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Spending $0-1,000 in UA: Half-Assed to World-Class (Part 1)

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The Tech You Need to Scale a UA Budget from $100 to $1,000 a Day

During my time as a User Acquisition (UA) consultant, I’ve directly managed campaigns spending from $100/day to $250,000/day. That’s a huge range, right? Someone might compare it to driving an old beat up Chevy Astro van one day, then hopping into a Maserati the next.

Here’s a better analogy.

Imagine that every single car off the factory room floor started as an Astro and then, as you drove it, the rusty bits fell away and left you with a shiny, new sports car underneath. If someone handed you the keys to that Astro, would you know what to do with it? I’d like to share my advice for shedding the junk, scaling your spending, and becoming lean and mean. It’s entirely possible. I’ve seen it done, time and time again. Many marketers think they’re ready to burn rubber in a Maserati right out of the gate. They feel the pull of the open road, their foot itching to pump the gas, even when they’re not ready for it. If you gave them the keys to the Maserati, they’d sink that shit straight into their neighbor’s pool.

Here’s the simple truth. You’ve got to understand the foundational elements required before it’s even possible to support 8-9 figures in profitable UA spend each year. (That’s tens of millions and beyond, for those of you who are too lazy to count out the zeros in your head.)

First thing’s first, you’ll need to assemble a top-notch marketing technology stack. If you prefer a nickname that makes your stack sound more like a breed of angry robots and less like a pile of pancakes, call it mar-tech. Basically, I’m talking about automation. Get those angry, angry robots to do your damn job for you. That’s a grade-A stack.

Right about now, you’re probably asking yourself, “So what makes good mar-tech? How do I build it? How am I supposed to program automation? I don’t even know how to code (or make pancakes).”

Fear not. I’ll serve you up the exact mar-tech progression I’ve seen take organizations from $100 to $250,000 in daily spend and I’ll give it to you in bite-sized portions.

Buckle the fuck up.

First, let’s talk about the $100-$1,000 leap. In this article, I’ll give you some key foundational knowledge for User Acquisition Technology that’s extremely helpful during Phase One of your adventures in mar-tech. But if you want to jump ahead to the winningest setup, skip to next set of instructions. Be forewarned though. When you pull ahead without learning the basics, you may end up stuck on the side of the road with all four tires blown out.


Tip #1: Prepare to spend anywhere from 2-10% of your UA Budget on tech.

The key differentiator between okay UA, good UA, and great UA comes down to data and measurement. Invest in it. The very best UA teams have sophisticated technology setups that allow them to slice and dice any data by any segment imaginable. Get ready to become the Iron Chef of retention, carving up cost per views like they’re decorative radish roses. Good measurement will allow you, the marketer, to make the tough decisions that enable scaling. Next thing you know, you’ll be spending 10x per day. And spending it wisely.

Beginner UA Setup

Let’s start with the setup that isn’t really a setup. This is UA rookie stuff—but most companies start here. See if it sounds familiar to you…

You launch a campaign on Facebook or Google with no underlying data infrastructure, meaning you rely on the Facebook SDK, Google Play tracking, or iTunes Connect to report installs. You judge performance based on the reporting you see in Facebook and Google. Then, you go ahead and pass that along, in a fancy Powerpoint presentation, to your boss or executives. You assume that you’re telling them the true cost per install (CPI) for your campaigns.

You’re not. You’re driving blind.

Google reports twelve installs. Facebook reports ten. You include some really nifty animated transitions between your presentation slides. Suddenly, Cindy from Finance is giving you the evil eye. Before you know it, she pipes up, “Maybe you need to crunch those numbers again. We’ve only had twenty installs.” As you’re toggling back and forth between Google and Facebook tabs, you start sweating. See, the problem is you’re making decisions based on double-counts and mismatched time zones. You may call your reporting caviar, but it’s really a pile of loose, stinking fish guts. And management is breathing down your neck.

That Cindy from Finance is one tough cookie. She does not seem impressed by your charts and graphs. And, to make matters worse, she took the last strawberry frosted donut.

What are you doing wrong?

  • You’re wasting time logging into multiple networks. (Hold on. Let me just pull these numbers up for you.)
  • You’re using spreadsheets to analyze data. (I’m just gonna run this formula one more time.)
  • You’re relying on Facebook & Google conversion data, which is not normalized. (Oh, sorry boss. Did you want accurate install numbers? Let’s try this again.)

Facebook and Google are greedy. Greedier than coworkers at a breakfast meeting. You already know this. Why else would the ad networks constantly be hitting you up with semi-threatening emails, warning you to increase your spend or suffer the consequences? But…did you know that they also tend to over-report on installs and events? Those cheeky devils. They offer good directional data, but you should not use their tracking as your yardstick for key performance indicators (KPI). If you share those numbers, Cindy from Finance will call you out. The ad networks have skin in this game. Plus, they straight-up fib sometimes.

If this beginner setup sounds like you, don’t feel bad about it. Don’t cry. Don’t pout. Don’t binge on jelly donuts. Just DO BETTER. You owe it to your team, to the people who worked hard to make your app, and to the rest of your organization. Even to Cindy, that cold-blooded snake.

Don’t worry. The Beginner setup can be improved with a few simple changes. It’s time for your organization to start making some money. Serious fucking money.

Karen the Intern needs a new pair of shoes.

Intermediate UA Setup

It’s an industry standard and best practice to use an attribution provider, also known as mobile measurement providers (MMP), to aggregate your tracking. All the serious UA marketers have an MMP. And, while I know you happen to be a unique flower and independent thinker, sometimes you can’t fight with what works. So, drop everything and get one.

The established players are AppsFlyer and Adjust. Singular is relatively new to the attribution game. They also have a major advantage, in that they’re the best at aggregating cost data. (More on that later.) Luckily, with any of these Big Three, you can’t go wrong during the early stages. Once you have an MMP, you’re no longer stuck logging into Google and Facebook for reporting. Your numbers will match Cindy’s. Cindy’s numbers will match yours. From now on, the MMP acts as the standard source of truth for attribution, installs, and retention. It’s your oracle and your true North.

Speaking of standards, you’ll definitely want to change everything over to coordinated universal time (UTC). This is more important than you know. Data discrepancies due to different time zones may leave you scratching your head or, even worse, may lead to inaccurate decision-making. Did you know that the Mars Climate Orbiter (built at the low, low cost of $125 million) ended up crashing thanks to a mix-up between millimeters and inches? Don’t let your first promotion meet the same fate. Comparing two incompatible date ranges is just like swapping feet and meters. You can change the time zone setting in your MMP easily, but Google and Facebook make life hard. (Surprise, surprise.) You’ll need to request this from Google. For Facebook, you’ll need to create a new account. I’d recommend doing that with one caveat. If you have some highly optimized campaigns running on Facebook, it may be better to deal witavoid playing with fire. Otherwise, just start a new Facebook ad account now. Drop everything and get it done. Like, stop reading this and do it, friend. You’ll want every optimization flowing through the new account from this moment forward.

Moving Beyond Intermediate

Ah, the joys of the intermediate setup. You’re cranking away on your MMP interface, watching all that sweet, sweet data flowing in universal standard time. Your mar-tech costs are relatively low, your ROI is high. You’re making money. Everything’s as it should be.

Then, you get this nagging feeling in your gut. I could be doing more. I should be doing more. Cindy from Finance is giving me the evil eye again. I feel like she sees right through me. Perhaps I should try some ad platforms besides Facebook and Google…?

Right about now, you’re driving something slightly better than a beat up Astro. I’d say you’re cruising around, enjoying the smoother ride that comes from a lifted suspension and brand new wheels. The van works, the rust has fallen away, and you’re feeling pretty good…until you see a sports car zoom past. Your fancy paint job and flame decals aren’t fooling anyone. Least of all yourself. You want to accelerate; however, if you expand your budget without investing in more mar-tech, you’ll feel some unsettling bumps when you hit the highway going 60 mph. Hang in there. The Advanced mar-tech setup is within reach. If you make it to the next phase of growth, you’ll go from $1,000 to hundreds of thousands in profitable daily spend.

I can’t wait to take you through my step-by-step guide to Advanced UA mar-tech. In the next article in this series, I’ll identify five must-have tools to scale your daily spend from $1,000 to $250,000 and beyond. You’ve already learned about one of the five…your MMP. Now uncover the four other tools you’ll need to progress to the next level, where you’ll be earning millions of dollars in app sales each year. The marketing stack I’m recommending will allow you to change gears quickly, with the agility of an Italian luxury vehicle.

Trust me. Take my advice and you’ll be driving that Maserati in no time.

Go there now.


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