It’s All About the Data: Mobile Growth Through Programmatic User Acquisition with Tim McCloud from Adobe

Aug 14, 2017

Tim McCloud, Group Manager of Product Marketing Mobile Apps at Adobe, shares his philosophy on programmatic advertising and other best practices for User Acquisition.


Mobile Growth: Hey, I’m here with Tim McCloud from Adobe. He is the Group Manager of Product Marketing Mobile Apps. How are you doing, Tim?

Tim McCloud: I’m doing great, how are you?

Mobile Growth: I’m doing awesome! All right, so give us a little bit of perspective on your career. Would you mind telling us a little bit about your story, how you got to where you are now, and some of the things you’re doing now?

Tim McCloud: Sure, yeah, so this hopefully is easy…being in marketing, and having to talk about myself is always a real pain. I started in digital advertising at Discovery Communications about thirteen years ago. This is on the online advertising side, so I was doing online advertising sales, responsible for all of Discovery’s properties: discovery.com, Animal Planet, etc. I did that for about seven years, and then [2008]…everybody was pretty familiar with economic collapse and at that point, I switched.

So I went from Discovery to Universal; I actually joined a brand new kind of side agency called Cadreon, which, at the time, was kind of billed as the behavioral marketing agency, and we had Chrysler and Microsoft and Verizon as clients, and the interesting thing there was, and this is 2009, we were responsible for running primarily real-time bidding campaigns, as they were at the time, and so this was taking basically a platform, a DSP as they’re known now, and demand side platform. We worked exclusively with Turn at the time.

And then, also working with the clients on identifying their prospects, or the folks that they wanted us to acquire – and at the time, this is browser, this is desktop, before mobile, but we were bidding on exchanges. Google, Gadax was another one. And so it was really the first – for me, at least, it was the first time where I’ve gotten into a segment of marketing and advertising that was just highly sophisticated, and really based on machine learning as it is known today.

Then just to fast-forward, the last seven years, I went from the agency to then joining Kabam, which was hire number forty, so I joined Kabam really before there was mobile, we were doing games primarily on Facebook. Basically, hire number forty, first user acquisition manager and at the time again, this was 2009/2010, [my focus] was primarily Facebook and managing basically just a high volume installs via Facebook. And so, as a gamer, it was basically I’ve found paradise as far as my career was concerned, and amazing company culture.

And then we started to pivot outside of Facebook into browser and then also mobile. And then, at that point, I was being heavily recruited by Electronic Arts, EA. I joined EA as the Senior Manager of Product – Digital Project Marketing. And I was responsible for launching Battlefield 3, and also Need For Speed: The Run. So, again, this is digital focus, but still EA’s core at the time was just based console games. My role specifically was to build each of the franchise websites for those two titles, but also bring the pedals to market. So it was an amazing experience, and from that point on, we had mobile aspect of EA for Need For Speed. And so I started working on that team – I was kind of both working on the product team and then also what they called the ‘new media’ or the ‘mobile’ team.

Then after EA, two years, I went to a brand new social casino mobile game developer called Play Studios. This was Play Studios at the time. They did not have any titles, they had just formed the company. I joined the day that we launched a pretty well known title called ‘My Vegas’; My Vegas had basically launched on iOS and Android. And this was around 2011-2012, and mobile was still kind of maturing. There’s obviously games – Zynga and many, many different game developers, but there wasn’t the saturation that we see today as far as game developers go.

So basically, it was aggressively pushing both user acquisition and general mobile marketing for My Vegas. We grew to about 19 million DAU in about under ten months. So just to give you a perspective on that type of growth, it was a lot of paid acquisition, it was a lot of testing and inner rating. And then I hired a team, it went from just myself to a team of ten, which included buyers, analysts, and then creative. And really it was just the best example of the power in reach that mobile was kind of building.

I was there for about two years. We had just grew extremely rapidly, and I was then being contacted by Big Fish Games, because they saw that we were becoming competitors, and so I joined Big Fish, worked out of their Oakland studio. Obviously, Big Fish is based in Seattle. I was responsible as a Director of Marketing for Big Fish Casino. [This game was] the kind of the top grossing, and that fluctuated, obviously, but the time the top grossing game on iOS and Android.

So I was there and you know, Big Fish was interesting. They were at this period where they had grown substantially, and their user base was waiting for something else to come out. And I think that challenge for any developer is when to help users transition from your cash cow game into a new title. Do you re-skin, do you do something completely different? So I was a part of that, and it was an amazing experience, but I just ended up needing a break from gaming. So I joined a Brazilian based developer called Movile, who were at the beginning of the curve towards non-gaming apps.

So, being able to monetize on gaming apps, so I headed up Global Growth for the app called ‘PlayKids,’ which is a kids’ education, which is completely different from gaming. I did that for a year and then just have been consulting for about two years. [I’ve done] every category of app that you can imagine, I think the only categories I have not consulted for – app categories – would be I think magazines and health. Yeah, I have not done anything for health. So, every other category – entertainment, navigation, you know, obviously more gaming, education, family, music, and every category you can imagine, I’ve helped. Then I had an opportunity to join Adobe, who had had this resurgence of attention placed toward their mobile products, and I joined, and that was nine months ago. And it’s been an awesome whirlwind experience ever since. So that was probably thirteen years consolidated into a few minutes.

Mobile Growth: I know, right? Well, thank you for that rich history! That definitely gives the breadth of experience that you have. So now that you’re at Adobe, do you mind sharing some of the things you’re working on at Adobe, like primary responsibilities?

Tim McCloud: Sure, yeah – it’s a little bit different for me than before. My emphasis before was heavy on growth and analytics and user acquisition, whereas this role, I head up the Mobile Product Marketing strategy for the photo apps. And there’s five of them that are under my team’s purview, and that includes Light Room, Photoshop Express, Photoshop Mix, Photoshop Fix, and then an app that we called Avery that we launched through an acquisition of that developer. As you can imagine, those five apps drive a considerable amount of users and also installs. So the focus really is on bringing both the new features, new updates to the app, to market, as well as defining areas of growth, both for new users but also current users. So engagement and retention are a big part of this role. And then finally, establishing a relationship with users; for mobile developers now that is critically important, so that would include a push strategy, an in-app message strategy, email, multi-channel or omnichannel, that’s the latest buzzword. That’s a big part of it as well as to really amplify our relationship with users.

Mobile Growth: Awesome. All right, so let’s get into some marketing strategy and some tactics here. Do you mind giving us a few key differences between how you would acquire users for gaming versus non-gaming?

Tim McCloud: Sure! Part of this is obviously driven by resources, but if your approach to growth is acquiring millions of users, you have to decide how you define success. Or, is your approach going to be a couple hundred thousand DAU (Daily Active Users) who are actively engaged in multiple sessions on a daily basis? Or, is it heavily focused on monetizing your user base? The interesting difference is the contrast between gaming and non-gaming. In gaming, it’s typically been what’s termed as spray-and-pray, right? Gaming is so ubiquitous, everybody from a 75 year old down to 5 year olds are now gaming on their mobile devices. The reach there is just phenomenal, and part of the strategy on User Acquisition, particularly as it relates to paid acquisition, is acquiring a target audience you’re sure is the right fit for your game.

Then, segmenting those users after acquisition, post-install, into buckets. Just make sure they get through the funnel. It’s typical when you’re talking about 20 million DAU or 10 million DAU. Segmenting that scale of users is difficult. So, I think what the contrast is on the non-gaming side is it has been less about the scale. That is beginning to evolve. It’s now more about – because it’s typically non-gaming – it is a segmented product or it’s a specific product. I mean, Adobe’s the perfect example. It may not be the perfect example, because obviously everybody takes photos now that we have these amazingly capable cameras on our phones, but for many other categories, it is niche, right? It serves a purpose, if it’s education, or if it’s GPS, like navigation – I want something better than Apple Maps or Google Maps, and I want to use maybe GPS and geofencing to track my kids, right? And so that’s one of the apps that I worked on called Life 360. It’s much less about scale, and it’s much more about just really an active and high-quality user base.

As far as creative, we need to match the intensity of the game design, which everybody is aware of – particularly with the last few years, has really caught up to what’s possible technically on a mobile device. So for even a social casino app, my focus was to really step up our creative, and spend a considerable amount of money to develop trailers. And everybody’s familiar with SuperCell and the multi-millions of dollars that they’ve spent on the L.A. video design and video producers, to create these high impact and super rich trailers. And it works, right? So I can track the ROI on that spend, and that’s where another contrast there is the focus on creative, on just super rich imagery, and video, on the gaming side. Whereas on the non-gaming side, does it capture an audience? Of course it does, but what captures an audience even more is, what is the benefit? What is that Unique Value Proposition, that it’s going to – that is actually going to help me in my life? If it’s a utility app or again, a GPS app, I don’t care that you have flashy creative, I want to know exactly the 3 things that it’s going to help me in my life. And that’s the key differentiator.

Mobile Growth: Awesome. Let’s see, are there any best practices that you’d recommend to a gaming company when buying programmatically?

Tim McCloud: Yes. So the first is to always start with the data. Data is a widely used term, but User Data that you have at your disposal. So this is internal, this is first-party. The first thing is to map that out, because that is ultimately what could make programmatic campaigns much more effective. So I always start there; I start with, let’s do an audit on what we’re capturing on both an aggregate or a cohort level, but also a User ID level, etc. That’s the first step, and then best practice step two is going to be to really understand who you’re attempting to reach. Like, what are your KPIs relative to programmatic? It cannot be the same as your other User Acquisition strategies, because A., it’s going to be much more expensive, if you don’t go in to programmatic knowing who you’re trying to acquire. I think sometimes there are certain approaches where people have taken on a programmatic test. Let me just set-up some basic parameters and let the algorithm tell me. I’ve never seen that work out. I mean, maybe ultimately it does, by month ten, and you’ve spent $200,000 to let the algorithm learn…but the recommendation there is to have the data mapping, the second is to understand the user you’re trying to acquire.

And then really, what’s the most you’re willing to pay for that user? If you start doing a predictive LTV, you would have a number of what you expect maybe a potential segment’s going to pay or spend in your app, and on gaming it’s easy, because you can, because of just the nature of Monetization in gaming. Most gaming where is IP, and it’s virtual currency or it’s “Lives” or whatever that kind of virtual side of it, it’s all still transaction-based, right? And so it’s relatively easy on the gaming side for progammatic because it’s always going to be, find me a user, leveraging the data that I’ve identified, and the targeting or the persona that I’ve identified, go find me this same user, and then after you do that and we’ve seen that my direction is accurate, and your algorithm, if you’re working with a DSP or with a programmatic partner, that your algorithm is effective. So this combination, now that we’ve proven it, let’s go – let’s just dial it up, you know, and go find every single other person, we can say Whale in this instance, is very likely to spend, and spend frequently, and throughout their lifetime; and so on the best practices on the gaming side: progammatic.

Mobile Growth: Awesome! And likewise, are there any different best practices that you recommend for non-gaming, as opposed to the gaming? Do you think of any specific non-gaming best practices when buying programmatic advertising?

Tim McCloud: It’s a little tough, currently, on the non-gaming side, because it isn’t a scale approach. We know that unless you’re Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat, you will already be starting with a somewhat limited audience. So, that’s where it is more costly for the non-gaming side of programmatic, and it’s because the pool of available installs is decreased. It gets more expensive as you become more niche. You know, again, I use the example of an app called Life 360. Their product is basically leveraging your GPS satellite, geofencing, and some integrations with location-based SDKs to allow parents to find, to keep track of their kids. You know, an amazing concept, I think the product is compelling. But, at the end of the day, your pool is limited to parents, maybe grandparents, in some cases. And then maybe kids who are driving, right? So, you know, 16-18, that’s where programmatic is still valuable. It takes longer to prove the ROI, and you’ve got to be much more confident in your targeting, because you’re not going to have the resources, both financially or the time to learn, whereas on the gaming side, you do have a little more flexibility there.

Mobile Growth: So when it comes to buying programmatic, regardless of whether it’s gaming or non-gaming, is there a certain split testing strategy that you have, do you do extensive split testing? Or do you kinda spray and pray and see what the results are from there and then refine, and if so, what’s your split testing strategy like?

Tim McCloud: Yes, this is a great question. I think most developers of gaming or not gaming are still kind of figuring out how to really scale their testing methodology or infrastructure. So I think with those limitations, those realistic limitations, it’s always best to at least, if you’re starting programmatic for the first time, you keep it as broad as possible. Again, this is going to be contradictory for the non-gaming folks, but starting it on both sides, you don’t want to be as restrictive. Like, in gaming or non-gaming, I think you start with some direction, and then the programmatic UA will kind of backfill. That spray and pray, based on the app and the category again, is going to be the approach to take when you’re first starting programmatic, and then once you have an idea of segments, you start to create LTD, you get a sense of some of the key metrics that you’re looking for relative to programmatic. Then you start to do split-testing, AB testing, multi variant testing, to really get a feel for A., what’s the journey of the user coming in programmatically going to take, and what is the quickest path to monetization.

Also, the nice thing about programmatic, and this is kind of an added value or side-benefit. I mean, you pay for it, but it does allow you to really learn a lot about your users. And again, with mobile, there’s still some limitations around demographics, for example, unless you have social science on Facebook integration. Unless you’re doing surveys or…the understanding of your user profile is difficult. So, programmatic, while this is not the intended, and I would never recommend this as the primary use, it does allow you, because of the data piece, because of the first party and the third party data, into a DMP (Data Management Platform), it allows you to get much more visibility onto the users that you do want, or that do resonate, or that do spend. And the ones you don’t, and you can arrive at that conclusion relatively quickly and much quicker than you would if you were trying to do that directly or internally.

Mobile Growth: Awesome! So, when you do your split-test strategy, do you work usually with an agency or work directly, or do you have your own team that will kind of guide that split-testing strategy and analysis, what’s your process for that?

Tim McCloud: Yeah, I’ve done both ways, it really just depends on the specification of your agency or your DSP. Again, demand-side platform. I think most of the kind of the major programmatic offerings and partners in a day will have information and they’ll have context based on their other campaigns and clients, anonymously obviously. But in gaming, it’s good, because for every programmatic offering, they’re going to have probably 80% of their clients, are going to be gaming, and then 20% are going to be non-gaming. So on the gaming side, it’s a little bit easier to really leverage that knowledge that the partner brings. And they’re not sharing it – they’re not sharing specifics. People always freak out if, you know, oh my gosh, they’re sharing my [information]- on the campaign performance, they obviously are on an aggregate basis, but they can layer that best practices on split testing. I think in most cases, I’ve found that relying on your partner to help guide you there. However, unless you have this extremely robust post-back or past-back – and just for clarity, post-back is obviously with mobile, is the app developer sending anonymously batched event data back to the platform, programmatic platform, or through their attribution platform, which allows the algorithm – programmatic algorithm to be so much more intelligent and also will then allow you to layer on re-targeting, but also lookalike. You can basically start building your own internal lookalike audiences, which, with Facebook, is kind of how they can charge what they charge. So just to recap, if you’re just starting, definitely leverage your programmatic partner; once you start to get a little bit more comfortable, then you start to take on some of that testing on your own, and reason why that does become important is because there are going to be times where you control that path, or that journey that the user is taking.

The partner’s not going to be able to do that. So you actually have to set it up on the back end, or through a vendor like a Leanplum or any other kind of A/B testing vendor, where you actually will be able to split-test the programmatic acquired user into a journey, or into a flow, and on-boarding through your app. And that’s where things get very interesting, because there’s been instances where, once I get to that point, I will re-allocate resources, funding, etc. budgets, towards those efforts, because they are so effective.

Mobile Growth: I have one more question: we’re going to talk about real-time bidding just to close the loop on all of the programmatic questions, and thank you for all the amazing information and for your time, this is super helpful to a lot of people, I’m sure. So, any specific differences between the typical RTB (Real-Time Bidding) and browser/desktop, and mobile RTB/Programmatic?

Tim McCloud: Yes! So as the programmatic space continues to evolve, there are more opportunities to layer on data. In this instance I’m referring to third-party data. I mentioned before that where data became really powerful was with real-time bidding, nine, ten years ago, when it came to the market for browser, desktop browser, really where this became interesting and really where real-time bidding paid for itself within, in some cases, a matter of days, or in some cases a matter of hours, is leveraging third party data. And so again, just for definition clarity: First party data is everything that you’re capturing on your own. Third party data, which is managed via a DMP or DSP, there’s a kind of blurring of the lines between those two now because DSP will offer data, but this is really where you leverage third party data to understand your mobile users much better. And also, if you think about buying habits, right? So let’s say the Walmart app, or Ibotta, and the Amazon app…if you have external purchase data, that is where Amazon has cornered the market I think on personalization. And I think it’s because they obviously have their own internal data that they’re evaluating your buying habits; but my guess, and this is just an assumption, is that they’re purchasing data from third party vendors.

There are many vendors, some that many folks wouldn’t even think is selling their data, but they are, but some of the kind of common ones would be like…Aggregate Knowledge. There’s many different data sources. So that’s where, on mobile, we haven’t gotten to that level yet, at least not that I’m aware of. We haven’t been able to, on a user level, really layer on that purchase; previous purchasing data and travel is another perfect example. If we had a chance to layer on some of the places that a user has been, or has traveled to. Think of Hotels Tonight or Travelocity, how much more relevant their recommendations could be. So I think that’s where the primary difference is just the data. I’m not at all concerned with us getting there on mobile…it’s just a matter of when.

Mobile Growth: Thank you for your time, Tim!

Tim McCloud: Sounds great! Thanks a lot, Louis!