7 Skills UA Managers Need to Succeed in 2021 (and Beyond)

By Aleksey Golovachev | October 29, 2021

Aleksey Golovachev is Marketing Team Lead at Awem Games with over ten years of experience in digital marketing. From 2017 until present, Aleksey has worked in mobile marketing — specifically, game development. He now leads the UA team at Awem Games. Alexey is a casual games promotion specialist, and his team works with Google Ads, Facebook Ads, Ad Networks, DSPs and Apple Search Ads. His role involves leading a team of UA managers, driving upgrowth, motivating and training employees, setting goals and achieving team results.

Read Aleksey’s blog in Russian here.

My UA journey began in 2017. At the time, there were few user acquisition (UA) managers on the market. The skills expected of a UA manager were attention to detail, an analytical mindset, experience with Excel processing functions, good knowledge of mathematics and fluency in English. Fast forward to 2021, the expertise and requirements in my field have greatly evolved.

It’s possible to earn more money in an increasingly automated and competitive environment, but the skills that set a candidate apart have changed. In this post, I highlight seven essential skills a UA manager must have to succeed.

1. Fluent English

In Eastern Europe, fluency in English can be a challenge. People stop learning English after leaving school, and they rarely use it in their daily lives. As part of the user acquisition team, you must be fluent in English in order to understand the intricate traffic sources and daily negotiations with advertising partners. At Awem Games, we help fund English classes and other forms of individual learning (Care Bonus). We take seriously the language barriers our employees might face. In an industry where English is the primary language of communication, this has proven to be a win-win strategy for Awem Games and its employees.

2. Self-Discipline

Ten years ago, I could only dream of remote work. Today, remote work is trendy. Forcing people to go to the office limits the scope of talent a business can attract. It’s also unpopular with digital-first professionals. Of course, to succeed when working remotely, you have to be reliable with deadlines and self-motivated enough to keep to a schedule. If you are, you will be an essential member of any user acquisition team that values independence, self-sufficiency, and responsibility.

At Awem Games, I am fully remote. Without self-discipline, I would never have been able to grow from a manager to a lead. My time zone is four hours ahead of my colleagues. This means my workday is irregular, and sometimes I work late into the night. But I have been able to find a balance. To limit distractions, I prioritize work above household chores during working hours. Nobody controls my tasks, but they expect results from me. Self-discipline helps me achieve it.

3. The Ability to Prioritize

I heard about the Pareto principle from my first manager, and it’s stuck. It can be translated into this user acquisition motto: “20% of effort produces 80% of the result, while the other 80% of effort only produces 20% of the result.

At Awem Games, the UA team has a daily routine of research assignments, learnings, findings and integration with new partners. A good UA manager works to maximize benefits for the marketing department and the company. Failure to prioritize can lower efficiency and lead to employee burnout. If you find prioritizing difficult, don’t be afraid to communicate any efficiency problems with your manager. Here are two pointers:

  1. Evaluate the whole picture. It is essential to understand why you are doing a task. Look at every task comprehensively, correlate time spent, the results, and the potential profit.
  2. Listen to your manager’s experience. They can offer a top-level look at a situation and give you a fuller picture of the whole team’s tasks.

Let me share an example of successful work prioritization. Towards the end of 2020, our team abandoned experiments with new advertising channels that did not bring positive results. Instead, we focused on a more thorough study of our current partners. We focused only on the effective, and it positively impacted results—we increased advertising budget while maintaining the target ROAS.

4. Attention to Detail

Every UA team regularly tackles multiple tables. The data comes from different sources: your app, advertising partners, and attribution partners. Every element in a UA data table has an interval of average values (for instance, the average percentage of players who complete a tutorial.) It is important to understand what data to expect from your app on a given post-install day. Abnormally high or low metrics can indicate incomplete data, glitches with the advertising partner, or even fraud. Attention to detail will help you identify growth points or form optimization strategies within ad campaigns. The mobile market is constantly changing. Yesterday’s approaches might not yield the same results.

Being detail-oriented also helps me identify bottlenecks in campaign analytics. For example, while working with Ad Networks, I often encountered situations where my advertising partner delivered shallow financial metrics. To figure out why, I downloaded raw data for each campaign from the tracker, collected a funnel of passing levels, and analyzed the data. My analysis revealed an anomaly in the players’ behavior—most of them finished the game at a certain level due to data manipulation on the side of the advertising source. I proved that tampering had occurred and garnered a refund for the campaigns impacted—campaigns that had cost tens of thousands of dollars.

5. Expert Excel Knowledge (Power Pivot & Power Query)

Early in my UA career, I had to balance marketing costs with mobile app revenue in order to analyze ad campaigns effectiveness. Rather quickly, the standard functionality of Excel and Google pivot tables no longer met my requirements. The number of data files was growing and sometimes they contained over a million rows. Add-ins came to the rescue—they imported the necessary information from various sources, such as files and databases, and created a data model for subsequent visualizations as tables or diagrams. The helpful add-ins were Power Query and Power Pivot.

Many mobile app companies have analytic systems that generate various reports. The largest use their analysts and BI Developers. Why would you need to analyze the data yourself? Here are a couple of examples:

  • Sometimes, advertising partners send expense figures by email. In a test run with unclear perspectives, or when there is no way to quickly integrate email data into internal analytics, it may be faster and more convenient to put together a Power Pivot data model.
  • The results of a mobile game ad campaign casts doubt on traffic purity. Check the level funnel to control for simulating real installs. The file with the necessary events from the tracker can contain millions of lines. Add-ins will help you open and convert it to a pivot table.
  • The corporate analytics system doesn’t always make it possible to clearly and conveniently reflect the data from ad campaigns for your purposes. Excel add-ins allow you to create universal optimization and reporting files that only take a few minutes to update. (Remember that Excel cannot work with add-ins on MacOS.)

6. A Flair for Ad Creatives

It is vital to know which approaches & concepts are effective in your ad channels and which help to improve ad campaign results without changing the product. A successful UA manager must recognize good and bad ideas and adapt them for product ads. We all remember the now-dying trend of so-called misleads that showed users non-existent gameplay.

To improve your creative, try looking at competitors’ creatives. A good service that monitors competitors’ creatives costs thousands of dollars a year, but you can always turn to a free source of inspiration: Facebook Ad Library. It wasn’t unusual for a Motion Designer or the UA team at Awem Games to come up with ideas that became hits, some eventually copied by competitors.

7. Basic Programming and Database Skills

Life is becoming more automated, and mobile marketing is no exception. In addition to product and ad quality, speed is crucial to your success. With the right skills, you can save your team time by automating a lot.

When I joined Awem Games, there was no ad creatives catalog. Files were scattered around in designers’ folders on the corporate Google Drive. Finding existing creatives was difficult and unsystematic. I saw a bottleneck and created an automated, updated catalog with previews, localizations and sizes. We have been using it for two years, and I cannot say how many hundreds of hours it has saved the creative team.

Paths to Growth

In my view, a successful career as a growth marketer can develop along two possible paths:

  1. Novice to expert. For instance, you might progress from a UA Manager to UA Producer. You will gradually become an expert capable of teaching new hires and a person whose opinion the management values—especially in situations that require complex solutions. If this is your path, focus on perfecting your hard skills.
  2. Line employee to leader. This might look like a form of vertical growth from UA Manager to UA Team Lead, Head of UA, and CMO. If this path attracts you, it is crucial to remember how leadership has changed in the past few years. Before, when UA teams were being created with no trained employees, leaders were the people with the most experience and mature hard skills. Now it is the soft skills that matter at every level.