Episode #30: Apple is Taking Over the Data Ecosystem with Thomas Kriebernegg

Celebrating 30 episodes of Mobile Growth and Pancakes with App Radar's CEO Thomas Kriebernegg. We discussed the shift in the industry after IDFA deprecation and Apple's intentions with its App Store.

In this episode of Mobile Growth & Pancakes, host Jonathan Fishman (subbing in for Esther Shatz) is joined by Thomas Kriebernegg, Co-founder and CEO at App Radar. They talk about the shift in the mobile growth industry after IDFA deprecation, the skills a mobile growth marketer would need in a post-IDFA world, and Apple’s intentions with its App Store now that they’ve deprecated the IDFA.

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

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Key takeaways:

  • Thomas Kriebernegg is the Co-founder and CEO of App Radar. Thomas had previously been a lifelong digital marketing specialist with a focus on selling products online. In 2013, he shifted to mobile gaming, and some of his games became highly successful. With App Radar, he has grown from being a mobile growth marketing consultant to an entrepreneur.
  • Thanks to Apple’s decision to deprecate the IDFA, the mobile growth industry is moving from depending on AI tools to being a true marketing discipline. While data is still important, there’s now a lot of weight on creative campaigns with persuasive strategies.  The tools created so much value and made things so easy that mobile growth marketers got addicted to them. Without this data and analysis, they have to do a lot of precise work. 
  • The new era of user-acquisition experts will have to understand every user’s journey and various touchpoints throughout them at a granular level. They need broader marketing knowledge and the ability to understand the story that data tells them. The role now requires more than data analysis skills.
  • The app store page of the app is the landing page of all marketing efforts that developers make. Apple’s app store now lets developers create landing pages optimized to specific install funnels so that the user experience stays smooth and frictionless.  
  • Apple’s motives with IDFA deprecation are not only privacy-oriented but also monetary. This is because Apple will slowly become more dominant in the mobile advertising space, and will eventually own the advertising ecosystem. Deprecating the IDFA gives Apple more control over this data and lets them be more profitable by being more useful to their app store developers.

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    Full Transcript:

    Jonathan Fishman: Hey, everybody, welcome to ‎Mobile Growth & Pancakes. I’m your host, Jonathan Fishman, and VP, marketing at Storemaven. I know that you wish to hear Esther’s voice, but she’s on maternity leave. We’ll let her deal with baby things and would be happy for her. Today, I’m here with Thomas, co-founder, and CEO of App Radar. Hey, Thomas.

    Thomas: Hey, Jonathan. Thank you very much for having me.

    Jonathan: For sure. Tell us do you want to introduce yourself a bit?

    Thomas: Yes, sure. My name is Thomas Kriebernegg. I’m the CEO and co-founder over here at App Radar. The story of App Radar is a little bit bound to my personal story and my personal career development. During my studies, I specialized in the field of online marketing, digital marketing and was working in different companies building up marketing departments there.

    Always with the goal of selling products through the internet. In the year 2013, I would say was the birth of hyper-casual gaming. This was also the year for me when I also switched my focus towards the mobile ecosystem, when I started first releasing my own games, to the App Stores and was developing apps together with some friends. Eventually, some of them also were quite successful, which led me then to dig in a little bit deeper into this area.

    Which also resulted in that I was working as a consultant, together with multiple apps, as well as games, helping them with their growth challenges. Most of them focused around the topic of abstract optimization. Until I came to the point that I had so many requests on my plate that I couldn’t handle them anymore on my own. This is when I needed to scale up myself and this was the birth of App Radar.

    When I teamed up together with a good friend of mine and we were building the first version of App Radar. With the goal of building a tool that helps marketers with their day-to-day job to become more successful and to also streamline their work and make it more efficient. Since then, we have grown quite well I would say. We’re now around 45 people working for App Radar and we’re helping mobile apps as well as mobile games all around the world to grow.

    Jonathan: Awesome. Pretty interesting. I remember when I entered the industry and started working in Storemaven, you were one of the first people that reached out to me to partner up. I’m happy that we’re still in the industry.

    Thomas: Yes. I would say the core of the industry, probably, let’s put it like this, there are some people and those people know each other, I would say. [laughs]

    Jonathan: Yes, for sure. It’s been a ride. It’s fun being in an industry that changes so fast. Way more interesting. Before that, I was working consulting for EY. That industry doesn’t change. I’m really happy that we’re doing mobile marketing. Today, we want to talk a bit about two tectonic shifts that are happening in the industry. I think they’re the biggest shifts that happened since the industry was created. Basically, one of them is the shift to privacy-centric or privacy-first marketing and advertising environment.

    That basically about a year ago, a bit more than a year ago, Apple shook the industry by telling everybody that they can’t really share the IDFA or any user-level data with anyone else, including attribution providers or ad networks for targeting. The second shift is the move into an App Store-centric world where marketers need to think about the App Store and deal with the App Store as a major user acquisition engine with all the new capabilities that Apple is introducing with iOS 15. Let’s start with privacy first. How do you think that marketers should deal with the change? Both marketers and user acquisition folks, where they’re losing the ability to reach their high-quality users by targeting on Facebook, for example, with lookalike audiences is not possible anymore. It’s weaker, significantly weaker and all this chatter about contextual marketing and contextual advertising?

    Thomas: I think that with the big changes that were introduced by Apple last year, I would say during the breakout of the first Corona lockdowns,– it also took some time then from the first announcement until they also released iOS 14.5. There was also a bit of time gap in between, so to say. Nevertheless, I think that the industry itself was quite well prepared in some kind of way that there is like you mentioned that.

    I would also say that the biggest change that happened in the industry, especially within the advertisement space of it. The user acquisition especially. The move that we have been seeing here is going away from possibilities that were mainly powered by artificial intelligence by having the chance to target lookalike audiences. By having the chance to run 20,000 different apps creatives against each other and letting the AI decide which one converts the best and also brings in the most money at the end of the day.

    We have been moving away from this too, I would call it a little bit more of a true marketing discipline. Again, because I think that obviously AI and all the data is still very important in the day-to-day chop of every ad market out there. I think that discipline is like creativity, really thinking through good strategies for good campaigns. Campaigns that really influence people out there. That get them going and not because green is converting better than orange, for example, the button. That this is becoming more and more, I will be calling the marketing again, because it’s really about what do you advertise?

    What is the benefit for the customer, for the user out there? Why should they care? How do you help them? What is it exactly that gets them moving? I think therefore the discipline is getting a little bit more I would say true. Also, a bit more old-fashioned again, like marketing was back in the days. There weren’t that many tracking possibilities like we have seen over the last years.

    Jonathan: For sure. I think we can break it down to two things. First of all, reaching high-quality users. I think that the IDFA or any user-level data was like the industry was addicted to it. It’s like fossil fuels, you’re addicted to it, you know it’s bad for you. You know that it’s not feasible and sustainable long-term but the value of it was so big that the industry couldn’t let go.

    What that value was, it was basically the ability to tell Facebook, “Hey, these are the users that I want, users that made in-app purchases. Finished a level, registered for my app.” Bringing more users like that. Facebook basically had an insane user graph knowing what everyone is doing on every app because everybody was reporting to Facebook and other networks these behavioral events. They could match users in a way that no human could.

    There’s Eric Seifert wrote about it, I think a couple of months ago that if you would put the real audience, the real lookalike audience that Facebook created in one room, you could never tell the commonalities between these people. It’s not like you can translate it to a certain demographic or something like that. Now there’s the question of how do you reach these high-quality users? I like it when you say true marketing because it just begs the question of where my high-quality users are coming from and, at which context? If from a hidden object game, am I getting a lot of high-quality users from people that are seeing my ads in Match 3 games?

    In, hyper-casual games and where they’re coming from? Because in the past, the network, let’s say Facebook, did most of the work of getting you high-quality users that have extremely high intent. The creative didn’t have to do a lot to convince them to install, because they’re so interested in what you have to offer. Now, the creative needs to really, really influence these people to install.

    I like it when you say true marketing. What do you think about the next generation of user acquisition people? In the past few years where we’re used to see these analysts. You could even expect to find these people in finance, analyzing stocks. What do you think the skills of the QA people in 2022 and beyond would need?

    Thomas: I think that a really good point for the product here is with understanding the user churning, the user flow which brings into this contextual dependency so to say. I think that having the understanding or having the possibility to draw user churning to really understand from what is the trigger point. For example, just recently I had a good conversation with a very good friend of mine who is running a calorie counting app business. There we were also brainstorming around this idea and coming to the point where we just said it really depends if you have a calorie counting app, then that’s the thing that you do with it.

    It’s not that all of a sudden come to the conclusion, “Hey, I want to count calories.” There is some trigger point that brings you to this point. This might be for example that you want to lose weight, because of social pressure or because you just want to get more healthy can also be a possibility, or you just want to become fit for example. There are different motivations out there that trigger you to exactly– This is a problem that I want to have sourced.

    On Facebook, for example, I see a good creative, I see a good video that exactly captures my thoughts in this moment where I just thought to myself, “Hey that’s exactly what I’ve been thinking about, and this app looks interesting.” Then it’s about clicking on the app and then downloading the app within the App Store. Then starting to count the calories to get to the result which the initial starting point was that I want to become more healthy, for example.

    Therefore, I think that being able to draw those points, and being able to also fully understand not only a marketing message but also really within the product the complete user churning that is happening there. To really understand what is the value that we providing to our users out there, how can we trigger them? What matters really the most for them so to say. I think being able to understand this and coming more now I would probably even call it from a very philosophical point of view to this point. Understanding broad marketing knowledge will be just a must-have compared to being only able to analyze data, for example like you mentioned in the past.

    I think people coming from a financial sector had a really great benefit, and also probably an advantage also over other people, because they were just good with numbers. They could analyze it. Now I think more about understanding the story that the numbers are telling you, so to say. I think that this is a bit of a broader marketing discipline. To really fully understand how this all is connected to each other.

    Jonathan: Yes. Well, that’s an amazing insight. That’s a great takeaway here. Understanding the story the data tells you, and not just blindly allocating budgets to where you see a high realize for example. [crosstalk] Yes it could be a machine or an algorithm that does that, could be a person, but that’s just not going to work anymore. You have to understand the story behind it.

    That brings us to the second shift. Basically, Apple is telling the market a pretty coherent message. They’re building the App Store to be a centric way of how teams should acquire users. With iOS 15 they’re launching custom product pages. Basically, they’re allowing for the first time to create these funnels I would call it where you can have an ad and a campaign leading towards a specific custom product based with unique messaging. Exactly, achieving what you just described.

    If you have somebody coming in with a search and motivation, you can create a holistic funnel that ends in the App Store. You’re doing that also with in-app events, allowing you to acquire more users through the App Store with a lot of visibility through this App Store in-app event entities. Do you think the App Store should take a bigger role in the way that marketers work and look for growth?

    Thomas: I think so. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter which marketing activity you’re doing. If you’re running ads on Facebook if you’re running ads on TV if you’re handing out flyers or something like that. In the end of the day, people will land on the App Store page where you have to convince them once again. Or finally to click on the download button and to download the app.

    Therefore, I think that exactly this kind of breaking point at the end of the day, which is I think one of the most important points throughout the complete churning of a user is very, very crucial to success. Therefore, I think it’s also a really great step that Apple is doing here to provide ad marketers with more possibilities of creating different storefronts. Or in other words, of having the possibility to create different landing pages. Which can then be also really, once again, aligned to complete that churning.

    For example, if we think of an app where you can book flights and you can book hotels. Two different use cases. At the end of the day, they somehow are connected to each other. There are obviously people that are only interested in flights and there are people that are only interested in hotels. When my app provides both use cases, I now have the possibility to create two different landing pages for exactly the one use case or optimized for the specific use case. There, I can also make it very, I would say, frictionless for users at the end of the day.

    Also, I think one of the jobs that we as marketers have to do is to remove friction as good as possible from every funnel, from every churning just to make people– Let them flow through without any obstacles in their way. Therefore, I think having this possibility of creating different landing pages that are optimized exactly for different user flows, removing friction, I think that this is a really great opportunity. It makes the App Store just way more of this eccentric part of the churning that either or it is but to give it more possibility there as well to make it even more powerful.

    Jonathan: Yes. For marketers I have been speaking with, one of the really cool things about both in-app events and custom product pages is that it allows marketers to win new audiences, to basically break into new markets. Most apps, if you think about it, have this kind of– You described a flight app that also offers hotels and flights. There’s apps like Twitch that offer a lot more than just streaming games. There’s a lot of other audiences that use Twitch, but it’s outside of their core USP.

    With custom product pages and in-app events, you can basically tap into the vast audience of App Store visitors– Basically, there’s 500 million users visiting the App Stores a week, and show your app in a completely different way, and again, create these funnels. I think that for whoever is listening to this podcast if you listen to what the world is telling you, on one hand, there’s this move into a privacy-first world where you can’t target high-quality users the same way you did before.

    On the other hand, Apple is leaning into this change and telling you, “Create holistic in-store funnels that goes for every type of USP and motivation users might have to install your app. Going from campaign, to ad credits, to store creative and grow like that.” That’s really cool. I want to pick your brain a bit about where you think Apple is going with this move? If we look at the past two years, we see Apple, first of all, making this move with the IDFA which weakens a ton of ad networks basically. Facebook I think is the company that got hurt the most.

    Really expanding search ads, their own ad network. Now, building all these marketing tools within the App Store. Where do you think Apple is going with all of this?

    Thomas: Apple is one of the most valuable companies on this planet. There is a reason for that background. I think this is really part of their DNA to really think of, “Where can we make the most money and how can we optimize our margins?” I think that this mindset is also popping over to the App Store ecosystem there as well. I think, as I mentioned with ideas that the biggest loser of it is obviously Facebook. The biggest winner probably will be Apple maybe not yet, but I’m quite sure in the future for sure.

    By doing all these steps and by also, on the other hand, being also they own the ecosystem. They own the devices, they own the App Store, and then at the end of the day, that’s their inventory, that’s what they built up over the years. Therefore, I also understand why they want to push more on the side and also take more out of their ecosystem that they’re creating and sharing it less with other companies so to say. Therefore, I think the moves that we’re seeing, I would say maybe some of them or the– we can say, there are no privacy activated to a certain extent. I think we can also be very realistic here and say that they’re also monetary driven or to a certain extent the least.

    I think what Apple is just trying to do here is to also improve the margin of the ecosystem that they’re owning. With all those steps, I think they’re pointing into a direction that we will be seeing Apple becoming more and more stronger also within the advertisement space. I think also they are if we compare it with Google where we can see that the Google Play Store as well as apps for Android, still most of them are monetized through ads which are owned by Google at the day.

    Now we can say, “Okay, we don’t have Google ads mobile we don’t have Apple ad mobile yet, but also let’s see. Maybe this can also change within the next couple of years where Apple also might be going down the route of thinking, “Okay, how can I, even more, monetize the users of my ecosystem?” Looking at the past of Apple, I see quite good chances that they might also be very motivated to think about, “How can we get more out of our ecosystem?”

    Jonathan: It’s funny to think about it. I remember chats they had four or five years ago about why Apple is not offering attribution, for example. They can do it very easily. Now we see it with SKAdNetwork. Most people in the industry said they don’t really want to go into that business. They have no interest in that whatsoever, but what changed in the past five years is that Apple really increased their services revenue. That was a huge part of it.

    It got so big, now different companies and jurisdictions are going to court with Apple against their 30% fee or preventing users from making in-app purchases in a non-Apple way. What we saw now with Epic Games and that court battle. Basically, I think that there were two parts there. One of them is that Apple really believes in privacy. I think it’s real. It also has a business value, of course. They want to be the ecosystem where users can trust basically that “If you get an iPhone, your data is more secure.”

    People can’t track you the same as they can on other operating systems. The second thing they got really pissed about I think was the fact that the main way that people in the world discovered apps was through Facebook and Google. By seeing ads while they were browsing either one of Google’s assets or Facebook. Of course, there’s the other social media companies, there’s Snapchat, there’s TikTok, but it got to a point where that was the main way for people to discover apps if you took that as a percentage from all installs globally.

    They wanted to change that and they wanted to make the App Store the main way that users discover apps because they can control the experience, they can make it a better experience in their view. If you think about it, they can’t control ads on Facebook just things like fake ads that we see from time to time and they don’t like it. They want to get into that and, of course, it’s a huge marketer is more than $200 billion going into mobile ads every year and that number is growing pretty fast. They’re positioned in a really great way to take a huge chunk out of that. Building their own attributions solution opening up an ad network which is search ads was expanded to Apple news and Apple stocks. Giving more tools in the App Stores like custom product pages to measure success of different funnels. Because you can basically measure revenues per custom product page.

    It’s another alternative way to attribute success or revenues to a certain campaign in a world where you can’t do direct contribution in an accurate way anymore. I agree with you. I think that we’ll see Apple moving into the space more aggressively in the next couple of years. I think it might be pretty reasonable to think that Apple would offer a product for app developers or game developers that offer them to show Apple ads within their games and apps and to monetize their products like that.

    They’ll wrap that in a messaging where this is the only privacy-first ad product for apps and games, so use that. I think that is a possibility. Nobody can tell the future but all we can know is if Apple choose to do so, nobody can stop them. It’s going to be an interesting few years.

    Thomas: I think the question here is taking these thoughts further. The question is if they’re going to build something like that by themselves or if they’re going to acquire a company that already has built that? That’s very speculative now to talk about this but I think it’ll be very interesting times ahead of us. Then we will also get answers to these questions. Maybe they also completely stay away from this space and just monetize like you mentioned the expense and they can search ads with their own products so to say. Yes, let’s see.

    Jonathan: I think what’s missing there. If they could even to a more speculative place because it’s fun. It’s fun to think like that. Basically, what prevents them from growing search ads more is inventory. Everybody really wants search ads traffic but you can scale budgets on search ads beyond a certain level. Because there’s so many people searching for keywords in the App Store and what Facebook has is huge inventory.

    They have Instagram, they have Facebook, and Apple doesn’t have anything remotely close to that. Either we see them acquire a company for the purposes of getting more inventory or they just understand the number one way for them to get more inventory is to offer developers to have an SDK that chose ads within apps and games and they’ll do it like that. Yes, it’s going to be interesting for years I think.

    Thomas: Me too. [[laughs]

    Jonathan: For sure. Thomas, we’re running out of time. I just want to ask you a few questions that we ask every guest. Just the first thing that comes to mind for these questions. If you could give just one tip to somebody in aspiring mobile growth marketers that getting into the industry today what would it be?

    Thomas: I would say use App Radar.

    [laughter]

    Jonathan: Storemaven.

    Thomas: -and Storemaven.

    Jonathan: These are the first two purchases you need to make.

    Thomas: Yes, exactly. With the help of App Radar, you can analyze your keyword rankings, you can identify really cool keywords for your app. You can also identify for which keywords your competitors are trying to optimize for. With Storemaven you can obviously optimize your conversion rates within the store. I think this is a really great combination. Sign up for App Radar as well as for Storemaven if you’re starting out the business or if you’re already there, there is always a good time to start with those two tours.

    Jonathan: Cool. What’s your favorite mobile growth resource? What do you read that people should know about?

    Thomas: I’m reading The Cohort, a newsletter that I’m getting on a daily basis. There’s something really great news that are happening within the mobile industry. That’s really my go-to newsletter that I read on a daily basis.

    Jonathan: It’s really great. Sign up for that if you don’t read it yet. Who’s the person in mobile growth that you would most want to take for lunch and why?

    Thomas: I would say one of the godfathers of marketing, I would call him is Andrew Chen. He is responsible for the growth of Uber when it started out. Now working for Andreessen Horowitz, and he also runs a blog, as well as there is a lot of really great information from him around the internet. Yes, he’s just essentially one of the godfathers of marketing in my eyes.

    Jonathan: I definitely agree. Almost lastly, what is your favorite flavor of pancake?

    Thomas: I would say vanilla is my favorite flavor of pancake.

    Jonathan: Vanilla pancakes. That’s the popular choice you see in Austria. Awesome. Finally, where can people find you if they want to reach out, chat, know anything about the App Radar?

    Thomas: The easiest way to contact me is on LinkedIn, Thomas Kriebernegg. Followed by Instagram where I’m also very active. You can find me on those two networks. Connect with me, send me a message, happy to chat.

    Jonathan: Awesome. Cool. Thank you very much for doing this, Thomas. I had a blast, and I’ll speak with you soon.

    Thomas: Thank you very much, Jonathan. Bye-bye.

    Jonathan: Bye.

    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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