Blinkist: The Performance Marketing Playground

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Effective app marketing in 2018 is data-driven by default. However, truly successful app marketing delves into audience data to power appropriate advertising and spans many channels. It’s the passion and mission of Gessica Bicego, Director of Performance Marketing at Blinkist, an app that distils the key insights of bestselling nonfiction books into powerful 15-minute reads or listens.

Peggy Anne Salz, mobile analyst and top 30 mobile marketing influencer, catches up with Gessica to discuss her data-driven approach to user acquisition, plans for marketing automation and the top channels and platforms that app marketers would do well to have top of mind.

PAS: Blinkist just marked its fifth year and now offers key insights from over 2,000 bestselling books. What other milestones can you share?

Gessica Bicego: Yes, it was quite a celebration. Blinkist featured as one of the Top Apps of 2017 by Apple with over 4 million users. From the time I joined the company in late 2015, we’ve grown our user numbers 7x. It’s tremendous growth that we’ve seen, and we’re looking to double in 2018. With this in mind, we changed how we approach user acquisition, starting with a huge rebrand allowing us to change our look and feel. We have user personas to help us understand what users value in our app and make sure we design every aspect of the app—from the app journey to the app store landing page—to make a deeper connection.

PAS: You have quite a career path, yourself. You left Italy to work in app growth in Berlin, first at KAYAK and now at Blinkist. And you were recently shortlisted for App Marketer of the Year in recognition of your accomplishments. What is driving this success?

GB: I recently spoke about the rebrand and the benefits at an app marketing conference in Berlin, where I also looked back at the challenges and successes since joining Blinkist. In retrospect, data is the secret ingredient in our success, and I believe app marketers have to eat data for breakfast. After you make data part of the routine, which I have, then you have to make it a part of the company culture. The challenge then becomes finding ways to build a data-driven culture in performance marketing–and in marketing in general.

If you are serious about growth, you have to build an environment where everything is possible and where great ideas can happen. This means harnessing tools to visualise the data, play with the data, build your own charts and go deep into the weeds to find and test channels. You also need data about your app performance—everywhere you offer your app–and this is where a tool like appScatter can be very useful for channel managers.

PAS: “Data for breakfast” is a great way to sum up the right mindset for performance marketing. But, with so many moving parts and stages to watch along the funnel, it’s tough for human teams to keep up no matter how much data they devour.

GB: I’m a huge fan of automation, to be honest. There are many tasks where humans are required because they have the gift of intuition, and you cannot substitute that with a machine. But humans also make mistakes. We have examined where channel managers make errors, or just spend a lot of their time, and this has helped us to identify the tasks we need to automate.

We started with a focus on bidding. Bidding is a really long process, and it takes a lot of time because you need to do it in every single campaign or ad group.

If you consider platforms beyond social, it can be even more complicated. In Outbrain and Taboola, for example, you need to consider an additional variable: bidding per publisher. Whilst it’s feasible to do it manually, it’s just not advisable because it takes a lot of time and it opens the door to making human mistakes.

We examined and automated this process, and we saved around one day a week for the campaign manager—and that’s a lot. We’re not only doing it better; we can do it more often. Every day, we take the data that we have, and we optimise the campaign. Naturally, it has a positive impact on campaigns in terms of ROI, and that is our main KPI. Overall, it’s been really successful and frees up the campaign manager to focus on other activities like improving our content. Now we have a culture of looking at our daily tasks and saying “Okay, we have to change this if we want to grow.” The end-goal, particularly since we offer a subscription app, is to be able to predict at day zero with a 95% confidence whether the campaign is going to be profitable or not, so we can take action immediately.

PAS: You are proactive about projects to optimise ad spend. How do you approach pinpointing other channels to power your app growth?

GB: When I joined the company, there was only one channel: Facebook. But there are huge problems if you depend highly on only one channel. Therefore, I focus my effort on identifying and building more channels to help us grow. For us, paid content is a channel in this mix. It’s paying off, but it wasn’t easy. It took us nearly eight months to figure it out because it’s such a long funnel from awareness to conversion. On Facebook, the user just clicks on an ad, and then goes to the app store. In native advertising, the user clicks on what looks like content and has to be engaged by the content to download the app. So, the process is much longer, but the rewards—being able to acquire a highly engaged user—are also higher.

Another channel that works for us is podcast advertising. Why? Because we have an audio product. So far, our experience with podcast advertising has been positive. But there are pain points. One is tracking. On digital channels, users click on a banner and you can attribute the user to the campaign. With podcasts, attribution isn’t that straightforward. People listen, and some go to the landing page, and others just download the app. So, tracking is tricky. But we’ve figured this out, and now the next step would be to scale.

PAS: You have had amazing success finding and cracking new channels for advertising. Where else do you see the opportunity?

GB: It’s hard to believe it now, but we were not always an audio product. When we started out in 2014, we were just text. We saw people were using audio more and we rode that tide.

Today, 90% of our titles are both text and audio. It’s the same with platforms like Alexa and alternative app stores like Amazon. When Amazon released Alexa, we were excited about the platform from day one. It’s a platform with a big future, but you also have to stand out.

In our case, we came up with the “Blinkist Minutes”, based on our newsletter campaign where we were sending out one key insight from one book that you can read in one single minute. In the first iteration, we created content on a daily basis. The user just says, “Alexa, play ‘Blinkist Minutes,” and hears the content.

As an app marketer, you have to go where your users are. And nowadays it’s clear that the market is bigger than two players. Amazon is the biggest player in e-commerce, and it has a lot of data on what users want and love that allow it to recommend apps people will genuinely appreciate. It makes sense to distribute your app and leverage the data players like Amazon have to focus your own marketing efforts—but that isn’t the only reason to explore alternative app stores. There’s also the Chinese market to crack—and you have to know the app store landscape and understand the user data before you think about where to market your product. It’s all very different from the markets in the U.S. or Europe, and you want to plan a strategy and you want to take advantage of automation where you can to focus your efforts.

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