Between Mobile and Web: The User Lifecycle in Both Worlds

Varun Thunugutla is a man that binds two worlds. Having worked in marketing for more than 13 years, his career has spanned the worlds of mobile and desktop. His roles, which include being a Marketing Director and Manager at Zalando and Idagio, have seasoned his experience in lead generation, the user lifecycle, and the perfect marketing campaign. On a hot day in Berlin, Varun sat down with the Mobile Growth Stack to talk about his experience in mobile, web, understanding the user, and what companies should be doing during COVID-19. 

First of all, who are you and what’s your background?

Hey! I’m Varun, and I’ve been working in marketing for close to 13 years now. My academic background is in economics, after which I decided to get my feet wet with the working world. I started off as an account manager at Google, taking care of a portfolio of clients in North America. This was back in India where I’m originally from. Since 2012, however, I’ve been working in mobile in e-commerce, gaming, weather forecasting, music streaming, and now, health tech. It’s been predominantly mobile, but I’ve taken a conscious decision to step out of mobile for a bit—to catch up with all other topics and sort of align both these skills together again at some point. 

From your experience moving from mobile to web, what are the defining differences between the two? 

I think the defining difference is speed. And I choose speed simply because if we talk about big topics like GDPR, and data privacy, you first speak about it in the world of web, but you come to terms with it a lot faster in the mobile world. So a small example would be if we talk about web browsers like Safari or Firefox. They’ve had this hard rule where they say, okay, starting now, we’re going to be a lot more aware of the cookies you can use. Google plays the long game by saying that they’ll keep things the way they are until 2022, when they’re planning on introducing a sort of privacy sandbox, limiting advertisers to a certain extent. 

But if we speak about mobile, we’re talking about the SKAdNetwork, and we’re looking at what’s happening with the next change during the IOS14 rollout. We’re also asking what that means for IDFAs, and how advertisers and DSPs deal with it.  The conversations are a lot faster on mobile, and it happens very, very quickly. There’s no time, so to speak, to take the luxury of figuring things out, you just go head on collision, right? And then you figure it out along the way. So the risk is always very high, but the reward is extra sweet as all of us know.

What does the difference look like from a product development perspective?

Something that I’ve always campaigned for is very close product-marketing that has a mix within every organization. I think some organizations have done a brilliant job of that; some organizations are still slow to the game. I think when it comes to things like data privacy and what that means for the actual data that you work with, teams that have aligned a lot more in terms of customer service, consumer research, and product based developments tend to win. These teams are also very, very closely aligned on marketing audiences: your active users, the users that you want to target,and the overall future pool of your users. 

If you look at it purely from a product development spectrum, you’re trying to build the best product for a certain kind of user. But to get started at all, you do actually need user acquisition. And when you do user acquisition, you’re talking about different kinds of users based on the platforms you’re reaching them on. And these are points of information that are very crucial for anyone working on a product to see in the light of the product itself, because your current active users might not necessarily be the ones that you thought you’re developing the product for, but there might be a huge value there, right? People often tend to ignore this. 

A very good example would be something that I saw when I was working in weather forecasting, where we didn’t think of certain audiences at all. However, we realized that certain demographics, like people in sports—cycling enthusiasts in particular—could tend to be quite a huge segment of value for us. And then you start to pivot the product accordingly. But there was no way we knew the potential of certain sub personas from the very start, neither from a product perspective nor from a marketing perspective.

Do you also see this in the world of the web, too? 

Oh yeah, absolutely. Currently, I work for a company that manufactures hearing aids, and owns the entire supply chain. So everyone from the stores to the audiologists are employed by the company themselves. In an environment like this, where there’s a very heavy offline component and a very short online component, I think understanding the user is paramount simply because you’re talking about sales cycles that are just not altogether common in the mobile sphere. 

If you’re not doing enough research on your users on their pain points, even before you start your product planning, or if you don’t have the feedback funnels, from say, your stores or your customer service teams into product on a continual basis, you’re just developing the wrong thing for the wrong audience. And that can cost a lot of money.

A great place to pivot to the user lifecycle here. Once you have an idea of who your users are, what’s the most efficient way to achieve great user lifecycle management?

At the risk of not sounding ad nauseum, it’s  what most experts would call funnel based marketing. The only reason I’m mentioning the concept is because on the one hand, as a first step, you try and understand your user—or shall I say users because, you can have different kinds. But as a second step, it would be the identifying of users in different funnel stages of your sales cycle. So here it’s the same game from your marketing methodology 101: awareness, interest, desire, and action. And you need to make sure that you reach the people in the correct stage with the right kind of content. That’s definitely one thing that works irrespective of whether it’s mobile or web, and irrespective of the kind of vertical you come from.

But do you see a difference between the web and the mobile world here in terms of what you’re describing?

Oh yeah, absolutely. The fact that an app is native to the platform that your phone works on makes it the first and closest touch point to an actual user.  This makes a world of difference, especially when you look at this in terms of user lifecycle management. Mobile CRM is a complete world apart: we’re talking about very quick information points that are delivered to the user, and that you can also iterate on very soon. 

On the web, it’s very different simply because you don’t have people who are opening up mobile websites on their phone all the time. Of course, you have desktop notifications and web notifications, but it’s just not the same level of dependency or the same amount of spontaneity that you can have on mobile.

And now, the classic COVID-19 question. What are your thoughts on the new data that suggests that users are spending less time on mobile and more time on the web? 

I think that the companies who have a product or service offering which is seamless and platform agnostic are definitely ones that see the least amount of change. But I think companies should also consider the following question: how important is the choice of going mobile to you in the first place? What is your actual product and service offering? And most importantly, how much of the native efficiency of an operating system does it need to function if it’s something that relies on say GPS? So I think these are the hard questions that companies and product managers need to figure out to choose the right path.  Irrespective of the pandemic, it comes down to the vertical, and to the use case you’re trying to solve. And the most simplistic way of looking at it is try and keep your users engaged, irrespective of the platform. 

Any advice for companies at the moment? 

The one quality that everyone needs to have at a time like this is to have an open mind when it comes to learning. It doesn’t mean that you have to sit and code all night to figure things out. But I think as long as you have your receptors out, and you’re able to judge how things move, you could contribute with your product or service in a corresponding manner. Read the market. Don’t take people for granted. Take technology at its face value and ask the right questions: it’s all about how relevant it can be for you.