Episode #38: How Brand Marketing is Making a Comeback with Brooke McKnight

In episode 38 of our podcast - Mobile Growth and Pancakes - we talked with Jam City's VP of Product Marketing about brand marketing choices and strategies.

In this episode of Mobile Growth & Pancakes, our own Jonathan Fishman is joined by Brooke McKnight, VP of Product Marketing at Jam City, to talk about leading brand marketing channels and strategies for the gaming industry in 2022.

Check out all the other episodes of Mobile Growth & Pancakes here.

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“Sometimes you want to go out with a big campaign, and you have to do all of the groundwork to make sure that you feel comfortable that that’s the right choice. Sometimes it’s not going to work. And I think with brand marketing you have to take those calculated risks and learn from them.

Brooke Mcknight

Key takeaways:

  • Before joining Jam City as the VP of Product Marketing, Brooke worked for companies like NBCUniversal Media, The Walt Disney Company, and N3TWORK INC. She contributed to various popular projects like Despicable Me, Star Wars, Marvel, and Jurassic World. Jam City is an award-winning entertainment company providing unique and deeply engaging mobile games played by tens of millions of people across the globe.
  • The early days of brand marketing focused more on traditional marketing tactics, like partner marketing and the product-market fit. However, brand marketing strategies have started to shift towards performance marketing.
  • It’s still difficult to track direct attribution to some brand tactics, and there will always be risks in brand marketing choices. But you can make sure it’s a calculated risk by testing a new campaign before releasing it. 
  • One leading brand marketing channel for 2022 you should focus on is influencer marketing. You can also cross-partner with other industry companies.

Download the full app audience growth stack for 2022

    Full Transcript:

    Jonathan Fishman: Hey, everybody, and welcome to another episode of Mobile Growth & Pancakes. I’m your host, Jonathan Fishman. I’m VP of marketing at Storemaven. I’m excited because I’m here with Brooke McKnight, who is VP Product Marketing at Jam City. How are you?

    Brooke: I’m doing well. I’m doing well.

    Jonathan: Awesome. Thank you for joining us. Do you want to introduce yourself for a sec?

    Brooke: Sure. Thank you for that introduction. Yes, I am vice president of product marketing at Jam City. I’ve been at Jam City for a few months, six, seven months. I’m trying to do the math here. April of 2021, and previous to that, I was at N3twork as head of marketing for about a year, and previous to that, I spent about 10 years at NBC Universal. I had a stint in the middle at Disney Interactive. Primarily I’ve done game marketing and I’ve been doing it for about 15 years. I was looking back trying to think about how many games I’ve been involved with at launch, and I stopped counting at about 150. I’ve been in the industry for a while.

    I was around before the iPhone came out, so I can talk about Java [unintelligible 00:02:06]. I can talk about when we used to buy or rent console games at GameStop, those kind of things.

    Jonathan: When the iPhone came out, did you imagine that that’s what your life is going to look like in the next 15 years?

    Brooke: [laughs] I was very early in my career, and we were all talking about how there’s going to be a game-changer, and when it came out, I feel like it happened overnight. I was one of the few people at the company that was working on mobile games and I was at Universal at this time. I remember I got a phone call from Ron Meyer, who is the president of Universal, asking me about mobile games, and I was just floored at that point. Yes, it was very disruptive. It changed everything. The studio was really interested in how we took advantage of this new platform and we really did. We worked with big companies like Gameloft, Kabam, and we did some co-development deals.

    When I was at Universal, I liked to talk about Despicable Me: Minion Rush because that game just recently passed over a billion downloads. I had the pleasure and the honor of being a part of a lot of great projects. Worked on Star Wars, and Marvel, and Jurassic, and a lot of things. It’s been exciting.

    Jonathan: Awesome. Now that you’ve joined Jam City, what are you responsible now at Jam City as VP of product marketing?

    Brooke: I report to Vanessa Rouhani, who is the SVP of publishing and she’s amazing.

    Jonathan: One of our industry’s leaders, I would say.

    Brooke: She is. Yes, she’s one of the big reasons why I wanted to come. We have great leadership at Jam City, Chris DeWolfe, Josh Yguado, and Matt Casertano. A lot of great folks, and I’ve known some of them for many years. The team that works on Disney Emoji Blitz when I was at Disney, I worked right next to them on the same floor, and we just recently acquired Ludia. I’ve known Alex and Francois in that team for many years, I think 12 years because they had the Jurassic license for [unintelligible 00:04:29] mobile games. It just feels like coming to Jam City was the most appropriate choice for me. It’s an opportunity to truly work with my friends and people that I admire.

    Yes, it’s been amazing and I’m really excited. You asked what I do. I oversee the product marketing team, and it’s a bunch of very talented people who do long-term marketing plans, go-to marketing plans, and we also oversee social media and community.

    Jonathan: Cool. We want to talk today about the fact that brand marketing is making a comeback and it’s pretty cool given your experience because you’ve been through the entire cycle.

    Brooke: I have. [laughs]

    Jonathan: You’ve been through the past few years where growth was so performance marketing-driven, driven or enabled, I would say, by Facebook and other social media giants that have created this insane user [unintelligible 00:05:40] we’re able to just provide you with a stream of high-quality users in exchange for their data, and IDFA. That has gone away. It’s still in its last breath, I would say, but a lot of people are talking now that brand marketing is in fact making a comeback. Why do you think this is, and how would you define [unintelligible 00:06:06] brand marketing for a game?

    Brooke: Sure. I think things are very cyclical. When I first got started, it was important to focus on more traditional marketing tactics, and this was before user acquisition was even a consideration. For instance, I just brought up Despicable Me: Minion Rush. When we launched that game, the marketing plan was more focused on partner marketing. We were working together with McDonald’s, and Walmart and AMC to get cross-promotional opportunities and value. We worked with Apple and Google back in the day when featuring was really, really important, and you could get a ton of downloads because you had that big banner at the very top.

    That was important, and I still think this is important, the product-market fit, right?

    Jonathan: For sure.

    Brooke: Are you drawing people in a way that matches their expectations, and do you give them experience that they feel like it’s fun, if it’s an IP that you’ve licensed and it’s a well-known brand, it has to fit with that, or if it’s original, you have to take them through a fun story that they can connect with. I think early days, that’s what the main focus was on, and I think obviously, we evolved into a place where we wanted to focus on performance marketing. It’s a holy grail. If you can spend a dollar and know that you [unintelligible 00:07:58] back two, why wouldn’t you every day, consistently? All of the plans and the strategies quickly shifted to performance marketing, and I shifted along with it.

    I still have always seen myself as more of a product and brand marketing person. Math is not my favorite thing, but I definitely put myself in a place where I needed to learn how to compute information and look at all the data, and it got really exciting too because you start saying to yourself, “Oh, if I just change this one thing, this is how I can make the numbers go up.” I still think that both product and performance marketing are important, but they need to work together now more than ever.

    I think when it started to get shifted to user acquisition, teams started to become more siloed. It was like, “Okay, you do the creative brand stuff and I’ll do the advertising,” but I think the teams that have been most successful are the ones that were working in concert and just trying to figure out ways to make sure that the marketing is effective, that are reaching the right audiences. It’s not to say that the pendulum is shifting all the way back to brand marketing, but it was just all the companies were so focused on performance marketing that I think that people are starting to realize that actually, having really, really smart creative is important.

    Jonathan: Yes, for sure, and I think there was an article by Eric Seufert last week or this week, I can’t remember, about the fact that brand marketing, first of all, of course, they’re affecting one another, performance marketing and brand marketing, because the more people that are aware of the brand, the more effective the ads would be because people would recognize the brand, and of course, there’s the entire world of IP based games that are other games that managed to create a really good brand and didn’t have a really strong IP at the beginning.

    I would say, I don’t know, things like June’s Journey by Wooga. It’s really a game that has a huge brand that didn’t rely on a really famous IP, to begin with, but the more people recognize the brand, the more people would respond or would be reactive to the ads. The thing is, and that was Eric Seufert’s point, that brand marketing existed in a world where people just assumed it can’t be measured, so, okay, we’ll measure performance marketing, and they’ll have to prove that every cent they’re putting out there will make two. Brand marketing, we just assume it’s something that you need to do, so you’re excused from needing to measure stuff that in that way.

    These days with the lack of IDFA and deterministic contribution is going away, so you can’t measure performance marketing that way. Brand marketing and performance marketing are finding themselves in the same boat. How do you think about measuring brand marketing or something like a TV campaign or a billboard campaign or stuff like that, or even offline?

    Brooke: It’s still very difficult to track direct attribution to some brand tactics. From my perspective, I think there’s still going to be some amount of risk in the choices that you make and the decisions that you make on the brand marketing side but whenever possible to take those to make sure it’s a calculated risk and do all the upfront research and work with your consumer insights team or do some background and comp testing and all of that.

    I think before we even go out with a campaign, we talk to our audience, take the assets, and test those first, whether it’s like a clickthrough test on key art or whether it’s just asking our high valued players what they think of a campaign or we’re thinking about working with this brand partner, let’s do a survey and see if people are interested in this brand or what they think about it or what they would think about having this brand be part of our campaign. I’ll give an example. For Cookie Jam, Jam City partnered to integrate Wheel Of Fortune into the game. They did a lot of audience research ahead of that.

    Found out that a lot of people were fans of Wheel Of Fortune, that they watched it quite consistently, and that it matched the audience. Then, when they worked with Sony, they made sure that [inaudible 00:13:33] on-air advertising and that it’s all integrated in the game so that there’s a Wheel Of Fortune contest that people are playing within the game that they win prizes. It’s all a 360 campaign. That sort of thing is what we want to keep replicating because when we looked at the data, we had to do more of cohort analysis for some of these actions.

    Wherever possible, you want to have an attribution link, but sometimes you just have to look at cohort because you can take small actions like, “Oh, okay, for instance, I’m going to test TV and I’m going to spend X on the lift.” You can do that if you have the time, but sometimes just want to go out with a big campaign and you just have to do all of the groundwork to make sure that you feel comfortable that that’s the right choice. Sometimes it’s not going to work. You’ll look at it and say, “Hey, I don’t think this really drove the needle.” I think with brand marketing, sometimes you just have to take those, again, calculated risks, and learn from them.

    I’ve also been in situations where folks have said, “Oh, well, we tried that before. I don’t know if that really worked.” Then it’s like, “Well, maybe we should try it again and just look at it a little differently.” If it was something that we did with talent, like, “Oh, we worked with talent before.” I was like, “Well, maybe it was that particular talent, and maybe they didn’t match with that particular audience, or maybe we just didn’t look at the campaign in the right way and we didn’t have the right messaging.” UA in performance marketing, it’s very analytical, and product and brand marketing is a little bit looser.

    It’s always going to be we’ll try to do as much as we can to go back and look at the data and make sure that that informs the strategy, but you just have to be comfortable knowing that you can hire smart people and they’re great critical thinkers, they just move forward with strategies and plans.

    Jonathan: There are two parts here, one of them is having the right infrastructure, I would say, to actually measure the success of things that aren’t directly attributable because these channels, it’s true for a lot of brand marketing channels, but they’re not direct response channels. The way that they influence folks to down the game is not by tapping on an ad and downloading the game straight away. It could happen days, weeks, months afterward. They could go in and search the app store for the brand name and then download and then they would even be attributed as search results, which is completely unrelated but what you mentioned measuring cohorts, I think that’s the way to go.

    If you have a platform where you know when you ran a certain campaign and then you see how it influenced the entire funnel, people browsing the app store, searching for your brand name, or just how it influenced searches for other keywords, and of course, how it influenced the effectiveness of ads at that time, that could be really, really useful because it also works through word of mouth. You ran a billboard campaign, somebody saw it and then talked about it with a friend, and then that friend searched the app. It’s impossible to really measure it directly.

    Brooke: It really is.

    Jonathan: I like the approach of basically thinking rationally and logically and thinking about do we have a good hypothesis and what is going to work, doing the research, of course, understanding the affinity between, as I said, Wheel Of Fortune and different brands to your game brand, but just then running the campaign and then measuring it that way that captures all the indirect effects. Another thing that’s really interesting that I’m seeing a lot of people do now, it’s very similar to what you described with Wheel Of Fortune, which is understanding on a contextual level, which source apps, sub-publishers are driving a lot of valuable traffic to our app and what type of games do they come from?

    If you think about contextually in a game, buying a lot of traffic on ad networks is bringing in traffic from all sorts of apps but if you group them contextually into not even categories like real groups of IPs, maybe, I don’t know, Spiderman, you can see that Spiderman themed apps and games are bringing a lot of valuable traffic, and then you discover all these small brand affinities that connect to your game and you can generate a lot more ideas with that. I really like that. What are you guys doing today, what’s working or what do you think is going to work in 2022 in terms of brand marketing? What type of channels?

    Brooke: Sure. I think we’re seeing a lot of success with influencer marketing, and speaking of attribution, we found a way to track that pretty effectively. We offer influencers a performance model based on installs, so they get X amount of dollars for every install that they bring, and that is nice because it’s pretty attributable and it incentivizes influencers to really get you players and make sure that they’re downloading the game. I have someone on my team, Evan Kam, who’s overseeing that and he’s created that model and he’s doing an amazing job of finding influencers for Disney Emoji Blitz and working with the Ludia team now to adopt that model and do the same for some of their games.

    We’re seeing a lot of success there. In addition [crosstalk]–

    Jonathan: Is it proprietary? How do you go about tracking the influencer-driven download of the app?

    Brooke: Just through adjust links.

    Jonathan: Cool. Just like something that we saw, forget the name of the game, there was SongPop. The dude that founded SongPop now has an influencer agency, I forgot their name, but they also found a way to attribute also their branded searches that the influencer was able to drive because he found that the direct installs are, I don’t know, 60, 70% of the total downloads that they were able to attribute through search even at the time when the influencer campaign was working.

    Brooke: That’s cool. I think that would work for agencies as a model, as an additional way to charge folks.

    Jonathan: Everybody’s looking to attribute the most downloads, yes.

    Brooke: Yes. I think whenever we can, we’re always trying to do some campaign measurement with the influencers, and the ones that are the most successful, we try to build those relationships. If they’re working for one of our games, they might work for another one. It’s more offers a long-term relationship that’s consistently giving them income. That program has been really great and we have our internal team that is directly reaching out to influencers and building that relationship but it’s difficult to scale unless you have an army of folks. You do want to work with agencies to continue to scale that and measure it.

    My team is always looking at new ways to either find additional channels outside of Facebook and our mobile networks. We’ve been looking at connected TV and running tests or thinking about other avenues. We’re also seeing that people-first content is working pretty well. Cameo, for instance, is something that we’ve been tapping into. Just recently did a campaign for Disney Emoji Blitz where we worked with Kathy Najimy. She’s a film star. She was in Hocus Pocus as one of the Sanderson sisters, and she’s a fan favorite. We had her sit down with our developer and did a fun interview that we posted on social and we saw that the fans really loved it.

    In addition, we had her do a bunch of advertising for us in front of a green screen, and it really killed it. We’re testing different types of creative ideas that we can also bring to different channels. With the IDFA deprecation, we’re shifting our spins from Facebook to other channels, and we’re also spending less on iOS. That has had an impact on what we’re doing from the user acquisition side. It doesn’t mean that we’re not still spending effectively because the team has been doing an amazing job of finding new ways to still make that work. I’m very thankful that we have an incredible user acquisition team here at Jam City.

    We’ve been definitely partnering a lot more trying to figure out other creative ways to reach audiences, and just tapping into some of the things that my team is already doing. I think product marketing requires more long-term planning. That’s just the crux of it, which is sometimes with mobile games, you just want things to happen now, and you have to be pretty reactive. We’re just trying to do what we can to find things that really work, but you have to put out the plan and figure it out. Sometimes those things take time, and things like influencer marketing are important. Also, looking to just build upon our lifecycle marketing strategy.

    If you’re going to lose the ability to run lookalike campaigns, you want to make sure that you’re at least collecting emails and things like that so you can know who your audience is. Those other things are important, yes.

    Jonathan: I think it goes hand in hand, building the response of a lot of game companies, the larger one, of course, to the IDFA, was to build an audience, and it goes hand in hand with brand marketing, you just create an enormous audience of players. We saw that with the M&A movement and motion that’s happening in the industry for quite some time now. I think 5, 10 years down the road there’s going to be a handful of huge game companies that basically ate up a ton of studios and a ton of developers. They would have such a huge network or such a huge audience that they can act as their own ad network and cross-promote their different brands to one another.

    I think it goes hand in hand in doing brand marketing and bringing in a loyal audience in the first place.

    Brooke: Yes, absolutely. I think it’s important for companies to build just to your point of big companies buying smaller companies. They’re building their network so that they can cross-promote, and find a way that [crosstalk]–

    Jonathan: Then, you do have first-party data because it’s your apps. It’s your apps, you can use it.

    Brooke: Yes, exactly.

    Jonathan: Cool. There’s a lot of folks listening to us that don’t work on games with a really famous IP. Do you have anything for them, when they start thinking about brand marketing, how they should go about it?

    Brooke: Yes. Again, Cookie Jam as an example, it’s not based on a major IP but it’s a great game that people love to play. If you can partner with another brand that has popularity like I said. We did Wheel Of Fortune, it worked really well for us, so then we did Family Feud, and then we did [unintelligible 00:26:35]. We found ways, we’re like, “Okay, this is working so we’re going to continue to partner with these companies to find ways to bring these game shows into the app and reach our audience in a fun new way, and have user acquisition that’s compelling and recognizable and memorable.” There are ways that you can partner with things that have celebrities or other brands or even other games.

    I’ve seen some crossover happen from game to game. That’s one piece of advice that I would give. In addition, it’s just what I said about being able to really truly test any piece of brand marketing that you can upfront. Whether it’s click testing here or working with Storemaven to optimize your app store, see, I gave you that plug.

    Jonathan: Yes, I like the plug.

    Brooke: Definitely, making sure that you’re testing your creative, and with user acquisition, it’s getting so, so competitive. A lot of the systems now are automated. I’m from the entertainment industry, and they always say content is king. Well, this is true, even in games. One of my favorite marketing gurus is Seth Godin, he said like, “Marketing is a contest for people’s attention.” It literally is, you just want to make sure that you’re getting in front of people, finding a way to grab their attention. We all have short attention spans now and it’s more important now than ever to make sure that you have something that’s really thumb-stopping and grabs attention.

    Jonathan: That’s really true. You also mentioned [unintelligible 00:28:38] and I remember I was trying to promote a conference. It wasn’t this year, last year, and I tried to get Snoop Dogg to pay him like– I think he wanted $20,000 for 15 seconds saying something about Storemaven.

    Brooke: That’s a deal. That’s a deal.

    Jonathan: I [crosstalk] [inaudible 00:29:02] that they can get these days, everything is so accessible for doing brand marketing stuff. That’s a possibility, you can just use platforms to reach out to somebody like Snoop and ask him to talk about Storemaven and creative testing. That would never be happening in the world. I didn’t do it in the end, didn’t get approval. It wasn’t in line with the brand.

    Brooke: Right.

    Jonathan: It’s really accessible these days, you can do pretty much everything you want. We are running out of time, but I want to ask you a few questions that we ask all of our guests. We talked about tips, so I’ll just go straight to content recommendation, who do you read? Who do you follow? You mentioned Seth Godin, but maybe somebody in the mobile industry for mobile growth and product marketing resources.

    Brooke: I read a lot of trades so Pocket Gamer. Well, I like Deconstructor of Fun. [chuckles]

    Jonathan: That’s a good one.

    Brooke: Mostly because I know a lot of those guys and I love gossip. I definitely try to read the trades every morning and stay up to speed on what’s happening and Adweek. Those are some good resources as well for if you’re into more brand marketing.

    Jonathan: Awesome. Now to the most important topic which is pancakes. What’s your favorite pancake?

    Brooke: There is a restaurant in Los Angeles called Cici’s and they have Matcha green pancakes.

    Jonathan: Wow. Matcha green pancakes that’s-

    Brooke: Matcha green tea pancakes.

    Jonathan: -some innovative stuff.

    Brooke: They’re so good and fluffy and I highly recommend whenever you’re in LA next to go to Cici’s and get these pancakes. This is your podcast. You should do a whole podcast just specifically on those pancakes. They’re so good.

    Jonathan: For sure. The most difficult thing in this podcast is people just get me want to eat all these kind of pancakes and I do and it’s not good for nothing. It makes me happy though.

    Brooke: I haven’t had breakfast yet. I’m hungry so you can tell I’m really excited about it. [laughs]

    Jonathan: Yes, for sure. Lastly, if people want to reach out to you, to chat, get advice, talk to you about anything, where can they find you?

    Brooke: They can find me on LinkedIn. Also, my email at Jam City is brooke.mcknight@jamcity. Pretty easy, so [inaudible 00:31:46] [crosstalk].

    Jonathan: Awesome. Cool. That was a pleasure. Thank you so much for doing this. I learned a lot.

    Brooke: It was a great chat. Thanks so much, Jonathan.

    Jonathan: Talk to you soon.

    About Ron Gordon
    Ron is Storemaven's Head of Marketing, the one person you would have guessed will know what this mobile growth talk is all about. A misguided law student and journalist, Ron brings to the table some lack of seriousness the Hitech realm is desperately in need of. In his spare time, he's mainly trolling Whatsapp groups.

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