The rise of LiveOps and the lack of identifiers put pressure on user acquisition (UA) managers to wear many hats. Studios expect you to be an independent problem-solver, performance marketer, analyst, organiser, manager, communicator and self-starter all rolled into one.
And they want you to keep on top of the industry trends to make sure UA strategies are on the money, yielding a satisfactory return on investment (ROI) and filling the funnel with players (and payers) who will boost the bottom line.
In practice, UA managers create and optimise campaigns to meet specific marketing objectives. But, increasingly, that means collaborating closely with marketing to define, execute, and scale effective campaigns and strategies across many media and platforms including search, email, and connected TV. UA managers are also the connectors in the organisation, with a detailed agenda to balance, including:
- Manage people across teams, departments and disciplines
- Drive a data-informed dialog with product teams to optimise and iterate gameplay
- Work with design teams to develop new features and narratives to hook target audiences attract and retain players
- Equip creative teams to deliver relevant and riveting ad creatives that stand out where it counts.
The roles and skills required to execute user acquisition are changing at a rapid paceThomas Petit
So how do you prepare for a job in UA?
It starts with accepting that your skills will become obsolete at nearly the same pace you can acquire them. As mobile growth consultant and influencer Thomas Petit recently said: "The roles and skills required to execute user acquisition are changing at a rapid pace."
Fortunately, most platforms and partners, including Google (Google Ads certifications), Facebook (Facebook Blueprint), and Snapchat (Snapchat Focus) all offer UA programs to help marketers stay current. Apple Search Ads has also recently rolled out Apple Search Ads Certification, a fast-track program of eight lessons to help marketers build proficiency and learn best practices.
Approach UA with attitude and aptitude
There is no one career path to follow, but there are common skills to master.
The data analysis side of the job demands a candidate with a firm grasp of quantitative sciences, including mathematics. The marketing side of the job requires experience with insights around players and user behaviours, managing budget, monitoring PPC trends and building campaigns on platforms including Google Ads, Facebook and YouTube.
But some successful UA managers show that the best preparation for the job is to pivot, not plan, and use these twists and turns to acquire skills that allow them to see the bigger picture – and achieve impressive results in the process.
Recruiters aren't necessarily looking for someone who ticks all the boxes, but they do want someone who wants to learn and has the right attitudeKatie Gill
It's the playbook Katie Gill followed to move from a career in fashion and advertising to become Head of Marketing at DREST. The mobile game and e-commerce platform lets users take part in styling challenges using luxury brands and looks.
From her start as a fashion intern at Vogue and later at Jimmy Choo, fashion is the thread that connects Gill's experiences and her career path. She later took the position of Senior Advertising Executive at YNAP (Net-a-Porter Group) before moving to the publisher side as Lead Media Planner at Condé Nast International. A chance exposure to DREST via Instagram Stories sparked her interest in "gamifying the styling experience and bringing this to luxury fashion."
Three pivots have taught Gill that there is "no single job quality or criteria to get your start in UA." Instead, it's all about showing a willingness to learn. "Recruiters aren't necessarily looking for someone who ticks all the boxes, but they do want someone who wants to learn and has the right attitude," she says. In practice, that means "having a holistic view of your audience and what it takes to make them play and stay in the game."
It's essential to stand out through your interests and achievements, but Gill advises not just to list them. Instead, enhance your CV with relevant data points such as the percentage uplift on growth or return on ad spend (ROAS) that you and your campaigns contributed, or the number of ad network partners you managed. If you don't have marketing experience, then detail the types of campaigns you would run given a chance.
Her advice: Above all, be honest about what you've done (and know). "Dishonesty shows, it's a no-go." It’s important to "be clear and concise to save recruiters having to wade through unnecessary details. Make sure your experience, all you have experienced, jumps off the page."
creativity is basically at the core of what keeps us apart from the competitionMathias Wuerdemann
"Come as you are"
For Mathias Wuerdemann, Senior Online Marketing Manager at Innogames, there's no getting around the requirement to "understand and analyse data to get to the right decision." But even the best UA managers can miss the mark if they don't hone the most critical skill of all: creativity.
"When I started seven years ago, [UA marketers] had to be creative. But now you have to be even more creative… because creativity is basically at the core of what keeps us apart from the competition," Wuerdemann says.
In a market where install costs have increased from a few dollars to double-digit amounts, UA managers can't afford to second-guess the best creatives for their target audience. "You have to use the right creative, and you also need the data-driven mindset to determine it really is the right creative." And it doesn't stop there. "You have to be creative in finding the right partners and channels, and you need to be creative in how you test new creatives to find the fit."
A background in math and management is a good grounding for a career in UA, Wuerdemann says. But self-starters without a degree can also go far if they show what they know. One way is to come up with a project and present your ideas. "Let's say you want to get a job at Innogames [which also publishes Forge of Empires]. Coming up with an idea about how to market Forge of Empires is a great way to show your skills."
Even if you just put together a PowerPoint and present it, you're showing you take the initiative. "Don't come up with things you think will impress a studio, like how many tools you know or names you can drop," Wuerdemann says. "Come as you are and just be yourself. Besides, in the end, everyone will find out anyway."
Come as you are and just be yourself. Besides, in the end, everyone will find out anywayMathias Wuerdemann
His advice: choose the games companies you want to work for and then follow them on LinkedIn. That's where you can find job postings and jumpstart the conversations that will get you to the next level.
"It helps to have a superpower"
Years of experience in digital performance marketing have allowed Yury Bolotkin to drive successful campaigns and growth strategies at Popcore, Wooga, and now as Marketing Director at StarBerry Games. The mobile games developer and publisher based in Berlin and founded by a team of industry veterans with backgrounds from some of the most prominent game companies, took the ‘Best Indie Developer’ Award at the Pocket Gamer Mobile Games Awards in London last year.
But his start was as far away from games as you can get. His education at the Siberian State University of Telecommunications and Information Sciences prepared him to "understand the fabric of the Internet and how things are connected."
You need an understanding of how the advertising world works, how performance advertising works and how it all fits togetherYury Bolotkin
It was after leaving school that Bolotkin decided to focus on making the connections between advertisers and publishers. "I was lucky to go straight to a company that was looking for a partnership manager," he recalls. That junior position gave him everything the best prep for a career in UA. "You need an understanding of how the advertising world works, how performance advertising works, and how it all fits together."
The best candidates for the job are the ones who don’t necessarily count the hours, Bolotkin says. "It should be your hobby and your passion," he adds. "If you think you can do this for the sake of doing a job, then you need to keep looking."
It also pays to invest time in learning skills that allow you to do more than crunch the numbers. "It helps to have a superpower like coding skills or SQL," Bolotkin says. "Publishers love to see marketers who go deep, so if you put down [on your application] that you're learning Python in your spare time and you have a small project to show, that's sure to make a big impression."
His advice: stay fresh and relevant by reading what the experts say. "Mobile Dev Memo has become an anchor and a must-read for marketers. He also recommends several slack channels, including Mobile Heroes and Mobile Attribution Privacy.
Being a user acquisition manager as it is right now won't last foreverClaire Rozain
The future of UA
UA isn't a job. It's a journey. The problem is no one is quite sure where it leads. "Being a user acquisition manager as it is right now won't last forever," Claire Rozain, UA Team Lead at Rovio, recently said in a Medium interview.
Getting started in UA is one thing. Staying in the space is another. This requires agility and the ability to be a generalist as well as a specialist. "They will need to understand the top of the funnel and mid-funnel strategies to retain a user, as well as how to cross-promote them," she explains. Moving forward, she adds, "I think we will shift from a model where we pay for a user in one title to a model where we maximise the value from our user in all our portfolios."
It's a tall order, but tomorrow's UA manager also won't do it alone. AI and marketing automation will be part of the job and a partner to handle the drudge work. "With automation," Rozain says, "the job of the UA manager is going to change, and daily manual optimisation won't be a skill anymore. I am very happy about it; it will be less boring."