In this episode of Mobile Growth & Pancakes, Storemaven’s Esther Shatz has two guests joining her for the first time. One is Nebojsa Radovic, Growth Lead at N3twork, and his colleague is Joseph Kim, Founder and CEO of LILA Games. They discuss how to combine both marketing and product resources to drive growth.
While Nebojsa is mostly focused on growth, Joseph’s focus is primarily on product, let’s understand how these two fields can combine for massive growth.
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03:40 Introduction to Nebojsa
04:00 Introduction to Joseph Kim
04:30 The beginning of communication between Nebojsa and Joseph
05:31 Synergizing marketing and product development
07:45 How to develop new products
09:12 Tackling risks before and during a product launch
17:10 Tracking KPIs and combining them with UI moving
19:43 Matching the product and marketing for effective targeting
20:24 How to understand your audience and validate the right KPIs
30:27 Quick-fire questions
You can listen to the full episode here:
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Key takeaways from the episode:
- According to Nebojsa, marketing and the product teams should work in synergy to make a product both well known AND accessible for users, respectively.
- Both functions are important to ensure the success of a mobile product. You need to be great at both product and marketing.
- The nature of product and marketing trends are the two essential factors to consider when embarking on growth.
- If the product is not a new concept, generally, the focus shifts more towards the marketing side than the product side as demand for the product is proven.
- Marketing materials and the product itself should be aligned to attract the right audience. If any marketing materials do not correctly portray the game then the audience generated will not retain.
- It’s important to accurately understand users and their preferences to enable marketing to prioritize the right chunk of people who would play the game AND also to enable the product team to build game users love to play.
“Treat mobile growth as a calling and not a job”Nebojsa Radovic
“Build a skills matrix for your career. Try to understand what skill will make you successful and then start trying to develop your skills against that matrix so you can be as competitive as possible in the future.” –Joseph Kim
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Esther: Welcome to Mobile Growth & Pancakes. I’m joined today by two people. It’s actually the first time we’ve had multiple guests at once. This is super exciting. Do you guys want to introduce yourselves?
Nebo: I’m Nebo, or my full name is Nebojsa Radovic for those who can speak Eastern European. I’m a growth lead at N3TWORK. I spend most of my time as part of the NSP team, which is basically our publishing platform, helping developers grow big things.
Joe Kim: I’m Joe Kim. I’m a founder of a small mobile gaming studio, that is actually going to be focused on developing a new mobile shooter game out of India. I also have a podcast and YouTube channel as well.
Esther: Awesome. Before we jump into our hot topics for today, Nebo, Joe, how do you guys know each other? What’s the connection between the two of you?
Joe: I forgot how we met, Nebo, was it– It might have been through a slack channel, but I don’t remember. It was an event or slack or something.
Nebo: We actually met for the first time when we did the first game makers podcast, or maybe the Northeast Product Podcast, GDC. We’ve been part of similar slack or same slack communities for a while, and then we started doing podcasts. We’re like a band at this point, been doing a lot of content together. It was great to work with Joe.
Esther: What’s interesting about you guys is generally when you see these kinds of tight connections, you’re in the same exact sphere. Joe, your focus has really been product, where, Nebo, you’re more on the growth side. It would be interesting, where’s the synergy there? How do you guys connect? How do these two teams connect?
Joe: Well, I would say that, in general, to be successful in mobile gaming, you need a broader understanding of the things that are important to help you achieve success in mobile games. In terms of my career, I’ve been primarily focused on product. Having said that, just as I developed my career, I understood that it became important to have a broader understanding of all the things that are important. Then at the last company I was with, I oversaw both product and marketing so it was important for me to understand that side as well.
Nebo: It’s a similar story, I just want to add, it’s basically you need both functions at their best in order to become really successful. The challenge with just being UA-focused or just being product-focused is that you hit the ceiling pretty fast, and then you help each other. Both teams have helped each other in unlocking the next growth opportunities. If the game is not casual enough, that’s where the product steps in and makes things that make the game more accessible. Or if the game is successful enough but doesn’t have enough users in the game, that’s when UA steps in and helps the game grow further.
In order to build a really successful multi hundreds of millions of dollars game, you need both functions to be at their best in order to get there. That’s why it’s not just enough to be graded UA or to be graded product, you need both. We’re pretty aligned on that. That’s how we started basically doing podcasts and talking about these things.
Esther: When it comes to starting off, I like what you said about this, product needs to step in when the challenge is product-based, UA needs to step in when the challenge is UA-based. Where do you begin? If we’re looking at a new app, are you focusing on developing something based on market appeal, and starting on the marketing side figuring out where that is and developing around that? Or do you start with a phenomenal product and then tweak the marketing around that?
Joe: It’s pretty situational. Depending on the kind of product that you’re working on, and what are the basis of competition in that market, that would dictate where you spend your specific focus. Generally speaking, I would say that today, it’s important to the point about having product understanding and understanding about growth in testing, that the skills that marketers have to help inform product, it’s important to know both. I do think that there are a lot of things that people can do regardless of the specific game that you’re making, in which it does help to have understanding of both and to do things that will help validate the product in terms of a lot of the risks that you have.
It’s like every product is going to have a different set of risks. One of the things that I would encourage a lot of game developers to do is just to try to understand what those key risks are. Then depending on what those risks are, whether it’s more marketing focus, or product focus to focus on trying to validate those risks.
Esther: Makes sense. Do you have an example of if we’re opening up a risk, how you tackle that from those sides?
Joe: Yes, let’s say that you are working in an already proven genre, and what you’re trying to do is you’re actually trying to just add a different type of IP or art style to differentiate the game. Then in that case, I would say that marketing is probably more important here in the sense of trying to do a lot of market tests to try and validate whether you’re going to have strong IPMs. Whether that specific IP matched with the gameplay that’s proven, actually resonates with the type of players that you’re going after.
From that perspective, I would say, where product can help is trying to help determine the type of audience that would be playing that game. Then marketing would be very useful in the sense of trying to then target those types of players and running the tests that will help determine whether the top of funnel metrics are going to be strong enough or not. Then product needs to also weigh in to also make sure that when you do bring those players in, that the type of tests and the types of validation that you’re doing so that those players are actually converting and helping the game monetize or actually they’re not. Nebo, I don’t know if you have any specific thoughts on that.
Nebo: I would just add, this is also pretty company-specific. If you’re a super sale, you might not care about marketing as much, and because they’re so good at making games that are very accessible and are played by millions of people all over the world or all across the world. For most developers, it’s important to validate the art style, the theme of the game early to basically save some time, and make sure that the game you launch to the worldwide audience has the highest chances to succeed. The key point here is something that JK mentioned, which is basically, is there any overlap between IP and the theme and the audience you’re going after?
If your game is too hardcore, and your art style/IP that you’re working with is too casual, there’s a chance that the audience, if you’re driving the game with your ads, might not be the audience that you want in the game. That will probably have a negative impact on the retention and monetization and pretty much all the major both like mostly product metrics because on the UA front, everything’s going to look great, but on the product side might not look great. That’s where the product and the UA team have to work together to understand where is the disconnect and what are things you have to do, either on the UA side or product side to increase the chances of success?
Joe: Probably, the other thing to add there is that for some games, the risks are going to be different. It might be you’re introducing a new control scheme. The control scheme might be the major risk for the game, or it might be the monetization system, like a new monetization system map with gameplay. That’s basically what the Japanese do. They do something cross something. They’ll take gameplay from game X and monetization system from game Y, and they just do crosses. Again, it just depends on what the risk for the game is.
That’s something that I would highly recommend that game studios do is for the game that you’re developing, understand what are the key risks, and then from there, then leverage your product and marketing team to understand, well, then how can we try to help better characterize what the risk is and to try to validate or mitigate those risks for the game?
Esther: I’d imagine also those risks will change over time. When your legacy long-standing title, your risks are going to inherently shift versus what they were at launch. Launch some there’s going to be something about breaking into, say, an overly saturated market and how do you make yourself known versus when you’re a longer standing title, maybe it’s more how do we stay relevant off apps that have newer hype and everything like that.
Joe: Yes. I think understanding what the risks are and how to mitigate those risks or characterize those risks is I think, the hardest part about game development, and one of the things that I think is probably not done very well by the majority of game studios out there. I’m not saying that I’m a master at it as well, but we’re actually putting a lot of resources into figuring that out. Then, the other thing to understand is that to your point about how risks change, it also changes with respect to your game development process as well because there may be a set of risks that you try to characterize during pre-production.
Then during production, one of the new things that we’ve done is, we’ve now set monthly validation goals where we’re running a major experiment or prototype again, to risk every month. Depending on how those go, that will then have knock-on dependencies in terms of well, take that control scheme example. Let’s say the control scheme sucks. Well then now that all of a sudden, changes the product roadmap, how we deal with this product. Do we kill the product? Do we change the control scheme? Depending on what the risks are and the prototypes that you deploy, and the new information that you gain, that’s going to change the risks moving forward to your point about changing risks.
Nebo: I’d like just to add one more thing about market conditions and for live games. The market changes all the time on the UA front as well. For live games, sometimes gets increasingly harder to promote those games, which is when games need to pivot even the live ones. I always mention this example of Lords Mobile, which has been advertising pretty aggressively for quite some time now. There’s not that many games that have been able to do that, and part of the reason why they’re so successful at it is that they kept changing the game and changing the visual appeal of the game in order to be able to continuously deploy UA dollars.
I think that’s when market conditions come into play on the UA front. At some point, you just cannot continue spending money in growing the game without changing the game significantly, and understanding what are the current marketing conditions. To give you an example, Facebook contributes to video, and AAA now like ads. They’re changing the way you can buy on Facebook all the time, which means that sometimes you need to change the game to address those UA changes. That’s one product in UA really should work to understand what’s the opportunity there and how they can get the most out of it.
Esther: It’s a great point you’re bringing up, the different Facebook targeting optimizations. I think one of the ways that product in UA had this really nice synergy was bringing in users tied to specific, you can call them product KPIs [unintelligible 00:13:03] I think, is one of those metrics that is half product, half UA. It’s bringing in the right users and making sure that the right actions take place. Obviously, and I’m sure this isn’t the first time you’ve talked about it, IDFA is just around the corner. This is, I would say, if we’re talking market conditions, probably the biggest shift that we’ve seen in quite some time.
Does this change the way– Basically, I guess there’s a lot of questions to ask here and I know nobody knows, but if we’re looking at UA in the future and moving forward and being able to set these KPIs, and tie these two validate that UA is bringing the right audience for product, how does that work when we can’t track them all the way through?
Joe: Well, I think this underscores Nebo’s point, which is to say that based upon environmental changes in the industry, that that should have an impact on product. The way that we’ve been approaching it, my studio is to try to traceroute through what the implications are if IDFA deprecation, for example, has the impact of not enabling studios to target whales. If we believe that’s the case, and so you no longer have those players that will be spending $10,000, $100,000 in the game, then what would the impact of that be?
If the impact is to basically shift payer buckets down, if you’re looking at your player here base, and if you were to characterize them in terms of payer buckets and then to try and understand what would happen if we try to shift the payer buckets down, but then being able to offset that in some way through to maintain our revenue. Then the way that you could potentially do that is by using more of a super sale-based approach, which is to lower ARPPU but increase conversion. If that’s the case, then you have to think about the monetization schemes and mechanics in your game, such that you can enable that to happen.
If you’re trying to go for broader conversion, and basically that lower ARPPU then what can you do that makes sense in the context of the game that you have? That, in my opinion, would then be one of these situations to Nebo’s point where you have your marketing team that can help you understand how you’re going to be able to target, and what’s possible in the product team to then understand well, from a monetization perspective, how do we map what is possible from a targeting perspective to what we try to do from a monetization perspective in-game? I think that this is a live example of this product marketing synergy being brought to bear against a current big change in the market coming up.
Esther: I think that’s super interesting actually that I’ve obviously been listening to a lot and researching a lot. I don’t think it’s the most popular track, which is product also has to adjust. It’s not just about how do we bring in the right users? It’s these are the users we’re bringing in. This is the goal that we’ve set for UA. How do we use the product side now to match and meet in the middle? I think that’s really interesting.
Nebo: I would just add that one more thing that that’s an interesting opportunity for Product and UA to work together is conversion value design. It’s basically figuring out which events should be passed through our networks and how to optimize against those. I don’t think if UA and the product teams are siloed that you can do that successfully or the companies can do that successfully. That’s yet another example of why these two teams should work together. As JK said, I think is going to be super important understanding what type of users can you bring into the game in the post IDFA world, and optimizing the game to trust that it’s going to be crucial.
If you cannot really target whales and to go after high-value players, then that means that you have to make your games but potentially more casual folks, more hybrid casual titles and mid-core and hardcore, or to revert your UA strategy back to the ones that were used in 2015 or 2014, where you optimize only the cub level and not rely so much on machine learning-based algorithms. Again, that also means that the game needs to be changed and that we need to use every available lever to help the game system.
Esther: I think definitely there’s the flashback side that we have a KPI that we can still measure, which is the conversion side, but we just don’t know what kind of value that’s bringing in. What’s the right process to analyze what IDFA starts, we’ve changed our campaign goal to optimize for conversion for CPI, what have you. How do we validate what’s happening now on the product side? How do we see what that user base is that’s being brought in, in order to create the right accommodations?
Nebo: The Android is still there, so we can always use Android to try to understand when it comes to, for example, creative performance and if you want to measure how different types of creatives perform then we can still leverage Android. When it comes to understanding how different channels perform or different GEOS perform, I think key will be to understand campaign set up properly and how to get the most out SK network. Basically, you cannot really target super granularly, but you can potentially design different country theaters and try to regroup as many countries as possible to get the most out of SK network, and to try to prevent the data loss and then to learn that way.
I feel like most of those workarounds won’t work and that we’ll still have to rely a) on entry b) on potentially things like Storemaven just to understand what’s the conversion rate of certain creators and certain art styles, then to try to extrapolate those values and understand what’s the impact on the game. It’s really hard to make any predictions about these things before we enter the post IDFA world. I think we’re just trying to creatively solve the problem, but there’s a famous saying that everybody has a strategy and until they get it in the head, they think it’s [unintelligible 00:19:43] so on. I think we have to get hit in our face first and then we’ll probably come up with a smart solution.
Esther: I hear that. I think there has to be some trial and error. I do think we have Google. The question is how long we’ll have
Google because often Android, one platform makes the move, the other platform follows at some point. Do you see performance marketing changing fundamentally? I know we can’t predict what happens with the IDFA, but do you think the model of how we look at it needs to change?
Nebo: Yes. We talked about this in one of your coffee podcasts about data++, product++, and media buying++ team members. Basically, every single function will have to evolve and understand what the post IDFA world looks like. For data++, I think the UA people who focus on data will have to understand or work with data primarily, think about UA data analysts and UA analysts will have to understand how to do incrementality and lift studies, where the users are coming from, what are the best pockets of traffic and how to get the most out of those.
When it comes to product++, it’s basically product marketing people, they’ll have to understand again, what are the available levers on the product side and how they can help the media buying team and the data team to make the best possible decisions. The last piece of the puzzle there is people doing actual media video buying process will have to understand both data and the product side of things to try to come up with the most successful UA strategy and get the most out of the available channels. I think each one of these functions will have to adjust to this new world in order to succeed and that’s probably going to take a few months. Not sure. Joe, do you have anything else to add?
Joe: Yes. Underlying this, I think the other thing that UA marketers are going to have to start to develop in terms of skills is essentially first, structured thinking because I think too many marketers up to this point have gotten, I think Nebo’s mentioned it before that some people got lazy because of Facebook and because of the machine learning algorithms, and being able to rely on the platforms to do a lot of your work for you. The important thing is with a lot of change that occurs in the industry to be able to try and structure your thinking in a way that you’re approaching different problems that you haven’t seen before in very good ways.
Then I think the other thing is, along those lines too as you were mentioning before about trial and error, that it’s very important to have some type of experimentation framework, and then to be able to structure that framework in a way that makes sense. I 100% agree with Nebo. I’m a big fan of his framework, but I would say underlying that to then build some of this type of thinking as well as probably also just more quantitative skills because I think that regardless of which way things go, I think it’s going to be important. I’ve seen too many marketers with not great like whether it’s Excel skills. Continue to develop so whether you build skills or Python or whatever, I think that helps.
Esther: I think it’s interesting, in a way it’s bringing performance marketing towards what a lot of organic growth teams have been trying to structure their way about, which is, you’ve never really had those tracking capabilities organics, I think. I don’t think anybody thinks organics fall out of the sky and are just a gift coming in, they’re a result of something. I’ve seen at least a lot with the partners that we work with that there’s been a big push in the last couple of years to structure some experimentation framework, like you said, basically, how do we create a clean enough experiment environment.
Obviously, we still have one funnel to bring users into the app at the end of the day of store to download. We have many options once we get there how do we create the right framework for being able to assess things like more branding efforts, different keyword, and design optimization efforts that don’t have that direct tie-in. I think I totally agree with what both of you are saying which is there’s this need to shift fundamentally but also never to let go of the fact. It doesn’t mean that we’re not databased that database optimization is the way to go, it doesn’t mean that tying KPIs into everything you do and crossing the different teams is irrelevant because we’re in this impossible scenario. It’s just shifting that perspective.
Nebo: Yes. I think it’s important to mention that UA might become what TV attribution is right now. The way we attribute UA installs might be similar to what trend performance or performance brand marketers are doing. It’s important to understand organic baselines like, how many installs are coming from a different GEO each day, and then to try to attribute the incremental installs and revenue to paid UA efforts? I think this is where having some skills and buying brand media will make– or not brand, basically, buying offline media will come in handy because these people who have been doing this especially buying TV ads understand this really well. The future might be more similar to that than to what we’re doing right now.
Joe: One comment that I think one of our other buddies John Law had mentioned is that it’s going to be increasingly important for UA people to actually not think of themselves as UA marketers, but mainly be thinking about themselves in terms of growth. Now in terms of a growth function whether that means being integrated with product or whatever it takes to drive growth of the product is how UA marketers need to increasingly think of themselves moving into the future. Going back to structured thinking, when you start thinking about yourself in terms of growth, then it’s going to be that structured thinking and those skills around structured thinking that allows you to build that growth framework.
It’s going to be situational for every company for the type of product that you have, but being able to situationally create what is the growth framework that allows us to really deep dive on our product, understand where those levers are that can actually help drive the most growth and have the biggest impact of the product, and then to isolate and drive against those initiatives that will actually help increase the product the most.
Esther: All right. You guys ready to move on to the quick-fire round?
Joe: Is it?
Esther: All right. First of all, you give one and only one tip to an aspiring growth marketer, what would it be?
Joe: I would say to build a skills matrix for your career. This is basically trying to understand what are the skills that will allow you to be successful thinking one step ahead, and then to start trying to develop your personal skills against that skills matrix so that you can be as competitive as possible in the future.
Nebo: I’ll be more generic and just say that just be curious and try to treat this as a calling, another job. Play as many games as possible, look what other advertisers are doing, try to understand why are they doing that, and try to implement that in your day to day work. I think that a lot of you UA folks like that curiosity and they just treat this as a job and they’re like, “Okay. Let’s just do Facebook video.” Which is what JK said earlier and things are going to look great. I think you can learn a lot of things by just looking at what others are doing especially smaller developers and trying to replicate that and apply that at a larger scale.
Esther: Wasn’t so generic. I haven’t heard it exactly like that yet. What’s your favorite growth resource and why?
Joe: Maybe I could give two answers to this. I would say that the first resources, I’m a big fan of Eric Seufert’s blog, Mobile Dev Memo. I would say the other resource is just talking to guys like me. I think it really is talking to people about the key issues in the industries and having those deeper conversations I think is probably where I learn the most.
Nebo: My answers are similar. Eric is, I don’t think he gets a lot of credit but I think he gets enough credit for everything that he’s been doing for. He’s so consistent, he writes every single week and that’s really hard. I started my blog in 2005 and I’ve been a very sloppy blogger, and I know what it’s like to be consistent and what it takes. You cannot really not mention Eric. There’s quite a few interesting blogs and newsletters nowadays. I think Grow Code Newsletter is pretty good if you want to be on top of the news. There’s a mobile Growth Gems Newsletter and also [unintelligible 00:28:56] started his own newsletter who’s a great, great mobile group leader. You should follow him as well on Twitter. Trying to be different than Joe.
Esther: All right. You can’t say each other, who’s the one person from the industry that you want to take to lunch when taking people to lunch actually is an option again.
Nebo: I thought about that question when I saw the outline for the podcast. The thing is like the UA community in the US is it’s pretty connected. We all know each other and we used to hang out quite often, not anymore, except for zoom meetings. I’d love to meet some senior growth guys. I never actually met in person Josh Shellman, who’s a pretty senior product guy. I’d also love to meet for lunch Ari Paparo from Beeswax. He’s one of the most vocal ad tech leaders in the industry. Those two, I haven’t met them in person and I think it’d be interesting to grab lunch with them.
Joe: For me, I would say whoever ran the league, the Twitch Drops campaign for Valorant I’d like to have lunch with that person.
Esther: Nice. I don’t know the name for you, hopefully, they’re listening and they can reach out and set that up. Most important question. What is your favorite flavor of pancake?
Joe: I didn’t even know there was multiple flavors. Isn’t there just one?
Esther: Oh, yes. You have not been to the right pancake house.
Nebo: We have to add more details to this question. Are we talking about pancakes or crepes? American pancakes or the ones that you make in pan, like the French crepes?
Esther: I’ll say because I’m an American expat, I do have a love of American pancake, but that thin crepe or blini is definitely fair game. I’d say, Joe, you can expand it through the toppings. You’ve got the banana chocolate pancake, you’ve got Nutella, you’ve got blueberry.
Joe: I’m a fan of Nutella. Maybe Nutella then.
Esther: Maybe you haven’t had a Nutella pancake and that’s the real issue.
Nebo: I’m quite an expert when it comes to French crepes which you could see by my weight. I love them and they’re very common in Serbia where I’m coming from. I’d suggest you to try French crepe with tart cherry and hazelnut. They’re great and hazelnut gives you the crunchiness and tart cherry just give you the tart flavor and Nutella, of course, sorry. Nutella comes with everything. Next time you go to a crepe house try that, it’s pretty good.
Esther: Good tip. All right guys, where can people find you if they want to learn more, follow up on what you’re doing?
Joe: I would say for me probably the deconstructor of fun podcast or the game makers YouTube channel.
Nebo: For me Twitter or LinkedIn. Just search for my name, twitter.com/eniac or E-N-I-A-C. It’s [unintelligible 00:32:11].
Esther: Awesome. Guys thank you so much. I know it’s a pretty earlier morning. Thank you for waking up without pancakes to take the time to chat, it was awesome.