What does acquiring 1 billion users teach you about mobile user retention?

What does acquiring a billion users teach you about retention?

In this episode of Retention Masterclass Peggy Anne Salz and I chat about PicsArt, which is a true global phenomenon. It’s in the top .1% of apps in terms of installs — over a billion — it’s hugely popular, and people have used it to create and share over 100 million pictures and images.

PicsArt, which is now about 7 or 8 years old, is still growing. In the fast-paced mobile ecosystem where apps come and go every day, that’s impressive.

But before you get a billion users, you have to start with one.

And that means you need a value proposition that works, a funnel that’s solid, and a user experience that delivers. So we chat with Jeff Roberto, VP of Growth Marketing, to learn more about how PicsArt has become a global phenomenon … with serious staying power.

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John Koetsier:  What does acquiring a billion users teach you about retention? Hello and welcome to Retention Masterclass. My name is John Koetsier. 

Peggy Anne Salz: And my name is Peggy Anne Salz, and we’re your co-hosts as always for the show.

John Koetsier: So, PicsArt is a true global phenomenon. It’s in the top 0.1% of apps in terms of installs, it’s hugely popular, and people have used it to create and share over a hundred million pictures and images. 

Jeff Roberto VP Growth Marketing at PicsArt

Jeff Roberto, VP Growth Marketing at PicsArt

Peggy Anne Salz: And, of course, before you get to that number, which is phenomenal, John, it’s a new milestone. This is like hot off the presses for us here, right? But before you get there, you have to have a value proposition that people appreciate. You have to have a solid funnel and you have to have a user experience that delivers.

So we’ve got all three in one person, because we have Jeff Roberto, VP of Growth Marketing at PicsArt. We’re going to learn about how PicsArt got to that billion, how it became a serious player with some serious staying power.

John Koetsier: And that’s actually one of the most interesting things for me. I mean, you know this is mobile, right?

You see apps pop up and go huge overnight and disappear quite regularly, but PicsArt is now seven, maybe eight years old with 150 million regular active users and still growing. It’s very impressive. 

Peggy Anne Salz: It is, and we’re going to find out about that because that’s the thing, you know, it’s one thing to get those downloads, but hey, that’s why we’re here, John, right? It’s not about [acquisition] it’s about keeping them growing. So Jeff, welcome to Retention Masterclass! 

Jeff Roberto: Yes. Thanks for having me. Hi John. Hi, Peggy. Great to be here. 

John Koetsier: It is wonderful. We’re super happy to have you. Let’s start off with the highlight reel, because guess what? There are one or two people on the planet who haven’t heard about PicsArt yet.

Jeff Roberto: Sure.

John Koetsier: Talk about the recent highlights. 

Jeff Roberto: Yeah, sure. So we recently hit 1 billion downloads to date, [the] company is just over eight years old, and growth is accelerating.

So, to break that down, that’s over 20 million new installs or new users every 30 days now.

So that’s, you know, that’s fantastic and we’re doing a lot to keep that on track. PicsArt was also a top-20 most downloaded app worldwide in Q2 of this year, and also Q1 of this year we were kind of maintaining that status now as a top-20 most downloaded app. Additionally in 2019, PicsArt was the #4 top grossing photo and video app worldwide. So not only are we driving users, we’re starting to pick up steam on monetization.

Peggy Anne Salz: So … 

John Koetsier: Very, very interesting. Go ahead, Peggy. 

Peggy Anne Salz: I’m blown away by it, I mean, it’s some amazing numbers. I’m just wondering about the numbers as well in these times — I always have to put that like in quotes, you know, “in these times” — but most companies have an avalanche of organics in these times.

I don’t know how it is over at your end, you know, you’re hyper focused on retention, so obviously that’s not so much focus on acquisition. So what happened to the spend? Is it one of those things where UA’s on hold, we’re going to look at deep in the funnel, or what’s going on over there? 

Jeff Roberto: Sure, we’re very much still spending. Of course, I think like most companies in our space, we kind of took a breath, took a pause, looked around a bit like what’s next? How do we approach this new scenario, this new world we’re living in?

But we’re very much still spending.

You know, the great thing about PicsArt is roughly 90 to 95% of our new user growth is organic, right?

So that 5 to 10% we are spending on, we’re doing that very selectively using segmentation and we are chasing revenue, because obviously, you know,  we don’t have a growth challenge. But so when it comes to spending, it’s all about ROAS, it’s all about ROI, how fast can we get that payback. We’ve actually seen that accelerate here in COVID times. Not only have we seen overall platform growth and increases in not only new users, but editing activity and engagement, but we’re also seeing an increase in monetization. So spend is very much alive and well. I would just say we’re being a little more cautious with how we navigate that path forward.

John Koetsier: That’s really impressive. I mean, we’ve seen a lot of growth in terms of number of users during COVID-19. Not every app, especially the ones that are not in gaming, are all seeing growth in monetization.

Jeff Roberto:  Yeah. 

John Koetsier: Let’s talk about magic. All really successful apps have got some core of magic, right? Some key moment that maybe defines their value, crystallizes their appeal, maybe one for Uber when we were interviewing Rory Sutherland, probably about a month ago for this same podcast, he was saying it was watching the car approach, right? 

Peggy Anne Salz: Yeah.

John Koetsier: You could see where your cab, your old fashioned cab was coming, right?

What’s the magic moment in PicsArt. 

Jeff Roberto: It’s really about editing. So we’ve built a platform that has tools — very powerful, mobile-first, mobile friendly tools; community — 150 million plus monthly actives; and content — and content’s accelerating as well …

We’re seeing nearly 1 billion edits every month. 1 billion edits. 

Peggy Anne Salz: Wow.

Jeff Roberto: So that’s a lot of content. Now, of course, not all of that is shared publicly. You know, a lot of people use PicsArt for personal use, or for friend-to-friend, or one-to-one conversational use. So not all of that’s out on the platform, but there’s a lot of editing activity happening there.

So for us, it’s really about in terms of that magic moment, it’s about building up to that first edit and that editing experience. We’re hyper focused on a network of creators and getting people to engage, edit, share, remix, essentially editing  other people’s assets and images on the network. So everything before that is kind of the lead up, right? It’s not just about installs and it’s not just about consuming or viewing content.

It’s about engaging and editing and creating. 

John Koetsier: Very impressive. 

Peggy Anne Salz: So it sounds like this massive thing, almost like Glatonbury meets, you know, stuff to make and stuff to create and stuff to share. I mean, I know that you had some examples. I don’t know if you wanted to get into that because the whole idea is not just — what’s fascinating here is it’s not just the creation, there’s like this education sharing thing.

It’s not like ‘I did this,’ like some networks it’s like, ‘I did this’ and you just show it and it goes viral because everyone says, ‘Hey, isn’t that cool? It’s like in yours, it’s about engaging and increasing retention because I’m going to learn how that cool thing was made. 

Jeff Roberto: Yes, and we …

Peggy Anne Salz: So I’m going to stick around for the chase, right? 

Jeff Roberto: Yes, and in 2019 we made a big investment in a new product. It’s really a new creation flow, it’s called “Replay.”

What Replay is, it’s edit history and it answers the question ‘How did you do that?’ 

Peggy Anne Salz: How did you do that, yeah.

Jeff Roberto: Because you know, for the first number of years of the business, right, PicsArt grew word of mouth, grew virally, grew on social media. It still does today, and a common question in the comments on social networks was ‘How did you do that? That’s awesome. How did you do it?’ And we didn’t really have a good answer from the product perspective to address that.

And then over time we built Replay, which is essentially edit history showing you the steps someone else took to get to that end result. And each step is editable or can be borrowed by somebody else. So you can come in and engage in a Replay, right? And in a couple of taps recreate what someone else already created, and go off and share that. Or you can engage further and decide, you know, you want to keep steps one and two, but you want to edit steps three and four, and we give you that opportunity. And this is all happening on mobile.

And so Replay is becoming for us a big retention driver, not only is it engagement, but it also is keeping people coming back to see what new Replays are on the network and what can I create today? Like I’m looking to create something cool. And we’ve enabled every user on the network to create their own Replays. So you and I can go on and decide once we finish an edit whether or not we want to share that as a Replay and let others borrow those steps. 

John Koetsier: That is so cool. I love those videos. Yes, l do use TikTok occasionally, sorry. 

Peggy Anne Salz: Now we know.

Jeff Roberto: We’re big fans of TikTok. In fact, there’s a lot of synergy between PicsArt and TikTok.

John Koetsier: I’ve noticed, and that’s where I was going actually, because on TikTok you’ll occasionally see this video of somebody ‘how I made an edit of an image.’ And I’m wondering if some of those or many of those are coming from PicsArt. 

Jeff Roberto: Yeah, they are.

In fact, we recently had our first viral PicsArt hit, which is a new editing trend called “Golden Hour.”

And the concept is you have all these selfies, you have all these great images of you and your friends, and you want to overlay kind of a shadow mask or a light filter that could be a window, or some sort of shadow like a tree or something, right. And you want to kind of project that you’re actually maybe not at home, you’re on a beach, or you’re out somewhere, and that’s what this golden hour trend and editing kind of style allows you to do.

And so we created a few videos, of course, tutorial style, and loaded those on TikTok on our PicsArt TikTok account, and a couple of them now are up into the millions of views. In fact, in total I think it’s over 5 million right now. So, just goes to show, yes, the right trend, the right platform come together. People looking to get more creative at home, don’t necessarily have, you know, the exposure to the outside world, and they’re using our app to kind of explore and do cool things. 

John Koetsier: Cool. 

Peggy Anne Salz: I want to get to the cool stuff. I’ve got to do that, right? The cool trends are coming, John. But you know, this is doing amazing things to your sessions. We’re talking about frequent sessions, long sessions, interactive sessions, you know, it’s just really blowing some of the metrics right out of the water.

Maybe even making some, I wouldn’t say rethink of the benchmark, because maybe they’re bogus — I won’t go there — but you know it’s doing something to your metrics. So I want to understand just at that level, what are you looking at then? How do you know this is the one, this is the way to do it, this is the path that’s getting me to retention growth? 

Jeff Roberto: Yeah. So again, it’s really about editing for us. So we’re very focused on making sure new users and that first user experience leads to a successful edit, and you know tools and process is easy. And that’s why Replay kind of lowers the bar, right? It just allows you to create faster, better stuff quicker, and in doing that we’ve seen an increase in retention.

Of course, we’re looking at a whole host of metrics.

I mean, we’re looking at our DAU/MAU ratios. We’re looking at our weekly to monthly ratios, but really it’s that edit experience. And of those people editing, how likely are they to retain, and are they retaining at a faster clip than people coming in just to browse and consume content? 

John Koetsier: You know, what’s super interesting what you said about you’re lowering the bar and that’s absolutely correct. You’re lowering the bar for people to be able to do cool stuff. So you actually raising the bar in what you’re able to do, but you’re lowering the bar in the cost or the effort required to do it. 

Jeff Roberto: Yes.

John Koetsier: That’s a winning combination. 

Jeff Roberto: Yes, and education is a big part of the platform. In fact, we’re investing more now than ever before, in terms of tutorial creation. As we were talking about TikTok editorials or tutorials that really teach people how to do something, and then give them the fast track to do that. 

Peggy Anne Salz: That is very cool. I mean, I have to just say as an aside, I love it when we have a platform that empowers people, rather than just sort of give it to them. This gives them tools, you know, it really resonates. But of course, if you don’t hit the nail on the head, if you don’t strike a cord, it’s not going to work out. So there’s something in the background to figure out, you know, this way of editing, this tool, this approach is the cool one. 

Jeff Roberto: Yeah.

Peggy Anne Salz: And, you know, you can use AI, you can use common sense, you can use a lot of different ways to get there. You’re obviously doing something that keeps it fresh. What are you doing to stay cool, Jeff? And that’s a question right there. 

Jeff Roberto: From a business and platform perspective, we’re very focused on data, and we’re very focused on segmentation, and we’re spending a lot of time on research. So understanding the key use cases, and not only the use cases, but the jobs, like the things people are actually needing to get done with our tool set.

And we cover so many use cases. We cover kind of the selfie editors or the quick edits, you just want to make something cool. For Instagram, we cover the celebration of passion, or fan art, right? So, fans coming in to make really cool content for artists they love, or organizations they support. We cover the small business or prosumer case you need social media ads content. You want to build your brand on the web, tools to do that. And then of course we cover the more pro case, or the professional artists’ case, the photographers, the illustrators, folks that really just want to push the boundaries on creativity.

So all that said, yes, we are then looking at each of those groups and building kind of an experience for them. And you know, obviously, if you’re a professional photographer, Replay may not be your go-to, you want to get right into the do-it-yourself, advanced editing tools. And that’s fine, we have a track for that.

But if you’re new to PicsArt and you just really want to make one of the pictures you took this weekend look cool for a post today, Replay can help you do that. 

John Koetsier: Very, very cool. Can you share some examples? Maybe share your screen, walk us through a couple. 

Jeff Roberto: Yeah, let me share my screen here. 

John Koetsier: Awesome.

 Peggy Anne Salz: Just going to unlock the inner artist in us, John.

Jeff Roberto: Can you see that? 

John Koetsier: Yes, we can. 

Jeff Roberto: Okay, so this is a recent trend called “drip art” or “dripping effect,” and we realized this trend happening a couple months ago. And it was, it originated in Southeast Asia actually, and then started making its way across the globe. And what’s happening here is people are taking selfies. They’re applying some effects and filters, and then they’re also applying something kind of unique to PicsArt, which is this sticker mask or essentially overlaying a sticker that makes it look like your selfie or your self is dripping like paint. And I’ll play the tutorial here in a sec, but you’ll see how one goes from, you know, usual kind of regular selfie to something super cool that they would want to share on social media.

John Koetsier: Oooh.

Jeff Roberto: So they’re cutting out themselves. They’ve removed the backgrounds. They’re adding effects. Finding a drip sticker to overlay. Changing the color, reversing the color there. 

John Koetsier: Yeah.

Jeff Roberto: So it matches the backgrounds. Finding additional stickers to put in the backgrounds.

John Koetsier: And all this is available via Replay, right? So you could actually grab and sort of use this yourself. 

Jeff Roberto: It is, yes. In fact, this is one of our best performing Replays here in terms of engagement. 

John Koetsier: Wow. I would Replay that. 

Peggy Anne Salz: Yeah. 

Jeff Roberto: And so there you go, then you share it to social, you can share it to PicsArt, save it to your device, iMessage it to a friend. 

John Koetsier: That is amazing. 

Peggy Anne Salz: That is cool.

Jeff Roberto: And it’s all pretty simple to do. Now, of course, that person went through all the editing steps themselves and that tutorial Replay makes that attainable in a few taps. 

John Koetsier: That is really, really, really cool. 

Peggy Anne Salz: That is!

John Koetsier: You may get another download of PicsArt pretty soon.

Peggy Anne Salz: Yeah but it makes it look so simple.

John Koetsier: I kind of need to do that. I won’t look as good as the person who did it, but you know, I’ll try. 

Peggy Anne Salz: I can totally see that.

Jeff Roberto: Well, to be fair, if you’re using someone else’s steps it’s quite easy to do. 

John Koetsier: I’m looking forward to that. I’m going to try that. So …

Jeff Roberto: In fact, one more point on that, there was actually, when that trend broke, there was a big dispute on social media between kind of the purists that use higher end desktop editing tools, like downloadable software for desktop. 

John Koetsier: Yes. 

Jeff Roberto: And of course you can create that in software like that, but then you have here mobile Replays where you can do it in a few taps. So there’s a big kind of debate over, you know, you need to be using these types of tools to create those sorts of edits. And the kids on social media aren’t having it, they just want to get it done. 

John Koetsier: No, I’m with the kids on this one. 

Peggy Anne Salz: Yeah.

John Koetsier: I’ll take the easy route, you know,  I’m not carrying all the bits over to your computer for the video of me to go to you and you carry it. 

Jeff Roberto: Right, right. 

John Koetsier: Haha, I’ll take technology thank you very much. But what you’ve actually shown us here, and with going viral that kind of proves it, a lot of what builds into your success is trendspotting, finding the right trends and jumping on those, or at least building the right technology so that people can jump on and create trends on your platform.

Do you have some advice for other growth marketers about how to spot the right trends and to take advantage of them? 

Jeff Roberto: Yeah. I mean, there’s no right answer to this, and we’re using kind of a custom combo of people, tools, software, and process. And to be fair, took us a while to kind of perfect that in terms of how we spot and react, but that is very much part of our strategy today. So we’ll use, of course, our social media teams on the front lines and they’re constantly testing, and posting, and understanding like what types of visual elements, tools, tutorials get engagement, right?

And so we do a lot of kind of testing that way and understanding, and then once we kind of understand we’ll go deeper in a direction. The challenge always is, you know, trends are going to happen organically on social media. They’re going to come from any direction at any time and can be anything. And so, while we may think that we can create trends — and we have created a few — the reality is, social media at large is going to create them and it’s up to us to kind of understand where they’re happening and how fast they’re moving.

And so for that, we’re using social listening tools.

We’re using, of course, the best-in-class app analytic tools, third-party tools to look at our rank, our downloads, our actives by country, by platform — ‘cause that’s usually an indicator like, oh, what’s happening here. We saw a spike in downloads in this country, let’s go dig into that a bit. Let’s go look on social channels and in that language, right? And so we’ll do that and kind of understand what it is, and once we find what it is, then we will react and we’ll put kind of a full plan in place which includes creating the Replay, watching a tutorial, featuring content, push, email, etc. etc. right?

So we’ll build a full kind of a campaign around that trend. And some of these last just a couple of days, others last months. And the challenge we always have is typically, well, although things have changed in COVID times, but typically they break on a weekend, right, and typically it’s like a Saturday or Saturday night. So … 

Peggy Anne Salz: Come aboard, yes.

Jeff Roberto: Not everyone’s in front of their computer ready to react to these things on the team. So we are monitoring and we react as quickly as we can, and most of the time it actually works well. And, you know, what I tell people is you can’t really buy your way to the top of the app stores.

When you see that kind of movement it’s trend-driven so it’s either like a new feature that goes viral, it’s a trend.

It’s something that’s taking that app out of its normal cycle, even outside of a budget, right? And so we look for those signals and then we react to them. 

Peggy Anne Salz: I love what I’m hearing here, because it’s really about watching the signals. You’re watching indicators, you’re watching metrics to see if I’ve got my magic moment in your app. You know, am I editing? It’s watching all of this, but then your company, I mean you’ve hit some incredible milestones, a billion is not an easy one to hit.

So obviously, there’s something that also tells you when are you on the right track as a company? How are you building that growth loop as it were, or whatever, because something’s happening out there, you know, what do you watch your monitor to say, ‘Yeah, I need to dial up on this one. I need to leverage this because it’s obviously working.’ I mean, app store rankings, that’s an easy one, that’s one to watch, but certainly not the only one. 

Jeff Roberto: Yeah. I mean, we’re looking at a variety of things. It’s ranking and we’re looking at that by country and platform. It’s downloads, you know, those spikes really tell us if there’s something hot or trendy happening. It’s weekly actives, right? We’re very much kind of a weekly cycle kind of business, and this obviously, of course, differs for every company out there.

But you know, when you think about it, people are investing time in PicsArt. It’s not just a fleeting, unique, it’s not just a quick come in for a few minutes just to catch up and consume some content. People are investing time, they’re editing, and so we look at a lot of things on a weekly basis and that’s kind of how we measure the success of the business.

Of course we are looking at things like ARPU and revenue. How well are we doing in a country on a revenue basis, and then we’re also looking at retention in a big way, both new user and subscriber retention, or revenue retention. It’s really a combo of all those things. 

Peggy Anne Salz: I want to just interject something for a moment, because weekly active, now that’s a different one. So now your retention curve, your natural retention cycle is what … is a seven day. 

Jeff Roberto: Yeah.

Peggy Anne Salz: You’ve compressed everything we talk about here down to that week, right?

Jeff Roberto:

The challenge with monthly in a business like ours, and I guess most social and kind of entertainment apps, is by the time you see a trend or a signal, it’s probably too late.

And you do need to measure yourself on how well you’re doing against the week before, versus the month before, otherwise I think you fall into a bit of a strange zone in terms of like, can you really manage the business forward? 

Peggy Anne Salz: Mm-hmm.

John Koetsier: Absolutely. I mean, especially if you’re talking about kids, a month is an eternity, right? 

Jeff Roberto: Yeah, totally. 

John Koetsier: And so, and it’s not just obviously teens who are using your app. It’s many others as well, but …

Jeff Roberto: Yep.

John Koetsier: … certainly for those, certainly for social, if it’s not weekly active. I mean, you know, it’s gone, it’s out. 

Jeff Roberto: Yep. And I would say arguably social is looking, you know, the major socials are measuring their business on a DAU basis. 

John Koetsier: Yep.

Jeff Roberto: Very aggressively. I think, you know, we eventually get there, I think right now kind of we’re in this weekly cycle and it’s working well for us. 

John Koetsier: Yep, yep, absolutely. So let’s talk about retention and re-engagement. What channels are you using right now for bringing people back into the app? And as you’re using those channels, what kinds of CTAs do you use and what really works?

Jeff Roberto: Sure. I mean, it’s a combo of things.

We made a big investment in lifecycle marketing very early on, so that enables us, of course, to send push notifications, in-app messaging, email, and build custom journeys, or essentially canvasses that people follow, right, and/or paths that people follow.

And we can alter those based on who you are, the segment you fall into, or kind of your editing style. So that’s a big one, lifecycle marketing and all those channels combined. Two, I would say is paid user acquisition and retargeting. Given 150 million monthly actives, there’s always going to be a long tail of folks outside of that monthly number that are maybe 60-day actives or 90-day actives, right, that we can go and address and kind of bring them closer to that monthly, and then of course, weekly cycle.

So retargeting is a big play for us.

I would also say App Store Optimization, we’ve invested a lot there. We’re in 30+ languages and of course with that comes, you know, and two platforms now three — Windows. So we’re Windows, iOS and Android, with that comes lots of storefronts to manage in lots of languages. And you know, you don’t want to present yourself the same way in every country and every language. So we’re very focused on putting kind of the right content, the content that’s most likely to drive trends in that country or stuff that’s hot in that country or in that language, and optimizing storefronts. 

John Koetsier: So let’s just ping in on that for half a second before you continue your answer there, because what you’re saying is that you’re basically updating your app store description fairly frequently with trends.

Jeff Roberto: Yeah, I would say on a regular basis, yes. I mean, it’s not every app update, but we are doing a lot of experimentation and learning, and that’s of course a contributor in the organic growth.

John Koetsier: Interesting, interesting. And in terms of those channels that you’re using for not [necessarily] retargeting, but just re-engagement, what do you find most effective?

Jeff Roberto: I would say it’s a mix. I mean, we’re spending and testing on kind of all the usual suspects in mobile ads today. So it’s kind of a combo there. Yeah. 

John Koetsier: Cool, cool.

Jeff Roberto: I think Facebook gives a lot of customization in terms of what you can do to find folks that have been in your app and have maybe participated in a particular challenge, or engaged with certain types of content, or liked a certain hashtag, or following a certain hashtag, right? So it gives us a lot of flexibility to challenge a lot of that, you know, as we know that’s kind of gonna start to depreciate here as we enter Q4 with IDFA. 

John Koetsier: Yes, we’ll get into that. 

Peggy Anne Salz: I didn’t want to go there, but you went there already.

Jeff Roberto: I have to. I think that’s on the top of my mind and many others in this space and we’re all trying to figure out what’s the path forward.

Peggy Anne Salz: Yeah. Well, speaking about pathways and journeys, I mean, this is art, so there isn’t really that massive smart AI algorithm. I was going to say you bought that, you need this, you know, you bought this, this is complimentary, you bought the dip, here’s the chips, that sort of thing. 

Jeff Roberto: Right.

Peggy Anne Salz: This is more like, ‘You’ve been using these tools. You’re doing these types of Replays. You might want to be interested in this and that.’ And you do have to bring that into the messaging because this is personal and this is a matter of taste. 

Jeff Roberto: Yeah.

Peggy Anne Salz: So I’m just curious, not just the journeys, but how do you personalize them? And maybe even at this level, I would even say individualize them, because I want to feel like it’s my art, my magic moment, it’s all mine, and you understand me, right? 

Jeff Roberto: Yeah, yeah. Just on the AI point, we have made a big investment in AI and we’re using it in so many different parts of our business today. So that very much is at play in terms of product features like how edits are made possible on mobile. It’s also very much present in kind of how we manage content and how we personalize experience. That definitely is at play, but for us it’s really about, as I said earlier, understanding kind of who you are, what your likely use case is, and building an experience that makes sense for you. 

Peggy Anne Salz: And how do you, I’m just curious along these lines as well. It’s one thing to personalize, but you also have to have, you know, there’s this trend dynamic. I have to feel that it’s urgent. There’s a call to action, you know, what is some of that? I mean, even just for that matter, thinking out loud now for the moment, even the call to action is like, ‘Edit more stuff?’ You know, I’m just trying to get my head around this.

Jeff Roberto:  Well, when it comes to the education or the tutorial element it’s really about try now or learn how, right? Those work because you see something cool.

And again, it’s like, the question is, how did you do that? Learn how, learn more, try now, right? Those types of CTAs work really well. 

John Koetsier: Awesome.

Jeff Roberto: When we’re talking about like partner activations and we’ve done a lot of artists activations, I guess to answer your question like why come back to PicsArt? If I don’t have a need to create something for social today, why should I come back to PicsArt today?

So one answer to that is working with brands and artists.

And in this lane, you know, we’ve partnered with major names, I mean folks like Maroon 5, Gwen Stefani, Taylor Swift, Will Smith, Meghan Trainor, lots of A-list celebrities and artists.

And in those scenarios, we activate our community and their fan base through creative challenges. So we’ll create a challenge, and that challenge could be a few days, a week long. It’ll have some parameters, and the artist or the brand will give us some assets, right? So we’re able to use those in the challenge. And fans will be invited in within PicsArt and then we’ll also go out and of course run campaigns on social media, and invite those fans in to participate. And in that case, there is a, you know, there’s a very clear sense of urgency because this is an expiring challenge. 

Peggy Anne Salz: Okay.

Jeff Roberto: And if you’re a superfan, you want to win, and you want to show the world that you can create something cool and support your artist or your brand. And that very much helps to kind of spin the cycle for people that don’t have that need today to come create something for their personal social. 

Peggy Anne Salz: That is so smart if you think about it, because again, it’s almost like that gamification on a different level, John.

John Koetsier: Totally.

Peggy Anne Salz: If you think about it, you know, I want to go in because I have to build the fort for my community, that’s what I’ll do in a game. Here, I’m back to it, it’s like, I want to show my undying love for a K-pop band or something like that. I’m going to ask …

Jeff Roberto: K-pop is huge on PicsArt!

Peggy Anne Salz: There you go. I’m not going to try name one. I’m going to ask you though, come on, Jeff. Your favorite K-pop … 

Jeff Roberto: Yeah, well, I’m getting more into it now, it’s kind of like coworker peer pressure. We just actually launched a partnership with a band called Twice — a K-pop band called Twice — and they’re a rising, kind of a rising star in group in the K-pop world.

But I think if you look at those fan communities, they’re hyper active and very viral on social, and they will do whatever it takes to get their artist to trend on Twitter and to make sure their artist gets views on YouTube.

In fact, the latest Blackpink video which came out under a month ago, broke three records — I was just reading about this yesterday — broke three Guinness World Records: the most views in 24 hours, the most music video views in 24 hours, and the most viewed YouTube music video by a K-pop group in 24 hours, it got over 80 million views in 24 hours.

That’s unheard of, I mean, we haven’t seen that kind of activity in years past, even when major U.S. artists have debuted videos, you know, they didn’t get 80 million in a day. 

John Koetsier: But Jeff, when we publish this video, I mean, we’re going to a hundred million in 24 hours. 

Jeff Roberto: I hope so. I’m looking forward … 

John Koetsier: I mean with Peggy’s social network, mine …

Peggy Anne Salz: You got it. 

John Koetsier: Your name, I mean, hahaha. Forget about Twice.

Jeff Roberto: You have to tag it PicsArt and also tag with some other K-pop band names.

John Koetsier: There you go.

Jeff Roberto: On Twitter and I guarantee you the views are going to go right up. 

John Koetsier: Every K-pop band, haha.

Jeff Roberto: Yes.

Peggy Anne Salz: Every one, I’m going to do my research. But I do have to check this out, because you talk about your trends and I mean, this is really, if you dig deeper into what we’re talking about here, you know, fun aside, this is a great recipe for retention and growth.

Jeff Roberto: Yes.

Peggy Anne Salz: Because it’s saying gamify it, get people committed, they love their fan. Okay, let’s get them going here, and it’s like the best creativity wins. How can you lose? You know? 

Jeff Roberto: Yeah, yeah. And then in addition to challenges, of course, we run our own. So not only do we do the branded challenges with partners, but we run our own house kind of PicsArt challenges every day, every week and so those are constantly running.

We’ve also kind of relaunched our discovery experience in the app and so now we have a page of hashtags and you can follow hashtags, and within there you can find anything from types of content to artists you love.

And once you follow that it builds kind of a micro-community around that hashtag, and then you’re editing around that. And of course, when some folks are good at editing and creating Replays, and others are just learning how, they’re following along, and now they’re editing against that interest. 

John Koetsier: Yeah.

Jeff Roberto: And that’s a very powerful concept and that is also a big driver of retention outside of the challenge cycle, because some people feel maybe I’m not good enough or I’m not ready to participate in a challenge. So, you know, participating in a hashtag stream of edits is maybe a little more inviting for new folks. 

John Koetsier: I love, I love just hearing the story. I mean, you’ve been around the block a few times, you know, seven, eight year old app, not just brand new. But obviously started out as an editing app and becoming social with the challenges. It’s really, really impressive. It’s amazing. I

t’s kind of, you know, there’s a little bit of Instagram in there. There’s a little bit of TikTok in there. There’s a little bit of other things in there and the social as well.

We talked about a lot of successes, and you have a lot of them, but guess what? Everybody fails, and usually most of us — I don’t know, maybe it’s only me — fail more than we succeed. 

Jeff Roberto: Sure.

John Koetsier: What didn’t work in your retention marketing efforts? 

Jeff Roberto: Yeah. The list is long for sure. I think we all have these stories. Look, what I like to say is we’re either winning or learning. We’re never losing, right? So failures are an opportunity to learn. I’m a big fan of actually promoting things that aren’t working internally because I feel like that it educates and it keeps us kind of on our toes. Like we need to watch out for this, or you know, let’s learn from that experience.

So a few things come to mind.

One in particular comes around experimentation and testing. There’ve been multiple times where we may have run a test but didn’t necessarily think through everything, right. And, you know, that could backfire, kind of throw you off course a bit. One interesting one was when we were price testing.

One of the major platforms has kind of a feature where if you change the price it essentially acts as a new SKU or a new product, and therefore it removes auto renew or the renewable subscription over time from that cohort or that group …

John Koetsier: Owwww.

Jeff Roberto:  … that you’re testing against, and that can come back to hurt you of course, when it’s time for those users to renew. And so, once we learned that we’re like, oh wow, now we need to go do more win-back marketing to keep that cohort active on subscription.

John Koetsier: That was a $10 million mistake potentially, I’m not putting words in your mouth.

Peggy Anne Salz: Wow.

Jeff Roberto: There’s not 10 million because when we’re doing these tests we’re doing them on small groups of users.

John Koetsier: Good.

Jeff Roberto:  But it was a good learning, and something that we’ll now take forward. You know, the other example I would give is, if someone is choosing to turn their subscription off, right? There’s so many ways, and we see this across the board with so many different apps, how they handle that scenario.

Do you send them an in-app message? Do you send them an email? Do you wait three days? Do you prompt them right before their subscription will end, right? And so we learned that there’s a delicate mix there in terms of messaging and channels, and it’s very important to message in-app and also get to them through other channels because you’re reinforcing.

John Koetsier: Nice.

Jeff Roberto: Right, and we’ll use maybe different messages in each case. 

John Koetsier: Nice, nice. You also had one and I just see it in our notes here about showing ads during the first user sessions. 

Jeff Roberto: Yeah. So this is a delicate balance. I think every company struggles with this, you know, how do you balance that user experience and monetization? And when do you show ads if you’re an ad-supported business, which we are — and we also do have subscriptions, of course — but if you’re on the free product there are ads in it. How often do we show them? When do we show them? And should they show up in that first user or new user experience?

John Koetsier: Yeah. 

Jeff Roberto:

And, you know, we learned that if you remove ads or lessen them in that new user experience, you will see better retention because people will get, of course for us they will get to that editing magic moment faster and not be distracted.

And that’s what we’re really trying to get to.

John Koetsier: And that makes a ton of sense. I mean, you’re not a hyper casual game that you need to monetize in the first week or two weeks, or you’re toast, right? 

Jeff Roberto: Right.

John Koetsier: So that makes a ton of sense to keep them around a little bit longer. Okay, let’s get to the big one. We mentioned it a little earlier, and you brought it up actually, and now we’re going to ask the question … that’s IDFA. We know iOS 14 is coming and we know that basically the IDFA is deprecated, probably opt-in rates will be under 20%, and my personal guess is probably under 5% …

Peggy Anne Salz: Yeah.

John Koetsier: … given the scary message …

Jeff Roberto: Yeah.

John Koetsier: … that Apple’s going to throw up there. So talk about how that’s going to impact what you do.

Jeff Roberto: Yeah. I think from a, as I mentioned earlier, from a retargeting perspective, it’s going to be a bit challenging to continue on that path.

We’re going to have to build more of a custom model using our own internal data and we’ll have to use kind of signals and components that we probably haven’t used in the past, right?

And I think a lot of folks are thinking about this, like what’s the workaround? And how do we do it with our own data and our own world? So we’re very much thinking about this. I don’t have the magic answer for everybody. 

John Koetsier: Seriously? I mean, this is why we have you on the podcast, we thought you had the magic answer, haha. 

Peggy Anne Salz: The magic moment, the magic answer. I thought we were going to pull it off here. 

John Koetsier: I’m just joking.

Jeff Roberto: I would say for us, we’re going to look very closely at our use cases, our segmentation, and look for other ways that we can show success or failure on certain campaigns, outside of kind of all that post-install attribution data that we typically get, especially on iOS.

You know, Google, my guess is they’ll follow it and so we’ll be in a world where we don’t really have all of this.

However, you know, Apple and Google are very much at work on building their own ecosystems even more and making those experiences even more robust. So I think, depending on kind of where you’re spending and how you’re instrumenting this, you still may get some success going direct to those companies. So hard to say how it’s gonna play out. 

John Koetsier: It is really hard to say, and I recently interviewed Jayne Peressini who used to be at DraftKings, I mean she’s been everywhere — Machine Zone, she’s now with EA — and I interviewed her about the IDFA, and she basically said, ‘Hey, we’re going to take some learnings from Android and port them over to iOS.’

Jeff Roberto: Yeah. That’s another way to do it too, assuming Android’s alive and well with all that data a period of time.

John Koetsier: Haha, exactly, the shoe may drop there too. 

Jeff Roberto: Sure, sure. I mean it’s very much top of mind for us.

Good news for PicsArt, as I said earlier, we’re 90 to 95% organic today.

So it’s not like we’re going to stumble, but we are thinking about this in terms of what does this mean for us moving forward? 

John Koetsier: Yeah.

Peggy Anne Salz: I wanted to ping in on the workaround there for a moment, because I’ve been talking to different marketers out there about this — as we all have, you know, when it hit — and they’re saying, well, a couple things can happen. If you have a good store of data, which you do from all the years you’ve been around, you can start to go back in that data and you should start to model more with your own data.

So go for your first-party data and stick to modeling it differently, and thinking and building from that. Then I talked to others who say, ‘No, actually what you need to do is you need to get as many other touch points as possible and start to sort of triangulate that.’ So that means I’m going to go way into getting emails and I’m going to even try to get telephone numbers because the more data I have, and we’ll see how that one works out, right? 

Jeff Roberto: Mm-hmm.

Peggy Anne Salz: Because now we’re really privacy focused. So asking my phone number instead of asking for my opt-in, I don’t know if that’s going to work, but I won’t go there. So that’s another way, get a lot of data and sort of build it together. I’m just curious if you have a view on either one, because those seem to be the two schools of thought of like, what can we do so we’re not toast. 

Jeff Roberto: Yeah. I mean, to be fair, I think it’s a mix of both. 

Peggy Anne Salz: Okay.

Jeff Roberto: I’m a strong believer in kind of owning the customer experience, having that customer profile, having more information about the customer direct — business to customer — so you can really manage that the right way.

The challenge with all the platforms today is you just don’t have that level of detail. You don’t have that level of personalization and so you’re always trying to like optimize for stuff that might be right, but not exactly there. And so email plays a big role in that, right? 

Peggy Anne Salz: Okay.

Jeff Roberto:

I feel like that’s a very smart strategy for growth marketers is to lean more into email, and not necessarily just to deliver more campaigns, but to really start to understand some behavior around email.

And also start to build that relationship over time, right? So it’s not about, you know, can I get a message to you every week? It’s like, okay, we have a relationship and I can reach out to you about certain things along the way when it’s time. 

John Koetsier: And you can use email for lookalike marketing, lookalike audiences …

Jeff Roberto: Correct.

John Koetsier:  … which you can’t use IDFA for anymore, yeah.

Jeff Roberto: Yeah, very, very good point.

Peggy Anne Salz: Okay. So we got a vote there for email, alright. Which is, I’m just trying to get a feel for this because they’re gonna have to be talking about this more and more as we get closer and closer to September and beyond.

So we talked about some challenges, alright, and we got a thought or two here about the workarounds. Talk about opportunities, let’s be positive about this. What do you see on the horizon as being like the next big thing for you at PicsArt, or maybe just overall for all marketers? 

Jeff Roberto: Yeah, well, I’ll speak to PicsArt first. I mentioned owning the customer relationship and building on that.

We are building on our web business now.

So obviously we grew up on mobile and have been mobile-first for so many years. We’re shifting to web and bringing tools to web and building a full experience there. 

John Koetsier: Wow.

Jeff Roberto: And with that experience, then yes, having that email address, having that customer profile, having that direct relationship is very important. So that’s definitely a big focus for us. The other, I would say is video, making a big investment in video.

In fact, just this morning we announced the acquisition of a video effects app called D’efekt and it’s a mobile-first video editing, video effects, mostly used for social media in terms of making videos look really cool, right?

So we’ll build on top of that and start to build out a bigger video editing product. We have one today, it’s early days, we’re going to be spending more time on that. 

John Koetsier: Wonderful.

Peggy Anne Salz: That’s interesting. I can see this like a platform because it makes sense, now you’re going to give me more tools. I’m going to be in lean back mode, right, because I’m confined at home anyway so I might as well sit at that big desk and be very uncool in front of that big screen. I can totally see it. I can totally see that as being a platform even for everyone who has to go to social media now. I’m reading a lot about the micro-influencers and others who are going to have to figure this out, or small business. You said yourself …

Jeff Roberto: Yes.

Peggy Anne Salz:  … small business, where are they going to go? They’re going to either learn from the Replays here, or they’re going to figure it out themselves. 

Jeff Roberto: Yep, yep and they’re spending more time on social than ever before because we’re at home. ‘Less space, more time’ is what I like to say. So you’re using your mobile device or your computer to escape, or to entertain, or to relax, right? And so you’re engaging in that way, and yes, you’re using tools and we’re finding a lot more people are willing and able to learn now, like they have the time to learn new things. So we definitely play into all of that. 

John Koetsier: Really, really interesting. Also super interesting that you’re going multi-platform. I mean, every major successful platform pretty much is multi-platform, so that’s a big step and good to see. Jeff, want to thank you so much for being with us on Retention Masterclass. 

Jeff Roberto: Thank you so much. It’s been a great conversation. 

Peggy Anne Salz: It’s been awesome, Jeff. I look forward to continuing it because I could imagine it somewhere down the road. Couldn’t you just see it, John, some sort of like bringing brands together with creators and sort of being the middleman or the connector, yeah? Maybe even jobs, who knows? We’ll have him back. He’s got something in mind, you gotta see it in his face. 

Jeff Roberto: There’s more coming for sure. Keep an eye on our website for now. 

Peggy Anne Salz: I knew it, I knew it! 

John Koetsier: Absolutely.

Peggy Anne Salz: Thanks so much, Jeff. It was amazing to have you here. We’ll have you back sometime soon. 

Jeff Roberto: Thanks again.

John Koetsier: It was amazing, Jeff. For everybody else, whatever platform you’re watching this on, or listening to it on, hey, like subscribe, comment, all the above. If you love the podcast, rate it, review it, that would be a massive help. 

Peggy Anne Salz: And time flies, it’s a wrap already. Here we are at the end of another show. Of course, until the next one … keep well, stay safe. And this is Peggy Anne Salz signing off for Retention Masterclass. 

John Koetsier: And this is John Koetsier. Have a great day!

 


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