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Uncertainty is the only certainty in the marketing world, and there is no foolproof universal template for mobile user acquisition (mobile UA). Driving conversions is not only about targeting the right segments and sourcing the right media channels, it’s also about developing compelling creative that conveys your message and captures your target audience.

And an essential component of determining the ROI potential of any mobile UA campaign is rigorous testing and optimization of ad creative. It can light up your sales funnel with the best performing ads and run your campaign more efficiently.

Talk to Chris Nguyen, marketing manager of Zoosk, a popular mobile dating app, and he holds nothing back. “Test as much as possible: creatives, landing pages, everything,” he says. “Test everything in your funnel and see what works. You’ll never know what works until you test it out.”

chrisheadshoot-460x360Zoosk is a global online dating platform with 35 million profiles in over 80 countries and translated into 25 languages. And much like the subjective novelty of pick-up lines, the possibilities in the world of creative testing are endless with multiple variables such as colors, images, calls-to-action, and formats.

In his early days, Nguyen was pretty surprised when he first began testing creative and seeing the significant impact small changes had. “I thought that changing something like a CTA wouldn’t really affect anything. I thought, ‘Who really reads this stuff?’ But I found that changing a CTA could make a huge difference. That’s when I started taking creative testing much more seriously.”

Now, mobile UA creative testing has become a time-tested science for him for which tiny incremental changes are measured and optimized against the entire funnel — from click-thru, to profile creation, to subscription, and all the steps in between.

Defining your metrics for campaign success

“My top priority is to identify and target pockets of users that are efficient to acquire, while delivering a very high ROI,” says Nguyen. Certainly, before embarking on any creative testing, you need to have your campaign objectives mapped out and KPIs identified. Testing without setting your campaign priorities straight is akin to going out on a date without fixing a time or place to meet up.

For Zoosk, an important metric is profile completions – or cost per user profile. It’s free to install the Zoosk app and register, but once you’ve validated your email, the next step is to upload a photo and fill out the fields that communicate important details about yourself to the Zoosk users you’re hoping to attract. And since users who take these steps are more engaged with the product and more likely to have higher LTV (lifetime value), Nguyen has identified this as an important performance metric against which to measure ROI.

“A lot of people use a creative test to measure click-through rates, but we want to see further down the funnel,” says Nguyen. “For us, we want to know, does the creative change we’re making actually encourage users to complete their profile?”

Nguyen goes on to explain that a good day for him is when his cost-per-profile hits his KPI. While, understandably, he doesn’t want to reveal specific numbers, using an imaginary figure, he explains, “Let’s just say we have a CPA of $20, and if all the campaigns I’m managing fall under $20 and, on top of that, the ROI looks pretty good, I can say ‘Ok, what performed well, what didn’t perform well. How can I expand on this? Or how can I cut what’s not performing well?’” 

Designing and optimizing your mobile ad creative

If there’s one word that can sum up creative testing, it’s this: Details. As Nguyen learned early on, the smallest changes can bring surprisingly big results. Now, using an A/B approach to testing, he constantly changes one variable in campaign creative in order to optimize results. It might mean changing the image, the color of the CTA, or the copy on a landing page.

He gives one example in working with Zoosk’s ad network partner, Liftoff, which is heavily involved in the creative testing for Zoosk’s acquisition campaigns. “I’m totally focused on performance with Liftoff and always open to new tests,” Nguyen says. “During one campaign, Liftoff came back and told me that a wireframe CTA is giving a 50 percent performance increase over a filled-out CTA on the creative. With small changes like that bringing huge rewards, of course, I say go ahead and do it.”

It’s also important to understand targeting and user segments in designing tests — and that means having true insight into your users. For Nguyen, that meant learning that single users, who may be using Zoosk to ultimately find the partner of their dreams, really don’t want to see images of happy, shiny couples while they’re still experiencing the world as a single person.

“We’re an online dating app, so the actual user photos we use make a huge difference,” says Nguyen. “We assumed people want to see couples or success stories, but we had to learn that doesn’t translate well to getting profiles. A nice attractive young lady is a lot more appealing.”

According to Nguyen, many marketers get stuck with a “set it and forget it” mindset that can derail their campaign optimization efforts severely.

What’s needed, instead, is an unstoppable commitment among mobile marketers to continually test, optimize, and test again — all in the name of the science of mobile UA. Something Nguyen is wrestling with each and every day.

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