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The Rise of Creatives – Insights from the App Growth Summit

At the App Growth Summit San Francisco last month we got a chance to moderate a panel about the Rise of Creatives.

We got great insights from our experts on the panel regarding user acquisition and creative optimization. Today we share with you those key insights (most of them at least, you have to be there for the whole thing)!

The panel

App Growth Summit SF Panel on creatives

  • Melissa (Senior Manager @Realtor.com): Melissa manages paid acquisition and re-engagement strategies for the apps. Realtor.com is the home of home search, whether you’re looking to buy, sell, rent or need guidance throughout the home journey.
  • Daphne (@GluMobile): Daphne works on titles like Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, Design Home and Covet Fashion.
  • Ted (Vertical Lead Strategy @Facebook): Ted works on the gaming sales team and focuses on scaling high performing strategies across advertisers in the vertical.
  • Greg (Head of US Marketing @Touchnote): Greg manages all marketing and retention campaigns in the US.

Greg unfortunately couldn’t make the panel, but he was nice enough to still contribute by sharing some of his experience so we could include it here.

The user acquisition channels used

At Realtor.com, their UA strategy is diversified; heaviest on Search, Facebook/Instagram, and various display channels. They use some videos and also do retargeting.

Facebook is the number 1 partner for Glu. They also use Adwords, Pinterest and Snapchat (audience is mostly female which makes these last two channels a good fit) as well as some DSPs.

For TouchNote, the #1 acquisition channel is actually TV. They also use Facebook/Instagram, Google Ads, and Apple Search as primary drivers.  They’ve been migrating more to video on all platforms this year.

Their creative mix

Melissa talked about how at Realtor.com they try to build a creative for each specific platform, although some of the creatives overlap across channels. They’ve recently been running more carousel ads and also use DCO (Dynamic Creative Optimization). Animated GIFs is something that’s been working really great for them, as it’s a sweet spot between static and video. They’ve also tried HTML ads as well as performance audio ads through Pandora.

Glu focuses the majority of its creative on video. They use display through DSPs and banner ads with Adwords and also run some playables with CrossInstall, Lifestreet and Liftoff.

Ted shared with us that video is very heavily used across app developers. Along the past years square and vertical videos have become the main ratios used on Facebook and other Facebook placements. Playables has also been gaining an increasing share in the creative mix. Square is extremely popular because it works across all Facebook’s placements (including Instagram) and if you go with vertical you should do portrait 2:3 (with “taller” ratios like 9:16 the video can be cropped at the top and bottom in users’ feeds).

At TouchNote they test just about every format available on Facebook and Google, including carousel, DCO, video (mostly widescreen but they are emphasizing more square and vertical formats lately), banner, and text.  They haven’t tried playable yet as it’s not as relevant for their app. They spend the majority on video, however, and have also been working on creating more :05-:10 variants.

Their creative team

Realtor.com has an internal creative team of about 20 people. The performance marketing team works very closely with the creative team.

There is one creative lead in the creative team who is their main contact. The performance marketing team shares insights broadly and the creative lead internalizes within the creative team. Every month they share best practices, performance of each creative type, and future testing plans.

Melissa actually maintains a creative calendar detailing month by month what they’re looking to test by type of creatives. That way they are regularly refreshing their creatives across all the different channel types, refreshing value props, and slotting in support for key product launches. This also allows them to have visibility over the creative team’s workload to prioritize accordingly. If the team can’t handle the production of some creatives, they occasionally outsource to external video agencies.

Glu has a web of people collaborating on testing different UA creatives, each with different areas they focus on in terms of performance. They have an in-house creative team as well as external partners that are highly focused on App Store and various ad creatives.

Mobile games
Some titles Daphne works on @Glu

Ted mentions that when it comes to optimizing campaigns, things like targeting, localizations and interests have been democratized. One of the few areas left where optimization is not so democratized is creatives. One of the answers to how to get an edge on Facebook is creatives.

“One of the answers to how to get an edge on Facebook is creatives”
– Ted Trezise, Vertical Lead Strategy @Facebook

If you’re building a marketing team from scratch, creatives can’t be an afterthought. It’s gotta be part of the DNA of the companies. To reach high-performance, teams need to collaborate closely and do weekly syncs with the designers.

TouchNote has a creative team of 7 who focus on the entire app, as well as UA creatives.  They also just hired their first in-house videographer who will focus on both brand-type ads for their current customers and their social presence, as well as UA video.  Because photography is such a big part of what they do they have been building out that team as well, and work with a few outside photographers on a regular basis for product and lifestyle campaigns. They work very closely with our creative team and share as many insights as possible to help drive better performing creative.

How do you test your new creatives?

At Realtor.com they dedicate around 5 to 10% of their budget to testing on new channels, which translates to new creatives. In addition to that, they do a lot of testing on existing channels: a lot of A/B testing on Facebook. Across display channels the tests are more controlled, changing one element at a time to figure out what works: changing a CTA, a background, etc. They work on new concepts, but they are also doubling down on whatever works to be able to hit their KPIs.

Panel App Growth

At Glu, since Facebook is their biggest channel, they do a lot of A/B testing there as well. They’ve found that when a creative works on Facebook it usually works elsewhere, except for Snapchat ads where they have more personalized and “organic looking” creatives. Daphne shared that for Design Home a concept that works well is the transformation between before and after. When they spot something that performs like that, they take the learnings and extend to additional ratios or types of creatives like banners.

Regarding creative testing, Ted believes that for small iterations of creatives A/B testing is the most effective way to test.

Competitive analysis (spying on others and finding new ideas)

Melissa finds MOAT very useful to see your competitors’ ads, and not only on mobile or for direct response. AdEspresso also showcases several examples in different blog posts. They also subscribe to App Annie for competitive insights and trends.

At Glu, Daphne uses Sensor Tower to access competitive information. She likes that it has data for different channels from Facebook to Adwords.

With Facebook, you can also see any ad that a company is currently running. Another free tool is Parade by Mighty Signals. If you want to learn more about how these methods, check out this post on 5 ways to spy on your competitors’ ads.

Parade ad intelligence search
Parade lets you find ad creatives

Another simple tactic they use at TouchNote is just to sign up to every competitors emails, as this can give insights into what they’re working on or emphasizing, as well as giving a heads up whenever they’re offering sales or deals. They also pay close attention to search ads and App Store ads to see which keywords they competitors are bidding on.

New creative concepts

At Glu, Daphne and her team test new concepts every week.

Realtor.com refreshes creatives on a monthly basis with 3 to 5 iterations a month on display. On social what works well for them is showcasing big beautiful homes and they typically request 20 to 30 new images of homes and test through DCO. For vertical videos like Instagram Stories, they refresh about once every month or so, mostly due to production efforts.

Ted shared that a lot of developers can’t seem to unsee a winning creative. A good way to fight that is to flip the creative process on its head. Instead of starting with a target audience (like your lookalike audience) and trying to find out what is the creative for this audience, he’s been trying with other advertisers to use a creative that you feel delivers the message right and to let it find its audience by targeting very broadly.

“Take your creative, target very broadly and let it find its audience”
– Ted Trezise, Vertical Lead Strategy @Facebook

Target worldwide or within the US with value optimization to make sure budget goes towards people that convert and let the creative find its own audience. This is a way to combat the creative fatigue that would happen if you kept testing with the same audience over and over again. Once you’ve collected a thousand installs against that creative, you create a custom audience towards which you can run it.

They don’t have a set timeline at TouchNote in regards to running and testing new creative. If a creative is working we’ll keep running it!  Some last a few weeks and some last months. However, they update their ads for every major holiday/seasonal change in the US that involves cards or gifts (Valentines Day, Mother’s and Father’s Day, Summer Travel, Fall/Back-to-school, and the holiday season). TouchNote tests 10-15 new ads/images through DCO each month on average.

 

Ad creatives insights (and surprises!)

Realtor.com works with their internal consumer insights team, and they developed several personas they can target to: for example, the growing family, the first time home buyer, and many others. This ended up being super expensive for them and they now target more broadly and let the system optimize. You want to let the data dictate performance; let the data drive the next step.

“Let the data drive the next step”
– Melissa Lertsmitivanta, Senior Manager @Realtor.com

At Glu, one of their creatives is a dilapidated room that turns into a beautiful space. They tried to create nicer versions of it (more “on brand”) but these haven’t performed as well. They’ve also had several workshops to come with new concepts, that so far were not as successful as that top creative either.

One of the biggest things they’ve been working on this year at TouchNote is elevating the brand through DR ads, which is a huge challenge. They go beyond showing the app on a phone by playing with a more stylistic way of showing their app-flow in video: through graphic overlays that don’t take away from the images in the video. They feel it looks much higher end and they are seeing similar or better results to traditional DR tactics.

Photo Picker TouchNote
Example of the photo picker screen in the TouchNote app

Leveraging IP licenses

Something specific to Glu Mobile is that they have several games with IP licenses. They’ve been recently leveraging these IP licenses to create ads with selfies on Snapchat and Insta Stories that have been performing great. Besides the ads created by specific celebrities themselves where they can edit as they wish, Glu Mobile does a quarterly check with the IP owners to let them know about the upcoming creatives. As long as everyone is looking good, there are usually no issues there.

Creatives for the Holiday season

Both Realtor.com and Glu Mobile tend to “lay low” during the creative season because of the rising advertising costs. Realtor.com does have some new year’s creatives coming up, and Glu has a Christmas creative that has been working all year round!

“Put holiday elements and especially around that time you’ll see the uptakes in Click-Through-Rate”
– Ted Trezise, Vertical Lead Strategy @Facebook

What Ted sees is that holiday creatives can be very popular for mobile games. By adding some holiday elements (like a Christmas tree) you will see some uptakes in CTR. Because of the rising CPMs your holiday creatives are really all that’s left to push through.

Holiday is one of the most important times of year for TouchNote. They’re creating a “holiday video” that will tell an emotional story, but also have shorter cuts for UA and retargeting.  They’ll combine this with carousel ads and DCO to create a mix depending on the customer segment.

Customizing ad creatives based on the audience

At Glu Mobile they refresh their ad assets across all their channels and give a chance to all the creative assets. One of the most important thing for them was to actually start localizing instead of culturalizing, as they saved money to find the audience in different countries. They now focus on localizing the ad copy. They typically select their top creatives and localize them, instead of localizing over the board from the start.

All campaigns for Realtor.com are nationwide with the exception of Facebook’s dynamic product ads, which is targeting an existing user that has viewed specific homes, and surfacing recommendations of similar homes to them. They do customize iOS vs. Android ads to show the respective devices. For display retargeting, they have ads like “check out homes that just hit the market”. Their retargeting spend is now about 20% of their budget.

“Retargeting has 20% of our overall spend now”
– Melissa Lertsmitivanta, Senior Manager @Realtor.com

At Glu they do not do much retargeting but they do try to offer free stuff (coins, etc.) and that seems to be really attractive to people.

Ted agreed that localizing the copy of top performers is a sound strategy. Facebook has a dynamic language localization that can do that automatically for you. In some parts of the world however, an ad might not make a lot of sense when just the copy is localized.

At TouchNote they definitely see different types of ads performing better depending on the segment. They’ve seen video work best for acquisition, step-by-step carousels work for retargeting, and contextual reminder type ads work best for retention.

Recommendations, best practices and what they’re looking forward to

Realtor.com is now testing audio ads. These did not perform too well when they first tested them but this time around things have improved. A strong focus will be put on testing minor things to improve performance.

At Glu playables are going to be used more, now also on Facebook in addition to the other networks they already use.

As mentioned, Ted recommends to test broad and also to test playable even though you are not a game advertisers.

A big thank you to the App Growth Summit for a quality event and to our panelists for answering our questions and sharing their experience on this panel. If you have any follow-up questions for them, feel free to share them in the comments and we will do our best to get you answers!

App Growth Summit SF
The App Growth Summit is packed with insightful talks and mobile expert panels

Also make sure you check out the upcoming App Growth Summit events, now all over the world. Here are the next ones:

Sylvain Gauchet

Hi there, I'm Sylvain and I'm one of the co-founders of Apptamin. Apptamin is a creative agency specialized in app videos (video ads, app store videos, etc.) where we find engaging ways to present mobile apps and games so our clients can either increase their conversion rates or improve their user acquisition.

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