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Media buying is an essential part of any modern business selling to consumers.  In 2019, marketers are expected to spend $333.25 billion globally on digital advertising. Media buying is effective.

However, digital advertising is also rife with fraud; Juniper Research estimates $42 billion in ad spend will be wasted on fraudulent sources in 2019. Even if you avoid these sources, finding the right placements for driving real performance can feel more art than science.

To help you learn how to do media buying more efficiently and effectively, we’ve asked three of our platform clients that specialize in media buying for their advice on how to best utilize this channel.

We’re starting this three-part series with the media buying agency Userbase, and its partners’ Garrett Gan and Casey Grooms.

First off, do you mind introducing yourself and your media buying specialty?

We specialize in driving performance media buying for app genres such as Utilities, Social Casino, and Entertainment apps. For some clients, we’re scaling up to as many as 250,000+ installs per month, backing into lower-funnel KPIs such as Cost-per-Registration, Cost-per-Trial, and Cost-per-Purchase and First-Deposit goals.

How did you start learning and buying media?

We got started in the mobile RTB and programmatic space almost 10 years ago. Both of us spent some time founding, building, and managing DSPs, namely Pocketmath and Quantcast, which gained our expertise in programmatic and performance media buying. We saw the origins of mobile RTB and built a deep understanding of how to effectively buy through programmatic channels.

What would you recommend as the best way to learn media buying for someone starting from scratch today?

Start on some of the larger self-serve platforms like Facebook / Instagram, Pinterest, Quora, Reddit, Google. Once you get the hang of those, and then expand onto Native Ad platforms like Outbrain, Taboola, Content.ad, and Revcontent. After which you can make the full foray into media buying on self-serve ad networks, of which there are hundreds of, depending on the vertical.

If you’re familiar with the programmatic landscape or know specific publishers that your audience resonates well with – try setting up a Deal ID for a Private Marketplace (PMP) deal to do a targeted buyout.

Should brands consider buying their media in-house, or start with an agency, and why?

Doing media buying in-house is no easy task. If a company can afford to hire a team of seasoned media buyers (of whom are usually in high demand), they would still need to set up all their own tracking, attribution, reporting, and integrations with buying platforms. While all of these are being set up, they would also need to manually optimize their campaigns to drive performance.

A good agency should already have their tracking platform and DSP integrations fully set up.  Letting them hit the ground running with driving better performance thanks to their in-depth knowledge of the best platforms to buy from, and the nuances of different traffic sources.

What are the first significant steps you do when starting up promotions for a new advertiser client? 

Firstly, it’s knowing and understanding the exact user journey from beginning to end. Once every step of the journey is known, benchmark metrics and events can be set for each objective such as a Cost-per-Install, Cost-per-Download, Cost-per-Registration, Cost-per-Trial, and Cost-per-Purchase. Advertisers should work backward from the value of their purchase to know where they will achieve positive ROI.

Secondly, it’s choosing the right creative and messaging that show a clear benefit to the user. Lastly, it’s selecting a few ad platforms and ad units to start testing and then optimizing on the placement level.

What common mistakes should media buyers watch out for? 

The most common error is targeting the wrong type of traffic for the advertiser. Not all traffic is the same, just as not all audiences are ready to receive a specific type of messaging or creative. Tailor your creatives to the audience you’re targeting.

Has any tactic or learning shifted your approach to media buying, and what was it?

Data usage. Through all of our campaigns we’ve run over the years, we have accumulated a vast pool of audience data (mobile device IDs) for each vertical that we specialize in. We now use this continually growing pool of converting users to immediately target audiences for any new advertiser. So our userbase can become your userbase, and we can grow together.

What do you think are the most important metrics to track when media buying?
In all honesty, it’s all of them. However, if one metric has to be chosen, then it would be the Cost-per-Purchase KPI (key performance indicator), as this would be the sole metric dictating whether or not an advertiser is ROI positive on an ad campaign (and if they can scale further).

Are there any tools you’d recommend for media buyers, and what do they help you solve?

Some campaign and creative spy tools that have come in handy are Adbeat and Adplexity. They help you discover what other advertisers are using, and can help you get a sense of scale for that particular creative or messaging strategy.

Sensortower and MobileAction are also great tools to gain app insights and ad creative + market intelligence. These tools help us determine the possible volume of conversions, the popularity of an app, and in which markets a market campaign will do well. Appfigures for ASO (App Store Optimization) helps detail keywords and popularity.

How much budget is needed for a good starting test? 

Recommended $10-20k test is a good starting point to test out a handful of channels and formats. From there, you’ll be able to get a good sense of potential success from a particular channel or not.

Any final recommendations for someone tasked with driving user acquisition for their company?

Know your audience, and then use that audience data to overlay on top of your campaign’s targeting. Given our experience and years of programmatic campaigns, we’ve gained a massive advantage by having a profusion of mobile device IDs that are tied to specific converting users.  We then use those device IDs for whitelisting and running Lookalike campaigns.

Thanks again to Garret Gan and Casey Grooms of Userbase for sharing their insights.  This interview is the first of a three-part series of interviews with Everflow clients that are media buying experts.


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