Growth Teams in 2020: How the Shrinking UA Department will Impact Your Strategy

A new year — a new decade — is just two months away. As you think ahead to your staffing and UA strategy, it’s important to consider just how much user acquisition advertising has changed in the last two years. Machine learning that drives the algorithms for Facebook and Google, and the massive increase in automation tools to maximize campaign performance, have shaken up the industry and the marketing department.

Due to this advanced, user acquisition advertising requires less work and less expertise than it used to. That may affect UA team staffing in 2020 and could push UA and growth teams to merge.

UA Strategy and Growth Teams in 2020


UA Automation is a Major Competitive Advantage

Facebook pushed automation forward in several ways, including by making Campaign Budget Optimization mandatory. They also rolled out best practice approaches to total campaign management like their Power5. Google hasn’t held back, either. They’ve stepped back a little from a total “black box” approach, but they are still pushing advertisers to automate most of their campaigns.

What’s become clear in the last month or two is that the platforms aren’t just offering these automated features, and they aren’t just pushing advertisers toward them. Now, having human-managed campaigns has become an impediment. Not leveraging Facebook and Google’s new AI-driven automation like VO (Value Optimization), AEO (App Event Optimization), DLO (Dynamic Language Optimization), DCO (Dynamic Creative Optimization) and MinRoas Bidding (minimum Return on Ad Spend) make your business less competitive.

We expect this “automation as advantage” shift to become more evident – and more pressing – in the coming months. Both Facebook and Google are rapidly moving towards automation, possibly even total automation for certain types of advertiser profiles. And some market niches, like gaming, may be particularly ripe for expanded automation features. We’ve seen Google do this in the past with Google App Ads. Facebook usually isn’t far behind.

UA Teams Must Evolve

This shift towards automation is obviously going to take some work away from user acquisition teams. Smart UA managers will pivot over to creative strategy and testing. But if you had people on your team that was exclusively doing media buying or that were only adjusting bids or budgets and building new lookalike audiences … their desks may be empty soon.

So yes: Expect some layoffs and a reduction in user acquisition team sizes in 2020. Even Uber laid off a third of its marketing department this summer. We suspect this is driven at least in part by new automation capabilities.

ua strategy
But here’s the doozy: The automation capabilities driving those layoffs aren’t just going to affect a small group of well-funded advertisers who have access to expensive adtech. The automation driving these changes in user acquisition advertising is available to everyone. Facebook and Google’s AI capabilities are free.

This could affect not just the user acquisition community, but also ad agencies, marketing consultants, and in-house marketers all over the world, especially those firms that focus on the SMB market (small to medium size businesses). It takes less work and expertise to manage digital advertising than it used to.

UA Strategy

Again, smart UA team members and other individuals will pivot to creative strategy, creative competitive analysis, and creative testing and optimization. Or they’ll become specialists in how the algorithms work and in the new features the platforms are offering, like Google’s Pre-Launch tool, so they can better manage their remaining levers of control servicing the top end / most sophisticated advertisers. But their skill set has to evolve too. 

You can’t be in an industry that’s evolving as fast as UA is and not radically and continually improve your skills. Otherwise, you’re like a Morse code operator in a Verizon store. We’re just seeing that rate of evolution in the span of months instead of decades.

UA Evolution Affecting Employers

As you consider your own UA team now and for 2020, there may be an opportunity to reduce some overhead or hire less experienced media buyers who are less expensive. Team members must be agile, proactive, and strategic in how they manage both their time and the scope of their job description. Anyone who can’t do that may need to find another position.

So leaner UA teams are probably the future… and we mean “the future” as in Q2, 2020.

UA Strategy and Product Teams Will… Align, Overlap, or Merge?

So the roles of individual user acquisition teams may change. But the role of user acquisition teams as a whole may change, too.

For a long time, we’ve built a bit of an organizational wall up between acquisition teams and growth teams. The functions of these two teams were fairly separate. UA teams got the customers. Growth or product teams tested the app for better engagement, monetization, and lifetime value.

But is that separation really necessary – or even beneficial? As both teams are interested in LTV, and as advertising platforms simplify to the point where advertisers just give the algorithms a profile of the type of customer they want, and then send the algorithm out to get that type of customer, might it make sense to overlap or merge the staff and the functions of UA and product teams?

It’s essential to consider the role of creative development and creative strategy in all this, too. Ads use an awful lot of creative assets from the apps themselves. So could creative testing morph from a user acquisition role into aspects of product development? Could growth teams be influenced by user acquisition so that they develop different paths through apps for different types of customers?

Some companies are already exploring how UA teams and product teams can be more closely aligned. Creative and quantitative testing may be their common ground. And that could mean (among many other things) merged teams and thus some staffing redundancies.

Given the rate of change, we’ll know soon enough where it all goes.

7 Best Practices for Google Video App Ads That Helped Us Boost ROAS By 70% *

It is a mobile world. With more apps and app discovery channels than ever before, the opportunities for advertisers are simply proliferating. The trouble is, your competitors know this, too. They are advertising like a house afire, further distracting your already distracted audience. So how do you stand out? Having a great brand matters, of course. And the type of ads you run can make a significant difference. Video app ads have risen to the fore of creative strategy for many high-performing app advertisers. This followed numerous studies that have shown video app ads to be particularly effective. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given their versatile and dynamic nature.

We have seen hundreds of clients get great results with video app ads, even if they are only adding motion to static images. Glu’s interior design gaming platform, Design Home, increased their return on ad spend by 70% with new video concepts and variations from our Creative Studio

video app ads

Not every video ad you make is going to lift ROAS by 70%, of course. We rigorously test creative. Usually, it takes about twenty tested ad concepts to find one ad that’s good enough to beat the control.

These seven best practices can help get you there:

1. Emphasize the user’s experience over your app’s description.

Video ads for apps and traditional TV-like ads are different animals. We interviewed Miao Xing, a Google product manager who oversees the company’s app ads creative solutions. She tells us “app users don’t need to be set up with sweeping establishing shots or touching montages.” While TV ads hinge on emotional appeal, she says, “video app ads should get to the app experience as quickly as possible.”

Storytelling and buildup are less important in-app ads, except for highly complex or sensitive products, such as finance or healthcare apps. 

Try tightly-framed shots that help viewers focus on features they can use in-app. Streamline storylines and zero in on your app’s capabilities and benefits. Given how short app ads are, the best way to do this is the old “show versus tell” approach. Showing the app’s capabilities and benefits often work better than telling viewers what they’ll get. 

2. “Be brief, be brilliant, be gone”

Brevity is the soul of wit – and engagement and action. This is especially true for video app ads. So keep your ads between 15 to 30 seconds, and consider testing even shorter lengths.

Why so short? Because mobile users have short attention spans. 

We’ve found that ads are the most effective if they can grab viewers’ attention within the first 2-3 seconds. One way to make that very brief window work is to introduce a few quick cuts early to deliver a “moving” sense of the app experience.

3. Don’t forget audio.

Want to add a whole new level of depth and meaning to your video ads? Then crank up the audio. It’s an easy way to create another connection with users.

Audio captures attention, but it also gives you another tool to help you compress a lot of meaning, action, and fascination into the fleeting seconds your ads will run. We particularly like adding an audio punch to enhance branding and calls to action. 

4. Brand early; brand often.

We’ve had success with using branding as part of apps UI (in shots), on the sides (in vertical ads), and through audio cues. Or try a combination of all three. If your brand has strong characters, use them in your ads, too. 

5. Diversify.

You can get dramatically better results if you upload videos with multiple aspect ratios. Is this more work? Yes – and it’s worth it. 

At a minimum, create versions of your videos in landscape (16:9), portrait (2:3), and square (1:1). Also, vary video lengths to maximize ad reach across Google channels. We like to have at least one version that is 10 seconds long, another 15 seconds long, and yet another version that’s 30 seconds long. Then let the algorithm figure out where and to whom to show the different ads.

6. Test. Test again. And then test your video app ads more.

We’ve tested tens of thousands of video app ads. As mentioned earlier, only about one in twenty will perform well enough to beat an account’s current control. True winning, game-changing ads take work. 

video app ads

To accelerate this process of testing and to minimize the costs of it, we’ve developed a creative testing methodology we call Quantitative Creative Testing. Quantitative Creative Testing starts with analyzing your competitors’ video ads so you can see what’s working for them. It will also spark your own ideas for new creative concepts. 

Those new concepts then get tested as efficiently as possible in order to find big wins. Then we test dozens of variations on the most successful new concepts to fine-tune the ads for optimal performance. 

Once we’ve found the unicorn ad, we’ll very carefully roll it out to specific audiences in a way that maximizes reach and lifespan. Then we start the creative development process all over again. Our brand new ad won’t perform well forever. 

7. Keep your video app ads fresh.

Last but not least – ad fatigue happens. And the larger an audience your ads reach, the faster it will happen. 

You have to regularly develop and test new creative to stay ahead. Even smaller advertisers need to refresh their videos every 2-3 months. Large advertisers often need refreshed creative every other week or more. 

To minimize fluctuations in performance, gradually rotate low-performers out in favor of new content. Don’t just cut the old ads and launch new ones all at once.

How Consumer Acquisition Can Help Your Video App Ads

Not sure exactly how to apply these video app ad best practices to your campaigns? Don’t have enough time to make your successful ads into three different aspect ratios, much less three different lengths (3 x 3 = 9!). Don’t know how you’re going to tease more creative out of your already exhausted creative team? 

We can help. Consumer Acquisition is a Google App Preferred Creative Partner. We develop best-in-class videos and creative assets for app campaigns, as well as for lead gen and user acquisition programs. See what we can do for you




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Creative & UA Best Practices For Facebook, Google, TikTok & Snap ads.

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