Episode #55: Influencer Marketing Hacks for Mobile Games with Alex Ruban

Our host Alex Ruban, Product Madness' Head of Growth Strategy, talks about influencer marketing, how marketers should think about data and the phenomenon that is TikTok.

In our 55th installment of Mobile Growth & Pancakes, Jonathan Fishman is joined by Alex Ruban, Head of Growth Strategy at Product Madness, to discuss how mobile game companies can leverage influencer marketing to grow downloads, installs, and user engagement.

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“Keep in mind, there should be an affinity between your platform and the creative”

Alex Ruban

Key takeaways:

  • Influencer marketing is a growing channel for mobile games. It has become even more relevant with the release of the ATT framework on iOS 14.5 and privacy changes, but influencer marketing for mobile games depends on the type of game and the team behind it.
  • Influencer marketing works better with some game genres than others. You can use specific criteria to identify the potential for a game, like the current state of performance marketing within your company and apps.
  • Developing performance-based campaigns rely on data because, in the beginning, you don’t have enough data to make assumptions on which types of influencers would work for you. The first step is building a data sample to work with.
  • Search for the right influencers for your audience in collaboration with your partners, and then launch the creatives across paid advertised channels.
  • Within TikTok, you can hire influencers that produce the creative for you, and then simply launch it within your paid campaigns. This leads to more conversion rates and installs with less CPI.
  • However, there are some challenges. TikTok content is relevant in the short term only, but on a platform like YouTube, a video creates a snowball effect where you can still receive installs after a longer time.
  • Furthermore, tracking links on YouTube stay in the description, and you can measure more metrics. But on TikTok, there are fewer places to put a tracking link.

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Full transcript:

Jonathan: Hey, everybody. Welcome to another episode of Mobile Growth & Pancakes. I’m your host, Jonathan Fishman, and today I’m really excited to be here with Alex Ruban, who’s UA Lead at Product Madness. Alex, what’s up?

Alex: Hello. Hello, Jonathan. Nice to be here.

Jonathan: Thanks. Do you want to introduce yourself a bit and a bit about your path and how you got to where you are today?

Alex: Sure. I’m Alex. I started working in the marketing in 2015 as the UA manager and started working within the mobile games straight to the point where the action games worked with companies like Big Sonic, Wargaming, and then a couple of start-ups. Later on, and then, I joined Product Madness as the UA lead and here I am.

Jonathan: What exactly are you in charge of at Product Madness today, within your role?

Alex: Currently, my role is shifting to the growth strategies, and I’m in charge in the strategies within new market, current improvements for our UA channels with new ways of bringing more revenue to the company, to the games. It’s basically everything.

Jonathan: Cool. Today, I want to talk a bit about influencer marketing for mobile games, which is a very growing channel, I think, in terms of what I’ve been seeing in the past couple of years. Mostly, I think it’s been accelerating because of the ATT framework and iOS 14.5 and everything that’s been happening around privacy, which made a lot of channels such as Facebook less efficient. In some companies, some game companies at least, are really able to crack it, in terms of influencer marketing and some companies can’t. It really depends on genre and the type of game and the type of team that is in charge of that.

Can you first talk a bit about why you think influencer marketing even works for games? We know this channel from apps and brands pretty well. Why do you think it works and does it work for every genre?

Alex: Definitely, there are many genres, and definitely, there are some genres which are less effective within influencer marketing space. However, there are certain criterias, which can identify the potential for a game here. If I just tell the examples when it worked and it worked right in terms of the performance and there are some examples when it works in terms of brand awareness, increasing popularity for your game. However, these two things are completely different. If we’re talking about the performance, one of the things I would definitely look at are your current state of performance marketing within your company, within your apps.

Let’s say we have action games, or we have casual games like or, in terms of action games, let’s say, third-person shooter games, which might be easier in terms of making the reliable source of data because the conversion rates from your advertising creative from Facebook, from will be significantly higher than the conversion rates when you have in strategies or in social casino environment because the size of the audience is different. Making the performance-based campaigns with influencer marketing rely on data, of course.

Because in the beginning, you don’t have a lot of data to make any assumptions. You don’t know which types of influencers would work for you. In making the first steps here is actually building a nice data sample to work with. You need to test different cultures and different categories. You need to test gaming, like gaming influencers, non-gaming channels with food content on that. The long path to build the sustainable and reliable framework.

Jonathan: Nice. Let’s talk a bit about your process in Product Madness and a process that our audience can take in and implement wherever they work. You talked a bit about identifying the right influencers. How do you approach the research part of it? How do you identify somebody who has, not only a large following and an audience, but the right audience for your game. If you can give us some context of who these people are. Who are these game influencers, what do they do? Also, how do you research the channels that they’re on? I know that Tik-Tok is extremely popular, but there are a few channels. How do you approach that research piece?

Alex: We have two types of influencer activities. One is when we search in collaboration with our partners, with our vendors, the right fit for the audience and we’re selecting together which influencers will do the best pages for us. Then we launch these creatives across paid advertise in multiple channels. One of the example is the Tik-Tok. We had a huge success with a few influencers, which we picked in the collaboration with our partners, with Tik-Tok, and to produce some media creatives based off there. They produce some creatives together, which actually led to very huge success within Tik-Tok platform.

It didn’t work on YouTube or on Facebook. It was strictly Tik-Tok-based creatives. When we’re talking about finding the right channels, let’s focus on YouTube because on the YouTube, obviously, there are different channels and there is a different type of measuring. On YouTube, firstly, we start with Facebook as an assumption. What our audience would watch in YouTube. Would it be game-related creatives or would it be something different? Would it be something more generic such as a food, the people which are making– The cooking channels.

Within the cooking channels, we can see which influencer is– How they made previous ads? Was it creative? Did they just read from the script or is it something that they purchased themselves in terms of metric conversion? There might be some channels that only read through a script and doesn’t really dive into your game, into your product, but there are some creative channels on YouTube that put a lot of effort into greater production. Let’s say, for example, we had one nice experience with a rap singer, which recorded an amazing song for us with a nice rhythm, with a nice energy.

Even the campaign, the launch with him, was, I’d say, ROI positive, and we made a few videos out of this, which actually outperformed everything we launched on YouTube through the Google USA. In these creatives, more than 60% of impressions came out of USC campaigns through this creative. It became really quickly the top-performing one within Google USA. We need to keep in mind that if there should be an affinity within your platform and to the creative, there is a less chance to get success with launching in Facebook creatives on YouTube, for example, and vice versa. It comes with the testing. We test in different channels and different categories. We launch a few influencers in each category and looking at conversion rates, what was the interest from the audiences here and looking for some similarities, looking for some partners here. For example, we can see that one configure is outperforming and another one we had a very nice success with automobile channels, with mechanics, with racing, with just expensive cars reviews.

We started tailoring our greater strategy towards those channels, meaning that we started creating the scripts, the scenario tailor to this genre specifics, which is actually increasing the conversion rates and reducing the overall CPI here.

Jonathan: Nice. In terms of that research, it seems like the TikTok type of creatives, like these extremely short videos that are extremely authentic, a lot of them are actually unscripted. Why do you think that works better than other channels?

Alex: It depends what are we aiming to achieve because within TikTok if you just hire a few influencers, they produce a nice creative for you and you launch its creatives within your paid campaigns. That’s one story. You can really achieve a great success and meaning theand conversion rates, driving more installs with less CPI. However,  if you are launching the specific paid market activity with TikTok, there are some challenges.

For example, those creatives doesn’t last long in the platform. That doesn’t last long. They don’t create the snowball effect which we can see on YouTube creative because videos on YouTube last, let’s say forever, and after one year of launching the campaign you’re still receiving some installs out of this. You can forecast the snowball effect which will eventually reduce your CPI out of the whole activity. Also, the tracking links on YouTube device stays in the description and you can measure the initial impact, you can measure pretty much everything out of here, but on TikTok, there are less places to put your tracking link into. It will just disappear after a couple of days.

Jonathan: All right. Let’s move into execution. You mentioned working with partners and you talked about that rap artist. There are some influencers that are extremely unique and have their own type of deal, but there are also ways and there are a few agencies out there that offer you a way to streamline that process and scale it because it doesn’t scale if you need to talk to each influencer and strike a deal.

Alex: Exactly.

Jonathan: How do you approach this?

Alex: We work with a few agencies which creates media plans for us based on our requirements. This media plan contains a list of channels hand-picked by the agencies or all the channels they have in their portfolio, which we can pick ourself. Basically, we’re receiving a spreadsheet with all the channels, all the rates expected, number of views, followers, and demography type of content, generals, and et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

Once we have it, we can play with the data here. We can run our own forecasts based on our previous conversions and previous experience with these channels. Let’s say we know for sure that our average conversion within a week on category is X and we can multiply this conversion from, let’s say, from impression to install, to the average number of use, which we can expect from each channel.

We can calculate the CPI. We can make the forecast and we can see, is it high or is it average, is it low, and we can select influencers based on that, as well as we can see that some channels could be more creative and we can estimate the possible differences within conversion rate. It all ended up with a total forecast for the whole campaign, how many views we can achieve and conversion rate we can achieve within this category, which CPI we can achieve.

Then we can see based on our past experience, which categories or channels were more responsive in terms of the drive and the actual revenue. Having the reliable sample size for making the forecast is the essential part and the hardest part because it comes after you experimented a lot and spend a lot of money to make this data sample happen.

Jonathan: Cool. I want to go back a bit into creatives. You talked a bit about creatives, but you mentioned two examples there that they found really interesting. First of all, there is cooking shows which seems unintuitive, but I assume that you use that to promote a cooking game. Is that true?

Alex: We don’t have cooking games, we have social cooking slots and for some apps our audience is mostly females. We found a few channels with the close affinity for our audiences and we’re also exploring everything we can within Facebook analytics. We’re looking towards, what is our audience into and we’re trying to experiment even more. The food category started as an experiment and we suddenly seen good results there-

Jonathan: Awesome.

Alex: -and we decided to try again.

Jonathan: It’s really creative. When you start thinking about who’s going to be the right influencer to promote my game, you think about folks that are generally talking about games, how to play them, streaming themselves play, stuff like that. This is really creative to think about which type of channels or which type of influencers have an audience that is basically the audience that you’re aiming the game for and would probably have a pretty significant affinity to your game if promoted there. That’s really creative and I guess the same thing you thought about the same direction with the rap artist.

Alex: It, again, started with experiment and we found that the previous ads made from this artist were really, really exciting, energetic with a positive light and we decided why not to try this for us? Some channels are generic. Let’s say everyone watch the news, everyone watch the weather forecast, watching the music channels for everyone saw some cooking shows.

It’s hard to say our players are mostly into the food or into the music because it’s too generic, but looking at the way those creators advertise the certain products make you feel there might be a chance to have something creative, even though we might not have a positive ROI out of this campaign, we might find a nice creative concept and make a few videos that we can advertise across other channels, which eventually pay off.

Jonathan: I just want to pause a bit on that point because it’s really, really important. Some of the value or could be a very significant portion of the value of influencer marketing is that you can actually repurpose the content that you have and use it as creatives. We talk about it, but there are so many teams out there that just miss out on that opportunity because if it’s the right type of content and it’s extremely authentic or extremely creative, like that song that you mentioned, it could really, really work well as a creative on other channels as a performance marketing campaign. I just wanted to pause on that for a bit.

Alex: It could work. YouTube creatives tend to work better with Google USA because they are advertising on YouTube so there is affinity within the platform as well. With [unintelligible 00:20:19] your guys creative teams to figure out how to make this more suitable for other channels.

Jonathan: Cool, and measurement, you talked a bit about tracking links. But talking specifically, solely on the influencer campaign that is happening, not about those performance marketing campaigns that you run afterwards. There are two types of ways that you get value out of it. First of all, there’s direct response like folks watching the influencer talking about the game and tapping the link basically, which is to be a tracking link. Then they get to the app store, to your product page, and download the game, hopefully, and then you can use the tracking link to attribute those installs to the influencer company.

Alex: Yes.

Jonathan: The other part of how to get value out of it is an indirect effect and actually one of our founders had a really interesting conversation about this I think it was a year ago with a company at one of these agencies that do influencer marketing and they were really interested in measuring that indirect effect. What they found is that they were able to attribute about, I think it was between 75% to 85% of all installs that one of their clients was able to receive through an influencer campaign to branded search.

Folks watched the influencer talking about the game, they didn’t do anything on the platform, they didn’t tap or click any links but afterwards, they search for the brand on the App Store. They were able to see a pretty sizable uptick in terms of search performance in search downloads on the App Store shortly after the campaign was running. It could be a few hours later, it could be a couple of days later, but it’s just a huge– If you don’t take that into account, you might conclude that an influencer campaign didn’t have a positive ROI but it’s just the way that humans behave, not to everybody, especially on YouTube, something that probably you noticed as well.

A lot of campaigns on YouTube don’t lead to direct response because folks are in the middle of watching a piece of content, not a lot of them are going to break that experience, click on the link and go to the App Store. They want to finish watching the show, the content or whatever they’re doing but they remember that and then they search for that app later on in the App Store, really important there. How do you approach measurement in a holistic way? Do you try to take that into account?

Alex: Yes, definitely. One of the things we are looking at is keyword searching. We’re looking at the search trends and obviously, not everyone is clicking on that tracking link right after they made the meta-view. We can work with all directions here.

Firstly, to incentivize people to click on the link given there are some welcome bonuses, additional welcome packs which will be accessible only if you click on that tracking link. This will increase your click-through rate, let’s say, but not everyone is clicking on the link and not everyone watching YouTube from the some people watch it from the TV or from the PC or whatever.

We also put QR codes to make this even easier turnover. This is about the tracking direct like response. With indirect response, there is a trick of how to measure it easily but not only looking at keyword search, not only looking towards the trends but let’s say you’re launching one campaign with one influencer, you will probably won’t see a huge impact on your organic traffic because if players didn’t click through the link and still installed the game through search, they will be counted as organic user.

In order to estimate the impact of your influencer campaign, one of the things we were doing was launching a massive campaign within a shorter period of time. We’re launching many influences within two, three days and this actually helps to create a big massive impact and help us to see what is our organic traffic looks like after the campaign launched. We always see the spike within organic. We can compare this within our average organic phase for those days and we can see the difference and we can attribute this difference to the influencer campaign as well.

Jonathan: Nice. That’s really smart and thinking about this even taking this step further. Actually, when you drive a lot of downloads, you also– You talked about organics, but organics, we can impact that to search and browse. This actually has a positive value on browse performance because more first-time downloads, the higher rank. Your ranking increases, and then more users that are just browsing the charts see your game and have a certain probability to download it because it ranks higher.

That’s another way of thinking about the value there but pretty cool. We are running a bit out of time, but I want to ask you a few last questions, we ask all of our guests. First, if you can give just one tip to the aspiring mobile growth marketer entering the industry even today with everything, all the changes that are happening, what would it be?

Alex: Always be open-minded. The industry is always changing and it’s really, really easy to get stuck into your past experience and make the decisions out of them but still think that nothing lasts forever and always keep rooms to test more even though you’re thinking all right, there will always be the chance you’re not that right and you need to consider all of the options.

Jonathan: Cool, and the content recommendation, what is your favorite mobile growth resource?

Alex: Most of the content out of the LinkedIn because the people are sharing something interesting. Also, there are some magazines, sometimes look at it, it’s some about from and looking at some blogs from most of our vendors and partners. I think there are some interesting topics on Reddit as well.

Jonathan: Cool and finally, the most important question, what is your favorite flavor of pancakes?

Alex: Salted Caramel.

Jonathan: You can never go wrong with that.

Alex: Absolutely.

Jonathan: Finally, if people want to reach out to you to talk about everything we talked about here today, how can they reach out?

Alex: I have a LinkedIn profile.

Jonathan: Awesome. LinkedIn reached out to Alex Rubin if you have any questions. Cool, this was a pleasure. I really enjoyed this conversation and thank you for doing this.

Alex: Likewise, Jonathan, thank you so much.

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    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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