Episode #43: Managing Organic Methods for Mobile Growth with Iain Russel

Iain Russel, Head of Performance Marketing at MoneyHub, sits with us for this episode of Mobile Growth and Pancakes to talk about organic and paid growth activities.
organic mobile growth done right

In this episode of Mobile Growth & Pancakes, Jonathan Fishman is joined by Iain Russell, Head of Performance Marketing at Moneyhub Enterprise, to discuss organic methods and using available tools in the best way possible on a limited budget.

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

To connect with Iain and Moneyhub Enterprise:

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“You have to admit that you can’t solely do this on footfall growth solely on your organic activity. You can get it to a point in time that’s as best as possible because there are always improvements to do and then start to layer on some paid activity. You can see almost organically that our iOS traffic was bigger at this point. We get more downloads through that platform, and down the funnel metrics are strong as well.

Iain Russel

Key takeaways:

  • Iain has been working in mobile app marketing for twelve years now. Currently, he is the Head of Performance Marketing at Moneyhub Enterprise, a fintech app helping users achieve and secure their financial goals. Iain works on new user acquisition, engagement, and retention for Moneyhub’s money management app.
  • To drive organic growth, make sure that your website landing page, social media channels, and app store pages are set up in the best possible way to help that initial conversion. Next, you have to focus quite heavily on the intricacies of ASO.
  • But you can’t obtain growth solely on your organic activity. Try to get the best outcomes possible and then layer on some paid activity. 
  • If you’re a mobile marketer, keep an eye on industry news, resources, and trends people talk about, which can help you discover new or improved tools and strategies.

Maximize growth with iOS 15’s In-App Events


    Jonathan: Hey, everybody, and thank you for joining another episode of Mobile Growth & Pancakes. I’m your host, Jonathan Fishman. I’m VP Marketing and Growth here at Storemaven and today I have here with me, Iain Russell, who’s head of performance marketing at Moneyhub. Hey, Iain.

    Iain: Hi, Jonathan.

    Jonathan: What’s up? All good?

    Iain: Yes. All good. Thanks. A busy time of year for us.

    Jonathan: For sure, for everybody.

    Iain: New year, new resolutions.

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

    Iain: Yes, sure. I’m currently Head of Performance Marketing at Moneyhub. We’re a UK-based consumer app and we’re a money management personal finance app where we’re leveraging the power of open banking and open finance. You can connect all your accounts in one place to credit cards, bank accounts, investments, loans, mortgages, and you see your whole financial universe all in one place and can make better-informed decisions going forward using a variety of tools that we have in the product. Myself, I’ve worked at marketing for 12 years now.

    I originally started, I was working for a publishing company called Future and the iPad arrived. It descended from the heavens to be the savior of magazine publishing. It didn’t quite work out that way, but I was part of a project of getting a lot of our magazines onto Apple Newsstand, if anyone remembers that. We had had about 80-plus magazine apps and had 25% market share of Apple Newsstand at launch way back then.

    Jonathan: Awesome.

    Iain: That was the first introduction to the world of app marketing and famously Apple telling us that push notifications are to be used for marketing of no kind whatsoever. I think we all know how well that lasted.

    Jonathan: Yes. Cool. How does the marketing team at Moneyhub looks like? How big are you guys? How is it structured?

    Iain: We’re relatively small and we sit within part of a wider technology business, so Moneyhub Enterprise, that also does software as a service to develop APIs and white label products similar to consumer app. I have a content and communities manager in my team and shared resource in terms of website marketing and graphic design.

    Jonathan: Awesome. How has growth been like for the past year or so with everything that has happened?

    Iain: It’s been really good. We’ve been on a good trajectory for sure. Obviously, the pandemic had an impact on that, as people going into various different states with their employment and furlough, work from home, and people wanting to get on top of their finances. We traditionally had a 30-day trial on our app for a very modest subscription fee of 99p or a month or 999 a year. We extended that to six months free with no auto-renew, to help out do our bit as best we could at that time. People had Moneyhub as a resource to help them, but what we saw was that our conversion percentages didn’t change. When we got to the end of that trial period, we still had very similar signups to our subscription, which is really encouraging. We haven’t changed that setup at all. It sounds like a long trial period, but I feel it works for us. It gives users enough time to really get to grips with the tools and review their monthly spending and where they’ve made improvements or saved on budgets. It just makes that an easier upsell essentially when it comes to the subscription point of the journey.

    Jonathan: Yes, though I would suspect that that would cause a lot of retention challenges to keep them retained for that very long trial period, no?

    Iain: Yes, it can do, but like I say, it feels that with the 30 days, it’s not enough time for them to truly understand the value of the product. Although we may well lose a few more people before the end of that trial, the amount of people that then convert and stay with us longer term, because once you get over that two, three-month barrier, the consumers are really quite sticky within the product. That has worked really well. Of course, we look at initiatives all the time. It’s the other side of the coin. From acquisition, it’s just, how do we keep them engaged and involved with the product? We work closely with the product team, constantly looking to make improvements and add new features. We’ve been able to add a lot of new features over the last six months into the product, which has really helped that side of things.

    Jonathan: Amazing. That gets me to think a lot about the IDFA like an SKAdNetwork and all of that. Most of your growth was driven by paid user acquisition?

    Iain: Yes, but I would say primarily, it was Apple Search Ads that was driving our growth. We weren’t as adversely affected as I suppose some other apps might have been if they’re quite reliant on Facebook and Twitter and just your networks to grow. I have a mantra of sustainable growth and layer things up, so the organic and own base, and then looking at tier-one platforms like search ads, Facebook, Twitter, before going to a tier-two platform. Just slowly making those building blocks and doing it in an effective way. We’re not throwing loads and loads of cash at it just to get a load of installs, [unintelligible 00:06:07] what’s called a vanity metric. We’re doing it in such a way to really hone in on what is converting down that funnel in terms of registration and connecting your first account within Moneyhub.

    Jonathan: Amazing. I got it’s from a lot of games and apps that have late-stage monetization. It takes a long time. Some of them may take a week or a month or in your case, sometimes six months to get the actual conversion to a paid subscriber. An SKAdNetwork or Apple’s attribution system is built in such a way that it reports only a downstream event if it happens in the first 24, maybe 36 hours. There’s a few hacks. You can stretch that period a bit more, but it’s supposed to be very early on. For apps that don’t have that kind of event happening in the first day or two, it’s extremely tough to measure the success of its acquisition. Search ad doesn’t have that problem. It’s good for you guys that you’re reliant on Search ads. You mentioned organic. You said that you have a very large organic performance type of base. What drives that? What are you guys doing to influence organic growth?

    Iain: I’d always say that that starts with what I term as owned channels. Making sure that your website, supporting website, landing page, your social media channels, your App Store pages are set up in the best possible way to help that initial conversion. Organic traffic invariably is going to be your highest quality traffic, because they’ve gone out of their way to find you specifically as a product or find something related to it. In our instance, personal finance or money management. Especially the visual assets are really strong in helping supporting that message of what they’d like to become, looking for. That helps you get them into the top of the funnel and then work from there. Again, with organic, [unintelligible 00:08:11] registration rates and first time connection rates are going to be quite high, becuse they’ve already bought in a little bit, are quite like warm prospects. ASO plays a huge part in that.

    I’ve worked previously in other companies where I have no paid media budget. You have to focus quite heavily on the intricacies of ASO. The black box sometimes is working out what can help drive it and what can drive that growth. [unintelligible 00:08:42] play such an important part in making sure that you are getting a consistent stream of good quality reviews in for the product, to help your listings on the App Store and on Google Play.

    Jonathan: I think that also, like you mentioned, getting a ton of installs that aren’t worth as much. One of the tactics I would say that marketers sometimes use is to drive a very large volume of first-time installs or first-time downloads, which is one of the factors that feeds into the Apple algorithm in deciding which apps they rank, both on the search engine result page for different keyword rankings and on top charts and category charts. Eventually, it also encourages them to feature apps in different featuring placements. Although that’s curated by editors, they do notice apps that are high at the charts.

    A lot of companies are using, especially companies with a huge amount of cash, they throw a lot of cash on sources that bring in these first-time downloads and then they hack their way to the top of the charts and drive a significant amount of organic installs from browse traffic, folks browsing at the store, not even searching for anything. How do you do all of that without a paid budget? That sounds very challenging.

    Iain: Yes. It’s funny, quite a few years ago, I would say 2016, 2017, I got Moneyhub, because I’ve had two stints of Moneyhub, in case anyone looks at my LinkedIn profile. I got Moneyhub into the top 10 finance apps in the UK, without paid budget, and that was purely by getting the principles in place. I think it was quite early doors. You could get a jump on your competitors then, by just paying a bit of attention to these principles. It’s a different story now. Come 2020 onwards, it’s not as simple. Being able to get up the charts without significant investment is definitely a challenge. The example you outlined, it’s obviously a risky play because if that doesn’t work and the quality is too poor in terms of that uplift in traffic, you’ve got yourself into a bit of a hole.

    I think that’s when you have to admit that you can’t do this for growth, solely on your organic activity. You can get it to a point in time that’s set up as best as it possibly can be or like 90% plus, because there’s always improvements to do in reviewing your keywords and changing your visuals and then start to layer on some paid activity. That’s when I feel like where you can see almost organically that our iOS traffic was bigger. We get more downloads through that platform and down funnel metrics are strong there as well. It was a natural [unintelligible 00:11:28] right now, let’s layer on Apple Search Ads, start building up some knowledge there and measuring it, seeing what terms work before rolling that onto other platforms to build up the mix that you’ve got in paid, and steadily rise up the charts. Always, from what I’ve seen is then you’re not getting big spurts of growth at that point in time, but you’re getting good, steady, continual growth of the product and of the active user base. What I’ve done just recently, with January being such a big time of the year for an app like us, where people are wanting to get on top of their finances and set new year’s resolutions, is reserving some budget to go a bit bigger at a good point in time, that seasonal peak for your product. Which really helped, because, for example, we grew our active user base by over 50% just in January gone, by doing that.

    Jonathan: Awesome. That’s a great number. What did you do there exactly? You used up the budget on Apple Search Ads for keywords around finances?

    Iain: There was some increased bids on that platform. It just gets more competitive in the FinTech app space anyway, [unintelligible 00:12:44] Apple Search Ads. [unintelligible 00:12:46] install ads across Facebook and Twitter, but also working with a couple of influences to help talk about the product. They will get a track link to use, to put in the notes, and we’d have some podcast sponsorship as well. Your link goes into the show notes, but you know at that point it’s just like– We’d love to track everything directly, but then again, it’s about I think what we talked about briefly before the call, it then builds that halo effect. Then you can see, “Look what’s happening to our organic downloads here as part of the mix,” is having that effect where we’re building a bigger picture around a bit and where Moneyhub is getting mentioned.

    We got picked up in some press articles as well for budget saving apps in the UK. Again, that’s almost like out of our hands, but it’s great, because that’s extra publicity. You can see small spikes in the download levels when they’re happening. You can judge the effectiveness of that and you know that you’ve increased the buzz and the noise about the brand that’s helped drive that.

    Jonathan: This is so important. I have a lot of questions, but I think it’s so important for listeners to understand that at least approaching it in a scientific way and understanding what drives these spikes in organics, they’re coming from somewhere. You would never know exactly– It’s impossible to track. Let’s say, you talked about influencers and there’s tracking links. If you measure just direct response type of value from these influencer campaigns, you won’t get too much. I think I talked with somebody who has an influencer agency a few months back. He said he tried to track the organic search impact these influencer campaigns has. For every install that he was able to attribute directly to that tracking link, there were five organic search installs. Folks just went to the app store, searched for the brand name. That happens a lot. It’s a very common and well known effect in paid marketing. You run an ad, some people respond to it directly. There’s a sizable chunk of people that just go to the App Store and search for the brand name. These branded search volume, it comes from somewhere. It doesn’t just drop from the sky if you don’t do anything.

    Iain: Yes, definitely.

    Jonathan: Really understanding over time what drives these increases is crucial because then you can find a replicable process and repeat that. How do you guys approach measuring these kind of things, like understanding when you ran an influencer campaign or did anything else and then saw an increase in organics?

    Iain: I track quite closely a lot of the metrics. We use Adjust as a mobile measurement partner, so we’ve got the direct traffic. I’m also looking at gaps or metrics themselves, “What are you telling me?” in terms of installs. With our CRM system, I’m looking at the registrations that we get and the connections that we get. I can isolate that down to iOS or Android or web, because we have a web only app as well. Then by taking the tracked paid out of that, you looked at your, “Here we go, so that’s my organics,” but then you know it’s like, that’s quite a jump on organics from what traditionally it is. Maybe it’s a bit easier when you’re not running huge amounts of paid activity, because you’ve got quite a clear organic baseline. It makes it quite easy to identify, “That 20% uplift, I think we are able to attribute to this additional cluster of activity that we’ve been able to do.” Then like you say, you replicate that. You’re spotting these patterns and then you can learn and you say, “If we do something again similar in a couple of months and the same thing happens–” It starts to give you more confidence, then you go, “This is a repeatable exercise, and even though we’re not getting it directly tracked through, we know that we’re still spending the budget wisely here.”

    Jonathan: I think the industry has been progressing a lot in the past few months from a place where everything needed to be attributed directly and deterministically. You’d have to have a dollar value for every dollar that you spent on user acquisition. The industry is progressing because folks are feeling pretty comfortable of understanding things at least directionally or roughly and understand, “This has probably caused an increase of between X and Y installs. We feel comfortable in replicating that activity that created that, even though we don’t know the exact figure.” That being said, I saw something really interesting that a lot of marketing teams have started to explore, which is looking at App Store Connect data.

    App Store Connect is a platform that doesn’t get enough love, I would say. Apple is not– I don’t think they’re doing enough to promote or market the kind of things that they’re adding in there. To cut a long story short, after they deprecated the IDFA and they pissed everybody off and basically– I don’t think they had the intention of ruining everyone’s ability to measure their marketing spend. They had different motivation, which is around some would say to hurt Facebook. I would say that they just didn’t want Facebook to enjoy the monetization from Apple’s users or user level data. We all saw exactly how much that cost Facebook in their last earning report. They said that it cost them $10 billion just this year and they tanked 25%, so that was painful.

    Without intending it, they also took over away the ability to measure, and then they started to bring things back. The SKAdNetwork, is it really a usable product? I don’t think there’s anyone in the industry that agrees that it is currently usable. It has a long way to go and a lot of bugs and stuff to be like an attribution system or for Apple to be their own MMP. They’re having a lot of aggregated data in App Store Connect. For example, you can now see cohorted revenues for organic users in App Store Connect. For example, if you ran an influencer campaign and it drove I don’t know, a three day spike that is clear and you can identify it and associate it with that influencer campaign, you can attribute that increase or that uplift and see exactly how much revenue that has generated over time. Depending on your monetization profile, you can draw it out as far as you need.

    Basically, you can understand that whenever you ran an influencer campaign, that generated, I don’t know, $500,000, just in organic search uplifts. That’s really cool because that gives a lot of confidence for teams to basically put a dollar number on organic activities, something that was done only as an afterthought up until now. I would recommend folks to check out App Store Connect data. It’s another crucial data source.

    Do you have any other tips for folks around ASO or getting ASO to a place where, as you said, it’s 90% there? I read that you talked once about a really cool thing that you did with your creative strategy, like adding in integrations or partners that you work with, something like that.

    Iain: Yes, that’s right. It was something, and I was looking at the screenshots that we had. With a product like ours, once you’re in, you’re connecting big financial institutions essentially, where your current account comes from. The idea came that if we can visually represent that on the screenshots, when they arrive at the App Store page. For example, they bank with Santander and they see the Santander logo amongst the range of connections, flying across their phone. It’s just that little cognitive link or security tick for them like, “Oh yes, they connect to my bank. Great,” go through. Obviously, now I’m not blessed with resource in the team, but with the arrival of custom product pages, it’s like, “Okay, here we go.” If they search for, say, Apple Search Ads, Santander mobile banking, they could be presented with a set of screenshots which is specific to you having connected a Santander account and showing the transactions coming through and categorized. Just with Santander logos across the top and then doing something different for [unintelligible 00:21:06] or for Barclays. That kind of thing excites me to be able to really [unintelligible 00:21:12]

    Jonathan: It’s really exciting. You guys started doing that with ad variations or– It’s pretty new.

    Iain: I’ve not delved into the custom product pages yet. I’m keeping a keen eye on chatter around it and successes and what people are seeing, and if they’re getting decent information back. Obviously, with anything, when these new tools are released, if you can get in there straight away, you can really take advantage, just like when Apple Search Ads first launch itself. We definitely got a jump on some of our competitors back in 2017 when they launched. Also, if you don’t necessarily have the budget or the time or the resource to go and set all that up, just keeping an eye on industry news and what people are talking about and strategies can really help you just come up with, “This is how I could approach this in a few weeks or a few month’s time.”

    Jonathan: Yes. I think that’s really interesting, because your ASO work has created so much knowledge. Just what you mentioned around the Santander logo and all these type of logos. That’s an interesting strategy and taking that into custom product pages. It’s really, really new. You’re not behind in any way. I think it was released about a week ago. You’re probably listening to this episode a few weeks from now, but around a week ago, it was released on Apple Search Ads. It’s called ad variations. You can basically target within a certain ad group. You can pick and choose different custom product pages, and that feed into the creatives of the search ads. Of course, the creatives that a person sees once they tap on the ad, if they actually tap to go into the full product page.

    You’re not behind, but that’s to me at least. I’ve seen only early tests. There’s some early adopters that have been running these type of things. I’ve been fortunate to see the results, but the uplifts that they see there are massive. If you think about it, how crazy it is, as if all of mobile marketing had a website. Everything had a website and only one homepage. Everybody had one homepage and all the ads you ran globally in the entire world came to the same homepage.

    Which is insane. It’s crazy to think about that. Now, suddenly, somebody told everybody, now you can have different product pages or different use case pages. One for this type of person, one for that type of team. It’s unthinkable to imagine that folks would run, I don’t know, ads on Google search and they would all lead to the same homepage.

    Now you have this opportunity. I think folks that adopt that are going to basically mine a lot of conversions from matching the creatives and messaging to the user intent. Even the example that you gave, like running an ad on Santander Bank. If users wouldn’t see that logo and that information on your screenshots, they would probably have a way lower probability to convert. You’re going to start mining all these different keywords and all these different campaigns just by matching the messaging and creatives to the exact user intent and context. I think that’s really, really exciting.

    We are about to run out of time. I do want to ask you a few more questions that we ask all of our guests. If you could give just one tip to somebody that is aspiring to get into mobile marketing, you’ve been around in the industry for quite some time, what it would be? What it takes to be a successful mobile marketer these days?

    Iain: I would say even though we might not be able to track everything to the nth degree as we’re used to with [unintelligible 00:24:38] is just pay attention to the numbers. In the world of performance marketing, it’s just really understand the data that you are seeing, following that through as far as you can. I’ve always liked being involved in the whole life cycle from acquisition through to engagement and retention. Just constantly being able to feed that back in to your initial acquisition efforts and improve.

    Jonathan: Cool. For content recommendation piece, what’s your favorite resource, like somebody that you follow or a publication that you read to stay on top of what’s happening?

    Iain: I really like the growing slack communities that are out there. Mobile Growth Stack, Mobile Heroes, one that I’m forgetting, which is bad of me. There’s lots of really useful slack communities out there, which is a great way to share information, ask questions and discover new newsletters to sign up to as well. Which is also a good source of information just to stay on top of industry news. It’s such a fast moving environment, as we know.

    Jonathan: Yes, it’s crazy. All it takes is for you to not read anything for a couple of months and that’s it, you’re lost. That’s what it takes in our industry. I really like also these slack communities. It’s like having access to peers that are really, really smart all the time. Folks are really active on these groups. The most important question, given that the name of this podcast is Mobile Growth & Pancakes, what is your favorite flavor of pancake?

    Iain: It’s Pancake Day here soon in the UK, so it’s very well-timed. I’ve developed a strange taste for Jaffa cake pancakes. I don’t know if Jaffa cakes exist outside of the UK.

    Jonathan: Jaffa cakes? Pretty sure it doesn’t exist in Tel Aviv, but what is it? Tell us about it.

    Iain: [unintelligible 00:26:30] thing that always happens in the UK. Is it a biscuit or is it a cake? It’s got a soft biscuit base and it’s got orange jelly filling and a chocolate top. It’s like a little biscuit cake thing, but I found wrapping a few up in a pancake and letting it melt a bit, and then there we go. You got a Jaffa pancake, and it’s brilliant.

    Jonathan: I’ll try it next time I’m in the UK. That’s the first time that we got this kind of answer.

    Iain: I thought it might be.

    Jonathan: I’m sure it’s good. I’ll try one and I recommend everyone listening to this from the UK to try one as well. For folks not from the UK, you probably won’t be able to find this kind of thing. Lastly, folks want to reach out to you to chat about ASO, organics, mobile marketing, where can they find you?

    Iain: LinkedIn will be best for sure.

    Jonathan: Awesome. We’ll have a link to your LinkedIn profile in the show notes, so check it out. Cool. Thank you very much. It’s been a pleasure and I’ll chat with you soon. Thank you so much for doing this.

    Iain: Thanks very much.

    Jonathan: Awesome. Talk to you soon.

    Esther: That was Mobile Growth & Pancakes. To find out more about Storemaven and how we can improve app store performance, visit storemaven.com. Make sure to search for Mobile Growth & Pancakes in Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts or anywhere else podcasts are found and click subscribe, so you don’t miss any future episodes. On behalf of the team here at Storemaven, thanks for listening.

    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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