Kim, Zepeto Product Manager at Naver G.

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