Penn Interactive Ventures

Peggy Anne Salz from MobileGroove catches up with Thomas Hopkins, former Director of Marketing at Penn Interactive Ventures. They discuss how mastering the discipline and drive essential to his career in water polo prepared him to excel in mobile app marketing where he oversaw all mobile and web marketing across 50+ apps, including two of the top 50 grossing social casino apps on the market today. A candid discussion unfolds about the *real* value of app store optimization (ASO), invaluable lessons he learned launching an app per week for a year, and other marketing achievements leading him to become a Mobile Hero.

Podcast Transcription

Peggy: Welcome to Mobile Presence. I’m your host, Peggy Anne Salz, with Mobile Groove, content marketing strategist at Mobile Groove where I plan, promote, and produce content that allows my client to reach their performance goals and speaking of growth and goals that’s what it’s all about here cause this is where we get the inside track from the UA experts, the app marketing ninjas, professionals on how they move the needle on mobile growth. Success that has earned them the title of Mobile Hero as chosen by Liftoff, a full service mobile app marketing and retargeting platform so this is sort of the series within a series here at Mobile Presence a sort of Mobile Heroes mini series where we focus on as I said growth, and getting those users, acquiring those users, engaging with your user, retaining those users but if you step back for a moment and think about not marketing as winning but also idea of how you prepare for that win you know at some level it’s about the discipline that goes into your craft as a UA professional but there’s also discipline that goes into your career if your in professional sports. There are lessons from a career in professional sports that carry over into a career in performance marketing. Both are about high performance, its about your game, right, no pun intended, we’re gonna do it, we’re gonna go for gold, here and you’ll hear why I’m saying that in a moment because our mobile hero has done exactly that. It’s our guest today, it’s Thomas Hopkins. Thomas is the director of marketing at Penn Interactive Ventures. Thomas, it’s great to have you here.


Thomas: Great to be here, thank you for having me.


Peggy: I mean I’m giving it away a little bit by saying we’re gonna go for gold, I didn’t give it away entirely but you have, I think of all the mobile heroes we’ve had on the show and there’s been quite a few, the most interesting background that you’ve brought with you to performance marketing so just tell are listeners all about it.


Thomas: Ya, I appreciate you guys having me. So my background was in water polo so I started out at stanford university playing water polo there and once I finished there I played for the national team for about 6 years, training for the olympics, ended up not making the olympics but making it to the world championships, playing professionally, Hungary for a few years. That was really my passion. When I finished that up I transferred over into product marketing and product management and then into performance marketing and kind of found my new passion and been doing that for the past about 4 years.


Peggy: So you really were focused on that career and you went for the olympics and came quite close. I’m sure there’s a number of lessons that we can go through. I’d like to start with the discipline you had for that, the discipline that your applying to your current career. What are the parallels there?


Thomas: Yeah so when people think about marketing they think of it as this oh let’s think outside the box, let’s be creative but there’s a big part of performance marketing that requires discipline and you know if you’re down in the knitty gritty doing performance marketing there’s things that need to happen week in and week out just like a professional athlete would week in and week out prepare for those games on the weekends so every week you gotta do bid updates, every week you’ve got to look for your creative and come up with new creative refresh ideas and work with everybody on the team and make sure your doing weekly sprints to get ready and push out the new creatives and push out the new bids and then as well as launch new different platforms so it pretty much becomes like a very disciplined role requiring a lot of operations and it’s about 50% that and about 50% of the creative outside the box thinking and I think professional sports definitely helps with a creative side as well so you know just coming up with new plays, new ways to do things and really thinking outside the box helps you kind of come up with new creative ways of capturing your customers eyes and you know hopefully leading to you know installs and engagement.


Peggy: Well you know you’re talking so much about discipline and I think that’s really key here. You know you almost want to know exactly how you do what you do so I won’t ask you that entirely but I would like to understand more about sort of your daily routine because I think there are a lot of lessons in that for our listeners about how they need to approach this cause it is a systematic approach if you can get it right.


Thomas: Yeah definitely so I think I would really break it down into more of a weekly routine, yeah so the way I approach things and the way I’ve always approached it is you want to start off every week looking at the performance in the past week almost as a retrospective and looking at all the hypothesis you made the week before and then looking at the results that actually happened to see what type of action items you can do for the current week so after sitting down and analyzing data on like a Monday you know meeting with the team members whether creative or analytics or media buying team basically come up with what now the action items could be or what the hypothesis are for the current week. Put those down and then by the next day have a clear understanding of what we’re gonna actually test that could be across the board whether it’s creative, whether it’s app store whether it’s paid channels and you know bid styles or you know basically all of the above and then on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, the team is working to execute on those so we have some data by come the following Monday.


Peggy: So I’m just curious because you know every company for every type of app its definitely going to be different but there is the north star metric or a couple of metrics you’re looking at guide you in these decisions cause you said it’s your weekly routine but when you’re deciding ok dial up here, dial down there, optimize here, whatever your basing that on the metrics so give me an idea of what matters for you.


Thomas: Yeah of course so basically for us we have social casino apps so it’s simulated slots and simulated gambling and essentially the most important thing for any gaming developer is kind of looking at pair rates or roaz or return on ad spend so we have to look at both so a lot of companies can look at just roaz and that’s ok return on ad spend because the pairs spend a relatively average amount the same across different customers. Now with social casino, it’s a little bit different in that we can have one customer that can spend a thousand dollars a day and we can have another customer that spends you know maybe five dollars a day so the fact that there’s such a big difference there can really mess up your roaz numbers and you can think that you can pick up one big pair and then it’s like oh this channels amazing lets increase are bids like crazy so we really focus on pair rates and try to optimize are pair rates by channels. The other thing we started to do that works really well once you can figure out which publishers or what channels are performing well for you is actually to really start to focus on pairs per impression rather than just pair per install but pair per impression cause that really helps you decide if that channels good and then how you can continue to increase your bid there.


Peggy: Do you find that it’s a split for you like this or do you find that there’s one that you’re using more over the other because of course marketing is always moving what we’re looking at is always moving you know ASO moves a lot in the last year.


Thomas: Yeah so by far the most important one is pair rates and its interesting because it’s not something that the industry has pushed that hard when it comes to the MMPs you know the adjusts, the kochavas and the appsflyers tune. The reason being is that everyone talks about roaz and pair rates are actually what we are you know it has less room for error in terms of having outliers that cause you to make decisions that aren’t as accurate.


Peggy: Well this is great Thomas because I can tell this is your craft this is what you are, you’re disciplined and focused on the details so when we come back we’re going to talk about also your learnings. We talked about sports and now we’re going to talk about your learnings as being just an app launch machine over there at your company so listeners don’t go away. We’ll be right back after the break.




Peggy: Welcome back to Mobile Presence. I’m your host Peggy Anne Salz with Mobile Groove, and our guest today is Thomas Hopkins. He is director of marketing at Penn Interactive Ventures and before the break Thomas we we were talking about you know how your career, professional sports, water polo, the lessons, the discipline and that it gave you for your job, director of marketing at Penn Ventures you know you’re not just a marketer over there, you’re a bit of a machine over there cause I’m reading how you have had to release an app a week so a launch of an app a week that’s something. First of all, is that just cause that’s what your company wants to do? Have so many apps. Or is there some sort of experimental thing here required for people. That’s just so many in a short period of time.


Thomas: Ya, so it’s not an easy tactic to do. You know I had the privilege of working with a team that was extremely talented. A pretty lean team. 35 people you know rockstar engineers, product managers, amazing artists so you know that’s required to make that happen but the strategy behind it is that launching new apps gives you an opportunity to learn, an opportunity to iterate on each of those new apps and so your goal with each new app is to basically increase the arpdaus for each individual new app and that way you have a better app each time that you kind of are improving on and that is the new app and the new one that your putting all your attention towards. It’s similar to a Coca Cola style of mentality where we’re also trying to fill a lot of spaces in the app store so that you have more chances for installs.


Peggy: That’s really not what some other companies do sort of skinning the same thing. This is really iterative innovation. You’re saying this works ok move it into this one and as you said this sort of Coca Cola approach of having a lot of apps out there and also getting a lot of lessons back in from the behavior of user behavior in the app of what they’re doing, what they’re not doing, where it’s working, where it’s not. Can you share what you learned from launching that many apps I mean one is probably speed to say the least but there are sort of like, you have to be able to see the signals of what you need to do and that’s the talent. Can you share some of the experiences and how you say to yourself we noticed that and now we’re going to work that into the next app.


Thomas: Ya so one of the biggest things is just spending a lot of time on that first 24 hours of your fetoowey and our product team did amazing job of that I mean we started out with are first couple apps at around a 5 cent arpdau and by the end we’re at about a 40 cent arpdau across iOS and Android so just improving each step along the way and in terms of the inner details of that my focus was mainly on increasing the top of the funnel to get as many qualified users in the door as possible for as cheaply as possible so a lot of my learnings are based around ASO and launching an app you know dispersing of it how do that right and then some of the KPIs to be looking at along the way.


Peggy: I mean your talking about the funnel and that’s just it. Everyone’s talking about going deeper in the funnel but you have a really interesting example at your company because you are not just in the digital realm, you’re in the physical world. What does that present for opportunities and even for challenges in trying to knit the two of those together?


Thomas: Of course so you know if any apps gonna win, they have to have an organic presence and part of that organic presence is a well known brand. We have the ability to market in are casinos. Right now we have 27 land based properties all across the US and so we have banners up for our igaming products in all of those casinos and all those locations. So it helps build that brand. It helps build that awareness and it helps bring in customers from an organic perspective that way but then also allows us to spend in those geographic regions to drive people to install and start to play and at a much higher click through rate then we have on other channels.


Peggy: So what does an engaged user then look like to you? Is it a little bit of a, I’m just thinking out loud because you have the engagement on location, engagement in the app, its all about targeting and retargeting and going deeper down that funnel so what is that looking like to you? It’s probably a very different user persona then with most apps.


Thomas: Ya it’s really hard actually to bridge that gap so what we found is that without actually having email address for people on property whilst having email address for your app, it makes it very hard to actually flow that user journey so what we actually tap into is our product called MarkeyRewards which is actually a reward system on property and we added into our app online in the apps and as well as online so that we can track those customers from their activity in the casino as well as online and what we’re finding is that we’re seeing 3-4X the conversion rates into pairs as well as in the arpdau for these and LTBs for these customers and we’re actually also seeing, and this is something that’s new that we’re surprised but also pleasantly surprised about is that it actually is increasing visitation to the casinos by them being engaged with are online products.


Peggy: I’m thinking that through I mean that’s an incredible increase and what exactly is the experience? Why are they hooked?


Thomas: One of the biggest reasons we find is just actual touches of engagement so by them seeing the same brand in their email inbox, in their push notice, on a consistent basis, they have a much higher likelihood to end up going back into the properties. The other thing is we open a lot of new engagement style that the other competitors in the casino space can’t really do. We have a physical connection with are actual customers whereas are competitors are basically using casino hosts that are connected either through skype or through phone. We can take it that next step and differentiate our product that way to get are customers more engaged.


Peggy: And what about the engagement in the actual marketing, in the advertising, in the creative. Do you let some of that sort of come back in in this mythical seamless experience we’re all supposed to have where the digital and mobile worlds come together and it’s reflected in the creative or are you working towards that goal?


Thomas: Ya we definitely are and we’re doing some really fun stuff at the Tropicana Casino in Las Vegas so the Tropicana Casino if you go down to that casino and you look at some of the creative in the lobby, in the elevators, they’re pretty fun so we got some that are trying to bridge that gap and so one of thems like be a high roller in your bathrobe and it’s got the Tropicana game on the phone sitting there or on an Ipad so it’s having that creative and having that creativity to try to bridge the gap and get people to think oh wow I can take the fun home with me. I can play at home as well as in the casino.


Peggy: And just a last question before the break. So some of those creatives, do you bring that concept back in your learnings of what you’re doing in your app marketings as well? Is that a good move?


Thomas: Ya I mean what we found is that for our land based customers, if we make a reference to our properties, then it definitely helps but what we do more of is actually the other way around so what we’re able to do is the learnings from are digital marketing and use that on the floor. Whether that’s in the casino, or in the hotel rooms, using some of the creative that performs the best, for us on Facebook or on ad networks and actually use that on the floor to be a good converter for us in the actual casinos.


Peggy: Great well we’re gonna talk more about those conversions and those lessons so listeners, don’t go away, we’ll be right back after the break.




Peggy: We are back. Welcome back to Mobile Presence, I’m your host Peggy Anne Salz with Mobile Groove and are guest today, Thomas Hopkins, director of marketing at Penn Interactive Ventures and Thomas we’ve been talking a lot about how you differentiate your brand because you are able to stitch together the digital, the physical and learn from your app marketing and bring that into your real world marketing. These are all components of effective marketing. Absolutely no question but you know the overall strategy is what makes it all work so I guess my question to you is how do you now bring all of these learnings bring all of this information back together? How should an app marketer, how do you do it and bring it all together and make a strategy out of it?


Thomas: Of course, so the way I think, you have to think about things is you have to look at your product and you really have to ask the question, how is my product different then every other product out there? How is my app different? What is different about it? And the thing you have to start to look for is go through all the different apps, become a product manager, get in the app store, download the other apps, play the other apps, use the other apps and spend time in the app store and go on the Facebook pages of all these different accounts. Look at what they’re doing. Look at their ads and what you’ll really start to see is that and I was very surprised. You can look at a social casino app and to an outsider, they might go “these things are all the same.” The reality is that they’re all very different and they’re all differentiated in one way or another so one of our titles is a classic slots title. It’s 777 bar bar bar cherry cherry cherry rather than a bonus slots style of game that has all the bells and whistles so you really have to take a step back, look at how your product is differentiated, and then start to come up with this creative strategy and messaging strategy around that specific differentiator and then start to roll it out around all your different channels. Start with ASO, see how it performs there you know with your eye contests, on Android and then try it out on Facebook. Do some tests there. Try some of the messaging and some of the creative to really show how it’s different. You know I would be surprised if you didn’t see a large boost in your click through conversion rates just based on that differentiator.


Peggy: So really focusing on what makes you special that means you know doing your homework, looking at your competitive landscape, checking it out. I mean one of it is sort of the icon and the title but you also do a lot of deep diving into ASO. Do you think there are approaches in ASO that have more mileage then we all thought? Do you bring to bear here as well?

Thomas: Ya so ASO is a great tool for every developer no matter the size or budget. It’s great because it’s free on Android. They have a great experiment tool where you can run different variants and what we found is that doing icon experiments and doing them over and over again three or four times to test out different features of that icon can bring you know 2 to 4x initially and sometimes even 10-20x the improvement in organic reach and installs so I highly encourage people to spend time in the app store, look at the different features of the apps and if your not in the gaming space, look at what some of the gaming developers are doing. Take some of those learnings from them. Test out on your own individual utility apps or other apps and you might see a massive improvement in reach and installs.


Peggy: Well Thomas this is great and I have to say I highly encourage are listeners to check out your blogs, check out what your doing and listen what you got to say but where can they find all of that? How can they stay in touch with you?


Thomas: So I’m available personally, you can reach out to me, but you can also take a look at the Liftoff blog. My article will be in there on ASO improvements and how to win there. You can also connect with me directly either on my Twitter account or email so my twitter is just @thomashops and my email is [email protected].


Peggy: Perfect. And again to your point, you know you can read up on Thomas and all of the other Mobile Heroes in this series by going out and checking out their dedicated page over at and definitely worth the read and you’re post is going live this week. Are show does as well so it’s great timing and hope to have you back again. In the meantime, if you want to keep up with me throughout the week or find out more about how you can be a guest or sponsor on Mobile Presence you can email me, [email protected]. Mobile Groove is also where you can find my portfolio of content marketing services. And that my friends is another wrap of another episode of Mobile Presence. Be sure to check out all earlier episodes of our show by going to or you can find are shows on iTunes, Stitch, or Speaker and iHeartradio simply searching Mobile Presence. Until next time, remember, every minute is mobile so make every minute count. Keep well and keep coming back.