Confined to their homes, consumers are spending more time (and more money) on mobile games than ever before. But the attraction isn’t simply a fun diversion; players crave interaction and social connection. This dynamic opens massive opportunities for fantasy sports and games, especially those that can inspire fans to get involved even when their favorite teams aren’t playing. But it’s an effort that requires creative communications and smart segmentation. We get lessons in both in episode #419. As part of our bi-weekly series Reimagine Growth sponsored by CleverTap, our host Peggy Anne Salz talks with Jonathan Lin, co-founder and head of product and strategy at Statement Games, a free gaming platform that puts a unique twist on fantasy sports. As the steward of a growing business in the competitive categories of sports and online gaming, Jonathan has no shortage of valuable insights on the ways platforms can leverage the totality of their capabilities to keep users’ attention and incentivize engagement. Listen in to learn about the ways Statement Games keeps things relevant and converts lessons drawn from data into the right messaging, at the right time, to increase the frequency and retain users.
Welcome to Mobile Presence. I’m your host, as always, Peggy Anne Salz, mobile analyst, tech consultant and Founder of Mobile Groove. And it’s that time we’re bringing you again Reimagine Growth, the special mini-series on retention marketing, very timely, brought to you by CleverTap retention of course the new growth and the question is how do I keep sports fans engaged when their teams aren’t winning or, even worse in these times, when there are no live games, so they’re not playing?
So, we’re going to hear about a work-around from Statement Games, a model that other verticals, not just gaming, can use as a blueprint – my guest is Jonathan Lin, he’s the Co-Founder, Head of Product and Strategy at Statement Games, and Statement Games in case you don’t know it, it’s a fantasy sports platform and like the name says, it lets players pick statements around games-related to the outcome of the live sporting event.
So, we’re going to hear about this because there’s an interesting twist that Jonathan’s going to tell us about. Jonathan, first of all, welcome.
Well thank you for having me, it’s great to be here with you guys. I mean, there are live sports and sports is coming back pretty strong, so I would say that the choice that we focus on is that while other platforms and companies really focus on real money gambling, Statement Games has gone in the exact opposite direction with a free to play strategy.
We’re targeting social and casual gamers and sport fans who are still interested in playing competing but not necessarily ready to fund an account. If I can make a comparison, think of the people who are not ready to invest in season tickets or join super competitive fantasy leagues but they’re willing to invest their time and effort into watching a game with friends at a restaurant or bar, or even going into a stadium when they start to open up in this case.
Gone are the days right now, for sure, of attending your pre-game parking lot tailgating session or waiting in line for concessions and buying all these things online inside a stadium and that will come back in time, but a lot of the motivation of our players are driven by the social aspect of sports – being able to play with their friends and family, following their teams and getting excited about their teams winning and things like that.
So, these are the subscribers that we predominantly target but certainly we have a wide range of different profiles including your so-called diehard sports fans who just love playing and competing in anything and everything sports-related.
And to be clear, this is a free to play model so whereas there are other companies that are into subscription, this is about more connection than competition.
With sports, there’s always competition, there’s always bragging rights, we have leaderboards and things like that and people essentially play for virtual coins or what we call Statement Games’ coins and virtual currency and they ultimately use those accumulated coins whether they win or a game or tournament, whether they get into a top ten on a leaderboard every month to gain coins and they exchange those coins for gift cards and different prizes that they can win. So, everything from sponsored tournaments to, you know, winning a jersey or eventually tickets and things like that.
So, think of, you know, the 10 or 20, 40-year old men who are fighting over a t-shirt that get blasted into the stadium, this is our digital version of that.
Okay, and it’s gaining traction because, hey, we’re not there yet, we don’t have the full news but it’s kind of cool, it’s got the attention of so many different – not just players but I’m talking here about, for example, Stadia Ventures’ accelerated programme. Tell me about that because you are in the running.
Yes, we’re super-excited about this opportunity, we’ve got involved with a bunch of different accelerator and programmes, we have some great partners, Stadia Ventures is one of them and we are in the top ten presenters of – I believe they have hundreds of applicants every cohort and we’re looking to try to get into their accelerator programme for the next cohort. Stadia Ventures is an amazing programme, if you don’t know about it, but we’re extremely honoured to be one of the final 10 presenting companies and they really focus on early stage companies and have built a programme and network of investors, companies, mentors, advisors, really specifically designed to help companies accelerate their efforts related to growth, partnerships, fundraising and all aspects of growing a start-up business with the traction that guys like us need.
We think that Stadia Ventures with their eco-system providing guidance and opening doors of opportunity is going to really make the mark for a company like us and we’re super-excited to be part of their final 10 looking to present.
Well, it’s definitely a high five to you there, Jonathan, but what’s also kind of cool is that, you know, you’ve got their attention but you’re also getting and keeping the attention of your sports fans. I mean, how do you do that, how do you stay top of mind, you know, as you said, super competitive space but people love their games, they’re passionate about them, they want to brag about the statements they’re making but it comes down to content, communications, a lot of different elements – tell me a little bit about how you bring that all together to make such an impact and keep it.
I think the first and probably some of the most important aspects is really understanding the user behaviour. Why are they engaging with you, what’s going to keep them engaged, communication’s super important whether it’s in realtime or planned campaigns, content is really important so everything from blogs to podcasts to reposting articles and really just having a conversation with your audience whether they’re in-app notifications, push notifications, email campaigns, social media is really important to us and, you know, giving them content that is relevant to them whether it’s specific to their team, to a league or eventually pushing promotions and offers and deals to these guys that show them that you understand who they are, maybe not just as a group through a blast email but specific to them.
I mean, you know, whether it’s location, the team that they play, the type of games that they engage with, it all needs to be relevant and if it’s relevant, then they will engage and conversion will go up exponentially.
So you want to be smart about segmentation from the start – how do you approach that? It’s a big topic so I won’t take you there, we could do a book, we could do a series on how do you do segmentation, we’re all still figuring it out but a couple of things to maybe be looking at – there are ways that you can inform your segmentation – what do you look at?
Data, data, data – a lot of our decisions are made on looking at the back end data and that could be daunting for small start-up campaigns and early stage companies like us because we don’t have hundreds of employees or resources but we take a look at a lot of the data, what are these folks engaging with, what messages, what type of language, what type of messages. So whether it’s Facebook or Twitter or even on our blog posts, even LinkedIn – what are these folks engaging on, how are they responding, what questions are they asking, what features are they looking for, what specific posts?
So there could be some AB testing and campaign testing and certainly that’s very helpful in understanding which people like what type of delivery and medium but data tells us the answers to a lot of the questions that we have and it’s historical data as well as realtime data.
You know, it’s how you use that and turn that into messaging, turn that into a campaign, turn it into something that’s going to be super-compelling but what’s an example of that – maybe something where you lucked out and got into some sort of trend that turned into something that was very powerful for your campaign – getting people to buy merchandise, you know, it’s not easy – so what worked?
I think it has to do a lot with the brands that you work with as well as the types of campaigns. I mean, there are campaigns that we do that were driving someone to a landing page of a partner or client. There are campaigns that really just try to get people to engage and talk about why is this team going to win or why is this team going to do better or why is this specific player going to score a certain amount of points or run a certain number of yards. So, a lot of that is up for debate and sports fans like to talk about those kind of things.
Well, we’re going to talk actually about more of this as well, we do have to go to a break, I do want to be talking and unpacking this with you, Jonathan, because there’s a lot that goes into the thinking here, that goes into making it exciting but also making it effective. But we have to go to a break, as I said, so listeners, don’t go away, we’ll be right back.
Welcome back back to Mobile Presence. I’m your host, Peggy Anne Salz, we have Jonathan Lin, Co-Founder, Head of Product and Strategy at Statement Games. Before the break, Jonathan, we were talking about, okay, how do you approach segmentation, how do you look at engagement to create a strategy, to create a campaign that’s going to be effective – but you’ve had some really effective campaigns. What are some tools, some approaches, some ways that you are doing that, achieving that uplift and what is that uplift that you’re achieving?
I think when you try to deliver or execute on a digital-first focus, first of we’ve built a kind of omni-channel marketing platform on the back end where it allows to us have these conversations and it’s everything from email to potentially SMS, in-app push notifications etc and social. It also depends on there’s a lot of other levers, like different types of sports and leagues actually playing so sports is coming back, it’s been coming back for a couple of months, people are still trying to get a feel of the seasons and the teams and all the games but it’s actually, we’re seeing a ton of people coming back because they’re interested, they’re engaged, they’re at home – many are working from home but we’ve seen people coming in for 3 or 4 games a week to now 15 or 20 a week and retention has increased because as we keep them engaged, they’re going to keep coming back and playing more and more games.
What’s the increase in that retention that you’re seeing?
I mean, it’s a wide range but in some cases we’re seeing 40-50% retention and then it’s taking some of these guys who are playing one or two times a month and turning them into players that are playing three or four times a week and then eventually they become a heavier user.
So, I’ll stay with that idea of frequency and cadence, because that’s the big question out there – what are you seeing in the cadence that works, you know, what times do you send out your campaigns, how often, things around the nuts and bolts that help start that conversation?
I think the planned campaigns typically are planned for the morning to really noon time, you don’t want to send the messages too early in the morning because they’re all getting ready for school, work etc. But a lot of games are played at night too, right, you can’t not communicate with them after 5 or 6 or 7 o’clock during dinnertime because that’s the time when some of the games start playing.
So I think you need to figure out what works for them and users have a lot more control now, they can turn off these notifications, they can mute these notifications and unsubscribe to them so you need to find a really good, you know, line in the sand for not just your entire user base but for users specifically because what works for someone may not work for others.
And also reminders are a big part of this, right? I mean, you’re telling people the player you were making your statement about, you know, they’re playing, they’re not playing, they’re injured – you’re getting a conversation, that’s really the part that keeps me engaged as well, understanding that you’ve got my back, right, you want me to win my bet.
It is a fine line and it’s tough because you want to give them information that’s important and relevant to them but you also certainly don’t want to overwhelm them with too much information and they’re like, wow, I’m constantly looking at my phone now and these guys are sending me message after message. I think that’s something that all brands need to learn, whether you’re small or large.
But it also depends on how engaged you are, right? If you’re playing 15 or 20 games, you’re potentially going to get notifications and reminders about 15 to 20 games. So, it’s up to the user how often they’re engaged but certainly us as a brand and a company, we need to figure out what’s acceptable and what’s relevant and the important of that. It’s important when a player is injured and they’re not able to play in a specific game that you’re playing in but certainly if there’s a rain out, do you really need to send a notification that the game is halted or delayed. So, it’s those types of things that you need to be mindful of.
So, you’re really at the end of the day as good as your tools, right? Making a call on these things has to be at some level automated in the very least, definitely intelligent.
Yes, we spent a lot of time building out our architecture, building out the product and we ended up with a bunch of very strategic partners that do everything from data analytics to omni-channel messaging and we ended up with really, really strong partners, industry-leading partners like CleverTap. We’re able to build campaigns using their platform to send messages whether it’s email, whether it’s push notifications, in-app notifications based on what users do and what they don’t do – or specific points in time where they played a game or sent an invite or made a referral.
So all those things leverage our architecture on our platform and engages our subscribers in conversation as well as action or inaction.
And what are some questions – you did a lot of work figuring this out, you built it, you chose your partners, you have your strategy but others listening in, they’re saying, what’s the checklist, what am I looking for or what should I be thinking about?
If you’re starting out, I think it’s important to understand what type of data they’re capturing in their dashboard and what can you glean out of that data that they’re giving to you. Also, how easy is it to work with the tools that they’re providing to you, right? I mean, does it take someone who’s dedicated to this 24 hours a day or is it someone who does it part-time or in a start-up scenario where we have maybe a couple of hours a week to fine-tune some of these messages and campaigns, are we able to do that without having tons of resources?
So, even things like how accurate is the notification if you set it up for a certain time, is it going out at that time and then across different geographies and time zones and even in some cases countries, can we localise the message and things like that?
So, that’s how we ended up picking our partners and we actually chose CleverTap for those reasons as well as they had a really, really strong customer success team that helped train us and get us kicked off and when we encountered issues or had questions, they were there right next to us kind of supporting our requirements and our needs.
You’re also an eco-system, right, you’ve got brands coming in, you’ve got real-life teams that are saying, hey, you know what, this would be great, this allows us to be digital at a time when they can’t be physical so there’s a run on doing this type of thing, on transforming your business. How’s that working out for you, how are you helping them or how are they looking to work with you?
Digital transformation is really interesting and there’s so many different definitions for it, right? It could be as simple as driving someone to a landing page or to a merchandise site or getting them to fill out a form or play a game or downloading an app. The conversations that we’re having with these teams, leagues and brands are how can we help you drive traffic and user engagement and fan engagement at a time where it’s hard to not go into a stadium or arena or even if it’s open at 25% capacity, is it safe to go or can we afford to go because there’s obviously a financial impact in the market right now for a lot of families.
Making sure that we’re able to drive engagement to their existing channels, leverage their existing marketing efforts, whether it’s email or getting them to download an app etc, is certainly very complementary and understanding the tone and language and message that they’re trying to send to their folks is really important. It’s hey, we’re still here, we may not have games where you can attend live but you can still watch our games, you can still engage with us and play these things and follow your players, whether it’s joining up on Twitter or watching a video clip or highlights – these are all things that are still available to you.
Of course, there’s still a lot of unknowns and uncertainty for how leagues are going to play it out and how games and teams etc, but we know that sports is not going away and we know that they’re going to come back bigger and faster and stronger. We believe that we’re going to be there to help them kind of drive fan engagement and drive it in a meaningful way.
I love that, I love that story, that idea of, you know, enabling them because of course without the games, there’s not the fun, there’s not the interesting, there’s not the fans. And speaking of fans, I’m just curious, you’re into games, this is what you do, you’re obviously passionate about it, Jonathan, what’s your favourite sport, your favourite team?
I’m from New York so born and raised, you know, clearly I’ve moved around a lot for work and things like that but I’m always a New York kind of guy, so New York Yankees, New York Nix – obviously there’s a lot of other teams out there that are doing phenomenal things in terms of their efforts in user engagement, fan engagement, but I will always be a New York guy no matter where I’m located.
Absolutely, born and bred, it’s in your DNA. Off the top of your head, coolest, most clever engagement campaign – maybe your own, maybe somebody else’s?
I think gamification and Easter Eggs are always the coolest things, you don’t necessarily have to announce it or blast it but when people find things that aren’t there or weren’t there yesterday, it gets them kind of excited and it’s very sticky.
What about influencers?
I think there’s a lot of influencers in the e-sports and gaming world and certainly they’re taking different influencers, YouTube, Tik Tok and actual players to help drive some of their messaging and a lot of times influencers may not have a certain message but they’re just saying, hey, I’ve found a new game, this is what I’m playing, it’s pretty cool – come check it out – and that drives usage and interest.
Talking about interest, we talked about a little bit at the top, you know, what interests you but just wondering what gets you up in the morning? You sound so energetic, what keeps you at it?
I think it’s innovation and wanting to take technology to the next level. You may not be inventing something brand new but strategically you come up with something that moves the needle for people – I think it’s really understanding the market and marrying or coupling it with your interest in technology, whether it’s AI, machine learning, the different, you know, benefits that come with 5G – a lot of that stuff really just fascinates me. You know, I kind of grew up in the telecom industry where, you know, we launched SMS, we launched, you know, touch screens and chatting and texting…
And that was new…
And that was new – and so how do you take the new technologies of today, make sure you integrate it with the things that people like or you assume that they will like or will help drive… so behavioural science is really interesting to me these days, understanding, you know, the psychology of people and integrating it with technology is what keeps me up and also what gets me up.
That is very cool. I can imagine a lot of people in our audience would like to continue the conversation with you – how would they best do it, what’s the best place to connect?
They can certainly connect to us on social media, go to our site at statementgames.com, they can send us an email but, you know, downloading the app, checking us out and giving our game a try – eventually we’re going to be launching a lot more features and products and services and hopefully we’ll be able to reach you in different ways and methods.
Awesome, and I’m sure you’ll be able to inspire me, I’m from Pittsburgh, so I’m an easy one, just the Steelers.
Yes, I think it’s just like being in New York, you can take the kid of New York but New York remains part of the DNA.
Awesome, well I want to thank you so much, Jonathan, it’s been great to have you here.
I enjoyed the conversation, we love what we do and hopefully we will be able to have more conversations in the future.
Awesome. I mean, little disclosure, I work and write over at Pocketgamer and you’re my next topic over there as well, so we will continue this conversation. I thank you right now, Jonathan. And of course listeners, Jonathan, you can hear it, he loves what he does, he has shared his journey and to help marketers and organisations as they drive consumer connection post-Covid-19, CleverTap continues Reimagine Mobile Growth series of webinars, it’s all over at #reimaginegrowth, in the webinar series, it’s all about lifting the lid on top mobile brands, how they’re successfully handling acquisition, engagement, retention right now so get ready to grow, check it out over at clevertap.com/reimaginegrowth.
And if you want to keep up with me throughout the week, find out how more about how you can be a guest or sponsor on Mobile Presence, then you can email me, email@example.com, mobilegroove.com is also where you can find my portfolio of content marketing and app marketing services.
And you can check out this and all earlier episodes of the 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.