If you’ve been involved in the mobile app industry from the beginning you’ve watched as the evolution from paid apps to a freemium model happened — and then witnessed the rush to acquire as many users as possible morph into a focus on retention and recurring revenue. But where does the industry go from here?
On a recent episode of Retention Masterclass, we turned to one of the “superheroes” of retention, Dennis Mink, VP of Marketing at Liftoff, to talk about the logical next steps for the industry.
“I think the excitement of mobile has really passed,” says Dennis. “It’s rare that we see any hot, new, exciting app come out, really kind of any sort. I think TikTok is arguably, not even arguably, the most exciting thing we’ve seen in a long time and I think it’s just like a business more than anything.”
Apps are no longer the territory of plucky, bootstrapped start-ups with CEOs fresh out of college. They are big businesses just like any other. “I think there’s still opportunities for small guys to break into it,” says Dennis, “but it’s so much harder these days.”
Dennis says that Liftoff’s customers “don’t even worry about CPIs” anymore. Rather, “it’s all about conversions against revenue producing events.” He adds, “They’re focused on ROAS, you know, they’re on revenue entirely. So, I think a lot of the sexiness is gone and it’s really about performance more than anything.”
The user journey: the next phase in mobile
If app marketers are truly focused on ROAS and retaining the best users, that means they’ll have to get focused on user behavior and put a new emphasis on the customer journey.
Dennis says, “I think that maybe it goes without saying at this point, but if you have this mindset of, ‘Hey, I’m going to build an app, it’s going to be successful,’ and you don’t have the right marketing budget, the right marketing staff, the right marketing strategy to actually grow a user base, then I think you’ve got some misgivings there.”
And as important as marketing is in the new app economy, product still plays an integral role. Developers and marketers have to work together to make sure they can answer these questions and
- What’s the core value of your app?
- What are the core features?
- What is the most important functionality?
Once you know how people will get the most use out of your app, your marketing team can set about finding the right users for the services you provide. And, as Dennis points out, finding the right users is what “generates revenue for the business.”
But sometimes, even when you’ve found the right users, they need a little nudge now and then. “We’ve been running re-engagement campaigns,” says Dennis. Whether your potential customers never used your app after downloading it, or maybe they used it for a while and then stopped, it’s important to segment appropriately and re-engage those users that you, very likely, paid to acquire.
The year of retention – or not
For years, analysts and industry insiders asked “Is this the year of mobile?” But today, Dennis says, the question everyone is asking is, “Is this the year of retention?”
His answer to that question might surprise you: “And I’ve got to tell you, we’ve been hosting Mobile Heroes summits for a number of years! With 30 plus, you know, high-value Liftoff customers getting together for three days, candid conversation, and every time it was like re-engagement, retargeting, retention is on. It’s a discussion in the groups and so on. I’ve got to tell you every year it’s like, it’s not the year of retention for the marketers. It’s not.”
Retention is “a hot topic that not a lot of marketers are doing a whole lot about,” according to Dennis.
It’s a controversial statement for Retention Masterclass, but the reason is fairly complicated — as is retention itself. Retention is a collaborative process that has to be at the heart of everything an app company does. From initial development to onboarding to marketing to adding new features, app teams need to keep their users in mind and enhance the journey at every step. Sure, marketers can help you find the right users and then bring them back when their usage drops off — but that’s only part of the solution.
“I think there’s two things that need to get addressed before we will see retention, re-engagement, retargeting, just as a whole become like a larger investment,” says Dennis. “The first is clearly education. Marketers as a whole that manage large budgets, they know UA inside and out, and they don’t really know retention. And so the more educated they become — mostly actually by doing and executing — I think that’s sort of one way in which it’ll start to get addressed.” Translation: Marketers who have been largely focused on user acquisition have to change the way they think and learn new skills to focus on retention.
And the other piece of the puzzle? According to Dennis, “In a lot of the larger app publishers, these larger companies, retention is the responsibility of those that work with a CRM team or department, and not with the UA or the mobile marketers.” These teams are focused on many channels, not just mobile, and don’t necessarily make app user retention a priority.
“Until that gets re-addressed and kind of restructured, I think that we will still see stops and starts and companies really struggling to figure out, you know, what is retention, how do we invest in it? How do we make it work?”
Ironically, mobile retention suffers in large part because mobile marketing teams are tasked with spearheading retargeting and engagement efforts. To learn more about how to fix this problem and finally ring in “the year of retention,” tune in to the full conversation above or read the transcript below.
Peggy Anne Salz: And I’m Peggy Anne Salz. We’re your co-hosts as always on the show.
John Koetsier: Great to have you again, Peggy. Every mobile publisher wants great users and they don’t just want to get them, they want to keep them. And guess what … shockingly, they also want to monetize them. One company that helps publishers accomplish that better than most is Liftoff.
Peggy Anne Salz: Yeah. And you’ve probably seen that as well, John, I mean, I know what you do over there at a Singular, your ROI reports on ad partners/ad networks for Singular they’ve come up. And I have to say that I also know the company firsthand, I do the Mobile Heroes podcast which you may or may not have heard of, and more importantly, you may or may not have seen me in a Mobile Heroes comic book with the Superheroes of Mobile.
John Koetsier: Superheroes of Mobile …
Peggy Anne Salz: Yeah, yeah.
John Koetsier: And I think you’re like the force of evil, I mean like Dr. Evil or somebody like that in the comic book.
Peggy Anne Salz: Yeah I think so too, I do too
John Koetsier: I’m not sure. Anyways, back on topic here, we interview a lot of retention heroes on this show and we figured it’s time to start talking to some of the radioactive spiders that turn them into superheroes.
Peggy Anne Salz: Yeah, well you know, I’m into radioactive spiders, John, because I’m into superheroes too. So I’m not quite sure about that analogy, but I would say our guest today, Dennis Mink, he’s pretty close to Nick Fury in my book. Maybe even the dark coat I’m seeing here, but in real life, he’s VP of Marketing at Liftoff. He’s on our show today. So Dennis, welcome to Retention Masterclass! Great to have you.
Dennis Mink: Thanks guys. Happy to be here.
John Koetsier: Awesome. Super happy to have you here. And let’s start off with a pretty broad question. Where are we right now in the evolution of mobile? I mean, we started with paid apps, moved to freemium, we went from this frenzy of everybody getting installs to a focus on engaged users. We’re now seeing increased focus on retention, subscriptions, that’s one of the reasons why Peggy and I are doing this podcast. Where do you think we are now? And what do you see as the next logical steps?
Dennis Mink: Hmm, a good question. You know, I entered the market back in 2014 and it was still, I mean much of the industry was still focused on just acquiring installs, and Liftoff, we came in with this focus on post-install conversions and generating revenue from apps. Back then 2012, 2013, 2014 if you guys recall, it was pretty sexy. You know, it was a very sexy, exciting industry, everyone wanted in to it. Now we’re like 2020, right, it’s completely changed. I think sort of the excitement of mobile has really passed. It’s rare that we see any hot, new, exciting app come out, really kind of any sort. I think TikTok is arguably, not even arguably, the most exciting thing we’ve seen in a long time and I think it’s just like a business more than anything.
I think there’s still opportunities for small guys to break into it, but it’s so much harder these days. And from a marketing perspective, like our customers, you know, we entered the market with a focus on CPA, right? Don’t even worry about CPIs, it’s all about conversions against revenue producing events. These days, when we go and talk to most of our customers they’re not even focused on CPA anymore. They’re focused on ROAS, you know, they’re on revenue entirely. So I think a lot of the sexiness is gone and it’s really about performance more than anything.
John Koetsier: It’s super interesting. Just to follow up on that real quick. I mean, you talk about TikTok, before that we had Pokémon GO. And yeah, some of the sexiness is gone, right, it’s not the new thing anymore. And yet in what other market in the world have we seen an app, or a company, or a brand, come from almost nowhere to global prominence to being a major player on the global stage in literally 6, 12, 18 months. It’s still an amazing space.
Dennis Mink: Yeah. Yes, I agree. I agree, it’s rare.
John Koetsier: It is rare.
Dennis Mink: You know, I think they are very much the exception. It’s just, you know, but if you go back to like those early days of the App Store and you could be absolutely nobody, but you’ve got some good skills with a good idea you could have a ton of success, and these days it’s just so much harder and you need a lot more money to break out, to get people’s attention. You can’t necessarily rely upon virality anymore. So, interesting space though.
Peggy Anne Salz: Well, what about the evolution? I mean, you’re talking about how, okay, there’s not these breakout blockbuster hits, but you know all we talk about, all anyone talks about, is the user, the user journey — even calling them “users,” I try not to, I really just try to call them “people” or “customers.” I’d like to have you weigh in on that Dennis, because if it is about that, then that is a new phase in app marketing and apps that’s going to be exciting, because hey, guess what, behavior comes back in, other types of data come back in, other metrics come back in. What do you think about that?
Dennis Mink: So, alright. If I go back, phase one that went on for a number of years is build a great app and you will have success, for the most part. I see us as overall being long past that, we are definitely in the stage where you need to have really good marketing to support your app with the focus being primarily on unused acquisition, right? And I mean, I think that maybe it goes without saying at this point, but if you have this mindset of, hey, I’m going to build an app, it’s going to be successful, and you don’t have the right marketing budget, the right marketing staff, the right marketing strategy to actually grow a user base, then I think you’ve got some misgivings there. So, you know, so there’s sort of a user journey, like people want to discover an app, they want to get to know it and get value out of it. I think that very much, you need to be looking at that’s around like product development, you know, the actual app itself, what is the experience of the app? What’s the value? What are the core features and functionality that people will get value from that app? But then there’s in parallel you need to be, I mean, of course you need to be investing into marketing or app finding those users who will get the most value out of it, which ideally generates revenue for the business.
So I think that is very much where I see it. I know you guys are focused on retention. Super interesting, right? We’ve been running re-engagement campaigns, which is basically let’s go and retarget users that installed your app. Maybe they’ve never used it, or maybe they used it for a while and they stopped using it. Whatever the scenario is, let’s segment and for the last number of years it’s like, if you guys remember it used to be, the question that came up year after year was, ‘Is this the year of mobile?’ Remember?
Peggy Anne Salz: Mm-hmm, yeah.
Dennis Mink: If you’re old like me. Is this year mobile? We don’t ask that anymore. You know, I think we stopped around 2016 …
John Koetsier: Yeah.
Peggy Anne Salz: Yeah, yeah.
Dennis Mink: … something like that. We’re like ‘This is the year of mobile, we’ve hit it!’ and we don’t ask the question anymore. We don’t read about it, nobody asks anymore. But for a number of years now we’ve been asking ourselves, is this the year of retention?
Peggy Anne Salz: True.
Dennis Mink: Is this the year of retention? And I’ve got to tell you, we’ve been hosting Mobile Heroes summits for a number of years, 30 plus, you know, high-value Liftoff customers getting together for three days, candid conversation, and every time it was like re-engagement, retargeting, retention is on, it’s a discussion in the groups and so on. I’ve got to tell you every year it’s like, it’s not the year of retention for the marketers. It’s not.
John Koetsier: Wow, that’s interesting, right? I mean, because there’s also different groups in the marketing team or in a brand or in a company that are focused on different things. And Peggy and I have actually worked through that a little bit as well, sometimes it’s different people focused on retention. And sometimes, you know, the way that we think it’s going to be, and we think it is the way in some of the most successful mobile businesses that we’ve seen, there’s a real integration of marketing people and product people and retention specialists and everything like that. And I mean, one of the things that — we’re getting the CEO of Reforge in pretty soon on Retention Masterclass — one thing is you can’t, retention is not something that you kind of tweak a couple of knobs, right? You build that into your experience. And so we’ll get into that pretty deeply as well, but super interesting point that you make. Maybe, Peggy, we’ll find in 2024 we’re doing a show and nobody’s asking the question anymore and it was the year of retention already.
Peggy Anne Salz: Exactly, it just sort of happens, you know? I mean, just to a point, just a quick follow up because I do remember this and this was something I used in a deck once. Dennis, you have the numbers, but to your point about that, you did a survey of, just an informal survey of your customers, of some marketers. And what did they say about retention? What was it? It was important for how many percent? I think it came in like in the top challenges. You know, first it was acquisition and then it was something else and then it was retention. So, I mean, we got a while there.
Dennis Mink: Yeah. Retention is, I could tell you, because for the last couple years it’s a hot topic that not a lot of marketers are doing a whole lot about, right? And you were just touching on it. I think there’s two things that need to get addressed before we will see retention, re-engagement, retargeting, just as a whole become like a larger investment, I guess, is what I’d say. The first is clearly education. Marketers as a whole that manage large budgets, they know UA inside and out, and they don’t really know retention. And so the more educated they become mostly actually by doing and executing, I think that’s sort of one way in which it’ll start to get addressed. The other is just simply as you were touching upon, you know, in a lot of the larger app publishers, these larger companies, retention is the responsibility of those that work within like a CRM team or department, and not with the UA or the mobile marketers. And so, it’s like as I see, as long as the UA marketers who, again, they have responsibility for the tens of millions of dollars in ad spend, as long as they don’t have responsibility for retention or re-engagement, and it’s managed by some other CRM team, and typically mobile is like just one channel, it’s not a priority and they don’t really know app marketing as a whole. Until that gets re-addressed and kind of restructured, I think that we will still see like stops and starts and companies really struggling to figure out, you know, what is it, how do we invest in it? How do we make it work?
John Koetsier: That is really interesting. And I think one of the challenges has been measuring it as well, measuring re-engagement as well, and that’s kind of where we’re going. So it’s a good segue. There’s a lot going on in mobile right now and there’s kind of a tsunami, right? There’s kind of been this atomic explosion, and that is Apple’s news in iOS 14 that basically the IDFA is going away. I mean, it’s not dead, but it’s opt-in and it’s a very scary opt-in, right? It’s a ‘Do you want somebody to track you all across the web? Yes or no.’ And pretty much everybody’s going to say no. I’ve got to get your thoughts on what you think that means for your business, as well as, frankly, the whole industry of user acquisition and mobile marketing.
Dennis Mink: Yeah. It’s such an interesting time, you know, we’ve had a series … our chief product officer at Liftoff has hosted several internal sessions this week to talk about and to share his thoughts about what does it mean and so on. What does it mean for Liftoff? What does it mean for the industry as a whole? And then what are we doing? So, here, just to share my general thought, so for me, the starting point is I’m actually, there’s going to be winners and losers that come from this, a hundred percent. I think the companies that have some of the best engineers and product people in technology will come out just fine. I think those who are not as strong are really going to struggle. Re-engagement companies they’re in trouble. If you are a re-engagement-only company you are going to have a real tough time at this. For Liftoff, we’ve been preparing for this for quite some time. So this isn’t like, we’re not surprised by this. We are currently testing a running ML, our ML-based campaigns against audiences that already have limited ad tracking enabled. We have tests running right now with some very interesting results coming from it, so as for how it will impact us I have really no concerns whatsoever. I think we will just simply come out a much stronger organization. But again, for those that are not, if you don’t have a strong technology team and technology stack, or if you are a re-engagement-only company, you’re going to be hurt by this.
John Koetsier: Interesting.
Peggy Anne Salz: I’d like to see some of that data at some point, just hinting, Dennis. If I had my wish… but you know, you talk about winners and losers. Let’s get back to retention. I’d like to know because you have so many customers, you know, I’m interviewing them on Mobile Heroes for now for four years, of people who really know their art and science, right? So I’d love to hear from you some examples of some companies that are doing it really, really well. So really good examples, high retention you’ve seen, maybe also some idea of what attributes to that, what makes that possible?
Dennis Mink: Sure. So, you know, listen, at my core I’m a product person, which to me means you build a great app, a great service, and you will just naturally generate higher retention. I don’t know if either of you play games, I’ve been playing Clash of Clans on and off for at least five years, and when shelter-in-place kicked in I was just like, I’m going to download Clash, I haven’t played Clash in awhile. And I’ve got to tell you, I spend more money in that game now than I ever have, and why, what is it? It’s not, you know, there’s always habit. Ultimately, they’ve built some capabilities into the game that just make it so attractive to me, the social element, there’s a very strong community element to it which I absolutely love. So I’m connected every couple of days, you know, clashing against another clan with my clan mates and like, I have to be there, I’ve got to donate troops, I’ve got to support these guys, and so I feel very beholden to them. You know, it’s like I’ve got my own little community here that keeps me coming back and the community keeps me spending because I’m like a co-leader and I want to make sure I can donate troops to them so they have more success and kind of — and think about this, a part of why I spend money in the game is so I can make donations to these guys, it’s also just to almost, it’s so ridiculous, but I like to be a role model to these guys. You guys be generous, donate, support each other, and they know I’m very reliable and I keep doing these things and that leads to me spending money in the app. So good for those guys. As an example of a gaming app, how do you like, but it’s built into the app itself.
John Koetsier: That is super interesting. I mean, you basically said, hey, this app, there’s a community, it’s a social network for me. It’s an opportunity to show leadership, it’s an opportunity to be a part of a team, and yeah, I don’t want to let down the guy next door, right, and the guy next to me. And so there’s perfect mechanics built into that app to keep you engaged and keep you coming back and keep you spending as well. And that kind of relates to the next question I had, because we’ve seen a massive shift in mobile during COVID-19 during Coronavirus, right? I published some Adobe data recently which said that COVID-19 accelerated retail four to six years, mobile retail, four to six years, right, e-commerce. And we’ve seen it in games as well, massive engagement. We saw record revenues in games in China, for instance, as that shut down first. We saw huge engagement, about 20% more installs across the board in the first quarter. What have you seen in terms of perhaps user acquisition, but also retention due to COVID-19 over the past few months?
Dennis Mink: So it’s been interesting, right? It’s been really interesting.
John Koetsier: Chinese curse type of way, yes.
Dennis Mink: You know, COVID-19 has impacted the app industry in different ways. There’s some verticals that are really suffering, but it’s not just the app vertical, it’s that entire industry, like travel’s number one. Our travel customers are not spending. There’s no reason for them to spend any money, there’s no travel going on. On the other hand, we’ve seen very significant spikes in growth in spend, and engagement, and usage, and so on amongst gaming and e-commerce, just as all the data shows. We have our own research reports that we’ve been putting out that we just released on shopping apps last week. And same thing, it’s just like incredible growth, it’s happening globally, but it’s very much, you know, there’s winners and losers for sure.
John Koetsier: Interesting, interesting. Thank you. You do a lot of retargeting as well. Can you talk a little bit about the challenges of reactivating a user or customer, and maybe the ROI of retargeting as compared to acquiring brand new users?
Dennis Mink: Are you asking from a mobile perspective or …
John Koetsier: Yes.
Dennis Mink: … from a Liftoff perspective?
John Koetsier: Well, how about a mobile Liftoff perspective?
Dennis Mink: Well, we do our own retargeting and re-engagement to Liftoff customers or former customers, and then of course we run retargeting campaigns on that.
John Koetsier: Right, right, right.
Peggy Anne Salz: Ah ok.
John Koetsier: Talking mostly in terms of your customers, what they’re seeing and what they’re doing.
Dennis Mink: Yeah. So, yeah, we work with a lot of them, you know, so a lot of the companies that we work with where we’re running re-engagement campaigns, it’s a lot of subscription services and a lot of gaming companies, and I want to say some e-commerce companies. Typically it’s quite interesting, right? So it’s like we have a very healthy re-engagement business, a lot of that crosses over with UA. So it’s like a lot of our re-engagement customers were running UA and re-engagement together for them, and that will include re-engaging both Liftoff-acquired customers as well as users they’ve acquired through other channels. You know, what I can tell you is where we typically, where our customers typically have success with re-engagement, number one, it always comes down to they are well-staffed, they invest time and money into re-engaging users. They have an understanding and there’s usually a fairly good segmentation strategy as well. Typically it’s not too crazy of a segmentation strategy, but it’s not just simply let’s go and retarget users that installed but never actually activated. There’s usually much greater sophistication to the segments. So, you know, and then there’s some level of sophistication around the actual messaging like the ad creative that we design that’s with the messaging and design, that’s more specific to the segment that we’re targeting. But again, like I said earlier, advice that I offer to marketers all the time is whether it’s UA or re-engagement, you’re going to have to make an investment of time and resources in order to figure it out and get it right. For us, that means we need to give our ML time to test and optimize and so on. We’ve got a great team that’s actively managing campaigns. So it’s half, you know, it’s automated, but we also are hands on with our ad ops team. But if marketers don’t have the tolerance for that, if they’re impatient, if they’re focused on just like top of funnel metrics like CPI or anything like that, typically they will not have success, whether it’s UA or re-engagement.
Peggy Anne Salz: So you’re giving advice to marketers there, Dennis. That’s good, but you know, you also have advice I think that’s really valuable for B2B marketers listening in to learn from you, because let’s look at your B2B marketing. I mean, I have to say, there are some companies, will not name them, they’re saying, hey, you know, we have to get a Slack channel. I’m thinking you already have, and you told me, 1600 in your Slack channel, right? I recently became a member of the Slack channel, I’m thrilled to say.
John Koetsier: This is the first I hear of it, by the way. I’m almost offended haha.
Peggy Anne Salz: So John’s going to be jealous now. John wants to be in on it. No, just kidding.
Dennis Mink: You could have asked, John. Just ask.
Peggy Anne Salz: Just ask. See, it’s that good. It’s just a community, but you know, think about it, 1600 people communicating in a community, talking, exchanging, seeing you as a brand they can connect with, right? There’s a lot to be said for that. You have other milestones I’d love to hear and sort of run-down because you’ve been doing this now for, I think it is five years. I’d love to know what started you, because now everybody’s talking about, particularly now with COVID, everyone wants to talk through their content, connect through their content. Everyone has a webinar — we won’t go there, about how many people are just sort of like clogging up my inbox with incredible webinars. I had a webinar today, an offer on niche topics that nobody cares about, won’t go there. You don’t have it, I mean things like, you know, going back to submarine cables and telecom, you know, telco stuff. I mean, you really want to do that? You really want to tell me about that in that format? I don’t think so. Just wait for MWC and it’ll all be good, right? Next year. But anyway, won’t go there. I do want to hear what you do. What started it because you got a little bit of a, yeah definitely, you know, you’re not a fast follower, you’re a leader there. What happened?
Dennis Mink: Yeah. So I know, what is up with all of these random webinars that companies I’ve never heard of are inviting me to? It’s like …
John Koetsier: Nicknames.
Dennis Mink: I don’t get it. I don’t get, I’m constantly invited to all this garbage I’m like clearly I’m on everyone’s list. It is incredibly, incredibly annoying. Oh, and I, sorry because the biggest pet peeve of mine, I agree, there’s leaders and there’s a handful of leaders and there’s mostly followers. But what is up with everybody, you know, my whole LinkedIn feed is filled with like promotion of webinars where you’ve got all the guest speakers with their circles and heads, or their heads inside of [circles.]
Peggy Anne Salz: I’m guilty of that.
Dennis Mink: My design team, I’m like you guys … if you look at Liftoff, we’ve been killing all the heads and circles. No more of that. It’s just like, yeah, but this is ultimately what I find in B2B marketing, is the most — listen, I don’t want to, I’m not really sure what to make of it other than what I’ve been thinking and saying for many years now. It just seems like the marketers that are marketing these companies within our industry, and I think B2B in general from what I’ve seen, there’s not a lot of creativity. Like they don’t bring a lot of creativity, they come in and they go, okay, what do I need to do? And they kind of look around at what others do and they start just doing the same thing which in B2B, it’s a lot of webinars and it’s a lot of research, or white papers, some guides, and blogs, and that’s pretty much it.
So when I joined Liftoff, it’s almost six years ago, for me it all started with what do we have of real value that we can offer to the industry, to the marketers, that would be really a value? And I said, well, we’re sitting on a bunch of very interesting deep funnel data and nobody’s really sharing anything like that in our industry. I said, let’s be the ones to share that. And I honestly, if the numbers are good, fantastic. If they’re not so good, I didn’t really care, at least let’s give ourselves, let’s give the industry some benchmarks that they can measure their own campaigns against, from an install to a purchase and what those conversion rates look like throughout. And so that was a start. And John, I don’t know if you remember, I remember you and I had a conversation like I was very excited, I talked to this guy, John, working for VentureBeat. I think you were running research at the time …
John Koetsier: Yes.
Dennis Mink: This is literally, five and a half years ago. I’m like, hey dude, we got all this great data. I’m going to release this report out there, we’d love if you would share it and maybe it’s a value to share with the industry. But that for us was a starting point. It was like, let’s just get something out there that is actually of value to the industry. And over the years this has been — oh, and to do it with a very authentic voice and make sure it’s something that the industry will actually value or some segments of the industry will value. You know? So from there it was very much like, we were working with all these non-gaming marketers and I got to know these guys. I was like, wow, these guys have such a hard job. I think it was Invoice2go, talking with the head of marketing for Invoice2go, and she was telling me they have an app that’s designed for like contractors and outside sales people that when they go and meet with a prospect or a customer, they want to be able to send them an invoice from their phone.
Okay, and they have this app and there’s tons of them in the App Store and they’re all charging $2.99 or $3.99 to download, but these guys have a subscription service. So her job was to be able to go out there and find their target market, get them to download the app, use it, and convince them to pay a monthly fee to use this app versus $2.99 as a one time fee. I was like, holy crap, these guys have such a hard job, so much harder than marketers of gaming apps which is where 90% of the revenue was 90% of the ad spend. Now it’s from all these conversations with marketers doing things like this, like this is their challenge … that is so hard. And they had, there was like no case studies, there was no knowledge sharing going on in the industry at that time, you know? And there was no, and they wanted to learn from each other, they wanted to connect with each other. And so I said, you know what, these guys are the real heroes of the industry. And then I floated this idea around my head for about a month of creating mobile heroes, where we basically give these guys an opportunity to tell their stories, wins, their successes and their failures, their challenges, a little bit of their background, and just give them an opportunity to share some of their knowledge with the rest of the industry as a way of like kind of crowdsourcing the knowledge that was not being shared. And that was really, that was the start of Mobile Heroes. And since then we built in a community aspect with Slack, we have all these Mobile Heroes events that we’ve hosted. It’s very much and just to understand, this is like Liftoff we’re just completely in the background. I just want to give these guys, let us be your sort of the PR marketing support infrastructure to give you guys this opportunity to share, and connect, and learn from one another. And that was really, but that was the impetus, was those conversations I had back then.
John Koetsier: Very, very, very cool. And I hope that time, I can’t recall it, I remember meeting you a long time ago, but I can’t recall that time five, six, seven years ago. I hope I actually wrote something about it.
Dennis Mink: Not a word.
John Koetsier: Hahaha ohhh …
Peggy Anne Salz: Oh boy.
John Koetsier: It’s come back to bite me.
Dennis Mink: Come on man, and I’d reach out to you and then …
John Koetsier: What’s that?
Dennis Mink: And then you went and you joined TUNE at some point.
John Koetsier: I did, I was there for about three years. In my defense, I will say that when I stopped writing full time for VentureBeat, I had tens of thousands of emails in my inbox, and it was not uncommon for me to get 500 or 800 in a day. So it was a little challenging. But you talked about doing some interesting things, you talked about breaking the box a little bit. Marketers tend to be pretty conservative, especially B2B, and you broke a few rules. You did something a little scary actually, you said, hey, even if the data sucks, we’re going to put it out there. Even if it doesn’t make us look good, we’re going to put it out there. Where’d you get the courage to do that? How can you motivate other marketers to have some courage as well to share more?
Dennis Mink: Ooh, that’s a good question. Where do I get the courage to do it? So, you know, honestly, I think there’s sort of two things I could say about that. The first is honestly, it’s just in my DNA. Like, let’s just go have an honest conversation with the industry and see what comes. Let’s just be an authentic, honest voice, and we’re just normal, down to earth, smart people. We don’t do things, you know, maybe we make mistakes here and there. We work hard, we continue to improve everything that we do as an organization and as individuals that work for an organization. So for me, it’s just simply, hey, you guys, we’re sitting on lots of data. I think that there’s a lot of value that we can provide to the industry by being the company that offers benchmarks. Again, and I know it’s just like you’re going to be running your campaigns, you’re investing heavily in Facebook and Google, and we’re programmatic. And we’re early and young, and our numbers are going to look pretty different because the nature of programmatic is different than what you’re going to see from the SANs and so on. Well, let’s get out there, let’s share this with the industry. And then secondly is my CEO, Mark. He gets it, he gets it and he’s not afraid. You know, honestly, he supports me. He supported me from the start, just like we’ll talk through things and he’ll be like, yeah, sounds like a good idea, let’s do it. And he lets me run with what I think makes the most sense for us, and I can go in some pretty interesting directions. He’s always supported me in that, you know, but the results speak for themselves. The results of the impact that marketing has had on building our business, and building our brand, and sustaining that for nearly six years now … he gives me a lot of leeway to do what I need to do because ultimately the results speak for themselves.
John Koetsier: Good.
Peggy Anne Salz: I’d like to understand a little bit about that mix, Dennis, because you say it like, oh, well, you know, it makes sense and it’s authentic, and it’s sharing, it’s giving back. I fully, fully get that, but you know we have the biweekly podcast that I do, right, over at Mobile Presence. You have other things, you have webinars, you have your lunch clubs, you have just this incredible mix and I’d like to understand how you decide that, because you’ve still got your blogs in there, we’ve still got webinars, you know, we dissed them a little bit earlier, but they do work and you have an approach to them. You have talk shows, but there is a mix there’s got to be some sort of formula of some kind that you can share, because it’s really, really cool stuff, but it’s really, really basic stuff too.
Dennis Mink: Formula?
Peggy Anne Salz: Yeah, try.
John Koetsier: Everybody wants the formula …
Peggy Anne Salz: This is like a superhero thing, we want the formula here. It’s …
Dennis Mink: Boy, a formula.
Peggy Anne Salz: Okay.
Dennis Mink: I don’t know about a formula, guys. Honestly, there is, you know, listen, when I joined Liftoff I was the 13th person in the company. There was no marketing, there was no website, there was nothing, right? But first thing I’m thinking to myself is I need to generate demand as a starting point, I need to generate demand for a service. So how can I do that? What are some really easy things that I can get up and running, right? And so if you kind of look at our history of marketing, it’s, okay, get a website up and running and start producing some good quality research that I can produce, released on a quarterly basis. Okay, now let’s do a once-a-quarter webinar just to share and maybe that’ll help generate demand. And let’s get to one event a quarter, you know, MAU and whatever else each quarter. That was as much of a formula as I had and then I just built on top of that.
Mobile Heroes was definitely a risk, like building a whole mobile heroes program was definitely a risk, but I’m a startup guy. I’ve built my own startups, I’ve built marketing from scratch. And so I know how to do it on a very lean budget with few resources. So the investment overall was not that significant to get it up and running. But ultimately, Mobile Heroes is not a big demand gen program for us at all. It’s more thought leadership and education and branding more than anything. You know, listen, honestly, when I think about the things that we’ve done … from time to time, we produce these Mobile Hero comics. The driver for that was very simple, I wanted to give my own team something new and fresh to work on to challenge them, to kind of refresh their creative juices. Because when you do research and webinars and blogs, after a while, honestly, you do after a year or two, it’s boring. It’s boring, it’s not that exciting to work on. So it’s just like, I want to keep their creative juices flowing. Let’s do comics. We know that our industry is young, geeky, data-centric and so on, so it was just like, hey, let’s try creating comics. We’ll turn these mobile heroes into comic book heroes where they can live on forever, and they can share with their friends and family and so on. And so that was the reason why, but that was the main driver for doing the comics. And then we put it out there and we see how does the industry responds? And the feedback was always generally very positive. People love them. We try to weave in a meaningful, you know, build a meaningful story so they actually can learn something that’s meaningful to help them be better marketers. And that’s, you know, but the driver was to keep my team fresh. We don’t generate demand from the comics, but we figured out how to do it in a very time-efficient manner. Like in fact here’s a gift to all the marketers out there: we spend, the actual dollars that we spend on doing a comic and you look at it and go, omigod, 8 pages, 10 pages, 12 pages, it’s so beautiful. Those comics cost us less than $2,000 to produce.
John Koetsier: Wow.
Peggy Anne Salz: Wow.
Dennis Mink: And the amount of time that Morgan and I put into the comics, collectively, let’s call it 15 hours.
Peggy Anne Salz: Seriously, wow.
Dennis Mink: Right, so for most marketers like, Oh my God, I’m going to have to hire and build a team, and … it’s going to be 120 hours of time, and it’s going to be a $15,000 expense. You can’t do comics, it’s too much time and too much of an investment. I go no, no, no, no if it takes that you’re going to do it wrong, if it takes, you know, you’re doing it under two grand and maybe 15 hours of time, that’s the way to go about doing a good comic that maybe will work, maybe it won’t work.
Peggy Anne Salz: It certainly leaves an impression, Dennis, because I know I talked to Mobile Heroes. First of all, they love it, they love it when they’re in there. I sort of like my cameo occurrences also, I have to say. I think the last time I was the source of all evil on the earth or something like that. Pretty cool. But you know, you have these ideas and you have it in your DNA, I can see it, and I can see those sorts of things, but you work with a team. I’m just wondering how to keep them motivated, how to keep them on the same wavelength, you know, you’re going on some great energy, but they might burn out or something, or mix it up, or get someone in with really wild ideas. Any thoughts on how to manage amazing imagination, I guess?
Dennis Mink: Yes. Yeah, that’s a really good question. So, ideas need to come from somewhere and from some, you know, from people. Boy, that’s a really good question, Peggy. So I’ll tell you what I do these days with my team, is typically we’ll have a brainstorm and we’ll throw ideas out there. And, I’m always just looking for that one thing, you don’t really need a ton of ideas, you just need one really good idea. And then to take that one good idea from an idea to executing something that’s hopefully out the gate pretty good that you can then kind of iterate upon and at least give it a couple more tries. That’s really what I go for. So, typically what I do is, we’ll do some brainstorm, come up with that one idea that we want to pursue, and then work with a very small subset of people on that one idea. Do not bring in lots of people … and you need to be there, and I will be very actively involved in it. And typically what I do these days, especially with COVID-19 and working from home is we will, like the Mobile Heroes lunch club is a perfect example. We’re sitting there going, oh crap, events are all being canceled, guys. Uh oh, now we all have to stay at home, everyone’s staying home globally. What do we do? No more events. What are people going to be missing out on? They get to meet with their friends and colleagues, they get to have a lunch, talk shop. What do we miss out on at Liftoff, a lot of the same stuff, right? And so I said, hey, what if we do like a Mobile Heroes lunch club, small groups, and get a mobile hero to moderate a lunch, but we do like a series of four of them, one a week for four weeks in a row. So you get time to build a relationship, you get to know people, you get to talk about the things that are important to you. We get them onto the Slack community so they can talk ahead of time. What are the subjects they want to talk about when they have their lunch. And then we’ll provide lunch, coupon code, honestly, breakfast, lunch, dinner. I don’t care, go spend it with, maybe you don’t want to eat lunch while you’re talking — nobody does, it turns out.
John Koetsier: Shocker.
Peggy Anne Salz: Shocking haha.
Dennis Mink: A lunch for your wife or your husband, or it doesn’t matter to us, right? So, but the way that I worked with a team, there were three of us, is we just met, we would meet for 30 minutes to an hour, three days a week to work through all the details. Okay, so many details need to get worked out like, okay, how about the coupon codes? Well, geez, we can’t use this one service in Europe, okay, let’s try using another one. Hey, we got the moderators, we’ve got all of our heroes sign up as moderators. Let’s get feedback, let’s survey the attendees after each lunch so we could get feedback and so we could give to the moderators, feedback for ourselves, right? So we can improve these in real-time because we have no idea. I kept saying, like to us and to the moderators, you guys, we’ve never done this before. We’ve never tried to moderate a group through Zoom or through a computer, we don’t know what works, what doesn’t work. If it’s awkward, how do you overcome awkwardness and so on? How do you get the shy people to talk, etc. How do you [know if you] talked too much. And so in real-time, the three of us would work through these things. We have a single doc we use for tracking everything and we launched the lunch clubs. And I’ve got to tell you, they have been such a huge hit based upon the surveys, based on all the feedback we get from the 150 marketers that have been attending these lunch clubs for — we’ve just finished round two — eight full weeks of lunch clubs, 150 marketers getting together every single week with a small group of 10 to 12 to talk shop.
John Koetsier: Very, very, very cool.
Dennis Mink: So I don’t know. I don’t know if this is answering your question, but that’s one of the ways just like somebody’s got to stay close to it … and pay attention to the details, because things get sloppy real fast in marketing, you know, so you’ve really got to pay attention to the details.
John Koetsier: Yes you do. Yes, you do. Cool. So we’re almost running out of time here, but maybe two more questions I’m going to sort of pack into one, and we’re going to mobile apps and retention. First part of it is what are two or three of the biggest mistakes you see marketers make with mobile retention? And give us maybe one key thing that every mobile user retention specialist should try.
Dennis Mink: Sure. Yeah, I think, okay in terms of mistakes that I’ve seen marketers make, I think the first one is actually just simply not investing enough time into it, right? So there’s a bit too much of, well, I tried something, it didn’t work, so I just stopped doing it.
John Koetsier: Yup.
Dennis Mink: You know? Because it does, like running re-engagement campaigns is more work than running UA, by far. You need to be thinking, you know, the amount of creatives that you’re going to want to develop, segments you’re going to want to develop and test against, it just, the amount of work multiplies with re-engagement. So understand when you get into it, it’s going to require a greater amount of time and resources to test and to learn, and optimize, and to see success, than say UA, which can be these days more and more automated with Liftoff and Google and Facebook and so on. So I think that’s sort of like, that’s probably the main mistake I’ve seen marketers make, is just not investing enough time that it requires. And then your second question, John, what was your second question?
John Koetsier: Just saying what’s one key thing that every mobile user retention specialist should try.
Dennis Mink: I mean, you know, this goes for UA and re-engagement and it’s definitely around like creative testing and optimization. What you do on the UA side applies to the re-engagement side as well. You know, so if you are, you want to be investing just as much into designing and testing ads for those different audience segments that you’re retargeting. I think that’s the main thing. There is one other thing and I don’t have data against this. I have an opinion and based upon research I’ve read, I think that when it comes to push, and this is not anything that Liftoff does, but I think that when it comes to push, utilizing push notifications, every marketer I’ve ever talked to over the years — and I used to run marketing for a mobile marketing automation platform that was for enterprise-level push in-app messaging and so on — one of the biggest mistakes that I thought that I saw with marketers is just everybody has this belief that nobody wants to receive push notifications, so just minimize your use of push notifications. And I actually think that, you know, like listen, with everything there’s a line, and my DNA is I like to push myself and my team to cross the line and then we’ll pull back. And when it comes to push, I think marketers are very, they creep and creep and never really even get too close to that line. You know, they think, hey, transactional push notifications are fine, beyond that any kind of push you’d want to use for marketing it’s just like stay away from it because you’re going to bother users and then they’re going to just delete our app or they’ll get annoyed and leave. So this is one other area where I would encourage marketers, you know, take a look at that, good, get to the line. I think you’re fine, go to the line, cross the line, come pullback versus taking this approach of slowly creeping and never even coming close. So I think there’s a lot of room for utilizing push for retention.
Peggy Anne Salz: I have to say, Dennis, you know, from crossing the line, breaking the rules, thinking out of the box, it’s like some sort of action-adventure here, a comic hero. I mean, we started out with the whole idea of superheroes and superpowers. It’s just been great having you here and sharing some of your superpowers on B2B marketing. I think it was helpful for our audience and great to have you here. Thank you!
Dennis Mink: Yeah, it’s really nice. You guys know I’m hosting a lot of webinars and talk shows in my career, especially these days. And it’s nice to be a guest.
John Koetsier: Great, thank you so much!
Dennis Mink: My pleasure.
Peggy Anne Salz: Thank you.
John Koetsier: Well, thank you for joining us on Retention Masterclass, whatever platform you’re on, hey, like, subscribe, share, comment, or all of the above. If you love this podcast, please rate it and review it. That would be a massive help.
Peggy Anne Salz: And of course, until the next time, you know, as always keep well, stay safe. This is Peggy Anne Salz signing off for Retention Masterclass.
John Koetsier: And I’m John Koetsier, have a great day.