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7 User Acquisition Nightmares to Avoid

A Halloween special 🎃 UA veterans share their biggest failures, missed opportunities, and mistakes that we can all learn from.

#1 Devaluing Game's Economy

Farhan Haq, Head of Growth at SYBO

From the perspective of User Acquisition, Monetization, and Publishing, my worst nightmare would probably be the product team devaluing a game's economy in an otherwise successful soft launch with strong retention rates. The lesson: don't go too crazy with changes even in soft launch. If metrics look solid, just launch the game!
Generally speaking, and to be more practical, I would advise not making more than two changes at once on the monetization of a game.

#2 $17K Overnight

Kevan O'Brien, Manager, Ad Monetization and Optimization at Daily Hive

On my first week at a studio I used to work at, I noticed that one of the ad sets in one of my campaigns was exceeding goals, with a 100% return in just a couple of days. I got so excited that weekend that I changed the budget from $50 to $100 to double down on the success. It wasn't until Monday morning when one of the engineers tapped n my shoulder and asked, 'Did you know we spent $17,000 on one ad set overnight?' I quickly checked and realized that the 100.00 cap punched in as 10,000. Probably something to do with decimal points. The campaign ran for an entire day and a few more hours the next day before we caught it, spending $17,000. I wasn't used to working with such high budgets before, and I was sure I would lose my job. We had an emergency meeting with the CEO and Marketing Director, where I explained how I made this mistake. Then my CEO at the time said, 'Ok, let's track it. Let's learn from it.'
We got 5000+ installs from our top-performing ad set, and I expected to get good quality installs from that cohort. And they were. It took us a bit longer than seven days to hit our target, but looking back, after three months, we tripled our revenues.
We learned something from this that not many studios had a chance to learn: what happens if you 1000X your budget overnight?!

#3 Wrong Country

John Wright, VP Operations at Luna Labs

My worst UA nightmare is probably related to not double-checking bid changes. I've had situations where I analyzed the data and made a CPI change based on evident results, such as higher than average ARPU, for example. But instead of updating the correct country, I've changed the bid of the wrong one.
It's quite easy to confuse IN (i.e., India) with IE (i.e., Ireland); The result is a bid that is five times higher than average for the market. Subsequently, you either burn out your budget because you're bidding too aggressively, or end up making a significant loss on all the users you acquired because the ARPU of that market is far less than the one you intended, or both. I think every UA person has done this at least once in their career. So always double-check your bid changes!

#4 Postback Attack

Stephanie Unger, Director of Advertising Operations at Blind Ferret

We run a rewarded engagement platform, where users can collect redeemable points for completing various events in our client’s apps. Since we are only paid for the initial install, the number of points awarded for each event is determined by how frequently we expect a user to complete it - obviously, it would cost us a lot of money to hand out too many points for a goal that almost every user achieves.
We launched a campaign while this model was still very new to us, and we were under the impression that we were rewarding an extremely long-tailed event with a very low conversion rate. As we normally would, we offered tens of thousands of points to any user who reached this level. Little did I know, the client implemented the wrong postback and was firing an “app-open" event instead - virtually everyone reached this goal and the rewards were handed out like candy. We only noticed when a very honest user informed us that she received her reward much earlier than anticipated. Who knows how long this would have flown under the radar if it wasn’t for her. I remember losing sleep over this mistake - how could I not have double-checked before launching? How was I going to tell my boss? At the end of the day, it was a very valuable lesson. We now ALWAYS double-check for this sort of thing, and have a system in place to notify us when rewards are costing us more than we are making.

#5 False Promising

Sun Baek, Performance Marketing at Trade Republic

A while ago, I started a partnership that did not work out because the partner overpromised on things they didn't have yet. We were looking for traffic in Germany, and this company presented us with numbers of audience reach and daily/monthly traffic and promised to deliver a certain amount of subscriptions. So we signed, waited, and... nothing happened!
This experience taught me to do more background research before starting a new partnership, always expect the best but prepare for the worst, and ask the question, 'what happens if the goals are not reached?'. It also taught me to start with a smaller test budget before fully engaging a new channel and to evaluate results before scaling a campaign.

#6 An Extra Zero

Lorenzo Rossi, Co-Founder & Head of Growth at REPLUG

I remember nightmares from the times I worked as a hands-on UA manager, responsible for six figures' monthly budgets across different advertising channels. I was always scared to set the wrong bid or budget on my Facebook or Twitter campaigns: adding an extra zero at the end, pressing Enter too fast, things like that. At that scale, the risk of burning marketing dollars due to human error was tremendous... I learned never to launch a campaign in the evening before leaving the office or on Friday just before the weekend, always double and triple check the setup, and keep an eye in case something looks wrong.
Another nightmare of mine is relying on false data. It happened that I had taken a decision based on data that was completely wrong, which in some cases resulted in massive spending for no good reason. So although we should aim to have a single source of data that we trust, it is crucial to access additional data sources to compare numbers and flag any technical problems.

#7 Budget Limits

Andre Kempe, Founder of Admiral Media

A recent nightmare of mine was a campaign that achieved tremendous success immediately after launch and reached the budget cap in just a few hours. To make things even more stressful, it all happened during the weekend. You can imagine how stressed I was: wondering can this be true, is my data correct, etc. After some investigation and looking into all the data, we concluded that the figures are correct, and the results are genuinely excellent. Yet, we couldn't deliver the campaign to its full potential because we used up the budget, and the decision-maker wasn't available ('cause it's the weekend, of course). Naturally, nobody wanted to take the risk of exceeding the budget without approval.
It is a total nightmare for a marketer (or an agency) measured and compensated based on media spend and performance results. You see the golden numbers ahead of you, but you can't reach them because of budget limits. Companies often get ruled by strict financial frameworks that don't allow taking advantage of opportunities and prevent growth. There should always be some wiggle room, especially for marketing and growth teams, to react to sudden changes and presented opportunities.

#Bonus Pro Tip From App Marketer of the Year

Hannah Parvaz, Head of Growth at Curio

A few years ago, I was brought in to help a company who had started to struggle with their Facebook Ads. Over the last month, they'd seen their costs shoot up dramatically (over 1000%) and couldn't work out why. I went about with a creative audit, a bunch of digging through conversions, and then looked into the targeting to notice that they were targeting previous conversions instead of excluding them! It was the quickest fix I've ever seen.

Not all UA nightmares can be avoided, but automation can definitely help you sleep better at night!


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