Episode #36: Driving an Effective User Acquisition Strategy with Macarena Sabalza

In this episode of our podcast, Mobile Growth and Pancakes, Macarena Sabalza from Papumba shares UA strategies and best practices to drive and support growth.

In this episode of Mobile Growth & Pancakes, our host Jonathan Fishman is joined by Macarena Sabalza, User Acquisition Manager at Papumba, a play-based education platform for kids. They discuss how to scale user acquisition campaigns and adopt effective UA strategies.

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

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“We all know that opening a new UA channel has its challenges. First of all, you might need an important amount of money to take the first test. A new network always needs instant investing in high volumes to learn and go through the learning phase.

Macarena Sabalza

Key takeaways:

  • Macarena is the User Acquisition Manager at Papumba, a developer of educational games for mobile devices designed for infants and preschool children to develop cognitive skills. Some of Macarena’s responsibilities include: developing a growth marketing roadmap to reach MoM growth subscriber objectives; leading all online performance marketing to scale customer acquisition; monitoring, tracking, and optimizing channel/campaign performance.
  • Papumba was growing organically. However, the team shifted towards user acquisition by implementing paid campaigns. To scale UA effectively, firstly, you need to cover the basics. Focus on diversifying your channels, invest high in them, and consider the creative resources you have. 
  • To attract users, Papumba started with influencers. They later decided to work with Facebook and several networks for children. 
  • The creative strategy has a significant role in UA. CPPs are a great opportunity. Test different messages to become more relevant and focus on gaining back some attributed data. 
  • Papumba’s main KPIs are subscriptions and renewals. They mainly focus on all events or actions that can be measured on the first day of the user experience, such as onboarding, signing up, and the demo. 
  • Measuring the success of a campaign requires gathering enough data from the MMP. Once you have this data, analyze every step of the user journey to see where the majority of drops occur. Look at trends over time, compare them to the changes in your marketing campaigns, and see how these changes affect the trends.

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    Full Transcript:

    Jonathan Fishman: Hey everybody, and welcome to another episode of Mobile Growth & Pancakes. I’m your host, Jonathan Fishman, and VP of Marketing here at Storemaven. I’m really excited to be here today with Maca, a user acquisition manager at Papumba. Hey, Maca.

    Macarena: Hey, Jonathan.

    Jonathan: What’s up? Do you want to introduce yourself a bit?

    Macarena: Yes, sure. As you mentioned, I’m Macarena, you can call me Maca. I’m a user acquisition manager here in Papumba, which is a subscription app from an Edtech startup that offers a lot of educational content for kids such as games, books, and videos. I’ve been working in performance marketing for almost six years now and previously I worked in one of the biggest gaming companies here in Argentina.

    I have been in Mobile Growth for quite some time. Thank you so much for the opportunity, I love to be here.

    Jonathan: Awesome. Thank you for joining. Can you give us a bit more background on the team size and specifically the app, what kind of users you were targeting? I know it’s content for kids, but is it their parents? Can you give us more details?

    Macarena: Yes, sure. In terms of users, we have, of course, both sides. We are mainly focusing on parents but we also have the kids’ side that we can reach. In terms of the team here in Papumba, for marketing, we have our growth team focusing mostly in retention and conversion. While me from the other side as user acquisition, I work with the content team and a designer for the user acquisition and creative strategy. While we are still few, but growing every month.

    Jonathan: Awesome. You’re mostly grow through paid campaigns? What are your top channels?

    Macarena: Yes. We start working with paid campaigns six months ago. It’s a brand new strategy for us. Papumba has grown every year organically, the product grows itself. User acquisition is a new part of the growth and we’re also activating the different growth fuels such as automation and different growth strategies. So yes, it’s brand new, all the marketing team.

    Jonathan: Awesome. That’s really an exciting spot to be in. Today we want to talk a bit about that phase where you’re starting out with user acquisition and you’re starting to actually scale the operation and focus a bit on that. Can you walk us through when folks think about when they know it’s the right time to actually scale user acquisition? They tread it out, they experimented a bit with a few channels.

    When do you know when it’s time to really throw in a ton of paid budgets and scale the operation?

    Macarena: Okay, yes. I think that the decision to start buying new users, of course, comes from the necessities will grow faster but I think that everyone wants that, right? I could say that a good moment to start thinking about UA efforts is when you know you got the basics covered. Meaning that when you have of course they broke market feed with retention, a good funnel conversion rate, and so on.

    Once we saw that the– As I mentioned, that the conversion and retention rates were competitive according to the industry benchmarks and according to our competitors of course. The company here, of course, Papumba, decided that it was the right time to turn on this fuel as I mentioned. I think it’s a little bit disappointing to create a user acquisition strategy that doesn’t work due to the poor user experience within the product.

    As I mentioned, you have to get those basics covered. I think that you can optimize a lot of things in a performance campaign but if the product or the user experience should be valuable enough to cover the high cost according to the new user has the right. Moving to the scale of user acquisition, as you mentioned when you have a few channels and little budget and you’re starting, to scale user acquisition campaigns, I think that the time comes when you find the stability.

    When you are seeing that performance is in a good place, that costs are stable and you’re reaching your target KPIs, that is, of course, the more important part. That’s when you may need to think, “Where should I make the next move?” If there is enough space to continue growing in the same network, you should go for it of course but it will be much cheaper than opening new channels.

    I think that it’s also a great moment to start thinking about testing new ones like new networks and new partners because I think it’s super important to diversify your acquisition strategy. Don’t rely just on one partner. In terms of scale, I would go there but of course, we all know that opening a new channel has its challenge. First of all, you might need an important amount of money to make the first test.

    A new network always needs instant investing in great volumes to learn and to go through the learning phase. This is a kind of investment, so probably you won’t see any good results at the beginning or even the first month. I think another thing super important to consider is the creative resources you have. In my opinion, you should never try a new network with the creatives you already have.

    Like you’re switching a new network, in some cases, the creatives are quite similar in terms of concepts and maybe there is a little just a change in the format. For example, and I made this mistake, of course, [laughs] trying, I don’t know, a Facebook ad, video in TikTok won’t get you good results or at least not the best results you can have. This doesn’t mean that it won’t work of course, but it won’t be the ideal scenario for testing.

    This part I think, these two things in terms of the budget and the creatives are super important. In a few words, try not to expect much of a new channel if you have a low budget or few time and if you don’t have yet the creative resources to adopt every creative to each network. I think to have a clear conclusion if the network works, you should give of course time and a little effort.

    Do not be disappointed at first sight and say, “Okay, this doesn’t work. Let’s move to another thing.” Because it may not be that time or it may not be a lot of things. In my opinion, all this is a part of scaling the user acquisition strategy.

    Jonathan: Yes, I think there’s a lot of gold there in what you just said. There’s so many folks out there that just give up too quick. They try a new channel and either they don’t have enough cash ready and budgeted for this new channel, this test budget not expecting to see incredible ROAS on the budget as well as really taking seriously the creative side because as you said there is such a thing as a network creative fit. I mean creatives to work in Facebook won’t work on TikTok and Snapchat.

    Not even talking about the different ad networks like ironSource and Unity and AppLovin for more of the game folks out there so that’s really important. When you started out, there’s the question of where is my audience? You have an interesting situation where you can acquire the parents that are looking for education stuff for their kids or kids if they’re above a certain age at least. What’s your strategy there?

    Macarena: Here in Papumba, we started first of all with influencers. We started the other way around I think for so many other cases. We began to see good results here in Latam. When we began with all the– How can I say, the bigger strategy for UA, we decided to start in Facebook, we have great resources to target and the audience should be there. Well, we also decided Facebook related to the creative part because we know that we will have quick results in terms of creativity and in terms of data.

    Because, as I mentioned before, we started six months ago with nothing. We have to test everything, like creatives, copies, data, how the data pulls from somewhere to other, the MMP, and everything. We decided that Facebook in terms of audience cost and resources was the best one, but we are also testing in an open network that is just for kids, meaning that that the placements are in apps for kids.

    We have these toolbars and they behave quite differently. We are still trying to figure out how valuable they are and the difference in terms of the acquisition. We have this on both sites and of course, as as you mentioned, you need to go to the right place where your audience is and it’s super important and well, for this, you have to define the audience properly, right?

    Jonathan: Yes, definitely. Your subscription rights. I guess that the main KPI for each of these campaigns is subscribers, or are there also in-app purchases that aren’t a subscription?

    Macarena: No, of course, our main KPI is actually the subscription but well, have a lot of different actions that we are measuring along the user funnel but yes, our main KPI is the subscription and then we work for the renewal, right?

    Jonathan: Yes, for sure. We’ll talk a bit more about data and how to get it and the challenges for subscription app these days post iOS 14.5 and everything. I just said that it’s really interesting to test these two audiences. I talked with a few folks in the past that had the same situation where they can acquire the kids that actually play the game and then they say, “Mom, dad, I want to pay to get this app,” which is one thing that can be very effective if done right.

    The other side is actually acquiring the parents that are looking to ensure that their kids are doing something educational when they play their phones instead of something not so educational, or not so productive. It’s really interesting. I want to talk a bit about the creative strategy and the creative testing strategy. Of course, you mentioned the team that you work with, design. Did you have somebody specifically that works in the ASO sites for creative testing on the App Store?

    Macarena: Well, right now, we are working all together along with the growth team. We work the UA strategy in terms of creatives and we work the ASO strategy. We have all hands on it but we’re to talk a little bit more about the creative strategy. We need to think of course, and we are all in both teams in the whole company. We must now create clearly the core value proposition.

    That’s I think that the point to start. Mainly as we talked before, to understand our audience, like who are we talking to, we need to do understand their interests, their way of life, their needs. Well, they’ll be asked questions and as we said, where can we find them? That’s, I think the main key point for our creative strategy. I think, ads, it’s a great place to test new and different value propositions as I mentioned or even the same value proposition from different angles.

    I think here is where testing begins. Creatives have always been key to performance and I think with everything we lost in terms of data, it has become even more important. We actually as I mentioned, work with our designer that is a specialist in marketing videos for user acquisition. He just develop all the amazing animations of the videos. We work super close with the content team that is entrusted to develop the creative concepts of the arts.

    As I mentioned, we have these value propositions that all the teamwork along. Then we need to take different concepts or angles, as I mentioned, of these value propositions to test because as we spoke, how should I communicate to the parents to sell all these huge catalogues that we offer. As I mentioned, Papumba has yoga videos for parents to do it with their kids and for kids by themselves.

    We have a lot of educational games. We have read, we have audiobooks to go to sleep for bedtime routines and a lot of different value proposition that is super difficult to communicate in 30 seconds of an ad. Yes, we work really close with the content team. In terms of campaign structure, to be honest, I can tell you many different ways about how to create this campaign structure or how much time they actually run, or how many ads should compete at the same time.

    I think that at the end of the day, this is up to every marketer and every company because you have to take into account the budget and the creative resources you have. I will move from there but yes, what I can tell you is that the thing is a must, and it should be nonstop. Something I learned in the past two years is that it doesn’t matter how nice and produce is your ad, you need to test without hesitation.

    For example, we’re here in Papumba right now we define, as I mentioned, six different value propositions, and we’re testing these different angles. Meaning we try just different messages or different ways to communicate this value proposition. At this point, we don’t care much about the colors, the elements, the characters, or the design itself, we just leave these iterations to come after when we find the best angle for each selling proposition.

    That’s a little bit of our creative strategy that we manage. We try to do it like constantly. Again, it depends a lot on the budget you have, because when you start opening different campaigns, different assets, different ads, unit budget, unit time. You can take conclusions stating one day or two days you need at least I think a week to test our creative and of course, to see how then the users react, right?

    Because you can get a lot of TV in sales and a lot of volumes but maybe you don’t have any subscriptions there. Then going back to the KPIs we analyzed here in the creative level. I think the more important are CTRs, IPM and CVRs. I think that’s the data that you can look in super quick, and super easy. We, of course, then take a look at the install rate that I think here is whereas you mentioned, ASO here is where the store listing shows off.

    As we might be all we are already creating our custom properties, and in some way to complete our creative strategy.

    Jonathan: That’s something I want to ask about. Can you walk us through an insight that you learned like you’re testing these six value propositions and different ways to communicate them? By the way, I totally agree with you that the creative journey has an impact on downstream metrics. It’s pretty easy to understand. If you require a user, let’s say, with messaging around the yoga videos.

    I like yoga, I have a daughter, likes yoga is what you just learned yoga, in kindergarten. Now every time you just say yoga, she just does a downward-facing dog. Really cute.

    Let’s say that that’s what caught me. I’m done like that, of course, that’s the part that I look for and if it’s gated or behind a subscription, I’ll probably if it’s really valuable to me, I would probably pay for it. If I didn’t know it existed, maybe I wouldn’t do the same thing.

    The creatives in the messaging there has a huge impact on downstream metrics but you started talking about completing the funnel. It’s pretty new because it’s in the past, for folks doing user acquisitions a year, two years ago. That’s or the page was a given, you have to choose one per country. If you had the messaging, and the creatives have talked about ebooks or yoga, they would still have to go to the same learning page on the App Store. You would lose some people there because maybe you talked about some exclusive yoga videos, or something really amazing.

    They go to the App Store page, and they don’t see any of that. They’re confused where is that yoga? Am I installing the right app? Was the ad correct? You don’t have to have that anymore, because you can complete that funnel with the same messaging on the App Store side and on the ad creative side. Do you have any learning that you got from testing that you’re going to implement in this funnel-like is one holistic funnel?

    Macarena: Yes, as I mentioned, I think this is a huge, important part of the whole creative strategy. Right now, we are still working on all the different versions of the custom properties and related to each value proposition we are communicating but I think that these CPPs are a great opportunity in two ways. First of all, as you mentioned, like testing different messages become more relevant, as we have now the chance to as you said, to show in the source, specifically what users saw in the ad and to manage the whole thing.

    It may be, I don’t know, a feature or some limited content, as you mentioned, specifically the yoga videos that we offer in the app. I think, on the other hand, the other important thing is that it’s a huge opportunity to gain back symmetry with the data. I felt like my hopes are really up in this topic but if data is expensive enough, there is a new way to see performance results exclusively for iOS campaigns. Of course, I think there will be limitations.

    I need to say that but right now, every data point that we can attribute to a campaign will be super helpful but yes, I right now, I have no, of course, no conclusions on this on this topic, we are starting to gather all that we need to know and to create about these custom properties. Again, in the moment where we lost a lot of iOS users. This is a great resource, and I think is a must as well as the Pro Page Optimization feature that came out in Apple is amassing every user acquisition and growth strategy. We are taking care of it. We are super interested to try it.

    Jonathan: We’ve been working as a team here with a lot of developers and starting to adopt custom product pages and as you said, it leads to the segue to talk a bit about data. Custom product pages do allow you to glean back into some data that you lost. If I take a step back, basically, in the past, you saw used an MMP, you saw row as an ad level that was deterministic attribution.

    Now there’s a few different opinions on that, whether it was really deterministic, or was it always probabilistic. It wasn’t ever 100% accurate, but you got a good grasp on the performance of each campaign as we connect down to the lowest level. Now, you’d asked that and everything became a probabilistic game without clear results on ROAS at an ad creative level for sure.

    At a campaign level, it’s a bit better. You have SKAdNetwork that gives you some more data but that is really limited to just installs and very early signs of downstream activity because they do report some conversion values for the first 24 hours. Again, if somebody subscribed to your app a week after they opened the app for the first time, you would never know that through SKAdNetwork. Now custom product pages actually have now in Astra Connect there were they mentioned.

    You can basically see sales at a custom product page level, and it’s cohorted for the first time ever, which makes me think that Apple took a lot of things away but they’re starting to give back some of that power straight to the hands of UA people and marketers. Because if you can do cohort ad revenues at the customer product page, and you know which campaign went to which custom product page, you can basically get aggregated almost 100% accurate.

    Maybe there’s going to be some bugs here and there, but it’s almost 100% accurate data on the return on ad spend on your campaign, which is real, that’s really exciting. By talking with different teams, they start seeing people, even before they think about the impact of having a cohesive funnel in terms of ad creatives and the creatives on the store page, just by using duplicated custom product pages and using them with different campaigns, they can get that attribution data from Apple, which is really exciting.

    I want to ask you, how are you currently measuring I mean, as a subscription app, the value of your campaigns, given its very high-value event which is happening? I would assume not in the first 24 hours? Or maybe it is I just asked you, I would say, how are you measuring campaigns right now?

    Macarena: Yes. Well, as I mentioned before, of course, our main KPI is actually the subscription, and then, of course, the renewals but there are a lot of different actions that we can measure and optimize store all along the user funnel. As you mentioned, the most valuable events, such as subscriptions, and the renewals are completely lost. Now, with the SKAdNetwork attribution, at least for iOS, of course.

    These events happen way after the 24-hour positions. Even if a user follows the regular flow of the app, those events won’t happen, the subscription won’t happen in the first 24 hours. We mainly focus on all the events or actions that we can measure on the first day of the user experience, such as finishing the onboarding, signing up, starting the demo, we offer a demo day, to every user that passes through the paywall. Of course, the trial that is, I think, then the most important one.

    Like I said, the signup and the trial are the most valuable actions to measure for us. Sign up, I think it’s critical. It’s a critical step for every app. I mean, first-party data became super important right now that we lost our capabilities to reach then these users through a marketing company. We care a lot about the user signup and of course like, it’s a must to then go through the app.

    At the campaign level, I think there are two important parts that you should consider to measure the success of the campaigns. You can measure them differently. On one hand, all the creative side, where you look, as I mentioned before to the CTR, the IPM the CVR, the engagement, the ads hub. Here, I think it’s where you can take action, integrative testing, of course. There are lots of ways to gather enough data from the networks from the MMP.

    I think it’s data that is in real-time almost. You can work a lot there. We are focusing a lot in the creative part. On the other hand, you have all the like the conversion rates, where you must analyze every step of the user journey to see mostly where the drops are. In the subscription is super clear that the funnel, of course, sometimes the users follow different funnels, but well, the funnel is super clear.

    We have the conversion rates, like analyze. Although these parties are really difficult to measure properly in terms of attribution, I think you can still gather data from the source and from the backend to analyze trends and evolutions. I might mention this a lot because we find our way through data by measuring this difference and evolution. I think the best way to analyze performance right now is to compare like apples with apples.

    You choose like trends from blended or attributed data or any data you have, how it evolves and how it changed when you compare it to the changes you make in the campaigns and to all the things that are implemented from the marketing partly I say.

    Jonathan: No, that’s really smart. They think that that’s what’s the smartest marketing teams are doing right now. Some quality media mix modelling. I’m not sure about this word anymore. I don’t know, it gets thrown a lot these days and it does exist and it does require a lot of data science work to get it right. There’s a much simple, more simple answer. Instead of being stuck in this endless, I don’t know, journey to get the data science right and everything’s super accurate. You can just look at trends over time, compare them to the dates and the times where you did some changes in your marketing campaigns, and see how they affected the trends. You won’t get deterministic attribution that gives you 100% of reality, but you’ll get a good understanding of what you’re doing is working or not.

    That’s what I think and hopefully, as I said, I mean, I think Apple will give you some more tools in the future to at least add another data point or another data source to the mix of, the things that take into account to make decisions on the UA sites, with custom product pages and probably some more other things, in the future.

    Macarena: Yes, sure, of course, we work super close with our data team and, of course, also with the product team and we developed our little, [giggles] how can I say it? We developed our own cost metrics to measure performance. As you mentioned, we have a lot of time where we wanted, I wanted to have everything like it was before and we had to let go of this or that and say, “Okay, we found this data from here, from there, from there and what can we do with this data? How should we look at this data and analyze and take action?”

    As I mentioned before, we take these different costs metrics that try to manage in this time, and with this picture, we compare it to the performance of the campaigns because we still have the CPMs. We have, as I mentioned before, the CTR IPMs and well, you’re loving your changes in the campaigns and if you increase the budget, if you increase the beads, if you change a creative or add some more creative so you have all the, all these logs and you can come very to, to the trends that you see in your blended data.

    I think again the blended data and the conversion rates are the most important thing for us, at least right now and just an example for when we started in different years, we started seeing that they, of course, the install volume, increase a lot. Meaning, we went from organic to organic and acquisition, and well, you saw the list there, instance and when we turned around the sign-ups there was a lift in signups and there was a lift in trials and after one week we saw a week over week growth in subscriptions.

    We just say, is this a coincidence? I don’t think so because it happens when we all have all the data points. Of course, we saw that acquire users perform differently than of course organic users but here we saw that the conversion rates week by week is stable, and maybe there is some drop in some different years but the conversations were stable so we got to think, okay, we are doing something right.

    Again, we go back and see all the data and we say, “Okay, we just need to focus right now in the creatives and in increasing our CTR and our engagement in order to decrease our CPIs, to decrease our costs, to start looking at different years where we can buy with less budget to grow quickly. ” That’s a little bit of how we are doing things right now, but yes, and again, we all lost a lot and I think we are all struggling and with a lot of headaches and for this topic.

    Jonathan: Yes, I’m sure that, there’s going to be more tools and it’s going to be easier in 2022, to manage this new, I would call it a data-driven decision-making process for UA but I think that’s the way to do it, what it is. The funny thing that, that I thought about while you mentioned the subscription number is going up a few weeks after they install went up, is that the direct attribution that you would do right now, let’s say a SKAdNetwork would basically, if you try to optimize for conversion values, it would show that this campaign is not generating anything.

    Because they wouldn’t capture the conversion values and then someone that is making decisions based on that data, would conclude that this campaign is not working, but looking at things over time and in a more holistic way with blended figures would show you, of course, you’re doing something right and you’re growing the business. I think that’s the way to do things right now.

    We are running a bit out of time. I want to ask you a few last questions that we ask, all of our guests. The first one is that if you could give just one tip to somebody, an inspiring UA person that wants to get into the industry today, with everything that’s going around, what would a good tip be?

    Macarena: I will say, don’t be afraid to test, and don’t get scared too quickly. I think there are lots of things to do to improve results and you should keep testing and iterating without hesitation.

    Jonathan: Awesome. In terms of a content recommendation, do you have any favorite mobile growth resources that you read people that you follow that, do you want to share with the audience?

    Macarena: I follow and read a lot from Demand Curve and also from [unintelligible 00:36:24] I read a lot from there.

    Jonathan: Awesome, Eric Sofer writes a lot of smart things. Lastly, but most importantly, given that we’re in Mobile Growth & Pancakes, what’s your favorite flavor of pancakes? Or food that resembles pancakes, that’s for folks that don’t need pancakes.

    Macarena: That’s easy for me. I would say, pancakes with Dulce de Leche here in Argentina. It can’t be another way [chuckles]

    Jonathan: Yes. My favorite flavor, Dulce de Leche, is amazing. Since I was a kid, I had an Argentinian nanny that used to give me a lot of Dulce de Leche and since then, that’s my favorite flavor. Yes.

    Macarena: The best.

    Jonathan: Awesome, cool, and finally, if we did want to chat with you on UA everything we’ve talked about, life, where can they find you?

    Macarena: I think the best is LinkedIn. I’m always connected there.

    Jonathan: Cool. We’ll have the link to your LinkedIn in the description of the episode. Cool, thank you very much. It was real fun, Maca.

    Macarena: Thank you very much, Jonathan. Thanks again for the opportunity to be here.

    Jonathan: Thank you. We’ll chat 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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