That One Weird Trick

Liviu Tudor

What do you do professionally, in your own words?

Throughout my career I’ve answered this question in various ways, but the answer came to me when I joined MachineZone as Director of Marketing Engineering. I inherited a strong team and I had to supplement it with extra talent. My boss at the time was the VP Marketing and I had arranged for the last step of each interview process to be a free form discussion with the candidate and myself (representing the engineering org) as well as him (who could speak for all of our colleagues in marketing). During one of the first such sessions together with a candidate, the candidate turned to me and asked my move from Netflix to MZ: “Why did you make that move? Arguably Netflix is a better known brand than MZ, Netflix operates in the movie space (the candidate words not mine!) while MZ is a gaming studio. So what made you make the move?”.

I went on to explain this: “You see, when I was at Netflix my job was to develop solutions that help people discover content. When you look at a gaming company like MZ, it’s the same goal. We present content via games, where the content is in-game items & functionality. So really the scope of my job hasn’t really changed, and moving to MZ allowed me to start exploring a field that I admired before from the sideline (gaming) but never had a chance to get involved in.” As I gave that answer I realized that that is what I do at a very high level: I help people discover content.

What is different about the products you have marketed vs. other types of products/services?

It’s interesting, thinking about it, I’ve never been involved in marketing physical products – my involvement has always been in the digital space. There is probably a good reason for that: we live in a digital world, everything around us is digital, it’s all on my laptop or the services in my laptop can connect to digital products.

And for these sorts of products it’s much easier to get how users react and interact with your digital product. At MachineZone, for example, we had a lot of data about how people played games. It made it easy to identify the friction points of playing the games. What are the things that they love so much you see the same pattern over and over? You realize this is a kind of “hook” in the game. I think these discoveries are very easy to achieve when you’re dealing with a digital offering.

I’m staring at a printer made by HP here in my home office–I’m still getting emails from HP going like “oh do you want to rate this product? Do you want to do this?” When you unpack the printer you get a whole thing about registering your product online–who does this registration? What does it give me? It’s often a very long registration process and they ask you a lot of questions. They’re trying to figure out how you are using their product: what are the things you like and you don’t dislike,or how you use it? That’s a very hard thing to do when you are dealing with a physical product, totally disconnected.

Nowadays IoT devices capture various data points, effectively helping the company which made the product answer all these questions about the product – but if you are dealing with a totally disconnected / offline product like a computer desk it’s probably very hard to gather that data. I’d imagine for something like Fitbit (which I use a lot so have spent a bit of time researching them) they find it easier to figure out usage patterns and friction points but overall a physical product is harder to figure out the answers to these questions compared to something like a digital product.

And I think that is a crucial difference between products that I’ve worked with versus other types: the data and insights into the usage of the actual product, which I think is essential for developing an efficient user acquisition solution. Consider for instance something like LinkedIn, which I use daily: if they don’t capture enough data to figure out how the users are using the service and what are the things that they like/dislike it’s very hard for them to build an effective strategy for acquiring users for this platform. You can’t talk about growth without keeping an eye on the full funnel and what happens after you have acquired the user.

When I look at collaborating with a company or a team I look at this data acquisition pipeline as one of the things needed to develop a growth platform. I advise a bunch of companies as well and that is one of the questions I always ask them: how much data do you have about users and their usaging of your product? That tells you a lot and allows you to talk about growth, LTV (lifetime value) and that’s where this data comes in.

Is your specialization more focused on acquiring new customers or growing engagement of existing customers? What are you specifically focused on?

I think this goes in waves and on top of that there are industry trends where the focus transitions from one to the other then back.

In the last few years my focus has been more on user acquisition. For example, previously when I was at Netflix we were going international and the focus was on how to acquire new audiences in the countries we were expanding the service to. Once we reached a certain scale then of course the focus started shifting beyond user acquisition. So it’s a combination of a few factors.

Similarly in MZ my focus was on new user acquisition but from the get-go we were in constant contact with the data around game usage, retention, LTV and so on and we identified that a lot of what we were doing in user acquisition could be perhaps used in game play to entice players to more engagements – which leads to longer lifetime, and therefore higher LTV, feeding back into our user acquisition.

So by and large I am normally brought in for new user acquisition purposes, but that often ends up touching on user engagement as the two of them together help with the larger goal which is “growth”.

How does your work contribute to building trust with users, to help persuade them to use the product?

Trust is a hard thing to establish. It takes years to build and seconds to destroy – as the quote goes. I think you start by establishing a name for yourself in the market and not resorting to what I call creepy tactics, and you start building trust. It’s not going to come overnight, you have to work with what you have. It’s a very tough problem to solve for anyone in industry.

If you look at there’s a lot of focus on some of the social media companies nowadays, and I think that trust is broken right now, you know, especially in the US following the elections and a lot of other horrible things that happen. I would imagine it’s very hard right now for instance to build a user acquisition for some of these media platforms based on trust. You either have to go to extremes (which sadly some of them did) or it takes a long while once that trust is broken to kind of reestablish it.

One of the things that resonated with me from the beginning at Netflix was the idea of having actual values, not just nice-sounding values that look good in the press or in the office lobby. I think it starts with that: if you define these values and you stick to them then they reflect in your product and in your growth strategies and solutions. Users will value it and you can build trust based on that.

How does personalization give a marketing edge in meeting customer needs? Give one example of how this is done via outbound marketing or in-product experience.

I worked in adtech for about 20 years, from the early days of the annoying pop-ups and also I worked in Europe as well in the US and even in the Middle East and I have to say that I’ve seen different reactions to advertising.

A lot of people nowadays claim they don’t react to advertising, those companies putting adverts in front of them are just wasting their money. The very same person now is in the market for a TV, they talk to a friend and mention “Hey, I’m looking to buy a TV for my front room”, and the friend says “oh, you know, I bought recently a flat Samsung TV and it’s great picture quality and amazing voice command, you should have a look at it, I highly recommend it!”. And then this person goes and at least spends time looking at this TV and maybe even buying it, because in their mind this is perceived as a recommendation. They don’t even inquire “Do you have any affiliation or something with Samsung?”, they just go and probably buy the TV. (And to be fair in most cases probably people aren’t affiliated with the brand they recommend, but even in the above situation they found out their friend had some sort of affiliation with the brand, they still go ahead, because, well, it’s a recommendation from a friend I trust!) And that’s I think where personalization helps.

In my mind great advertising is something that is so fluid and to the point that you don’t see it–it doesn’t break the user experience.

Where personalization comes in is making really small but really deep differentiation between advertising which is perceived by most people as breaking their experience, and advertising that’s no longer an advertisement. It’s a recommendation.

It is then perceived by the user as “somebody put thought–it’s essential that I say “somebody” because the audience thinks of somebody generating the recommendation, even if machines are doing it – in putting this in front of me!”. So psychologically I think people react to recommendations and personalization in a more positive manner than they would just random spray-and-pray.

What is your favorite marketing channel or platform, and why? E.g. out-of-home, organic search, email, TV, etc.

I’ll start by saying that I think out-of-home advertising is about to see an explosion. It all started there with banners on the streets. That type of advertising became “dumb” advertising because you just put a board on there and you don’t really measure who’s looking at it. Nielsen and so on do do a pretty good job of it, but I have met through the Endeavor network companies that provide out-of-home advertising analytics and actually get the data in near real-time, similar to web and mobile.

While it might seem paradoxical I think that we’ll see an interesting explosion and growth in it, and at that point it will be a contender as one of my favorites.

Currently however, my favorite marketing channel is mobile – it is so ubiquitous and so omnipresent that it makes it such an effective channel for anything marketing!

What’s the largest single marketing initiative or A/B test (spend, audience-size, etc.) you’ve participated in and what lessons did you learn from it?

I will probably have to jog my memory back to my Netflix times as the marketing budgets there were very generous. We have seen budgets for the launch of CrystalBorne in MachineZone in 8 digits, and those were successful campaigns too but Netflix, due to its size, outweighs everything else I have done by far.

It’s hard though to pinpoint the largest – Netflix is known for constantly A/B testing pretty much everything. We ran experiments on different ad formats, different visual templates, different targeting criteria for titles and creatives.

What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career so far? If none come to mind, what are you most looking forward to?

I was part of the team which helped Netflix go global and get to 100MM members worldwide, then 150MM (that party was sick!). And to top it off I then went on to help MachineZone launch CrystalBorne globally and reach millions of mobile users within the first few weeks.

I’m now looking forward to helping Tubi become a household name.

Copyright © 2021