December 13th, 2019

2019 Mobile Champions Year in Review: Valuable Insights From Industry Leaders

Mobile Champions 2019 Year Review Website


It’s easy to forget that mobile advertising is still a relatively young industry when it’s grown so much in the last few years. The mobile market is evolving quickly, and smart advertisers are constantly finding creative new ways to engage with consumers. To help ensure we’re always at the forefront of the latest innovations in mobile ads, we created the Mobile Champions series, which was designed to gather insight from industry leaders.

Over the past year, we’ve talked to over a dozen pros about mobile gaming, advertising, user acquisition, and more. From VPs and CEOs to research and monetization experts, their varied points of view and backgrounds have provided a plethora of useful information about the present and future of mobile advertising. It was hard to narrow down a year’s worth of valuable conversations, but we’ve found four key takeaways from 2019’s Mobile Champions series.

What we learned:

Data is King

One of the biggest changes in mobile advertising is the increasingly important role that data plays. As Tom Tran, Senior Sales Engineer at Adjust, told us, today’s marketers put data first, choosing to look at the numbers before relying on gut instinct.

“Marketers today have an unquenchable thirst for data to drive their decisions. No longer do the most sophisticated marketers rely on their gut instinct and look at bottom-line numbers such as clicks or total installs to analyze their performance. The best and most successful marketers I see tend to have a need to back all results with data.” – Tom Tran, Senior Sales Engineer, Adjust

This sentiment was reiterated by Alessandra Sales, VP of Growth at IPSY. When asked about best practices for advertisers, she highlighted the importance of a robust data infrastructure. In IPSY’s case, making full use of data means rigorous A/B testing, largely on Facebook and Instagram; other companies are focused on building automated tools to help collect this all-important data.

“Make sure that you have a robust data infrastructure to make the right decisions.” – Alessandra Sales, VP of Growth, Ipsy

As the COO and co-founder of Singular, Susan Kuo has established an entire company focused on collecting, analyzing, and simplifying marketing data. At the time that Singular started, no one had created solutions to support standardized data governance. Her company arose to fill that need. According to Kuo, “over 50% of the top 100 global app publishers use Singular,” showing the need for — and importance of — standardized data analysis.

“No one in the industry was taking ownership to connect marketing channels and attribution solutions in a way that supported standardized data governance.” – Susan Kuo, COO & Co-founder, Singular

The ways in which marketers use data have also changed dramatically in the age of big data. “The data collection and analytics process has absolutely evolved,” Hothead Games’ Director of Research and Monetization Kenneth Wong revealed.

“At first, data was primarily used to improve UA and understand the attribution cycle. Now we need it to get the CPI as low as possible, calculate engagement rates, measure the payback window, optimize ad placements, and more. If nothing else, game developers need to get sophisticated about data because the competition will overwhelm them otherwise.” – Kenneth Wong, Director of Research & Monetization, Hothead Games

Mobile Engagement is a Long Game

When it comes to free-to-play, ad-supported mobile games, keeping players around is key to financial success. Sure, a new hit might rank on app store charts at launch, but it can still fizzle out rather quickly without the right support. That’s why mobile developers should be focused on strategies that will continuously entertain players, fostering long-term engagement.

As Director of UA Marketing at mobile game studio FoxNext, Vivek Gorotra knows this well. His team focuses on the long game when it comes to retention. In his case, that means keeping a close eye on retention and regularity stats, as well as “constantly testing different partners, buying models, optimization strategies, and creative formats to figure out what is going to get us the best bang for our buck.”

“We want players to stick around in the game for years together; so our focus is always on the long-term when it comes to making decisions regarding growth and engagement.” – Vivek Gorotra, Director of UA Marketing, FoxNext

For Gabrielle Heyman, Head of Global Ad Sales at mobile giant Zynga, this kind of long-term retention comes from keeping players at the core of everything they do. “Our mission is to connect the world through the power of play,” she said. To align with this mission, her team puts “play” front-and-center, even in their mobile ad experiences.

“Our best practices focus on connection and engagement; most of our features, as well as many of our ad experiences, revolve around that.” – Gabrielle Heyman, Head of Global Ad Sales, Zynga

Mobile game developer Big Blue Bubble is a master of player retention; one of its most popular apps has been going strong for seven years, an eon in the mobile games industry. Senior VP Bryan Davis thinks it all comes down to fun. As a result, Big Blue Bubble is constantly revisiting the user experience, “look[ing] at each update as an opportunity to optimize and improve the experience for new and existing players.”

“Retention is a byproduct of making sure our users are having fun. At the end of the day, that fun factor is what keeps them coming back. Choosing the right monetization partner to enable as much gameplay as possible is a major part of that equation.” – Bryan Davis, Senior VP, Big Blue Bubble

As a co-founder of legendary UK miniatures company Games Workshop and Director at Sumo Group, Ian Livingstone knows a thing or two about games. He’s seen decades of evolution in gaming, from the pen-and-paper adventures of old-school Dungeons & Dragons to the digital wonders of today.

“It’s fascinating that we can play games for free and yet creators can still earn revenue from their games…However, free-to-play does not mean free-of-value. If you do not give players value, they will leave, even if the game is free.” – Ian Livingston, Director, Sumo Group PLC

The Future is Female

Corporate leadership has historically been male-dominated. This has always been especially true in the technology sector and, by extension, the ad tech industry. But as several of our mobile champions have highlighted, those demographics are shifting. Just ask Susan Borst, VP of Mobile at the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB). As she explained, “For the IAB Game Committee that I’ve led for the past five years or so, the committee leadership has, in fact, been dominated by women in senior leadership positions.”  Her advice to women in the industry? Be confident — but be yourself.

“When I think back to the most effective women I’ve had the pleasure to work with, one perhaps surprising trait come to mind which is that they are all real. By this, I mean, they lead the way while showing their true selves…Being real inspires trust and with trust comes results and respect.” – Susan Borst, VP of Mobile, Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB)

Ngozi Ogbonna is the Senior Director of User Acquisition at Fairygodboss, which provides career connections and professional advice to an ever-growing network of women. According to Ogbonna, companies in the US are paying a lot more attention to gender equality these days, which is encouraging the shift. With conversations about gender parity and diversity “dominating the zeitgeist,” women are feeling more empowered in the workplace, and this is especially visible throughout the formerly male-dominated mobile industry.

“We’re seeing the desire for meaningful diversity and inclusion initiatives across a myriad of industries and company sizes…There have ben tons of independent studies confirming that diverse teams and organizations are more profitable and successful.” – Ngozi Ogbonna, Senior Director of User Acquisition, Fairygodboss

Mobile Marketing Challenges Require Modern Solutions

As technology evolves at a breakneck pace, the rules of mobile marketing change with it. Best practices from five years ago likely wouldn’t make much of an impact today, and keeping up with it all can be dizzying. Leaders in the mobile space are making their own rules, and our Mobile Champions shared some creative solutions to modern marketing challenges.

For FoxNext, that means building a single intuitive platform that user acquisition pros can use to manage a variety of campaigns. As UA Tech Lead Dave Riggs explained, these platforms exist to help media buyers save time, allowing them to be more creative and strategic as a result.

“We’re largely focused on saving media buyers’ time and enabling them to use energy on higher-level functions, e.g. creative and strategy…We tend to hire a lot more on the engineering and technical side because we believe much of UA optimization can be automated.” – Dave Riggs, UA Tech Lead, FoxNext

Mobile fraud is a major issue for publishers and marketers, and one that Adjust’s Head of Fraud Andreas Naumann is working on every day. According to him, advertisers’ awareness of mobile fraud has risen dramatically in the last three years, but it still occurs at an alarming rate. And he should know — Adjust is a leader in fraud prevention.

“The last evolution we have seen is the spoofing of installs and events. Fraudsters are exploiting the communication structure the ad tech world is based upon.” – Andreas Naumann, Head of Fraud, Adjust

“Our approach from the start has been to identify the most granular data point that allows us to identify a fraud scheme,” Naumann explained. “We utilize that data to make a deterministic decision that we can use to deny attribution of fraudulent installs or of legitimate installs to fraudulent sources.” According to Naumann, this cuts the cash flow to fraudsters without forcing advertisers to have to negotiate reimbursements, which is still a rare achievement in the anti-fraud space.

Though the industry is constantly changing, leaders like the ones featured in our series are constantly creating innovative new ways to connect, engage, and entertain. We’d like to thank all of our 2019 Mobile Champions for their invaluable insights into the wild world of mobile marketing. Stay tuned for more in 2020!

For more information about all things mobile advertising — or to start your own campaign — reach out to the experts at Tapjoy today.

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