Bottom line: I feel it’s important I share some experience about how I envision Value-Driven Marketing could apply to mobile games and how game developers could benefit from it today. Now, on with our story.
I found myself in the mobile advertising industry by accident. After 15+ years in corporate R&D and nearly twice as long as a gamer, I guessed I could muster up the skills to finally combine these two passions. I opened a small outsourcing company back in 2010 and set off on a journey into startups, games and mobile.
Free is Awesome
I got a first, yet interesting, taste of brand power, when I had the opportunity to offer a brand a mobile game concept, that lets you win rewards (cool freebies and store discounts) at the brand’s nearest store. The project was a success – people truly love getting free stuff. Shocker, I know, but back in 2010, the power of mobile was just being discovered by most brick-and-mortar brands, as by me. Having said that, turning this success story into a platform meant maintaining a global supply of “gift campaigns,” which was eventually too expensive and slow to scale as well as too labor-driven, as opposed to tech-driven. As someone who is passionate about technology, I had to find a solution that could solve the scale challenge while maintaining the psychological impacts we’ve “discovered” about people’s love for freebies. Time was not our friend, 2012 was already about to end.
“Apps Can Never be Gifts”
The breakthrough moment came a few months later: why not offer mobile apps as free gifts? No need to drive to an app store, you can visit an app with the click of a button – sounds perfect! But wait, most apps have already gone freemium. Saying “download for free” on an ad is taken for granted. Besides, even for paid apps, you couldn’t make an app free for specific people only – offering a free-for-all app as a free gift sounded, well… shady. Then, I heard about someone in the industry mentioning that “mobile apps could never be gifts” (yeah, we weren’t the only ones thinking about it, duh). Now, I didn’t mention that earlier, but I value a good argumentative debate. Either you like me for it or you think I’m a pain in the neck. When I heard that statement, it suddenly made perfect sense to argue. “Yeah, but sometimes value isn’t about money.”Eureka.
Understanding Value is Key
I felt then that this was important in ways I couldn’t yet describe. It took some time and brainstorming to articulate, but we finally reached the root cause of what’s missing in the mobile app marketing industry: it’s still treating apps as “shelf products” in some “app store,” rather than realizing that apps are, in fact, stores, with an endless variety of virtual items, each one having some sort of value. I’m not talking about monetary value, it has nothing to do with the emergence of IAP, for example. You could theoretically even do this with games from the 80’s where “2 lives” was a common “item” you could earn. If we could change the industry’s view, every such item could become a marketable unit. Advertisers could offer such items through ads, users who click on those ads could download the game with extra virtual items already waiting for them inside. Each item would always be unique to its game, each ad would deliver gamers true value in more ways than one. Value in game ads will never be taken for granted again. Gamers would become immersed in the game even before they download it, just waiting to get their hands on the new shiny sword they clicked on. Maybe, the fact that mobile game ads lack value, is the reason people dislike ads so much? Maybe that’s why developers sometime merely consider them a necessary-evil way to monetize?
People Respect You For Being Generous
Fast-forward to 2014, I was somewhat intrigued by Google’s term, “Second App Economy,” as they announced Admob’s IAP promotions at GDC in 2014. On one hand, it affirmed our vision that mobile advertising should move towards marketing of items – not apps. On the other hand, they offered a way to promote items – not to deliver value. To clarify the difference: we believe that developers should be able to deliver value to a user, so that it saves those users time, money or maybe a bump on the road to glory. Promoting “1000 coins for $1” to the right guy at the right moment, while already inside the app is extremely important in terms of targeting, but it does not save the user $1, it does not address non-monetary items, nor does it provide ways to deliver value to users who don’t yet have the app. Speaking of GDC, think of how it is in any gaming convention: every booth hands out freebies of some sort, from branded candy to T-shirts because generosity is a great engagement mechanic, people respect you for it. You don’t need to overdo it, though – a small token of appreciation is all people really want. The technological gap to do the same for mobile game marketing needs to be bridged.
A Solution for Value-Driven Game Marketing
After too much late-night pizzas and missing our kids, the way we finally saw it is that the mobile advertising industry needed a new breed of trackable campaigns, “virtual item (VI) campaigns,” each representing a set of virtual items – a “marketing unit.” We call such marketing units “vouchers,” reminiscent of those real-world pieces of paper that you can exchange for something of value. This way, an advertiser and his media partners could manage, track, distribute, target, A/B test, optimize and measure the impact of each such campaign separately and in cross-reference to other VI campaigns or traditional app campaigns. This opens the door to improvements in optimization algorithms, new ad units, enhanced exchanges and more. By introducing value, you impact every factor in the marketing process, it’s like adding a new dimension to the industry – a new granularity layer of data. Some advertisers already reported tripled LTV and x1.5 retention in VI campaigns for certain geos, compared to traditional ones. Others are coming up with creative ways to use vouchers, like YouTube influencers giving away power ups to their followers – the story simply makes sense. That’s also why we chose mobile games as our focus – it’s a highly value-driven industry which lacks the tools to market that value. Every week, we extend our knowledge of what this new VI marketing ecosystem can actually do. We’ll go into such ideas next time, stay tuned.
Sagi Mann from TROPHiT
Sagi Mann has over 20 years experience in R&D and is currently the co-founder and CTO of TROPHiT. Formerly, he was an R&D manager and senior software engineer in CA, as part of the cyber security industry, for over a decade. Sagi holds a degree in Computer Science from the Academic College of Tel Aviv, spends free time with his family and loves computer games (only the good ones).