In this episode, Saikala Sultanova, VP of Growth Marketing at DREST, talks to Peggy about combining white-hot fashion with community, commerce and a great mobile gaming engine. Saikala has years of experience in UA and growth at mobile gaming companies such as Ubisoft Mobile, Product Madness, and Space Ape Games.
Peggy: How do you combine white-hot fashion with community, commerce and a great gaming engine? Well, today, we find out more about DREST and how my guest is spearheading a little bit of a new way of thinking, and we’re going to hear why she joined DREST, where she is the VP of Growth Marketing. She has been described as, and I quote, “creative with a passion for advertising, she’s data-driven and multilingual, experienced in developing commercially focused marketing strategy and execution across a complete marketing mix.” To top it off, she’s had more than a decade of experience in mobile marketing holding positions in UA and growth at gaming companies such as Ubisoft Mobile, Product Madness and Space Ape Games, just to name a few. She brings a laser focus with her on ROI-driven performance marketing. That’s what she brings to DREST, and she’s also been charged with scaling DREST to affirm its already leading position in the luxury fashion lifestyle and entertainment space. Saikala Sultanova, great to have you on The Hive, welcome!
Saikala: Thank you, Peggy. Very happy and humbled to be here with you, and as always, it’s very exciting to take part in everything you do, Peggy. I think you’re one of the few writers and content producers that really understands our space. How data-driven we need to be but also all the corners and hooks and tricks that we need to pull at to take the game to the next level.
Peggy: Thanks so much. Of course, full disclosure, I have worked with you on a couple of those great projects, and I enjoy working with you to sort of unlock that information, that knowledge that you share. Which is what we’re going to do today on The Hive. We’re going to talk about some of the things you’re doing and some of the things you’re trying out as well. So you joined DREST in February this year. A little different from the casual games and other game studios where you learned your craft. What appealed to you about DREST to start with?
Saikala: It might sound cliche, but I think more than anything, good people. Considering that I’ve worked for so many gaming companies and touched on pretty much all game genres and sub-genres, and this time, I met these people from… namely Lisa Bridgett and Lucy Yeomans, the CEO and COO, and they inspired me. I was like, wow, I want to talk to them every day. And then meeting the rest of the team, how creative they are and innovative, in this particular space that is still very new, and you need to be bold enough to just go and take it to the next level. They have a lot of experience in creativity, fashion and innovation, and there is a part of a company with a gaming background, which makes it a perfect combination of building something that is gamified user experience, taking into the future with luxury fashion. Pretty much-democratizing luxury fashion that is not normally accessible to everyone and putting it on your phone, in your pocket.
Peggy: So I love what you’re talking about there, Saikala. You know, democratizing access to this. It’s a vast, global, but very diverse audience of users that you have and a lot of really interesting accomplishments to make that an exciting experience, like DREST brought in supermodel icon Kate Moss into the luxury fashion metaverse to act as the face of the app. Now, that’s not your achievement, but you have seen that happen, that’s happened since you started. How do you try to build on these achievements to fuel the community and growth of DREST?
Saikala: Yes, this is right. This is definitely far from my achievement. This is thanks to our editorial team, who work tirelessly on talent partnerships. And kudos to Jenny Dickinson and Lucy Yeomans, our founders, who have years of experience in fashion and editorial and have these partnerships and relationships that can take us to the next level with famous supermodels like Kate Moss and a few others DREST has worked with in the past. To capitalize on it fully, probably there’s more to come in the future with a new game and the current game as well. But the marketing mix exists for a reason. This is where the important part is to work towards the same goal together, whether it’s editorial, performance marketing, brand, that we all sync up on the same level, and we have the same goal to drive the marketing campaign forward together.
Peggy: A lot has changed in marketing if we just stay with that. You know, for the game, for yourself, more luxury fashion partners, more users, a lot is changing at the game, but the landscape has also changed. And that change challenges most marketers but not so much for you. I don’t hear you complaining as the others, you know they’re talking about, for example, an app-pocalypse. But how are you personally dealing with sort of data withdrawal? That things are different now than they were before.
Saikala: I must admit I’m not… I wasn’t different from any… first few weeks, probably, we all have data withdrawals as soon as iOS 14 point don’t remember which went live, and everybody went, “Ah, I can’t breathe, I can’t do my job!” But in the end, you know, we had to get used to it. Environment has changed, and there’s no going back and being strong marketeers, we need to change too. And that means, you know, it’s an opportunity to change, but it’s also an opportunity to create something new. And that means maybe, for some, creating new KPIs. Maybe for some others creating new ways of calculation and measurement, if it’s not connecting to user ID, connecting it to other attributes that we can do, we can work with. I personally like change because that’s what keeps me interested and that’s what keeps me in this industry for 11 years now, so I like that, that’s good, and we’ll figure things out along the way.
Peggy: You’re exploring some new approaches and metrics as a workaround here and also encouraging all of your other colleagues to do the same. You know, just break some patterns, break some models, do something different. What can you tell us about those approaches, those metrics, those KPIs you’re looking into?
Saikala: Well, this is actually one of the projects I’m working on since the beginning of this year. It’s more of a pet project for myself because in the past, in a previous company and several of them, we were always looking at the data, looking at different legal guidelines that we had to work with, and making sure that all of the data that we’re using is stored and transferred in a secure way. So when the iOS 14 point something came in that kind of removed all of that, right? And then, in the future, we would be able to use first-party data but only internally. So there are so many other data pieces. So I was thinking about it, how can we work on identifying those buckets that are medium and low sensitivity from a legal standpoint and looking into the future, whatever platforms and partners would be, you know, bringing in policies and then creating marketing KPIs, measurements, around those particular ways that we can measure our efficiency and deliverables. What value do we add to our activities and businesses that we work for? And then creating new KPIs. I don’t have an answer, Peggy, unfortunately because it’s not that simple, but at the moment, I’m working with a couple of people, some of them are legal, who work in the gaming space, to figure out bit by bit what can we do with this? How can we look at those kind of not PII data pieces that are connected to a person maybe, but maybe device model, maybe tech specs, maybe God knows what it is, that is not personal and sensitive, and can still be used in the smart way for marketeers to, you know, calculate our efficiency and performance.
Peggy: You know it’s exciting new territory, Saikala, and I have to say, if anyone wants to go out that way, it’s got to be you, from what I know. And I’ve been talking, not going into great detail, but I was talking with some people just off the top of my head, you know, over at Digital Turbine, for example, and they were like, this is really cool, because this is about a level of getting more value, getting more insights, out of just the device data, for example. You know, exploring the different types of data. That’s not saying that’s the only data you can explore. What are you able to share with us about what you’re doing? What’s possible with device data? What can you tell marketers to maybe get them to explore it with the same interest and enthusiasm that you are?
Saikala: Well, with the device data in particular, and I think in our industry, there are several companies that already looked into it, including myself, looking at the tech specs. And it’s not just screen size and resolution. It’s also to do with RAM, that is processing power that brings speed. Battery processing as well, and how does the device operate? And most of the time, the particular features, tech specs of the device can be connected to the price of the device. So whether it’s high-end, mid, or low. And guess what? I mean, we are overcomplicating in the west, and we’re digging into tech specs, looking at all of these, let’s say, very technical things, connecting to our LTV, connecting to our retention, and so many other ways. But you know what, in China, they are very smart. On WeChat Ads ads dashboard, they have a targeting option of device price. So you can choose the ranges of the device price that you want to target. I’ve never seen that in the west. I think we should do it, but for now, while we don’t have it, we will continue using all of the tech specs that we have. I think the widest used tech spec is RAM, battery, and screen size. Screen size can be a little bit wrong because there are some, let’s say, lower-end Android devices, the cheap Android devices that could have large screens, and it’s not always available when you can see the resolution. RAM is the easiest one because that you can get anywhere, and it directly connects to the device price. So a lot of companies, including us, and many others, have their own tier groups that they create internally based on their internal data. So, could it be gold, silver, or bronze. For some, it’s tier one, two, three. For some, it’s red, blue, and yellow… whatever. But everyone creates those kind of tiers internally.
Peggy: And another thing you’re architecting and looking at is very much the player journey. You understand the device, it helps you understand the player, it also helps you shape the journey. How are you approaching the player journey to make it more interesting, to make it more sticky?
Saikala: That is a very big, big question, huge. So, there are so many ways that marketeers approach and here at DREST, we actually have taken it to the fundamentals of it’s a team organization, organization of our work, and how are we connecting with other teams internally, and how we’re connecting, most importantly, to our players? Now with all of this privacy at the forefront, not only on iOS, but of course, on Android is coming up as well, bit by bit, and we need to be ready. What that does, that makes, in the background, makes a lot of performance marketeers wonder, “Oh okay, so some of my skills of going into data and these targeting things will become obsolete. What else should I learn? What else would I need to?” I mean, for years, we looked down at brand marketing, like, oh, what are they doing? Can’t measure anything… but now, more than ever, brand marketing becomes important. Surprise, surprise! So performance marketeers want to learn brand marketing and so many other things that we can’t measure. There are two things. There’s a necessity because our company is a startup and we’re small, and there’s another thing, is the team and their wishes to learn skills. So we went ahead and decided instead of changing or structuring our team as we’ve always done it by, I don’t know, paid, social, programmatic, ASO, creative, brand marketing, CRM, push notification separately, email separately, customer support, and something like that, more like internal functional, corporate functional thing. We split it into two things. We split into user journey. So one talks about new users, and so this team of two, right now, is responsible and have to do everything to bring new users. That means they need to make sure they forecast the budget accurately, they do all of the optimization, they take care of product pages, whether it’s ASO, testing or anything like that to do with visuals, they’re working with creative teams, executing, getting, I don’t know, free users from somewhere else, maybe working with partnerships, featuring teams, I don’t care. So they are responsible for bringing new users, whatever it takes, legitimately, of course. But bringing the users, that’s their responsibility and making sure that those new users are also relevant. That they are, you know, the ones who is going to stick around and play, that they are showing correct creatives, something that is appealing to the users that they’re showing it to, and do everything that they need to do. So that’s their objective, bringing new users at the right ROAS, and then there’s another team, also team of two, three actually right now. And that team works on existing users. So once the new users become existing users, there is continuous communication, engagement. We need to nurture our users, making sure that they’re engaged, that they receive correct communication, they are engaged with our product, that we send them promotions whenever it happens with the product, and basically, their goal is to make sure they measure engagement and upselling. And whatever it takes, again. Whether it’s CRM tools, customer support tools, maybe in the future they’ll do retargeting, paid retargeting, but we are taking the player journey and following to… like we’re adapting ourselves to player journey. And hopefully, in the future, that’s another thing we’re working on, we are building our brand new data warehouse. Maybe ambitious, but our goal is to connect the two. We want our existing user's team to know everything that comes from user acquisition, and hopefully, they can use it as a part of a continuous journey.
Peggy: I’m going to stay with that for a moment because, you know, you are building a data warehouse to make this possible, and that’s not for everyone. And I remember there was a time when it was like, oh, you have to be a certain size, you have to be a certain sophistication level, but you’re doing this. What is your vision here?
Saikala: There’s a side note. I’m not building a data warehouse. Yeah, I wish I could, but yeah, my coding skills are not that sophisticated. So it’s the team who’s doing it, and a data science team as well are helping to drive it. What is the vision? The vision is, in a nutshell, I want this new data warehouse to be less dependent, or hopefully not at all dependent, on privacy changes and be more of a future-proof, so that the new KPIs and measurements that we create, of course, we need to be tested and prove they are, you know, usable and useful for our business, make sure it checks out all the checkboxes with data science, but also with finance strategic forecasting, we need to do all of these things. But in a nutshell, the vision, I’d like to create data warehouse that is future-proof so that we are not only dependent on IDFAs, GA IDs, or whatever might disappear in the future, we will be able to include that as well whenever we get those IDs, but I want the whole environment to be not dependent on that so we can continue doing our jobs to the best ability.
Peggy: But it’s also about future-proofing, in a way, your team. You know, you build a team, you want to keep them. You have your team, your new users, and your existing users. Give me an idea about the best way for marketers, for people watching us, you know they want to learn from you. How can they diversify their skills and adapt more of this journey mindset? What they’re going to need to do what you’re telling your team to do.
Saikala: Spend some time thinking and learning and try to talk to a few people and try to figure out what do you really want? What’s going to make you happy? What’s going to make you feel satisfied? And figure out what you want. And then after, you can find a way how to get there within a given time. I know it’s very vague and broad, but this is the biggest thing that helped me in my career and in all of the things that I’ve learned as well. I had hard times. I had good times, but that’s one thing that helped me. In every stage of my career, I try to make sure that I learned something new. In every company that I worked, I’ve tried to learn something that I don’t know before, and learning has always been one thing that you know that money can’t buy. You have to spend time on learning, and you need to practice it, and you need to make sure it sticks. I would say being data-driven is important, getting your hands dirty is very important because only then will you see all the skeletons and all the corners where the skeletons are, and you will see all the things that you would be able to troubleshoot when something breaks. So that’s important, but at the same time, and I think more than ever now, it’s very important to pay attention to creative. Creative motivations, why people come back to your game, why do they play, and what attracted them to your game? That’s really, really important. So in the past, we used an overused targeting more than anything, and we didn’t pay attention as much to creative and creating communication campaigns almost. Now, we don’t have all that data. We have to look at the communications and the creative and narrative of the communications, and we need to connect the journeys as well. And that’s what excites me because it’s almost like writing a script to a mini movie, right? It’s like, wow, I want all of the people in UK or Germany or US, anywhere, to know my gameplay and think about, I don’t know, one thing when they think about the game. Or I don’t know, hear that jingle, let’s say, or, I don’t know, something that is memorable and you cannot capture with digital tracking, or, I don’t know, anything like that. So that’s exciting, and that’s something that we can do now because we don’t have to track all these things.
Peggy: You can push some boundaries, you can try new things, because as many marketers tell me, it’s like, now we can get back to marketing. You know, creative is a huge part of that. There’s a lot of moving parts, a lot of opportunities, and you’re a very positive person, and you make this also part of, I would say, your extracurricular activity, what you do in your free time. I don’t know how we can describe it, but you are the driving force in the UA Society, where it’s about those learnings, it’s about equipping marketers to get better at their jobs. Tell us a little bit about the UA Society and your journey there.
Saikala: Thank you. I can’t believe it’s been seven years now. UA Society still stands right, and again, this year, after the pandemic, for the first time coming back in person again in London. I’m super excited, and I’m super excited you’re gonna be with us. We’re all looking forward to having you with us. So yeah, UA Society started some time ago. Myself and a few other marketeers from multiple gaming companies, also non-gaming. We volunteer our time to put together, put the show together once a year. It happens in London. It’s a full day event, and this is the event when we need to bring the best content, the best learnings, the best case studies, whether it’s success or failure or something that we’d like to raise that people should be thinking about or we want to find partners in crime to think about. Like me, I want to think about new KPIs. The ethos and our, let’s say, vision for the UA Society is to be that safe space where all of us can just drop our competitors’ shields down, and we can focus on knowledge sharing and education and bouncing ideas from each other because in the end we all have the same problems and if you are in a place where you can talk about those problems, whether it’s iOS privacy or, I don’t know, what’s coming on Android, or somebody is having problems they can’t launch TV campaign properly because he can’t measure it well. This is the space where people can actually talk about these things, not focusing on you are a competitor company, but more you are another person who has the same problems, and we should talk and figure out better ways. And surprise, surprise! When that happens, magic happens because people start talking, they bounce ideas from each other, and everything they give, they get so much more back. And then they have lots of takeaways to take home and practice with their teams.
Peggy: So, I want to talk about your impressions around mobile games marketing today, just a couple of rapid-fire questions. Getting your gut reaction. What upsets you the least about the state of mobile games marketing today?
Saikala: That we don’t have IDFAs.
Peggy: You’re not upset. You see, you are different.
Saikala: I got over it, you know. I’ve gone through stages of being angry, in denial, and I accepted it a long time ago. I was like, yeah, just get over it. It’s not gonna change anyway, so…
Peggy: Yeah, accept it, it’ll set you free. Let’s switch it. Let’s talk about the opportunity. The one opportunity that gets you the most excited and how other marketers can get excited about that as well and prepare to take advantage of it starting right now. What is it?
Saikala: The most exciting and only one?
Peggy: Just one, yeah.
Saikala: Just one, I would say creative.
Saikala: Creative, because it’s just, it has no boundaries. If done in the right way and tweaked to the right communications, and tested properly, creative has no boundaries. You can pretty much test anything that is compelling to your audience, connecting to your game. Creative excites me because I think that you can have a really fun time with it.
Peggy: What’s your favorite, personal perhaps, accomplishment in that direction? Because you’re also working with creatives. What’s an accomplishment, a learning, a surprise?
Saikala: I would say learning. When I was at a previous company, I got an opportunity to kick off TV media buying pilot project, and that means working with creative production, the design, and everything that comes with it, but also working with media buying by channel, day parts, and everything that comes with it. I did not know actually that TV advertising can be that exciting, can be that measurable. We always just assume it’s about the baseline, but there is a lot more to it than I expected, so that was a pleasant surprise, and I had a lot of fun with creative agencies that we use for production of some of the creatives. One company called Liquid+Arcade. They’re based out of LA. We had brainstorming sessions. We pretty much made stuff up for some of those and just bounced ideas from each other written down on paper, and then they come back with storyboarding and debrief. And yeah, that was the most fun for me, I would say. Lots of learnings, lots of learnings, but yeah. Now I’m not as afraid of TV advertising as I was two years ago.
Peggy: It’s been a great year for you, right? A new position at DREST, and you also got married, congratulations! Congratulations! So what is next for you?
Saikala: Next for me, we are working on a new product, new game, one of them right now. So there’s a lot of preparation, research, lots of work there with our team. But for the rest of the year, personally, I think after the wedding is done, we’re focusing on just chilling for the rest of the year and having maybe a few honeymoons instead of one big one, a few short ones. So I’m looking forward to complete the UA Society, hopefully, fingers crossed, it’s a success, and after that, I’m going on holiday.
Peggy: That sounds perfect. That’s work-life balance. That’s the way it needs to be. And you know, Sai, you’re always so open, you share. I’m sure that our audience would love to connect, continue the conversation, maybe even figure out, you know, what do I need to do, how do I get involved in the UA Society, all of the above? What’s the best way to stay in connection and contact with you?
Saikala: There are several ways. Anyone who wants to connect to the UA Society, just go to uasociety.com, and you could either apply to become a staff member or if you want to talk to me, just email me email@example.com.
Peggy: Perfect, Saikala. Well, thanks so much for sharing. Thanks for being on The Hive. It’s buzzing with activity now. It’s buzzing with your ideas. Great show, great to have you.
Saikala: Thank you very much, Peggy. It’s always a pleasure.
Peggy: And of course, if you are a UA marketer or someone that helps games companies literally up their game or you’re looking at the journey because that’s where the action is. You’re looking at creative, you’re looking at the user journey, well then hook up with me or Pollen VC on Twitter or LinkedIn, and let’s get you set up with a show of your own. Take care, keep well, and we’ll see you soon.
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