Called "the pot farm game made by fans, for fans," Hempire Games, developed by LBC Studios, proves that it pays to pair a fun and story-driven strategy game with efforts to cement a sense of community. Even better if you break with stereotypes about your audience and the marketing mix that will activate and motivate them to build a cannabis empire. Our host Peggy Anne Salz catches up with Kevan O'Brien, UA manager at LBC Studios, to discuss how platforms, such as Snapchat and Facebook, and approaches, such as influencer marketing and burst campaigns, have allowed the game to chalk up 4+million in record time.

Peggy: Hey, welcome to "Mobile Growth "the podcast series where frontline, growth marketing experts share their insights, and experiences, and expertise so you can become a better mobile marketer. That is the idea here. And I'm your host Peggy Anne Salz from MobileGroove, where I help my clients grow their audiences and reach the content marketing on my watch. This is the series that will introduce you to the people, the ninjas, the experts out there who know how to drive growth. And my guest today is Kevan O'Brien. He's UA manager at LBC Studios with an amazing game with a very unique audience. Tell me about it, Kevan. Great to have you here.

Kevan: Yeah, thanks for having me. Yeah, I know it's very exciting studio to be working at. We're based out of Vancouver, Canada, and we have a game called "Hempire," which is kind of self-explanatory...

Peggy: I had to hold the laughter. Hempire, okay.

Kevan: Yeah. I'll grow your hemp empire basically. It's a weed farming game, kind of a city builder in a sense, kind of SimCity meets Farmville meets Grand Theft Auto with a little bit of cannabis is your kind of economy. So it's a very unique game, very fun, you know, to work on, and being from Canada, obviously, cannabis is a big move in up there. And we're really excited to see what 2018 looks like for marketing.

Peggy: And absolutely, for game, I mean it has it's tribes so it's gonna be, you's like all games. They're all tough to acquire users and retain. But in your situation, you have a very unique user base. How do you sort of...I guess, you know, this is something where you can't look at the key metrics to know, like, who are my most loyal, my most engaged, my most, yeah, devoted users. So how do you figure that out because this is not your average game?

Kevan: Yeah, it's not. And, you know, it's a casual game. It's fun, you know. It's in a simulation category so we do have a, you know, we have a natural audience, people that are into those kinds of games, you know, managing your inventory, city builders, and stuff. But obviously being a weed game, it gives us a very unique audience that we get to tap into. You know, we find through our analytics that our fans aren't all just weed smokers. That's one of the things wishfully unique about them is they're from the community vertical. They're from the music verticals. They love nightlife and different cultural things. So that's why, like, certain platforms such as Snapchat, Facebook, and Instagram are really a big revenue driver for us. And that's where we do a lot of a recent acquisition.

Peggy: And so tell me about that. Because I am hearing a lot of stories about different approaches to Snapchat, that if you approach it right, it works. Influencer marketing, you know, it has its moments so it's a little sticky if finding the influencers, getting them onboard, the whole thing. Snapchat, I mean, why that one, first of all?

Kevan: Yeah. I mean, Snapchat just recently released their ad platforms to the public. Before you had to have a pretty large brand, and it was very kind of handshake agreements on who had access to it. So when they opened up their platform, we jumped right at it because we found that the target demographic of our users, the age, and the type of consumer is very aligned to Snapchat, you know, the millennial kind of high-end smartphones, really socially connected. And obviously our content kind of fits into the flow of what people are consuming on Snapchat. So we found that you know, the vertical ad placement was a new one for us to experiment with. Our game is a horizontal layout so creating the ads for that sort of network was a little different. But Snapchat's got a really cool ad creation platform which lets you create these vertical ads online.

So we've been playing around with it. We did a big burst in January, and we're measuring a lot of the data there right now. But it looks like it was pretty successful. It's kind of open season right now on Snapchat. Not a lot of people are in there especially gaming studios, so I think we got in there the right time, and we've learned a lot from it.

Peggy: So talking about how Snapchat definitely pays dividends to use the platform, give me just an overview of some numbers about your game.

Kevan: Well, I mean, we got over four million installs since we launched worldwide in 4/20 last year, you know, kind of a relevant time to launch. We're coming out with our one year, and we're hoping to hit five million installs by then. We also just recently launched on Amazon, which was kind of an experimental test. And, you know, it's been early days there, but it's neat seeing our game being adopted in the new app market. And Amazon's been great to work with. You know, we do have our primary audience in the U.S. We're going in Canada and a lot of other, you know, TRAGOs in the U.K. But what we're finding is that as cannabis becomes more and more accepted worldwide, you've heard this organic researching for that in the store and finding our game. So we're really excited to see our numbers grow that way.

Peggy: So Snapchat as a platform works, as an ad platform, but you're also finding that match with the influencers. I mean, that's always a tough one to find them, to sort of, like, validate them as being to fit with your app. You always have to find the influencer to fit with your app. I'd love to know how you found them to fit with the weed growing app, I won't go there. But tell me a little bit about, you know, finding that match and what it's done for you since.

Kevan: Yeah, you know, being a weed game, it's tricky advertising in a lot of networks. Sometimes we do get blacklisted just because of the content. And other ad providers are, you know...they're not really comfortable with that even though, you know, our game is very casual. It's very fun, and cannabis is a pretty harmless drug. The installers...those sensitivities. And the same thing happens with influencers. Obviously, we don't want anybody that's a consumer of influencers channel or network to be offended by the content their marketing. So we do that based off of the audience. We make sure that there are no sensitivities around our game and our content. But the influencer partnerships we built do stem from, you know, being a fun kind of casual game. And we found a lot of channels on YouTube, on Twitch, some blogs as well. And Instagram has been really great for us with influencers, again, just because the audience match.

Peggy: Well, that's great, Kev. We're gonna go to break right now. But don't go away, listeners. When we come back, we're gonna talk more about the platforms that grew the Hempire. And we're waiting for, I guess, the Hempire strikes back maybe, I don't know. Maybe after the break. Who knows? So don't go away. We'll be right back.

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Peggy: And we are back, Mobile Growth guest, Kevan O'Brien, UA manager at LBC Studios. We're talking about your game, talking about how you're approaching influencer marketing. Can you share anything about, like, the results? Obviously, 4 million users, getting to your 5th million. So we see growth, but is there something interesting about what you see about the audience, or where you see the opportunity to really grow that audience, really move the needle?

Kevan: Yeah. You know, as I mentioned, Canada is going, hopefully, fully legal with cannabis this year. And what that means for us is marketing opportunities. We're gonna, you know, start growing. So as far as influencers go, you know, there are platforms that kind of run influencer management. I believe Chartboost has one, called "Influence," and there's a few other, you know, YouTube platforms and Twitch platforms. So we have them but we've haven't been able to tap into just because of the content regulations. So I think really looking forward towards what the legalities around advertising are in the cannabis space in 2018, especially in the U.S. as more and more states kind of adopt cannabis legalization.

Peggy: So you have your influencer. I mean, how did you find him or her or them? Because I talk to a lot of people in the industry and you know, they go through agencies. They try to go direct. I mean, they tried to do differently because of... First of all, it's a lot of pitfalls, not luck, price too. I can be pricey. How did you approach this? How did you manage it?

Kevan: Yeah. We find the most successes. We're really just reaching out directly to the influencers. A lot of YouTube channels have an email on their About section, flags have a content. You can just directly reach out too, and...

Peggy: So just literally, your intuition is like, "Hey, this guy rocks. So you could be our ambassador."

Kevan: Yeah. I know. Exactly. And I mean, at the end of the day, we do a tribute, all of our influencer campaigns. So we use SmartLinks to track our installs, measure return on advertisings. Then we also have, you know, the attribution date on our website. It directs users to install our game, and we can track the source of those. So there's a variety of ways we value and gauge the quality of influencer campaigns, but the way we get started is usually just introducing ourselves, saying, "Check out our game." And if they think it's a good fit, then we'll keep the conversation going.

Peggy: It's genuine and it's real. What about the users themselves? Because it is a bit of a tribe, right? So you have get a little bit of a social contract. You're engaging with them. They're engaging with your game. You have to re-engage them. You have to, like, say, "Hey guy, you know, you're one of our unique audience here." How are you approaching that? Is that push notifications, as we know it, or is there a twist on it?

Kevan: Yeah. We have a very active community. We have an amazing community manager at our studio, and she...there's a contest going on all the time. We have an endgame social network through KT play where we actually have forums and moderators. They sometimes create their own content for us to use in our game. They give us suggestions and feedback, and that really keeps them, you know, engaged and entertained, I'd say as well. Our Facebook community just grew over 50,000. We're growing on Instagram as well and Twitter. We're actually gonna be using Snapchat more as a platform for our community, too.

But as far as re-engagement goes, we use push notifications to try and keep our players in game. We do deep links to special offers. Right now we have a Valentine's promo going on. And we also use paid tactics to re-engage with players using device IDs and Facebook analytics. We're able to advertise with, you know, deep links and special offers depending on the LTB and how long they've trend out of our games. So there's a mix between a balance of social, push, and also paid.

Peggy: So just curious, so most of it, you know, unpaid, some paid. You're UA manager, what kind of budget do you have to handle, or what kind of money is going into this effort? Because it looks to me, like, it's really hacking on a shoestring budget here.

Kevan: No, no, I mean, there's obviously a budget to play with as far as acquiring new users. For re-engagement, obviously, spending nothing is the goal, you know, trying to keep your users engaged without having to pay to get them back is the ultimate goal. But we do set a budget of re-acquiring users depending on what their LTB is. So I've started to cohort our players outside of just the typical minnows, dolphins, and whales. We've created a couple more cohorts. One of them we call a Krackens which are large enough to eat whales, and the comparison I make is trying to get the player back that's a millionaire or trying to get the player back, it's Bill Gates. They both drive really nice cars and have nice phones but one of them is much higher value. So we do associate a separate budget for the higher-value users, and we don't mind spending a lot of money to keep them in our game.

Peggy: That's amazing. Because I'm thinking about the personas here, and it has to be engagement because it's also a spend. You have enough purchases. You're trying to get them to spend more or engage more? Which is more important for you?

Kevan: Yeah. I mean, we do see that there's a large uptake in the quality and the lifetime value of users after a certain time in our game. So a lot of times we're looking at retention, and engagement, and sessions before we look at the in-app purchases. Other times, we do see a trend where new users aren't spending. We really want to try and keep them engaged as quickly as possible. So we'll set up a drift campaign of re-engagement ads and push notifications just to try and keep them moving up the cohort panel. But for the most part, yeah, we look at in-app purchasing. That's our primary revenue driver. There are games free to play. It's all on rewarded video. There's nothing forced down your throat. So we just want our players to have fun and, ultimately, hope they make some purchases.

Peggy: Well absolutely, that's why you have the audience you have because that's your approach. I mean, that's the kind of audience you can't give them a hard sell. They will not take it. This is great, Kevan. I'm sure people are listening in saying, "Well, first of all, where do I get the app?" right? Secondly, how do they keep in touch with you? So tell me both

Kevan: Yeah. The game, there are links to be downloaded in all of our platforms there. You check out Hempire game on Twitter, Instagram as well. Myself is KevaKevan on Twitter. That's probably the best way to reach out to me. I'm also instructing part-time up in Vancouver. So if you ever visit, come say, "Hi," and I'd be happy to show you around the city.

Peggy: Awesome. Well, I'll definitely look for you in social. Peggy: And that’s a wrap of today’s show, thanks for listening to this episode of Mobile Growth and a quick reminder to visit for a complete listing of our upcoming events. And don't forget to use the very special promo code MGSPODCAST30 for 30% off of your next order.  And remember no matter what kind of app or business you have this is the destination for everything you need to move the needle on growth. So, until next time make it real, make it matter, and we'll talk to you again soon.