Launching and Repositioning Your App with SmartNews’ Fabien-Pierre Nicolas

Jun 19, 2017

In this episode, Fabien-Pierre Nicolas the Head of Growth / Marketing at SmartNews walks through the key steps needed to launch an app. He also shares important UA KPIs to pay attention to once your app is launched. The interview also covers tips on how to reposition existing apps.


Mobile Growth: Hey, we’re here with Fabien Nicolas, he is the head of marketing in the US for SmartNews. How ya doin’ today, Fabien?

Fabien: I’m doing great, thanks, Louis!

Mobile Growth: Awesome! So, let’s get right into it by – if you don’t mind giving us a quick career path, which led you to become the head of marketing for – in the US for SmartNews, that’d be awesome.

Fabien: Of course! So, in a nutshell, I spent about ten years in gaming, very passionate about games, and marketed for about five years, mobile games. Took a few games from number one top grossing in the US. And I think after ten years in gaming, I was like, well, it’s about time to get serious, you’re getting, you know, in your thirties, and I joined App Annie and a big love for tools and data, and I think it was really exciting to build a B2C team in a B2B company.

Fabien (cont’d): But at the end of the day, my work need to be all about passion and beyond games, my second passion have always been politics and news. And you know, the public debates. And essentially, SmartNews is really here to provide – at first, in Japan, and now in the US, news that you need to make efficient decision, either in your business or in politics, in a hard bit. And I think at core, I just love the product, I love the space, and that’s why I essentially joined SmartNews.

Mobile Growth: Great, so it’s smart news, not fake news!

Fabien: Exactly!

Mobile Growth: All right, so we’re gonna split the first part of the conversation into two sections, first, for new app launches and then the second for re-positioning of existing apps, okay?

Fabien: Yep.

Mobile Growth: So, diving right in, what would you say are some of the key steps one can take to release an app in a specific market, let’s say, the United States?

Fabien: So I think the – the very first step you – I do recommend, you know, because you may not have a pay subscription to a market that’s a company, is really trying to understand your company’s audience ahead of your launch, and for that, my favorite tool that I’m using is Facebook analytics, and mostly Facebook audience profile, which although usage is going there, which is integrated with a tool to traffic new Facebook ads, and look at the age, gender, or psychographics of competitions. So, this way you could truly take a look at the market and be like, okay, this is how my different company turns to acquisition, the type of audience that’s attracted. And therefore you can see if there is any gaps for your apps, right? Once you have done this first step, I will say a second step is taking a look at an ASO provider. You could use the free, you know, Apple search, or you could as well take a look at using a [inaudible] or you know, a lot of those vendors, and essentially try to understand what people are looking for, what they’re searching, right, in your category.

Fabien (cont’d): Because that will give you a map of the real pinpoints users have, that might not be answered at this time. Otherwise, they will just search for an app name. And finally, and I think it’s the third step when you’re trying to launch, especially in the market as competitive as the US, after looking at Facebook analytics to have an understanding of your competition and the search terms, it’s really defining very well the age, gender, location, habits, what other apps might they be using, that your app is providing, and essentially map the features you have against an actual user benefits. And so, when you are gonna launch your app in the US market, instead of saying, oh, I featured A, B, C, D, E, you’re like, this is the three problems I will solve for you, as a user. And I think, if you it benefits specifically your user, and benefits you for them, that’s gonna be really helpful to essentially optimize your clickthrough rate, your conversion rates, so ultimately, your acquisition costs on the paid side. But that’s just drawing the right user in, let them [inaudible] in and monetize better, simply because they understand what your app stands for.

Mobile Growth: That’s awesome. So you’re getting a higher quality user once you define them better and reach out to them.

Fabien: Yeah.

Mobile Growth: Which UA channels do you feel work most efficiently these days when you’re launching that new app?

Fabien: So, you know, beyond Facebook, ’cause like it’s a no-brainer, but of course there’s a lot of friction and demand on the Facebook side, I will tend to say, if you’re a new app launching in the markets, going what I call most like the Big Four, on the video side, will probably be a safe bet. So, Fun Goal, Ad Colony, Unity Ads, and [inaudible], at this point, should provide you, if you give them a good quality video, a walkway stem on a good quality video, should provide you with the type of users that truly engage with your app. You have to do a little bit of work, right? Every week, you weed out some of their publishers, you keep some of the rest, so there is a necessary approach to achieve a good level of quality, but I will say they’re at the very top of my list, those four guys. And after that, I will say the second post-Facebook, post-video players, I will say really consider the type of audience you’re going after, and then they might be present on all of the emerging social player, and that could be either Snapchat, if you’re going after, you know, the fifteen to twenty-five, that could be, if you’re going after women, Pinterest.

Fabien (cont’d): Those guys are definitely like trying to refine their mobile app and sub-products, so it’s not that it’s advanced as Facebook, but there is less demand as well, so I do generally think it’s – it’s worth testing. And from my experience, you know, search them to be top of mind for a lot of people coming from web into mobile. I am seeing people dedicating a lot of time and the user quality’s okay, but you spend a lot of time to get essentially not much volume, so I will at least consider testing search, if you’re launching your app, but don’t necessarily rely on it as like a big channel ad scale.

Mobile Growth: Awesome. A little follow-up there, since – since some startup apps might be a little cash-strapped, how do you suggest that they get that high quality of video created? Do they hire an agency, do they do it in-house, or other?

Fabien: Yeah. So I think, the first step is most of the players I mentioned, I think there might be one exception, but at least I know and Fun Goal do provide creative support. Of course, that’s again, a specific amount of spend, right, that you commit to in your original in-search order. So you should be able to get some creative support from them. The other option that I would recommend that have been known to provide really high quality creative for comparatively relatively modest cost is called ‘AppTamin,’ APPTAMIN, and I’ve worked with them like twice in the past, a really solid team, and they have kind of templatized a format that allows them to turn around more quickly but more importantly with a higher level of quality and lower cost app trailers. They kind of figured out how to make that more of a process, and I guess starting at a slightly lower cost, but I mean, I’m biased in this regard.

Mobile Growth: Awesome. And I guess they can also call Circle Marketing, too, if they wanna check us out.

Fabien: Or even Fiver. You know, Fiver has been – I have a friend who just like had a project in Fiver, on the video side, and paid two hundred dollars and got a really solid trailer out of it from a – a guy I think in Vietnam. So, you know, if it’s a really simple project, you could even experiment in this regard.

Mobile Growth: Well, if I’ll insert myself on that one, I’ll say, you know, try to go the other ways before you go to Fiver, ’cause you don’t know what you’re gonna get there. Okay, so, moving on: What are the most important UA KPIs you attract to gauge success during those beginning stages of growth?

Fabien: So I think, you know, of course the ultimate way you wanna buy users is return on ads spent, or ROI, depending on your company approach, whether they want profitability or whether they’re okay with taking a little bit of a hit. But you know, at first, when you’re really trying to launch your app in a new market, I will say you may want to select things that are a little bit more short-term, and by that, I mean the cost per new unit user, the cost per day one return user, the cost per day seven, cost per day fourteen, might be already a great measure, if your app is of some level of – of retention, a great measure of success, what you could start on the partner, right? If a user, by nature, return after the first day, if you see a channel where 80% of the users are turning after the first day, or some publishers, there is a very high chance it won’t be a profitable channel. So, I think it might be a good idea when you see a cost per day one return user through the roof, just turn off this specific sub-publisher or this specific channel. And you know, I will always say do not give only one KPI to your ad network, because you are making the fraud for their partner, which happens, very easy.

Fabien: If you say I want user that’s reading three days or seven days, or I just want user that do, you know, a first time event in my app, you are telling them essentially what to do, and then they could just like build a boat around it and you know, I’ve – a bunch of users just come in, do the specific action you require, or specific retention, and then drop out. So do not rely on only one KPI. And I will say that that’s probably the shorter retention will be probably the one you really wanna select early on.

Mobile Growth: Awesome. All right, now, so let’s pivot to existing apps, which need a boost. If you’re gonna re-position an app, so kinda same questions, but from a different perspective, if you are re-positioning an app, what – and you were the head of growth at a publisher, what steps would you take then?

Fabien: So, I think this is – this is a great question, and I’m going through the process as we speak, so especially relevant, right? And did that a few times before. I think it’s very important from my perspective to start by first assessing what the key issues are. Is it that you’re mostly experiencing low clickthrough rates in your creatives, or do you have a conversion rate issue? Or is it like a day one retention issue, and therefore might be an onboarding issue? So you need to understand which metrics is – is truly broken currently, because you know, you don’t want to spend too much time and energy trying to fix something that’s not deeply broken. After that, and – pretty often, you know, conversion rate is – is one metric that might be an issue. I will say of course, for example, screenshots tend to be relatively low in term of production resources, but could have a pretty high conversion rate impact. Could be like 20-30% left, on iOS, they read less on Android.

Fabien (cont’d): And therefore, you could be like, okay, let’s go for screenshots. From my experience, starting once you have established clearly the type of user you are going after in your competition, starting with the icon, might still be a better idea, especially when you’re in a company where you’re new, because you tend to act as a creative anchor points, and as well as something that everybody in the company could relate to. So, showing them what you could do in this regard, and then testing with the customer and getting results right, before making a decision I think is potentially a big upside, because you get really good visibility. Of course, there is a higher risk that some people will get conservative about it, but at least you will expose that early on, rather than do a bunch of work, bunch of tests, and then finally people don’t buy in what your vision is, to reach the target audience. So I will say, icon first, then screenshots, and finally I think, you know, app name is still very interesting. I’ll tend to say app trailer, because it’s often a hit or a miss in term of the conversion rate impact, you may wanna keep that for a little bit later on, in term of your app re-positioning. You know, I’ve really seen it go both ways, where it impact very positively, but as well very negatively the conversion rate, despite some good timing that’s spent in resource investment in it. So that’s why I tend generally not to put it in the high priority lists.

Mobile Growth: Awesome. Putting the perspective keywords in the name, do you think that that helps, or these days, it doesn’t really matter, ’cause there are so many other points in the algorithm?

Fabien: I think there is still an impact both – mostly on iOS, to a lesser extent than Android, but there’s still some – some impact. I think the one thing to stay away from is – is really obvious, like your stuffing that used to be really a pretty strong way to go on iOS. I think you wanna focus more on the quality and trying to own, you know, one or two key terms, and include those in – in your name. But you know, definitely still important to consider, but learn to focus on – on fewer key terms and really assess which one have the strongest volume and which one fits with what your app provides, versus before, what was a lot more selecting the top five or six that add the highest volume and just stuffing your name, and stuffing your description with it.

Mobile Growth: So if you have an SEO department or group or person, then I say you get with them, ’cause it sounds like it’s pretty much the same best practices, or similar.

Fabien: Yeah, I think I mean, you know, having – having a good understanding of what you’re doing on the SEM side, right, and for example, the search volume you are seeing in Apple and so on and delivering that on the SEO side is definitely key. So, yeah, you know, you definitely want either the same person to do both or at least them to be really close, in sync.

Mobile Growth: Are there different important UA KPI’s that you attract to gauge success during the initial stages of the re-positioning of an app that might differ from new release?

Fabien: Well, if you have an existing app, I will say, you know, I’m in this boat, you are very likely to have an existing retention per channel, monetization per channel, therefore you have an understanding of your life and value per channel. So I think trying to look, if let’s say, channel Facebook was -10% in profitability, right, on the return on ad spend, trying to see if essentially your re-positioning is taking this channel from -10% to, you know, positive, would probably be the best way to assess if you are being successful, right? Either the clickthrough, the conversion rate, and you know, therefore, your company to bid less if your team has any of those two metrics. Or of course, the early user retention. So I will say that’s – that’s probably gonna be the key guidance. For the rest, I will say the sub-sequence type of metrics I will use beyond, you know, beyond essentially impacting directly the funnel and therefore the ROI on the campaign, will be probably looking at the user review and the composition of the – the userbase, right? Using Facebook analytics again.

Fabien (contd): It’s essentially a userbase heading in the – the right direction from an age, gender, psychographics perspective, and you’re seeing a better mix of positive to negative reviews. Your average review score trending up, which means you know, essentially people are more satisfied with the app experience, which means you’re attracting more the right type of users. So that probably will the two – two sets of, you know, one, quantitative and one purely quantitative of metrics I will consider to see if the re-positioning is successful or not.

Mobile Growth: Are there certain UA channels that you’d stay away from, for app launches versus re-positionings or vice versa? Or are there certain UA channels you would recommend for either an app launch or a re-position?

Fabien: I mean, I think the – it all depends how your – your marketing tech stack is built and, um, how deep of an understanding does your exec team have as well of those different channels. I would tend to say like even if you go for incentivized channel, whether it’s of course incentivized as video viewing, that don’t incentivize in-style or actual incentivizing style. Where, you know, you could still be successful there as long as you’re capable of separating the metrics from the organic users from the paid users and from those incentivized users to have a clear picture of your retention pattern

Fabien (cont): I think the key risk I’ve seen is sometimes people do blended retention, right? They just take users from everywhere and if you have an incentivized traffic in this case, that [inaudible] your read on the lifetime value of your users, because you are seeing less amount of [inaudible] day one, and your product team may think that it’s about the product itself, whereas it’s just about the type of acquisition you’re running.

Mobile Growth: Awesome. When looking into a deep-dive on your user audience, using Facebook analytics, what are some of the demographics or psychographics or metrics that you’re looking at to kinda get a clear picture of who, exactly, you’re marketing to?

Fabien: So I think the – the first aspect, you know, when you’re on Facebook analytics is you could essentially segment in different layers. I will always recommend to first stop by country, right, and look at the big two or three countries that you’re in, and not necessarily look at the – the worldwide audience. What may happen, especially if your app is popular in some lower activity market is just you’re not looking at the – at the pictures of the markets, where the money is coming from, you’re just looking at the – the, you know, the global footprints that your app has. So I will say just segment per country, should be – should be key. The other aspect typically that I’d introduce – if you wanna look at the psychographics and really understand the other apps or page or – or even the location they are in, I would tend to as well segment per gender. So I tend to do country first, and then in a specific country, look at male versus female audience. So, you know, this way you could really differentiate things that are more like gender specific, but not necessarily truly linked to your app, versus things that are being shared by male and the female users, let’s say, in the US, of your app.

Fabien (cont’d): So that’s usually my – my goal to process, and of course, you’ll always need to assess that the sample size is sufficient, right? There are some countries where Facebook is still not covering 85-90% of the population, like in the US. Japan is one of them. So they’re missing a lot of your older demographics above 45-50, and not add the Facebook app installed on their phone, which means that that data is not being captured by Facebook. So you need to be aware of those specific bias in some markets.

Mobile Growth: Would you run a split ad-spends for each audience, and if so, how many splits would you run for an average campaign?

Fabien: I will say it’s probably a function of – of the budget. But yes, I would recommend clearly to run split testing. I’ve really run campaigns where the different age group and gender and sometimes psychographics have been equivalent in the amount of retention and – and monetization. So, you know, essentially life testing your hypothesis from the age, gender, and psychographics targeting, and having a clear mapping of what is the acquisition, what is the retention for each of those audience types seems key.

Fabien (contd): And of course, my key recommendation for the Facebook platform especially, you have to do a weekly creative refresh. So because you don’t have a limited capacity to generate creative, understanding pretty quickly, which age, gender, and psychographics work really well for you and could be scaled. Means that you could focus your creative production on those buckets of users.

Mobile Growth: Okay, awesome. We could probably do a whole deep-dive with you on that, so maybe we’ll do another podcast specifically about creative UA. Let’s see… What is the easiest way to get the greatest understanding of who your audience is?

Fabien: I think, you know, the first – first and foremost, you have – I mean, from my perspective, even before the deep dive in Facebook, especially if you join a new company, they are very likely to have had some sort of focus group or user testing, but if it’s not the case, you go on, spend a couple – well, maybe a thousand dollars – and get a sample of thirty, forty, fifty users to use your app, and get those videos and look at them, because this is, you know, a great way – especially if you think, you know, the audience, which you’re not 100% sure, and if no one internally is – truly this person who had been running focus group was like an expert of who those users are, I will say it’s a great thirty.

Fabien (cont’d): Of course, it’s pre-supposed that you have some sort of audience already. If not, my other advice – and especially if you have a careful idea of the market you wanna go after, immerse yourself in their events. And a good example is, when I was trying to launch, you know, Rage of Bahamut, went up making it number on top goals, platform, I immersed myself in a bunch of anime convention to really understand what the anime men got users where about, because to be honest, I just had a very external perspective, and by going there, connecting, spending time around the different booths that they were interacting with, I felt a built a way better understanding of – of this audience, that I was able to leverage in the marketing later on.

Mobile Growth: Awesome. What was that app again, that you just mentioned, that you just said you just worked on?

Fabien: Yeah, Rage of Bahamut. You know, not – not – we were not able to change the name because it was a third party app, but we were able to re-brand all the rest, like change the logo, screenshots, just re-position the app for – for the US audience.

Mobile Growth: Oh, great. What, in your experience, has been the most effective paid strategy to grow your UA quickly?

Fabien: I think the most efficient paid strategy is stay focused on maybe you know, six to eight channels and really try to optimize those channels, especially in term of sub-publisher IDs when we’re dealing with the video network, or the different buckets of users and the lookalike campaign and the new audience you are trying to acquire on the Facebook side. I think I’ve seen a lot of more generic UA manager that tend to go with twenty, thirty partners without necessarily having the tool sets or the bandwidth to really truly optimize this channel.

Fabien (contd): So they – they do tests, tests, tests over tests, but they don’t take really the time to walk with the partner a few weeks to really see in which direction it’s turning. So limit your set of channels that you are running at once, will probably be, one, very good advice to have an efficient paid strategy, and the other one would probably be I think of the beginning, ask yourself the question and ask you to really select efficient attribution partner, efficient cost-integration partner, so that you could spend your time progressing more on the strategy and optimization and less assembling metrics together.

Mobile Growth: Similarly, what has been the most efficient, organic strategy. Say like you don’t have a huge paid budget, go for that.

Fabien: Well, I mean the most efficient remains like make sure your app gets featured on the platform, right? It – the impact has been diminishing, both on the Google side because they do a lot of personalization and Apple side essentially, just in general, a lot of those users have already been exposed to a lot of apps they care about, in many categories. But it’s still essentially the best bang for your buck if you have a high-quality app.

Fabien (contd): Now, let’s say you have more of a product, or you’re late to the game, I will say that spending a good amount of time researching your – your search strategy will probably be my second go-to solution unless, of course, you have the luxury to monopolize an economy, with a credit system and code. Then in this case, some of the growth hacking that has been done around, friend invites, and finding the right level of reward that makes people moving, will be pretty powerful as well.

Mobile Growth: So now that Google’s indexing more direct install links on their search engine results page, would you recommend doing a lot more content marketing and things like that to help boost some SEO to lead over to more organic app installs?

Fabien: So, I think it all depends on what your timeline of growth is, right? In my experience, content marketing tend to have – you take a little bit longer to warm up and really to see results. So in the situation where it’s for software that doesn’t have a long budget or necessarily like a lot of cash at hand, investing heavily in content marketing seems to be a risky game.

Fabien (cont): But of course, if you’re like a bigger brand, let’s say if you’re Yelp, right? You have already like a big footprint and a website, preserving that and leveraging that into the mobile age definitely seems like to be a no-brainer, and of course you want to – instead of having people view the mobile web experience, you just wanna funnel them through your app as quickly as you can, directly to the result we care about, but the same time, not in a web experience anymore. So I think this is a game of marketing that will become more for larger scaled businesses, rather than small startups at the very beginning. At least that’s my perspective on it.

Mobile Growth: Yeah, so more for brands and larger companies, larger apps.

Fabien: Yeah.

Mobile Growth: Do you take out paid ads against your competitor’s apps, using say Apple search ads?

Fabien: Yes. Definitely doing that right now. And you know, I think surprisingly, it was necessarily consistent. So that’s an interesting part to me, is I – that was of course the first time I got really a chance to – to run a good amount of volume, like search ads, and we had a great performance in some instances and not so good in the other one. That was true across the board, whether it was targeting the competition or whether it was targeting for us like a specific media name.

Fabien (contd): And I think the learning is, again, the closest your competitor is the type of target – target audience featured, the better the retention tend to be. And same thing for in my case, for – for media as target audience. Things that are really like super design-heavy or really designed for teenagers don’t do so well for us, by contrast, things were designed for similar target audience than the one we have tend to do pretty well.

Mobile Growth: Awesome. Just a couple more, then I’ll let you go. There’s a lot of great information, so thank you very much for taking the time and sharing your knowledge. Who are some of the key partners in your team, for your app launch, or re-positioning?

Fabien: I’ll say I mean, first and foremost, make sure you – you have a great designer, you know, that could be in-house, could be external contractor, but really someone that could understand the creative brief, but as well challenge it sometimes. And truly understand as well, you know, user flow, user funnel, and I guess performance marketing and is okay with the fact of being a marketing outsider. I think this is, for me, always a key element, when we’re especially discussing about positioning or re-positioning on the app, right? Without a great designer, I don’t think you could translate your – your vision, your perspective, your research into something material for the user. And I will say your – your second best friend is not necessarily I will say the paid UA person, I will say the product manager is somebody who is super important per user, depending on your company, to the extent that you are dependent on them to have a deeper understanding of the users and help you sometimes with cementing your userbase and to understand them better.

Fabien (contd): You are dependent on him or her to integrate sometimes some of the SDKs that you may need in your marketing tech stack. And last but not least, often, he could be a key champion, or somebody who’s – you know, will go the other way around when it comes to you changing some of the visual identity of the app or the copy of the descriptions, so you may wanna focus on having him on your side, rather than against you, I think it’s a key success factor if you wanna last in – in any company. I think it’s really hard to – to have the whole like marketing versus product scenario play in the mobile age. So, generally speaking, you will lose as well, this battle.

Mobile Growth: Yeah. To ask a follow-up on the UX design that you mentioned at the beginning of this answer, do you do any onboarding testing analysis and optimization?

Fabien: Yes, you know, quite a bit of those in my past experiences were, you know, more in the earlier stage, I will say here, but we do a fair amount of – of testing when it comes to different user flow and user experience, a little bit deeper in the product. The onboarding part has been historically I guess less of a focus point for smart use in the US, but this will change. We definitely want to optimize our day one retention.

Mobile Growth: Okay, so, the last question for you: If you only had a twenty-five thousand dollar marketing budget, and you had to use it to acquire the most and highest quality users, how would you, Fabien, spend that?

Fabien: So I think I would probably first, you know, probably dedicate
$5,000 for two of the video channels to really get them going on – on creatives and be pretty conservative at first on – on my daily cap. So that’s $10,000. Facebook or in search, you know, don’t have necessarily the – the commitment and time of skill that’s needed, so you could do a test maybe at, you know, a thousand to $2,000, essentially enough in-style to understand the retention profile, both on the Facebook side. And on the search side, was probably another $500 of creative for Facebook. So that take us to like $12,500. And essentially, in turn, I will assess between the two video channels I’ve mentioned – Facebook and let’s say Apple and Google search, which one essentially showing the better return investment profile and retention profile.

Fabien (cont’d): And then invest the rest of the budget against whatever channel is performing best. That will be my recommendation, blanket recommendation I will say. I think then it really depends on the category of app, and a lot of other potential factors, but that probably will be one way to go about it. And as I mentioned, if you happen to have the luxury of an economy, let’s say you’re a third party marketplace who could sell and buy, will not be a bad idea to add to the testing I mentioned, a certain amount of money, to be used as user referral bonuses. Essentially, you want to give to be pulling, inviting your friend. And test as well the retention you are getting through those users, because that could go both ways, you know. There could be a bunch of people who are just coming for the quick rewards, and to give it to their friend, or that could be repeat users, depending on how you build this economy. So I will say that’s probably gonna be one additional option, to add to the list. If you have, again, an economy in your app.

Mobile Growth: That is awesome! All right, so Fabien, thank you very much for taking the time, and sharing your awesome knowledge with us, and make sure everyone who’s listening downloads and uses often the SmartNews app.

Fabien: Great. Thanks a lot, Louis! Have a great day!