In a market where the cost of acquiring a user is rising into the stratosphere, it pays to identify and engage your most valuable users from the get-go. It’s quality over quantity—always—but you achieve the best results (and drive the biggest volumes) when you optimize and personalize the onboarding experience to match your audience and their expectations. Our host Peggy Anne Salz catches up with Lomit Patel, VP of Growth at IMVU, the social networking and chat app that allows users to create custom avatars, to discuss how harnessed creatives and creative messaging to increase retention by “at least 20% to 30%.” And he’s still going strong. Lomit also lifts the lid on his growth stack, detailing the tools and vendors he relies on to reduce the cost to acquire a paid user and boost the return on the ad spend.

Peggy: Hey! Welcome to Mobile Growth, the podcast series where frontline growth marketing experts share their insights, experiences, expertise, everything they know, so you can know and become a better mobile marketer in the process. And I'm your host, Peggy Anne Salz, from MobileGroove, where I help clients grow their revenues and audience through content marketing. And on my watch, as host of this series, I will be introducing you to the people who know how to drive growth. And with that, I'm just gonna jump right in to my guest today, Lomit Patel. You are VP of Growth at IMVU. IMVU is a social app, but with a difference, and I'm not gonna take it away from you. Tell me first, what does your app do?

Lomit: Sure, Peggy. I'm really excited to be here. And just to tell you a little bit more about IMVU, we are actually the largest 3D avatar social networking app where people go and create an avatar, and then create a virtual world around interacting, meeting new friends. And we've been in business for over 13 years. We started off as a desktop app. But recently, we pivoted into mobile. So, now we have a mobile version, mobile apps on iOS and Android. And we've been able to take all the great learnings that we had on the desktop and create that immersive engaging experience on mobile.

Peggy: Probably a good time for that pivot by the way, because you got AR and VR. You can use it now. It makes it interesting.

Lomit: Definitely. And then that's kind of the direction where we're going now because for the most part, a lot of our audience are millennials, and all of them on mobile. So, it's really helped us really drive a lot of growth. Recently, just going on to mobile, we're able to engage and find a lot more new users and bring on users that are completely different from the ones we're generally attracting previously on desktop.

Peggy: So, tell me a little bit about that user audience, not numbers necessarily, although you can tell me how many users you have for your app. That's always interesting, but are there regions, are there special characteristics of your target audience or the audience that really embraces your app?

Lomit: Yes. So, on the desktop side, our desktop app has been localized pretty much into all the languages that are available, so we have users coming from all over the world. And on mobile right now, our app is only available in English, Spanish, and Portuguese. So, most of our growth on mobile primarily happens in the tier 1 countries, like the U.S., UK, Australia, and Canada. And outside of that, we got a lot of users coming in from Brazil and past Latin America as well.

Peggy: Well, you know, I did some recent research into localization on apps, and it really does pay to localize to Spanish because you're getting, I think it's across 20 countries where Spanish is spoken, or something like that. I have the numbers in my head right now. But it's a great way to get a big audience. Where do you see your growth opportunities amongst those regions and those audiences? I mean what's your focus? Is it to build up the Spanish, the English, to go for some different regions, different languages?

Lomit: Yes. For us, generally, what we've found on the mobile side because our focus has really been to sort of start off in regions where we can monetize really well. And so, the tier 1 English speaking NGOs were the ones where we still get most of our revenue coming in from. And our revenue comes in two forms. We have in-app purchases where people are buying IMVU credits, and we have the largest selection of catalog where people come in and create an avatar, and they buy different accessories or different ways to sort of customize their avatar. That drives probably about 60% of our revenue on mobile. And the other 40% comes from a whole slew of really strong advertising partners that we have. And generally, a lot of the advertising is around rewarded videos and surveys. And we're starting to do more on placing native ads and display ads into our app as well.

Peggy: So you're VP of Growth, which means it is about growth, but actually when you reach a certain size, as you have, you'd only just think about UA, you think about retention as well. So, maybe you could give me an insight into how you are approaching, for example, perhaps UA to make certain that they're not gonna churn in the first place. You know, it'd just be valuable from the start.

Lomit: Right. And so, for the first part of the year when I came on to IMVU, primarily, our focus was around driving user growth and in focusing a lot around paid-user acquisition. And what we were able to figure out through that for doing a lot of tests. And ultimately, the best audiences that we're able to find, or really sort of taking a look at a lot of the data that we get on users and try to mine the ones that sort of reflect the best lifetime value, and build to look-a-like audiences, and use that to go back into Facebook, go back into Google, and go back into a whole slew of these different ad networks that we work with to drive the right quality of users coming in.

But now that we're starting to get good quality users, we also are making more of a focus around improving our onboarding user experience to try and set the right expectations when people are coming through these different campaigns, try to map out the kind of creatives that people are coming in with and try to create more of a personalized user onboarding experience to match the creatives that are driving people in.

And then also, do a lot of reverse engineering to try and sort of figure out what are the triggers and behaviors that people have been doing that eventually leads them to becoming really strong lifetime-value users for us, and then try to sort of put that into the onboarding flow, and use a lot of automation around push notification, email marketing. And we recently started working with Leanplum, and that's been a really strong partner for us to do a lot of our engagement and retention efforts. And so, we can feed in all of these personalization triggers that we're trying to sort of build. And Leanplum is able to figure out and do a lot of A/B testing to identify when is the right time to hit people or release different messages, so that we're able to kind of retain them better. And so, generally, our challenge is probably no different from everybody else that's in mobile where we do lose a lot of people within the first seven days.

But what we have found over the last couple of months, we've been able to do a much better job where our retention has improved at least 20% to 30%.

Peggy: You mentioned Leanplum for engagement, which makes sense because you have to do notifications, and you have to do them right, you have to know when, the contexts, etc. What are some other tools or context you can tell me about where you're needing tools?

Lomit: Sure. So for us, obviously, Leanplum is a really important tool because it enable us to the automation around CRM to do a lot of A/B testing or on the onboarding flow as well as when and how to send push notifications because push is an important way to communicate with people in mobile. But outside of that, another tool that's really important for us is AppsFlyer, which is our automation and deep-linking tool. And that's important. As I've mentioned, a lot of our growth comes from spending performance marketing dollars. And so, using a tool like AppsFlyer enables us to have a holistic view across all the different channels where we're spending, and be able to identify and optimize towards a post-install events that we're looking at.

And for us, we don't really focus as much on installs because that isn't as important to us as is to kind of drive a user that actually spends money with us. And so, the two key metrics that we really look at is the cost to acquire a paid user, and the return on the ad spend. Those are kind of the two primary KPIs that we look at. And then outside of that, we also look at kind of what's the day-7 retention that we're getting across these different channels that we spend money on.

Peggy: I mean attribution is absolutely key, and there are still a lot of people in the industry that don't get that yet. It's like, attribution is a must. It really, really is, and not just to know the channels and to spend more wisely or to get more mileage out of your budget, but also to keep watch. Watch your back on fraud and others, and you're going into countries, you know, Brazil. We're in the BRIC countries where not everything is the way it seems, to put it mildly. So, what is your approach to just making certain the... You can never stop fraud. It will never happen. But there is a way to protect yourself against fraud. I would imagine that's what you're doing with AppFlyer as well?

Lomit: Yes. So, as you said, you can never be completely 100% bulletproof against fraud, but you want to at least be able to set yourself up and put the barriers in place to try and protect yourself as much as possible. And with AppsFlyer, they actually have a feature called "Protect360," which is something that we use a lot, and has been really helpful. It helps us in terms of identifying a lot of the common types of frauds that tends to happen. And for us, it's generally around click flooding. It's around click hijacking. It's around where we sort of monitor how much time it takes for somebody to install the app and get through the registration process. So basically, the click time to install is another thing that we look at. And one other thing that we look at too is when we work with these different partners, ad networks, we don't like them to actually go and start re-brokering our offer that gets sort of funnel 2, 3 out of times down the road. So, we also panel, look for...trying to mitigate the re-brokering as well.

Peggy: Also, in your growth stack, I'm just curious because, you know, it's really important to have a stack. It's really important to think that way. You covered some tools that cover aspects of that. I'm just wondering if there's another aspect of that, maybe not in a tool, but in a phase in your growth stack. You have to have something at every step of the way. You talked about two. Any more you can share?

Lomit: Yes. So, one other piece that's really...well, it's two other piece, but one piece that's really key is the whole data analytics piece. And for us, I've been fortunate that we have a pretty robust data team in-house, so we do a lot of our own data analysis. We have a pretty robust data warehouse, and we use Tableau to trying to extract a lot of that data. But what we're able to do is we're able to, through data, get a holistic view on our users because our users come from multiple platforms. They come from desktop and through mobile. So, we're able to get a better preview into who those users are, how they behave, you know, on those different platforms, and what are those behaviors that ultimately lead to becoming a better lifetime-value user for us. And then, we're able to sort of take that and build better segmentations out of there, and feed that back, either into AppsFlyer or into Leanplum to help us on the retention or on the acquisition side. And then the other part to that, on the gross stack for us, is trying to improve our discoverabilities.

Peggy: I'm just gonna ask you, what is the ASO? Because paid and ASO, I mean that works really well. ASO alone, unpaid, with paid, perfect. Anything you can give me on that? I mean it's a huge topic. You'd have to come back for a whole show, right, just about that.

Lomit: Sure.

Peggy: But tell me a little bit about that.

Lomit: Sure, I can tell you. So for us, in terms of ASO, there's a couple of things that we use. One is called Sensor Tower, and that really helps us sort of to identify what are the right keywords we want to be optimizing against, and sort of seeing, you know, the improvement in rank once we start optimizing for that. The other one tool, I hear a lot of people talk about is called Appbot.

Peggy: Appbot.

Lomit: Yeah. And what that is, it's actually a user rating and reviews aggregation tool. And for us, as for most people, it's part of ASO. You're obviously driving these people to your app store page. But the conversion rate on the app store page is really important. And for us, we're not a well-known brand, so people put a lot of value in terms of what our user rating is like. And so, with this tool, we're able to aggregate and get feedback on what people are saying about us in the app store. And it helps us because we're able to provide that feedback pretty quickly back to our product and engineering teams, so then they can continue to iterate the product and fix any bugs or performance issues that lead to poor user reviews for us. And so, that helps us to improve our user ratings pretty quickly. And secondly, it provides kind of a word cloud in terms of what keywords users are actually using to find us, which sometimes, for the most part, is different from the way we might have approached and sense.

Peggy: Oh, yes, human research.

Lomit: So, we've been able to discover much better keywords from that as well as the way we sort of optimize our copy on the app store page. Generally, we used to kind of get our marketing team to write a lot of that. And what we found was, it's better to kind of take the words that customers are actually saying about the product and using that. And that's actually helped us as well.

Peggy: I have to say, I haven't heard of the company, we probably have to have them as guests now. Now, you got me going. Just really quickly because I want to understand this, and we've also now talked about the users saying, "Hey, what?" So, listener rather. So, just a nutshell, really quick moment. What's the user experience with Appbot? Am I gonna get into some sort of like chat bot thing, like, "Hi. Welcome. What did you like about our app, what didn't you, or something?" I mean it sounds like a botty thing, right? A chat thing. Is it or is that just a misnomer?

Lomit: Yeah. I mean basically what they do is they have feeds into the different app stores, and they're just able to sort of extract a lot of that data and put it into a nice simple user interface. So, for us, the way we use it is that we just setup email alerts, so we get like a daily digest where they basically have like a sentimental score around from A to D in terms of like how people are talking about the product. And then, they also sort of show you the trend in terms of how your app rating has changed over time.

Peggy: Okay. Well, you got me. I'm gonna have to check into that now. I mean it was so good to have you on the show, so practical, so helpful, and you've been so gracious in sharing the names. You could easily say, "No, this is my stuff, I'm keeping it to myself." Now, you're telling me the names of the tools, how you work with them, sharing really everything. That's fantastic. How about sharing how people might be able to get in touch with you if they want to find out more or learn from your learnings?

Lomit: Sure. The best way to get a hold of me is you can either reach out to me on LinkedIn. Again, my name is Lomit, L-O-M-I-T, and the last name is Patel, P-A-T-E-L, and there isn't too many of us out there in the world. And then the other way is, if you like, you could also try to hit me up on Twitter as well, and my handle on Twitter is @patellom, P-A-T-E-L-L-O-M.

Peggy: Okay. And we'll have those also in the show notes. We'll have the complete transcript actually, which is great. So, if you've been like, you know, writing down notes, writing down companies of all company names, it will all be there on the website. So great to have you. And of course, listeners, check out the website and check out earlier episodes of our podcast. And you can do that by going to the website and finding out more about how you can move the needle on mobile growth No matter what kind of app or business you have, it's all there. So, until next time make it real, make it matter and we will talk to you again.