In the crowded, noisy, and increasingly automated world of mobile advertising, high-quality creative is more vital than ever. But breaking through the noise and differentiating one’s message is no simple task. It requires relentless experimentation, healthy collaboration, and constant monitoring to evaluate what’s resonating with users. In episode #418, our host, Peggy Anne Salz, catches up with Janice Gao, Manager of Growth at Big Fish Games. A Mobile Hero, Janice specializes in user acquisition for Big Fish’s extensive portfolio of popular desktop and mobile games, such as Cooking Craze, Fairway Solitaire, and EverMerge. Listen in for expert tips on fusing elegant design and critical thinking with data-driven insights, leveraging teamwork while operating remotely, and creating memorable consumer experiences that drive meaningful results. Come for the marketing insights, stay for Janice’s delicious iced cappuccino recipe.
Welcome to Mobile Presence. I’m your host, as always, Peggy Anne Salz, mobile analyst, content marketing consultant and Senior Writer at Forbes and this is the bi-weekly feature show where we talk with the mobile marketing experts who have marketing super-powers. It’s expertise that has earned them the title of ‘Mobile Hero’ as chosen by Liftoff, a full service mobile app marketing and app retargeting platform.
So let me raise my goblet of rock to our first Mobile Hero of 2021, my guest today is Janice Gao, a Growth Manager at Big Fish Games and she got a little inspiration along the way from Mad Men and been firing on all cylinders ever since. We’re going to talk about that but, Janice, we have something in common – I loved Mad Men, you obviously do – for me, it was Don Draper, genius ideas – what is it about Mad Men that inspired you in your career?
Yes, first of all, thank you, Peggy, for having me, I’m excited to be here and of course I have to say I’m also a fan of Don Draper as well – not his personality but the overall, the picture he portrays as a creative genius working at advertising and because going growing up myself, I always had special attention to advertising as well and I will pay attention to the tag line, the motivation, so to me, making a great ad and making it memorable is something very powerful. So, yes, I have to say marketing today is different from the 60s because today as marketers, we are, you know, working with not only with creativity but also with data analytics and critical thinking. So, to me, it’s truly a profession that I get to do both and get to enjoy the best of both worlds, glad to be on the paths of growth marketing and feel lucky to be in growth marketing at this time.
And also talking about growth marketing, it is all about the creative, we’re hearing so much about that, you know, to win heart share, mind share, you need a winning creative and you call it, in your blog – and we’ll get to that in a moment and tell listeners where they can check that out – you call it ‘the most meaningful lever left for mobile marketers’. So, creative is it but what does that mean?
Peggy, as you can see, you know, the whole industry has been heading into a really automated direction and I would say back in 2017/2018, as a UA marketer, we can drive meaningful performance improvement by testing, you know, different audience, testing different beads, but nowadays with machine learning, for example, Facebook and Google, they are coming up with stronger algorithms and they are much more smarter and doing a very efficient job in terms of rating audience and optimising. So, you know, the value of manual input is just diminishing and that’s why I said creative is the biggest lever remaining to marketers because it truly differentiates your product among the competition and it has a direct impact on performance.
For example, every time I would be so excited when we get a high quality creative because as soon as it starts to take off, we see a clear performance improvement trend with increasing return on investment – to me, that feeling is really satisfying and that’s why I specifically pick UA creative process as my Liftoff Mobile Heroes blog topic because I truly want to share the lessons I learnt broadly with our community.
Well, it’s really a good topic, it’s so timely and I love the fact that you really get down in the weeds a bit. You talk a bit a testing methodology and you detail this. We want to try and keep it simple so I will try to stay in that level – you’re talking about starting by just measuring what you’re doing against your ROAS target. Now, that’s pretty straightforward but maybe you just want to explain a little bit more and above all how you can scale this because once you hit it right, you immediately want to do more and go deeper and drive more for your app but it’s not a walk in the park.
It is not, to be honest, our team spend quite a bit of our time to get to our current process and first we have to recognise that most of the UA ads don’t perform. That means, you know, as UA manager, you might be getting new ads and running new ads every day but 80% of the time, they don’t move the needle that much. Either they don’t drive a significant amount of volume or it doesn’t meet your performance target and while the high quality ads, the winner ones that meet performance at scale, unfortunately it doesn’t happen very often but once you launch it, it lasts for months so depends on your product, your strategy, your team’s bandwidth and expertise, your hit rate for high quality winner ads can be one out of ten, one out of twenty or one out of fifty. That’s why it is critical for growth team not just produce a good amount of new ads regularly but also developing a creative test team methodology to help you identify winners quickly and filter out the losing one so that you can prioritise on the right stuff.
We’re going to talk about that a little bit but you brought up the question, rather, the topic of the team and, you know, you do have to have a number of creatives, you do have to literally be on the same page and we’re all working remotely right now so I’m just wondering – you and your team together, how do you keep everyone on the same page and who needs to be in that team, who needs to be in the loop?
Yes, I think, you know, at the end of the day it’s like any relationship, it’s about communication and collaboration and to me I feel, you know, communication no matter is formally or informal through a SlackChat, those communication channels are both critical and to me, for example, like, taking the marketing art team, the art designers, they are curious, they want to know if they come up with a good ad or not. So a healthy feedback loop is a critical part of the process.
For example, say, creative A outperform creative B and C, not only we need to do A is a winner and B and C are the losers, we also need to get deeper and understand why so that we can first avoid repetitive mistakes and also figure out what are the elements that we can repeat for future success. So, for us, for example, we have a weekly creative meeting which we will review the testing metrics together and openly discuss our thoughts and hypothesis. For example, creative A is the winner – is it because of a special visual effect or more appealing characters or a different motivation hook? We might not be right all the time but the exercise of discussion is opening up for opportunities for futures for production ideas and improvements.
In the meantime, given we all work remotely, we need to stay on the same page and keep everybody in the loop. That’s why we manage those insights in the centralised documentation so each stakeholder can have instant access to the information and stay informed and aligned.
It makes a lot of sense to keep it central as well. I’m just curious because I can imagine these are fairly heated discussions – what do you do when someone says, ‘it doesn’t work for me, I disagree’? Is this a show of hands, majority wins – how do you decide the winners and the losers?
For us, of course there is education process to keep everybody in the loop and understand what are the key KPIs that we are optimising against. Sometimes it can be IPM, sometimes it can be click through rate and sometimes it can be ROAS. So, we are approaching this in a very data-driven way and with everybody understanding what each of the metrics means, we can easily get to the same point and understand why we identify as winners or losers.
Well, that is the art and science of it all, that’s the exciting part. I can see why you love what you do because it’s at the intersection of everything. We do have to go to a break just one time, Janice, but when we get back we’re going to talk about creative concepts, we’re going to talk about things you did and the lessons you learned. So don’t go away, we’ll be right back.
And we are back to Mobile Presence. I’m your host, Peggy Anne Salz. We have Janice Gao, a Growth Manager at Big Fish Games and a Mobile Hero. And Janice, right before the break we were talking about picking the winners, picking the losers – it’s also going to come down to KPIs but it’s also going to come down to segmentation because no one size fits all here. We’ll just say, two types, payers and players. Let me understand from your perspective what the difference would be, what would you be wanting to be showing a payer versus a player?
Yes, for example, when we think about mobile payers, right, like those people tend to be more experienced and advanced mobile gamers most likely they have played similar games before within your genre and they are familiar with your game mechanics and plus they are the premium segment that all top games wants to reach so they get to be selective because they’ve seen all the ads and in that case, concept that deliver a more advanced and intense game play experience may attract experienced mobile payer better and on the other hand, when you want to open up top of the funnel, when you want to acquire people, may be play mobile game for the first time or maybe convert people from other genre to your genre, they might need a little bit more educational content and they may be more responsive for broader concepts that are beginner-friendly.
Now that’s great advice that you’re giving me but I’d like to hear how you’re putting it to the test because in prep, we discussed that you just launched recently a new casual title so maybe you can walk me through the concepts, the creative strategy that you’ve followed to, yes, basically to acquire an audience but also to keep them engaged.
Yes, I think definitely launching the new title in 2020 is wonderful experience. At that time of course I tried to absorb as much information as I can because I want to stay well-informed but at the end every product is unique. It is hard to make Apple to Apple comparison even with your direct competitors because the UA strategy usually different. So, that’s why we’ve been establishing our internal creative benchmark to be able to measure performance more reliably.
For example, with our internal data, we can remove outliers in noise and we can also drill down to a key market to assess performance more granularly. At the end of the day, we know our product and strategy much better and it is up to us to tell the story.
It makes a lot of sense because it’s your game, it’s your audience, you understand your targets. What I’m hearing here is build your own benchmark, look at what’s out there, keep it in mind but build your own and create one that’s suited to your company, to your game, to your app. Is that what you’re saying?
Yes, it is the key to success, not just for creative, for, you know, UA strategy and business strategy as well because, you know, like I said, everybody is different, you have to innovate and view it on your own.
So, data plays a big part here and can sometimes be surprising, sometimes the creative we think is going to make it isn’t the one that’s the winner in the end. So, share some of your learnings.
You are exactly right. Sometimes we have high hopes for a certain creative where I personally would check up the number every day or give my favourite child a little bit more time to prove it to see if it will prove itself at the end but sometimes it goes vice versa, it doesn’t align with your original hypothesis. So, that’s why I think that’s magic, the artful approach of both creative and critical thinking. I think at the end of the day, we are very lucky to be in a data driven industry, we have clear numbers to measure our hypothesis but in the meantime I think keeping a little bit creativity and apply an 80/20 rule is also healthy for the long-term success. 80% you go for the stuff that you know clearly will work and 20% allow yourself to take risks and take a new direction.
Well, I have to ask you then because you brought it up – what is, for you, the biggest departure, the new direction that you took in your creative? Maybe you can share how that was vastly different from what you were doing before that?
At least for us, I don’t think there is a North Star in a way that we haven’t discovered or something completely innovative to the industry. I think those don’t come very often, it’s just about doing the small things really well and doing it consistently and, for us, like I said, we came a long way to establish our process, it’s just about continuing on the process and continuing making small iterations and maybe compounding those iterations, compounding those learnings will lead us to a better success. So, that’s kind of how I see it.
Great segue because, you know, being successful, it’s early in the New Year, we all wish ourselves a good year, a great start, successful year and it feels fresh and new but how do you keep the energy levels?
I’m a very optimistic person so in the meantime I know, you know, 2020 has been difficult and presented challenges in different ways so what I have learned personally is I try to find small things that I can look forward to. For example, I’ve been experimenting new ways to improve my home office, I just ordered a standing desk converter which should help me to stand more in 2021. And I recently also mastered a new ice cappuccino recipe that gives me great energy in the morning, so for me it’s about being grateful for the small things.
Awesome, I was smiling here, if you could see me. That’s just a great idea, I think that our listeners might want to have that recipe, who knows, I’m going to bite at it. What is the recipe? I’m curious.
Wow, so, I’m a big coffee lover so we have a pretty robust espresso machine and in the meantime, I ordered a frother from Amazon, I want to make ice cappuccino so the milk has to be cold, so the cold frother also helps me to create the creamy milk to go along with the hot espresso.
It sounds like we’re out there again, you know, in the cafes, having the coffees – I can see it totally. Love to have that social share, love to have that picture. So we’re going to speed it up a little bit because that’s what caffeine will do – I wish I had some at this point but hey. Just a couple of sort of – I’m going to throw something out, you tell me what you think of, first thing comes into your mind. Looking at 2021, biggest opportunity?
I would say for our industry it will both be the IDFA deprecation, yes, I think, you know, it’s been on everybody’s mind ever since, you know, 2020 and short-term obviously it presents a big shift and disruption to the industry because the tools, the processes that we are used to might be no longer available. However, what I like the most about our industry is people are very agile, fast moving and very talented so I’m sure the industry will ultimately come up with a new solution to establish our new normal.
And in the meantime, there will be opportunities for innovators to come up with new technology and tools to lead us to the new era. So I’m hopeful on this.
I’m hearing a lot out there, Janice, that, you know, this is going to be the opportunity for creatives because you need to engage, you need to do it quickly, you might only have 24 hours depending on how IDFA plays out, so maybe in a way the biggest headache which is IDFA is the biggest opportunity for creatives at least.
Given that that’s the headache and the opportunity, I was going to ask you your biggest source of inspiration but I think that’s probably the cappuccino so I’ll ask you maybe your biggest – your work around, you’ve got an opportunity and a headache, one and the same, what’s the work around, what’s the way to make the best of both? What would you tell marketers to do?
I don’t think, you know, me or even the bigger companies have this all figured out yet, we have to navigate our way as an industry to establish the new normal. So, what I find helpful is, you know, I appreciate a lot of industry thought leaders are putting together great content and great strategies to predict how best to overcome or to come up with a new solution. So, I’d like to, you know, I will encourage every marketer to stay active on the topic and, you know, actively join the webinar and reputable publications from MMPs or from Apple or Facebook just to have enough exposure to what’s going on but at the end of the day, it’s about absorbing all the information and create the way, create your own recipe to find your success internally.
That sounds very inspiring because it doesn’t mean just devour everything, don’t just read everything, you know, there are certain sources, certain places and at the end of the day, make it right for you. I think that’s some great advice and I know that our listeners are going to want to know more about your blog, I’m going to tell that to them in a moment and share that but in the meantime, how would they stay in touch with you, how would they keep up with you, maybe what else you’re writing, what else you’re doing out there, Janice, what’s the best way?
Yes, I’m pretty active on LinkedIn so you can find Janice Gao on LinkedIn. In the meantime, I’m also active on Mobile Heroes’ Slack channel so feel free to connect with me, have a conversation with me there. And hopefully in 2021 or maybe later, while Peggy and everybody, we can get together realtime at some conferences, I would love to have a real iced cappuccino with you as well.
That’s delightful, I would love to too, we all want to get out there, it will happen, I’m an optimist and it’s a great tip also about the community – I know I’m also in the Liftoff Slack community, there must be about 1,600 people in there – really lively. And of course listeners we’re going to have notes in the show notes about how you can connect with Janice and if you want to read up on her or any of the other Mobile Heroes in the series, you can check out their dedicated page over at heroes.liftoff.io. That’s also where you will find not only her dedicated page but this blog that is a must read.
And if you want to keep up with me throughout the week, find out how you can be a guest or sponsor on Mobile Presence, then you can email me, firstname.lastname@example.org, mobilegroove.com is also where you we find my portfolio of content marketing and app marketing services.
You can find this and all earlier episodes of our show by going to wmr.fm or you can find our shows on iTunes, Stitcher, Spreaker, Spotify and iheartRadio simply by searching Mobile Presence. So until next time – remember – every minute is mobile, so make every minute count. Keep well, stay safe and we’ll see you soon.