Our host Peggy Anne Salz from MobileGroove catches up with Thomas Hopkins, Director of Marketing at Penn Interactive Ventures, to discuss how mastering the discipline and drive essential to his career in water polo prepared him to excel in app and mobile marketing at his company where he oversees all mobile and web marketing across 50+ apps, including two of the top 50 grossing social casino apps on the market today. We go for gold in a candid discussion about the *real* value of app store optimization (ASO), invaluable lessons he learned launching an app a week, and the marketing achievements that earned him the title of Mobile Hero as chosen by Liftoff, a full-service mobile app marketing and retargeting platform.


Welcome to Mobile Presence.  I’m your host, Peggy Anne Salz, with Mobile Groove, Content Marketing Strategist at Mobile Groove, where I plan, produce and promote content that allows my clients to reach their performance goals and speaking of growth and goals – that’s what it’s all about here because this is where we get the inside track from the UA experts, the app marketing ninjas, the professionals on how they move the needle on mobile growth – success that has earned them the title of Mobile Hero as chosen by Liftoff, a full service mobile app marketing and retargeting platform.  So, this is sort of the series within a series here at Mobile Presence, a sort of Mobile Heroes mini-series, where we focus on, as I said, growth and getting those users, acquiring those users, engaging with your users, retaining those users.

But if you step back for a moment and think about not marketing as winning but also the idea of how you prepare for that winning, you know, at some level it’s about the discipline that goes into your craft, as a UA professional, but there’s also discipline that goes into your career if you’re in professional sports.  You know, there are lessons from a career in professional sports that carry over into a career in performance marketing – both are about high performance, it’s about upping your game, right, no pun intended, but we’re going to do it, we’re going to go for gold here – and you’ll hear why I’m saying that in a moment because our Mobile Hero has done exactly that.  It’s our guest today, it’s Thomas Hopkins – Thomas is the Director of Marketing at Penn Interactive Ventures.  Thomas, great to have you here.

Great to be here, thank you for having me.

I mean, I’m giving it away a little bit, I’m going to say we’re going to go for gold, I didn’t give it away entirely but you have, I think, of all the Mobile Heroes we’ve had on the show – and there’s been quite a few – the most interesting background that you’ve brought with you to performance marketing.  So, just tell our listeners all about it.

Yes, I appreciate you guys having me.  So, my background is – was in water polo, so I started out at Stamford University playing water polo there and once I finished there, actually played for the national team for about six years, training for the Olympics and ended up not making the Olympics but I went to the World Championships, World League, played professionally in Hungary for a few years.  That was really my passion.  When I finished that up, I transferred over into product marketing and then product management, product marketing, and then into performance marketing and kind of found my new passion.  I’ve been doing that for about the past four years.

So you really were focused on that career and you went for the Olympics and came quite close.  I’m sure there’s a number of lessons that we can go through, I’d just like to start with one about the discipline, the discipline that you had for that, the discipline that you’re applying to your current career – what are the parallels there?

Yes, so, when people think about marketing, they kind of think of it as, like this, “Let’s think outside the box, let’s be creative” but there’s a big part of performance marketing that requires discipline and, you know, if you get down to the nitty gritty doing performance marketing, there’s things that need to happen week in and week out – just like a professional athlete would, week in and week out preparing for those games on the weekend.

So, every week, you got to do bid updates, every week you’ve got to look at your creative and then come up with new creative refresh ideas and work with everybody on the team to make sure that you’re doing weekly sprints to get ready and push out the new creatives and push out the new bids and then, as well, launch new different platforms etc.  So, it pretty much becomes like a very disciplined role requiring a lot of operations and it’s about 50% that and I think 50% of the creative outside the box thinking.  I think professional sports plays a, it definitely helps with that creative side as well.  So just coming up with new plays, coming up with new ways to do things and really thinking outside the box helps you kind of come up with new creative ways of capturing your customers’ eyes and hopefully leading to installs and engagement.

Well, you know, you’re talking so much about discipline and I think that’s really key here, you know – you almost want to know exactly how you do what you do, so I won’t ask you that entirely but I would like to understand more about sort of your daily routine because I think there are a lot of lessons in that for our listeners about how they need to approach this because it is a systematic approach if you can get it right.

Yes, definitely.  So, I think I would really break it down into more of a weekly routine.  Yes, so, the way we approach things and the way I’ve always approached it is you want to start off every week looking at the performance from the past week – almost like a retrospective – looking at all the hypotheses that you made the week before and then looking at the results that actually happened to see what type of action items you can do for the current week.

So, after sitting down, analysing that on like a Monday, meeting with the team members, whether it’s creative or analytics or media buying teams, you basically come up with what now the action items could be or what the hypotheses are for the current week, put those down and then by the next day, have a clear understanding of what we’re going to actually test and that can be across the board, whether it’s creative, whether it’s app store, whether it’s paid channels and bid styles or, you know, basically all of the above.  And then on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, team is working to execute on those so that we have some data by coming the following Monday.

So, I’m just curious because for every company, for every type of app, it’s definitely going to be different but there is sort of a North Star metric or a couple of metrics that you’re looking at that guide you in these decisions because, as you said, it’s your weekly routine but when you’re deciding, OK, dial up here, dial down there, optimise here, whatever – you’re basing that on the metrics.  So could you give me an idea of what matters most for you?

Yes, of course.  So, basically, for us, we have social casino apps, so it’s simulated slots, simulated gambling and essentially the most important thing for any gaming developer is kind of looking at payer rates or ROAS (return on ad spend).  So, we have to look at both, so a lot of companies can look at just ROAS and that’s OK, return on ad spend, because the payers relatively average amount, about the same across all the different customers.  Now, with social casinos, it’s a little bit different in that we can have one customer that can spend $1,000 a day and we can have another customer that spends, you know, maybe $5 a day.  So the fact that there’s such a big difference there can really mess up your ROAS numbers and you can think that you pick up one big payer and now it’s like “Oh, this channel’s amazing, let’s increase our bids like crazy”.  So, we really focus on payer rates and try to optimize our payer rates by channels.

The other thing that we’ve started to do that works really well once you figure out which publishers or which channels are performing well for you is actually to really start to focus on payers per impression rather than just payer per install but payer per impression because that really helps you decide if that channel’s good and then how you can continue to increase your bids there.

And do you find that it’s a split for you like this or do you find that there’s one that you’re using more over the other because, of course, marketing is always moving what we’re looking at is moving – ASO moved a lot in the last year?

Yes.  So, by far the most important one is payer rates and it’s interesting because it’s not something that the industry has pushed that hard when it comes to the MMPs, you know, the Adjusts, the Kochavas, the Appsflyers, Tune.  The reason being is that everyone talks about ROAS, ROAS, ROAS, and payer rates are actually what we are – it has less room for error in terms of seeing, having outlier’s cause you to make decisions that aren’t as accurate.

Well this is great, Thomas, because I can tell this is your craft, this is where you are – you’re disciplined and you’re focused on the details.  So, when we come back, we’re going to talk about also your learnings, we’ve talked about sports – now we’re going to talk about your learnings as being just an app, you know, an app launch machine over there at your company so, listeners, don’t go away, we’ll be right back after the break.

And we are back.  Welcome back to Mobile Presence.  I’m your host, Peggy Anne Salz, with Mobile Groove and our guest today is Thomas Hopkins, he is Director of Marketing at Penn Interactive Ventures.  And before the break, Thomas, we were talking about how your career, professional sports, water polo, the lessons, the discipline that it gave you for your job as Director of Marketing at Penn Interactive Ventures, but it’s not just about that discipline – you’re a bit of a machine over there because I’m reading how you have had to release an app a week, so a launch of an app a week – that’s something.  First of all, is that just because that’s what your company wants to do, have so many apps, or was there some sort of experimental approach here required for so many in such a short period of time?

Yes, so, it’s not an easy tactic to do, you do have to have a – I had the privilege of working with a team that was extremely talented, pretty lean team, 35 people, you know, rock-star engineers, product managers, and amazing artists.  So, that’s required to make that happen.  But the strategy behind it is that launching new apps gives you the opportunity to learn and gives you the opportunity to iterate on each one of those new apps and so your goal with each new app is to basically increase the ARPUs for each individual new app and that way you have a better app each time that you kind of are improving upon and that’s kind of the new apps or the new one that is you’re putting all of your attention towards.

And it’s similar to like a Coca-Cola style of mentality where you’re also trying to fill a lot of spaces in the app store so that you have more chances for installs.

So, it’s really not what some others were doing with just skinning the same thing, this is really iterative innovation.  You’re saying this works, OK, we’ll move into this one and as you said, the sort of Coca-Cola approach of having a lot of apps out there and also getting a lot of lessons back in from the behaviour, the user behaviour in the app, what they’re doing, what they’re not doing, where it’s working, where it’s not.  Can you share what you learned, you know, launching that many apps?  One is probably speed to say the least, but there are – you have to be able to see the signals of what you need to do and that’s the talent.  Can you share some of the experiences and how you say to yourself “Yes, we noticed that and now we’re going to work that into the next app”?

Yes, of course.  So, one of the biggest things is just spending a lot of time on that first 24 hours and our product team did an amazing job of that.  I mean, we started out with our first couple of apps at around a 5 cent ARPU and by the end, we were around like a 40 cent ARPUs and that’s across iOS and Android.  Just improving each step along the way.

Now, in terms of the inner details of that, my focus was mainly on, you know, increasing the top of the funnel to get as many qualified users in the door as possible as cheaply as possible.  So, a lot of my learnings are based around ASO, launching an app and the bursting of it, how to do that right and then some of the KPIs to be looking at along the way.

I mean, you’re talking about the funnel and that’s just it – everyone’s talking about going deeper in the funnel but you have a really interesting example at your company because you are not just digital, in the digital realm, in the app realm, you’re in the physical world.  What does that present for opportunities and even for challenges in trying to knit the two of those together?

Of course.  So, if any app’s going to win, you have to have an organic presence and part of that organic presence is a well-known brand.  We have the, you know, ability to market in our casinos.  Right now we’ve got 27 land-based properties, properties all across the US and so we have banners up for our iGaming products in all of those casinos and all those locations.  So, it helps build that brand, it helps build that awareness and it helps bring in customers from an organic perspective that way, but then allows us to spend in those geographic regions to drive those, to give those people to install and start to play at a much higher click-through rate than we see on other channels.

So, what does engaged user then look like to you?  Is it a little bit of – I’m just thinking out loud because you have the engagement, you know, on location, you’ve the engagement in the app and it’s all about targeting and retargeting and going deeper down that funnel, so what is that looking like to you?  It’s probably very different user persona than with most apps?

Yes, it’s really hard actually to bridge that gap, so what we’ve found is that without actually having an email address for people on property as well as having email address for your app, it makes it very hard to actually follow that user journey, so what we actually tap into is our product called Marky Rewards, which is our reward system on property and we added that into our app online and in the apps as well as online so that we can track those customers from their activity in the casino as well as online and what we’re finding is that we’re seeing 3, 4 X the conversion rates into payers as well as in the ARPUs for these and LTVs for these customers.

We’re actually also seeing, this is something that’s new, that we’re surprised but also pleasantly surprised about, it actually is increasing the visitation to the casinos by them being engaged with our online products.

I’m thinking that through – that’s an incredible increase and what exactly is the experience?  Why are they hooked?

One of the biggest reasons we find is just actual touches and engagement.  So, by them seeing the same brand in their email inbox, in their push notice, on a consistent basis, they have a much higher likelihood to end up going back into the properties.  The other thing is we open up a lot of new engagement styles that the other competitors in the casino space can’t really do.  We have a physical connection with our actual customers whereas our competitors are, you know, they’re basically using casino hosts that are connected either through Skype or through phone and we can take it that next step and differentiate our product that way to make our customers that more engaged.

And what about the engagement in the actual marketing, in the advertising, in the creative?  Do you let some of that sort of come back in so I’m having this mythical seamless experience we’re all supposed to have where the digital and mobile worlds come together and it’s reflected in the creative, or are you working towards that goal?

Yes, we definitely are and we’re doing some really fun stuff at the Tropicana Casino in Las Vegas, so the Tropicana Las Vegas Casino.  If you go to that casino and you look at some of the creative in the lobby, in the elevators, they’re pretty fun so we’ve got some that are trying to bridge that gap and so one of them’s like “Be a high roller in your bathrobe” and it’s got the Tropicana game on the phone sitting there, on an iPad.  It’s having that creative and having that creativity to kind of try and bridge the gap and get people to think, “Oh wow, I can take the fun home with me, I can play at home as well as in the casino”.

And just a last question before the break, some of those creatives, do you bring that concept back in your learnings, in what you’re doing in your app marketing as well?  Is that a good move?

Yes, I mean, what we’ve found is that for our land-based customers, if we make a reference to our properties, then it definitely helps but what we do more of is actually the other way around.  So, what we’re able to do is take the learnings from our digital marketing and actually use that on the floor whether that’s in the casinos or in the hotel rooms, and using some of the creative that performs the best for us on Facebook or an ad networks, and actually use that on the floor to be a good converter for us in the actual casinos.

Great, well, we’re going to talk more about those conversions and those lessons so listeners, don’t go away, we’ll be right back after the break.

And we are back.  Welcome back to Mobile Presence.  I’m your host, Peggy Anne Salz, with Mobile Groove and our guest today, Thomas Hopkins, Director of Marketing at Penn Interactive Ventures.  And Thomas, we’ve been talking a lot about how you differentiate your brand because you’re able to stitch together the digital, the physical, learn from your app marketing and bring that into your real-world marketing, and these are all components of effective marketing – absolutely, no question.

But the overarching strategy is what makes it all work.  So, I guess my question to you is how do you now bring all of these learnings, bring all of this information back together?  How should an app marketer – how do you do it, bring it in and make a strategy out of it?

Of course.  So, the way I think you have to think about things is you have to look at your product and you really have to ask the question “How is my product different than every other product out there?  How is my app different?  What is different about it?”  And the thing you have to realize, start to look for, is go through all the different apps, become a product manager, get in the app store, download the other apps, play the other apps, use the other apps and spend time in the app store and go on the Facebook pages of all these different accounts and look at what they’re doing – look at their ads and what you’ll really start to see is that – and I was very surprised – you can look at a social casino app and to the outsider, they might go “These things are all the same”.  The reality is that they’re all very different and they all fulfill, they’re all differentiated in one way or another.

So, one of our titles is a classic slots title, it’s 777 Bar, Bar, Bar, cherry, cherry, cherry rather than, you know, a bonus slot style of game that has all the bells and whistles.  So, you really have to take a step back, look at how your product is differentiated and then start to come up with a creative strategy and a messaging strategy around that specific differentiator and then start to roll it out across all your different channels.  I would start with ASO, see how it performs there with, you know, your icon tests on Android, and then try it out on Facebook.  Do some tests there, try some of the messaging and some of the creative to really show how it’s different.  I would be surprised if you didn’t see a large boost in your click-through conversion rates just based on that differentiator.

So, really focusing on what makes you special, that means doing your homework, looking at your competitive landscape, checking it out.  I mean, one of it is sort of like the icon in the title but you also do a lot of deep diving into ASO.  Are you finding that there are approaches within ASO that maybe have more mileage than we all thought, that you can bring to bear here as well?

Yes, so ASO is a great tool for every developer, no matter the size or budget.  It’s great because it’s free on Android, so they have a great experiments tool where you can run different variants and what we found is that doing icon experiments and doing them over and over again, 3 or 4 times to test out different features of that icon can bring, you know, 2 to 4 X initially and sometimes even 10 to 20X the improvement organic reach and installs.

So, I highly encourage people to spend time in the app store, look at the different features within apps and if you’re not in the gaming space, look at what some of the gaming developers are doing, take some of those learnings from them, test them out on your own individual utility apps or other apps and you might see a massive improvement in reach and installs.

Well, Thomas, this is great and I have to say I highly encourage our listeners to check out your blogs, check out what you’re doing and listen to what you’ve got to say but where can they find all of that, how can they stay in touch with you?

So, I’m available personally, you can reach out to me but you can also take a look at the Liftoff blog, you know – my article will be in there on ASO improvements and how to win there.  But you can also connect with me directly either on my Twitter account or by email – so my Twitter is just @thomashops and my email is Hopkins.thomas@gmail.

Perfect, and again, to your point, you can read up on Thomas and all of the other Mobile Heroes in this series by going out and checking out their dedicated page over at heroes.liftoff.io and definitely worth a read and hey, your post is going live this week as our show does as well, so it’s great timing.  And hope to have you back again.

In the meantime, if you want to keep up with me throughout the week or find out more about how you can be a guest or sponsor on Mobile Presence, then you can email me, peggy@mobilegroove.com, Mobile Groove is also where you can also find my own personal portfolio of content marketing services. 

And that, my friends, is another wrap of another episode of Mobile Presence.  Be sure to check out this and all earlier episodes of our show by going to webmasterradio.fm or you can find our shows on iTunes, Stitcher, Spreaker and iheartRadio simply by searching Mobile Presence.  Until next time, remember, every minute is mobile, so make every minute count.  Keep well and keep coming back.