Automation is the name of the UA game in 2020 - computers can’t quite conceptualize creatives (or write a Chris Rock skit, as guest Dave Riggs puts it), but it sure can speed up the more manual parts of user acquisition. Tune into this episode of Out of the Box to hear Director of Marketing at ironSource Dan Feldstein and Founder of UserAcquisition.com Dave Riggs discuss the impact of automation on user acquisition, how to find and utilize the right automation tools, where the human element comes in, and tips for job seekers looking to get into the UA world. Listen to the episode or read the transcript below.

Your own growth in the growth world

2:48 Dave - “I majored in computer science, did programming for a long time and I thought I would stay there for pretty much most of my career. Until, in 2007 I met some people making money online through Facebook ads… people were making money online through affiliate marketing and you don’t have to have your own product or service. You can basically promote anything you wanted.”

4:07 Dave - “I decided to look into how Facebook Ads’ platform works and reverse-engineered their ads platform and built my own harness, or test platform. I could then input all of the different ages, genders, and other targeting combinations into my own platform and post hundreds and even thousands of ads per day. That gave me an advantage where I was essentially building the automation tools that are core to my business now. The idea was to post lots and lots of ads into Facebook and then use other programming tactics to check which ads were profitable and which ones were not and then pull back the unprofitable ones.”

The early growth days 

6:21 Dave - “The algorithms on Facebook and Google, especially, have changed a lot. Even going back to ‘07, there were so many ways to game Facebook. Even just posting ten ads with the same targeting, Facebook would give one attention earlier than another and it still does that to a certain extent. You could really game the system. Now, it’s much harder to do that and in that same vein, it’s almost better to create, for example, one really broad campaign as opposed to creating lots of different individual campaigns. You’re almost leveraging Facebook and Google to their algorithms to make the decision for you as opposed to honing in on the customer right away.”

“Another big change is that based on the algorithm, creative is so important now. You really need to be investing a lot more in creative. A lot of these platforms have APIs that’s really open to capabilities of companies like mine to create tools for these platforms.”

Human vs. the computer 

8:16 Dave - “Automation, I think, is so important. When you think about it, computers can do so much these days, especially when you have APIs. What are things that computers can’t do? Creative, writing funny jokes - you can’t program a computer to do a Chris Rock skit. It’s the creative work that you’re really going to want to invest human power into. The pain points are all the same, ‘I have to log in to Facebook. I have to make all of these changes one by one. I have to export data from one system into a spreadsheet...’ These things are really easy to program these days because all of these APIs exist and merging data from one platform to another is pretty straightforward now.”

Sophistication station 

10:07 Dave - “I think it’s become more sophisticated in a sense that the tools now available are insanely powerful and useful. For example, on the BI and reporting front, Looker and Tableau are fantastic tools and I would say my clients use a mix of those. On the attribution front Singular Appsflyer and Adjust are all great platforms. Those things didn’t exist a long time ago. You now don’t have to spend time building those things internally. What I’m trying to do, most of the time, is make a decision build vs. buy.”

Let’s get hypothetical 

12:10 Dave - “The first thing that we do is talk to the UA manager or director or VP of UA. But, we like to talk to the people doing the day-to-day work of optimizing campaigns. It’s really just to walk me through and share what the UA work flow is… and then trying to identify areas we can automate. Oftentimes, it’s really simple things.”

“And then we’re going to create a document, a PRD, which is a products requirement document, which essentially lists all the success metrics we’re trying to do. We might want to support multiple titles, that’s a common request. Everyone wants to remove reliance on spreadsheets. The two top ones are improving ROI and saving time… you may want to spend money on Tapjoy or ironSource. Anyone that you want to spend money on, we’re going to help you do that.”

“The first phase might be enabling viewing data, essentially, just allowing you to view the data. Phase two could be enhancing that data so it allows you to set targets or ingest data from somewhere else. And then the third phase could be automating your workflow - recommendations, rules, etc.”

Examining results

15:12 Dave - “ironSource is a good example. The API capabilities of ironSource are much greater than most other networks. What that allowed us to do for one client is we built a tool on top of ironSource that allows them to do a lot of the things I mentioned - setting targets, adjusting data from spreadsheets, doing recommendations and rules for bids and blacklisting. That has actually unlocked more spend for this client because doing this without any automation is fairly tedious. What we’ve seen is that UA managers are often just getting blocked and they don’t take things to the next level sometimes because they don’t have the automation capabilities.”

“Really what we find is that spend gets unlocked on these networks like ironSource. But on Facebook and Google, oftentimes, it’s just saving time because they’re already spending a lot on Facebook and Google so they’ll just end up saving time there, which is nice.” 

The client culture

17:29 Dave - “Most of them are fairly sophisticated where they’ve got their attribution provider and maybe they have a cost aid solution, like Singular, and they’re already ingesting that data into a database on Singular, daily, ETL pipeline… I think what we look for is clients that already have some level of data sophistication and data engineering because where we shine is in our ability to marry data from APIs like Facebook insights or Google with their backend database data. That’s most of our clients. The good news is that for clients that don’t have that, we’ve been through it and we know how to do it very quickly.”

19:20 Dave - “I think the most sophisticated companies do have some level of dedicated engineering support. Some of them have shared resources, which is fine as long as they’re accessible. The ideal scenario is that you’ve got a UA organization that is completely self-sufficient. In other words, you’ve got people who are available for creative production, for doing the UA campaign management, maybe, you’ve got a data scientist depending on how sophisticated you want to be… You want to make sure you’re not blocked in those areas if you want to move fast.”

Content is king

22:37 Dave - “A lot of the creative that has worked for us in this industry, in the TV world, is well recognized IP, really short, snackable content that people really enjoy watching. I think that having a low friction to use the product is pretty important. All of those things going together are pretty key for scaling. Content is king. If you’ve got really content and it’s really easy to be accessible, it’s much easier to scale.”

Moving backwards?

24:04 Dave - “I actually think it’s moving forward because there’s a lot of ways to get things done without having to learn to code these days based on all the tools you have accessible and having experience in marketing or UA means that you can sell and that’s really what you’re doing. You’re persuading people to take actions online, whether it be downloading the app or buying a product online. Obviously I’m biased and I love a mix of both, but you really don’t need to learn how to code to get into UA. What I look for is people who have experience with a wide variety of tools because there’s a lot of different tools you can utilize to get almost any job done nowadays.”

Watch me work 

26:59 Dave - “The biggest way to learn is by shadowing people who have more experience. Even just standing over the shoulder and watching someone launch a Facebook of Google campaign or any other platform is probably the most important thing. Try to learn as much as possible by watching what other experienced marketers do. Get your hands dirty playing with different tools, so, trying free trials of lots of things.”

Out of the box thinking

28:54 Dave - “The aha moment for me was when I had my first profitable campaign on Facebook, and this was back in ‘07, beginning of ‘08, and realizing that you can persuade people online to download apps or buy certain things by mixing really good advertising and creative with some engineering… That was the moment I decided to quit my job as a programmer and go into UA or marketing full time. It’s pretty exciting when you are able to see any kind of success with UA whether it be on campaigns for somebody else’s product or the game that you’re working on.”

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