Mic’d Up With MAAS Episode 2: Decoding the German App Ecosystem and Mobile UA in a Post-Covid World

MAAS, powered by Affle, brings you “Mic’d Up With MAAS,” a monthly podcast series that unlocks mobile user acquisition and the world of AdTech. Each episode features an interview with thought leaders and industry experts from across the globe who speak on the current industry landscape while sharing their learnings, challenges and successes in the mobile-first world. Pascal Jaeger from Germany’s Pixum app joins Ankit Rawal, Director of Business Development and Partnerships at Affle, in Episode 2, where he decodes the German app ecosystem and what it means to do mobile UA in a Post-Covid world.

You can also read the interview transcript below. Note that questions and responses have been edited out for clarity and brevity.

Ankit: Welcome Pascal to our interview series. Tell our listeners about yourself, what is Pixum, and the work you do at Pixum.

Pascal: Well, first of all, thank you again for having me. My name is Pascal Jaeger. I’m 33 years of age, and I currently live in Germany and the former German capital city Bonn, which is the neighboring city of cologne. And that’s basically where the Pixum headquarters are situated. I have been working — amongst other companies — for Nintendo of Europe and Frankfurt as a CRM manager, that always has been my, kind of my childhood dream. And afterwards, I worked for a startup based in Leipzig dealing with online travel platforms.

I joined Pixum in 2016 and have been with them for the past five years. And for those who have never heard of Pixum, it’s one of the leading online photo services in Europe. And what we do is we print your favorite photos onto basically anything that you can imagine, any. I have the privilege of working both on the marketing side of things and on the technology side for Pixum and the product owner for the Pixel app. And I’m the team lead for all mobile app marketing activities. And it’s a, it’s a role that I like very much. Every day is different. And my team does a superb job every year in exceeding expectations.

Ankit: Curious to hear how has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your business? 

Pascal: At first we saw a significant drop in sales because there was a lot of uncertainty among the population among our customer base. And so for about two weeks, in March, we saw a huge drop in sales. However, once the lockdowns happened and people got a bit more used to the situation we soon saw the sales speeding up to basically unprecedented levels in both April and May, leading to record sales for us. You have a lot of photos on your device and you never have the time to sort them. And even less time to create photo products out of them. And since people were forced to stay at home and they had the time to do so. 

Afterwards, when the lockdown phase was over, we saw again an opposite trend. Our sales were dropping again because people were using the time that they eventually had the freedom to enjoy the time outside meeting people or even some little holidays, even though it was not that far away holidays, they usually could do.

Another lockdown took place beginning of October,  we called it first the lockdown light. And then at the second, part of December, we again had the hard lockdown, taking place up to now. So now until mid-February, maybe even then end of February, this will be prolonged. And this led again to a very extraordinary Q4 for us in 2020. I’m hoping for all of us that we soon get out of this period because it’s a difficult one for everyone.

Ankit: What are some of the interesting consumer behavior & app engagement trends you have noticed since the pandemic? Do you think these trends will stick now that vaccines are out or new behaviors will emerge?

Pascal: When you ask about consumer behavior trends, basically there are two things that pop up in my head. Firstly, for us as a business, it was about a new product. And that’s the personalized photo puzzle. In Germany and also across Europe, I think it has been a hype where our production facilities couldn’t meet the demand anymore… And that’s because the puzzle is just such an ideal product to kill time. And on top of that is social. You can play with your family and there’s an infinite amount of people who can partake in that. And we, still see that this trend continues because there’s a lockdown, but we see, also see the correlation with a lockdown. So when the lockdown ceased, we could also see that the sales were dropping again. Second trend: the characteristics of photos that we use to design for the products in 2020. Normally, customers are ordering photos on Pixum at certain events throughout the year. For instance, Christmas, Valentine’s day, etc. And usually, we also have a peak after the holiday season because when people return from vacation, they want to do a nice photo book out of their holidays. With the inexistence of holidays. However, in the last year, we were very curious about how this would develop, but we actually expected the book orders to drop. But what we saw was that it was on a similar level as in 2019. We saw a massive shift…in the last year, people ordered photos that had been taken 2-3 ago. That’s a significant change. And to us, it was evident that the majority of users have eligible photos on their devices, but they elect the time to create the photo products out of them. And what does this mean for us as a business is that we need to invest more time and more technology into suggesting those.

With the current speed of vaccinations, it’s unlikely that we will have a normal summer period with holidays taking place in 2021. It is likely that our business will be negatively impacted because ultimately people will run out of precious photo memories. Eventually, throughout 2021, we will return to what we call the old normal. And then we will also see a similar trend or seasonalities that we’ve seen in 2019.

Ankit: One of the big changes expected soon in March / April on iOS 14 is IDFA deprecation and the lack of precise measurement on SKAdnetwork. Curious how Pixum is preparing for this BIG change esp. as iOS has a big share in markets like Germany, Denmark, Switzerland. Also, how can marketers prepare better as there are so many uncertainties currently? 

Pascal: That’s a very interesting topic and one that has certainly been the news of 2020. To me, it’s kind of a double-edged sword because the one edge of the sword is the customer’s perspective where I believe it’s a vital step that Apple is taking because it guarantees data privacy and leaves the decision of whether or not one wants to be tracked across apps up to the consumer. The other edge of the sword basically is the view from the marketer’s perspective as for them it’s super important to have available as much data as possible because every piece of data can lead to monitoring the campaign in the end,  and that can be used for different content for different imagery, your target groups, etc.

A bit from maybe my personal perspective. We have seen a similar scenario with the cookie consent banner that was enforced, recently. Whenever I browse through a page, the first thing I need to do is click on accept all a button or don’t accept it, of course, depending on your preference. And what I would love to have would be kind of like a default opt-in option that I am not bothered by that anymore or a default I’m opted out. I think the opted-out version exists on iOS already with the limit limited ad tracking option. And this will be an option in the future. But the default option is non-existent and it’s maybe something that Apple can have a look at because I think it would make people’s life easier in the future.

We are currently drafting various custom screens and pop-ups, that will educate the user of what’s going on in our app. What kind of data we are tracking and what we use it for,  to make the hurdle for opting-in to the usage of IDFA as small as possible. Undoubtedly, that’s a tough task, and nobody knows yet how high or low the optimum rates are going to be. 

I think it’s a very big moment for every player in the mobile app world. I would recommend everyone reach out to their specific ad partners and attribution platform partners. And once the iOS14.5 version is released probably mid-March, you monitor your KPIs very closely in the first days.

Ankit: Now, coming to user acquisition, how do you think the UA approach has changed in the last few years. Have marketers’ KPIs moved from just CPI/CPA to RoAS? What to expect this year? 

Pascal: User acquisition has been one of the strong suits for the last decade or so. And we’ve always excelled in search channels, like Apple search ads, ASO and SEO. But we always had room for improvements in marketing platforms which are a bit higher up the funnel. Before,  the return on ad spend was our main KPI that we looked at. And that usually was a strong indication of how the marketing campaign has been working for the first purchase. But now it becomes even more important to have a look at the bigger picture. And by the bigger picture. I mean, what is the customer value over a longer period of time? How much revenue has the customer-generated over six months, 12 months, 18 months, and so on. I think it’s important to be closely aligned with your CRM team, to develop customers into loyal customers. So that’s very essential and that interplay needs to be very well-orchestrated.

Ankit: Marketers often struggle with the right campaign insights, especially when they work with different partners. They also don’t know what is the best campaign mix or what to do with the massive data reports. Do you find that a unified platform approach solves this?

Pascal: This has been a major topic in all the companies I’ve been working for so far. I guess the ultimate goal for every company out there is though to have a unified platform, but it’s rarely achieved. And, there are a lot of reasons for that. I think one reason being that there is very intense competition out there because the business focusing only on a single aspect that they need to optimize for business. 

What we at Pixum try to achieve, nonetheless, is to have a single source of truth when it comes to data. We have a very sophisticated self-service business intelligence platform. We connect the new data in the BI tool such that we have them in one place and we can collect them with the existing data points. And that certainly boosts our performance because we can make data-driven decisions that are relevant to all.

Ankit: Let’s zoom out a bit? Today when you think of a startup ecosystem globally cities like the Bay Area, Beijing or Bangalore come to mind. Off late Berlin and other cities in Germany in fact, even Cologne is coming up. How do you think the German start-up economy is shaping up in 2021?

Pascal: When it all started, I think we were a bit late initially, but we can see that the awareness has been increased in the last couple of years. There are a lot of known companies out there already. Germany has become one of the strongest forces out there. And I think now with Brexit, Germany has now taken over as the leading startup base for Europe.

Ankit: Speed it Round (Try to answer in max ten words) What makes you remain growth focused?

Pascal: My own impulse, because not growing means stagnancy and that’s not fun. And I need fun.

Ankit: Any quote that you live by?

Pascal: “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

Ankit: Which one daily habit has been a game-changer for you?

Pascal: Sports in general, whether it’s running, cycling, football, anything that gives you balance in life.

Ankit: Define Pascal Jaeger in one word.

Pascal: Determination!

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MAAS Diksha Sahni

Diksha Sahni

Diksha currently leads Communications & PR at Affle. With a passion for content marketing, she also takes the lead in crafting compelling narratives for the MAAS Platform. A journalist turned marketer, she has worked in the B2B and AdTech industries and writes on all things mobile on the MAAS Platform blog.

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