In this episode of Mobile Growth & Pancakes, Esther Shatz is joined by Mary Filimanchuk, Director of Marketing at Apalon.
With a decade of experience in mobile marketing, Mary talks about her journey, developing a career in the world of marketing and how the industry has evolved.
Check out all the other episodes of Mobile Growth & Pancakes here.
Connect with Mary and Apalon here:
00:53 – Mary’s Introduction
01:50 – Mary’s journey at Apalon
07:57 – Entering the mobile world
09:39 – The change in mobile marketing over recent years
11:55 – Adapting to change
13:56 – The #1 mobile growth skill
15:28 – Joining Apalon
18:43 – Scaling different audiences
21:01 – Encountering novel apps
24:05 – The difference between entry-level and senior marketers
25:50 – Innovation as a skill to learn
28:10 – Specializing versus learning everything in mobile marketing
34:58 – A chance to go back and change things
39:54 – Quick-fire questions
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“Simply innovate with creatives and optimize landing pages. Simple, but the best drivers for mobile growth”Mary Filmanchuk
- With over six years of working in Apalon, Mary describes her organization’s journey as one of self-learning and self-improvement. Apalon is an ever-changing and ever-evolving company which has challenged Mary to grow with it as a marketer
- After graduating from university, Mary knew that her passion was for gadgets and technology, so she entered the marketing sphere. She started in marketing management at a mobile games studio
- Her first job was almost a complete course on mobile marketing since the company handled mobile games, community management, and store optimization
- She was able to experiment, test tracking different metrics and KPIs… this was Mary’s dream job
- Initially, Mary was focusing solely on growing mobile-only brands as well as some games that were only available on mobile
- In those days, to get reviews, the campaigns were quite different. For example, offering a free app a day was a tactic some companies used to get featured
- Nowadays, cross-app promotions are mostly for games and seldom for apps, whereas during Mary’s early years, this was a strategy utilized by apps
- Mary states that it’s important to innovate by altering campaigns, ads, and landing pages to cater best to the target audience
- Mary mentions that you need the right mix of comprehensive and communication skills to excel in mobile marketing. One has to be good at understanding what is going on, such as the team and the objectives, right down to the company’s minute details
- Mary also says that while it’s important for a person in mobile marketing not to be afraid of making mistakes, learning from every mistake is also a high priority so that they are not repeated
- To ensure that tasks and audiences are properly managed, marketing managers at Apalon work closely with their specific app and seldom mix, to ensure that the relevant audience is being targeted, which can provide better results
- Even when growing apps that are not Mary’s cup of tea, her main drive comes from positive user feedback and 5-star reviews. The connection created between the app to the target user and improving it consistently is Mary’s primary motivation
Learn the growth strategies used by top mobile brands
Esther Shatz: Welcome to Mobile Growth and Pancakes. I’m joined today by Mary Filimanchuk. I let you introduce yourself first, Mary, and then we’ll kick off the episode.
Mary: Hi, everyone. Thank you for having me. I’m Mary Filimanchuk from Minsk, Belarus. I’m currently Director of [unintelligible 00:01:00] Marketing at Apalon. I’ve been doing mobile marketing for almost a decade now. [chuckles] Happy to join and happy to share my thoughts.
Esther: Just about as long as its existence. Actually, what we wanted to talk about today, usually we talk about growing a specific mobile app and the strategy around growing a specific mobile app, but today, we wanted to talk about growing a career in mobile and growing yourself within that world of mobile which, of course, Mary has done. First of all, let’s start with Apalon. You’ve been there for over six years now. How would you describe your journey at Apalon in one word, one sentence? I’ll give you a sentence.
Mary: Let’s say it’s self-learning, self-improvement, something like that. They usually say that if you work for a long time at one place, then at a certain point, you come up to the point that there’s nothing new for you. There’s nothing challenging you and then you just decide that you want to try something more, go somewhere else, but for me, Apolon was an ever-changing, ever-evolving company and so was my place here, and I was also challenged a lot and improved a lot, I hope.
Esther: It seem like it. Let’s go back to the beginning. How did you first break into the world of mobile? What was the first role like?
Mary: After I graduated university as a Chinese translator, I decided that I don’t want to be a full-time Chinese translator. It’s not my dream job and I decided that it does not sound like what I want to do for the rest of my life. I was really passionate about mobile, about technologies, gadgets, and so on. I decided, “Why won’t I try something in this sphere?” I started my first job as something called Marketing Manager at the small mobile game studio but this was actually everything you can imagine for online mobile game, from community management, tournament organization, and also [inaudible 00:03:38] optimization, so pretty much everything we have that days.
This was awesome because I had experience in different spheres, different skills. I was able to try myself in different verticals and then I decided that mobile marketing in the place where I’m most interested in. This was my choice.
Esther: The mobile industry and marketing specifically has changed a whole lot in the past 10 or so years. Thinking back to those early days, what would you say is the most different when you’re looking back and thinking about the things you were doing day-to-day, what’s changed the most?
Mary: All. Pretty everything changed. We didn’t have that much analytics that day. We didn’t have any kind of attribution. [chuckles] We didn’t have App Store analytics at all. It was a blind spot. It was much more organic, I would say. It was much more different from the other world of business. For me, mobile was something like standalone place, mobile-only brands, mobile-first companies, some games, and apps that existed only with mobile. There are few of them were cross-platform.
It was a lot about organic, getting a picture from Apple, getting good relationships with Apple. You know those websites with games and apps reviews when you want to do, get featured and also those free everyday campaigns. I don’t know with [inaudible 00:05:33].
Esther: I remember those.
Mary: The marketing was even got the understanding of what it was. It was paid apps, free everyday campaigns, something cross-promo for apps was huge. It was a bit different than it is today. Today is more for games and that day, it was also for apps. Featured rankings, overall top [unintelligible 00:06:06] was huge, was massive, it was much different than it was today, but it is [unintelligible 00:06:11].
Esther: You had to develop the world of global marketing. Like you said, there wasn’t even analytics until 2017. It was a whole different ball game. As the world changes, your skills as a mobile marketer had to change as well, I take it. Can you talk through a little bit what happened after your first, you gravitated towards growth after touching a whole lot of aspects of mobile? Where did it go from there? How did you take it up to the next step?
Mary: Let’s try to dig there. When starting a mobile, you just find this balance between the analytics you do and the analysis of the market you do. Then you want to innovate because if you’re not innovating, if you’re not coming up with something completely new for the market, for the app store, you want to innovate with your ads, with your creatives, you want to innovate with your landing page and what you test on your landing page. This, I would say, is a driver of growth for a– It was for a long time. I think it still relates.
Esther: Agreed. [chuckles] Even now, we see today obviously, iOS 14 has changed a lot. New Google platform has changed a lot. You never stop the innovation side. It’s something maybe a little bit unique to mobile and that there’s no flat zone when you perfectly figured it out if you can just smooth sail on what you know. Just assuming it’ll continue to work. I think that versatility is really important.
If we’re talking about how the changes that come and how much you need to be able to adapt and to try, when you’re looking at somebody who’s trying to enter the world now and try to break into mobile growth and start their career, what’s a skill that’s a non-negotiable? Meaning, at some point, you assume a lot of things are going to change and you need somebody who’s going to change with it. What’s the most important thing to be able to have to master in order to be good at your job?
Mary: I will start with comprehensive skills. It’s between comprehensive and communications. You’ve got to be good at understanding what’s going on and what’s your task, what’s your job and what company is doing. Then you’ve got to be good at presenting yourselves. You got to be good at advocating your ideas or your feedback. It’s a communication comprehension mix where you advocate for the marketing activities so sometimes you would need to describe and you need to sell what you do and why it is important.
I would start with that. Then I also want to mention that it’s important not to be afraid of making mistakes or there’s something that’s not working. Not 100% that or activities will work. It is important to learn from mistakes or I would say not to avoid mistake but definitely to learn from them, not to make the same mistake twice.
Esther: I totally agree. Let’s go back to you for a second. You went to Apalon about six years ago. First of all, what brought you there? You went from a small indie type developer and to– Apalon have a whole [chuckles] lot of apps available.
Mary: Yes. I’ve had an opportunity to work with some like best Apalon titles at that time. I worked with calculators, wallpapers, phone apps, whatever apps [chuckles] were popular and were like mass-market utility style of app that were– We wanted to enhance the user experience with something that is– might seem basic at certain points but certain features were definitely missing at that point with native apps and it was like the [unintelligible 00:11:00], sports and those places and [unintelligible 00:11:04] where we could innovate and we could succeed so I wanted to share this story.
I’m not sure that this is something that is usually told or lots of people know. One of the Apalon’s first apps was Weather Live, with weather with animated background behind the weather. It was like some kind of a degree and stuff and then it was animated backgrounds. It was released even before Apple came out with those dynamic backgrounds in their native weather. Even when you’re working with something so-called basic and something not– You’re not expecting somebody to really innovate in something like calculator or weather but even then, a team was able to bring something completely new, some completely new experience to mobile phones, to users, that even was then something close to industry standards.
Now, we see dynamic backs on the native Apple weather and it wasn’t like that all the time. It used to be like this blue background and sun or cloud and that. It’s always a place to innovate. Everywhere I see mobile games, more games, big games innovate all the times. I encourage everyone to think outside the box and to be more– I would say, probably, to try something. [chuckles]
Esther: I’m interested to hear about what it’s like when you have more than one title. A lot of people get really deep into really knowing their users, really knowing their audience and how do I market this one app to– in a way, that’s going to be successful. When you’re looking at a sweep of apps and some that are very, very different and I assume have very different audiences than the others, how do you manage something like that at scale?
Mary: Yes, it’s tough-
Mary: -I would say. As for today, we are working one marketing manager today at Apalon usually works with either one or two really close titles. We don’t want the person to work with a photo editing app and then a weather app. It’s hard as you mentioned using different audiences, markets, and then this type. There were sometimes that we were working with completely different titles. I would say that it’s probably– I think, I hope, something closer than when you work in an agency and in an agency, you can get a few titles and they will be different and from different markets, et cetera.
It’s a hybrid between a product company with just one product and an agency with lots of products, so it’s a product company with lots of titles, with a broad portfolio. For marketing managers, it’s actually lots of advantages here because you gain experience from different verticals, different markets, different– completely different topics. For me, health and fitness, entertainment, weather, utilities. It all sounds familiar. Luckily, I have a marketing manager who specializes in each topic right now, but for us, it’s– Yes, I feel it’s closer to some kind of an agency than to a company with one product.
Esther: How do you get–? I think maybe it’s challenging especially before you actually start working in the world of mobile to imagine working on a product that you’re not straight out of the bed super excited about. You’re not the target user for the product that’s coming through. How do you manage to build that passion to be excited about growing an app even if it’s not the genre or the type of app that you yourself would normally download, interact with?
Mary: Yes. Part of this is probably working with user reviews, user feedback, and everything that happens on the market. When you see users writing five-star reviews, how they enjoy the product, what they feel, how it is life-changing, how it’s making their life better, you just can’t resist thinking that your product is something unique, something worth, and something good. I would say closer connection to users, more UX tests, creatives tests, more cost [unintelligible 00:16:29] thing will help you to build this connection and to become closer with your target user. With this connection, you just can’t be ignorant to your product.
Then you always try to make this better, to improve it, to provide more value, to just do more. When you innovate and when you test, for me, it’s always something interesting whether my hypothesis will work or not. It’s interesting to understand how well you know your users, how well can you predict what works and what not. It’s also challenging and it’s also bringing you to this actual work and making you work harder and making you strive for more.
Esther: I have to say it always breaks my heart when I have something that I think is going to work so well and I look at it and I love it and I’m like, “This is what we should have been doing from the start,” and then it fails miserably and it’s like you can’t help but take it personally. You’re like, “But it was perfect. Why didn’t it work?”
Mary: Yes, but next time when it works, it’s such a pleasure to understand that you did something that actually performs well and you did a great job. It’s worth it, I guess.
Esther: Yes, as long as it’s like you said, as long as you can figure out from there why your perfect dream didn’t work out, you make sure not to do it again and you get the ultimate satisfaction of having actually figured it out and crack the code. I’d love to hear a little more about the differences between being somebody who’s a little more entry-level in mobile growth to going into a more senior, more director-level position. What shifts when you’re moving out of– What shifts in the day to day when you’re moving out of an entry-level role, what shifts in the skills and the way that you’re measured. I’d love to hear– I think you’ve also built a fair amount of people up and teams up, so I’d love to hear more about that from your perspective.
Mary: Yes. When you grow as a specialist, for me, it’s on the one hand, a higher responsibility for your actions. When you start, it’s usually– You get the task, you get it done, and that’s all. You don’t have responsibility for the product performance. The higher you get, the more responsibility you have so you’re the person who’s responsible for performance and for action. To get this high responsibility, I would say that the more– the higher level you are, the more, sorry to say it one more time, but the more innovation and the more something outside the box is needed for this position.
You got to have this more long-term visions. You need to think not just for months above work, a few months above, but you got to think in years’ perspectives. You got to see these market trends that are just starting now, but they will emerge in the year and half year in a few years. Got to this higher-level vision and more strategic vision, I would say. This is totally what you need to have when you’re in a higher level position.
Esther: Do you think that innovation is a skill you can gain, you can train, and you can improve, or is it something that you just innately have?
Mary: I definitely think that everyone can innovate. It just depends on the approach. For some, it will be something more natural and coming by itself, and for others, it will be researching more on gaining more knowledge about the market, the competitors they’re [unintelligible 00:20:58] and just bringing those crazy hypotheses. For some people, it comes out of nowhere and for some people, it just comes from the knowledge they have, the experience they have, the skills they have. The more experienced you are, the more black spots you see, and you can move there.
Esther: I like that. Basically, if you’re not born now with that gift and I’m sure we all know people who just the ideas come out, you have no idea where they came from, but they’re amazing. It comes to knowing the more you know, the more you’re able to build your knowledge and see what not just you’re doing, I’m sure it comes to knowing your product really well, your users really well, but also learning so much more about the industry, the platforms, what people are trying, maybe outside of your direct space, it inherently opens up your mind to other things that are happening and how you could translate that back into what you’re doing. I think that’s a very good tip. [chuckles]
Definitely in the beginning, I think anybody who’s been in mobile growth, as long as you have can relate to this idea that you start out doing everything you’re doing, social community, ASO, paid, product even, reviews, everything there. Nowadays, now that we have a little bit more refinement in different ways that we look at growth and there’s set efforts and set strategies, do you think it’s better for somebody entering into specialize in one area, specialized in organics or specialized in creatives or specialized in paid, or to try to tap into everything maybe not on as in-depth a level, but on a broader scale.
Mary: This would be my opinion and I don’t want to say that this is like the 100% true, and this can relate to anyone, but I would say try as much as you can. Get a more comprehensive understanding of the market and how things correlate with each other. It looks to me right now that you can’t do just like I’m just doing organic or I’m just doing like brand awareness or something. Everything is connected, everything will impact one another. Sometimes, you will go hard on user condition and your organics will go down. At the same time, you will really be successful in event awareness, and then your user position will show better results.
It’s everything connected. As long as you understand how to impact or funnel and what’s the best place to focus on right now with your app because sometimes we have some pieces of the funnel that we are super focused and refined and tested and so on, and on the other step, it’s not optimized. As long as you see the complete picture of how users interact with your app and how they know it and how they then build relationships with it, you’ll be better at prioritizing what to do next and what’s important. I would definitely say that it works like being a good specialist in something like the narrow field, but it’s unreal to get there without understanding the whole market and all the relationships between everything we do in marketing, close user acquisition, [unintelligible 00:24:58].
I would say that you can start with anything, but after some time, it’s better to build your own complete picture of everything and how this relates.
Esther: Definitely, you see that in places where things are very, very separate when one team is completely dedicated to say, buying search ads and a whole other team is completely dedicated to organic performance, and another team is focusing on product marketing. When you have all those differences, you see the pay, you can see it in that as a user, you can see a company that’s not telling one cohesive story, and you can see the fact that no matter what you do, your actions can’t possibly achieve things alone, because you’re not, if you’re not aware of what else is going on.
One of the takeaways that I’m hearing from you also is not just even if you are specializing, let’s say you’re starting out in the organic discovery department and that’s your focus and that’s what you’re measured on, you still want to make sure that you’re not alone there and only focusing on that. That can be the skill you’re working on day-to-day. If you’re not going to the other departments and building the full story of, “This is what we’re doing as a company, as an app,” you’re blocking yourself, you have a ceiling you can hit, because you can never go farther than what is available within your own box.
Mary: This is what we mentioned about those comprehensive skills and also communication skills. You got to bring your understanding to other teams as departments if you’re working separately and you got to build those relationships between organic paid and everything else. As long as you have good relationships and you all work on the same– you’re all working one direction, they’re not contradicting each other, then I guess your personal work will be multiplied. You’ll see much better results.
Esther: I have to say, I think it’s a common thread of a lot of people who I’ve spoken to on the podcast is at some point, they’ll tell you that part of their success is not only focusing on X or making sure they work really closely with this team, this team, and this team. I think it’s funny because it sounds obvious when you say it out loud, but I think it can be really hard to do when you have a lot of KPIs that you’re focusing on and a lot of people that you’re focusing on in one specific department to remind yourself that you have to take it, take it another, and take it outside.
Mary: This was my thought about how we have so many places to learn how to technically work with apps and promote them and technically work with extra optimization and stuff. They’re much less and much fewer articles or information about how you build those relationships between marketing product brands and how you communicate with other departments and how you work on those. It’s probably soft skills, not hard skills, but they’re not less important, this mobile marketing. You can have all those technical skills and you know how to promote that, what impact worth, but if you’re alone in your department and everyone hates you–
Esther: You can also connect to what you’re saying about the point of innovation is if you’re only doing your one thing, you’re going to miss those opportunities because you don’t know what’s changing elsewhere. You don’t see that, “Wait a minute. Here’s something that’s going on in the new world of–” I guess the easiest example right now is IDFA is really going to change the way paid is working and performing. If you’re not checking in with UA and seeing from the product side, from the wayside, what people are doing to accommodate that, can end up missing a lot of very interesting opportunities for how you can create a new branch of work, a new way of working that you never thought of before, because it’s not just within your sphere.
Mary: This is how it changes [chuckles] everyone, not just like user position or [unintelligible 00:29:18] but the whole company.
Esther: 100%. Let’s go back to the very beginning. If you could change anything about what you’ve done in the last seven, eight, nine years, is there anything you’d change?
Mary: Let’s see. Can I say no?
Esther: You could say no. It’s good, it’s a sign of a happy life, I think.
Mary: I would probably start some activities and that would probably work with something that we’re working right now much earlier. It’s when you want to have more time on something. You don’t want to be the last mobile company to bring something to the market. It’s probably not about something that we did or haven’t done but about the timing. I think some things might have been started or early, let’s say like that.
Esther: Nothing that you would change except sometimes speeding it up.
Mary: Yes, definitely. [inaudible 00:30:42] is super important in mobile. It’s sometimes you can be there first. You can make some changes through your or time-specific or you’ll be missing the whole market or the whole trend or someplace. Like when for example, this year, iOS released. There were widgets. Those companies were really– They won with their widgets and they made something to promote those. They got all the hype and they got all the success. If you come up today with widgets in Europe, it’s almost–
Esther: You’re not impressive, of course, you should have a widget. I hear you. Maybe it’s better sometimes even to just go fast and make mistakes, release something that’s not perfect rather than perfect your model and wait until it’s too late.
Mary: Yes, it’s always better to drive things and see what’s working and then improve them and [unintelligible 00:31:58] them. I would say that less is more sometimes. Sometimes you don’t want to make some things perfect. You just want them to be something like MVP. You want them just to show their functionalities, show what’s important and then you’ll have enough time to enhance it. If you test, yes– I think it’s one of my constant advice to micromanagers, not to strive for the pixel-perfect creatives, pixel-perfect everything. It’s better to test that you read and get learnings than to work on some concept for a few months, and then it will be outdated by then.
Esther: That’s a really good point. I just spoke to somebody from SoundCloud last week. She was saying the same thing. Get MVPs out that you can test and at least get the direction of this is what works before you invest a ton of resources in developing something only to find out after that it’s not actually what you needed to be doing.
Mary: Yes, because you need to learnings to prioritize to–
Esther: Okay. I think it’s a really important tip. Sometimes also, maybe it’s an advantage of not always being able to be a little bit more spread out and not focusing on just one product and just one audience because it gives you that ability to understand it’s okay if a tiny detail isn’t in place and it’s okay if this isn’t to the quality that we’re used to having it because what I need is data right now and then I can iterate after.
Mary: There’s this 80% and 20% rule. Then sometimes for some people, there’s 98 and 2% rule.
Mary: [inaudible 00:33:50] 98% [unintelligible 00:33:52] then they will work and make it pixel perfect and they will spend lots of time on those 2% that will absolutely not impact performance. You gotta make sense of those when you need to stop, when it’s good enough.
Esther: It’s good advice, which brings me into the– well into the quickfire round and connects to the first question. You can repeat yourself if you want. If you can give just one tip to an aspiring mobile growth marketing person, what would it be?
Mary: For this, I would say that find yourself a mentor or some more senior person that you can rely on and you can discuss something. It’s something like if you are fortunate to have your computing community around you and your close group of mobile marketers, then it’s great. It’s totally fine. You’re lucky there. If you’re just starting, it’s not a good gauger to have this community. It would be enough if you have just one senior person to help you choose your first job, to choose what to expect and what to focus on while you’re working and your areas to grow, your most needed skills to grow on the next step. I would say, find somebody you can ask for advice.
Esther: I love that you started before you actually take the first job. Don’t go into the job and then find the mentor but find somebody who’s going to make sure you’re not going to make a misstep even before you start. That’s a good tip.
Mary: I would say that the mobile community is super– I would say it’s inclusive. It’s super nice and everyone’s willing to help. I don’t think it would be any hard to find somebody who is eager to help you.
Esther: I also think the mobile community is one of the most– Just sharing vocal communities that I’ve encountered, at least. People are really, really happy to help give a bit of advice there.
Mary: I wanted to share the amount of information that’s outside and you can read and you can learn, it’s outstanding. You can really get the profession– Become full proficiency with mobile marketing, just by reading the right sources and the right blogs and right books, I would say.
Esther: Speaking of your favorite mobile growth resource.
Mary: The first one for me is definitely your A, like blog guidelines and et cetera. I really enjoy them.
They’re good. They’re really good. I would totally suggest everyone who’s just starting or who wants to improve the knowledge with a basic understanding of how things work. This is really a good source. Then goes A, so Stack, I guess. How were they called?
You got to learn some use that’s happening and some interesting use cases. This is a good place to go. They have mobile growth stack and abstract mutation stack. Both of them are really good. Also, about their memo blog. It’s outstanding and the content is timely. It’s sometimes even above the time. [chuckles] You just haven’t understand something yet, you just haven’t caught the trend yet and they’re already on it. This will be helpful to get this higher-level understanding on what’s going on in the market. It’s not about tips and tricks, but it’s more about understanding the overall landscape.
Esther: Who is one person that, again, when the world goes back to normal, and you can do these kinds of things. Who’s the one person in the growth world that you’d want to take out for lunch and why?
Mary: I think I will answer a little bit different from what you asked. I would love to see my team actually in the real life. We haven’t met since spring. We haven’t had the opportunity to talk to each other outside of the zoom conference. Instead of having lunch with somebody I don’t know– I’m curious but I don’t know. I would be really happy to see my actual team and to talk to them. I miss this a lot, the real-world communication.
Esther: It’s a good one. I actually just saw my team for the first time in ages a couple of weeks ago. It was amazing. You forget when you’re only communicating about work over digital and whatever, you forget how much comes out of actually being together in the same space.
Mary: Let’s hope for the better.
Esther: Soon, hopefully. All right. The most important question, Mary, is what is your favorite kind of pancake?
Mary: Let’s say blueberry ones.
Esther: That’s a good choice with these blueberries. Okay. Mary, thank you so much for joining us. Where can people find you if they want to hear more and see what you’re up to?
Mary: Yes. Please reach out and don’t hesitate to reach me out. I’m available at LinkedIn or in those Slack communities I’ve mentioned. Always happy to help discuss and just to communicate. Communication is the key.
[chuckling]Esther: Awesome. Thank you so much.
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